Top US Undergraduate Acting Programs

by Chad Gracia

College age kids

A list of the best undergraduate acting programs in the United States.

"What are the best acting schools?"

You're right that if you truly want to succeed as an actor, you'll need to get excellent training. There's nothing wrong with getting a good liberal arts education at a school that also offers acting classes, but if you really want to immerse yourself in training, then you'll want to attend one of the leading drama programs in the country.

I asked my acting coaches and some professional actors what they think are the best schools. The results of this non-scientific poll are below.

Top Undergraduate Acting Programs:

1. SUNY - Purchase
The Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film at Purchase College is a highly competitive and intensive program. The campus also contains a great liberal arts and design program and is only 40 minutes from New York City.

But you won't have much time to explore Manhattan: Classes generally start at 8am and you'll be busy with rehearsals until 11 at night. Your first two years are considered a "trial" period. If you don't have the required skills and professionalism, you won't be asked back. This is a tough school - but it also has one of the finest acting programs in the country.

2. Juilliard
Juilliard is one of the world-class acting schools in New York City (the other is at NYU). Its Drama Division was founded in 1968 by the American director and producer John Houseman and the French director, teacher, and actor Michel Saint-Denis.

Over 1,000 candidates apply each year for just 20 freshman spots. Like SUNY-Purchase, Rutgers and NYU, Julliard employs a "conservatory training" approach. This means that you will work closely over four years with the same students and professors, deeply immersed within a rigorously prepared program.

3. Rutgers
Many of my coaches recommended the BFA at Rutger's Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Jersey. This program, according to its brochure, "offers a BFA designed for those students who are seeking to integrate both a rigorous professional training program in a liberal arts setting. The curricula of the school gives such students a thorough and rigorous education as artists and, through the required liberal arts courses, humanistic perspectives on both their art and themselves. Junior students in Acting spend a year abroad at the Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare's Globe in London. This is the only BFA program which offers sequential conservatory training in London."

A chance to study at the Globe alone makes this a program to celebrate.

4. Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh offers a four-year undergraduate acting program as well as the possibility of double-majoring in musical theater. Both programs train actors by immersing them in "sophisticated, verbally complex material with a focus on the works of Chekhov and Shakespeare." Sounds fascinating.

In the junior year, the focus switches to Greek and Restoration drama. In the senior year, students participate in public performances on the school's main stage. Finally, for those students "in good standing," showcase performances in New York City and Los Angeles are arranged.

5. New York University - The Tisch School of Drama
NYU's Tisch School has given birth to scores of great theater professionals. The undergraduate program in acting includes standard conservatory training and theater study, and is complemented with other liberal arts classes from New York University.

According to Arthur Bartow, the Artistic Director of the Department of Drama, "The extraordinary synergism created by placing committed students with our professional conservatory faculty propels students forward, formulating their own unique way of working.... We are preparing people for a lifetime of creative output."

6. North Carolina School of the Arts
The School of Drama at the North Carolina School of the Arts boasts such alumni as Mary-Louise Parker (Proof), Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix), and Terrence Mann (Beauty and the Beast). The school emphasizes "classical values in its training process to meet a well-recognized demand for actors to be technically skilled and, at the same time, creatively inspired."

7. Northwestern
Northwestern offers a versatile drama program that is good for students who want flexibility in constructing their own curriculum. It is an interdepartmental program, and students take courses in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Speech. "The goal of the curriculum is to provide both historical breadth and particular insight into the relationship between dramatic texts and the performative dimensions and skills that have brought them to life."

8. California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts)
The Los Angeles based CalArts School of Theater's mission is to "expose students to theater traditions from a global cultural perspective nurture non-mainstream voices and promote a cultural and aesthetic diversity of viewpoint, experience and expression."

A few things set the school apart (besides its great location for people wanting to work in film or television). That includes a requirement to take up to 40% of your classes in the School of Critical Studies. These courses (some of which may be theater related) are intended to provide "broad knowledge and cultural sophistication needed for successful arts careers in today's world."

CalArts also has a great center for the study of puppetry and a new theater (the REDCAT) in downtown Los Angeles. Alumni include Bill Irwin, David Hasselhoff, and Ed Harris.

9. Yale
Yale is one of the world's great institutions of learning. It offers an undergraduate Theater Studies major within the department of humanities. This program differs from others in that it focuses less on performance than on theory and the history of theater and in immersing the student in liberal arts curricula.

Or, as their website puts it: "Students who major in Theater Studies are encouraged to use the theater with a more fully developed sense of context and purpose than is usual in a purely technical course of study. Courses are distributed to help ensure that students understand the theater as part of the intellectual life of the culture it interprets and reflects." A degree from Yale definitely opens doors in the theater world.

10. UC San Diego
The UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance offers both a major and minor. You do not need to apply specifically to the Department of Theatre and Dance or audition for the program - any student accepted to UCSD can claim a theater major.

While it is mainly known for its graduate program (with ties to La Jolla Playhouse), the UCSD undergraduate program provides a broad base of knowledge in the fine arts, supplemented with practical experience on the stage. Another advantage of studying at UCSD is that it also has a noteworthy film studies center.

Honorable Mentions:
The following schools have strong acting programs: University of Miami (FL), University of Indiana at Evansville, University of Minnesota (with ties to the Guthrie Theater), UT - Austin, Hofstra University, UC Irvine, Boston University, DePaul University, and Emerson College. I also know several excellent actors who attended the theater arts program at UC-Santa Cruz.
Chad Gracia is a writer and director. His articles are copyright by Chad Gracia and ActorTips. All rights reserved.
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Reader Comments

My son Daniel, just got accepted into UCSD to study Theater-Performing Arts undergrad. He also was accepted at Univ. Southern Oregon and Long Beach State. He also applied to UCLA...does not know if he got in yet. If he gets into UCLA which do you recommend UCLA or UCSD? He is interested in Theater Performing Arts not TV or Movies.



