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Acting Degree and Certificate Program Information

Undergraduate and graduate degree programs train students to work as actors for stage, television, motion pictures, and theme parks or events. Explore each program option, common courses and employment information.

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Essential Information

Training to become an actor can be achieved through undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Some online courses may be available. Students often gain experience through classroom and practical experiences, like workshops and productions. Actors perform in a variety of audio and visual presentations including television, motion pictures, and stage performance. They may also work in cabarets, theme parks, or other live events.

Associate's degree programs for theatre studies often require the applicant to prepare an audition and write a short essay of intent, interest and qualification. Most community college programs require high school diplomas or the equivalent, but academies and conservatories may not. In addition to any minimum GPA scores a school may call for, admission requirements for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting usually include auditions, portfolio reviews and interviews. Applicants to a Master of Fine Arts in Performance and Acting program must have obtained a 4-year degree and maintained the minimum GPA as required by the school as well as submit portfolios of completed creative work and performance programs (including writing, producing, and acting roles).


Associate's Degree in Theatre Studies

Theatre programs teach students the theoretical principles of acting through class lectures, guest artists, workshops, practica and live productions of classical and contemporary performance works. Associate's degree programs often allow the student to either terminate their study after two years with an Associate of Science degree to begin entry-level employment as an actor or they may transfer credits to a 4-year bachelor's program. The transfer program requires students to complete approximately 60 additional general education credits--such as English composition, communication, and analytical thinking--in addition to core coursework. Samples of the theater core include:

  • Technique and characterization
  • Movement and voice
  • Improvisation, mime and mask
  • Acting for film and stage
  • Auditioning, rehearsing and performing
  • Scenery and costume construction and design

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting

In the bachelor's program, classroom study, school theatre and film productions and studio training provide dynamically creative learning opportunities for every aspect of production. Bachelor's programs are more likely than conservatories to admit students without a waiting period and some offer internship opportunities with professional stage companies. Students are required to take liberal arts and core subject courses alongside theatre and acting courses. Some possible course topics include:

  • Business of theatre
  • Stage managers
  • Advanced voice and movement work
  • Costumes and makeup
  • Lighting placement and techniques
  • Stagecraft

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Master of Fine Arts in Performance and Acting

Graduate-level acting programs seek candidates who demonstrate talent, commitment, intelligence and imagination for the craft of acting. Advanced degrees have more challenging auditions that feature a variety of dramatic and comedic monologues. Master's degree students focus on applying critical theories and insights to contemporary productions and evaluate the historical, aesthetic and industrial components of production. Classroom training, workshops, onstage production work, and/or a thesis advance a student's knowledge of acting theories, practices and procedures and prepare graduates to act in diverse venues and to perform a wide range of material. Often led by industry professionals, coursework consists of classes in subjects that include:

  • Dialects and accents
  • Televised acting
  • Improvisational styles
  • Physical performances and choreography
  • Meisner and Stanislavsky methods
  • Character studies

Popular Careers

Undergraduate students may accept entry-level jobs in regional or national radio and television stations, local theatre or film groups, or other media and performance art industries. Inexperienced actors often find work with independent film production companies. Other possible career options include:

  • Theme park or cruise line characters
  • Cabaret or touring musical productions
  • Historical re-enactor
  • Shakespearean faire actor
  • Narrator or voice actor

Continuing Education

Being self-employed, actors are also responsible for the business aspects of their careers. Professional associations often sponsor workshops that provide information and teach management skills related to finding work, managing cash flow, procuring health insurance and managing time effectively.

Advanced degree holders attend workshops in conservatories and colleges and train with drama coaches. Many actors develop additional performance skills like singing and dancing to diversify their professional portfolio. Actors often hone their skills by taking increasingly difficult and diverse roles. Completion of a baccalaureate degree program provides greater opportunity for education, training and experience that may be valued by producers and casting agents.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that many acting professionals leave the field because work is hard, hours are long and pay is often low. Employment opportunities for acting professionals are expected to grow 10% between the years of 2014 and 2024, which is faster than the national average. Developing content for cell phone and other mobile media devices, interactive media platforms and online movies will augment traditional acting opportunities.

The median hourly wage for actors in May 2015 was $18.80. The most successful actors earn extraordinary amounts, but many more professionals work sporadically and supplement their incomes by holding jobs outside the field, according to the BLS. Depending on the state, some graduate-degree holders may be able to work as acting teachers at the high school or community college levels.

Aspiring actors can study and perfect their craft at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels, as well as pursue continuing education experiences through workshops after graduation. Although the employment outlook is positive, many actors find the work to be hard and the pay to be low.

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