Performing Arts Schools

Find a program that’s right for you.

Enriching a Passion for the Arts with a Solid Education

Establishing a career in performing arts requires special training. Even though some talents are innate, honing those talents is crucial to establish a career in the competitive world of performing arts. As a result, many schools have been established to teach students the specialized skills in singing, dancing, acting and other various forms of expression. This guide will provide an in-depth background for students on what to expect, as well as expert advice on attending a performing arts school.

Top 10 Performing Arts Schools 4-Year Colleges

#1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
#2 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
#3 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
#4 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA
#5 Duke University Durham, NC
#6 New York University New York, NY
#7 Tufts University Medford, MA
#8 Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA
#9 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
#10 Georgetown University Washington, DC

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Performing Arts Snapshot

  • The Julliard School is one of the worlds’ most preeminent performing art schools. Famous names such as John Williams, Val Kilmer, Kevin Spacey, and Wynton Marsalis honed their talents at Julliard.
  • Performing arts includes more than just acting and singing; it is involves all forms of artistic expression such as opera, ballet, circus, ventriloquism, stand-up comedy, theater, motion pictures, orchestra and magic.
  • Actors, on average, have a higher level of education than the standard US worker. Between 2011 and 2013, more than 33% of actors had a bachelor’s degree.

Best Performing Arts Schools and Degrees

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Our data analysis team and higher education experts have worked together to create a scoring system that includes key qualitative and quantitative measures. The data attributes are then weighted based on relevance.

The scoring methodology includes factors such as:

  • Cost & financial aid
  • Number of programs and program offerings
  • Student-teacher ratios
  • Graduation rates
  • Placement and support services offered
  • Academic/Career counseling services
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These factors are assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or "bang for your buck" of a college or degree program.

While many who pursue careers in the performing arts are born with innate talent, to truly master their field a degree from an institute of higher learning is essential. A good performing arts program will allow students to work toward perfecting their craft; a great one will offer supportive services, financial aid and program specializations as well. We’ve ranked the top online and on-campus art programs. Find the school that will allow you to make the most of your performing arts education below.

Harvard University View School Profile Cambridge, MA

Harvard offers 22 total fine arts and design programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Programs fall under the Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies (AFVS); the Office for the Arts; or the Graduate School of Design. Through Harvard, students can earn a professional art degree without compromising on a liberal arts education.

Students wishing to major in studio arts declare a concentration in AFVS during their sophomore year. By the end of junior year, AFVS majors establish a media focus to develop a professional-level portfolio. Students choose to complete either a two-semester senior thesis or a project representing their third year body of work.

The graduate school offers professional and post-professional master's programs in design, architecture, and urban planning. Admission to the design master's program requires two years of professional experience. However, undergraduates may apply to the architecture and urban planning programs with a portfolio demonstrating their aptitude for three-dimensional design.

University of Pennsylvania View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

The University of Pennsylvania's Weitzman School of Design offers 28 programs in fine arts and design focused on the interdisciplinary study of art as a response to societal challenges. UPenn awards bachelor's-level art degrees in fine arts or design.

The fine arts program focuses on artmaking technique and requires six studio courses with options such as printmaking, sculpture, and animation. The design program explores the integration of design with science and the humanities. Studio courses under this major offer instruction in the application of contemporary design theory and prototyping and fabrication.

Both undergraduate degrees include a two-semester capstone senior seminar in the final year. The seminar culminates in a public showcase of the student's portfolio. Prospective students applying directly to the art program may submit a supplemental portfolio. Current students enter the program without a separate application by meeting with an advisor to declare a major.

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor View School Profile Ann Arbor, MI

The Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design (Stamps) at the University of Michigan hosts 14 undergraduate and graduate level programs with options tailored toward either a studio or an academic focus. Undergraduates choose from four art degree options: BA or BFA in art and design, BFA in interarts performance, and dual-degree options.

In all programs, Stamps requires studio courses in drawing, design, and inquiry methods. Students must pass a sophomore review in which they present a portfolio of college work to a faculty committee. Students must also complete one course outside the United States in an approved international program unless they declare a minor.

All Stamps applicants need to complete the Common Application or Coalition Application for U-M. Recommendations must include letters from both an academic and an art instructor. Portfolios should include 12-15 pieces representing both conceptual work and direct observation drawings.

Carnegie Mellon University View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA

A private research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University offers 17 programs in art and design through The College of Fine Arts. This includes a BFA and a BXA intercollege degree programs.

The BFA program contains four media-based concentrations. Students can choose a specific concentration or create an individualized hybrid curriculum.The first year curriculum includes courses from all four concentrations. After sophomore year, students gain more freedom to choose their major coursework. A year-long senior studio course serves as the program capstone. Each school year ends with an exhibition showcasing senior studio work.

When making a decision, admission officers consider an applicant's portfolio, transcripts, and test scores holistically. Portfolios must include 12-20 pieces with artist statements. Faculty recommend including work done outside of assignments to represent independent ability.