Posted by Sam (2015-03-20) 7150

Hey everybody! I'm considering theatre as a career, and I live very close to UNCSA (North Carolina School of the Arts). Does anybody have an opinion of it? I know Kristin Chenoweth went there, and I absolutely adore her!!! :)

Posted by Nick (2012-03-20) 5686

yep, i definitely do agree a BFA isn't everything.
BUT training is very very necessary...something that a BFA program can give...a condensed version of getting a BA and MFA.
It honestly doesn't matter where you go, as long as it's the place that enables you to develop and grow as an artist. It's the student, not the school that makes him or her amazing. As someone stated, these porgrams can only give you tools. I think the only reason why people are so concerned with going to a "top" program is to have the ability to have an opportunity to have peers that they work with that could possibly be some of the most talented young actors at the time they are in school.
And to comment on the UMN/Guths program. I think the reason why it isn't on a lot of radars is the fact that it is so young AND there is no formal showcase in LA and NYC. the reputation has only been able to grow from the people the grads have worked with by word of mouth. the faculty/administrators are confident that the work the grads are doing speaks enough for the program, so they aren't making a huge effort to do a showcase. but the graduates are working just as much if not more than some of the other top's almost incredible since the amount of grads is extremely small in comparison to all the established programs. the guthrie name however is allowing the reputation to grow rapidly with immense speed.

Posted by anon (2012-01-25) 5417

Sarah Lawrence College has to have graduated more top-tier actors per capita than any other college or university: Julianna Margulies, Joanne Woodward, Jane Alexander, Cary Elwes, Robin Givens, Tea Leoni, Elizabeth Rohm, and that's just for starters. In the movie industry generally, we have J.J. Abrams, Courtney Hunt (Oscar-nominated director), Brian Depalma, and more. Yeah, baby!

Posted by Fred (2011-12-09) 5270

Western Michigan University's Undergrad BFA program in Theatre Performance is quickly being recognized as one of the highest quality theatre programs in the country. I am currently in the program, and we bring in more professional acting coaches, teachers, agents, etc into visit and guest teach than the large majority of other programs. For my personal testimonial the thing which turned me on most about this program was how I actually felt like an individual when I came to visit. They made me feel special and like they wanted me there, not just like another unit or 'number' going through the university. And the campus is awesome too. WMU is worth checking out.

Posted by Charles Clark (2011-11-27) 5249

Totally gonna get flamed but who cares. I'll call it as I see it. Okay, is it me or does Tisch seem like a very overrated program? I mean, yes, they have a lot of alumni that are in the industry and out of all the schools listed have the most Academy award winners, BUT what I've notice is that most the "alumni" they claim have left BEFORE they even completed their degree. I just feel that out of all the aspiring actors, Tisch is a hot brand, not so much a training ground unless its in film or writing.

Posted by John (2011-11-11) 5126

Anyone have any information on Chapman University? This is tops on y daughter's list of schools. They have a BFA for camera program. Can anyone give me any info on it? Thanks!

Posted by Lynne (2011-10-11) 4901

I'm going to shout out at LEAST an honorable mention to my Alma Mater- Millikin University, whose Musical Theatre MFA not only prepared me for life as an actor, but as a full and well rounded artist. I had an agent and Broadway Auditions within 8 days of moving to New York City.

Posted by LoCulv (2011-09-14) 4755

what about Illinios Wesleyan University?

Posted by ab (2011-09-01) 4724

Anybody have comments about American Music and Dramatic Academy ? New York Film Academy's Musical Theater Department ? New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts?

Posted by Katie (2011-08-18) 4575

The previously mentioned Rutgers and Syracuse study abroad programs in London are NOT the only programs with years abroad. University of Minnesota/Guthrie also spends it's first semester of junior year in London training as a company. It is also a highly selective program, accepting 20 applicants (initially, usually dipping about 5-10 into the wait list, so eventually accepting 25-30) out of around 400 applicants who audition for the school- not including those the school sees at the Thespian Conference in Nebraska. The program is new, but highly regarded. With only 7 years of graduates, the list of companies where alumni have worked and accolades gained (including a Drama Desk award) is astounding. I wonder if the absence of discussion about the school is due to the lack of a formal showcase (students are showcased through a final production at the Guthrie)? It'd be interesting to know- as it is a fantastic program.

Posted by diane (2011-06-14) 3373

Sheryl and others,
A school that I believe has not been mentioned above (though I could be wrong, haven't skimmed a few notes) is Elon University, up and coming in the theatre world, especially with acting and musical theatre. While you may not see it next to the more famously known (which, don't get me wrong, are highly esteemed and right for some people), the program is priceless, and most students leave with multiple job offers and/or connections that will take them far. Not only is the acting training incredible, but students are taught the respect, culture, and history of the theatre, as well as provided with countless opportunities of improv, performance, and behind the scenes work. Numerous impressive guest speakers come each year to give master classes and to talk about the business. Breaking into the acting field is not about making a big name, it's about having good, consistent work, and graduates of these BFA programs achieve just that. (In fact, speaking of comedy, Craig Anton gave a master class on stand-up comedy this past year) All the schools mentioned on this list are highly impressive, and I applaud anyone who achieves getting into these tough programs. This is just another for the list. :)

Posted by Emily (2011-05-26) 3334

It's good to get up to date feedback from parents a step ahead in the process. I was little surprised by the SUNY experience. We did a tour in the spring and thought the admissions staff and student tour guide were open, relaxed and friendly and really took their time ... we got no hard sell or looks down the noses. We went from there to NYU and got all of the above - thoroughly turned off.

Posted by KC (2011-05-23) 3278

Katy, thanks for the info on NIU. I'll pass along that info to my daughter if she ever decides to transfer close to home. After all was said and done she's heading to Hofstra University. We heard good things about the program and have had very positive dealing with the school so far. We'll see how good of a program they turn out to be. We have been was very impressed with all the faculty and staff. They have been extremely helpful and kind and I feel confident that my daughter will be in good hands and get a quality education. In contrast I'm relieved that my daughter is not going to either Rutgers or SUNY Purchase which we had heard mixed reviews about. Just on general questions people we dealt with in both their administration areas and theatre department were rude and unhelpful. If I'm paying good money and more importantly trusting the well being of my child in the hands of others I need to be able to trust them and feel confident that she's getting a good college experience. We didn't get warm fuzzies from those two schools at all right from the get go. To all future acting students and their parents out there I say be cautious, just because a program is ranked high doesn't mean jack. Plenty of actors come from lesser known schools. You got to be able to trust the schools and it's got to be a "good fit" for the student.

