The 25 Best Drama Schools of 2023, Ranked – The Hollywood Reporter

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Drama schools worldwide were able to achieve a degree of stability in the past academic year as productions and classes largely went on as scheduled (though, in some cases, programs still felt lingering effects from COVID-19). Coming out of the pandemic, schools are pushing forward with a greater emphasis on diversity within the classes, faculty and coursework. Students are learning how to create the best self-taped auditions and coming out of school with jobs booked. The Hollywood Reporter consulted with educators and industry execs to determine its annual ranking of the best schools for an acting degree. Tuition, when applicable, is listed on an annualized basis and pertains to the upcoming academic year, unless otherwise indicated. Most schools offer some form of financial assistance.

1. The Juilliard School

New York City

At Juilliard, undergrad and graduate students study together in a conservatory-style program that trains them to work within the industry and to “stretch their generative muscles and create work for themselves,” says Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the drama program. In the past academic year, the program hired a new head of physical acting, Orlando Pabotoy, and commissioned films from alumni playwright fellows, including writer-actress Enid Graham, who wrote specifically for students, giving them on-set training in addition to classroom study. The school’s many illustrious alumni include Jessica Chastain, Danielle Brooks, Oscar Isaac and Corey Hawkins, all of whom were on Broadway last season, in addition to their screen work. Undergrad and graduate tuition for the upcoming academic year is $53,300. The MFA program is four years long — while most are three — but the final year is tuition-free, with a stipend. About 93 percent of students qualify for financial aid.

2. Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

The David Geffen School of Drama at Yale remains tuition-free for the 15 to 17 acting grad students who are accepted yearly, thanks to the $150 million gift bestowed on the school by the business magnate in June 2021. Not surprisingly, there’s been a “big increase in applications” since the endowment was made, says school dean James Bundy. The school’s numerous notable acting alumni include Brian Tyree Henry, Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand and Angela Bassett.

3. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The undergraduate program at UNC School of the Arts, which provides conservatory-level training across five disciplines, has recently made a number of new hires and added courses such as playwriting and micro-budget producing for film and television. Under the leadership of dean Scott Zigler, UNCSA School of Drama has updated its performance repertoire to include more underrepresented voices and is emphasizing student-generated work and devised theater. A number of recent students have booked jobs shortly after graduation, and alumni include Tony-winning actor-director Joe Mantello, Isaac Powell (American Horror Story) and Mary-Louise Parker. Undergraduate out-of-state tuition is $24,231.

4. Brown/Trinity Rep

Providence, Rhode Island

The Ivy League school accepts 12 students a year into its drama grad program, which is affiliated with the regional Trinity Repertory Company theater. Students can take part in a production and earn their Actors’ Equity card. The program was one of the first to offer free tuition, and it gives students health and dental insurance while they’re enrolled.

5. Royal Academy of Dramatic Art


Behind the scenes of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s production of Sweeney Todd.

Behind the scenes of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s production of ‘Sweeney Todd.’

Courtesy of School

RADA, which produced the likes of recent Oscar nominee Andrea Riseborough and Succession star Matthew Macfadyen, will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2024 as the conservatory continues to push its curriculum forward with classes on topics such as emerging technologies under newly appointed principal Niamh Dowling. The school offers a three-year undergraduate program, which welcomes 28 acting students a year, as well as a one-year MA Theatre Lab. Undergraduate and graduate tuition is about $30,000 for international students.

6. Guildhall


Guildhall accepts 28 students annually to its three-year undergraduate acting program, which has produced notable alumni such as Ewan McGregor, Michaela Coel and Daniel Craig. Jonathan Vaughan was recently appointed principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, after having led the music department, and has continued guiding the school in its interdisciplinary approach to study. Tuition for international students is about $30,000.

7. Carnegie Mellon University


Known for its strong undergraduate musical theater and acting program, Carnegie Mellon made several faculty changes in the past year, including hiring former University of Texas at Austin alum Robert Ramirez as the new head of the School of Drama, with a goal of creating a more equitable and inclusive learning environment, and Kaja Dunn in the newly created position of associate professor of anti-racist and culturally competent practice.

