How to get into a performing arts school?


I’m sitting NCEA level 2 this year and once I finish my final year at school I want to study at a performing arts university in the US. How can I better my chances of getting in and are there any requirements?
Also what are the best performing art schools to study at?


Hi Kate,

Meredith here. I am a recent graduate from the University of Michigan where I received my BFA in Theatre Performance (Acting).

Your question is tricky, because determining the “best” schools depends on what you’re looking for. Is it important for you to be in a big city? (If so, NYU or USC could be on your radar) Do you want a conservatory program or a conservatory-style program where you are also encouraged to explore other liberal arts courses? Are you most interested in acting, singing, dancing, or all three? Would you rather do live theatre, film and television, or both? These questions will help guide you. In terms of Universities whose alumni are most represented in professional theatre and film and television, I would say University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon, Juilliard, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and NYU are among the top. That being said, I know so many who went to programs at other universities, had amazing experiences, and are working professionally. So my advice is to define what is important to you and then begin your search from there.

In terms of requirements, each school has its own specifications. Generally, you will be asked to prepare two contrasting monologues and/or one or two songs (usually 16 or 32 bar cuts) if you are doing musical theatre. The length of the monologues and whether a certain style is required (Shakespeare, contemporary, etc.) varies from school to school. As an international applicant, you may be asked to submit a video recording of you performing in place of or before coming to do a live audition. There are also schools (like Northwestern) that have great programs and do not require an audition at all. You can find all of these details on each school’s website.

Since you still have quite a bit of time before you apply, I would encourage you to start reading plays and searching for material early. Find pieces that speak to you and work for your age. And keep performing as much as you can!


Hey Kate

Meredith has done a pretty stellar job with her answer but I’ll chip in a few things that might help you too. I have experience with the acting and drama side of performing arts so if your into dance or music I may be of no help, I digress.

Research and study about these programs as much as you can, do a google search of the best schools in the area you want to study in and city you want to live, with enough time you can compile a list of schools that suit you. As lovely as it would be to get a straight up list of perfect schools that leave it super clear cut for you, its not that simple. You can read and ask others all you like but be aware its a lot of work to find all the information that will suit you specifically, and you must yourself, it can be stressful and can take a long time so just be aware of the commitment.

That leads on to my next point, save money. Thats a big one. Flying over to the US to do an audition, not cheap. Especially if you end up doing multiple callbacks, which means multiple trips. You’ll need as much money as you can so that “I cant afford it” doesn’t become an excuse as to why you cant pursue your goal.

Applying for lots of schools is key too, and schedule the auditions close to one another in the same city so you can kill many birds with one stone. Do all of the auditions over the period of a week if you can and make a trip out of it. Not too many, but a handful at least, that way you have back ups.

Though in my experience most US drama schools don’t require any specific academic requirements, some may require you to sit an SAT if you get far enough along in the audition process. So do some research there too.

Lastly don’t stress to much about what acting school you go to. If you have passion, work hard and have a bit of talent, your skills can be cultivated almost anywhere, don’t get to hung up on what school is “the best” bad actors can go to great schools and still leave arguably bad, and good actors can go to smaller less known schools and do amazing work. Be aware no program no matter how highly regarded will guarantee your success.

Look for schools where you think the training will serve you best, after all at the end of the day you cant walk into an audition, show them your degree and what school you went to, and they say, “Oh great you’ve got the part.”

Hope something there helps

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