Best Musical Theatre Colleges (BFA/MFA Programs) for Broadway Success


If you’re interested in pursuing a career in musical theatre, it’s probably a good idea to know which colleges will help you maximize your chances of making it big on Broadway. In this article we’ll cover the colleges with the best musical theatre programs, and we’ll also give you an idea of what you should be doing if you want to increase your chances of breaking into Broadway.

Note that the following list is of the best BFA and MFA Musical Theatre programs – students who are serious about pursuing Musical Theatre as a career will apply for BFAs or MFAs in musical theatre rather than the more generalist BA.

Our list was put together with a particular emphasis on the success that a school’s alumni has had on Broadway. If you’re interested in the first-hand data, check out this great thread on College Confidential about this very subject.

Best Musical Theatre Colleges

College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati

CCM has a strong argument for being the gold standard when it comes to musical theatre programs – it’s renowned for its success rates with getting students into Broadway productions. Three of their recent pupils are in the cast of the American musical drama film Newsies, two participated in the musical The Book of Mormon (which won a Tony-award in 2011), and plenty of other former students have had parts in highly other successful productions like Wicked, The Producers, The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia, Spamalot, and many others.

The BFA in musical theatre was the first program of its kind in the US, and many of the other programs listed here were inspired by CCM’s original program. The highly creative and artistic environment makes for a unique learning experience. CCM’s program is well known for its triple-threat approach – graduates are generally adept at all three of the skills that you need to do well on the big stages – singing, dancing, and acting. CCM has a number of performance spaces on campus that allow students to be actively involved in performing throughout the year.

The thing that really makes CCM stand out is the tremendous success that alumni have had on Broadway. The list of alumni who have gone on to have careers in the entertainment industry is extensive and reads like a who’s who of Broadway stars. When adjusted for class size, CCM consistently ranks in the top three when it comes to the number of alumni who manage to make it on Broadway – a convincing argument that CCM might have the very best musical theatre program in the country.

The Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama

The CMU School of Drama is widely considered to be one of the very best musical theatre program available. Students get to perform each and every year in New York and/or Los Angeles in student showcases organized by the School of Drama – and these showcases tend to attract big names from Broadway who’re scouting for new talent. Do well in one of these showcases, and it’s not out of the question that you’ll have an agent before you even graduate.

While students can certainly expect to receive strong instruction in singing and dancing, the area where CMU really excels is in the acting – many people in the theatre and entertainment worlds think of CMU as the very best school when it comes to producing excellent actors and actresses.

The facilities in CMU are nothing to sneeze at – the school boasts a number of excellent performing spaces, and they even have a fully equipped television studio on campus. With countless students who entered the Broadway pantheon after graduating, the CMU Musical Theatre program is one of the oldest and best regarded in the country.

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance

The UM School of Music, Theatre and Dance has a exceptionally strong musical theatre program, and is well known for turning out students who are triple-threats – it’s right there in the name, after all.

Along with CCM and CMU, UMich is one of the schools that most consistently turns its students into successful Broadway performers. It’s also home to a number of excellent performance spaces, including Mendelssohn Theatre, which is one of only a few stages in the US with a curved back wall – this makes for incredible stage acoustics.

If you’re still not convinced that UM has a great musical theatre program, all you need to do is find a Broadway playbill – these days, it’s hard to make it through one without spotting at least one UM alumni. This speaks to the strength of the program.

New York University Tisch School of the Arts

With an acceptance rate of less than 15%, Tisch is widely seen as a top university for anyone who wants to pursue a career in the performing arts, and musical theatre is no exception. That being said, Tisch is generally more well known for its straight acting programs. Still, Tisch does have a pretty strong presence on Broadway, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the school is located right in the center of the theatre world.

Ithaca College

For such a small college, Ithaca definitely punches above its weight when it comes to its musical theatre program. Ithaca also gives students plenty of chance to show off their skills – the college essentially runs its own theatre company and puts on up to 7 shows a year.

If you manage to get into one of these productions, you’ll get hands-one experience of what its like to work as a actor – Ithaca is renowned for putting on student shows that are virtually indistinguishable from professional productions, and the musicals they stage are as polished as any college production you’re likely to see.

Graduating seniors also get to perform in an industry showcase in New York, and for those lucky enough to catch the attention of agents and recruiters, Broadway stardom may not be all that far away.