Posted by Dave (2011-05-21) 3220

In terms of bang for the buck, SUNY Purchase, NC School of the Arts and U of Minn got the others beat. They are all great schools, but when you consider that many actors do not make a lot of money, the cost can be a big factor. Even the high tuition schools that are generous with financial aid for tuition can still leave you with big room, board and fee bills.

Tuition per year

SUNY Purchase in-state tuition $4,970, $13,380
North Carolina School for the Arts in-state $4,716, out-of-state $17,665
U of Minnesota Guthrie in-state $4,897, out-of-state $7,047
Rutgers in-state $9,926, out-of-state $21,682
Juilliard $32,180
Cal Arts $37,684
Boston University $40,848
USC $40,384
NYU Tisch: $41,782
Carnegie Mellon $43,160

Posted by GM (2011-05-09) 3095

If you're daughter finds she isn't compatible with the Meisner technique, she shouldn't consider Rutgers, because the first two years (for the BFA program, at least) is strictly Meisner training. Has she ever actually worked on the technique?
If you have any other questions feel free to ask, I'm attending Rutgers Mason Gross this fall.

Posted by Jerry Sanchez (2011-05-02) 3053

Can anybody describe the theater school at Emerson College in Boston?

Posted by Jack (2011-04-30) 3045

This is a fascinating blog. While I know that many, many great actors did not learn from BFA programs, it's still good to hear what to expect before having your child apply. One GIANT question about Rutgers as I'm hearing so much about it here: my daughter says she hates Miesner.....yet it sounds as though this is the strength of do others out there feel?

Posted by KC (2011-04-21) 3007

Can I please get some input about Emerson theater/acting program?

Posted by Cosmo (2011-04-16) 3002

Hi, I'm currently an acting major at northern Illinois university. We have an abroad to Russia the first semester of our junior year. We study at the Moscow arts theatre. Kathryn gately is one of our teachers and she has taught many famous people you can look her up on google. She use to be one of the heads at rutgers for acting but now teaches at northern. She's brilliant. We have guest teachers all the time who have done work all over the world. You should consider this school because I'm telling you it's about to blow up in being one of the best acting schools if it's not already up in the top! I promise if it Was evaluated by a real judge we would be top 5! We just work really really hard!

Posted by Katy (2011-04-13) 2997

Comments please regarding Fordham University's BA in performance as to quality.

Posted by Thomas Papadimos (2011-03-25) 2981

How about Ithaca?

Posted by Debra (2011-03-15) 2936

I too would like to know if anyone knows anything about Northern Illinois University's acting program.

Posted by Debra (2011-03-14) 2929

Does anyone know anything about Northern Illinois University's acting Program and how it Fares in the acting world?

Posted by IAASongBird (2011-03-13) 2928

I'm a dad of a high school senior. My daughter's applied & auditioned to a number of the schools mentioned above and we are awaiting word from these programs. However there's also a number of other colleges in our home state of Illinois who have contacted her when they saw her perform at Theatre Fest in January. I'm curious if anyone has any knowledge regarding the acting/theater arts programs at Bradley University, Millikin University, and Illinois State University. Also am curious about how good of a program Hofstra University really is. Thanks for any input.

Posted by Dave (2011-02-17) 2885

This is all so STRESSFUL and CONFUSING! It would be wonderful if someone could fill in this blank for me (HA!)

I am a free-spirited, theater adoring, super artsy, musical, kind-hearted, slightly competitive, liberal, actor who wants good parts but doesn't like hurting people, and who won't bear being anything else, who is social justice motivated and optimistic and who would love to study in New York or L.A. and therefore I should go to _____________________ (insert university here)

Posted by Lila (2011-02-15) 2883

Does it matter what high school you go to? Would attending a top name art high school like Dreyfoos in FL or just getting good grades and local community theater and film festive shorts be better?

Posted by Robi (2011-02-02) 2853

Texas anyone... Give a dad a hand, any good schools in Texas?

Posted by spen (2010-12-07) 2805

Mason Gross School of the Arts- BFA Acting :)

I have never seen such talented artists and actors. They are the most truthful actors.
They are brilliant. Individualistic. Hard workers. Dedicators. Humble.

Posted by Anonymous (2010-11-21) 2788

this article is a few years old now and i was wondering if anyone knew how northwestern ranked these days? they have great alumni and seem to have a strong program, as why they are on this list, but are they still that strong? thanks

Posted by C Bush (2010-10-20) 2751

I found a school that I guess agents wouldn't recognize but then again. Most of us normal people can't afford those schools mentioned, especially Juilliard or Yale. Trust me, I know it has nothing to do with talent. Some can't afford it, is all. Take me for example. Anyway, any real agent will tell you that, though the name is great, a diploma or degree in Acting means nothing in Hollywood. Talent, networking, and who you know is what make the success stories. I found a school, Hollywood Film & Acting Academy! It's 9,000 for their 6-month acting intensive. The thing that I found would be most helpful to you guys was A) They help build your demo reel B) Cast you in a feature-length film and a short-film C) Get you headshots D) Introduce you to people in the business. Of course they teach you Networking...which is key! THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR ME WAS THEY GIVE FREE HOUSING!

Posted by Q Sky (2010-10-06) 2732

Here is my question...what if the student is fairly certain they want to be a film actor. Do you still go for the top acting program as per all the recommendations above; or, do you look for a program which includes a focus on film acting? Thank you.

Posted by Dorothy (2010-09-11) 2706

Not everyone can attend the prestigious schools you mention above. Are there other schools that will give you the skills you need to become an actor? My son is very interested in sketch comedy along the lines of Second City or Saturday Night Live. He has already attended an Academy for Performing Arts while in High School. He enjoys all types of acting but has a penchant for comedy. He is interested in attending Columbia College Chicago due to their affiliation with Second City. However, he wants to continue to get excellent training in all areas of acting. Will this school provide that?

Posted by Sheryl (2010-08-30) 2690

Boston University sounds nice. What is the word on UT Austin? It was on the Honorable Mention list and has produced some great actors.

