This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
1. The Juilliard School, NEW YORK CITY
Juilliard won't mollycoddle you, but it may make you famous. Kevin Spacey -- a 1981 alum -- told a student group that he protested his tough treatment by a teacher who likened his voice to frayed rope. "She said, 'You're an idiot. Don't you realize that I'm the hardest on you because I think you're the most talented, but I also know you're the laziest?' And she was right." Spacey got his act together at Juilliard, as did Girls' Adam Driver (who was prepared, as he'd already survived Marine boot camp). Graduates emerge with formidable language skills, script savvy and thick skins. Always a great launchpad, Juilliard just added a $10 million grant funding full tuition and stipends for top students.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Jessica Chastain, Laura Linney, Viola Davis, Patti LuPone, Kelsey Grammer, Robin Williams
2. Yale School of Drama, NEW HAVEN, CONN.
At Yale, students aren't in an ivory tower; they're at center stage of the national theater world, with a shot at movies and TV too. Since dean and artistic director James Bundy started in 2002, the Yale Rep has produced more than 20 premieres of original dramatic works, including two Pulitzer finalists. "They feel like an elite corps of acting engineers: precise, well-read and eerily calm," says one Casting Society member. Adds Bundy, "You will see, for instance, that 13 Tony Award nominees this year are graduates of the school and/or current members of the faculty."
NOTABLE ALUMS: Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Sigourney Weaver, Angela Bassett, Patricia Clarkson, Frances McDormand, Paul Giamatti
3. Tisch School of the Arts, NYU NEW YORK CITY
Tisch's BFA program got high marks from the CSA, and its MFAs are even more esteemed. Says CSA member Monika Mikkelsen, "They have a power city to draw from, an acting school, directors, writers and filmmaking programs, and students are well-rounded and clear on the very hard course of life they have chosen for themselves." Felicity Huffman has said that if it weren't for NYU, she might not have had a career.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael C. Hall, Jeremy Piven
4. Carnegie Mellon University, PITTSBURGH
Founded in 1914 -- 10 years before Yale's drama school -- CMU has produced winners of six Oscars, 24 Tonys and 95 Emmys, including two for Ted Danson, who said, "I really do owe everything to Carnegie Mellon. It set the tone for my life. I love the process, and I learned to love the process here."
NOTABLE ALUMS: Rob Marshall, Steven Bochco, Holly Hunter, Zachary Quinto
5. London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, LONDON
Open since 1861, LAMDA sends lots of grads across the pond -- like Sherlock and Star Trek Into Darkness star Benedict Cumberbatch, who won Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics Circle awards in 2011 for Danny Boyle's Frankenstein.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Chris O'Dowd, John Lithgow, Jim Broadbent, Donald Sutherland
6. Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, LONDON
RADA doesn't dump its students on the job market, it assigns each grad at least two RADA Buddies -- pros with at least three years of experience -- as mentors.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Clive Owen, Diana Rigg, Tom Wilkinson, Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins
7. University of North Carolina School of the Arts, WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.
UNCSA accepts about 5 percent of applicants, and Matthew Weiner cast some of them in his first movie, You Are Here, made on the movie-lot-like campus in 2012. Alums got three 2012 Tony nominations, and new drama dean Carl Forsman -- a Drama Desk and Obie winner -- has big plans, including graduate showcases in New York and L.A. "Not a day goes by without our hearing about a drama alum who won a role in a film, on TV, at a regional theater or on Broadway," says chancellor John Mauceri.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Mary-Louise Parker, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Parnell, Tom Hulce, Terrence Mann
8. National Institute of Dramatic Art, KENSINGTON, AUSTRALIA
Only 4 percent pass auditions and enter NIDA. "As things have gotten more international, I always make sure that I know about the graduating classes in Australia," says CSA member Margery Simkin, who cast Pacific Rim.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Baz Luhrmann, Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Judy Davis
9. Northwestern University, EVANSTON, ILL.
You know Lionel Logue, whose unorthodox methods of therapy were dramatized in The King's Speech? He was trained at Northwestern. The school's "Purple Mafia" includes the first female studio chief (Sherry Lansing), the first fictional female vice president (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the second woman to win a directing Tony (Mary Zimmerman) and triple Oscar-nominated writer John Logan. (It also has a formal relationship with the Steppenwolf Theatre, which doesn't hurt.)
NOTABLE ALUMS: Stephen Colbert, Warren Beatty
10. State University of New York, Purchase, PURCHASE, N.Y.
After four years, the cream of SUNY's BFA actors get to audition for more than 300 agents, producers and casting directors in NYC and L.A. "The style these actors have is unique," says Mikkelsen.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Melissa Leo, Edie Falco, Parker Posey, Stanley Tucci
11. The Actors Studio, Pace University, NEW YORK CITY
At the only drama school affiliated with the illustrious Actors Studio, students not only tread the boards in the footsteps of Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, they study under faculty appointed by presidents Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and Ellen Burstyn. Plus, you can say you were "inside" the Actors Studio.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Chris Stack, Xanthe Elbrick
12. Guildhall School of Music & Drama, LONDON
Teeming with musical as well as theater prodigies, Guildhall has launched a skyful of stars. "I had a great time at Guildhall, and my training set me in really good stead as an actor," says Ewan McGregor.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Eileen Atkins, Orlando Bloom, Michelle Dockery, Joseph Fiennes, George Martin
13. ACT, SAN FRANCISCO
The first time Annette Bening became a star was at ACT's theater, which has earned a Tony and welcomed 7 million patrons. Its kids program produced Winona Ryder and Nicolas Cage.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Denzel Washington, Delroy Lindo
14. UC San Diego, SAN DIEGO
Sharing shops and staff with the Tony-winning La Jolla Playhouse, UCSD puts on 15 productions a year. There are 200 undergrads and 60 MFAs culled from 500 applicants.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Danny Bernstein, James Avery
[Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Dana Ivey as an alum of UC San Diego. She is an alum of LAMDA.]