Duke University View School Profile Durham, NC

A private research university in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University features 11 art and design programs through the Trinity College of Art and Sciences. Undergraduate students can pursue one of three BA tracks: art history, visual arts, and visual and media studies. Art history specializations include architecture and museum studies. The program also offers a combined art history and visual arts major.

Visual arts majors choose courses from six subdisciplines for introductory and intermediate studios. The program culminates in a required theory course and a studio capstone. Visual and media studies majors must take two gateway courses within their first year. Students choose from a list of preapproved courses to serve as their capstone.

Art program applicants only need to complete the general Duke application, but students may submit a portfolio and statement as a supplement.

New York University View School Profile New York, NY

The private research university hosts two schools catering to visual arts. The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development offers art degrees in studio art, visual arts administration, art therapy, and art education. Tisch School of the Arts provides undergraduate and graduate level tracks in art and design for film.

The BFA in studio art program begins with a year-long foundation program and ends with a senior studio capstone course. In this course, students develop a portfolio and plan their gallery showcase in small groups. The Tisch film program covers four primary stages: introductory, fundamental, intermediate, and advanced. After completing a bachelor's program, students interested in production design can apply to the MFA program.

Applicants to the Steinhardt School must submit a 12-15 piece portfolio with a statement of purpose. Tisch portfolio requirements include a one-page resume and the choice of 10-15 images or a five-minute short film. Students must also answer three creative prompts in visual and script format.

Tufts University View School Profile Medford, MA

Located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Tufts University offers 32 degree and certificate programs in art and design through the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The first year for BFA students consists of a heavy studio course load and an introductory theory course in visual and material studies. Over four years, students participate in eight review boards, presenting their semester work to a team of faculty and students. The review process helps students recognize the connection between their research projects and studio work while developing their own artistic direction.

Applicants can choose either a BFA or a combined degree program on the Tufts application. Both programs require a portfolio submission of either 15-20 images or up to 10 minutes of timed material.

Lehigh University View School Profile Bethlehem, PA

A private research university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Lehigh University offers 13 major and minor programs in art, design, and architecture. The four main BA programs provide students with a foundation for a career in art or a smooth transition to graduate studies.

The art major centers on the principle disciplines of drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography. Art majors can combine studies with a theatre major to specialize in costume design or pursue a minor in education to receive a teaching certificate. The design major includes studios combining communication through digital media with traditional artmaking. Both majors include five foundation courses in art history, two and three dimensional design, and drawing.

Applicants need to complete the Common Application or Coalition Application for Lehigh and a writing sample. Students earning a five on the AP Studio Art exam apply eight credits toward the first year foundation courses.

Drexel University View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

Drexel University, a private research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, awards degrees from 22 art and design programs. These programs include bachelor's and master's level instruction in design, production, and media management.

All BS majors begin with a foundation in studio art which aims to foster student creativity and solidify design fundamentals. As students continue within their chosen discipline, they will gain professional experience through the university's cooperative education program. Students can choose a four-year study track with one co-op, usually during the third year, or a five-year track, with three co-op placements.

The Westphal College of Media Arts & Design application includes an essay expressing the student's interest in their intended program. Some majors, such as animation, fashion design, and photography, require an 8-12 piece portfolio.

Georgetown University View School Profile Washington, DC

Georgetown University's Department of Art and Art History offers BA options in art and art history and an MA in art and museum studies. Students can choose one of eight media specializations in a combined studio and liberal arts curriculum.

After completing two introductory courses, students take three intermediate studios within a concentration. The four concentration options include drawing and printmaking; painting; sculpture; and photography, graphic design, and new media. Students must complete a senior art seminar to fulfill the university integrated writing requirement. The department hosts a senior art major exhibition in the spring.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions bases decisions on a student's general application. Applicants can submit a supplemental portfolio of up to 20 images to convey substantial artistic talent not demonstrated on the general application.

Purdue University-Main Campus View School Profile West Lafayette, IN

Purdue University houses the Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance, a top-ranked design and applied arts school. The Department of Art and Design offers a selection of 12 BFA, MA, MFA, and Ph.D. programs

The BFA in integrated studio arts offers a hybrid approach to studio and media studies. Concentrations explore interdisciplinary artmaking using traditional methods and new technologies. Design-based programs, such as the BFA in visual communication design, feature in-depth, conceptual study of medium and message.

All BFA programs require a portfolio review before the end of sophomore year to progress in the program. Degrees culminate with a senior studio and a student-led gallery exhibition. Students applying to the integrated studio arts program must submit a portfolio. All majors within the Department of Art and Design receive programmatic accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Providence College View School Profile Providence, RI

Providence College in Rhode Island offers 10 art and design specializations through the Department of Art and Art History. The studio art major centers on developing two- and three- dimensional design and drawing fundamentals through advanced concentration studies. Concentrations include drawing, painting, printmaking, and ceramics. Other areas of study consist of sculpture, photography, and digital imaging.

