If you are interested in performing in a theatre as a dancer or actor, you should major in musical theatre. This degree sets you up for success in the world of live performance in front of an audience.
Musical theatre might not seem as fancy as it was 100 years ago, but the truth is there will always be a core audience looking for a more sophisticated show than what you can get on a screen. Performing live is an act of transmitting emotions, something that’s way harder to do on a pre-recorded tape.
Before deciding to major in musical theatre, a word of warning: it might be one of the most competitive fields in the world. Performers not only study in college, but also practice day and night, including weekends, to become excellent at what they do.
It’s one of the jobs that requires the most passion. You’ll have to live and breathe musical theatre if you want to succeed in this field. Once you get your degree, you’ll have to practice daily for the rest of your life, if you want to pass auditions.
You’ll also have to compete with other people who are as committed as you in making it big. If Broadway is your dream, prepare for many sleepless nights spent practicing and perfecting your craft.
In this article, you are going to learn what are the best musical theatre colleges, and what makes them so. Picking a great college is the first step into the world of live performing. These colleges will give you the best possible preparation, setting you up for success in the cutthroat world of performing.
How to Pick the Best Musical Theatre Colleges?
Picking a college is complicated. You have to make sure it suits your aspirations, and that it prepares you in the best possible way.
But what are the factors you should consider when picking a musical theatre college? And how important are they?
When it comes to musical theatre, the focus should be on actually getting you used to performing in front of an audience. Practice makes perfect, and all the theory in the world won’t save you if you can’t even conduct yourself properly on a stage.
Your Passions and Aspirations
While most other jobs can be endured even if you’re not exactly thrilled about them, performing live can’t. You are there to convey a message, to cause an emotional reaction, and to let the outside world appreciate your art.
None of that can be done without a burning desire of performing live. I don’t think passion is too important in other fields, but it is crucial when it comes to musical theatre.
So, before picking any college, think long and hard about what you want from life.
The more selective a college is, the harder it is to get in. The harder it is to get in, the more competitive it will be.
Colleges with an extremely selective admission process only want to work with the most talented students. If you aren’t talented and don’t want to work hard, you’ll never get into the colleges on this list. Unless somehow the stars align. But then your lack of discipline would chop your legs off during your academic path anyway.
All programs on this list are highly selective, with only a few dozens of students admitted at most each year.
Live Performance Occasions
Some colleges have partnerships with associations that organize and promote live performances. Other set up their own productions. Picking a university that gives your real-world experience on the topic of live performance is the first step in becoming a superstar.
Other colleges let their students participate in the production stage of a play. That’s another excellent way to gain relevant experience, as you’ll get to see how the pros organize a performance, and what goes into making a successful product.
The School’s Focus
While you’ll get a solid foundation in all of the topics related to musical theatre—dancing, acting, and singing—each school places more emphasis on one subject compared to the others.
It goes without saying that you should pick a school that focuses on the field you’re most interested in.
The best way to do so is by looking at credit hours of each offered degree. If you want to specialize in singing, then picking a school with a solid voice program that also offers extracurricular activities on the field is preferable to another.
Teachers with Experience that Goes Beyond Academia
Just like real-world experience is crucial for aspiring performers, it’s also vital for professors. While most other fields you could study in university don’t necessarily need a professional as a teacher, musical theatre is not one of them.
Since hard word and practice are the foundation of the field, you should look into schools that employ real actors, musicians, and singers as teachers.
Every school on the list satisfies this requirement, so just jeep on reading to find out schools that employ real-world professionals.
How Innovative the School’s Programs are
Many schools only focus on the most classical stuff. Acting in the classical plays, opera singing, and so on. But some colleges go the extra mile and teach students more modern programs.
They don’t ignore the classical, as these still remain the focus of the teaching experience. But if you’re interested in performing live in a different setting than your average theatre, then you might want to look into them.
An example is Elon University, whose music program doesn’t only teach classical music, but also gives students a solid understanding of pop, rock, and R&B.
Not everyone wants to end up working in a theatre, so having colleges giving you the option of learning things that go beyond the classical musical theatre education is great.
How many Alumni actually Get Work/Awards
This might seem like a bit of a weird metric, but trust me, it’s important to know. Is the school up to the task of turning you into the next Broadway superstar? Check out how many alumni have performed in important shows after graduation.
Fortunately, it’s way easier to find out this type of information compared to most other colleges. There is a public record of performers, and what performance they attended.
You can also take a look at how many people have won an award for their performance, and where they graduated from.
The 5 Best Musical Theatre Colleges
Now that you know what makes a theatre college good, let’s get into the meat of the article. Here you’ll find a list of musical theatres that produced award-winning talent. All schools on the list are accredited, and they all have professors that worked as a professional actors, singers, and musicians.
