Top US Graduate Acting Programs

by Chad Gracia

Caps and gowns at graduation

Some of the best graduate acting programs in the United States.

If you're serious about becoming a working actor, one path you may want to take is graduate study. Many theater professionals have perfected their skills in MFA drama programs. I've selected -- with the help of my acting coaches -- some of the best in the United States.

1. New York University
Each year, 18 actors (out of 900 auditions) are invited to join the graduate acting program at NYU. The training is intensive, with classes daily from 10am to 6pm, focusing on acting; voice, speech, and text; and movement. Located in the heart of New York City, it is the perfect place to make theater connections. And as Sean Lewis, one of our coaches, pointed out, they have just added the excellent Richard Feldman of Juilliard fame to their staff. Alumni include Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River) and Frank Wood (Tony winner).

2. Yale - Connecticut
The graduate drama program at Yale focuses on preparing students for the stage, although they have also turned out leading actors and directors in film and television. Yale is one of the most respected universities in the country, and actors who study here have a huge head start when trying to get work.

3. Rutgers - New Jersey
The graduate drama program at Rutger's is one of the best. It is headed by Israel Hicks (a current Tony nominee and "the man who built Purchase and Temple's programs"). Many have also pointed out that the school's Deborah Hedwall is one of the best acting teachers around. Each year, the school showcases its students at events in Los Angeles and New York.

4. USD/Old Globe - San Diego
The University of San Diego offers an MFA in Dramatic Arts in collaboration with the world renown Old Globe theater. This partnership makes one of the finest acting programs anywhere. Only seven students are chosen each year, and they are given full scholarships and stipends (worth more than $50,000/year). But most important, students are given the chance to perform at the Old Globe, one of America's finest regional theaters. Guest directors have included Jack O'Brien, Daniel Sullivan, Nicholas Martin, John Rando and Matthew August.

5. UC-San Diego
The University of California at San Diego offers a three-year graduate acting program. Founded in 1974, the department has a partnership with the famed La Jolla Playhouse (Tony Outstanding Regional Theater,1993) where students are guaranteed a professional residency. They also offer a PhD program in Theatre and Drama. Past adjunct and visiting faculty include: Anne Bogart, Joesph Chaiken, Robert Egan, Richard Forman, Andrei Serban, and Robert Woodruf.

6. ACT - San Francisco
Not associated with any university or college, the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) offers an MFA program in actor training. One of the advantages to studying here is that you will work intimately with a leading professional theater company.

7. Harvard/ART - Boston
The Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard is a two-year program conducted in association with the American Repertory Theater (ART). One of the unique aspects of this program is that it includes a three month residency at the Moscow Theatre Art school, where students work closely with their professional acting company on mainstage productions. Upon graduation, students receive a Certificate of Achievement from the A.R.T. at Harvard University and an MFA from the Moscow Art Theatre.

8. UC-Irvine
This is another excellent graduate program, with many alumni heading straight out of school to Broadway and work in Hollywood. The graduate professional training program is ranked among the top 12 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and listed in the "most highly recommended" category by ARCO The Performing Arts Major's College Guide.

9. The Actors Studio Drama School - New York
This is a three-year intensive program made famous by the Bravo Network television series "Inside the Actors Studio," hosted by James Lipton. It is the only MFA program that is officially sanctioned by the legendary Actors Studio and, according to its brochure, the program is "the only school that offers the authenticity, continuity and authority of the Stanislavski System and the Method." Its curriculum has been structured by the leadership of the Actors Studio, including the Presidents of the Actors Studio, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino. The Actors Studio Drama School is located at Pace University in downtown New York City.

10. National Theatre Conservatory (NTC) - Denver
The National Theatre Conservatory has been eliminated.

Honorable Mentions:
The following schools have strong acting programs: University of Miami (FL), DePaul, Boston University, University of Delaware and UMKC.
Chad Gracia is a writer and director. His articles are copyright by Chad Gracia and, Inc. All rights reserved. For more articles on acting, as well as free monologues and acting supplies, visit
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