The 10 Best Performing Arts High Schools in the US

For some high school students, attending a performing arts high school is the pinnacle of commitment to artistry. While most students choose to attend traditional high schools emphasizing academics, performing arts schools emphasize music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts.

Attending a performing arts high school enables talented young students to make their artistic passion the main focus of their education, rather than just an after-school activity. With the right training and support, performing arts students can develop their craft, connect with likeminded classmates, and prepare for college entry as well as a future career.

Attending a performing arts high school is certainly not for every student. However, there are many advantages to attending these magnet schools.

For one, it can help in college admissions. Most prestigious college programs in music, dance, and theatre require auditions for entry into the program. While attending a performing arts high school, a student has the opportunity to work nonstop on their auditioning.

Additionally, attending a performing arts high school prepares students for the rigors of college classes, be it in music theory, modern dance, acting technique, or whatever major the student will ultimately pursue in college.

In no particular order, here are the 10 best performing arts high schools in the United States.


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

UNCSA
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

The first public arts conservatory anywhere in the nation, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is renowned for empowering the creativity of gifted young artists to help them learn, grow, and eventually pursue a fulfilling career in the arts.

Along with serving college and graduate students, the university also offers a program to high schoolers, bringing together traditional academics with conservatory arts instruction. This dual mode of study enables under-18s to train in their artistic subject of choice – be it dance, drama, music or the visual arts – while also earning a high school diploma. 

After graduation, students will be well equipped to enter further conservancy education or any number of competitive four-year colleges. In recent years, alumni have attended Juilliard, the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, the New England Conservatory, and many more.


Interlochen Center for the Arts (Interlochen, MI)

Interlochen Center for the Arts
rossograph, Fine Arts Building Interlochen, CC BY-SA 4.0

The boarding school at Interlochen Center for the Arts offers an integrated, holistic, arts-focused education to high school students in grades 9-12. The student body comprises around 500 pupils, who hail from across the globe.

Throughout their studies, students are encouraged to be mindful and maintain a collaborative perspective that goes beyond their individual artistic pursuits. From the studio to the classroom, supportive instructors challenge students to consider the larger role of creativity and the arts: in terms of changing technology, interconnected society, and the role of art in building healthy communities. 

Available areas of study include creative writing, film and new media, and interdisciplinary arts – a unique program that offers high schoolers the chance to study a variety of art forms under one curriculum.

In addition to the boarding high school, Interlochen is home to perhaps the country’s largest high school summer arts festival. Many students choose to attend Interlochen’s summer program before applying to colleges, having the Interlochen experience on their resume.


Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (Los Angeles, CA)

Located on the California State University campus in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts provides conservatory-style arts training alongside English, math, and other core academic subjects. What’s more – this public school is tuition-free.

The school’s cinematic arts department is a significant draw, having been nationally recognized as a top program for high school cinematic arts. Program faculty include film and digital arts professionals, and students also benefit from the opportunity to use top-end film equipment and post-production technology during their training. 

In addition to cinema studies, the school offers a number of superb programs in dance, music, visual arts, and more. Whatever department students choose, they will benefit from the chance to learn from expert faculty and local creative professionals who call Los Angeles home.


Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (Dallas, TX)

Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts
Nadia Eimandoust, Booker T. Washington HSPVA courtyard, CC BY-SA 4.0

Operating under the motto Creative revolutionaries make magic, the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts has earned many distinctions over the years, including over 600 awards from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.

The school’s acclaimed alumni speak volumes about the superb education students can expect to receive. Past graduates include Grammy-winning musical artists Norah Jones and Erykah Badu, as well as TV and Broadway actors. 

In recent years, graduating high school students have gone on to study at some of the most prestigious universities in the country such as Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and many more – a testament to the school’s well-rounded academic approach that integrates a liberal arts education with conservatory study of the arts. 


Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts (New York, NY)

File:Fiorello H LaGuardia High School
Ajay Suresh, Fiorello H LaGuardia High School, CC BY 2.0

A specialized high school found just a few blocks from Central Park, the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts – better known as LaGuardia Arts – is a metropolitan hub for academic and artistic excellence that’s seen some of the biggest names in movies, art, and design, pass through its doors.