Posted by Nate (2010-06-18) 2594

I have to agree with JJ Hopkins: The whole debate seems to not matter much. I went to Syracuse University School of Drama and, while it has opened a few doors of opportunity, it's nothing I couldn't have arranged with a little grit and determination.

It IS something of a middle-class convention to think that the right BFA program can put you on the fast track. This isn't communications or business school we're talking about. Art is subjective. And some of the best actors of all time never had a bachelors.

What's more important is that those four years enriched my life more than I could enunciate. And not only the acting training (which was absolutely excellent by the way) but the whole experience. Attend a school where you think you'll learn and thrive.

And Juni, it's true: I only got to study at the Globe for one semester. Your friend got to study for an entire year. Impressive. Still, I got to study at the Globe because Syracuse ALSO has a unique relationship with the Shakespeare Globe, and it was the best four months of my life.

I'm sure Mason Gross is nice too.

Posted by Adam (2010-06-10) 2580


I'm currently an acting major at Boston University. I feel as though our program really is not getting the attention it deserves, not in the professional world but as a viable program to study in.

First of all, speaking from experience, having BU on your resume really gets you noticed. It has opened up many opportunities for me. Both faculty and alumni are continuing to garner respect for our program.

As for the program itself, there is no better community for what we do. Unlike most of the "prestigious" schools, there is no pressure to really show results. We are encouraged to learn at our own pace, with the understanding that what we get out of it corresponds with what we put in. However, instead of creating a lax/lazy atmosphere, they focus on igniting our passions for the theatre as a whole which is a very driving force. There is absolutely no feeling of competition between the students. Our utmost priority is to create a safe, supportive place where we can explore our creativity fully and without fear.

The faculty members are wonderful and knowledgeable, and they become incredibly invested in each one of their students. They do anything they can to help and support us, but make sure we can sustain ourselves artistically once we graduate.

Also, they are all working members of Boston's theatre community, working with the ART, Huntington Theatre Co., and others, including BCAP which is a new professional company grown out of the school. Because of this, they give incredible opportunities to their students. For example, three of my classmates were asked to perform substantial supporting roles in Othello with the ART. That's a prime credit to have on your resume.

The abroad program is extensive. You can basically study where ever you want, from LAMDA and RAADA to Arretzo. A recent graduate worked in Sydney under the direction of Cate Blanchette.

Lastly, we are given two options as far as majors. In my opinion, the greatest part of this program is it gives you everything you need to be a collaborative theatre artist, with award winning playwrights, directors, and actors on the faculty. The theatre arts majors can really follow their hearts in exploring whatever interests them about theatre with the ability to build their own program while keeping up with their acting training. The acting majors certainly don't lose much of that roundedness and still have many opportunities to expand, but are given a strong progression in acting.

Basically, BU gives you top-notch acting training, opens a lot of doors, and gives you the tools you need to create your own opportunities and be a strong collaborator in the theatre community. Not only that, it cultivates a real love for the art of theatre, which I believe will be great fuel for the rest of my career. I went their with the idea that I was in it for myself, for the attention and celebrity of being an actor. I now believe that theatre is so much more important than me and is truly worth devoting my life to

Posted by Nick Dawson (2010-05-21) 2551

ok i just grad from high school and am looking for the best and mostly succesful acting flim college ..i love acting and i want to learn hoping to find the right school and get started ..many of my high school mates have believe i can do it cuz i put alot of work on my acting but other think i cant..i want to prove them wrong but i need help looking for the best school that will actually help me learn and grow up in the acting film life

Posted by bruno (2010-05-14) 2523

Hi everyone -- are people still following this thread? I'm wondering if anyone knows about the quality of the undergraduate acting BA at Penn State (regular acting -- not the musical theatre program). It is a small program and by audition only, but I don't know what's its reputation is in the business.

Thanks in advance!

Posted by Ruth (2010-05-12) 2520

JJ Hopkins:

I must disagree with you. Although it is true that these powerful actors do not have BFA acting degrees, it doesn't mean that the "system" is anti-artistic. The degrees offered at these programs are meant to provide you with work (And they have- some examples include Sebastian Stan, Aaron Stanford etc.) If you get lucky, you'll land some big-budget TV show or film. Almost all of these recognized actors just got lucky, that doesn't mean that they are necessarily better than anybody else. BFA degrees are just proof that you have become skilled at your talent, skilled enough to work in the business. I agree with you that everyone has their own process, however everyone can only learn that process by either creating their own technique somehow, or by going to school and branching off of other techniques.
The schools are rated, unfortunately, but these schools are all GREAT programs. There isn't really one top school. I believe that if you want to go to a great school, do your research on all of them, and see which one best fits you.
These are, however, the schools that have been getting the most buzz lately, based on their graduating students and faculty:

Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts
Carnegie Mellon School of Drama
North Carolina School of the Arts
The Juilliard School Drama Division
SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Theatre Arts & Film

By no means, people, does this mean that these schools are the perfect fit for you. Like I said before, do your research on them all.

Posted by Andrew Stantham (2010-05-09) 2512

okay so big thing here.... A BFA PROGRAM IS NOT EVERYTHING... Who are the best actors of our time? DO THEY HAVE BFAs? NO. NO NO NO. Who even has a BFA... The whole degree has become a middle class convention of acting and I hate it. Go to school kids. GO TO SCHOOL for something. Get a degree... maybe get an MFA... maybe take classes outside of school. The most powerful actors I see do not have a bfa. The degree is an infantile shortcut to someting no one should take a shortcut too. And how can we rate these schools either? Really, are we gonna say who is the best? To do so is so naive and ignorant. Art is subjective. Every one has their OWN PROCESS independent of what I beleive any school can teach. A school just offers tools... Showcases are pointless and and overrated. the whole system is anti-artistic.

Posted by JJ Hopkins (2010-04-24) 2492

Who cares who's the best! Go get your training and worry about longevity. All of these places can prepare you for the industry. Get to work and stop thinking about which school is the best.

Posted by Student (2010-04-20) 2488

LL if you could message me about Evansville, that would be great. I was acepted there as a performance major, and am now trying to make decisions...thanks!