Undergraduate tuition is $62,260.

8. London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art


Founded in 1861, LAMDA is the oldest drama school on the British Isles. It offers three-year undergrad degrees in acting, as well as two-year graduate degrees, and has produced noteworthy alumni including Brian Cox, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch (who now heads the school’s board of trustees). Tuition for undergrad international applicants is about $30,000, same for the graduate program.

9. UC San Diego

San Diego

The MFA program at UCSD provides graduate students with three years of free tuition and fees, plus the opportunity to perform in productions at the prestigious La Jolla Playhouse and earn their Actors’ Equity card. The school, which recently unveiled a new outdoor amphitheater, is known for its collaborative learning environment and has produced actors such as Zoë Chao (Party Down) and even award-winning playwrights, including Pulitzer Prize nominee Zora Howard (Stew).

10. The Old Globe and USD

San Diego

The two-year MFA program accepts seven students each year; they receive full-tuition scholarships and a monthly stipend from the Old Globe Theatre, which is partnered with the school and offers students work in its productions. Led by actor, director and choreographer Jesse Perez, the program offers a curriculum focused on performance skills for classical theater and has recently added movement courses in fight stunt work, clowning and more.

11. New York University

New York City

NYU offers a well-known undergraduate drama program that counts Miles Teller, Rachel Brosnahan and Elizabeth Olsen as alumni and places about 1,400 students in select professional training studios before they continue on to advanced study.  The three-year graduate acting program, which accepts 16 students annually, counts Broadway stars such as T. Oliver Reid (Hadestown), and Miriam Silverman (The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window) as faculty. Both programs benefited from the opening this year of the 735,000-square-foot John A. Paulson Center, which features three theaters, eight rehearsal and dance studios and state-of-the-art design shops. The estimated undergraduate tuition for the upcoming academic year is $66,388, while graduate tuition is $73,698.

12. UCLA

Los Angeles

UCLA students performed in a production of Pippin in May 2022.

UCLA students performed in a production of ‘Pippin’ in May 2022.

Courtesy of School

Undergraduate actors have a choice between drama or musical theater programs at this school that benefits from its proximity to the industry. The school’s graduate program is on pause and not accepting applications for the 2023-24 year as faculty continues to review and update the curriculum. In-state tuition for undergrads living on campus is $39,000 and a bit more than $71,000 for out-of-state.

13. USC

Los Angeles

The faculty at USC’s School of Dramatic Arts, which offers graduate and undergrad degrees, are all working professionals and include Alexandra Billings (The Peripheral), Kate Burton (Inventing Anna) and a new addition, Finola Hughes (General Hospital). The curriculum is meant to provide a “360-degree education” that offers a focus on entrepreneurship and emerging technologies. Tuition for the MFA programs is $53,592, but the USC School of Dramatic Arts covers 85 percent. Undergraduate tuition is $66,640, with two-thirds of the class receiving some form of financial aid.

14. National Institute of Dramatic Art

Kensington, Australia

Cate Blanchett, Sarah Snook and Murray Bartlett graduated from the three-year undergraduate acting program offered at Australia’s finest drama conservatory. Ninety-five percent of graduates are employed in the performance industry within six months of leaving, with more than half working in the screen sector, locally and internationally. The annual tuition is about $21,000.

15. University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan

The school is known for having one of the world’s top musical theater programs, with alumni including Emily in Paris star Ashley Park and 2023 Tony nominee Lorna Courtney, the lead of the new musical & Juliet. In the past academic year, tuition for out-of-state students in the department was about $28,000.

16. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art offers a strong MFA program that works closely with the professional PlayMakers Repertory Company. Six to eight actors are accepted to each class and receive tuition waivers and stipends. Kathryn Hunter-Williams, a longtime PlayMakers company member, recently took over as chair of the Department of Dramatic Art.