Art majors complete a degree program consisting of liberal arts electives; art history lectures; and gateway, concentration, and elective studio courses. Students choose their concentration by the end of sophomore year. In their senior year, students complete a capstone studio seminar and a senior thesis exhibition. Work presented in the thesis exhibition appears in the department's Providence College Art Journal.

Students with a substantial art background may submit a supplementary portfolio with their application. Portfolios should include 10-20 images of a student's best thematic work.

University of Miami View School Profile Coral Gables, FL

A private research university in Coral Gables, Florida, University of Miami hosts 13 art and design programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students can pursue an MFA in studio art, a BA in studio art or art history, or a BFA with studio courses in five subject areas.

The BA and BFA programs require introductory courses in electronic media, three-dimensional design, and drawing. Students on the BA track must complete six upper-level studio courses and three art history classes. The BFA track requires students to select a primary and secondary studio concentration, complete elective credits, and take five art history classes. The BFA requires less general education classes and confers an automatic minor in art history upon completion.

The College of Arts and Sciences uses a holistic admissions approach based on transcripts, recommendations, and essays.

George Washington University View School Profile Washington, DC

The Corcoran School of the Arts & Design at George Washington University offers 22 programs in visual arts and design. Curriculum in the art programs incorporates the neighboring galleries and museums to provide students with professional opportunities after graduation.

BFA students spend their first year in close-knit cohorts within a four-course foundation program. Subsequent semesters feature content-driven studio and theory courses within the student's choice of media. Students complete a six-credit thesis seminar in their final year. The thesis project combines research, group discussions, and critiques with a thematic body of work.

Applicants to the BFA program need to submit a portfolio of 12-20 completed works. The portfolio should include a student's best and most recent work, relevant to their intended concentration if possible.

University of Wisconsin-Madison View School Profile Madison, WI

University of Wisconsin-Madison boasts a top-ranked art department that centers creative processes in critical thinking and collaboration. The department offers BS, BFA, MA, and MFA degree tracks in studio art.

First year students enter the art program as either BS-Art or art education. Students first complete the foundations year, covering courses in art history, drawing concepts, and design fundamentals. If students continue in the BS program, they will take 45 total studio credits. This offers greater flexibility to pursue other majors, minors, or certificates at the university.

Students wishing to transition to the BFA program can apply during sophomore or junior year. Applicants must maintain a 3.0 GPA in all studio courses, including introductory level studios in all four design areas.

Completion of the BFA degree requires 72 studio credit hours and a successful portfolio review before their final semester. Successful BFA candidates participate in a capstone exhibition during the spring of their senior year.

University of Denver View School Profile Denver, CO

The School of Art & Art History at University of Denver offers 11 art and design programs connected to the university's museum and gallery network. Degrees include a BA or BFA in art, a BA in art history, and a BFA in pre-art conservation.

First year applicants can apply directly to the BA program. Degree requirements include 16 credits in art fundamental courses, 12 credits in art history, and 32 credits in studio art. Students will choose a primary area of interest within their studio courses. To encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, art majors pursuing a BA must also choose either a minor or second major.

Once enrolled in the School of Art & Art History, students can apply for the BFA program. Applicants receive a faculty advisor to guide them through the application process, including a portfolio review. BFA students must complete at least 70 studio art credits, including introductory courses in each discipline. Students participate in a senior year capstone project culminating in an exhibition.

Bradley University View School Profile Peoria, IL

A private university in Peoria, Illinois, Bradley University provides students with 11 art program options. Bradley's Department of Art and Design encourages students to pursue leadership in visual culture and contribute to the contemporary creative experience.

The studio art major offers BS, BA, and BFA degrees in seven concentration options. Each concentration requires courses in studio fundamentals, required concentration studios, and studio electives. The BFA track requires more studio credit hours and a capstone course, providing students with professional development and career preparation opportunities. BFA students end their degree with a gallery showcase.

Bradley's art program connects current students with area professionals and alumni to help students find work in creative fields. Students must also attend at least two presentations from the Visual Voices Lecture Series as a fundamental requirement.

University of Florida View School Profile Gainesville, FL

University of Florida awards degrees in 11 art and design programs through the School of Art and Art History. In the studio art major, students can expect a contemporary, interdisciplinary approach to developing their artistic identity.

Degree options include a BA track in art and BFA programs in art or graphic design. BFA students complete a foundation curriculum during their first two years then develop conceptual skills and explore contemporary design theory. The BA track follows a similar curriculum with fewer required studio courses. BA students enjoy the flexibility to pursue double majors, minors, and certificate programs outside of the arts.

Students can enroll directly in the art program after acceptance to the university. At the end of their sophomore year, students undergo a portfolio review in order to progress in the major.

University of California-Los Angeles View School Profile Los Angeles, CA

The School of the Arts and Architecture at University of California-Los Angeles offers ten specialized program paths in art and design. The top-ranked studio art program provides students with professional artistic training within the context of a liberal arts degree.

