Acting College Program Overviews

Though acting is a craft that doesn't require a certain level of education, many aspiring actors choose to complete formal training programs at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels.

Essential Information

Students who attend acting colleges are expected to gain the theoretical knowledge and practical skills that allow them to perform onstage or on film. General program fields include acting, theatre, and drama.

Associate's and bachelor's degrees require a high school diploma or the equivalent. Bachelor's degrees often require a theater resume, fees, standardized test scores and essays. Master's programs require a bachelor's degree. Generally, an audition is required at all levels. Participation in student-run productions is typically required within the curricula of all of these programs.

Associate of Fine Arts in Acting

Associate degree programs in acting are rarer than regular 4-year theater and drama programs, but they do exist, particularly on the West Coast or in New York City. The goal of a 2-year acting program is to provide students with an intensive understanding of the craft of acting. Many are geared towards preparing students to take on paid acting roles upon graduation and so focus on the actual, practical skills of the craft.

Admission to an associate degree program related to acting typically requires the completion of a high school degree program or GED. A school may require that a student submit acting reels or audition as part of the admission process.

An associate program in acting is a good choice for students who wish to transfer to a 4-year institution and major in acting. Practical, career-focused courses included in an associate's degree program in acting include:

  • Voice techniques
  • Scene study
  • Movement
  • Film history
  • Acting for film and stage
  • Improvisation

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama

One of the most common degree programs available for an aspiring actor is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama. Such a program is popular because as students learn the craft of acting, they can also gain a well-rounded education by completing electives in science and the humanities. They also have more opportunity to learn about different aspects of the theater, including set design, wardrobe styling, screenwriting, directing, choreographing and more.

The most common prerequisite for a baccalaureate drama program is a high school diploma, letters of recommendation and a standard in-person audition or the submission of demo reel. Institutions may also require a photo, theatre resume, completed application, a fee, SAT or ACT scores and autobiographical essay.

A bachelor's degree program in acting has more advanced acting and performance courses and typically delves into the nature of script writing and directing. Actors should have a strong sense of the entire theater and film creation process to better understands the actor's role in that procedure. Some coursework involved in an undergraduate program in drama or theater might include:

  • Introduction to theater
  • Technical acting
  • History of theater
  • Modern drama
  • Acting practicum
  • Understanding scripts

Master of Fine Arts in Drama

A graduate degree program in drama allows students to make an even deeper investigation into the craft of acting. Students spend a great deal of time perfecting the technical aspects of acting, including mastering dialogue and accents, affecting various speech techniques, mastering improvisation and taking cues from different directors.

A bachelor's degree in drama, theater, English or a related topic is a typical prerequisite for a graduate degree program in drama and acting. The competition for spots in a graduate program in acting is often strong, so professional auditions and demo reels are often used in consideration for awarding placement.

A master's degree program in acting or theater features more advanced acting and performance courses. These courses delve into the various thematic areas of acting, such as the differences between comedic and dramatic acting. Some of the advanced courses found in a graduate program in acting include:

  • Advanced acting
  • Advanced movement
  • Comedy and Dramatic acting
  • Advanced voice techniques
  • Textual studies
  • Studio production

Possible Career Options

Graduates of associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs are typically all on the same level when it comes to looking for employment. Although graduates of a master's degree program may have had more time to hone their craft, the following careers may be open to those actors who can master an audition:

  • Film actor
  • Commercial actor
  • Theater actor
  • Classically trained or Shakespearean actor
  • Voiceover actor
  • Television host
  • Acting coach
  • Drama professor

Students pursuing acting can consider programs at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's level that go over various aspects of the craft, including voice, comedic and dramatic acting, understanding scripts, and more. These programs can help students enter into careers as actors in various settings, as well as teaching positions in drama departments.

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