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25 Best Drama Schools 2024

25 Best Drama Schools 2024

25 Best Drama Schools 2024

“Tuition-free” is becoming the new buzzword, as several of the world’s top drama schools plan to adopt that policy starting this fall, including the graduate programs at Juilliard and USC.

These join a number of existing free programs on The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual list of the best drama schools, as they look to expand accessibility and mitigate the debt many drama students bring into continuing education. It’s a big positive step in a year when many schools have been emerging from the pandemic era of largely online classes and leaning into more inclusive, tech-forward curriculums.

In addition to broadening access to more diverse candidates and wanting to stay competitive with recruitment, the push to go tuition-free at USC was spurred on by the writers and actors strikes. “Just knowing how volatile the industry is for these creatives, it’s extremely important that they not be saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt,” says Emily Roxworthy, dean of the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

THR consulted with members of the industry and educators to determine its ranking of the best schools for an acting degree, with factors including overall training, cost, alumni success and more. Tuition, when applicable, is listed on an annualized basis and does not include housing and other fees, unless otherwise indicated.

1. The Juilliard School

New York City

Juilliard’s MFA in acting program will become tuition-free starting this fall thanks to gifts from theater producers Stephanie P. McClelland, John Gore and more. As a result, MFA applications for the upcoming academic year have doubled, says Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the drama program. In addition to the funding, the school has finally emerged from the shadow of COVID-19, with classes back to in-person as normal: “It’s been a really good year,” Yionoulis says. BFAs and MFAs study together in Juilliard’s four-year conservatory-style program, and a class of 18 students (which includes both grad and undergrad) are admitted annually. In addition to courses on partnering, scene study, voice and acting on camera, the program offers students the chance to work on 15-minute films written by alumni playwrights specifically for them, which have premiered at the Soho International Film Festival. Notable alumni include Jessica Chastain, Adam Driver, Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple) and Sara Ramírez (And Just Like That). The fourth year of the MFA in acting program had already been tuition-free, and it will continue to provide students with a living stipend for that final year. Tuition for the undergraduate program is $54,400.

2. Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

The David Geffen School of Drama, a top grad program, remains extremely popular among students since it went tuition-free in 2021, with many also receiving need-based living stipends of up to $20,000. With the increased influx of applications, and just 16 students accepted per year for the three-year program, the school became even more selective, says dean James Bundy. “There’s terrific talent coming into the pool,” he says. Ninety-three percent of students who are accepted enroll at the school, pointing to its demand, according to Bundy. Faculty include Ron Van Lieu — who got a shout-out from former student Da’Vine Joy Randolph when she accepted her Academy Award in March — and Christopher Bayes, a leader in clown work and commedia. In addition to training Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Brian Tyree Henry and more, the program was also home to Randolph’s Holdovers co-star Paul Giamatti, as well as Juliana Canfield and Tom Pecinka, both lauded this year for their roles in Stereophonic.

3. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Courtesy of University of North Carolina School of the Arts

With alumni including Stephen McKinley Henderson (Dune), Mary-Louise Parker, Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) and Jake Lacy (The White Lotus), the school’s strong undergraduate program has placed an emphasis in recent years on student work and devised theater, added on-camera training for students across all four years and expanded its performance repertoire to include more underrepresented voices. The school has placed an emphasis on diversity, and the student body has been majority BIPOC-identifying for several years. This past year, the school added more opportunities for voiceover work, along with courses on entrepreneurship, and it worked to develop pedagogy for trans and nonbinary performers. Dean Scott Zigler, who has held his position since 2017, is retiring, and alumnus John Langs, formerly the artistic director of ACT Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, will take over starting July 1. The school offers only a four-year undergraduate program, which is $24,231 for out-of-state residents, $6,497 for in-state.

4. Carnegie Mellon

Pittsburgh

In the school’s strong undergraduate program, both acting and music theater students take the same core curriculum before moving into more specialized training, including classes on the business side of the profession, with the goal of preparing students for work in film, television, theater and more. Its illustrious alumni include Judith Light, Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer, and several who have seen success on Broadway in the past year, with acting Tony recognition for Leslie Odom Jr. (Purlie Victorious) and Sarah Pidgeon and Will Brill (both in Stereophonic). Tuition for the undergraduate program is just under $65,000.

5. Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

London

The king and queen of England, both in blue, paid a recent visit to RADA to watch a student performance alongside RADA president David Harewood (left) and, beside him, vp Cynthia Erivo.

RADA/Ikin Yum

Now under the patronage of King Charles, RADA has appointed alums David Harewood as president and Cynthia Erivo as vp. The school, which also counts Succession‘s Matthew Macfadyen and Sophie Okonedo (Slow Horses) as alums, offers a three-year undergraduate program, with 28 students a year involved in 16 stage productions, three short films and more across their studies, and a one-year MA Theatre Lab. RADA also provides a well-being service, including counseling and disability services, for students during their time at the school. Tuition is around $30,500 for undergraduate and graduate international students.

6. London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art

London

While it’s the oldest drama school in the British Isles, founded in 1861, LAMDA has continued innovating. It hired Philippa Strandberg-Long, a leading teacher of the Meisner Technique, as its director of actor training and drama school, and is offering virtual production technology acting and technical training to students in new, fully equipped studios. On the school’s long list of storied alumni are Brian Cox, David Oyelowo and Benedict Cumberbatch, who leads the school’s board of trustees, with recent alum Amber Grappy, who graduated in 2022, appearing on the Netflix series One Day. Tuition for international students in the three-year undergraduate acting program is just under $30,000, with the cost of the two-year grad acting program close to $31,000.

7. New York University

New York City

An NYU production of The Hypochondriac.

Ella Bromblin

NYU’s undergraduate drama program, which counts Pedro Pascal, Rachel Brosnahan and Rachel Sennott (Bottoms) among its alumni, offers a prime location in the heart of NYC and places about 1,400 students in select professional training studios before they continue on to further study. New faculty include Karen Chamberlain, who specializes in teaching the Meisner Technique, and nicHi douglas, who teaches movement in the Experimental Theatre Wing. As part of a new universitywide program, starting in fall 2024, any undergraduate student whose family makes less than $100,000 will not have to pay tuition (which is typically $68,978). The school’s graduate program, which accepts 16 students a year, is taught by leaders of the theater industry and has produced numerous bold-faced names, including Sterling K. Brown, Mahershala Ali and Billy Crudup. Tuition for that program is $76,000, with students receiving scholarships covering from 60 to 100 percent of tuition.

8. Guildhall

London

Guildhall has educated actors including Daniel Craig, Ewan McGregor, Michaela Coel and Lily James in its three-year undergraduate conservatory acting program, which accepts 28 students a year. The school places an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration with students in the music and production arts programs, with support to create their own performance projects, and will introduce a B.A. degree in performance design starting in September 2025. The school recently saw the departure of Patsy Rodenburg, a longtime faculty member specializing in text, poetry and voice, and its new hires include noted opera singer Sarah Tynan as head of vocal arts. Tuition for international students is about $31,000.

9. UC San Diego

San Diego

The MFA program is affiliated with the well-known professional theater La Jolla Playhouse, a starting place for many Broadway productions, giving students an opportunity to earn their Actors’ Equity card. The three-year program is tuition-free and alternates every other year between accepting classes of actors and classes of directors, playwrights and designers. New hires include Lisa Portes, formerly head of the MFA directing program at DePaul University, as chair of the department of theater and dance. Additionally, the school’s acclaimed Wagner New Play Festival gives MFA playwrights, directors, actors and designers national exposure, with such plays as Dave Harris’ Tambo & Bones originating there before going on to off-Broadway and world premieres.

10. The Old Globe and USD

San Diego

Led by actor, director and choreographer Jesse Perez, the two-year MFA program has a focus on Shakespeare and a partnership with the professional Old Globe Theatre. Seven students a year are accepted to the program, which is tuition-free and includes a monthly stipend. Perez continues to work to broaden the school’s traditional classical training with a focus on diversity and courses on Suzuki training, clowning, physical comedy and more. “It’s my sixth year as the director of the program, and I’m finally starting to see the changes stick,” Perez says. Nathan Crocker, who previously worked at Rutgers University and NYU, was recently hired as the new head of voice and speech and will start in fall 2024.