15. CalArts, VALENCIA, CALIF.
CalArts students benefit from proximity to L.A., a thriving film school and visiting artists such as Elizabeth LeCompte, Ming Cho Lee and Taper Forum founder Gordon Davidson.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Alison Brie, Don Cheadle
16. USC School of Dramatic Arts, LOS ANGELES
USC is most noted for its film school, which was No. 1 on THR's 2012 Top 25 Film Schools list, and it functions like a miniature version of Hollywood. The also-vibrant drama school spawns grads who score onstage as well as onscreen. On June 12, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas will discuss "The Future of Entertainment" at USC's new Interactive Media Building.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Troian Bellisario, Grant Heslov, Stark Sands, Danny Strong, Forest Whitaker
17. DePaul, CHICAGO
DePaul might not have rival Northwestern's size, but it does boast a 6-to-1 faculty-student ratio and draws strength from Chicago's hot drama scene.
NOTABLE ALUMS: John C. Reilly, Gillian Anderson, Elizabeth Perkins
18. Florida State, SARASOTA, FLA.
MFA candidates get tuition waivers and experience at the Asolo Theater, the biggest in the Southeast. Dean of visual arts, theater and dance Peter Weishar, who starts July 1, was formerly dean of the fast-rising Savannah College of Art and Design's School of Entertainment Arts, which made THR's 2012 list of 10 Film Schools to Watch.
NOTABLE ALUM: Paul Reubens
19. Harvard University, CAMBRIDGE, MASS.
Even if it weren't at Harvard, the MFA program would be world-class because students in the five-semester program study in Cambridge and at the Moscow Art Theatre School. Harvard's American Repertory Theater also stands tall on the global stage.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Faran Tahir, Kate Whoriskey, Jeff Zinn, Bart Delorenzo, Tina Landau
20. Syracuse University, SYRACUSE, N.Y.
Drama dean Ralph Zito, formerly at Juilliard, has much to celebrate in his third year at SU: Six alums got Tony nominations for shows like Lucky Guy and Kinky Boots. But students don't have to wait for their spotlight on Broadway, thanks to the Syracuse Stage, which attracts 90,000 playgoers a year.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Aaron Sorkin, Frank Langella, Taye Diggs
21. UCLA, LOS ANGELES
UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television is unique in having all three schools under one roof. What's even cooler is this year's Advanced Dramatic Television Workshop, in which 47 students spent 37 weeks creating a 42-minute, five-act TV pilot under the guidance of TV and feature veterans Rod Holcomb (E.R., Lost) and Beau Marks (The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard). The pilot, a sci-fi thriller about grad students who sign up for a social experiment and find they've been genetically altered, will premiere June 12 at UCLA's 22nd annual Film Festival.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Tim Robbins, Eric Roth, Jack Black
22. Rutgers, NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.
Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts, the only school that offers students a full year at Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London, celebrates its 10th year there in 2013. Only 9 percent of Rutgers' applicants are admitted.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Calista Flockhart, Kristin Davis
23. Brown University, PROVIDENCE, R.I.
The MFA program combines the attractions of the most popular Ivy League school and the eminent Trinity Rep, the Tony-winning home of 58 world premieres.
NOTABLE ALUMS: John Krasinski, Julie Bowen
24. William Esper Studio, NEW YORK CITY
Devoted to the Sanford Meisner method, Esper offers instruction to actors at various stages of development for prices startlingly lower than universities charge: from $425 a month for part-time classes to $18,000 a year for full time.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Timothy Olyphant, Patricia Heaton, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates
25. University of Washington, SEATTLE
Half of UW's Professional Actor Training grads get acting work within 12 months.
NOTABLE ALUMS: Rainn Wilson, Kyle MacLachlan, Joel McHale, Jean Smart
INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS OF HONORABLE MENTION
BRISTOL OLD VIC
Alums: Daniel Day-Lewis, Jeremy Irons, Gene Wilder, Greta Scacchi
CENTRAL SCHOOL OF SPEECH & DRAMA (UNIVERSITY OF LONDON)
Alums: Carrie Fisher, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rupert Everett
ROYAL CONSERVATOIRE OF SCOTLAND
Alums: Alan Cumming, David Tennant, Sheena Easton
WESTERN AUSTRALIAN ACADEMY OF PERFORMING ARTS
Alums: Hugh Jackman, Frances O'Connor
UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN
Alums: Embeth Davidtz, Richard E. Grant