The 10 Best Performing Arts Schools in New York

For many students looking into a career in the performing arts sector, be it in dance, music, or acting, New York is both a logical and desirable destination. Not only is New York home to one of the most significant cultural epicenters of the world in New York City, the state’s rural schools are also home to many prestigious performing arts schools.

Today, we are looking into 10 incredible schools where students get premier training in dance, music, and theatre. These are schools suitable for instrumentalists, singers, musical theatre artists, aspiring choreographers, and others who wish to make a career in the arts.

How did we decide on this specific set of performing arts colleges?

For this list, the best performing arts schools in New York were selected based on the caliber of their faculty, the accomplishments and contributions of alumni, and the breadth and quality of professional opportunities for students. All schools are selective and many, if not all, require auditions or interviews as part of the application process. Promising artists in music, dance, and drama will find that New York state abounds in opportunities that will help to jumpstart their careers.

Here 10 of the best performing arts schools that the Empire State has to offer.

Pace University (New York, NY)

Pace University
photo by Benjamin KRAFT via Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

The performing arts program at Pace University is robust in its offerings. The BFA in Production and Design program has been briefly profiled as one of the top 30 Theater Design and Tech programs in the country in 2019-2020.

The school offers a unique BFA in Commercial Dance for those wishing to work in the entertainment industry. The Acting Program is taught by industry professionals who are versed in the most innovative techniques in the field. The performing arts wing of PU offers another unique program: A BFA in Acting for Film, Television, Voice-overs, and Commercials (FTVC). 

This selection of excellent programs is rounded out by the BFA in Directing, which offers students many opportunities for collaborating with professionals in both commercial and non-profit theater.

As part of the application process, prospective students must prepare for auditions and interviews. 

Fordham University (New York, NY)

Fordham University
Indefatigable2, Collins Hall Rose Hill, Fordham, CC BY-SA 4.0

Fordham University students venture out into the world with a world-renowned education under their belts. Aspiring performing artists are doubly impressive, having combined rich, liberal arts education with artistic skill. 

At this one and only religiously-affiliated school on the list, Music students are taught the fundamentals of theory and performance. Additionally, they are encouraged to expand their repertoires with unique course offerings ranging from Electronic Music to Afro-Latin Music Ensemble.

Fordham offers an innovative BFA in Dance in collaboration with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. Many of its graduates join esteemed dance companies and even go on to perform on Broadway. 

Fordham’s Theater program has several, high-profile alumni, including Denzel Washington and Patricia Clarkson. Broadway veterans have joined its faculty ranks. In recent years, talented Theater majors have earned high-acclaim and grants for their creative work, having been featured in online sites such as Broadway World.

Fordham is a selective school, with an acceptance rate of under 50%. The Theater program has a performance track, which requires auditions and pre-screening materials as part of the application process. In contrast, the Music program does not require an audition.

Bard College (Annandale-On-Hudson, NY)

Bard Conservatory of Music
​Daniel Case, Bard College Fisher Center front view, CC BY-SA 3.0

Faculty of the Music Conservatory at Bard College are world-class musicians who also have faculty appointments with several other high-caliber performing arts colleges, including Juilliard and Curtis.

Bard’s resident orchestra, the Bard Philharmonic Orchestra, is made up of some of the most talented and diverse young collegiate musicians in the world. It has performed at many prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

Dance and theater students perform at the landmark Fisher Center of the Performing Arts, a venue housing a 200-seat theater and two studios. It also serves as the center of research and education for the Bard community and beyond. The Dance program has partnered with local companies, such as American Dance Festival and, most recently, Gibney, a dance and social justice organization. As part of its active, performing arts portfolio, Bard College presents the Live Arts Bard Biennial.

SUNY Purchase (Purchase, NY)

SUNY Purchase
Kelly Campbell et al., Summer orientation, Purchase College, CC BY-SA 3.0

The first and only public university on this list, SUNY Purchase (aka Purchase College) houses a School of the Arts. The School of the Arts consists of three, distinct conservatories for dance, music, and theater. 

According to Wikipedia, roughly 40% of Purchase College students are enrolled in these performing arts programs, making Purchase College one of the most popular performing arts schools in the state.

Notable School of the Arts alumni include Regina Spektor, Edie Falco, and Rena Butler. The Purchase Dance Company presents an eclectic repertoire of productions, ranging from classical ballet to modern and contemporary dance. Students in the Conservatory of Dance have opportunities to travel abroad as part of Purchase dance ensembles. 

With an acceptance rate of 52%, Purchase College is a selective school.

