The 10 Best Performing Arts Colleges in the US

3. Indiana University (Bloomington, IN)

Indiana University
McAnt, IUSampleGates, CC BY-SA 3.0

It seems like every year, Indiana is ranked in the top 10 for any of its performing arts specialties in dance, theatre, or music. And, their alumni are collectively among the most decorated performing artists from any college, having won over 30 Emmy awards, six Academy Awards, and even four Tonys.

The theatre program at Indiana has perhaps more opportunities for stage performance than any other school. In a normal year, the theatre program stages over a dozen productions in its modern, state-of-the-art facilities. Faculty members in theatre include renowned costume designer Linda Pisano, whose work has been seen at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Opera San Antonio, Cincinnati Opera, and over a hundred more theater credits.

The Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University has some of the very best young musicians in the country. The opportunity for music at Indiana University is immense; eight full-scale orchestras, five jazz ensembles, six choirs, and six concert bands are available for music majors to participate. Recent honors for the Jacobs School of Music include being named a “top 10 voice school in America” by Classical Singer magazine. 

Dance at IU is regarded among the best programs in the country. Their legacy was molded, in part, by the late Violette Verdy, a longtime IU faculty member and one of the most accomplished ballerinas in history. Every year, ballet students participate in three full-scale ballets hosted at Indiana’s Musical Arts Center. Alumni of the dance program have found employment in the Boston Ballet and the Nashville Ballet, among dozens of other professional organizations.

2. University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH)

University of Cincinnati
Greg Hume, UC Rec Center 05, CC BY-SA 3.0

Many schools are home to elite musical theatre programs, but Cincinnati is among the very best. In just the past few years, alumni of their musical theatre program have been cast in many of the most successful Broadway productions, including Anastasia, Wicked, Hamilton, Chicago, and dozens more. In fact, the last time Playbill magazine did a “Big 10” ranking of Broadway employment by alma mater, Cincinnati ranked in the top 10.

Cincinnati’s jazz program is among the most accomplished in the country. In 2019, the jazz studies program at Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) became the inaugural college affiliate of Jazz at Lincoln Center. During this special partnership, students and faculty from CCM accompanied trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis during a two-week residency in Brazil.

Students in the College-Conservatory of Music benefit tremendously from the Corbett Center for the Performing Arts, a four-level facility complete with classrooms, three full dance studios, an auditorium, and even design labs.

Additionally, Cincinnati is home to many electronic media facilities for students interested in music production and radio broadcasting. 

1 University of North Texas (Denton, TX)

University of North Texas
Michael Barera, University of North Texas (Murchison Performing Arts Center), CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of North Texas is home to a stellar performing arts program, with experiential learning at its curriculum’s heart. What makes the theatre program at UNT stand out is how involved undergraduates are in every aspect of theatre production. At UNT, students direct productions, design scenery, stage original musicals, and even participate in shows in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth community.

UNT may just be most famous for its music program, which presents an unbelievable 1,000 performances annually in a normal year. Faculty members are drawn from several of Texas’ best professional performing arts organizations, including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Worth Symphony, and the Dallas Opera. 

In particular, jazz performance is widely recognized at UNT. Between 1994 – 1997, when US News ranked jazz programs, UNT placed #1 every year. Twenty-four years after the US News ranking, UNT is still going strong; their resident jazz big band, the One O’Clock Band, has been nominated for seven Grammy awards.

The music library at UNT is one of the most extensive specialty music libraries globally, collectively housing over one million volumes of CDs, books, and periodicals. 

Finally, the dance program at UNT is one of the best throughout the country. Recent guest artists at UNT include celebrated choreographer Bebe Miller, a former distinguished professor of dance at Ohio State. Alumni of the UNT dance program include Nick Cave, one of the most famous modern dancers of the 20th-century. 

UNT represents one of the very best values in higher education; not only is it our pick for the best performing arts college in the country, it is also significantly less expensive than many other schools on this list.

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