The public school was originally established in 1936, and it was the first in the United States to offer a free high school education in the arts. 

Today, students who attend LaGuardia Arts continue to benefit from the school’s enduring commitment to conservatory arts training alongside college-prep instruction. 

Notable alumni include actors, classical and modern musicians, fashion designers, film directors, and more; with well-known names like Timothee Chalamet, Jennifer Aniston, and Liza Minnelli cropping up on the list of past graduates. 


Idyllwild Arts Academy (Idyllwild, CA)

Supportive and enriching, with a focus on building students’ artistic skills as well as their confidence, Idyllwild Arts Academy offers an inclusive, collaborative environment for students to grow as artists and as young people finding their creative voice in the world.

The picturesque, secluded school campus in Idyllwild, California, enables students to take advantage of a sanctuary-type environment to focus on discovery, exploration, and nurturing their unique educational journey. 

The academy caters to a student body of approximately 300 students who come from 30 countries. Whether they choose to pursue creative writing, dance, fashion design, or another artistic subject, students will be empowered to push their limits as they collaborate closely with fellow students and experienced faculty.


Walnut Hill School for the Arts (Natick, MA)

Walnut Hill School for the Arts
Whmarketing, Walnut Hill School for the Arts Campus, CC BY 3.0

Offering a pre-professional artistic education to high school students with passion and talent beyond traditional academics, Walnut Hill School for the Arts provides specialized training in performing arts, visual arts, and writing.

Walnut Hill emphasizes both its artistic and academic programs, requiring that students adhere to a full-time schedule of college-prep classes alongside their study of an elected arts major. 

This balanced approach means that students benefit from intensive arts training alongside expert faculty members, while at the same time developing a comprehensive foundation of academic skills to prepare them for scholastic and professional success further down the road. 

The school’s location in a quiet suburb just 17 miles from Boston means students can enjoy a calm pace of life while still accessing a world-class arts and performance community just a short drive away.


New World School of the Arts (Miami, FL)

Offering a comprehensive program to students in visual and performing arts, New World School for the Arts prepares students to go into a professional arts career and to become a true leader in the arts.

High school students get the chance to develop artistic problem-solving skills and grow creatively, while at the same time completing a comprehensive academic syllabus that fully prepares them for entrance into college. 

Students will find distinctive arts study options, including independent study, workshops, residencies, and internships—providing students with myriad avenues to engage in research and more fully explore their artistic pursuit of choice. Dance, music, theater, and visual arts, make up the institute’s four art departments. 

Among its many recognitions and awards, New World was named a Magnet School of Excellence by the Magnet Schools of America in 2020.


Las Vegas Academy of the Performing Arts (Las Vegas, NV)

Las Vegas Academy of the Performing Arts
Dreaerers, Music Complex at Las Vegas Academy Performing Arts High School, CC BY-SA 3.0

A public magnet school for students passionate about arts subjects such as dance, music, and theater, the Las Vegas Academy of the Performing Arts (LVA) is located in downtown Las Vegas. It supports dedicated, driven high school students to get conservatory training in their art major of choice while simultaneously pursuing a high school diploma.

LVA has been honored by the U.S. Department of Education as both a U.S. Blue Ribbon School and as a New America High School, a dual distinction that only 17 other schools in the United States can also claim. 

These and other prestigious accolades recognize LVA’s record of success in building up students’ arts proficiency from within a positive, caring environment, and empowering them to enter any number of competitive careers.


Baltimore School for the Arts (Baltimore, MD)

Baltimore School for the Arts
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

An urban high school that shows high school students how to develop their arts aptitude into a professional career path, Baltimore School for the Arts ranks amongst the top five public arts high schools in the United States.

At Baltimore School for the Arts, students have the unique opportunity to study under the tutelage of expert faculty as well as visiting working artists who in the past have come from Peabody Institute, Harlem Symphony, and beyond. 

As students learn about discipline, artistry, and resilience from these seasoned professionals, their inspiring arts education is complemented by college prep courses – giving graduates the best possible springboard to access fruitful opportunities in the future. 

In terms of school acceptance policies, it’s useful to know that Baltimore School for the Arts bases admission on an audition and interview alone, rather than academic credit, to ensure that talented arts students get the chance to join the school.

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