11. UCLA

Los Angeles

New hires within UCLA’s Department of Theater include Michelle Liu Carriger as theater chair and Judith Moreland (Bosch) as head of acting. The school’s graduate acting program was on pause last year and will be paused for the upcoming academic year (though graduate directing, playwriting and design programs are ongoing), as faculty continues to review and update the curriculum. The BFA program remains in operation, with recent alumni including Fernando Carsa (Acapulco) and Ava Lalezarzadeh (Before). In-state costs, which include housing and food, are $42,127 for undergrads living on campus and a bit more than $76,000 for out-of-state residents.

12. University of Southern California

Los Angeles

USC’s School of Dramatic Arts has a new home base, with the recently opened Dramatic Arts Building, and big news: Its MFA program will be tuition-free starting in the fall. The school, which also offers a BFA program, benefits from both proximity and a connection to Hollywood, with the majority of faculty continuing to work in the industry, including Alexandra Billings (Transparent), Bayo Akinfemi (Bob Hearts Abishola) and Finola Hughes (Blossom), and many celebrity guest speakers, with Broadway actor MaryAnn Hu newly hired as director of the school’s musical theater program. Tuition for the undergraduate program is $69,904.

13. National Institute of Dramatic Art

Kensington, Australia

The drama conservatory has produced such stellar alumni as Cate Blanchett, Baz Luhrmann and Sarah Snook. The three-year undergraduate drama conservatory has been led by John Bashford, former associate principal at LAMDA, since 2016. The school recently hired alum Travis Cardona as head of First Nations (referring to Indigenous Australians), and has worked with him to implement First Nations story­telling and practices within the curriculum. The annual tuition for the BFA is about $23,000 for international students.

14. University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan

The school’s top musical theater program fills the stages of Broadway, with current names on the board including alumni Celia Keenan-Bolger (Mother Play), Bobby Conte Thornton (The Who’s Tommy), Isabelle McCalla (Water for Elephants) and Maya Boyd (who took over the lead role in & Juliet from another Michigan alum, Lorna Courtney). Faculty member Cynthia Kortman Westphal will take over as interim chair of the program for the next year from interim chair Linda Goodrich, with a search underway for a permanent chair to start in fall 2025. In the past academic year, tuition for out-of-state students in the department was just under $30,000 and in-state just under $9,000.

15. Brown/Trinity Rep

Providence, Rhode Island

Long seen by the industry as one of the premier drama schools, the Ivy League program typically accepts 12 students a year into its tuition-free drama grad program, which is affiliated with the professional Trinity Repertory Company theater. The program is now on pause, with neither the MFA acting nor the directing program accepting a 2024-25 class. (The program currently has second- and third-year classes.) Faculty are considering possibilities for the future, as well as pathways for revising the programs in “bold ways” that speak to the changing theater landscape and the arts infrastructure at Brown. “At this point, we are continuing to explore the possibilities for the future of the programs, and any decisions will come as the result of this robust, ongoing process,” says Curt Columbus, Brown/ Trinity Rep’s artistic director.

16. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

UNC’s MFA acting program is closely affiliated with a professional regional theater, PlayMakers Repertory Company, giving students the opportunity to play roles in productions. The program accepts a class of six to eight actors every other year, and all students receive a package including tuition waivers and stipends. This allows the program to provide greater financial support and to “accommodate each individual actor more specifically and more often,” says Kathryn Hunter-Williams, chair of the department of dramatic art. The program now films showcases of the graduating class, which are sent out to members of the industry, and the students then spend a week working with industry members in New York.

17. Columbia University

New York City

The school’s MFA acting degree is led by casting director James Calleri and actor Peter Jay Fernandez (The Irishman), and has the benefit of being located in New York, giving students proximity to the industry, while working entertainment players serve as adjunct faculty and guest lecturers. In the past year, Scott Whitehurst, formerly co-head of acting at The New School, joined Columbia as a full-time faculty member. Tuition is about $71,000 for the first two years, with most students receiving large scholarships to defray costs, and close to $6,000 for the third.

18. Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah, Georgia

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Members of SCAD’s 2024 Music Theater Showcase, pictured on the 11-acre backlot on the school’s campus.