The BA in art requires foundation courses in six subdisciplines, including one course in either video, installation, or performance art. Each class maintains a 17-student limit to ensure personalized guidance from instructors. The program ends with a senior studio capstone course emphasizing group analysis and critiques. Throughout the program, instructors encourage students to engage with UCLA affiliate museums and interdisciplinary projects.

For consideration, applicants must indicate art as their first choice major on the UCLA application. The art department also requires a portfolio of 8-10 images, an artist statement, and a short essay outlining the student's career goals.

Northeastern University View School Profile Boston, MA

Northeastern University's College of Arts, Media, and Design combines academic inquiry of design theory with experiential learning. As a result, students leave with a professional art or design degree and a personalized liberal arts education.

Students design their own program path through a combination of courses, co-ops, and independent research opportunities. The studio art BFA program spans multiple Boston area institutions. Northeastern administers the art history and theory courses, but students take their studio courses in the nearby School of the Museum of Fine Arts through Tufts University. The BFA program also offers study abroad options through the university partnership with University of the Arts London.

Applicants to the studio art BFA must submit a portfolio of 10-15 images with an artist statement. Students without a portfolio can apply to the BA program through Northeastern's general application.

University of Delaware View School Profile Newark, DE

The Department of Art & Design at University of Delaware offers 12 undergraduate and graduate programs in art and design. Art degrees from UD equip students with goal-oriented professional experience necessary to pursue careers after graduation.

The BA and BFA programs feature a two-year core credit curriculum. Students pursuing a BFA in studio art spend their final two years exploring subdisciplines in upper-level studio electives. Studio art seniors use the techniques developed in their junior year to complete a portfolio in a capstone course. The studio capstone continues in an exhibition the following semester.

Visual communications BFA students follow a regimented curriculum in their final two years to master design industry standards. Coursework includes a mandatory internship and participation in the BFA senior exhibition.

Students can apply to the BFA track after completing the core curriculum experience. The application process involves a portfolio review and an advising session.

University of Washington-Seattle Campus View School Profile Seattle, WA

The School of Art, Art History, and Design fosters interdisciplinary collaboration for art and design majors within 13 specialized programs. Undergraduates develop technical mastery in visual communication while receiving a rigorous liberal arts education in four BA tracks.

Students take 20 credit hours in introductory studio courses before enrolling in advanced studios within their concentration. The major's art history curriculum can easily transition to a minor and fulfill the UW writing proficiency requirement. Each concentration ends with a senior capstone to develop oral presentation skills and present work in the BA thesis exhibition.

Students can declare an art major after completing an intermediate level studio course with at least a 2.5 GPA. To progress in the program, students must maintain a 2.5 cumulative GPA.

University of Georgia View School Profile Athens, GA

Lamarr Dodd School of Art offers 30 fine arts programs including BFA, BA, and MFA tracks. Students can choose from 11 studio concentrations for a comprehensive, studio-intensive curriculum.

All BFA concentrations include the studio core curriculum spread across four years. In the first year, students take two art history surveys and three introductory studio courses. At the intermediate level, students start to focus on their studio concentration.

The upper-level studio core courses serve as a thematic and practical capstone. In the exit studio course, students develop work for a thesis exhibition. At the same time, students take a professional development course to practice interview skills, personal branding, and networking in the creative field.

First-year students interested in the art program should speak to a Dodd School advisor at orientation.

University at Buffalo View School Profile Buffalo, NY

The Department of Art at the University at Buffalo provides a broad survey of art fundamentals through a studio art BA program or a specialized BFA program.

In both degree programs, students pursue a media concentration. The BA program offers concentrations in graphic design, photography, or interdisciplinary studio. The BFA program includes the same concentrations with additional options in painting, sculpture, print media, and emerging practices.

All art students benefit from the university's involvement in the art community through the fall visiting artist lecture series. Students must attend two semesters of the lecture series to complete either program. BFA students complete an additional senior studio capstone requirement and gallery exhibition.

Prospective BFA students can indicate their intended major on the general application. Students that pass the first year fundamental courses with a 2.5 GPA or above automatically enter the art department. Students with a GPA below 2.5 can still enter the department by passing a portfolio review.

Rutgers University-New Brunswick View School Profile New Brunswick, NJ

The BFA art and design programs at the Mason Gross School of the Arts prepares students for careers as professional artists and designers.

All BFA students complete introductory studio courses in each concentration. Students declare a concentration at the end of their sophomore year after passing the department portfolio review. Faculty review portfolios again at the end of junior year before students begin a year-long senior thesis project.

The BFA in visual arts offers six media concentrations or a thematic focus on design. In addition to a thesis project, students on the design track complete a design practicum or internship as part of their capstone.

After indicating their interest in the BFA program on the general application, students will receive the supplemental Mason Gross application. Students must submit a 15-20 piece portfolio and a personal statement.

