The 10 Best Performing Arts Colleges in the US

7. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)

University of Southern California
photo via Wikimedia Commons

USC was recently ranked by Niche.com in the top 5 performing arts colleges in the country. Looking at the school’s offerings and alumni, it is easy to see why USC is so highly ranked. 

The Thornton School of Music at USC is among the best music schools in the country. Thornton is among the few schools to have a top program in every collegiate music specialty; classical music, popular music, jazz, music business, and music production are premiere programs at USC Thornton. 

The School of Dramatic Arts at USC may just be the most desirable in the country for aspiring actors, thanks to its proximity to Hollywood and its esteemed faculty connected to the professional film industry. Faculty at the School of Dramatic Arts include notable actor Joseph Hacker, who has starred in over 50 television roles and has authored a widely-read text on auditioning.


6. New York University (New York, NY)

NYU Tisch
photo via Wikimedia Commons

NYU is an iconic performing arts institution whose Tisch School of the Arts has one of the most competitive theater programs for admission. Tisch has one of the most accomplished alumni bases of any performing arts school, with former students having won 22 Academy Awards, 17 Emmys, 12 Tonys, and 4 Grammys. 

Tisch’s majors run the traditional gamut of performing arts: acting, dance, drama, musical theatre, stage design, and more. However, one particular performing arts program at the Tisch School of the Arts is especially unique, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Here, contemporary musicians ranging from songwriters to producers learn the business of music and entrepreneurship.

Musical theatre is one of the most renowned programs at NYU Tisch, with NYU routinely taking the #1 “most represented” school on Broadway every year on a list published by Playbill magazine.

However, Tisch is not the only school at NYU with a strong performing arts basis. Indeed, the Steinhardt School at NYU is home to a leading classical and jazz performance program. Many faculty members hold appointments in the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.


5. Juilliard School (New York, NY)

Juilliard School
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most famous performing arts institution in the entire world, Juilliard benefits from its superb uptown New York City location as well as its enduring brand, known universally as a symbol of selectivity and excellence.

Juilliard may just have the most selective dance program in the entire world. Alumni of the dance program include Robert Battle, Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Ohad Naharin, seminal modern dance choreographer; and legendary artist Paul Taylor.

Music is the most comprehensive program at Juilliard and perhaps its most famous department. Faculty in the music program are a who’s who of classical music, including members of the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, and soloists such as Emmanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman.

Conveniently located in Lincoln Center, Juilliard provides students with all of the arts culture uptown NYC offers.


4. Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)

Northwestern University Bienen School of Music
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Few performing arts schools can boast an alumni base as accomplished as Northwestern’s, with the likes of David Schwimmer, Zach Braff, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Stephen Colbert, and Warren Beatty calling themselves Northwestern alumni. 

Northwestern’s theatre students gain significant pre-professional experience through the Northwestern Student Theatre Coalition, a performing arts collective featuring 11 distinct groups with their own executive director boards and performance series. In every performing arts group, student activities can range from production, design, direction, and even stage management.

Students frequently connect with Chicago area performing arts organizations outside of the theatre department through faculty connections, including the Lookingglass Theatre, Goodman Theatre, and Steppenwolf Theatre, among others. Opportunities are endless for actors at Northwestern.

Another performing arts concentration, music, is integral to the Northwestern University experience. Through the Bienen School of Music, students immerse themselves in a traditional conservatory education complete with accomplished faculty, many of which are members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Students also have the opportunity to work with the string quartet-in-residence, the Dover Quartet, a virtuosic group made up of Curtis and Rice graduates.

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