The Best Acting Summer Programs for High School Students

Summer intensives, summer intensives, wherefore art thou, rigorous summer intensives? 

For budding thespians across the United States, a summer break away from school provides coveted time to improve one’s skill set in acting, musical theatre, stage design, directing, and more. 

While others use summer vacation to lounge or work at a minimally stimulating part-time job, a dedicated group of actors spends full days, nights, and weekends creating full-length productions from the ground up. 

Alternatively, they might rehearse monologues to prepare for a competitive college application or audition.

There are a variety of reputable summer theatre intensives across the nation, and we’ve compiled a list of those best suited for exposing high school students to the life of a real-world actor. 

From coast to coast, ranging from ten days to seven weeks, there’s a perfect program for each kind of theatre enthusiast.

Northwestern University National High School Institute “Cherubs” (Evanston, IL)

Northwestern University Center for the Performing Arts
Smandlso, The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, CC BY-SA 4.0

Duration: 5 weeks + optional 2-week Musical Theatre extension

Eligibility: Rising high school seniors who rank near the top 30% of their high school class

Northwestern University has hosted “cherubs” – pre-college students attending the university for intense experiential learning opportunities – since 1931! 

The rigorous institute features classes in acting, voice training, movement, audition techniques, and playwriting, among other topics.

Students hone their training on either acting or design and take classes that prepare them to put on a final production in the last week of the intensive. 

Each cherub’s production exhibits two performances in the afternoon and evening, and all friends and family members are able to watch. 

Whereas many of the programs on this list stipulate that students can only sign up for one track, cherubs can go through the Acting track and continue on for two more weeks in the Musical  Theatre extension. 

Participants spend their mornings in acting or dance classes, while their afternoons are booked with group vocal instruction, the history of musical theatre, and classes in design.

While no credit is offered, Northwestern’s intensive is similar to other programs in that nights and weekends are also busy with theatre-related activities – it is not a leisurely summer camp. 

Students in the Musical Theatre extension, for example, spend four hours each evening rehearsing for their production and go on field trips, as well.

NYU Tisch Summer High School Program (New York City, NY)

Duration: 4 weeks 

Eligibility: Rising high school juniors and seniors

Approximately 15% of 800 applicants participate in the annual Tisch Summer High School Program at NYU. 

Four weeks later, those who attend all classes and complete curriculum requirements stand to earn 4-6 college credits. 

The Drama track is based on the undergraduate curriculum at Tisch and includes a combination of projects, collaborative classes, and professional experiences. 

Each week, students engage in 28 hours of conservatory training at one of six studios in New York City, in addition to a weekly seminar in New York theatre led by faculty and professional actors, directors, and set designers.

Of course, what would a summer intensive in New York City be without an opportunity to see some of the best productions on Broadway?

These experiences are embedded throughout the program, which runs from 9-5 on Monday through Friday and extends into nights and weekends. 

Class sizes are intimate, ranging from 16 to 48 members, depending on the studio where the student completes the majority of their coursework. 

At the New Studio, students can learn techniques relating to vocal production, breathing, and acting on lyrics. 

On the other hand, the Experimental Theatre Wing focuses on physically-based acting and self-scripting opportunities for students to create their own original works.

Rising seniors are given admission preference, and competitive applicants should maintain a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA. 

Other application materials include two letters of recommendation, a resume, transcripts, and a personal statement that asks candidates to reflect upon what they learned following an event that happened to them during a performance. 

The intensive culminates in two offerings for students to show off their work – a performance for faculty and peers, or one for family and friends.

Carnegie Mellon’s Pre-College Drama (Pittsburgh, PA)

Duration: 6 weeks

Eligibility: Rising junior or senior (at least 16 years old to participate in the residential program)

While Carnegie Mellon’s Pre-College Drama intensive is open to students of all abilities and levels of training, it is not for the light-hearted. 

Participants in this nationally renowned program are focused primarily on preparing for a career in the theater and can expect an experience based on the university’s BFA curriculum.