Top 10 Performing Arts Schools 2-Year Colleges

#1 Casper College Casper, W
#2 Central Wyoming College Riverton, WY
#3 GateWay Community College Phoenix, AZ
#4 Independence Community College Independence, KS
#5 Estrella Mountain Community College Avondale, AZ
#6 Western Wyoming Community College Rock Springs, W
#7 South Mountain Community College Phoenix, AZ
#8 Paradise Valley Community College Phoenix, AZ
#9 Metropolitan Community College Omaha, NE
#10 East Mississippi Community College Scooba, MS

AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Top Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Performing Arts Schools and Programs

A performing arts education can be obtained at a wide variety of educational institutions. Even though completing a program or obtaining a degree from a performing arts school isn’t usually a requirement to work in the arts, it can be extremely helpful in establishing a career and negotiating higher pay. Not only will students receive training and instruction in the performing arts, they will also be surrounded by fellow creative minds and mentors in the field. The section below lists a few performing arts school possibilities and what students can expect from a particular type of school.

VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS

Most performing arts programs found at vocational schools are at the high school level. Open to high school students, these vocational programs prepare them to continue their performing arts education at the post-secondary level, although some focus on training students to enter the performing arts workforce immediately upon graduation.

The typical curriculum focuses on college prep, honors and/or college level classes in order to provide a complete high school education and prepare students for continuing study at a two- or four-year college. These vocational schools are usually tuition free, as they are affiliated with public high schools serving a given geographical area. However, acceptance is not guaranteed; students must go through a competitive admission process that includes an audition.

ART SCHOOLS

Performing arts are typically seen as those that include dance, music, acting and the like. However, some art schools – those that cater to aspiring graphic designers, fashion designers, illustrators, and animators– also offer degrees or certificates in the performance-based arts. These schools offer students the unique opportunity to hone their skills in performing arts while obtaining the skills and knowledge they might use to enhance their future career. For instance, an actor might learn about theater and voice projection, but might also take courses in film editing and scene composition.

COMMUNITY COLLEGES

Many community colleges offer associate degrees in subjects related to performing arts, such as drama, music, dance, and theater. Depending on the school, the associate degree can focus on one area of performing arts, such as theater, or take a broader approach and train students in various areas of the arts genres.

The typical associate degree in performing arts takes about two years to complete if attending full-time and consists of approximately 60 credits. Most classes are major-oriented, such as music theory, introduction to acting, and contemporary dance. However, some core classes are still required, such as English composition and physical science. Depending on the curriculum, students can be prepared to move into the workforce immediately upon graduation, or use their degree as a stepping stone to the bachelor’s program.

4-YEAR SCHOOLS

Obtaining a performing arts degree from a four-year college or university usually means graduating with a bachelor’s degree. A large number of colleges and universities offer a four-year bachelor’s degree in performing arts related subjects like dance, theatre, and music. Some also have a degree program dedicated to performing arts; students can specialize in one particular arts genre.

Most bachelor’s degrees take four years (or eight semesters) to complete if attending full-time. Accelerated programs might cut down on the time required. Depending on the school, most bachelor’s degrees take about 120 credit hours to complete with a mix of major related courses and foundational classes required for all students.

PERFORMING ARTS SCHOOLS

Schools that specialize in performing arts can be referred to as conservatories, especially if they focus on music or dance. The Julliard School is a very well-known example of a school that focuses on performing arts only; in the case of Julliard, the focus is on dance, drama, and music.

Depending on the school, a bachelor’s or master’s degree is awarded upon completion of the program. Other non-degree possibilities include a diploma, certificate, or simply reaching a certain level of proficiency. For example, some dance schools do not award degrees, but instead have the goal of students reaching a certain level of expertise in their specialty.

In order to be admitted, prospective students must submit an application, which requires an audition or submission of a portfolio. The vast majority of consideration for admission focuses on the prospective student’s desire to pursue the performing arts and their level of talent and future potential. As a result, most performing arts schools place only a little (or no) emphasis on traditional academic metrics, such as standardized test scores and GPAs.

Advice from a Performing Artist

The degree means nothing if you cannot play!

The best part – the gig, the music, the performance and all that jazz is the easy part! It's getting there that's tough. If you are ready for that, then you should look into schools.

For the actual schools, go where your field is at the forefront. Do not blindly walk into a school which has a good name but a weak department for your path. Don't apply to a school renowned for music theory and education if you want to go for jazz performance. Do not look to a school that has an amazing composition program if you're only looking to do opera.

If you do not know what you want to do, be it theory, opera, jazz, composition, etc., then you need to find a school that has something attractive to you and the credibility to teach it. I made the mistake of going to school A with a good reputation when I need school B without the glamorous name. For example, you must know a degree in music education means you will teach K-12 but you cannot teach at University, unless you want to teach Music Education.

Kunal Singh, Jazz Musician

Choosing the Right Performing Arts Program

Choosing the right performing arts school can be a difficult task. There are many options available, whether it’s to attend a traditional four-year college or university or enroll in a more specialized performing arts school. The following is a list of questions to consider when choosing a performing arts program.

