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Assessing Undergraduate Programs in Theatre

written by: Erik Hinrichsen•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 9/30/2010

This article provides an assessment of the best undergraduate programs in theatre. Since these programs have different specializations, the rankings are split into several categories.

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    Assessment of undergraduate programs in theatre is a difficult task. While subjects like engineering and science lend themselves easily to ranking, theatre and drama school rankings are much more difficult to assess. In fact, there are no "official" rankings of undergraduate theatre programs from major publications like US News & World Report. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there are so many different types of programs; some offer a BFA, some a BA. The top schools also tend to have different focuses within drama. Some schools are particularly focused on acting, while others concentrate on musical drama or drama.

    Rather than concentrating on a fairly arbitrary ranking of schools, students should carefully analyze each school and compare its strengths against their own goals within the drama field. For instance, two given schools might have equal respect in theatre, but one might be located in New York City and the other in Los Angeles. The types of connections and experience gained at either of these schools are likely to be very different, so the best choice will depend on a student's particular goals. Quality schools located in New York have the added benefit of being near a vibrant theatre community (Broadway), so students may be able to gain valuable experience and industry contacts. On the other hand, schools in California may be more closely entwined with Hollywood and the motion picture industry, so students interested in going into film may prefer to head west.

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    Theatre School rankings

    With that being said, the following will be an attempt to make an assessment of undergraduate programs in theatre. I have split this up into sections depending on focus, since it doesn't make much sense to just list schools without any additional information.

    Musical Theatre College Rankings

    • Baldwin-Wallace College
    • Boston Conservatory
    • Carnegie Mellon University
    • NYU (Tisch or Steinhardt)
    • Penn. State University
    • University of Cincinnati Conservatory
    • University of Miami
    • University of Michigan

    Top Undergraduate Programs in Acting (Offering BFA's)

    • California Institute of the Arts - CalArts
    • Carnegie Mellon University
    • Tisch School of the Arts at NYU
    • University of North Carolina: School of the Arts

    Best Undergrad Schools for Drama (Offering BA's)

    • Brown University
    • Northwestern University
    • Vassar College
    • University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA)

    There are many other highly respected programs. Some schools tend to focus more on their MFA programs, making them good options for graduate school. The following schools have very prestigious programs in theatre:

    • Baylor University
    • Brandeis University
    • Cal. State - Fullerton
    • Cornell University
    • DePaul University
    • Elon University
    • Emerson College
    • Florida State University
    • Fordham University
    • Indiana University
    • Ithaca College
    • Middlebury College
    • Muhlenberg College
    • Rutgers University - New Brunswick
    • Sarah Lawrence College
    • Southern Methodist University (SMU)
    • Syracuse University
    • University of Arizona
    • University of Minnesota – Guthrie Program
    • University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
    • Webster University

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    This ranking of top theatre and drama programs should provide any prospective student with a good starting point. Don't forget about theatre programs outside of the United States, though. England has many very highly respected drama and theatre programs which have produced a number of renowned actors.