If you have a passion for acting, a B.A. or BFA program in the field could be the perfect choice for you. Whether you fell in love with the craft starring in every one of your high school plays or acting in local commercials, your past experience is the foundation for your future success.
To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of 27 top acting colleges in the U.S., from the famed Juilliard School to the University of Texas at Austin to the California Institute of the Arts. We’ve broken down what sets these programs apart—and what they can offer young actors in terms of training, experience, and exposure.
Some offer a well-rounded approach to drama, with an emphasis on theory and history in addition to acting. Others take a conservatory approach, homing in on training students in technique and performance.
- Bennington College (Bennington, VT)
- Boston University (Boston, MA)
- Brown University (Providence, RI)
- California Institute of the Arts (Santa Clarita, CA)
- Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
- DePaul University (Chicago, IL)
- Elon University (Elon, NC)
- Emerson College (Boston, MA)
- Ithaca College (Ithaca, NY)
- Juilliard School (New York, NY)
- New York University (New York, NY)
- Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)
- Pace University (New York, NY)
- Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ)
- SUNY New Paltz (New Paltz, NY)
- SUNY Purchase (Purchase, NY)
- Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY)
- University of California, Irvine (Irvine, CA)
- University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
- University of California, San Diego (San Diego, CA)
- University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT)
- University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
- University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC)
- University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
- University of Texas, Austin (Austin, TX)
- University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
- Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)
Courtesy Bennington College
Collaboration is key in Bennington’s drama department, which is built around the idea that there’s no “right” way to study the craft. At this small liberal arts college, students are encouraged to take courses on multiple aspects of theater—acting, directing, history, stage management, etc.—with classes often collaborating with each other. This expansive approach ensures that students graduate with a comprehensive knowledge of every aspect of the production process; just ask alums Carol Channing, Alan Arkin, and Peter Dinklage. Drama students spend at least seven weeks honing their skills in a job or internship that complements their studies, giving them a chance to apply what they’ve learned in a real-world setting.
If you’re undecided about what type of acting degree you want to pursue, BU’s School of Theatre is a good choice. It offers two BFA options: acting, which focuses on the development of technique and skill through a broad “intellectual toolkit” approach; and theater arts, which is a more flexible, interdisciplinary model. Classes are the same for everyone freshman year; after that, students choose a specific track to focus on. Admission is based on both your audition and academic record.
Brown’s Department of Theatre Arts & Performance Studies aims to give its students a well-rounded understanding of drama as a discipline. Along with acting classes, you’ll also load up on theory and history courses once you’ve chosen a track within the concentration—either theater arts or performance studies. The Ivy League setting offers TAPS students the chance to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities, from crewing mainstage plays and participating in student-run production workshops to catching world premieres at Providence’s Trinity Rep.
Nicknamed the “Juilliard of the West,” CalArts is considered to be one of the most prestigious acting schools in the country. Its School of Theater’s BFA acting track takes an edgy, experimental approach, with an “objective to nurture visionary actors who can work on stage, film, television, and across a variety of exciting new-media platforms.” The curriculum is steeped in classical training while also encouraging students to find their artistic individuality. And since CalArts is less than 30 miles from Hollywood, students have easy access to the industry hub.
One of the oldest acting conservatories in the U.S., Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama focuses on making sure students truly understand and embody their characters through deep material analysis. The BFA Drama Acting and Music Theater track offers small classes, highly individualized attention, and a faculty of working stage professionals. The program is divided into four yearlong phases: Freshmen learn foundational skills, sophomores tackle more complex material, juniors expand their technique through collaboration with graduate playwrights and directors, and seniors focus heavily on performance to prepare for work immediately after graduation. Notable alumni include Ted Danson, Judith Light, and Billy Porter.
With a 1-to-6 faculty-to-student ratio, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more intimate BFA experience than the one offered by the Theatre School at DePaul University. The specialized program takes a “learn-by-doing” approach to acting, encouraging students to balance their required classes with hands-on experience outside the classroom and to explore the vibrant Chicago theater scene. The university’s commitment to fostering and nurturing diversity and community makes the Theatre School a safe, supportive environment for all.
Nestled within a historic campus, Elon’s Department of Performing Arts offers “conservatory-style training in a liberal arts setting,” giving students an education that goes beyond stage performance. The acting BFA program covers everything from vocal control to script analysis, while the music theater BFA track is known for “producing mature, talented, energetic, and creative performers.” Only 16 students are accepted to the acting program each year, meaning that the opportunity for performance experience is vast, whether you’re preparing for a career in film, theater, or television. The program has helped actors like Kendra Chideya, Mark St. Cyr, and Julian Elijah Martinez jump-start their careers.