Does the school offer a particular type of technique or method in the performing arts genre? While most schools offer a wide range of methods and techniques, some schools tend to prefer one over the other or have a stronger reputation in one over the other. Students with a preference should do research to find which schools can accommodate their learning needs.
Which is more important: a traditional college experience or the advancement of talents? Some students may be interested in a career in the performing arts, but would like to live on campus, join Greek life, attend college football games, etc. For those who crave the college experience, attending a traditional four-year college or university may be a better decision than attending a specialized performing arts school or conservatory.
How certain is a career in the performing arts? Entering a conservatory can be considered as going “all-in” for performing arts. If a student changes their mind or wants a back-up career option, choices may become limited. However, by going to a traditional four-year college, students can double major, with the second major unrelated to performing arts.
What is the school’s geographic location? For performing arts, urban schools tend to be more ideal, all else being equal. This is due to the fact that more performing arts facilities, such as theatres, symphonies, and the like are focused in urban locations. This translates to closer and more numerous opportunities for performers.
What are the faculty like? Faculty bios can tell a lot about the instructors and how renowned they are. However, all of that means little if the faculty can’t connect with students. Therefore, potential applicants should visit the school and talk with as many professors as possible. Then do some research: How active are the faculty members in their respective areas? The more active they are, the more likely they’ll have up-to-date industry information and connections that can help students with their future performing arts career.
What kind of performing opportunities does the school have? Most performing arts schools are bound to have events where students can perform. However, more well-established programs are going to have a greater number of opportunities, both domestic and internationally.
Is the school accredited? Most schools will be accredited, whether it’s by a regional organization, such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education or a national organization, such as the National Association of Schools of Music. Accreditation is important because it shows a given school has met a certain level of quality as confirmed by an independent third party.
Who are some of the recent guest lecturers or performers at the school? The more recognizable and frequent the number of guest performers or lecturers at the school, the more opportunities to network. Additionally, schools with greater recognition, clout, and alumni networks are more likely to have well-known guest lecturers and performers.

Performing Arts Degrees and Certificates

For those seeking a performing arts degree or certification, there are several options available: from certificate or associate up to doctorate. Of the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate level degrees, there are several options of each type.

PERFORMING ARTS CERTIFICATES

Performing arts certificates provide an opportunity to students to gain training, instruction, and information about the performing arts without obtaining a formal degree. At most schools, especially conventional four-year colleges and universities, the certificate must be obtained concurrently with another degree, such as a bachelor’s. At performing arts schools, the certificate may be a standalone program that graduates can use to obtain additional professional training and become more marketable.

There are prerequisites for most certificate programs; however, these prerequisites are applied to the particular classes taken and not the program as a whole. There are usually no electives offered in a performing arts certificate curriculum. Instead, students will choose three or four related classes from a larger pool of classes.

Each school has its own requirements, but a typical performing arts certificate consists of 10 to 25 credit hours. The typical curriculum includes a variety of performing arts classes in order to impart a general level of knowledge in performing arts.

Lastly, there are undergraduate and graduate diplomas that allow students to pursue further education in performing arts without committing to a full degree. Depending on the school, students need to complete 25 to 75 credits to earn the diploma. Graduate diplomas usually require fewer credits that undergraduate diplomas.

Examples of Real-Life Certificate Level Courses

INTRODUCTION TO THEATRE

The three components of theatre are analyzed: directing, design and acting. The history of plays will also be examined.

INTRODUCTION TO DANCE

The historical and theoretical aspects of dance are studied in this course. How dance conveys artistic information will be reviewed as well.

ORCHESTRA

Various types of music and instruments will be studied. This class also includes instruction and public performance.

PERFORMING ARTS ASSOCIATE DEGREES

The typical associate in arts program is approximately 60 credits and takes two years to complete when attending full-time. Community colleges typically offer two types of associate degrees: the applied degree and the general degree. Those who earn the applied degree in performing arts take more targeted classes that prepare students for immediate work in the performing arts industry. Those who earn the general degree take a variety of performing arts classes as well as general education courses, and are prepared to move into their bachelor’s degree program upon completion.

Many associate degree programs have no prerequisites beyond that of earning a high school diploma. However, some programs, such as dance or music, require students to take basic dance or music classes before starting their associate in arts curriculum, or demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in their performing arts category.

Examples of Real-Life Associate Degree Courses

BALLET I

A progression from basic dance, this course teaches students the fundamentals of classical ballet, including theory and technique.

MUSIC THEORY II

This course is intended for students with prior musical knowledge and will expand on theoretical concepts such as harmony and chord identification. Musical instruments and musical composition will also be introduced.

THEATRE I

An entry level course, the use of the human body and voice to convey information is studied. Acting and improvisation concepts will also be taught.