Students choose between Acting and Musical Theatre or Design and Production. In the former track, participants develop audition skills and build a portfolio of songs and monologues to perform. Unlike several options in this compilation, Carnegie Mellon does not host a final production at the end of the program since the emphasis is on audition preparation.

The life of an intensive student is packed with classes taught by faculty from 9-6 on Mondays and Fridays. Additionally, various courses, workshops, and activities take place on nights and weekends. 

Students can expect a familiar environment of 10-12 students who opt to participate in the residential or commuter program.

Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute (Hilton Head Island, SC)

Duration: 4 weeks (two options) or 2 weeks (two options) 

Eligibility: All current 8th to 12th graders

Consistently ranked among the best five summer theatre programs in the United States, the Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute (SSTI) prides itself on being “about careers, not camps.” 

Each four-week session is centered upon a large-scale musical production (like The Music Man or Ragtime).

Once students are accepted in the late spring, they will participate in a series of off-campus auditions so that they know their roles upon arrival and are not focused on competing against their peers. 

Over the next several weeks, they manage six days a week of rehearsing for eight hours, participating in photoshoots, appearing on television, and completing social media tasks.

With a 3:1 student-to-teacher ratio, participants have the unique opportunity to learn from Broadway stars and a highly-acclaimed faculty that hails from the nation’s best musical theatre programs. 

SSTI credits its all-encompassing program for a 100% college theatre acceptance rate that they have maintained for the last eight years.

Boston University Summer Theatre Institute (Boston, MA)

Duration: 5 weeks

Eligibility: Rising high school juniors and seniors

Known as BUSTI, the Boston University Summer Theatre Institute prepares participants to thrive in a collegiate theatre program. 

Participants earn four units of college credit for their participation in various classes and the development of an original play with their ensemble members. 

Students can choose between tracks in Performance or Design, though they work together frequently throughout the five-week session.

BUSTI participants wear multiple hats – they experiment with acting, designing, writing, and directing within five technique classes. 

In the morning, they might take classes like Theatre for Social Change, which focuses on how theatre intersects with and responds to sociopolitical conflicts. 

In the afternoon, students participate in acting and design training. In acting classes, they receive lessons on character development and performing on impulse, while design classes instruct students on how to analyze a script or tell a story through the use of scenery.

A maximum of 70 students are allowed to participate in this intense program. At the end of the five weeks, participants have the opportunity to interview for a professional training program at Boston University’s School of Theatre or apply to BU through the early decision program.

University of Michigan MPulse Summer Performing Arts Institute (Ann Arbor, MI)

University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance
Michael Barera, University of Michigan (Earl V. Moore Building), CC BY-SA 4.0

Duration: 2 weeks

Eligibility: Rising high school seniors

Over 200 U.S. and international students come together each year to participate in MPulse programs. 

The University of Michigan recently announced the expansion of the Theatre and Drama Academy in 2022 – students now have the opportunity to choose one of two tracks: Performance & Theatre or Design & Production.

Within the first track, participants move through full days of courses in topics like scene study, the foundations of movement, and even stage combat! 

Additionally, they participate in evening and weekend activities like concerts and residential life gatherings. 

At the end of the two-week session, they will have developed specific techniques to enable success in future auditions.

Rising high school seniors interested in applying to MPulse are expected to prepare a monologue video that is no longer than two minutes in length and can come from any theatrical production. 

Additionally, they will need to submit a professional headshot, letter of recommendation, and resume highlighting recent theatre experience.

University of North Carolina School of the Arts Drama Summer Intensive (Winston-Salem, NC)

Duration: 3 weeks

Eligibility: Age 15 or rising high school sophomores and up

Unlike most of the intensives on this list, UNC’s School of the Arts Drama Summer Intensive does not require any previous experience in theatre from its participants. However, the 75 (maximum) accepted students should demonstrate an evident passion and open mind for engaging with their training.