Editor’s note: the list is in no particular order. This is mostly because these schools focus on different subjects, so it’s hard to make an objective ranking between colleges that are better at teaching music compared to acting.
Getting into the Carnegie-Mellon programs is very hard. The school is one of the most competitive in the States.
What makes this college so good?
Mostly, it’s the location. Carnegie-Mellon University is in Pittsburgh, which is easily one of the best cities for an aspiring performer, thanks to its tens of venues dedicated to performing arts. The city is also full of organizations that produce and promote shows in these venues.
If you want to become the next superstar, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better environment to push yourself.
The school offers undergraduate programs in:
- Instrumental performance
- Piano performance
- Vocal performance
- Electronic music
- Music & technology
And the following graduate programs:
- Master of music
- Music education
- Music & technology
If you prefer acting, the Carnegie-Mellon university also has a school of drama, where you can get an undergraduate in fields such as costume design, scenic design, and dramaturgy.
Are you unsure on what to specialize in? The college also offers interdisciplinary programs. These will prepare you for specialized higher education without compromising the fundamentals of any discipline.
Ithaca College is a fully-accredited member of the National Association Schools of Music. If you are looking for a world-class college in the field of music education, then Ithaca is easily among the best.
What makes Ithaca special among music colleges is its Field Studies week in New York for students in their senior year. During that week, the students will spend a week with Ithaca alumni who work in the industry. They get to learn everything about life beyond college, and what to expect from the profession.
Another reason to go to Ithaca college is how it encourages students to study abroad and get in contact with different theatrical cultures. Europe has a millenary tradition in theatre, so going there and getting in contact with their tradition will make you a more complete artist.
Ithaca’s musical theatre program is among the most competitive ones in the United States, with only about 30 students accepted every year.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the biggest university in New York, the city of Broadway, is among the top colleges when it comes to musical theatre.
As with every other school on this list, the competition to get admitted is cutthroat. The school is very selective, and only accepts the most talented individuals.
If you’re looking for a college that will give you a definite boost in getting into the world of performing live, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one than New York University.
To give you a perspective of how hard it is to get in, take a look at Tisch’s application guidelines. You have to provide samples of your work. It’s basically a full audition. You have to submit recordings of yourself playing monologues, singing, or dancing.
It might not seem like much, but remember that you’re going to be compared to people who’ve been doing the same stuff for their entire lives. It takes a whole lot of effort and talent to reach the level required for admission.
Alumni from Penn State have performed live in the biggest musicals around the States. If you think of a world-renowned play, you’ll probably find multiple alumni from Penn State participating in it. Examples of such plays include classics like “The Beauty and the Beast”.
Admission to Penn State is extremely competitive. Less than 50 students are admitted each year, with hundreds of applicants.
Here are some of the musical theatre degrees you can get at Penn State:
- F.A. in Acting
- A., B.M., M.A., and M.Mus. in Music
- F.A. in Musical Theatre
- A., B.F.A., and M.F.A. in Theatre
What separates Penn State from other colleges on this list is its’ M.F.A. in theatre. It lets students specialize in the areas surrounding the live performance itself. Things like costume and scenic design, and music design.
If you’re more into organizing plays than performing in them, Penn State is for you. But even if you’re looking for world-class education in the art of live performing, it is still a respectable choice. Many of its alumni have made their mark around the world with their excellent performances on stage.
With such a name, not including the AMDA would have done you a disservice. This is an accredited, non-profit college that’s been around for decades.
This college offers programs on acting, music theatre, dance theatre, and performing arts. If you’re looking for a graduate program, you can get yourself a M.F.A. in Writing for Theatre and Media, or a M.A. in Theatre.
If you’re looking for a laser-focused approach for musical theatre, this is the college for you.
The school is ranked #1 for Best College for Performing Arts in America, and getting in is reasonably easy compared to most other schools on this list, thanks to its acceptance rate of 31%. For comparison, the other colleges on this list have about 4 – 5% acceptance rate for most musical theatre degrees.
Becoming a performer is an admirable endeavor. It takes a lot of passion and hard work. And a bit of craziness. You’ll find yourself practicing all day every day to get your performance right. You shouldn’t be satisfied with anything that isn’t utter perfection.
That’s why passion is the number 1 factor to consider before applying to musical theatre college. Passion is at the foundation of every long academic path, but it’s crucial for live performers. Performing will permeate your life.
You won’t go a day without at least thinking about how to improve your performance. It’s a life full of travel and passion, and as such it requires a profound love for the craft.
Don’t expect to attend musical theatre college and then just coast along. There are way better programs if that’s your goal. Live performing is an art, and art deserves due respect. If you have the faintest doubt to have what it takes, you might not be cut for the job.
But if you think you found your vocation, what are you waiting for? Apply to musical theatre today, and set yourself up for a lifetime of success.