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Performing Arts Colleges and Schools in California

There are over 70 schools within the state of California that have performing arts degree programs. Read an overview of the 10 largest schools' programs, requirements, and tuition info and find out which school is the right one for you.

Essential Information

California students who are interested in the performing arts have many program options within the state at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These programs may have emphases within them to help students customize their education. In some cases, credits from a program may transfer to a higher-level degree program.

Students may need to audition or provide a portfolio in order to be admitted to a program. Graduate students may be required to complete a thesis or a comprehensive exam. Additionally, students may have the opportunity to participate in performances. Profiled below are the ten largest public and private non-profit schools in California that offer performing arts programs, as well as a comparison table that highlights key tuition and program info.


American River College

American River College is a 2-year school located in Sacramento. Students interested in the performing arts can find certificate and associate's programs in the theatre arts. The certificate programs are offered in acting, children's theatre, costuming, musical theatre and technical theatre. Individuals who enroll in the associate's program can select between concentrations in acting and technical theatre. Some courses common to both programs include theatre basics, stagecraft and acting techniques. All theatre arts students have the opportunity to participate in plays, improvisation performances and solo acts. The school theatre facilities provide enough space for full-scale productions.

El Camino Community College District

This community college in Torrance offers the following performing arts programs: Associate in Arts (AA) in Dance, AA in Theatre with a specialization in acting and AA in Music. All students have the opportunity to perform in front of an audience, and the school hosts main stage productions, choirs, orchestras and formal dance showings. Music students can choose a specialization like keyboarding or general music. Associate degree courses range from jazz, ballet, acting fundamentals and much more.

Long Beach City College

Situated in the city of Long Beach, this 2-year college offers both theatre and dance programs. The school has an Associate in Arts in Theatre program with emphasis areas in general, technical or acting. Topics covered in all three areas include performance, acting and production. Students working toward the Associate in Arts in Dance degree study choreography, dance techniques and ballet. The school also has a dance club that provides scholarship opportunities to exceptional students.

Pasadena City College

Students at this Pasadena school can find an associate's program in theatre arts. The 60-credit Associate of Arts in Theatre Arts program is designed for students who plan to transfer to a 4-year school. Courses include performance and rehearsal, acting basics, studio production fundamentals and more. Although the school doesn't offer any dance programs, the Performing and Communication Arts Department has a range of dance electives like jazz, ballet, ethnic dance and modern dance.

San Jose State University

This San Jose school offers undergraduate programs for students interested in dance and theatre, as well as a graduate program in theatre. Undergraduates can earn a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. Both require 120 credits and allow students to specialize in jazz or modern dance. The 120-credit theatre major provides courses in directing, screenwriting, acting, stage management and costuming, to name a few. Students who seek to major in an area outside the performing arts can still gain exposure to the field by selecting a 20- to 21-credit minor in theatre arts, musical theatre or dance.

Graduate students can earn a Master of Arts in Theatre Arts. To enroll in the program, they must submit a portfolio and possess an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. This 30-credit program includes core and elective courses in performing arts history, scriptwriting, graduate research and dance. Students have a choice of a thesis or a non-thesis (examination) option.

University of California - Davis

Located in Davis, this university has undergraduate and graduate programs in the dramatic arts. Undergraduate dramatic arts majors can choose an emphasis in theatre or dance. Theatre students take courses like acting, analyzing performance and movement fundamentals, while dance students study styles including ballet, jazz and hip-hop. Students may also minor in the dramatic arts.

Graduate students can earn a Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Arts. The program requires students to complete a thesis, and they may take courses in choreography, directing and design.

University of California - Irvine

This Irvine university has degrees in performing arts like dance, drama and musical theatre. Those interested in dance or musical theatre must audition to be admitted. Musical theatre courses combine dance and drama, as well as class topics such as production theory, scripting and American musical theatre history. The drama program integrates professional performance training and classroom academics, while the dance programs cover choreography, dance, research and performance opportunities.

At the graduate level, students can earn a Master of Fine Arts in dance or drama, as well as a doctorate in drama and theatre. Drama students may select an emphasis in acting. The research-oriented doctoral program is the only one of its kind in the country, and it provides seminars and teaching opportunities.

University of California - Los Angeles

This university in Los Angeles offers a plethora of undergraduate and graduate programs in the performing arts. Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Dance program complete at least 102 units, including classes like dance theories and methods and dance improvisation. The Bachelor of Arts in Theatre allows students to select an elective sequence like acting or general theatre studies. Students can also minor in theatre.