17. Columbia University

New York City

Known for its MFA acting degree, this program emphasizes interdisciplinary learning with other concentrations besides acting. It also promotes experience outside the classroom, which the school facilitates through its connections to the industry, including both faculty members and the broader Columbia network. Tuition for the MFA program was about $70,000 in the past academic year.

18. Baldwin Wallace University

Berea, Ohio

Victoria Bussert directed the Baldwin Wallace University music theater program’s production of Once in February 2019.

Victoria Bussert directed the Baldwin Wallace University music theater program’s production of ‘Once’ in February 2019.

Courtesy of Roger Mastroianni

Its strong undergrad music theater program, helmed by director Victoria Bussert, has seen almost all graduating seniors from the past 14 years sign with representation following the school’s New York showcase. Tuition is in the neighborhood of $40,000.

19. Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah, Georgia

SCAD offers the only in-house university casting office in the country, with plans to open a second casting office in fall 2023 at its Atlanta campus, overseen by Alpha Tyler, former head of casting for Tyler Perry Studios. In the past year, students have been landed in Ava DuVernay’s Caste, the Apple TV+ series Manhunt, Norman Lear’s Clean Slate and Clint Eastwood’s Juror No. 2. Tuition for the undergraduate program is $40,000.

20. Northwestern University


Broadway star KO (In the Heights, West Side Story), previously known as Karen Olivo, took over as head of Northwestern’s music theater program in fall 2022 and has since been making changes to the curriculum to make it more inclusive for music directors, composers and more. Kathryn Hahn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and 2023 Tony nominee Brian d’Arcy James are among the alumni. Undergraduate tuition is $64,887.

21. Penn State University

State College, Pennsylvania

This school’s musical theater program accepts 12 to 14 undergrad students a year and focuses on training individuals, rather than a uniform group. “We work really hard to recruit a diverse student body,” says Rick Lombardo, director of the School of Theatre, which also includes an acting major and prestigious grad program. Tuition for out-of-state undergrads cost about $38,000 last year. Musical theater grads include Talia Suskauer (Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway) and Caroline Bowman (Elsa in the national tour of Frozen).

22. Syracuse University

Syracuse, New York

Syracuse University’s production of Sweet Charity in 2022

Syracuse University’s production of Sweet Charity in 2022

Mike Davis

With strong musical theater and acting programs that have produced the likes of Aaron Sorkin and Taye Diggs, undergraduate students at Syracuse spend the first year developing fundamental skills and later have the opportunity to audition for co-productions with the professional Syracuse Stage company as well as participate in an industry-immersive semester in New York City. Tuition is about $61,000.

23. University of Tennessee

Knoxville, Tennessee

Kenneth Martin, formerly of the University of Missouri —Kansas City, took over as the new head of the department of theater in August 2022 and also helms the affiliated Clarence Brown Theatre as its artistic director. The school offers a BA in theater and an MFA in acting, with the latter provided tuition-free (undergrad cost $31,664 for out-of-state students in 2022-23).

24. Southern Methodist University


Every other year, the Meadows School of the Arts accepts eight grad students, who receive free tuition plus a $12,500 stipend, as well as access to a travel fund for research and acting opportunities with the Dallas Theater Center. The school also offers an undergraduate acting program, with tuition at $64,460 in 2023, and has plans to expand. In April, SMU received a $15 million grant from philanthropist G. Marlyne Sexton to create a musical theater program. SMU will start building the program this year, with the first incoming class projected for fall 2026.

25. SUNY Purchase

Purchase, New York

The New York state school welcomed its 50th class of acting and theater design/technology BFA students this fall after serving as a training ground for actors such as Stanley Tucci, Abbott Elementary’s Chris Perfetti and Edie Falco and Oona Roche, who are now appearing together on the Peacock series Bupkis. Tuition for the BFA program was about $17,000 last year, but New York residents under a certain income threshold might be able to attend for free.

This story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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