Penn State School of Theatre

The Penn State School of Theatre is one of the most selective theatre schools out there. This college’s freshman classes that get into the program have an average of 14 – 20 students. Dance is highly emphasized here, and one of the school’s strongest programs. The school focuses on both contemporary and traditional music theatre, and graduates here are among the best in the industry. The list of recent alumni reveals that some of their graduates have found homes in the top echelon of Broadway productions.

Elon University

Elon has a prestigious musical theatre program that is well known for producing graduates who are “triple-threats” – this balanced approach towards musical theatre instruction gives students a versatility that’s extremely helpful for aspiring performers. The harsh truth of pursuing a career in the performance arts is that it’s not easy to make it big – by arming their graduates with a diverse set of skills, Elon ensures that their students have a good chance of being successful as professional performers.

One noteworthy success story is Grant Gustin – he never actually graduated from Elon because he got a part in the cast of the revived West Side Story. Gustin went on to get a part in Glee and now stars as the titular character on The Flash on the CW Network. Gustin is an excellent example of a triple threat, and his example goes to highlight how a far a versatile performance skill set can take you.

Elon exports a lot of talent to Broadway – notable productions that have featured Elon alumni include Fiddler On the Roof, Mamma Mia, Beauty and the Beast, Matilda, and Rent.

Boston Conservatory

Boston Conservatory is a renowned institution for the performing arts – it was the first conservatory to offer an undergraduate degree in theatre. BoCo is probably most well known for it’s strength in dance, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t also offer high quality instruction in acting and singing.

BoCo also offers a ton of performance opportunities to students – it’s been know to put on up to 600 performances a year, so students will have ample opportunity to strut their stuff. Also, thanks to its location in Boston, BoCo offers a nice balance between the performance opportunities offered by being in a major metropolitan city and the pressure of being in a place like New York where you never know who might be watching you perform.

Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music

This private, liberal-arts based college is one of the best options for those who have aspirations of a career in the performing arts. The university serves over 2,000 community members each year through excellent classes, private lessons and summer music programs.

Emphasis in Baldwin tends to be on the musical side. Attending Baldwin also offers a more diverse student experience, since the music conservatory is only one portion of the liberal arts school – students can expect a wider range of experiences when attending Baldwin.

Florida State University: School of Theatre

FSU’s School of Theatre often gets overlooked when it comes to the best musical theatre programs, but make no mistake – when it comes to alumni representation on Broadway, FSU does as well as, if not better than almost anybody else outside of the very top tier (UM, CMU, CCM).

While many people wouldn’t necessarily think of a large state school as a place where creativity can flourish, the theatre school actually only accepts a handful of people each year into their BFA program – it’s extremely selective.

FSU is probably the biggest under-the-radar school on this list (when it comes to musical theatre programs) – it often goes unmentioned when these discussions occur, but the data shows that when it comes to representation on Broadway, FSU musical theatre graduates do about as well as graduates of Tisch and Elon (both ranked higher on this list) and actually do better than some of the schools we listed above.

How to Choose the Musical Theatre Program Best Suited to You

Best Musical Theatre Colleges - Picking a Program that Suits You

Schools can be categorized mainly by their specialty. If you get into a top program, you’ll get an excellent education in all three aspects of MT (Acting, Singing, Dancing), but the truth is, different MT programs usually excel in one area. There are a few colleges that have a reputation for producing true ‘triple-threat’ graduates who really can do everything well.

Cost of Tuition

Getting your Musical Theatre BFA or MFA from a top school can be pretty pricey. After all, building and maintainng theatres, equipment, costumes etc isn’t cheap. To maintain the standards expected from those institutions, the costs are often extremely high.

If cost is an issue for you, you should take note of where you can qualify for in-state tuition – this can reduce your cost burden significantly. For example, the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance costs about $29,000 for in-state students versus approximately double that for out of state students. Obviously, some of the top schools in the list aren’t state schools and will be expensive regardless of what state you’re from.

Best Schools for Musical Theatre Tuition & Fees
Baldwin Wallace U, Conservatory of Music $42,000
Boston Conservatory $40,000
CMU School of Drama $64,000
Elon $43,000
FSU School of Theatre In State: $20,000
Out of State: $35,000
Ithaca College $56,000
Penn State School of Theatre In State: $34,500
Out of State: $47,500
Tisch $80,000
U of Cincinnati, CCM In State: $23,000
Out of State: $38,000
UM School of Music, Theatre and Dance In State: $29,000
Out of State: $58,500

 

In terms of bang for your buck, CCM’s program comes out the winner – it’s the school we gave the #1 ranking to in our list of the best MT programs, and it’s also one of the more affordable options (unless you qualify for in-state tuition somewhere else).