DANCE IN AMERICA

How dance has developed and evolved within the 20th and 21st century is explained. Political and cultural influences, as well as influential dance figures will be discussed.

PERFORMING ARTS BACHELOR’S DEGREES

Performing arts bachelor’s degrees come in three primary flavors: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (BM) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). For music related subjects, students can usually choose between a BM or BA. For other performing arts subjects, students can generally choose between a BA or BFA.

Compared to a BA, the BFA or BM degrees tend to be more performance or studio-oriented and are designed for those who want to become a professional performing artist. The BFA and BM degree also have a smaller liberal arts component compared to the BA degree. In short, BA degrees can be thought of as a liberal arts degree with a major or concentration in performing arts. BM and BFA degrees can be thought of as professional degrees.

While most bachelor’s degrees in fine arts don’t have formal prerequisites, most departments require an audition in order to be accepted. The typical four-year bachelor’s program requires 125 to 165 credits to complete the degree. Also, most traditional colleges and universities have general education requirements.

Examples of Real-Life Bachelor’s Degree Courses

MUSIC HISTORY AND LITERATURE

This course examines musical styles and practices from the Baroque era to present day,

HARMONY AND FORM

Music theory concepts of harmony and musical structure will be covered in this class.

JAZZ THEORY

This class looks in detail at the background of jazz and the form and style that makes this genre unique.

PERFORMING ARTS MASTER’S DEGREES

For those seeking a master’s degree in performing arts, there are three main possibilities: Master of Music (MM), Master of Fine Arts (MFA) or Master of Arts (MA). Similar to the bachelor’s degrees, a MM or MFA degree is more performance or technically-oriented while the MA is more academically or scholarly-oriented. There’s also a Master of Music Education (MME) for those who desire an even more academically-oriented master’s degree in the field of music.

Most master’s degrees take two to three years to complete and consist of 30 to 60 credits. Depending on the program, there is also a performance and/or thesis requirement. As with most other graduate programs, there are no general education class requirements, only classes related to the performing arts specialty.

Examples of Real-Life Master’s Degree Courses

ART OF COMBAT FOR ACTORS

In order to provide believable fights scenes, students learn safe, effective techniques for multiple acting contexts including film, television and stage.

POPULAR ARRANGING

Popular melodies and common chord progressions and methods of arrangement are reviewed in this class

DIRECTING METHODS

The basics of stage directing are provided, along with steps taken to develop a theatre production from start to finish.

PERFORMING ARTS PHD OR DUAL DEGREES

At the doctorate level, the predominant degree in the performing arts is the PhD. A PhD can usually be obtained in a variety of areas, including theatre, musicology, music theory, and music education.

Another doctorate level performing arts degree is the Doctor of Musical Arts. Compared to a PhD in music, the Doctor of Music Arts is generally more practical or performance-oriented, while the PhD is more research-oriented. However, depending on the school, this distinction may be minimal.

Dual degree options are sometimes available for the bachelor’s degree. A traditional four-year university can partner with a local conservatory so that students may obtain performing arts degree along with an unrelated degree.

Performing Arts Toolbox/Checklist

It takes a lot of talent and hard work to make a career as a performing artist. However, there are other skills and tools to assist anyone pursuing a performing arts career.

  • Persistence

    Not only are thousands of hours of practice required to master a performing arts skill, whether it be dancing, singing, acting or playing a musical instrument, persistence is also needed to get through all the rejection that is often received by performing artists. Even highly talented and gifted performing artists will be rejected more often than accepted.

  • Networking

    Succeeding as a performing artist means getting noticed. Networking provides greater opportunities to perform, which means more eyes and ears will notice, which in turn leads to even more opportunities – it is a constant cycle of building a reputation.

  • Thick Skin

    The arts are highly competitive fields which require a lot of hard work and innovation. Performing artists are bound to fail at times, and that can lead to a great deal of criticism. Being able to handle it and bounce back are very important attributes.

  • Physical Stamina

    Whether standing, speaking or dancing on stage for hours, enduring rigorous stunt scenes or playing an instrument for dozens of songs, physical stamina is required. A performing artist must be in proper physical shape in order to perform for the audience.

  • Good Memory

    From remembering lines, chords in a song or specific footwork, performing artists must be able to remember directions without referring back to notes or a script. If last-minute changes are made, they must be able to remember those changes with little time for rehearsal.

  • The Desire to Learn

    To stay relevant in a highly competitive field, performing artists in all genres must always strive to improve and add to their skills and repertoire. The desire will also facilitate creativity.

  • Creativity

    The performing arts are driven by creativity. Coming up with new routines, shows, acts, melodies or ways of playing a familiar work adds to a performing artist’s chances of professional success. Doing something no one else has can be a huge help in standing out amongst the fierce competition.

Performing Arts Specializations

In order to succeed in performing arts, even the most talented individuals must specialize to some degree. This need for specialization is most pronounced in music.

