The Best 25 College Drama Programs Around the World

7:00 AM 6/8/2020

by Seth Abramovitch

The Hollywood Reporter surveys alums, academics and industry pros for its annual list of the top acting schools.

Jonathan Majors ('The Last Black Man in San Francisco'), left, in a 2011 University of North Carolina School of the Arts production of 'A Streetcar Named Desire.'
Jonathan Majors ('The Last Black Man in San Francisco'), left, in a 2011 University of North Carolina School of the Arts production of 'A Streetcar Named Desire.'
STEVE DAVIS/COURTESY OF UNCSA

COVID-19 was the worst possible game-changer for college acting programs. When the pandemic hit, schools scrambled to adjust, canceling long-planned productions at the last minute while transferring whatever classes they could — movement, voice, dramaturgy — to remote teaching. For the 2020-21 school year, things are very much still in flux. Most schools are in session, but the highly physical lab work required remains unlikely. Nevertheless, life and education — just like the show — must go on, and so The Hollywood Reporter consulted once again with insiders, alumni and theater professionals for its annual ranking of the best institutions for a drama degree. (All programs are graduate level unless otherwise indicated.)

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    25

    JUILLIARD

    New York

    A seminar for on-camera acting taught by Bob Krakower (who's coached everyone from Keanu Reeves to Scarlett Johansson), plus an audition boot camp from casting director David Caparelliotis (who casts NBC's New Amsterdam), are two recent additions to a curriculum that has seen unprecedented success in minting working actors — Judy's Finn Wittrock and Russian Doll's Charlie Barnett among them. Tuition for the four-year BFA and MFA programs is $50,000 annually, but the final year of grad school is free.

  2. 2
    25

    Yale

    New Haven, Connecticut

    The Ivy League school that trained The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Tony Shalhoub also was the incubator that developed 2019 grad Jeremy O. Harris' award-winning Slave Play. Tuition is $33,000, but $7 million in financial aid was dispersed last year.

  3. 3
    25

    NYU Tisch School of the Arts

    New York

    Students can now immerse themselves in a seven-week training program that covers filmmaking, acting for the camera and film history. Tuition for the graduate program is a hefty $63,000 a year, but remissions of up to 68 percent are available to MFA students who demonstrate need.

  4. 4
    25

    UC San Diego

    San Diego

    Not many acting schools can boast a department chair who's also a working TV actor — but UCSD's Richard Robichaux now co-stars on David E. Kelley's Big Shot for Disney+. UCSD accepts just eight students a year, but they receive free tuition and a chance to work at the La Jolla Playhouse.

  5. 5
    25

    LAMDA

    London

    Sarah Frankcom joined the London Academy of Dramatic Art in November as director, coming from the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, where she served as artistic director for five years. Tuition is $26,000 a year, but that might be worth it to train where David Oyelowo and Benedict Cumberbatch once did.

  6. 6
    25

    University of North Carolina School of the Arts

    Winston-Salem, North Carolina

    Under new chancellor Brian Cole, the undergrad program that honed Last Black Man in San Francisco star Jonathan Majors offers practical training, with classes in motion-capture acting, voice-overs and video game performance. Tuition is $23,000 a year.

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    25

    Carnegie Mellon

    Pittsburgh

    This undergraduate program remains a top choice for musical theater actors; the four-year program has trained such crossover Broadway stars as Megan Hilty and Leslie Odom Jr. Tuition is $54,000.

  8. 8
    25

    University of Tennessee

    Knoxville, Tennessee

    There are newly renovated classroom studios and lab space at this school, which offers some of the best financial support (a full ride for all accepted students, plus stipends of up to $18,000 a year) in addition to stage time at the affiliated Clarence Brown Theatre.

  9. 9
    25

    UCLA

    Los Angeles

    While it won't accept new master's acting students for the 2020-21 school year because of COVID-19 concerns (design, directing and playwriting departments are not affected), this remains L.A.'s best acting degree program, boasting Michael Stuhlbarg and Billy Porter as alums. Tuition is $30,000 annually for California residents, $42,000 for those from out of state.

  10. 10
    25

    Brown University

    Providence, Rhode Island

    The only Ivy League school on this list to offer full-ride scholarships for all attendees makes Brown's program an enviable one. Its association with the first-rate Trinity Rep seals the deal, guaranteeing grads a union card and plenty of professional experience.