The FSU School of Theatre is also a good choice for those who’re worried about tuition – out of state tuition is $35,000 – that’s very reasonable when compared to the costs of other top programs.

Boston Conservatory is also a reasonably good choice for the budget constrained, and is one of the more affordable options out of the private universities in our list.

Other Considerations – Class Size, Culture, Scholarships and Location

Class size is also very important factor to take in consideration. Since both small and large classes have their advantages and disadvantages, you should look into the average class sizes at the schools your applying to and figure out which ones make for the best fit.

You should also think about what you want from your college experience – while attending a good school is important, it’s also important that you end up in an environment where you feel you can excel. The campus of a performing arts school that’s part of a larger University will be vastly different from a college that only focuses on the arts. If you want a more traditional college experience outside of your artistic pursuits, applying for one of the musical theatre programs at a state schools like Penn State or FSU might make more sense for you. On the other hand, if you’re perfectly happy being surrounded primarily by people who share your worldview, aspirations, and interests, then applying to one of the smaller schools like Boston Conservatory or Tisch (Tisch is technically part of NYU, might make sense for you.

You should take into account whether you prefer being in a metropolitan environment or whether you like the idea of being in a small town. Obviously, there are advantages to being in the city – you might have opportunity to network with industry professionals and you’ll be closer to the action, so to speak. On the other hand, there are also benefits to having a more campus-focused lifestyle – chances are you’ll focus more on improving your craft. Keep in mind that none of the top 3 programs that we list here are located in places that are particularly famous for a thriving theatre arts scene.

Scholarships are essential for students who can’t afford paying the full tuition cost – and let’s face it, college has become so absurdly expensive that almost nobody can afford to pay full tuition.

Most of the colleges on this list offer some kind of merit-based scholarship for their musical theatre programs. Whether or not you get a scholarship depends on your application, and more importantly, your audition with the school. The size of these merit based scholarships can vary – schools can offer anything from a few thousand dollars to full tuition to the most exceptionally talented students.

Most of these schools will also have more typical need-based financial aid programs on top of the merit scholarships we talked about. You should read individual school websites and contact school staff if you have any questions about tuition, scholarships, or financial aid.

If you have more questions about applying for or accepting an offer from a musical theatre program, check out this Q&A from the NYT – it covers many of the most common questions that prospective MT students have.

 

2 comments
  1. Shawn Salamone

    November 6, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    Baldwin Wallace University (BW) welcomes the recognition on your excellent list, but would like to add some information.

    BW is a true “triple threat” builder, with the finest music, acting and dance training and the outcomes to show for it. BW grads appearing in CURRENT Broadway productions including Jill Paice in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, Chris McCarrell in LES MIZ, Steel Burkhardt in ALADDIN, Cassie Okenka in SCHOOL OF ROCK and Kyle Post in KINKY BOOTS! See more Broadway, national tour, and network TV appearances on the BW website: http://www.bw.edu/academics/undergraduate/music-theatre/

    On the web, you’ll also see links to stories by independent journalists and theatre critics who verify the incredible quality of the program under headlines like: “Baldwin Wallace = Broadway Worthy; when Victoria Bussert’s students hit New York, they don’t just show up, they stand out” — The Cleveland Plain Dealer

    The Plain Dealer’s theatre critic quoted a leading Broadway agent as saying, “There’s not an agent or casting director in town that misses that [BW senior] showcase — period. And that’s not the case for all of them. Some of the showcases are attended by 10 people.” Chris Nichols, who represents actors and dancers on Broadway for New York’s the Krasny Office, also told the newspaper, “For my money, Vicky Bussert is running the finest musical theater program in the country.”

    Students at BW enjoy LOTS of performance opportunities on and off campus with rich partnerships that connect them theatres in greater Cleveland and beyond, and a director, Vicky Bussert, who’s active directing productions all over the world!

    So, again, we appreciate being included on your list, but there’s so much more to say about BW MT!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: CCM Named ‘Best Musical Theatre College For Broadway Success’ | THE VILLAGE NEWS BLOG |

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