The 10 Best Performing Arts Colleges in the US

Attending a performing arts college is one of the most rewarding experiences a student can have.

When a promising musician, actor, or dancer chooses to become a performing arts major, they decide to pursue their passions above everything else. The decision is significant, and it’s essential to attend an excellent performing arts college to maximize potential.

Today, we are looking at 10 fantastic performing arts colleges that have sent graduates into Broadway, major symphonic orchestras, film & television roles, and more. These are exceptionally prestigious schools that regularly invite major guest artists to campus, are highly selective, and have stellar faculty who are accomplished performing artists themselves.

To qualify for this list, the listed schools must have elite programs and majors in theatre, dance, and music. While there are some exemplary programs in just music, for example, if they do not also have dance and theatre programs, we are not considering them for this particular list. 

Additionally, we are evaluating either conservatory or conservatory-style programs within a major university or liberal arts college. It is permissible if some programs are spread out through different schools (for example, dance is frequently in a separate “school” in the greater university from the theatre program).

We are looking at schools based on faculty and alumni accomplishment, selectivity, strength in the three major performing arts areas, impact on the local community, and how these schools place in other major ranking publications. 

Here are College Gazette’s picks for the 10 best performing arts colleges and universities in the US.

10. Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle, WA)

Cornish College
Joe Mabel, Seattle – Cornish, CC BY-SA 3.0

An independent conservatory of approximately 600 enrolled students, Cornish is an established performing arts program. Faculty in the college are not only educators, they are also remarkable performers who have led significant careers in the arts. 

Cornish has one of the most prestigious theatre programs in the country whose alumni include the likes of actor Brendan Fraser. Over thirty accomplished artists teach in the Cornish Theater program, including Department Chair Richard E.T. White, who has directed productions at the American Conservatory Theater, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and Berkeley Shakespeare Festival.

Dance is another remarkable performing arts major at Cornish. The most famous graduate of the dance program is Merce Cunningham, a revolutionary choreographer who collaborated with the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. The dance curriculum at Cornish includes classes in ballet, contemporary performance, kinesiology, and more.

Cornish is home to a remarkable library specializing in the arts, holding over 50,000 combined volumes of books, CDs, and periodicals. 

9. University of the Arts (Philadelphia, PA)

University of the Arts
Beyond My Ken, University of the Arts Dorrance Hamilton Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

A college specializing in the visual and performing arts, the University of the Arts is among the nation’s oldest conservatories. UArts has something for every creative, with specializations as varied as art education, film, music, dance, and more.

An example of the University of the Arts’ unique commitment to the performing arts is its Polyphone Festival. At the Polyphone festival, professional composers and lyricists come to campus to create new musicals, experimenting with the idea of “what is a musical?” The collaboration between students and professionals results in an experience where students think about theatre from a fresh perspective.

The University of the Arts is home to one of the most prestigious dance performance degrees in the US. One of their faculty members, Wayne David, has been teaching dance at UArts for over three decades. As the head of their Jazz Dance program, he has choreographed performances worldwide, including recent engagements in Liverpool, Chile, and London. 

Alumni of the University of the Arts include songwriter Elle King, Brooklyn actor Emory Cohen, Grammy-award winning bassist Stanley Clarke, and musical theatre performer Lucas Steele, best known for his starring role in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.

8. Boston Conservatory at Berklee (Boston, MA)

Boston Conservatory
Jim.henderson, Boston Conservatory, CC BY-SA 4.0

Berklee is an iconic college of music, and in 2016 the Berklee College of Music merged with the Boston Conservatory to create one of the most impressive performing arts institutions in the world.

The dance program at Boston Conservatory specializes in contemporary dance; building on the foundations of ballet and traditional jazz styles, Boston Conservatory trains dancers in modern trends and dance styles. Several publications rate the Boston Conservatory BFA dance degree among the best, including performing arts publication Backstage, which has named it a top-10 program for dance multiple times in the past decade.

Alongside Berklee, Boston Conservatory’s music program encompasses every major style of music, including classical, jazz, popular music, and musical theatre. Students at BoCo benefit from Boston, a culturally rich city home to dozens of professional performing arts organizations as varied as the Boston Symphony and the Handel & Haydn Society.

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