The 25 Best Drama Schools for an Acting Degree, Ranked

6:45 AM 5/21/2018

by Seth Abramovitch

For its annual list of top drama MFA programs, The Hollywood Reporter canvassed alums, instructors and top theater and Hollywood pros.

Top 25 Drama Schools - Illustration - H 2018
Illustration by Pete Gamlen

There are a lot of new deans and directors on drama school campuses this year (including one with a role in Ocean's 8). As a new generation of instructors takes over MFA programs across the country, new courses are also being introduced to train the next generation of actors in innovative ways (one university recently brought in Anna Faris to teach podcasting; another added a class where students act opposite an artificial intelligence machine).

To keep tabs on the latest dramas at the best programs, THR has again consulted with academics, industry professionals, alumni and other experts for its ranking of the top 25 schools that take acting to a higher degree.

  1. 1


    If you saw Black Panther — and a good chunk of the world did — then you're familiar with the work of two recent grads: Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke (class of 2012 and 2014, respectively). You've probably also heard of some of the school's more seasoned alums, including Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Angela Bassett and Frances McDormand (who picked up yet another acting Oscar for the school this year). Yale has always attracted the very best teachers — and the very best young talent, which is why it once again tops this list.

  2. 2


    There's a new drama queen on campus — longtime Yale professor and Obie-winning stage director Evan Yionoulis takes over the program in July — but the mission remains the same: to be the premier acting school in the nation (or at least south of New Haven). The MFA program is only 6 years old, but Juilliard has been churning out superstars for 50 years, from Robin Williams to Viola Davis to Jessica Chastain.

  3. 3

    NYU Tisch School of the Arts

    Unlike NYU's sprawling undergrad program, the MFA track accepts just 16 students a year. A full half-semester curriculum is now dedicated to working with NYU's legendary graduate film program. The downside: Tuition is a hefty $60,000 a year, and that doesn't include the cost of living in New York. Still, it may be worth it: Two very recent grads — Jin Ha (class of '16) and Carvens Lissaint ('17) — already have appeared in Hamilton.

  4. 4

    UC San Diego

    It's a big year for actor Richard Robichaux. Not only does he take over as head of the acting program in the fall, but he also has a part this summer in Ocean's 8. Thanks to its association with the La Jolla Playhouse — where scores of Tony-winning hits have been born — this school continues to produce super-successful alumni, like Angela Reed, who's starring in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway.

  5. 5

    Top 25 Schools 2018: Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

    A scone's throw from the University of London, this iconic conservatory has produced some of the most legendary actors of all time, including John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins and Ian Holm. Four of this year's Tony nominees — Mark Rylance, Jamie Parker, Glenda Jackson and Diana Rigg — are grads.

  6. 6

    Brown University

    Angela Brazil, a longtime actor and director with the school's Trinity Repertory Company, recently took over as director of this program, which accepts 14 to 16 actors per class and splits each of its three years into different themes: realism, verse and style. Best of all, Brown recently became the only Ivy League drama school to offer full tuition for the acting and directing MFA programs.

  7. 7

    University of North Carolina

    Its affiliation with PlayMakers Rep, a professional theater in residence consistently named among the country's best regional stages (actor/folk music great Loudon Wainwright III and Orange Is the New Black's Annie Golden are company members) make this program an attractive one for students hoping to enter the workforce with a guaranteed Actors' Equity card. Recent graduate Myles Bullock (class of '17) has appeared on CBS' S.W.A.T., while Benjamin Curns (also '17) guest-starred on Quantico.

  8. 8


    UCLA offers a course in which students act with an artificial intelligence machine (for when Skynet takes over Broadway). The more traditional-minded can take a class in Ancient Greek Choral Speaking, land a part in one of the prestigious film school's productions or learn to sew from designer in residence Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread). Mariska Hargitay and George Takei are alumni.

  9. 9

    London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art

    In England, an acting school doesn't achieve "institution" status until well into its second century — and LAMDA, the oldest school in the U.K., turns 157 this year. Unlike its U.S. counterparts, LAMDA's students (who include such stars as Benedict Cumberbatch to Chiwetel Ejiofor) earn their degrees in just two years.

  10. 10

    The National Institute of Dramatic Art

    The renowned acting school Down Under has produced scads of global superstars — Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette — and students regularly land roles in visiting Hollywood productions. Last year, alumna Judy Davis directed students in a play, and George Miller and Margot Robbie stopped by to advise students.