  11. 11
    25

    The Old Globe and University of San Diego

    San Diego

    One year into Jesse Perez's tenure as director, this program, with its emphasis on the classics, remains one of the finest places to earn an MFA. Just seven students are chosen; tuition is waived and a living stipend is provided.

  12. 12
    25

    Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

    London

    Talk about lineage: Kenneth Branagh is the president — he took over from Richard Attenborough after Attenborough's death in 2014 — and Queen Elizabeth II is the school's patron. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ben Whishaw and Allison Janney all trained there. Tuition runs $11,000 per year.

  13. 13
    25

    Guildhall School of Music & Drama

    London

    The addition last year of vice principal Orla O'Loughlin, a veteran director with deep ties to the theater world, has led to an influx of some of Britain's top talent as guest faculty, including Olivier Award winner Stef Smith, directors Ameera Conrad and Caroline Byrne and choreographer Vicki Igbokwe. Tuition is $24,000 a year.

  14. 14
    25

    American Conservatory Theater

    San Francisco

    This Bay Area conservatory, which trained Elizabeth Banks and Anika Noni Rose, offers classes on self-taping auditions — an industry must these days ­— while mounting new works from emerging playwrights. Tuition is $30,000 annually.

  15. 15
    25

    USC School of Dramatic Arts

    Los Angeles

    Ahmed Best — yes, the man who played Jar Jar Binks (and also a respected acting teacher) — joined the faculty last year to give a class on filmmaking for actors. Third-year students mount three plays that are performed in repertory, with one new work among them. Tuition is $46,000 a year, but financial aid can cover as much as 75 percent.

  16. 16
    25

    Cal Arts

    Valencia, California

    Proximity to Tinseltown has its perks for this program: David Hollander, showrunner of Ray Donovan, personally led a team of Hollywood casting directors in a workshop for all CalArts actors. Tuition is $53,000 a year.

  17. 17
    25

    Columbia University

    New York

    The state-of-the-art Lenfest Theater and a push to diversify the faculty (Michele Shay and T. Oliver Reid are recent additions) have put this Ivy League program back on track. Class of 2019's Tamera Tomakili has already signed with CAA and landed a role in Adam McKay's upcoming Showtime. Tuition is $63,000.

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    25

    Case Western Reserve University

    Cleveland

    Under new director Donald Carrier, this program has refocused its curriculum on developing skills to help grads make it as working actors — including a 15-week film-acting class. The MFA program is tuition-free and guarantees students an Equity card through its association with the famed Cleveland Playhouse.

  19. 19
    25

    Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

    Bristol, England

    Fiona Francombe, previously the director of one of the U.K.'s biggest film and TV studios, has reinvigorated this small school in the west of England as its new principal. Three stars of Netflix's The Crown — Olivia Colman (Queen Elizabeth), Josh O'Connor (Prince Charles) and Erin Doherty (Princess Anne) — are Old Vic grads. Annual tuition is $30,000.

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    25

    University of Washington

    Seattle

    A three-year program that has 40 years of theater training under its belt, it's where Joel McHale earned his acting MFA. Tuition is $30,000 annually, with limited scholarships available.

  21. 21
    25

    Northwestern University

    Chicago

    The school's two-year, tuition-free MFA acting program launched in the 2019-20 school year, and the downtown performing-and-media-arts space being built to support it will be completed this summer. A $2 million gift from alum Greg Berlanti endowed a new dramatic writing professorship.

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    Florida State University

    Sarasota, Florida

    Another established school that waives tuition for its students, FSU offers annual stipends while allowing access to work at the affiliated Asolo Repertory Theatre. Moonlight star André Holland went here; it's where he met Barry Jenkins, director of the 2016 Oscar best picture winner.

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    Southern Methodist University

    Dallas

    All students get a full-ride scholarship and an annual $12,500 stipend and graduate with a professional voiceover reel. Using in-person and online classes and workshops, students receive advice regarding résumés, monologues and scene work.

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    University of Missouri

    Kansas City, Missouri

    This year, UMKC brought its theater, music and dance departments under one roof: the UMKC Conservatory. Ken Martin, the newly appointed chair of the theater division, calls the various divisions "simpatico," and the cross-pollination has already begun reaping dividends: Dance students were incorporated into a recent production of The Tempest. Tuition: $25,000 a year.

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    25

    Savannah College of Art and Design

    Savannah, Georgia

    The school's "Live From Studio A" program unites a cast and crew of more than 100 students to create pro-level content. Recent grads include Kayli Carter (Mrs. America) and DeRon Horton (Dear White People). Tuition is $38,475 a year.

    This story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.