The 7 Best Performing Arts Schools in the U.S.: A Definitive Ranking

It is no secret that the arts are in decline. Fewer students are taking the arts, and when they do, many of them drop out before finishing school. This is because of 2 main reasons. One, the arts are not considered a “serious” subject. Two, they require you to devote your life to them.

The reasons for this can vary from lack of financial support to poor training in schools themselves. COVID hasn’t been kind to the field either, with many theaters closing down, and only now reopening with limited capacity.

It’s hard to devise an excellent study and life plan when things are so unpredictable. So, what’s a student who loves theater or singing supposed to do?

However, there are still some schools that are bucking the trend and are thriving in the arts. These schools are known as performing arts high schools.

There are many performing arts high schools. Some focus on one specific type of art, such as dance or theater, and others focus on a variety of disciplines. In this article, we are going to see the best performing arts high schools in the United States.

Things to do Before Enrolling in a Performing Arts School

There are a few things that you should do before enrolling in a performing arts school.

First, be honest with yourself. Are you 100% sure you want to be in the field? If you’re not, then there’s really no point in wasting your time and money. The performing arts are a lifetime commitment. You will practice every day, always refining your craft.

The top in the field (but really, even those at the bottom) have spent years honing their skills. If you can’t dedicate your life to it, then leave now before wasting time and money on something that just won’t happen.

Second, know what kind of performing arts school you are looking for. There are many performing arts schools out there with different focuses. For instance, some focus only on theater, while others focus on a variety of different types of art. Do some research and find the school that is right for you.

Third, know your budget. Most performing arts schools are not cheap. Some schools can be upwards of $70,000 per year. Save up and have a good idea of how much you’re willing to spend.

Fourth, know what your major is going to be before enrolling in a performing arts school. You should know where you want your career to go and the best way for that is by having it planned out from day one. If you can’t decide on a major yet, then maybe you’re not ready for a performing arts school.

Fifth, prepare for auditions! This is the most important step of them all. Many schools have different requirements and some even require you to send in a video. Make sure you know what they are looking for and how to best present yourself. High schools won’t need this, but colleges will. Be prepared for what schools are going to throw at you.

The Top 7 Performing Arts Schools in the United States

Now that we’ve gone over some things to keep in mind, let’s look at the top performing arts high schools in the United States.

The schools on this list are in no particular order. It’s hard to rank them since each school is so different from the other. Some may offer a better experience to theater students, while others are more into dance.

Editor’s note: If you check typical ranking indexes, you’ll find that most of these schools rank very low on them. This is because they don’t focus on traditional studies. Average ranking lists focus on subjects like math, which are not taught in depth in performing arts schools.

Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts

Located in Dallas, TX, Booker T. Washington High School was founded in 1922. But the Performing Arts section fully materialized in 1976. The school offers majors in creative writing, dance, drama, media arts, and music.

The school is at the forefront of forming young artists, with its over 600 awards won between the various performing arts fields.

The school boasts notable alumni like Norah Jones and Erykah Badu (2 Grammy winners), the actress Elizabeth Mitchell, and the ballet dancer Daniel Keene.

With such a curriculum, you can’t go wrong by enrolling here. All fields have exquisite teachers that will pass down their years of wisdom and help you grow as an artist.

The Juilliard School

Founded in 1905, the Juilliard School is one of the most prestigious performing arts schools in the United States. Located in New York City, this school offers training in dance, drama, and music. 

The school is one of the best for its dance and drama programs. It has produced some of the most talented actors and actresses in Hollywood, including Natalie Portman (star of the Star Wars prequels), Robin Williams, and Jessica Chastain.

The school is also known for its rigorous dance training program, preparing students to become professional dancers in world-class ballet companies or Broadway musicals. Its alumni include Misty Copeland, who is considered one of the best ballerinas today.

But…there’s a but. If we go by the classical definition of high school, the only “real” program is the music one, because drama and theater are Bachelor of Fine Arts, so the school is not a “high school”.

Their only program that satisfies the definition of high school is the pre-college division that focuses on music.

If you’re looking for a top-notch performing arts school with an excellent reputation, the Juilliard School is your best bet.

The School of American Ballet

This ballet school is the official training academy of the New York City Ballet. It was founded in 1934 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein.

Located in Manhattan, this school offers one-year and two-year courses for students between the ages of ten and eighteen. It has produced many dancers who danced with companies like New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater (ABT), and The Royal Ballet.

If you enroll here, your training will be unparalleled; it is well known that this school provides one of the best ballet educations in the world.

However, this school is not for everyone. You have to audition in order to get in and the training program here is very intense with long hours of practice almost every day of the week. But you’ll be surrounded by excellent teachers so your technique will improve drastically over time.

SAB doesn’t fit into the “high school” definition either. But it’s because it has courses separated by skill level open to people age 6 to 18. That said, don’t expect acceptance if you’re close to 18. The school’s admission page clearly states:

  • Applicants must be young enough to derive the maximum benefit from their training

That said, this is definitely the best possible school for aspiring dancers.