Graduate students can pursue a Master of Arts or a Doctor of Philosophy in Culture and Performance through the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. These programs allow students to combine creative and scholarly work in selected areas like dance, traditional cultural performance and ethnography. Additionally, the department offers a 72-unit Master of Fine Arts in Dance program, and the Theatre Department has a Master of Arts in Theatre as well as a Master of Fine Arts in Acting.

University of California - San Diego

Located in La Jolla, this school awards performing arts degrees in theatre and dance. Undergraduates can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Dance or Theatre. Dance majors study kinesthetic movement and expression under the tutelage of seasoned dance professionals. Those who select theatre have the option to design a broad liberal arts program or to choose a theatre-intensive curriculum in preparation for graduate school. The university also offers minors in dance and theatre.

Graduate students can earn a Master of Fine Arts in Acting and Dance. The school also offers a joint Doctor of Philosophy program in drama and theatre in collaboration with UC Irvine.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is located in Los Angeles, and it offers undergraduate and graduate programs in theatre and dance. Undergraduate students can pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Performing Arts, which covers analysis and appreciation of various disciplines, such as architecture, fine arts, cinema, dance, music and theatre. The school also has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting program. The undergraduate dance program provides training in both the craft and the business knowledge required of professional dancers. Students interested in obtaining formal education in the performing arts without committing to a major can minor in dance, performing arts, applied theatre arts, musical theatre or dramatic arts.

The 3-year Master of Fine Arts in Acting is a conservatory-style program that has training in movement, voice, diction and dramatic analysis. Educators and individuals seeking to bring theatre into non-traditional realms might be interested in the 1-year Master of Arts in Applied Theatre Arts program. Some of the many classes students can take include cultural fieldwork, community engagement, community theatre and writing culture.

School Comparison: At a Glance

School Name School Type & Setting Performing Arts Degree Programs Offered Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (2012-2013)
American River College 2-year, public; large suburb Acting Certificate,
Children's Theatre Certificate,
Costuming Certificate,
Musical Theatre Certificate,
Technical Theatre Certificate,
Associate of Arts in Theatre Arts
$1,104 in-state; $7,440 out-of-state*
El Camino Community College District 2-year, public; large suburb Associate of Arts in Dance,
Associate in Arts in Theatre,
Associate in Arts in Music
$1,142 in-state; $5,678 out-of-state*
Long Beach City College 2-year, public; large city Associate in Arts in Theatre,
Associate in Arts in Dance,
Certificate of Accomplishment in Vocational Media- Film Acting
$1,182 in-state; $7,398 out-of-state*
Pasadena City College 2-year, public; midsized city Associate of Arts in Theatre Arts $1,152 in-state; $6,180 out-of-state*
San Jose State University 4-year, public; large city Minor in Dance,
Minor in Musical Theatre,
Minor in Theatre Arts,
Bachelor of Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts,
Master of Arts in Theatre Arts
$7,378 in-state; $18,538 out-of-state*
University of California - Davis 4-year, public; small suburb Minor in Dramatic Art,
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre & Dance,
Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Art
$13,951 in-state; $38,659 out-of-state*
University of California - Irvine 4-year, public; midsized city Bachelor of Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Drama,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Theatre,
Master of Fine Arts in Dance,
Master of Fine Arts in Drama,
Doctor of Philosophy in Drama and Theatre
$13,252 in-state; $37,960 out-of-state*
University of California - Los Angeles 4-year, public; large city Minor in Theatre,
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre,
Bachelor of Arts in Dance,
Master of Fine Arts in Dance,
Master of Arts in Theatre,
Master of Fine Arts in Acting,
Master of Arts in Culture and Performance,
Doctor of Philosophy in Culture and Performance
$12,763 in-state; $37,471 out-of-state*
University of California - San Diego 4-year, public; large city Minor in Theatre,
Minor in Dance,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre,
Master of Fine Arts in Acting,
Master of Fine Art in Dance,
Doctor of Philosophy in Drama and Theatre
$13,530 in-state; $38,238 out-of-state*
University of Southern California 4-year, private not-for-profit; large city Minor in Dance,
Minor in Performing Arts,
Minor in Applied Theatre Arts,
Minor in Musical Theatre,
Minor in Dramatic Arts,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Performing Arts Studies,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting,
Master of Fine Arts in Acting,
Master of Arts in Applied Theatre Arts
$50,277*

Source: *NCES College Navigator.

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