Acting Schools in Chicago, IL with Overviews of Classes

Research acting schools in Chicago, which currently has several colleges and universities offering programs. Read an overview of programs, admission info and program requirements for three Chicago schools, all less than five miles from downtown, and decide which program is right for you.

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Chicago Acting Schools

There are not many acting schools in Chicago, though prominent theater organizations in the area can provide educational and career opportunities for students. This article looks at three schools that are less than 15 minutes from downtown and offer degree programs in acting, combining classroom training with practical stage experience. Also included is a table of information about the schools, including tuition, enrollment and financial aid statistics, which prospective students need to know. At the end of the article is a listing of a few more area schools that offer acting training.

  • Less than a mile from the city center, Columbia College Chicago offers a minor and two bachelor's degree programs in acting. First-year and transfer students have the opportunity to participate in productions reserved for entering students through the New Stew program, while main-stage productions provide ongoing performance opportunities.
  • University of Illinois at Chicago, about three miles from downtown, offers conservatory-style bachelor's degrees in acting through a recently-added program at its Department of Theatre and Music. This program emphasizes gaining practical experience and developing connections in the Chicago theatre community.
  • The Theatre School at DePaul University, about four miles from the heart of Chicago, offers conservatory bachelor's and master's degrees in acting. DePaul's programs provide unique networking opportunities for graduating students through the Graduate Showcase presented to industry professionals.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Acting
  • Artisanry and Craft Design
  • Playwriting and Screenwriting
  • Theatre Arts Management
  • Theatre Design and Technology
  • Theatre History, Literature and Criticism
  • Theatrical Production

Comparison of Schools

Students need to consider many factors when choosing a college. The following table offers an easy way to compare these important aspects at each school.

Columbia College Chicago University of Illinois at Chicago DePaul University
School Type Four-year; private, not-for-profit Four-year; public Four-year; private, not-for-profit
Total Enrollment (2014) 9,440* 27,969* 23,799*
Campus Setting Large city Large city Large city
Tuition & Fees (2015-2016) $23,344* $13,664 in-state, $26,520 out-of-state* $36,361*
% of Incoming, Full-Time Students Receiving Some Form of Financial Aid (2013-2014) 82%* 82%* 96%*
Acceptance Rate (2014) 89* 74%* 70%*
Retention Rate (2013-2014) 71% of full-time students* 80% of full-time students* 87% of full-time students*
Undergraduate Graduation Rate (2014) 43%* 60%* 71%*

Source: *National Center for Education Statistics - College Navigator.

Columbia College Chicago

Founded in 1890 and located in the heart of downtown, Columbia College Chicago has a Theatre Department with over 20 faculty members that offers an acting minor and two acting bachelor's degrees. The college granted bachelor's degrees in theatre to 85 students in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Minor in Acting

In order to obtain a minor in acting, students must earn passing grades in 18 credits of acting classes. These credits are obtained through six three-credit courses. The required coursework covers basic acting skills, beginning and advanced scene study, voice, movement and theatre improvisation.

Bachelor of Arts in Acting

The B.A. in Acting at Columbia College Chicago requires 47 credits of theatre coursework and 42 course credits in the liberal arts and sciences, with a passing grade in all courses within the major. While not required, pursuing a minor course of study is encouraged. The core theatre curriculum includes courses in design, composition, performance and technique. With approval from their advisor, students may instead take beginning courses in acting, movement and voice. Additional required courses are broken into three levels. At the first level, students are required to take introductory improvisation and scene study courses. At the second level, required coursework includes advanced scene study, character and ensemble work, voice, movement, theatre history and text analysis. At the third level, required courses focus on audition preparation and advanced vocal training. Additional requirements include at least one movement course, in either Feldenkrais technique or stage combat. There is also a text-based course at the third level, focusing on a subject such as women playwrights, Greek drama, Shakespeare or Brecht. There is another third-level course, which may be a text-based course or a performance-based course focusing on a topic such as physical theatre, comedy or film.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting

The B.F.A. in Acting consists of 36 credits in the liberal arts and sciences and 70 credits in theatre, including more advanced acting courses than the B.A. in Acting. Students begin their studies with level one courses in acting, movement, voice, scene study, makeup and improvisation. They must also take technical production classes in crew and stagecraft. Required courses at the second level include additional movement and voice, text analysis, theatre history, advanced scene study and character and ensemble work. Students choose one text-based acting class at the third level, along with an additional third-level acting class. Unlike B.A. students, they are required to take third-level courses in voice, performance theory, auditioning and singing. Students then take two courses in other areas of theatre, such as directing, playwriting or teaching, and one career-focused course, on a topic such as stage combat or dialects and accents.

University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois at Chicago is an affordable option for Illinois-residents that offers acting programs that culminate in a conservatory-style B.F.A. degree. This program began to be offered in fall 2013.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting

The B.F.A. in Acting is a more focused degree than the B.A., requiring 84 credits in theatre and 24 general education credits. Admission to the program is by audition. Students take six courses each in movement and voice and fulfill required acting coursework in fundamentals and seven additional topics, including auditioning, Shakespeare, Chekhov and American theatre. Students must also take courses in theatre history, theatre design and technical theatre, as well as in two of the following four areas: directing, playwriting, performance technique and collaboration. B.F.A. students must participate in the main-stage production every semester.

DePaul University

Students can earn bachelor's and master's degrees through the undergraduate and graduate conservatories at the Theatre School at DePaul University. Accepting around 15% of applicants, the Theatre School has approximately 340 students and a student-faculty ratio of six-to-one.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting

The B.F.A. in Acting at the Theatre School at DePaul University is a four-year program designed to prepare students to begin their performance career. Liberal arts coursework is required during the first three years. The highly-structured program begins with a year of self-exploration, during which students take coursework in movement and speech. The second year focuses on improving acting skills and technique; students work primarily with contemporary pieces and take coursework in scene study, text analysis, movement, stage combat, speech and stage makeup. Performance opportunities are available through theatrical productions reserved for second-year students. During the third year, students join the Acting Company, which guarantees them casting in three public productions annually. Coursework in this year focuses on classical repertoire, with continued scene work and classes in movement and voice. During their final year, students are prepared to transition into professional acting with courses that include developing and creating ensembles, acting for film, preparing for auditions, and the business of acting. The program culminates in a Graduate Showcase, which travels to Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, allowing students to present scenes and monologues to producers, casting directors and agents.

Master of Fine Arts in Acting

The M.F.A. in Acting is a three-year degree designed to train students to work as professional actors. Students have the opportunity to perform in seven productions throughout their studies. During the first year, actors improve their skill and range, participating in self-generated work with ensembles. The second year focuses on both modern and classical technique, including dialects and period styles, through coursework in movement, voice and speech. The third year focuses on connecting students with industry leaders and professional artists in order to prepare them to enter the profession; coursework focuses on networking, self-marketing, producing theatre and creating theatre companies. During the final year, students participate in a production commissioned and written specifically for the graduating class that is directed by a Chicago-area guest artist. Students also participate in the Graduate Showcase, allowing them to present their work to agents, producers and casting directors in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Other School Options

Roosevelt University offers B.F.A. programs in acting and musical theatre while its M.F.A. in Acting program is on hiatus at this time. While Northwestern University does not offer acting-specific programs, it does have a large theatre department that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a PhD in Theatre and Drama. Other schools that offer theatre degrees are: Loyola University Chicago, Elmhurst College and Dominican University.

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