Posted by SKS (2010-04-04) 2462

"Graduates of the University of Evansville are consistently the best prepared to enter and to succeed in the most demanding MFA programs in the United States."
- Ron Van Lieu, Chair, Graduate Acting Program, Yale School of Drama

They are also ALL OVER film and TV right now. If you are looking for intense and excellent acting training AND a complete liberal arts academic education (actors should live and learn as much as they can about the world they live in), this is the place. Another major draw to U.E. is their secondary campus in ENGLAND. My semester there was one of the most formative, enlightening and amazing experiences of my life and has greatly shaped the course of my career as an entertainment professional.

p.s. U.E. is not part of the University of Indiana system.

Posted by LL (2010-04-04) 2461

I'm really surprised where NYU and Univ. Minnesota/Guthrie are on the lists. I've heard that they both have incredible programs. Any comments???

Posted by Andrew Taton (2010-04-01) 2458

Mason Gross School of the Arts is definitely the best out of all. What they teach there is amazing.

Posted by Jonathan Mathews (2010-03-19) 2437

To D. McMinn:
Congratulations on your decision to become a professional actor. Yes. Go back to school and study. Like Todd Waite said on this thread: "Of course, someone can have a natural talent for Baseball, or surgery, but you can't do it without honing your skills with great teachers." I would recommend looking into the top acting schools, check their requirements and get going. This is a champion buisness and you can't be an "OK" actor. You must be brilliant to succeed.
Top 5 BFA Acting Schools are:
Mason Gross School of the Arts
Carnegie Mellon
Boston University
North Carolina School of the Arts

Good Luck and be brilliant!

Posted by Jeff Sanchez (2010-03-07) 2413

What advice would you give to someone who is old(er), has spent the past 20 years as a doctor, but would like to act professionally with NO fall back? I would like to transition from treating patients to acting. Would you go back to school to do it? Should I go back and get a BFA? If not how would you start? What would you do?

Posted by D. McMinn (2010-03-05) 2410

You don't have to have a degree.. these people don't and it worked for them.

Sally Field
Leonardo DiCaprio
Whoopi Goldberg
Kate Winslet
Robert De Niro
Patrick Dempsey
Claire Danes
Rosario Dawson
Noel Coward
Kevin Connolly
George Carlin
James Cameron
Michael Caine
Ellen Burnstyn
Marlon Brando
Drew Barrymore
Kate Beckinsale
Christina Appelgate
Jennifer Anniston
Woody Allen
Edward Albee
Ben Affleck
Halle Berry
Sean Penn
Brad Pitt
Matt Damon
Tommy Lee Jones
Jason Statham
Gerard Butler
Clint Eastwood

Posted by Noel (2010-03-04) 2409

I have ben a working actor for 30 years, and done 140 professional plays, and a fair amount of TV. The fact is I have never worked with an untrained actor... usually from a very good school with a track record of excellent training, and a roster of working graduates. Of course, someone can have a natural talent for Baseball, or surgery, but you can't do it without honing your skills with great teachers. The fact that someone can point out a handful of exceptions adds to the myth of the "discovered actor". I wouldn't bet on that myth. It is a gross disservice to excellent teachers to suggest that they don't make a difference. Like excellence in other area, they tend to be noticed, and then tend to be recruited to good schools. This does not mean that other schools don't also have good teachers, but it really MUST be a conservatory program that demands voice/speech, mvmt, every day...and then dialect, fight training, scene work, acting... with a competative entrance requirement so that the group challenges and demands excellence of each other. The fact that there are some bad students from good schools is a childish thing to point out in addressing the worth of a school. Acting well is very difficult, requires years of focus, and tremendous skills...if not, more than one in 7000 people who wish to do it would succeed. Generally, the schools you hear about are the better schools...I know, because I work with them.

Posted by Todd Waite (2010-02-22) 2385

I have studied at Mason Gross for a month for acting in a program called RSAC (Rutgers Summer Acting Conservatory) and I can definitely say that although I was only there for one month, this rigorous and amazing conservatory training has been unparalleled anywhere else I have studied so far. I have seen shows from Julliard, Rutgers, and Carnegie Mellon, and although they were all simply amazing, I must say that the BFA actors over at Mason Gross just left the other schools with dust in their eyes from how advanced and simple their moment to moment spontaneity and genuine truthfulness was. Don't get me wrong, the other schools are pretty effing amazing, but Mason Gross is top.

Posted by Jerzmonz (2010-02-16) 2356

Auditioners this year 2010 are saying the following...

1. Juilliard
2. Rutgers
3. Carnegie Mellon
4. SUNY Purchase
5. North Carolina School for the Arts
6. U of Minnesota Guthrie
7. Boston University
8. USC
9. Cal Arts
10. NYU Tisch

Posted by Hoffstaz (2010-02-16) 2353

How does the Pitzer College theatre program rate among the programs mentioned?

Posted by Henry (2009-11-26) 2208

Hi guys, I am from Western Michigan University's Theatre Department and we are among the top undergrad theatre programs in the US. We have a highly acclaimed Musical Theatre Performance, Theatre Performance, and Design and Technical Production Department. We are currently working on recruiting people into our department, and I think you should absolutely check it out! GO TO to see production photos, student life information, class schedules, audition information, season tickets, and more.

Posted by Leandra Watson (2009-11-20) 2196

My daughter (a HS Senior) has visited acting programs since Aug 2008 (and attended classes where permitted) at SUNY Purchase, Juilliard, NCSA, Marymount Manhattan, Tisch, & others. The exceptional, personalized attention and accessibility that Marymount has offered are second to none! The tour, visits, acting classes & whole experience was what one would hope for when investing soooooooo much effort, time, study & $ on an education. Yes, in some situations, it really does "take a village"....and in my daughter's college search...IT DOES!!! My daughter also is currently working to save for her college tuition! I am a Social Worker & never dreamed I would have a daughter compelled to act & destined to a life in the theatre!!! She has also educated me to understand the magnitude of what theatre brings to one's life (including mine!) & that this is her life's passion and essentially who she is!!! As a parent, I could not ask for a more professional, nurturing and realistic approach than what we have experienced at Marymount (the visits, the classes, the follow-up phone calls, & the friends she has made during the visits) concerning her chosen field and also the personalized attention, advice, and coaching offered by the Marymount program. I am amazed and astounded that on the Upper East Side, 2009, a young adult, aspiring actor, can find such a place as Marymount who welcomes the challenge to nurture the whole person, actor, student in such a way that gives a parent, a piece of mind,...everything will be ok with this child of mine who needs/desires to act...& cannot imagine anything else in her life-and for her life.
From Nicole in Admissions to David Mold's Acting Class (Feb. 2009), the Thoroughly Modern Millie production (Mar. 2009) that also inspired our daughter...from Allison, the tour guide (Class of 2009) to Ian, the graduate (2009) who both still communicate via Facebook with my daughter, encouraging her along the way through the audition process. Thank You Marymount Manhattan from a mother's whole heart... Others...take note!

