The Best Performing Arts Colleges

In looking at different sites, the idea here was to get an overall view of what are considered the top Performing Arts colleges in the US.  There is no scientific formula or criteria here.  This is simply more of an observational, snapshot list.   I am not promoting or recommending one school over the other.  This is for informational purposes only.  It comes as no surprise that New York and California, specifically New York City and Los Angeles, are heavily represented.  Here’s what I saw.  I looked at five different Top 5 lists compiled from different websites.  The sites were CollegeRank, CollegeGazette, Niche, CollegeFactual, and PrepScholar.  Other information was taken from the school websites.


New York University appeared in 4 of the 5 lists.  Located in New York City, NYU is a private research university. Founded in 1831 by Albert Gallatin as an institution to “admit based upon merit rather than birthright or social class”, NYU’s historical campus is in Greenwich Village.  Tisch School of the Arts was founded on August 17, 1965.  Tisch is a training ground for artists, scholars of the arts, and filmmakers; the school merges the technical training of a professional school with the academic resources of a major research university to immerse students in their intended artistic disciplines. The school is divided into three Institutes: Performing Arts, Emerging Media, and Film & Television.


Yale University landed on 3 of the 5 lists.  Located in New Haven CT, Yale is a private Ivy League research university founded in 1701 as the Collegiate School.  It is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.  The Yale School of Art was founded in 1869 as the first professional fine arts school in the United States, it grants Masters of Fine Arts degrees to students completing a two-year course in graphic design, painting/printmaking, photography, or sculpture.  The Yale School of Music, founded in 1894,  offers three graduate degrees: Master of Music (MM), Master of Musical Arts (MMA), and Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA), as well as a joint Bachelor of Arts—Master of Music program in conjunction with Yale College, a Certificate in Performance, and an Artist Diploma.


Northwestern University also hit 3 of the 5 lists.  Located in Evanston IL just outside of Chicago, Northwestern was founded in 1851 by nine men whose goal was to establish a university that would serve the former Northwest Territory.  The Northwestern School of Communication was founded in 1891.  The school offers 6 major degrees, 2 dual degree programs, 5 minor degrees, and 16 module certifications for undergraduates, as well as 10 masters programs, 4 masters/doctorate programs, and 5 doctorate programs for graduates. It consists of five departments: the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Department of Communication Studies, Department of Performance Studies, Department of Radio/Television/Film, and Department of Theatre.  Per the Northwestern website, “Whether your focus is acting, directing, playwriting, production or design, you’ll have ample opportunity to practice your craft. As many as forty productions are staged each year in the multi-stage Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, with an equal number of student productions across campus.”


Juilliard School appeared on 3 of the 5 lists as well landing at # 1 on two of those lists.  Also located in New York City, Juilliard is a private performing arts conservatory. The school trains students in dance, drama, and music.  It is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading performing arts schools, with some of the most prestigious arts programs.  The Institute of Musical Art, Juilliard’s predecessor institution, was founded in 1905 on the premise that the United States did not have a premier music school and too many students were going to Europe to study music.  The dance division was founded in 1951, and the drama division was founded in 1968.


USC and UCLA each made it on 2 of the 5 lists.  The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1880 by Robert M. Widney, it is the oldest private research university in California.  USC began its music program in 1884 and founded its drama department in 1945.  The USC School of Dramatic Arts blends artistic training in a conservatory environment with the full academic experience found only within a major research university.  The University of California Los Angeles is a public research university in Los Angeles, California. UCLA traces its early origins back to 1882 as the southern branch of the California State Normal School (now San Jose State University). It became the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1919, making it the second-oldest (after UC Berkeley) of the 10-campus University of California system.  The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (UCLA TFT) began at UCLA as the Theater Arts Department in 1947.  Its creation was groundbreaking in that it was the first time a leading university had combined all three (theater, film and television) of these aspects into a single administration.


Honorable Mention:  California Institute for the Arts (or CalArts) in Valencia CA and Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh also made 2 of the 5 lists.