The goal of the intensive is to help students sharpen their competitive edge when applying to collegiate theatre programs – both the Acting and Musical Theatre tracks conclude with a student-led performance. 

Full of acting, singing, and dancing, the days in the program are full of opportunities for students to learn alongside faculty and guest artists.

Those who enroll in the Acting track prepare an audition monologue, analyze scripts, learn jazz and musical theatre dance technique, and align voice work to elevated texts. 

In the Musical Theatre track, students benefit from one-on-one singing lessons, ensemble work, and classes in mask and movement. Naturally, there is some crossover between the two programs of study.

Candidates are required to audition for enrollment, and their audition videos should feature two unique monologues that are no longer than 2 ½ minutes. 

Those who wish to pursue the Musical Theatre track should submit a 32-bar segment of a song from a musical theatre production instead of one of the two required monologues.

Acting & Performance Summer Institute at UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Duration: 3 weeks

Eligibility: All current 8th to 12th graders

Designed to prepare committed high school students for entrance into a rigorous university-level theatre program or career in the performing arts, the UCLA Acting & Performance Summer Institute grants four units of credit to all successful participants. 

Students begin their days with tai-chi classes, followed by lessons in movement and acting. After a break for lunch, students engage in a performance workshop with their peers. 

Together, they brainstorm ideas for a student-led production, assist in the script development, determine stage directions, and rehearse each scene. 

The intensive culminates with a final showcase, which the participants’ guests may attend. Naturally, students in the program can expect full days, nights, and weekends as they prepare for the final production. 

Living on-campus is mandatory for the three-week session, and applicants are required to submit the following: a resume detailing relevant theatrical experiences, a letter of recommendation from an adult who can speak to the applicant’s strengths and areas for growth, a 500-word essay, and a video monologue. 

The video should be 1 to ½ minutes in length and come from a theatrical production or otherwise improvised scene.

Florida State University Musical Theatre Institute (Tallahassee, FL)

Duration: 3 weeks

Eligibility: Rising junior or senior high school students

Frequently labeled as one of the best theatre programs in the nation, Florida State University’s School of Theatre operates the Summer Music Theatre Intensive annually. The program is geared toward college students who wish to pursue a degree in musical theatre.

Interested participants should know that this intensive is no typical summer camp – morning classes generally run from 9:30 to 12:15, and afternoon classes take place from 2-4:45. 

Students can expect to spend time in rehearsal on a nightly basis from 7:15-10, and after weeks of hard work, they get to show off their skills in a cabaret show that is open to the public.

All applicants are reviewed through a pre-screening process and must submit a headshot, theatre-focused resume, a contemporary monologue, a ballet or jazz dance combination, and a video of two different songs – one ballad and one that is more upbeat in tempo. 

While the school welcomes students of all levels, it is clear that candidates should have enough experience to submit the required materials.

NEXUS at Texas State Musical Theatre Pre-College Intensive (San Marcos, TX)

Duration: 10 days

Eligibility: Rising 9th through 12th graders

NEXUS is one of the more selective intensives that accepts a maximum of 48 pre-college theatre enthusiasts. 

Texas State isn’t just seeking students who want to pursue a career in theatre – they’re looking for true artists who demonstrate a love for learning and dedication to service through art.

In their applications, candidates are asked to provide multiple videos that convey two contrasting songs, a one-minute monologue, and techniques in some form of jazz, musical theatre dance, or ballet. 

As soon as they arrive at Texas State, NEXUS participants will be supported by an award-winning faculty of Broadway stars, film and television actors, radio personalities, voiceover artists, and other working professionals.

Students receive training in a variety of areas, such as voice workshops, dance classes, and audition preparation. A refreshing component of their curriculum is devoted to wellness – participants practice ways to reduce stress, build confidence, and combat imposter syndrome. 

In performance workshops, students work individually and as an ensemble. They indeed will find themselves at the nexus of innovative thinking in modern theatre!