Notice how Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, and Charlie Daniels are known for playing one instrument (cello, trumpet, and fiddle, respectively). Granted, they can play other instruments, but they have specialized in just one. Even with immense talent, in order to be one of the best, performing artists are forced to limit themselves to a select few areas, whether it’s a musical instrument, type of dance, or comedic style.

Not surprisingly, performing arts schools reflect the drive for specialization, especially in music. For example, a masters or doctorate degree in music can have any number of specializations: keyboard, cello, clarinet, violin, jazz, voice, orchestra, education, music theory, and composition.

Options for acting specialization can refer to where the actor works, such as film, television, or theatre. Dancing specialization can refer to a type of dance or where the dancing takes place, but there is also the opportunity to go into a slightly different area, such as choreography.

Interview with a Performing Artist

Kunal Singh talks about being a professional performer.

Why did you choose music as your profession? I believe I chose music for all the right reasons. It's my passion. It is what I enjoy the most in life and it is what I do that also brings the most joy to others around me. I have had a long list of jobs from finance and banking to mechanic and live sound engineer. Music was always calling me.I chose this life because in all honesty, med school sounded too easy and a cop out. I know that sounds bad, but to me, the challenge of solidifying a career and the unwritten laws have always been more engaging. I say that, as both my father and sister are doctors in one regard or another – like the rest of my family.
Tell us about your performing arts degree. I believe I chose music for all the right reasons. It's my passion. It is what I enjoy the most in life and it is what I do that also brings the most joy to others around me. I have had a long list of jobs from finance and banking to mechanic and live sound engineer. Music was always calling me.I chose this life because in all honesty, med school sounded too easy and a cop out. I know that sounds bad, but to me, the challenge of solidifying a career and the unwritten laws have always been more engaging. I say that, as both my father and sister are doctors in one regard or another – like the rest of my family.
What are the greatest rewards and challenges for you as a musician? Well, in my case, the challenge is the reward. I love a challenge. I rise to it and I always come out wiser. The challenge for most is getting over the hurdles of performing and getting gigs. I never look at it that way. I believe sharing your craft is the only responsibility you have as an artist. What the craft is worth is up to you. What your time is worth is also up to you.Aside from a performer, band leader, and all around busy guy, I am also a music teacher. I can tell you this, I love the gig. Gigging is really fun as a band leader. Yes, I'm the first to arrive, the last to leave, and the one with the early mornings, but it's all worth it. To inspire other great musicians to be part of your band, part of your vision and part of the team is nothing short of amazing.I love the idea of playing for an audience. You never know who's listening. It's so true. You will find that someone had their entire day, week, or life turned around by your playing. It's a feeling words cannot describe. It's overwhelming to know your passion and your craft made someone else happy or inspired. In the words of my favorite musician of all time, “It's a kind of magic.”

After Performing Arts School: What’s Next

Once the certificate or degree is in hand, it’s time to go out into the world with the talent, skills and knowledge gained through education and hard work. Make no mistake: earning an education in the performing arts is much easier than making a career out of it. The best option for those who want to immerse themselves in the music, dance, acting or other performing art is to consistently practice, rehearse, study, and work toward the goal every single day.

Those who do enter the performing arts will need to constantly update their skills and keep honing their craft. The actor on stage should work on his or her memorization skills; the dancer should always strive to stretch farther and move faster. The musician should try out new methods, themes and sounds, taking their time to become as good as they can be.

For those who decide that being on a stage isn’t for them, there are numerous other options that make good use of a performing arts degree. Working as a teacher in a performing arts school, stepping into a management role for a theater or dance company, becoming a talent agent, or even working in booking or merchandise can keep a graduate close to the action but not require them to perform.

Actor An actor is someone who portrays a character to an audience through various forms of media, such as television, motion picture or theatre. While the final “product” of an actor usually consists of the delivery of certain lines from a script, much of what an actor does includes learning more about the character they’re trying to convey in order to give a more effective portrayal. This can include background research, consulting with the director or fellow actors, and rehearsing. Median Salary: $39,640 Hourly wage: $19.82 2012-2022 estimated job growth: 4% Numbers employed (2014): 59,210 Minimum education required: There is no formal educational requirement, although many actors have a bachelor’s degree in drama or a related field. Additionally, most actors have at least some form of formal instruction, whether it’s a bachelor’s degree, taking a few classes or completing an acting program at a conservatory.
Dancer Dancer Dancers convey artistry through the physical actions of their bodies, usually accompanied by music. All dancers spend much of their time training and practicing. Depending on the specific type of dance, a dancer can perform in many different contexts, such as with a dance company or for the production of a larger work, like a movie or theatre production. Median Salary: $28,620 Hourly wage: $14.31 2012-2022 estimated job growth: 6% Numbers employed (2014): 11,240 Minimum education required: Formal training is required. Training usually begins at an early age and continues on through high school. Many dancers receive much of their training during their high school years, either at a school specializing in a dance curriculum or extracurricular programs and classes outside of school. Some dancers may seek additional post-secondary training, although that is usually not required.

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