The ability to contextualize a work’s place in culture and society is crucial for any actor. That’s exactly what Emerson’s Department of Performing Arts focuses on. Education doesn’t happen in a bubble; students are encouraged to explore the comprehensive course offerings and the rich Boston arts scene. What’s more, earlier this year, College Transitions named Emerson one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly campuses in the country. The college’s LGBTQIA+ Student Life organization promotes visibility and acceptance, as well as providing support and resources to all students.
The alma mater of some of Broadway’s most well-known performers (Jeremy Jordan, Kerry Butler, and Aaron Tveit, to name a few), Ithaca College’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance offers two different BFA programs for performers. The first two years of study in the acting program consist of foundational classes in voice, movement, and scene study; this is followed by two years of advanced courses in acting for camera, speech, dialects, styles of acting, audition techniques, and basic business practices. The school offers tuition awards for all four years, depending on a student’s artistic potential and financial need.
Possibly the most well-known school on this list (and for good reason), Juilliard offers an intensive four-year BFA program in actor training. Through courses in performance, movement, voice, and other aspects of the craft, students learn to interpret a wide range of dramatic repertoire in an intimate setting; only eight to 10 undergraduates are accepted each year. Freshmen and sophomores focus on developing skills derived from multiple schools of thought, learning to develop their own process along the way. If you’re thinking of applying, know that Juilliard’s live auditions consist of four memorized monologues and a song—so come prepared.
During their first two years at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, drama BFA students are placed within one of 10 studios, among them the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, the Experimental Theatre Wing, the Meisner Studio, the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, and the New Studio on Broadway. Come junior year, they can either choose to remain at their original studio or switch to a different one. This approach means that Tisch admits more students than many other acting programs and has a vast alumni network; and the Manhattan locale certainly doesn’t hurt.
If flexibility is what you crave, the School of Communication at Northwestern University is as versatile as they come. B.A. acting students are encouraged to diversify their curriculum and take a broad range of classes across departments, and even in other schools. Along the way, they develop nuanced performance skills and gain a deep knowledge of literature, history, analysis, and theory. The campus’ proximity to Chicago also gives students access to the city’s thriving arts scene. Many successful performers got their start at Northwestern, including Warren Beatty, Stephen Colbert, Kathryn Hahn, and Ziwe Fumudoh.
Small class sizes of only 18 students all but ensure highly individualized attention and learning opportunities at Pace’s Sands College of Performing Arts. Before auditioning for the BFA in Acting program, students must first be accepted into Pace’s general undergraduate class, meaning the university places a high premium on academics alongside professional training. The New York City locale also means free Broadway shows, priority tickets to the Actors Studios, and the opportunity to audition professionally while still a student, something most other acting colleges restrict.
With its proximity to New York City and a small-school-on-a-big-campus feel, the BFA acting program at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts is not to be overlooked. Just ask successful alums like Roger Bart, Mike Colter, Kristin Davis, and Jane Krakowski. Focusing on multiple acting techniques, from Meisner to newer methodologies, theater students at Rutgers develop “a truthful acting instrument.” Their work culminates in a professional industry showcase at the end of the program’s fourth year.
For those who wish to study acting but want to do it on a budget, SUNY New Paltz is the perfect choice for New York residents. The Department of the Theatre Arts offers a B.A. in theater with the option of concentrating in performance, design/tech, and theater studies. For the SUNY price and with faculty who are working professionals, students can expect to study the classic teachings of Stanislavsky, Uta Hagen, Anton Chekhov, and Sanford Meisner but also partake in character development and musical theater training as well. Students will also get the full theater education and take classes that relate to backstage departments such as scene design and directing.
Want to have something in common with Stanley Tucci, Adina Porter, Melissa Leo, and Edie Falco? The BFA acting program at SUNY Purchase’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts is your way to get there. It’s one of only five acting schools in the Consortium of Professional Theatre Training Programs, along with those at Boston University, Carnegie Mellon, Rutgers, and the University of North Carolina. Purchase’s program offers intensive, individualized training in topics such as movement, speech, theater history, dramatic literature, improvisation, and Lecoq technique.
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Though freshmen pursuing a BFA in acting at Syracuse’s College of Visual & Performing Arts aren’t allowed to perform publicly, the hefty first-year course load and requirement to work tech on a mainstage show keep them more than engaged. Students receive a well-rounded education that combines conservatory-style work with multifaceted training in a variety of techniques. The drama department also offers Wednesday Lab—a weekly speaker series where theater students can learn in an informal setting. If the Great White Way is your ultimate goal, know that Syracuse has turned out many successful Broadway actors, including Taye Diggs, Jessie Mueller, and Patti Murin.
