Top 9 Acting Colleges & BFA Programs in the U.S.

Acting colleges and BFA programs have only one aim: to prepare you for a successful career in acting. Here are the top 9 programs in the United States that can jump-start your success. We've listed them in alphabetical order so we don't ruffle any feathers.

A few words about selecting acting colleges to audition for: Don't attach too much importance to this (or any other) list. There are plenty of good acting schools out there. The key is to choose one that's right for you. Visit the schools and go with you gut instinct. Trust yourself. You'll know if it's right.

However, you should be asking these questions:

1. Is it good quality training? Will they give you the tools you need to develop your craft? Voice training, movement, dialects, scene study, and so forth?

2. Can they help you make connections? The more industry people you're introduced to, the more hands you can shake, the better. This leads to more auditions and more acting work.

Acting Colleges

The Best Acting Colleges

  • 1. Boston University School of Theatre

    It's a conservatory with a relaxed yet passionate approach to the work. You're given a broad range of acting techniques to implement (called the "toolbox approach"), in contrast to NYU's studio system or Rutgers' focus on Meisner. They stress learning at your own pace in a creative and safe atmosphere.

    Last year, the average GPA for students accepted was 3.7 and average SATs were 1850 to 2070. 50% of the decision rests on academics, the other 50% is your audition. 700 students applied, 90 to 100 were accepted, 45 attended.

    Acting College Tuition: $53,000 a year

  • 2. California Institute of the Arts

    Based in Los Angeles, it's regarded as the "Juilliard of the West". They're a conservatory, often called experimental, off-beat, and edgy. Up to 40% of your courses are called "critical studies", meant to enrich the actor's global perspective. A lot of focus on movement. There's a semester abroad in Scotland.

    Great for connections in television, film, and voiceover. There were 978 auditions last year for both BFA and MFA, with only 24 accepted.

    Acting College Tuition: $48,680 a year

  • 3. Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama

    Based in Pittsburgh, CMU was the first conservatory program in the U.S. that was developed within a university, and remains one of the finest in the country. Very highly regarded.

    The freshman year is the Discovery Year: Basic skills are introduced, working toward a freer instrument. (Mind, body, and voice.)

    Sophomore, the Transformation Year: Solidifying basic skills while dealing with more verbally complex material, Shakespeare and contemporary.

    Junior, the Interpretation Year: Technique is expanded by using other styles of acting, and by working with graduate playwrights and directors. Skills are tested in public performance.

    Senior, the bridge between training and profession: A lot of performance. Abroad opportunities. Showcase for the industry in both New York and Los Angeles.

    1200 applicants per year, with 28 accepted. (18 acting, 10 musical theater.) 10 to 12 in each class. 80% of admission is based on your audition, the other 20% is your academic record.

    Acting College Tuition: $53,660 a year

  • 4. The Juilliard School, Drama Division

    World class, top notch training. A very rigorous conservatory-sytle program, with students working from 9AM to 10:30PM most days of the week. Juilliard doesn't stress one technique over another. Instead, it encourages you to develop your own process.

    The school is located at Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Going to school in New York City can be useful for making industry connections.

    Each year Juilliard auditions over 1,000 applicants, but the freshman class will be only 20 students. Admittance is mostly about the audition, with academics counting for very little.

    If you already hold a baccalaureate, you can still complete the program. At the end, you recieve a diploma instead of a BFA.

    Acting College Tuition: $46,410 per year

  • 5. New York University, Tisch School of the Arts

    Tisch is located right here in New York City, which is great for networking. But it also has one of the highest pricetags on this list.

    You audition for the school, and if accepted, are placed into a studio. Different studios teach different methods of acting: Strasberg, Adler, Meisner, Experimental, Atlantic, and of course CAP21, which is the musical theatre studio. You stay in your studio for the first two years and then have the chance to audition for another.

    Tisch also stresses having a good academic record. They're not a conservatory, spending only 18 - 24 hours a week on professional training, depending on the studio. Liberal arts classes are required.

    1400 auditions and 375 in the freshman class.

    Acting College Tuition: $58,226 per year

  • 6. SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Theatre Arts

    Purchase is 40 minutes from New York City. It's a very demanding and discipline-driven conservatory.

    Your first two years are a "trial period" where you can be dismissed at any time for any reason. The most common reasons include lack of focus and discipline, lack of fitness for professional work, lack of artistic potential. You can also be dismissed in your third or fourth year, but it's less common.

    You can expect to spend 27 - 40 hours a week in classes and as much time preparing for classes. There are around 18 students in every freshman class.

    Unfortunately, I couldn't find any info on their curriculum: acting methods, philosophy, approach, etc. If anyone has this info, contact me.

    Acting College Tuition: $13,380 out of state, $4,970 in state per year

  • 7. Syracuse University School of Drama

    In Syracuse, New York. SU Drama offers conservatory-style training within a university setting. They offer a well-rounded, "toolbox" approach to the craft of acting. They don't favor one technique over another. Expect 30 hours a week in professional training, 20 hours preparing for class, and another 5 to 7 for academics.

    After auditioning 700 - 900 applicants, the freshman class will have 25 acting majors and 25 musical theatre majors.

    Like Rutgers, SU Drama offers a chance to study at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre for a single semester in your junior year.

    SU Drama shares a building with the regional Equity house, Syracuse Stage. Not only do those actors interact directly with the students, but students have the chance to be in Syracuse Stage productions, earning them Equity Membership Candidacy (EMC) points.

    For seniors, the Tepper Semester in New York City offers you a chance to take classes with real working actors and casting directors. This helps you build connections and make the transition to the professional world.

    Acting College Tuition: $50,100 per year

  • 8. University of Minnesota, Department of Theatre Arts & Dance

    Strong, conservatory-like acting training in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But academics are also important at U of M. The philosophy is: The educated actors makes the best actor. However, the training takes precedence.

    Each freshman class is about 20 students, and those students will stay with each other all four years, forming an ensemble company.

    Juniors in the fall semester go to London.

    Maybe the best part about U of M is their partnership with the Guthrie Theater: a regional theatre in Minneapolis with an emphasis on classical material. Students do workshops with the professionals, and seniors can audition for 1 of 5 contract spots for the following season.

    Acting College Tuition: $25,144 out of state, $21,144 in state per year

  • 9. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

    In Winston-Salem, it's an UNCSA is an eclectic mix of acting, voice, and movement techniques in (you guessed it) a conservatory education. From their website: The teaching associated with the core courses is designed to develop creativity and imagination while providing a sound technique with which the actor learns to control his or her performance. The balance between "instinct" and "craft" is an important part of this course.

    You'll find that academics are not as important here. Your admission is based more on your audition/interview than your academic record. But if they're forced to choose between two equally talented students, they'll take the one with the 3.6 GPA, not the 3.0 GPA.

    600 to 800 applicants will audition, but the freshman class will be about 30. (20 men, 10 women.)

    Acting College Tuition: $28,826 out of state, $16,085 in state per year

There you have it. The top 9 acting colleges & BFA programs in the U.S. Your next step is to further research these schools and find which one suits your style. Good luck!

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