American Musical Dramatic Academy (New York, NY)

American Musical and Dramatic Academy
Mx. Granger, American Musical and Dramatic Academy, CC0 1.0

American Musical Dramatic Academy is the first on this list to have a curriculum that is exclusively focused on the performing arts. With campuses in NYC and LA, education at AMDA is intensely performance and industry-focused, with stellar outcomes. As recently as this year’s Golden Globes, alumni of AMDA’s program were represented at the Golden Globes.

AMDA prides itself in being a “college and conservatory all in one.” Students receive training from experienced and exceptional professionals in acting, musical theater, dance, and in other areas of the performing arts. 

Like most of the schools on this list, admission into AMDA is competitive, with an acceptance rate of around 30%. As part of the admissions process, applicants must prepare an audition piece for their prospective department— e.g., acting, dance, and theater auditions— that is 60-90 seconds in length.

University of Rochester (Rochester, NY)

University of Rochester
Tomwsulcer, Campus view at the University of Rochester, CC0 1.0

The medium-sized University of Rochester is home to one of the most premier music schools in the country. The Eastman School of Music excels in music composition and performance; Successful Student ranked it as #5 among music programs. Like many of the schools on this list, the Eastman School of Music has produced Grammy winners among its alumni.

The International Theater program, housed in the English department, offers its students comprehensive and rigorous training in the performance and technical aspects of theater. Each year, the program produces four, high-profile productions. The Dance and Movement program is equally comprehensive and rigorous in training its students, boosting the caliber and reputation of the university’s performing arts profile.

The Eastman School of Music is the most established of the performing arts programs at UR. The acceptance rate is a mere 13%. Applicants must show artistic promise and academic excellence.

The New School (New York, NY)

New School
Beyond My Ken, New School University Center, CC BY-SA 4.0

The New School’s College of Performing Arts presents over 750 performances every year and employs 630 full and part-time faculty. Alumni are members of the Metropolitan Opera, have won Grammy awards, and have been actors in prime-time shows. Matriculating students can expect a stellar, innovative curriculum and great outcomes after graduating. The College of Performing Arts consists of the Mannes School of Music, School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, and the School of Drama.

Admission to the New School’s College of Performing Arts is selective, with 49% of applicants being admitted. Half of accepted students earned a GPA range between 3.49 and 3.75 and SAT scores between 1180 and 1340. 

The application process includes official transcripts, essays, recommendation letters, and artist portfolios or other pre-screening materials. Subsequently, applicants will be invited for auditions and interviews. 

Ithaca College (Ithaca, NY)

Ithaca College School of Music
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Phillips Hall Campus Center, Ithaca College, CC BY-SA 4.0

Tucked between the rolling hills of upstate NY, Ithaca College boasts one of the top music and theater programs in the country. The music program employs world-renowned musicians and music educators. School of Music alumni are employed by prestigious symphonies and opera companies and others go on to work as composers, music therapists, and deans or faculty at top-notch universities.

The Department of Theater Arts ranks #1 on the Princeton Review’s list of “Best College Theater” for its productions. The department offers a minor in Dance for students who want to round out their performing arts education at Ithaca College. The list of notable faculty members in the theater department includes the playwright and poet, Saviana Stănescu. Ithaca College ranks highly on US News lists for “Best Undergraduate Teaching” and “Best Value Schools.” 

New York University (New York, NY)

NYU Tisch
atp_tyreseus, Tisch School of the Arts NYU, CC BY 2.0

New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts is preeminent in its breadth and excellence in the performing arts. This year, 8 Tisch alumni have been nominated for awards in 8 categories for this year’s Academy Awards and others were nominated for Grammys

Faculty are renowned scholars and performers, so Tisch students are taught by artists who truly know their craft and have real-world experience. Tisch offers a unique program, the Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, which provides professional business and artistic training for its students. Additionally, Tisch’s study-abroad program allows students to enrich their education at groundbreaking programs in Germany, Cuba, England, and the Czech Republic.

The school’s admissions process is highly selective. Applicants must demonstrate artistic and academic excellence. The general acceptance rate for NYU is 16%, the average GPA being 3.69 and the average SAT score being 1440. The acceptance rate among different Tisch programs varies, with the Drama school’s acceptance reportedly around 15%.

Juilliard School (New York, NY)

Juilliard School
photo by Brian Lauer via Flickr Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Within walking distance of the Lincoln Center, New York Philharmonic, and Metropolitan Opera, admission to Juilliard is highly competitive. On average, the school receives around 2,500 applications each year, its acceptance rate hovering around 6%

Given that Juilliard is one of the world’s top performing arts schools, it is no wonder that promising artists want to hone their craft there. Juilliard is the second school on this list exclusively focused on the performing arts.

Opportunities for Juilliard students are abundant. The Dance department alone presents over 30 public performances every year. On the other hand, the music program presents hundreds of recitals every year available to the public.

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