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While the B.A. drama degree at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts isn’t acting-specific at the start, students have the opportunity to apply for the Honors in Acting program after their first year. Either way, the track’s “comprehensive study of acting, directing, design, music theater, playwriting, stage management, theater production, and dramatic theory, criticism, literature, and history” means you’ll build a strong foundation of knowledge of the craft and its role in society. Performers who graduated from the program include Grace Byers, Beth Malone, and Alan Mingo Jr.
When it comes to overall student talent level, the theater program at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television is hard to beat. The degree emphasizes talent development, as theater students are allowed to enroll in subsequent acting classes if their professors approve it. If you’re admitted to the acting school, you’ll be trained in both the performance and business sides of the industry; this means you’ll graduate with a deep understanding of how the two work together. Mikey Day, Jack Black, Mariska Hargitay, and Tim Robbins all studied here.
For those who think they may want to pursue acting but aren’t quite ready to commit 100%, UCSD is a great option. The theater curriculum is structured to meet the needs of both students seeking a liberal arts education with a focus on stage work and those hoping to break into the industry after graduation. If you’re one of the latter, you’ll have the opportunity to audition for graduate shows, which are often directed by prestigious guest artists.
The acting program at UConn’s School of Fine Arts has the smallest class size of any in the Northeast (typically 12 students). The conservatory is situated within a larger university environment made up of more than 18,000 undergrads. Training is based on the core aspects of Stanislavsky’s technique, but is also influenced by the dance and movement styles of Lecoq and Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Students have the opportunity to collaborate with working actors and directors at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, a professional theater located on campus. Students spend their fall semester junior year training in London, where they perform in eight to 10 productions.
Though UMich is best known for its Division I football team, its Department of Theatre & Drama is nothing to sneeze at. Staffed by a faculty of working actors, directors, designers, technicians, and published scholars, the BFA acting program trains students to meet the physical and mental demands of theatrical performance. The core curriculum includes training in acting, voice and speech, dialect, movement, and stage combat. Seniors perform in an industry showcase, sharing their best work with agents and casting directors. And thanks to Ann Arbor’s bustling arts scene, students have plenty of opportunities to take in world-class performances near campus.
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UNC’s Department of Dramatic Art aims to foster a deep understanding and appreciation of theater on all levels, including performance, production, history, and theory. The ultimate goal is for students to fully comprehend the impact culture, society, and language have on the dramatic arts. The school’s multiple stage facilities—including the Paul Green Theatre, Kenan Theatre Company, and LAB! Theatre—offer opportunities for students to make their college stage debut. To ensure that they’re über-prepared to enter the competitive industry, seniors take part in mock auditions with visiting agents and casting directors.
At USC’s School of Dramatic Arts, students interested in acting have the option to pursue either a B.A. in dramatic arts, which combines a liberal arts education with an intensive study of the craft; or a BFA in acting for stage and screen, which takes a classic conservatory approach. Since USC is located in Hollywood, students are treated to guest lectures and surprise appearances from renowned film directors and successful alumni—a group that includes stars like Shiri Appleby, LeVar Burton, Forest Whitaker, and Deborah Ann Woll.
UT Austin’s Department of Theatre and Dance offers two tracks for performance students. Designed with an ultra-modern approach in mind, the program combines conservatory-style acting classes with opportunities for practical experience. Acting BFA students can expect a small cohort of 16 to 18 students, plus opportunities to participate in six to eight mainstage productions. They also have the option to spend a semester studying at UT’s Los Angeles campus, where they can gain firsthand experience in the industry. This program is a good option if you’re looking for an intimate learning experience within a larger university setting.
The School of Drama at UW offers a “well-rounded liberal arts degree that encourages students to experience every aspect of theater-making and dramatic scholarship.” The program dedicates about half of its curriculum to acting, with the other half comprising theater history, literature, and criticism; it also offers robust scholarship options. Since the school has close ties to the Seattle theater community, acting students have access to professional organizations such as ACT—A Contemporary Theatre, Seattle Rep, Azeotrope, Washington Ensemble Theatre, Jet City Improv, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in nearby Ashland.
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Drama majors at Vassar receive a diverse, student-guided education. The college
offers classes “ranging from the art of collaboration to theatrical communication, design and technical elements, and essential skills of stagecraft.” Students begin by
gaining theoretical knowledge before learning to apply that education to the craft. They can also audition for the six to eight productions presented by the Vassar Experimental Theater each year. Alumni include Lilli Cooper, Ethan Slater, and Meryl Streep. When she received the Vassar Alumni Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award, Streep said that “one value of a Vassar education is that it kind of dooms you to a life of awareness.”
Ready to put all this information to good use? Check out our guide to applying and auditioning for a college acting program!