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts

This performing arts school is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was made famous by the 1980 movie “Fame”, starring Irene Cara, Gene Anthony Ray and Debbie Allen. This high school offers a program for students interested in creative writing, theater, dance, music, visual arts, and media arts.

It is one of the most popular high schools in New York City; each year, over 20,000 students apply for just 800 spots.

This school has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the best performing arts schools in the United States.

This school is definitely a superb choice if you’re interested in pursuing a career in the performing arts. But be prepared for some stiff competition; getting accepted into this school is difficult.

The requirements to apply are:

  • Being an 8th or 9th grader
  • Living in NYC

Naturally, each type of performing art has its own audition process. You can find more about each one here.

Baltimore School for the Arts

This performing arts school is in Baltimore, Maryland. While most other schools on this list focus on the traditional mediums, Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA) also offers courses in graphic design and filmmaking.

This school does not offer a traditional high school diploma; students who graduate here will receive an Associate Degree from Baltimore City Community College after four years of study or a Bachelor’s Degree if they take additional college courses during their senior year at this school.

  • Dance
  • Music
  • Acting
  • Stage Design & Production
  • Visual Arts
  • Film & Visual Storytelling

There are no academic requirements for admission. All you need is to be an 8th or 9th grade student to apply for admission.

You’ll be judged solely based on your audition and following interview. And don’t worry about college. Most people (about 98%) that graduate from here go on to study at college with excellent graduation rates. You’ll be getting a solid education in typical academic subjects alongside the performing arts.

Granted, if you want to switch from performing arts to electrical engineer, you’ll probably encounter some issues, but nothing some grits can’t fix.

Editor’s note: If you live in Baltimore city, tuition is completely free. If you live outside, though, you’ll have to pay $10.000 a year for your tuition.

Interlochen Center for the Arts

This performing arts school was founded in 1928 in Interlochen, Michigan. It’s a boarding school; students live on campus and are required to take part in the arts program for at least six hours each day.

There are three divisions at Interlochen:

  • High School programs for students in grades 9-12
  • Intermediate programs for students in grades 6-9
  • Junior programs for students in grade 3-6

The school itself claims it’s looking for potential, not perfection. Still, you need to show at least an ounce of competence in your portfolio. Each performing art has its own portfolio requirements you can see here.

The audition process is intense, but if you’re accepted, you’ll be getting a world-class education in the performing arts. However, this is by far the most expensive school on this list.

A year-long tuition for boarding school is $70.950. Day school costs around $40.000 per year.

There are plenty of scholarships available, so you can save on a lot of the costs if you manage to snag them.

Idyllwild Arts Academy

This performing arts school is located in the California mountains, about an hour and a half from Los Angeles. It’s another boarding school; students live on campus throughout their four years of high school studies (grades 11-12).

Here, you can major in:

  • Creative writing
  • Dance
  • Fashion design
  • Film & Digital media
  • Music
  • Theater
  • Visual & digital art
  • InterArts—A unique program that combines two or more disciplines picked by the students. For example, if you’re interested in film and writing, you could choose a double major in Film/Digital media + Creative Writing, which would be an InterArts

Students from IAA come from over 30 countries. Some of them get a job into the arts right out of school, while others study in college. There is no set path for IAA graduates, but they all share one thing in common: an education that turned them into cultured and skilled artists.

This is another pricey school, with a yearly tuition of $62.000 for out-of-state students . Financial aid is available in the form of scholarships and grants; you can apply for multiple ones at once to decrease your overall cost.

What if You don’t want to continue with Performing Arts after Graduation?

If you’re not sure if performing arts is for you, or if you want to switch to a different field after graduating from one of these high schools, don’t worry. You can still get a great education at any of these schools. All the majors listed above have excellent graduation rates and will prepare you for whatever path you choose in life.

Education takes time. And the schools above have way longer hours than most regular schools. Expect to be in class + training for at least 8 hours a day.

Graduation rates for students coming from these schools are quite high. This is because finishing one of these programs takes a lot of hard work and discipline. These 2 traits will serve you throughout life.

Sure, you will struggle a bit in math class for the first 2-3 months of college, should you pick a math-intensive course. But once you’re up to speed with your peers, it’ll be smooth sailing.

Conclusions

It’s difficult to get into these schools, but if you’re passionate about performing arts and will work hard for it every day of the week, then they are right for you. Getting in will open doors that would otherwise stay closed. If you think this kind of education may help push your career forward, don’t be afraid to go for it.

What’s important is maintaining a strong work ethic. Your portfolio is just a collection of your past work. If you’ve put in the effort throughout the years, you will have an excellent one that will open you up to many opportunities.

The three most important things you can do while in high school are:

  • Maintain a strong work ethic
  • Network with people in your field of interest
  • Stay creative and always be learning new things about your craft

If you do these, you’re set for a prosperous career in the fine arts.

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