If you’re a high school dancer dreaming of a future in musical theater it’s never too soon to be thinking about how you’ll reach those goals. For most performers, a career in musical theater starts with professional training at the college level. And that starts with choosing a school and making some big decisions about the kind of training experience you’d like to have. Do you want to focus mainly on dance training? Or are you hoping to become a “triple threat” performer? Do you want to focus on performance or are you seeking a college experience that allows you to explore other interests alongside your musical theater training?
In this article we’ll give you some food for thought to help in your decision, and provide our top ten musical theater colleges, conservatories and universities.
How to Decide Between College, University or Conservatory for Musical Theater?
Deciding which kind of school makes the most sense for studying musical theater depends on your personal academic and performance goals. Many top performers across the country come from conservatories, while many others come from liberal arts colleges and universities. There’s no one way to reach your musical theater goals. There are, however, a few rules of thumb that can guide your decision.
For students whose main educational focus is on developing dance skills to become a musical theater performer, a conservatory or dance school may offer the best curriculum to develop those skills. Often these schools are located in noted musical theater hubs such as New York, Los Angeles or other large cities around the country, allowing students to begin auditioning for professional performance engagements even before graduation.
On the other hand, for students whose focus is on becoming a “triple threat,” or pursuing other academic interests and passions in addition to their interest in musical theater, a university or liberal arts college might be a better option. This track also offers more flexibility to allow for students’ multiple interests.
For students interested in any of the liberal arts – writing, languages, history, art or even mathematics or science – a liberal arts college offers a broad education that will inform your theater studies while preparing you for a career or further academic study. Often these colleges also have strong music programs that can work in tandem to provide vocal and musical training for musical theater performers.
For students with academic or career interests outside theater, such as business or engineering, a public or state university might offer a broader range of study options, in addition to strong musical theater training programs. Public universities are also less expensive than conservatories or private colleges.
Here are our top ten options for musical theater colleges in the United States.
Conservatories for Musical Theater
Joffrey Ballet School – Joffrey’s four year trainee program in Jazz and Contemporary Dance offers the ability to earn your BFA through our partnership with New Jersey City University while gaining the skills to become a musical theater performer. Our curriculum includes thousands of hours of dance instruction and opportunities to perform in world class venues. Many of our students gain artist representation and opportunities to audition for professional musical theater productions before graduation, unlike college or university programs where you won’t have time to perform professionally until you’ve graduated. Another benefit is that our program accepts younger dancers seeking to earn their high school diploma and BFA simultaneously.
NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts – Although NYU is a large private liberal arts college, its Tisch School of the Arts operates as a conservatory within the school focused on performing, cinematic and media arts. It’s one of the nation’s leading schools for musical theater, with instruction around dance, acting, writing for musical theater, and much more.
Boston Conservatory – As with ballet, Boston Conservatory is at the top of any list when it comes to conservatories for musical theater training. However, it’s key to keep in mind that as with their ballet program, Boston Conservatory isn’t strictly dance training focused. They also require students to complete a number of liberal arts requirements.
Public and State Universities
University of Arizona – A sunny climate and a nationally ranked musical theater program are just a couple of reasons why University of Arizona’s musical theater BFA program is popular with students. Among the factors that set U of A apart when it comes to musical theater training is the school’s focus not just on musical theater, dance and the American songbook, but also on dramatic acting.
Penn State – Although “Happy Valley” is perhaps best noted for its football programs, Penn State also has a fantastic musical theater program. Penn State’s Musical Theater BFA program is a professional training program that focuses on all three aspects of musical theater – singing, dancing and acting.
University of Michigan – Michigan was one of the first musical theater BFA programs offered by a state university. In fact, the program at Arizona is modeled on the one pioneered at Michigan. Michigan’s Musical Theater BFA program offers an intense, conservatory-style musical theater training experience.
Cal State Fullerton – Most of the 33 colleges and universities in the UC and CSU college systems offer BA programs in theater, drama or television and film production. Fullerton is one of the few in either system to offer a BFA in musical theater, ranked in the top 20 in the nation by Performing Arts Guide. Its location near Disneyland, Hollywood and downtown LA means that students will have opportunities to seek representation and even professional performance opportunities to build their resumes while they are still in school. Another good option for musical theater in the LA area is UC Irvine, which offers a BA in musical theater.
Private and Liberal Arts Colleges
Carnegie Mellon or Pace University – It may be cheating to include two schools in the place of one on the list but both of these schools make the list for the same reasons. Both are among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges that offer a musical theater BFA program. Both offer excellent “triple threat” programs with strong focus on vocal, acting and dance training. And both are located in the Big Apple, which means students will be studying right in the heart of America’s musical theater capital, with opportunities to watch and even participate in professional productions before they graduate.
Elon University – If you’re seeking a small town college experience, with great liberal arts programs and a well-respected musical theater program, Elon might be a great fit. Elon University is located in Elon, NC, not far from Greensboro and Raleigh. The Musical Theater BFA program only accepts about 16 to 20 students each year to a program that requires students to complete 4 years of voice instruction, 3 years of acting and 4 years of dance, plus courses on musical theater history, literature and performance.
University of Cincinnati College & Conservatory of Music – CCM, as it is known, is one of the best known programs in the Midwest for studying musical theater. It was one of the first colleges in the country to offer a musical theater BFA, and is focused on providing extensive training in dance, acting and voice to develop triple threat performers. A rigorous production schedule of 5 performances per season along with senior showcases mean that students receive plenty of opportunities to perform in student productions.
Admission by Audition
Admissions to these programs are all highly competitive, and not based solely on grades and experience. Your audition plays a big role as well, so you’ll want to prepare carefully to show the selection committee your best skills. If you’re serious about dance and are ready to take the next step in your musical theater career, register online today to audition with us! We’d love to meet you and help you achieve your Broadway musical theater dreams!