Posted by "NotSoStageMumsy" (2009-11-10) 2178

To the next person or people who leaves a blog please tell me what you think about temple's university's theater program and what other training one should seek after graduating from there if the graduate is going to be at least 26 when he finishes. And are acting workshops at places like stella adler, and hb studios really worth it. And does anyone know how good sft (school of film and television).
Thank you.
I would consider trying to go to julliard or Suny purchase after graduation but i would be to old so any advice you could offer would help

Posted by Paper (2009-11-02) 2171


Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts' acting program is currently regarded as one of the top three if not, top two acting programs in the country. Rutgers has a direct partnership with the Globe Theatre unlike any other program and the students do not just spend a semester working there, BUT an entire year! Londoners that work and live around the Globe are apparently excited every year for the new Rutgers students to come and show them some world class acting. My friend goes to this program so I have heard these things. Really though, the partnership Rutgers has with the Globe is very unique - something that is very special and no other school in the world currently offers that kind of connection. There are a lot of programs that take kids to London for a semester for some general studies and acting classes and the opportunity to study abroad. Rutgers program abroad is much more complex and intricate due to its very intimate partnership with the globe.

Also, having a showcase doesn't make Syracuse very special due to the fact that pretty much every notable bfa program has one.

Posted by Juni (2009-10-25) 2157

. "Junior students in Acting spend a year abroad at the Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare's Globe in London. This is the only BFA program which offers sequential conservatory training in London."

This is completely false because Syracuse University offers all of their BFA Acting and Musical Theater an opportunity to study abroad in London for a semester and work professionally with Shakespearean actors in the Globe Theater. You also put on your own Shakespearean production and perform in the Globe.

Syracuse also has a program called Tepper which sends second semester senior BFA students to New York City to work and train with the best casting agents and directors in the city. You take master classes and audition for the entire semester in front of casting directors.

In addition, Syracuse puts on a production called "Showcase" at the end of the year for second semester seniors only. They only accept 20 MT and Acting majors into the showcase and the students perform individually and with scene partners in front of successful casting directors and agents.

Its an amazing program! Definitely one of the best in the country

Posted by Katherine (2009-10-21) 2152

chicago conservatory should be on this list.

Posted by student (2009-09-24) 2120

Under the honorable mentions, the "University of Indiana at Evansville" does not exist. The theatre program he refers to is The University of Evansville, which is located in Evansville, Indiana. It is a private university with no affiliation with any other Indiana school.

Posted by Evansville (2009-08-31) 2034

I hear the programs at Juilluard, Purchase, Rutgers and CMU are great. I would say this is correct :)

Posted by Alexander Jones (2009-08-24) 2003

Ignore user No Purchase's comment. They wrote that because they were asked to leave in the Freshman year due to a lack of professional conduct. The Acting program at Purchase is one of the best- if you are dedicated enough to grow and do the work.

Posted by Current Student. (2009-08-08) 1907

I am a teacher a very well respected arts high school out east. Every year we update our students with the best knowledge of what the top programs currently are. In fact, a few agencies that we have connections with that attend all the showcases usually create a list of what they believe the current top ten programs are. They then share this knowledge with us so we can pass it on to our students who will be applying in the coming year. This is helpful information and we do see it change slightly year to year. They base the ranking completely on their opinions of the talent at the showcase, the professionalism of the students, and the work the students are offered through the showcase. After talking with them this year the list they have created looks like this....

1. Juilliard
2. Rutgers MGSA
3. Carnegie Mellon
4. SUNY Purchase
5. North Carolina
6. Boston University
7. CalArts
8. NYU Tisch
... There are more to the list, however I do not have it with me and this is all I can remember.

Best wishes to you all.

Posted by Suzanne Stein (2009-08-02) 1877

In response to Olinda Giamani's post...Although BU does accept 100 to yield to 40-50, about 800 students audition for the acting program. I would say a 1 in 8 chance is very competitive, although it isn't as competitive to get into some other programs like CMU or Juilliard.

Posted by TJC (2009-07-13) 1766

In response to B.Ryder's post... I know this was written back in 2007... But BU accepts 100 acting majors! Most of them don't come so they usually end up with around 40-50 and then as the years go on they cut it down... So to gain admittance is not competitive at all. Also, Northwestern, NYU, and Rutgers are on completely different levels. Rutgers houses a fantastic program on the same level as Juilliard and Carnegie...etc and although the school is strong with liberal arts it is a conservatory program and therefore it is just like Carnegie, Purchase... etc. I think you must have been confused about that. Northwestern and NYU have two unique programs that aren't like anything else and Academia comes into play MUCH more when considering who to admit than any other school. Northwestern requires no audition and NYU only accepts students who are academically at the normal standards of NYU - Hence you get kids who are very smart, not necessarily the most talented... BUT some of them are because they accept 300. Rutgers accepts 18-20. BIG DIFFERENCE.

Posted by Olinda Giamani (2009-07-11) 1757

I agree as well... But I think we can all still agree pegging these programs one over the other is just nonsense. Fantastic actors have emerged from all of them. Though it would be easy to say a students best bet would be to gain admittance to Juilliard, Rutgers, Purchase, or Carnegie. I have visited all four programs and have seen brilliance in the students work at each compared to others (NYU, NCSA, DePaul...)