Courtesy of Subject

SCAD has an on-site casting office, under the guidance of Mikie Heilbrun, formerly a head of casting for The CW/UPN, and a second, recently opened office in Atlanta, overseen by Alpha Tyler, former head of casting for Tyler Perry Studios. The offices connect students to film and television projects across the country including May December, Origin, The Color Purple and Fear the Walking Dead. The school, which also features an 11-acre backlot in Savannah, now offers a BFA degree in Atlanta, under the guidance of film and television veteran Craig Anton. Tuition for the upcoming academic year is $41,130.

19. Case Western Reserve/Cleveland Play House

Cleveland

The Ohio school’s three-year MFA program is tuition-free, and also includes health care and a living stipend, and unlike many schools, does not charge an application fee. Additionally, all students graduate with an Actors’ Equity card by appearing in shows at the affiliated Cleveland Play House. The program has seen a number of new hires in the past year, including Eliza Ladd Schwarz, who introduced a new movement curriculum, and Michael Barakiva, artistic director at Cleveland Play House.

20. Baldwin Wallace University

Berea, Ohio

The conservatory musical theater program, led by Victoria Bussert, has seen most of its graduating seniors across the past 10 years sign with top representation after participating in the school’s New York showcase. Alumni include Colton Ryan, who received a Tony nomination for leading New York, New York on Broadway last year, in addition to many others who are now on Broadway or on tour. Tuition is around $40,000.

21. Northwestern University

Evanston, Illinois

Northwestern’s production of Oscar Hammerstein’s Wildflower.

Justin Barbin/Northwestern Wirtz Center

With alumni including Kathryn Hahn, Greta Lee, Stephen Colbert, Broadway actor Brian d’Arcy James and director Michael Greif, the school offers a music theater certificate program, helmed by Broadway star KO, as well as a theater major. The two-year MFA program is housed mainly in a new theater space in nearby Chicago, which also welcomes visiting artists. Tuition for the upcoming academic year is $64,887.

22. Penn State University

State College, Pennsylvania

This school’s competitive musical theater program accepts 12 to 14 undergrad students a year and has seen several recent alumni successes, including Kevin Clay, the current lead of The Book of Mormon on Broadway, and Caroline Bowman, playing Elsa in the national tour of Frozen. After leading the program since 2018, Rick Lombardo will step down July 1, with faculty member Aquila Kikora Franklin taking over as interim director. Tuition for out-of-state undergrads last year was about $40,000 and just under $20,000 in-state.

23. Syracuse University

Syracuse, New York

The school counts Aaron Sorkin and Vanessa Williams among the alumni of its program, which offers conservatory-style training within a major university and a partnership with the regional theater Syracuse Stage. The program also offers further connections with the possibility of an immersive semester in New York City, and has been expanding its offerings in acting for the camera and new media. Tuition for the upcoming year is just over $61,000.

24. Purchase College, SUNY

Purchase, New York

Stanley Tucci and Edie Falco graduated from this New York state school’s strong BFA program, which continues to train a number of successful graduates, including Abbott Elementary‘s Chris Perfetti, The Summer I Turned Pretty‘s Sean Kaufman and Succession‘s Zoë Winters. Susan Shopmaker, a lecturer in acting and BAFTA award winner for casting The Holdovers, is one of the newer hires at the school, which offers conservatory-style training in close proximity to New York City. Tuition for out-of-state students last year was about $17,000, while in-state residents paid just above $7,000. (Those with family income under $125,000 can qualify for free tuition.)

25. Texas State University

San Marcos, Texas

The school is known for its strong musical theater program, which accepts about 12 students a year and has had about a dozen alumni on Broadway, including New York, New York lead Anna Uzele, and another dozen on national tours during the past two years. As a big bonus, starting this fall, students accepted to the undergraduate musical theater program will have their tuition and fees fully covered. Three co-heads run the program, including recent hire Aaron Brown, a director. Deonté Warren is joining this fall as a voice faculty member specializing in working with voices across the gender spectrum. Richard Robichaux, formerly of Penn State and UC San Diego, also recently joined the drama faculty.

This story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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