As a college audition coach, I often get asked: “What are the ‘top’ Acting Programs?” While this list is by no means definitive, here is my take on the Top 20 Acting Programs, taking into consideration the popularity of these programs with my former classes of students.
Ball State University
Ball State University’s Acting Program offers as many as 20 performance opportunities a year. Professors assist their students in finding professional work during the school year, as well as after they graduate. Some recent placements include Mind the Gap in the UK, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Their four-year program culminates to a senior capstone project- typically a one-person show performed live. Ball State also brings in numerous casting directors and other industry professionals for on-campus workshops. Students also have the opportunity to audition for showcases in New York, Chicago, and Los Angles.
Boston University’s Acting Program guarantees casting twice a semester starting sophomore year in one of the School of Theatre’s 35+ productions. Students can also pursue musical theatre training through the Musical Theatre Concentration program. BU offers study abroad programs for acting majors at locations such as London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and Academia Dell’Arte in Italy, among others. Seniors also have the option to participate in a Professional Theatre Showcase both in Boston and New York City.
California Institute of the Arts
Located just a few minutes outside of Los Angles, California Institute of the Arts’ Acting program nurtures actors for future stage, film, television, and other new media projects. CalArts was the first university in the US dedicated specifically in granting degrees in the visual and performing arts. As a transition to professional work, CalArts offers a senior showcase for a wide range of industry professionals in both New York and Los Angeles. Students also have the opportunity to work alongside MFA Acting candidates.
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon’s Acting Program has a variety of special programs available to students. Among them are Playground, which is a three-day performance festival which showcases student-produced work. Furthermore, their Visiting Artists Program brings guests from all over the world to work with students in on-campus workshops. Acting majors also have the option to pursue voice lessons as well as a study abroad opportunity in the first semester of their senior years at approved schools in France, China, South Africa, and many other countries.
Chapman University boasts two acting degrees: a BFA in Theatre Performance and a BFA in Screen Acting. All students also have the opportunity to pursue a minor in Musical Theatre. Chapman’s curriculum for both programs offers a core curriculum in performance techniques, technical theatre, and theatre studies. Each degree program then provides advanced technique training in the appropriate discipline. The student’s trainings culminates in a BFA Actor Showcase for industry professionals such as managers, artistic directors, producers, and more.
Cornish School of the Arts
Cornish School of the Arts’ Acting Program not only trains actors, but also encourages students to create their own original work. Students have multiple opportunities as playwriters, directors, and technicians. Cornish offers courses dedicated specifically to auditioning and career development. In their first year, acting majors devise a new piece of theatre. Students also have the opportunity to gain real-world experience through internships with local professional theaters such as ACT Theatre, Village Theatre, and Seattle Shakespeare Company.
Elon University’s Acting Program offers conservatory style training alongside with a liberal arts education. Their program accepts 16 students per year to ensure a small class size and individualized attention. Elon consistently brings in a variety of industry professionals for on-campus workshops and encourages students to audition and participate in summerstock theatre. Furthermore, Elon offers study-abroad programs for their Acting students. Recent examples include classical studies in Greece and semester-long residencies with professional theaters in London.
Florida State University
Florida State University’s Acting Program provides a comprehensive curriculum that includes training in acting, voice, and movement. Furthermore, students are trained in stage combat, stage makeup, dialects, and audition techniques. FSU also has a variety of performance opportunities throughout the year and brings in a range of industry professionals for on-campus workshops and masterclasses. Acting students are required to participate in the London Theatre Program during the summer before their junior year.
Located in the Bronx, Fordham University’s Acting Program boasts four main stage productions and over 16 studio productions every year to ensure that their students get ample performance opportunities prior to graduation. In addition, Fordham brings in a variety of industry professionals to work with their students. Seniors take a Senior Auditioning class taught by a New York City casting director to prepare them for their transition into the professional world. This is followed by a senior showcase for industry professionals.
Ithaca College’s Acting Program is a conservatory-style program combined with an innovative and comprehensive college experience. They offer study abroad programs for Acting majors with programs at the IC London Center and the National Theatre Institute in Connecticut or Moscow. Acting majors are eligible to audition for productions as early as their first semester. Furthermore, Ithaca provides classes and assignments that allow students to regularly collaborate with other theatre majors in the department.
The Juilliard School
The Juilliard School is located in the heart of New York City. Instead of auditioning for roles, the faculty casts students in appropriate roles throughout the year to serve each students individual needs. A diverse array of writers, designers, and directors contribute to the curriculum and Juilliard is constantly bringing in industry professionals to work with their students and connect them to the professional world.
Millikin University’s Acting Program allows students to audition for productions as early as their first semester. A typical season includes two mainstage musicals, and two mainstage plays, along with a variety of studio and student-led productions. Studio classes are all capped at 16 students, which allows individualized attention. Furthermore, Millikin brings in industry professionals for workshops and masterclasses. In addition, acting majors can study abroad for a semester in London.
Muhlenberg College’s Acting Program encourages students to pursue production opportunities as early as their freshman year in areas such as design, directing, playwrighting, and more. With at least six productions per year, students have multiple opportunities to practice their craft. Furthermore, the program brings in a variety of guest artists for on-campus workshops. Acting students also have the opportunity to pursue musical theatre training in association with the Music Department.
New York University-Tisch
New York University’s Drama Program is divided into ten studios which allow students to delve into technique and skills that fit their own aspirations. NYU brings in industry professionals to lead their productions and has an extensive list of industry professional that are brought in for workshops. Students can study abroad at a variety of locations. Furthermore, their prime location in the heart of New York allows students to connect with industry professionals while in school.
Oberlin College’s Acting Program boasts over thirty productions per year including main stage shows, student directed performances, improv and sketch comedy groups, and more. Students are allowed to audition as early as first semester. Oberlin has a fundamental core acting curriculum that all students take prior to pursuing advanced technique training through acting electives. Furthermore, the program caps advanced classes at 12 students, allowing for individualized attention.
SUNY Purchase’s Acting Program is one of the five in the nation that meets the standards of the Consortium of Conservatory Theatre Training Programs. The first two years are dedicated to training focused on the development of an actor’s imagination, and in the last two years, students apply this work to rehearsal and performance. In their final year, seniors have a showcase in New York and Los Angeles for a variety of agents, directors, casting directors and more.
University of California-Los Angeles
The University of California- Los Angeles’ Theatre Program offers a concentration in acting. Their prime location in Los Angeles gives them exposure to many resources and unique opportunities. The program combines a liberal arts education with professional training. All students are able to audition for any department shows. The University also offers the UCLA Theatre Internship Program, allowing students to gain field experience at established companies and organizations in the theatre industry.
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
The University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ Acting Program trains an actor’s mind, body, and spirit. Students are required to take classes regarding the technical aspects of theatre and assist as stage crew in productions during their first and second years. In their senior year, students participate in Keys to the Kingdom, in which the senior class presents a season of independent work. There is also a senior showcase in both New York and Los Angeles.
University of the Arts
The University of the Arts’ Acting Program provides a student exchange program with the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in England. Located on Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts, the University is close to over 100 theatre and performing arts companies, giving students exposure to the industry while in school. Students also collaborate on films and student-led productions. The senior year curriculum is largely elective, which allows students to concentrate on skills that fulfill their own aspirations.
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California’s Acting Program provides training for stage, screen, and new media. Students receive foundational training in classical theatre and has innovative teaching to fit the needs of a contemporary artist. With small class sizes, there is individualized attention to each students needs. Furthermore, seniors participate in a senior showcase for a wide range of casting directors, managers, agents, and other industry professionals.
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