Applying as Drama Major at Broad Schools

Just starting to look for my child, who is very interested in drama but wants to go to a more “general” school (not an arts-only school). She is trying to think about how to select courses in high school (beyond the obvious of picking things she’s interested in).

My question is about admissions criteria used. Places like NYU, USC, and others all have audition processes, and I know those are crucial. Does anyone know how much they consider OTHER factors? Like, is this still about scores / grades / rigor the same way it is for many other majors? Or do those things matter less, such that she shouldn’t be (for example) pushing to take AP science classes if she doesn’t like science?

Added bonus — how is this different, if at all, for smaller schools with a good drama department (Vassar comes to mind as an example)?

So I dont know if anyone can answer your question completely about audition based programs. There are some that have minimal academic standards for BFA acting students but it is thought that their acting audition is really all that matters.

For BA acting programs that are not audition based, our experience was that an excellent drama tape and audition/contact with the department is hugely helpful. The department has a pull in many schools in getting students accepted similar to music and athletes who may not have as strong applications otherwise, but not hugely below the range for the school. For example, my S was accepted to one top 50 school that I think would not have happened without the acting supplement and contact with the drama department.


Northwestern University is among the best drama dept. / major in the country. In the not too distant past, there were no auditions for acting students, but sophomore year auditions were required for those wishing to focus on musical theater.

Northwestern’s program is ranked #1 by a couple of other sources including Niche. This list may be more useful for OP’s inquiry than the list made by The Hollywood Reporter which focuses more on graduate MFA programs than on undergraduate majors in theater & drama.

  1. Northwestern University
  2. USC
  3. NYU
  4. American Musical & Dramatic Academy (New York)
  5. Yale
  6. Columbia
  7. Stanford
  8. Carnegie Mellon (CMU)
  9. Juilliard
  10. Duke
  11. Chicago
  12. Brown
  13. UCLA
  14. Pomona College

CalArts, North carolins School of the Arts, Barnard College, Dartmouth, Notre Dame, Boston University, Michigan, & Wesleyan.

An interesting list (because it notes the number of recent graduates with a drama/theater major) of over 100 schools can be found here:

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Mine is interested in drama but also music, math and history. If yours has broader interests too, I would suggest focusing on BA programs rather than BFAs. That would allow your kid to take part in mainstage productions even if she changes major later. BAs may consider audition pieces as supplements but wouldn’t be as audition focused.

Here are a few with good theatre programs and good academics:

(We looked mostly in NE as you can see)!

Some BFAs are even in separate schools (like NYU) making it hard to bridge interests.

Good luck!

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Thanks, all. These are great. I definitely think the BA approach makes sense, even though she’s quite committed right now. If nothing else, I know that double majors of drama and (in her aspirations) psychology are tough to do across schools like at NYU. The lists look like those we’ve seen before — lots of really great academic schools. Depending on how things evolve, we will likely need to dig a little more for some options beyond high reaches (though some good nuggets in there).

If you provide more information (GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, leadership/awards, areas of the country, type of location (urban/suburban/rural) as well as a budget) then I’m sure you would get additional suggestions that would help create a balanced college list of schools that are unlikely, possible, likely, and extremely likely for admission.

The best BA acting program for someone who wants a broad range of classes and to be part of a very active performing scene is probably Muhlenberg. My S also really liked the program at Northeastern. Northwestern is a conservatory style program without an audition, my understanding when my S went through the process is that they assumed that everyone who applied would be good enough to make it through.

Thanks. Honestly, she’s just a first year, so we aren’t there yet. But since she’s a younger sibling whose brother is already in college, she’s talking about it A LOT, so I’m trying to get a head start.

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An older sibling in college is what started my own multi-year college search as well. :smiley:

This link gives a brief description of 25 top acting colleges. And even in some areas where it mentions BFA, the university also offers a BA (for instance, SUNY Purchase’s theater page describes the BA).

Even though the link says it’s the 10 most represented colleges on Broadway in 2018-2019, there’s actually more like 17. Ties, I suppose?

Also, I’ve read some very good things about the theater programs Illinois State and U. Wisconsin at La Crosse.

Some of the colleges on the lists are academic reaches, but not all of them. I also saw somewhere where there is sometimes a Theater Studies major where students can take acting classes but that an audition is not required, but the major in acting does require an audition. Just another thought as you and your daughter start thinking more about colleges.