Do you have a passion for acting? If you’re serious about turning your hobby into a career path, higher education is the perfect time to take your studies to the next level. Plenty of undergraduate acting colleges offer Bachelor’s degrees in acting or theater, and other creative subjects. Whether they’re located in the heart of Manhattan’s theater mecca or nestled away on an Ivy League campus in New England, each of these undergraduate universities can help you hone your skills and prepare you for a life of acting.
The Juilliard School
Location: New York, NY
Successful alumni: Jessica Chastain, Kelsey Grammer, Laura Linney, Kevin Spacey, Viola Davis, Robin Williams
The Juilliard Drama Division currently offers more full-ride scholarships than ever before, having recently added $10 million in grant funding. Don’t let its legendary name intimidate you; the conservatory-style curriculum encourages creativity and free thinking. However, it’s one of the most exclusive acting colleges in the world, accepting only 20 new students each year, a fraction of the thousands who audition.
Location: Evanston, IL
Successful alumni: Warren Beatty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, David Schwimmer, Zach Braff, Ann-Margret
Northwestern University offers graduate-level acting work, too, but the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences includes a drama major in one of academia’s top-ranked liberal arts programs. Illinois might seem an unlikely place to become an acting great, but you’ll be close enough to Chicago to take advantage of its rich theater scene. Proximity to The Second City improv troupe has paid off for several alumni who honed their comedy skills here. Stephen Colbert, for example, majored in theater here, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus hadn’t even graduated yet when she received (and accepted) her career-making offer to join the cast of Saturday Night Live.
New York University
Location: New York, NY
Successful alumni: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael C. Hall, Alec Baldwin, Jeremy Piven
The Department of Drama at Tisch School of the Arts offers a conservatory-style education that takes full advantage of its very theatrical location: the New York University (NYU) campus nestled right on Broadway itself in downtown Manhattan. The unique audition process and specialized curricula distinguish Tisch from other acting programs in the Big Apple. Prospective students audition not only for a spot in the prestigious department, but also to qualify for one of eight different acting disciplines.
Location: Boston, MA
Successful alumni: Julianne Moore, Geena Davis, Marisa Tomei, Jason Alexander, Ginnifer Goodwin, Michael Chiklis, Rosie O’Donnell, Emily Deschanel
The School of Theatre is the most well-known of three performing arts degree programs at Boston University College of Fine Arts. It incorporates a unique type of conservatory training that’s far less strict than other acting colleges. High school students can get a head-start on their higher education at the Boston University Summer Theatre Institute, which trained notable future thespians such as Winona Ryder and Nicolas Cage. The school stresses hands-on learning, using the Boston University Theatre as a training and performance venue.
Carnegie Mellon University
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Successful alumni: Holly Hunter, Ted Danson, Zachary Quinto, Patrick Wilson, Rob Marshall
The Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama holds a special place among the world’s best acting colleges; CMU was the first institution in the United States to incorporate a conservatory training program into its college diploma curriculum. The intensive, highly exclusive school in Pittsburgh teaches students how to understand and embody their characters through deep analysis of scripts, plays, film, and TV. And the formula works – the university’s alumni have gone on to win six Oscars and almost a hundred Emmys combined.
Location: New Haven, CT (acting auditions also held in Chicago and San Francisco)
Successful alumni: Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Patricia Clarkson, Frances McDormand, Angela Bassett, Paul Giamatti, Paul Newman
Yale School of Drama is one of the most prestigious acting colleges in the country for post-graduate work, offering a Master in Fine Arts (MFA) and unparalleled production resources. Undergraduate students at this Ivy League heavyweight can also take graduate-level acting coursework for credit toward their Theater Studies major. A senior thesis project sets Yale’s undergraduate theater program apart from the other acting schools.
With so many worthwhile choices, as well as many acting scholarship opportunities, it may seem daunting to make such an important decision. Keep your options open, and apply to as many schools as practically possible. Learn as much as you can from the invaluable experience of auditioning for spots in conservatory programs and exclusive acting colleges, and most of all – enjoy the experience!
Photo by Graham Edmondson