Posted by Shawn Gross (2009-07-11) 1756

I agree - Meisner is by far the most respected teaching method in the country. I wouldn't even consider it a "technique" it is so much more of a way to allow yourself as an actor to let the scene do you instead of doing the scene. Act from the soul rather than your mind... THAT is the essence of acting. Because that is how life happens.

Posted by Dylan McCarthur (2009-07-11) 1755

RUTGERS - MASON GROSS BFA ACTING is the best program - and I don't even go there. I just think what they are doing there is incredible!

Posted by Casey Anderson (2009-07-02) 1712

I believe it is impossible to put a number next to any of these programs... I agree to a degree (KEY WORD: DEGREE) with all of you. I think it is foolish to argue over which program is the best... They all produce wonderfully talented and great actors each year. Any student should be more than grateful to attend any of them... But with that said, It looks like we can all agree that CMU, Rutgers - MGSA, Juilliard, and Purchase all have wonderful programs... Probably the best four in the country... And we are incapable of ranking them. We can just know they are the "best."

Posted by IZZYNyc (2009-06-25) 1657

Jessecb - I would have to say you are false about SUNY Purchase. The new faculty members at Purchase which includes Lisa Benavides-Nelson, Charles Tuthill, J. Allen Suddeth and Christopher McCann are some of the most known teachers and working professionals in the New York industry. The chair A. Dean Irby has taken over the program and transformed it into something great. Budget cuts are happening every were. At every top acting program in the country. Julliard recently had 20 percent of their budget cut this year .. so what does that tell you? We are in a recession people.

The point is Purchase has an amazing faculty and hungry, driven and beautiful students. The work that is being done at that program is great. Those students know how to make something out of nothing. No, its not glamorous and all that jazz but its REAL. Real artist are being made at that program. Just like at CMU, Juilliard and Rutgers.

Posted by Jasmine (2009-06-16) 1588

As someone who knows about the program at Purchase I would say it is still one of the best. Yes, the faculty had changed and the chair but they are back and stronger then ever. I just saw a group of their second years in a show and they were brilliant. The work that is going on at that still is just breathe taking.

Posted by Lloyd Smith (2009-06-15) 1585

It’s no use fighting over which is the best acting school and which offers the great acting programs. The bottom line is that whether you are either a bad actor with deep pocket or a good one without it, having one of these ‘prestigious’ institutions on your resume does help in the end. The bad actors will rule themselves out at some point, while good ones will survive. Resilience, dedication, perseverance are important words.

Posted by Allan Jacob (2009-05-07) 1416


I actually have began to hear much from people in the business that Juilliard is a more of a NAME than it is a good PROGRAM. Of course the training received is good... But I just do not know if it is the BEST without a doubt school for acting. Is it really? Or are we all just saying this because it has the name "Juilliard" tagged to it? I would say that you cannot give any program the NUMBER ONE spot. They are all different and impossible to rank...

SO, with that said, I would conclude that Juilliard, Rutgers, and Carnegie have to be the 3 top programs. In no order. And then so on and so on... You cannot tag numbers to them though.

Posted by Je tellie (2009-05-01) 1388

I am a current freshmen at Purchase and am trying to transfer because it is BAD! 6 other students from my class "tried" to transfer as well... The school is NOT I repeat NOT providing its students with the proper facilities training and overall a good acting education... I along with others feel deprived and I wish I would've made another choice last year... DO NOT COME here, the state is cutting the budget and making it hard for the program to do anything... Overall, this is just my opinion, but the program is DEFINITELY NOT the number one... I agree with the post above but maybe move Purchase below NCSA.

Posted by NoPurchase (2009-04-17) 1319

Current List after talking to many people in the business...

1. Juilliard
2. Rutgers
3. Carnegie Mellon
4. SUNY Purchase
5. North Carolina School of the Arts
6. Boston University
7. University of Minnesota - Guthrie Actor Training Program
8. California Institute of the Arts
9. New York University
10. DePaul University
11. Emerson College
12. University of Southern California

BA Programs:
Yale, Fordham, Northwestern (can turn into BFA)

Posted by Heise (2009-04-09) 1267

I think this list is very accurate I have just recently been through the whole process of auditioning and have learned a lot about all the schools and what they CURRENTLY offer and their CURRENT strength. I would have to say with what I know I believe the program at SUNY Purchase is currently becoming less and less prestigious due to budget cuts and a lack of talent. The campus is also very unattractive. The faculty has changed. In fact, the head of the faculty and majority of the faculty that worked at Purchase during its days of glory in the 80s and 90s have all moved on elsewhere. Many in fact have moved to Mason Gross at Rutgers including Israel Hicks the former head of the Purchase program and Current head of the Rutgers program. Now, I have been extremely educated in this field over the last year have seen productions or clips or students act from all of these schools. I currently can say with 100% integrity that Juilliard, Rutgers, and Carnegie currently house the best acting programs. No ifs ands or buts. These programs are flourishing and producing incredible graduates. I would actually say for the current undergraduate student that Rutgers holds the best program - if you like the Meisner and teachings of esper that is. But the school gives its students enormous opportunities and unique, fundamental, pivotal, intriguing, and crucial work that most of these schools lack to a degree. The top five programs in no order are Juilliard, Rutgers, Carnegie Mellon, Purchase, and NCSA. These schools currently lead the way with the most successful and talented grads in the country. Especially Juilliard, Rutgers, and Carnegie.

Posted by Jessecb (2009-04-09) 1266

Anyone in California knows that UCLA is WAY better than UCSD or UCSC for undergraduate Acting. The program gets 1600 applicants for 25 spaces.

UCSD and UCI are great for Graduate Level *MFA* But UCLA is better than CalArts, USC and all other west coast schools for undergraduate acting.

In fact, The Princeton Review & The Gourman Report ranked UCLA as #1 in the country in their last publication

Posted by mike (2009-03-31) 1230


Posted by Sean (2009-03-31) 1229

What about University of the Arts in Philadelphia, or Marymount Manhattan (in Manhattan). I have heard that they also have competitive and well-respected bfa programs in acting.

Posted by LK (2009-02-27) 1062

If acting is something that you get into because you want to try your hand at fame and fortune, then no, it's probably not worth it. But if acting is a passion and is something that you do to feed your soul and give meaning to your life, then yes, it is absolutely worth it.

