What Are the Best Performing Arts Colleges and Schools?

Learn which schools are recognized as the top providers of performing arts education. Explore degree programs, admission requirements, areas of artistic study and student performance activities. Schools offering Theatre degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are Characteristics of the Best Performing Arts Colleges and Schools?

Top schools tend to have outstanding faculty, award-winning alumni and top-notch performance facilities. Auditions are often required for admission to dance, theatre and music programs. You may be able to study abroad or complete internships with major studios or cultural institutions. Some top schools are located in cities with renowned performing arts venues.

What Are Three Top Performing Arts Colleges and Schools?

New York University in New York, NY

NYU ranked as U.S News & World Report's 30th best national university for 2019. Auditions are generally required by the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development and the Tisch School of the Arts. Steinhardt offers multiple undergraduate, graduate certificate and independent or dual degree graduate programs in orchestral instruments, piano, musical theatre, voice, film and multimedia scoring. Tisch's Institute of Performing Arts trains undergraduate and graduate actors and dancers.

Discipline-specific study abroad options, institutes and training opportunities are available. Music students have study abroad options in Prague and Florence. Dance students may benefit from the Center for Research in Dance Education. Acting students may complete primary training at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Playwrights Horizons Theater School or Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. These and other degree options are provided:

  • Bachelor of Music (B.M.)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Drama
  • Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching Dance
  • Master of Music (M.M.)
  • M.M. in Music Theory and Composition with film and multimedia scoring emphasis
  • M.M. in Music Theatre Performance
  • M.M. in Vocal Performance with specialization in classical voice
  • Master of Vocal Performance/Vocal Pedagogy and Music Theatre Performance
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Music
  • Ph.D. in Music Performance

University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI

UM ranked 27th among national universities in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report evaluation. School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD) graduates have studied at The Juilliard School, USC, NYU, Harvard and Columbia. They have performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the National Shakespeare Company, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and others.

The department and affiliated groups present over 450 concerts and performances annually, including five main-stage productions and a fully-staged major opera. Students also perform with regional symphony orchestras and complete residencies with symphony and jazz orchestras in New York and Chicago. Standalone or joint graduate programs are administered by SMTD alone or in conjunction with the Rackham School of Graduate Studies. These are representative degrees:

  • B.M. in Performance
  • Bachelor of Musical Arts
  • BFA in Jazz Studies
  • BFA in Musical Theatre
  • BFA in Interarts Performance
  • BFA in Performance with acting or directing concentration
  • BFA in Theatre Arts
  • MFA in Dance
  • Master of Music in Keyboard Instruments
  • Ph.D. in Composition and Music Theory
  • Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) in Performance

University of California in Los Angeles, CA

UCLA tied for 19th among U.S. News & World Report national universities in 2019. UCLA's libraries include performing arts special collections and the UCLA Film & Television Archive of media materials. The affiliated non-profit Geffen Playhouse presents main stage and second stage productions.

The School of Theater, Film and Television offers a major in film and television and an undergraduate theater program. The Herb Alpert School of Music offers a music performance major and graduate performance degrees in classical instruments, voice and conducting. These representative degrees are possible:

  • B.A. in Theater with acting or musical theater concentration
  • B.A. in Film and Television
  • B.A. in Music - Performance, Composition or Music Education
  • M.M. in Performance and Conducting
  • M.A. in Theater
  • MFA in Theater
  • M.A in Composition
  • M.M. in Jazz Performance
  • MFA in Acting
  • D.M.A. in Performance and Conducting
  • D.M.A. in Voice
  • Ph.D. in Theater and Performance Studies
  • Ph.D. in Composition

Top Performing Arts Colleges and Schools

College/University Institution TypeLocationEstimated Graduate In-State Tuition (2018-2019)*
Pratt Institute - Main 4-year, Private Brooklyn, NY$34,000
University of Cincinnati 4- year, Public Cincinnati, OH$15,000
Syracuse University (Maxwell) 4- year, Private Syracuse, NY$39,000
University of California--San Diego 4- year, Public La Jolla, CA$13,500
Columbia University 4- year, Private New York, NY$48,000
California Institute of the Arts 4-year, Private Valencia, CA$49,000
University of Florida 4-year, Public Gainesville, FL$13,000
Chapman University 4-year, Private Orange, CA$31,000
Temple University 4-year, Public Philadelphia, PA$17,000
Bard College 4-year, Private Annandale-on-Hudson, NY$36,000

*Source: NCES, U.S. Department of Education

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