The Top Musical Theatre and Acting Programs

You want to go to a program that has everything you’ve dreamed of and more. A school with incredible faculty, super impressive alumni and a rigorous performing arts program that will make you the best you can be. You only want to go to a school that will give you the biggest leg up in the industry. So, in turn, you are only going to look at the “top” programs.

However, here’s the deal: the title of this blog was misleading. I’m not going to list the top programs.

Frankly, I don’t know if I fully buy into the idea of a “top” program that universally fits every student. I think this is very subjective (which I will elaborate on later) and also a top program for one candidate may not be a top program for another. What YOU need to thrive is probably not identical to what your best friend needs.

Ask yourself this: do I know WHY I want to go to this program? Or do I just have this on my list because I heard it is a good school? I’m always leery when a student puts a school onto their list just because they know it is “top tier” but they don’t actually know why or if it’s even a good fit for them.

When considering what makes a top tier program “top tier” – there are certain credentials that most students look for. I’d like to demystify the top three myths of what makes a top tier program and hopefully enlighten you to also look for some additional criteria when putting together your college list.

Success of Alumni

Sure, there is no doubt that if a program has impressive alumni they must be doing something right! They are fostering talent and turning them into successful, working actors. I’d like you to consider this, however: if a school accepts between 250-300 freshman for a starting class and let’s say at minimum they graduate 200 (because some might transfer, pursue a different major) – they then have the hope of a good portion of that class turning into an impressive well-known actor! This program may be in the same location as a school that only accepts 16 freshman and thus they have a smaller chance of each and every one of their graduates becoming a household name. Keep in mind, out of those 16 some may decide to become teachers or lawyers or whatever may have you! And kudos to them for pursuing what their heart wants. So, yes, a top tier school with a huge freshman class size probably technically has more impressive alumni then a smaller program in the same town. Does that make them a stronger program? I’m not so sure.

Additionally, I think it can sometimes be misleading to try to gauge how fantastic a program is by the “success” of their alumni as that word itself is entirely subjective. There are probably dozens and dozens of Broadway performers whose name you’ve never heard but that make their sole living from performing and they went to a school you’ve never heard of. Does success mean you performed on Broadway once but you have a second job to pay the bills? Or does success mean you are able to support yourself solely from the arts? Quantifying success in the performing arts is tricky and truly most people who I am in awe of that are living their dream and have a fulfilling career, did not graduate from a top school.

Instead of stressing about a school’s alumni, I suggest you take matters into your own hands and find out how the school helps their graduates. Do they stay in touch with their alumni? Help them make connections once they graduate? Find out if there are bonds between students and faculty that surpass one’s time in the actual program.

Amount of time in Performing Arts Classes

Many students choose programs that require the least amount of general education classes as they want to primarily only focus on their chosen degree. So, students are eliminating liberal arts schools that require a plethora of gen-ed classes and are gravitating towards rigorous conservatory well-known programs.

Here’s my advice: make sure you know what classes are actually being offered. Being busy isn’t the same thing as being productive. Curriculum varies greatly from school to school and many schools have not changed their curriculum or teaching principles for many, many years. Our industry is constantly changing and schools need to be in touch with current audition trends, casting trends and how to truly “make it” in the business nowadays. We live in a tech-savvy world where most in person auditions are a result of a mix of digital submissions and web presence. Does the school of your dreams offer business of acting classes? Do they know the current casting trajectories and does their course-load reflect that?

Instead of focusing on the sheer amount of time in the classroom, focus on the quality of the time spent within these classes. If you know you want to be on television one day, don’t choose a top tier school that doesn’t offer any on-camera acting classes! Choosing a school that is top tier but does not have the classes you want to take will do you no justice.

Showcases/Master Classes/Workshops

This may come as a surprise, but: not every senior showcase is well attended or successful! Just because a school offers a showcase, does not mean that anyone actually shows up to it. Casting Directors and Agents receive hundreds and hundreds of flyers promoting showcases (many of which fall on the SAME weekend) and there’s just no possible way they can attend them all.

On the other hand, if a school does not offer a showcase, that shouldn’t be an indicator of whether or not you’d find success if you graduated from there. Most schools offer workshops and master classes with professionals throughout the year, giving these industry experts one on one time with students – which often, is more exciting for the professional than sitting in on a showcase.

Also, a school that might not have a showcase could have a huge connection with a regional theatre in town. Part of your senior year could be spent performing on a professional stage and gaining EMC (Equity Membership Candidate) points.

Investigate your options within each school on your list. Ask questions about how they connect with the professional world and what opportunities are offered outside the typical senior showcase.

What you need in a program may not be found on a “top ten musical theatre” list that you found while googling schools to apply to – and I am here to tell you – that is okay! There is no secret formula to becoming successful in this industry.

Do your research, be true to your own self and work hard. Formulate a list that reflects what YOU really need for training and set your own unique path.


About Chelsea Diehl

Chelsea is a social contributor for Acceptd and the founder of My College Audition.