Posted by T.C (2009-01-31) 953

Before going into any BFA acting program, the question to ask is it really worth it.

Posted by dennis (2008-11-12) 551

I've read certain places that USC is among the top schools for acting. Is this accurate, and does it compare to these others?

Posted by Joe D (2008-08-25) 292

While the Rutgers BFA program is supposed to be good, I would read about the Rutgers MFA Acting program. Its a look into their unethical behavior and why it might not be the best graduate school for you to attend.

Posted by d.b. (2008-08-05) 178

Having just graduated from a top conservatory program and seeing some of the work of my peers, I can attest to the fact that a prestigious degree does not guarantee talent. I have seen many performances from graduates of top schools that were forced, bombastic, out of place, or even selfish. My own experiences at school have occasionally made me question the value of my program and others. I am not wholly confident in my own work, and this lack of confidence has not always been assuaged by my work with my professors. Maybe I'm not the most competitive actor in the world, but maybe that's not what my undergrad training was for. Maybe it was to encourage me to be a student and help me be a professional.

What I can say is that I think an undergraduate acting degree from ANY audition-based program speaks to an actor's dedication to really learn a craft, rather than just fumble around in the dark without losing face. A degree from a reputable program goes a step further, implying that an actor is familiar with certain basic tenets of theatre and performance, as well as possessing an awareness of available vocal and physical choices (this is REALLY important and something that is not innate even in the most talented) and a basic vocabulary with which to work. More than this, though, a degree from any of the schools discussed, as well as some others (I would suggest CCM or Ithaca), shows again that dedication to challenge oneself and accept the criticism that one certainly gets in such a program and to work with it, not against it. Acting is the most competitive business besides professional sports, and I think the main criterion for success is unflinching dedication. The other thing that a program like mine can do is expose a young actor to the wealth of information out there. When I entered school, I naively thought I'd be set to be a great actor at the end of four years. Now I know I'll be in classes the rest of my life, and that'll still only get me the tip of the iceberg.

Training isn't everything, though. Plenty of the best actors have no relevant degree, but they dedicated themselves in other ways, and I guarantee they met with rejection, criticism, and other harsh conditions for which a degree would have prepared them. My feeling is that actors who are able to find success without a training program--those who have been able to "train on the job"--are either the luckiest or the hardiest of the bunch (and maybe both). Hats off to them... in the meantime, I'll take my diploma.

Posted by E.M. (2008-06-06) 98

What B. Ryder is saying is that while NOT going to one of these programs does not mean that you are a bad actor, going to these programs assures agents that you have not only had good training, but also have beat out thousands of other applicants in earning a spot at one of these programs, so generally you are talented. I disagree with Chad Robbins for saying that actors from these programs cannot act, many of them are great...this is not saying that they are necessarily the best, but still...
Training is important. Many of the best actors have trained in undergraduate, graduate, or prestigious studio programs.

Posted by Melissa R (2008-05-31) 97

B. Ryder (2007-12-01) used "on there resume" when s/he meant "their," while Chad Robbins (2008-01-30) said "their a good actor" when s/he meant "they're." I know that it doesn't matter orally -- they're, there and their all rhyme on stage -- but most junior high school students know the difference!

Posted by I'm a good acter, bad spellar (2008-02-18) 42

I strongly disagree with the 12.01.07 posting of B Ryder immensely. Why does it matter where you get your "training" from? It is the institutional types like you that give acting a bad name. If someone has experience and can really ACT, then why bypass them for someone who cant and has Juilliard on their resume. Just because a person graduates from an Intense conservatory program doesnt mean that their a good actor. You say that they are more "competitive" but a competitive spirit and a lack of talent dont even up. I've watched actors from Yale, SUNY, NC, and Carnigie Mellon and most of them SUCKED!!! All of these so called "great acting schools" are paramount in cost. The bottom line: It DOESN'T MATTER WHERE YOU GET YOUR TRAINING FROM. JUST ACT!!

Posted by Chad Robbins (2008-01-30) 27

I agree with the 12.01.97 posting of B Ryder whole heartedly! B U's actor training program consistantly graduates the most competitive, competend and creative actors in the field. My question is, why has your web listing not been changed to reflect this?



Posted by K Thompson (2008-01-12) 23

What about the University of Michigan's Theatre department? I know the Musical theatre department is highly regarded among agents, but what about its acting/theatre graduates?

Posted by B. Williams (2008-01-05) 19

I am an agent for one of the biggest agency's in the business. We are bicoastal (NY & LA ) as well as London. I happened to trip on this site and would like to add a comment for actors looking at schools. I absolutely agree that we first consider actors who went to the schools on the list. However, whoever made the list is clearly unaware that Boston University's program should not be on the honorable mention list. BU's undergrad program is on the level of SUNY, North Carolina and Carnegie Mellon. These are conservatory schools. North Western, NYU undergrad and Rutgers are very good programs and excellent liberal arts schools but are not as competitive. NYU's Graduate Program, Yale Grad and Julliard are at the very top. As well as many schools in the UK such as RADA and Central School of Speech. The honorable mention schools are very general because I would take a look at an actor who had DePaul's Grad School on there resume, But I may not waste my time with someone from Emerson. This is assuming they are right out of school and haven't really worked yet. Some of the other ones, forget it. But BU I would immediately see an actor from there. They graduate few and are at this moment some of the best in the business. That particular school has a high percentage of graduates from the past 5-10 years working on TV alone. For example, Kim Raver, Anthony Ruivivar, Emily Dechanel, Cynthia Watros, Yunjin Kim, Maura West. As well as, Marisa Tomei, Faye Dunaway, Jason Alexander, Julianne Moore just to name a few. It is important for young actor today to understand, agents and casting directors look at well educated actors with a strong well rounded work ethic. It is not to say if you went to a small NY or LA studio program that you would not have a shot. The truth is if you have a great photo and look interesting I might take a look at you. However, agents generally know that when you come out of BU, SUNY, NC, Julliard, ACT( another good one) Carnegie, that you are among the best and you're probably are not going to waste my valuable time. Hope this was helpful and good luck to all!

Posted by B. Ryder (2007-12-01) 8

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