  11. 11

    The Old Globe and University of San Diego

    Just seven students are chosen each year (their tuition is covered) and are immersed in a comprehensive acting curriculum, which is then put to practical use in multiple productions; students also have the opportunity to perform at a summer Shakespeare festival. The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, currently starring in a Broadway revival of The Boys in the Band, is an alumnus.

  12. 12

    Columbia University

    Applications have doubled since last year, when this Ivy League school was dead last on THR's list; so has financial aid. A new theater, built by Academy Museum designer Renzo Piano, opened in September, continuing Columbia's expansion into North Harlem. And the emphasis of the program has shifted more from theory to practice. Things are looking up.

  13. 13

    USC School of Dramatic Arts

    This nimble program located in the heart of the entertainment industry is always evolving. Last year, Anna Faris taught a podcast class. Joining the faculty in 2017 was Scandal's Kate Burton, who teaches acting. The school's ties to George Lucas (who donated $175 million for an expansion in 2006) lead to visits from the likes of Mark Hamill, who recently popped by to share some Jedi mind tricks for actors.

  14. 14

    Guildhall School of Music & Drama

    Although not quite as prestigious as RADA or LAMDA, it's the U.K.'s biggest, most diverse acting school, with 900 students from 70 countries. Among the Brits who've passed through its Barbican Center-adjacent campus: Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Orlando Bloom, Ewan McGregor, Lily James and Damian Lewis.

  15. 15


    "It's controversial, always has been," says a veteran acting teacher of this program, which leans into the more experimental end of the drama school spectrum. But a disrupter education might be just what the profession calls for when companies like Netflix are upending conventions. Plus, Saturday Night Live's Cecily Strong and GLOW's Alison Brie both attended.

  16. 16

    University of Tennessee

    Jed Diamond, an experienced New York stage actor, has put this program on the map. The entire class of eight students gets a free three-year education and roles at the Clarence Brown Theatre. Recent grads include Tramell Tillman, who just landed a part in AMC's upcoming Dietland.

  17. 17

    University of Washington

    The most illustrious actor incubator in the Pacific Northwest has an impressive track record on the national stage: Joel McHale graduated from the program in 2000. The following year, so did Ron Simons — who went on to win three Tonys.

  18. 18

    Case Western Reserve University

    Getting into Case Western is a little like hitting the acting school lottery. If you're one of the eight accepted students out of 800 applicants, you get a full three-year tuition waiver, a generous annual living stipend and expe­rience at the Cleveland Play House. Mad Men's Rich Sommer is an alumnus.

  19. 19

    Southern Methodist University

    The late, great James Houghton — former director of Juilliard's drama division who died of stomach cancer in 2016 at age 57 — earned his MFA here. The three-year program is affiliated with the Tony-winning Dallas Theater Center.

  20. 20

    UC Irvine

    This conservatory-style program, just an hour's drive from L.A., puts plenty of emphasis on on-camera acting. Recent grads include Beth Malone (who's joining the cast of Angels in America on Broadway) and Quinn VanAntwerp (also on Broadway in The Play That Goes Wrong).

  21. 21

    Savannah College of Art and Design

    At the only school on this list with its own in-house casting office — which comes in handy for Hollywood productions shooting in Georgia — many students start collecting IMDb credits even before graduating. Alumni include DeRon Horton and Briana Weiss.

  22. 22

    American Conservatory Theater

    This 53-year-old Bay Area school gets a new dean this summer: Tony-winning stage director Pam MacKinnon takes over from Carey Perloff, who stepped down after 25 years on the job. But MacKinnon is unlikely to change what's been a winning formula of basic training by a strong faculty of working-artist teachers (this year, voice coach extraordinaire Christine Adaire joins the faculty). Alumni include Elizabeth Banks, Annette Bening, Benjamin Bratt and Denzel Washington.

  23. 23

    Rutgers University

    Yes, it's in New Jersey — there's nothing anybody can do about that — but a performance center is being built in New Brunswick that will open up two theater spaces in 2019. In 2020, the school will add a BFA in musical theater to its roster of degrees. Some recent grads: Mike Colter (star of Netflix's Luke Cage series) and Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Infinity War).

  24. 24

    Depaul University

    Located in the heart of Chicago's theater scene, DePaul picks 10 students a year for annual scholarships of between $14,000 and $17,000. Recent grads include Westworld's Olga Aguilar.

  25. 25

    Florida State University

    A three-year program offering a reasonably solid acting foundation, a full-ride scholarship and a professional work environment at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. Oscar-winning Moonlight director Barry Jenkins graduated in 2003.

    This story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.