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Acting Schools in San Francisco, CA with Program Overviews

The San Francisco area has nine colleges that offer acting classes. Learn about the programs, admission info and program requirements for three schools within 15 miles of downtown San Francisco to make an informed education decision.

San Francisco Acting Programs

Students interested in a career in the dramatic arts have several public and private institutions to choose from in the San Francisco area. Acting programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and teach students about character development, movement, improvisation and the audition process. This article highlights three schools, all of which are located just a short drive from downtown San Francisco. Also provided in the article is a table comparing valuable school information, as well as a paragraph mentioning five additional school options.

  • The American Conservatory Theater, which is 1.9 miles from downtown, offers a Master of Fine Arts in Acting and has trained some of the best-known actors of film and stage.
  • Located 1.3 miles from downtown San Francisco, San Francisco State University offers a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and a Master of Arts in Drama.
  • Laney College is located in Oakland, which is 12.8 miles from downtown San Francisco. The school gives students the chance to earn an Associate of Arts in Theater Arts.

Comparison of Schools

The table below makes it easy to compare important school information, such as school types, enrollment numbers, tuition rates and more.

American Conservatory Theater San Francisco State University Laney College
School Type 4-year; private not-for-profit 4-year; public 2-year; public
Total Enrollment (2017) 49* 29,758* 10,891*
Campus Setting Large city Large city Large city
Tuition & Fees (2017-2018) $28,705* $7,254 in-state; $19,134 out-of-state* $1,230 in-state; $7,110 out-of-state*
% of First-Year Students Receiving Some Form of Financial Aid (2016-2017) 100%* 77%* 68%*
Acceptance Rate (2017) N/A 70%* Open admissions*
Retention Rate (2016-2017) N/A 81% for full-time students* 62% for full-time students*
Graduation Rate N/A 54% (students who began their studies in 2011)* 25% (students who began their studies in 2014)*

Source: *NCES College Navigator

American Conservatory Theater

The American Conservatory Theater offers a Master of Fine Arts in Acting that provides students with an opportunity to receive actor training and participate in productions. In addition to the MFA in Acting program, the institution also offers a summer training program and youth conservatory. Illustrious alumni include Annette Bening, Benjamin Bratt, Nicolas Cage, Danny Glover and Teri Hatcher.

Master of Fine Arts in Acting

Following nationwide auditions, only 8-12 students are accepted into the American Conservatory Theater's competitive 3-year program each year. Courses cover topics including auditioning, rehearsal, speech and movement. Students perform classical and modern stage pieces at the Geary Theatre and participate in touring productions of Shakespearean works. In addition, MFA students audition for A.C.T. professional productions.

While being mentored by the professional actors of the company, MFA students are given the opportunity to act as mentors to students in A.C.T.'s Young Conservatory, which offers theater classes to young actors ranging from 8-19 years old. Third-year MFA students exhibit their talents in a showcase for industry professionals in San Francisco, as well New York City and Los Angeles.

San Francisco State University

San Francisco State University (SFSU) is part of the California State University system and offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Colleges and departments at the university include various areas of study, including business, education, ethnic studies, health and social sciences, science, engineering and liberal arts disciplines. Its Department of Theatre Arts, housed in the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, offers an academic and multidisciplinary approach to performing arts.

Bachelor of Arts in Drama - Performance

The Department of Theatre Arts at San Francisco State University offers a Bachelor of Arts in Drama that allows students to concentrate in the areas of play development, technical theater, popular theater and performance. SFSU drama students take acting and theater history classes, as well as production courses; they also serve as members of a production team on a stage show. Performance students take advanced acting courses and participate in main stage productions which require auditions; however, the degree program itself does not require an audition for admission.

Master of Arts in Drama

SFSU offers a Master of Arts in Drama to students wishing to pursue further study in areas including acting, theater production, design, direction and history. Master's program applicants are evaluated on previously completed work by the school's Theatre Arts Graduate Committee. Candidates must also provide references and a statement of purpose describing an area of focus for their studies.

Graduate students take classes in contemporary drama and performance, theatrical history, theatrical writing and dramatic literature. Other classes cover Shakespearean-style productions, American stage and performance theory. Candidates must produce a creative work project or a master's thesis, and a written exam must be taken for successful completion of the school's program.

Laney College

Laney College offers 44 associate's degree and 28 certificate programs. Students who enroll in this Oakland community college have the opportunity to pursue programs in general education, transfer education, vocational education, English curriculum, basic skills education and cooperative work experience education. Programs are also available in theater arts, photography, music, media, dance and art.

Associate of Arts in Theater Arts

The Associate of Arts in Theater Arts at Laney College provides students with basic training and experience in theater. Students take courses in the principles and theory of acting, principles and theory of improvisation and stagecraft. Opportunities are available for students to participate in multiple productions each year. Graduates from the program can pursue continuing education opportunities at the bachelor's degree level.

More School Options

The College of Marin and Canada College are 14 and 25 miles from San Francisco respectively, and both offer associate's degree programs in theater arts. The University of California - Berkeley is 10 miles from San Francisco and offers theater arts programs at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. St. Mary's College of California and California State University - East Bay offer bachelor's degrees with a performance/acting track and are 16 and 22 miles from San Francisco respectively.


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