The 5 Best Undergrad Drama Schools for an Acting Degree

6:45 AM 5/21/2018

by Seth Abramovitch

For its annual ranking of bachelor's programs, The Hollywood Reporter canvassed alums, instructors and top theater and Hollywood pros.

Top 25 Film Schools: NYU Tisch School of the Arts - H 2015
Courtesy of Tisch School of the Arts

Not all great actors get MFAs. Some, like Jennifer Lawrence, Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and Ryan Gosling, didn’t even finish high school. But there is a middle ground. Slews of colleges and universities offer undergraduate degrees in drama, with scores of ready-to-work, well-trained performers graduating every year. How to choose? Below, THR narrows the field down to five — the best bachelor's degrees to help launch an acting career.

  • Carnegie Mellon University

    Josh Gad and Megan Hilty trained at this Pittsburgh institution, the oldest acting conservatory in the country. Class of 2012's Grey Henson stars in Mean Girls on Broadway, in a performance that earned him his first Tony nomination — which was announced on TV by Leslie Odom Jr., another Carnegie alum, and the 2016 Tony winner for Hamilton. Needless to say, this school churns out top-tier talent.

  • Juilliard

    The undergrad program predates the master track by 44 years — and remains among the world's best. Grads Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver felt its Force. This year, Evan Yionoulis, a 20-year vet of Yale's legendary acting program, takes over as the school's director of drama (she replaces James Houghton, who led the department from 2006 until his death from cancer in 2016). The school remains one of the world's most elite actor training grounds.

  • NYU Tisch School of the Arts

    Consistently tops Playbill's list of schools represented on Broadway (43 former students in 2017). Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom graduated in 2009. And working under the same roof as the school's world-class film school — Class of '00's Rachel Morrison recently became the first woman nominated for a cinematography Oscar — means actors will get plenty of opportunities for cross-pollination with other rising talent.

  • University of North Carolina School of the Arts

    Top-tier education that produced Mary-Louise Parker, Lucas Hedges and Broadway director Joe Mantello. Hedges started there as a freshman in 2015, then took a year off to shoot Manchester by the Sea, for which he earned an Oscar nomination. Then there's Dane DeHaan, who graduated in 2008, and has since gone on to star in genre films like A Cure for Wellness and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. With a track record like that, it's not surprising that applications have doubled. 560 hopefuls tried out in 2016; 36 were chosen. 

  • UC San Diego

    This B.A. program's affiliation with La Jolla Playhouse and flexibility (students can take liberal arts classes, too) make for an attractive option. Six-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein and Benicio Del Toro have passed through its doors on their way to stardom.

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