For generations, storytelling through performance art has enriched humanity. The following 10 Best Master's Degrees in Theater & Drama train actors for stellar performances on stage and screen.
From Shakespeare to Spielberg, the world of theater and drama has helped us understand our humanity. Whether it's a classic play or a surreal film, the dramatic arts can serve as a brain-bending puzzle, a welcome escape, or an emotional release. The following 10 Best Master's Degrees in Theater & Drama offer advanced training for actors, helping them express characters authentically and effectively.
At their core, the following list of acting programs focuses on performing arts skills such as voice and movement. They may also offer specialized skills in areas such as musical theater, audition skills, and diversity in film. Students can expect to receive hands-on experience onstage, from single scenes to full-length professional productions.
Graduates of these programs may go on to work as actors on stage and screen. They may work in environments from local theater companies to Broadway plays to Hollywood sets. Alternatively, graduates may pursue positions in university theater departments. Actors can generally expect to have inconsistent, unpredictable schedules with frequent travel.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, actors earned a 2018 median wage of $17.54 per hour, though certain skilled – or especially lucky – actors can make much more. The field is experiencing a projected growth rate of 12 percent, which is faster than average. With the current "golden age of television" and new platforms such as Netflix, the strong demand for and consumption of movies and TV shows is expected to keep growing.
The staff of Grad School Hub has compiled the following 10 Best Master's Degrees in Theater & Drama for the 2019-20 academic school year based on public data released from educational, commercial, and government databases. Data contributed from sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, and the U.S. Department of Labor plays a significant role in how graduate degree programs are ranked because institutional transparency is essential for deciding which career path is right for you. Based on this data, GSH organizes information into five weighted categories, which are:
- Alumni Feedback: 20%
- Continued Enrollment: 20%
- Degree Selectivity: 10%
- Graduate Expenses: 25%
- Projected Annual Salary: 25%
A more comprehensive evaluation of how each category is determined and scored is accessible through our Ranking Methodology page.
Here are the 10 Best Master's Degrees in Theater/Drama for 2019 – 2020!
#10 – Pace University
Master of Fine Arts in Acting
New York, NY
Pace University offers a Master of Fine Arts in Acting through its Actors Studio Drama School. The training program is rooted in the Stanislavski method of acting. Students learn acting methodology, language, and craft, before moving on to specialized training in voice and movement. They work with an ensemble comprised of actors, directors, and playwrights for a third-year Repertory Season. The Repertory Season involves weekly performances ranging from single scenes to full-length plays. Students' best work is showcased throughout the program at end-of-semester "festivals," which are open to the public. The intensive program spans three years.
Pace University was established as a business school in 1906 by the Pace brothers. Today, it is a private university offering undergraduate and graduate program. The university is particularly noted for its Actors Studio Drama School and Inside the Actors Studio television show. The university also has colleges of arts and sciences, business, computer science and information systems, education, health professions, and law. It also operates a women's justice center in Yonkers, New York. The university has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York. U.S. News & World Report ranks Pace at No. 177 in National Universities.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $30,408
#9 – Brown University
Master of Fine Arts in Acting
Brown University offers a Master of Fine Arts in Acting. The degree program delivers professional actor training through rigorous prescribed courses. The core curriculum consists of classes in acting, physical theater, and voice, supplemented by specialized workshops taught by field professionals. The program moves from training and refinement of student technique to the practical application of these skills. Each year of the three-year program has its own theme: Realism, Verse, and Style. Outside the classroom, students can expect to receive acting assignments from the local Trinity Repertory Company. Each student will participate in studio and professional productions, earning them an Equity card upon graduation.
Founded in 1764, Brown is the seventh-oldest university in the United States, and one of the nine colonial schools founded before the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. It was also the first college in the nation to accept students of all religious faiths. The main campus is situated in the College Hill Historic District of Providence, Rhode Island. The private Ivy League research university offers some of the most highly regarded theater and playwriting programs in the country. Providence's Trinity Repertory Company is home to the nation's last long-standing resident acting company. U.S. News & World Report ranks Brown at No. 21 in Most Innovative Schools, No. 17 in Best Value Schools, and No. 14 in National Universities.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $54,320
#8 – Northeastern Illinois University
Master of Arts in Communication, Media and Theatre
Northeastern Illinois University offers a Master of Arts in Communication, Media and Theatre. The degree program is designed for students seeking advanced corporate positions, teaching positions, or further graduate study in the realms of communications, media, and theatre, The 30-credit curriculum includes core courses in Communication Theory, Dramatic Theory, and Mass Communication Theory. Elective offerings include Comparative Performing Arts; Media and Cultural Studies; and Theatre Management. Students can also attend seminars in areas including interpersonal communication, new media, and problems in group communication. The program culminates in either a comprehensive exam or a master's thesis.
NEIU was established in 1867 as a teachers' college. Today, it is a public university offering degrees through its Colleges' of Arts and Sciences, Business and Management, and Education. It is a designated Hispanic Serving Institution. The main campus is located in the North Park community area of Chicago, Illinois, and the school operates three additional campuses throughout the city. It serves its diverse student body through facilities including the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs and the Carrithers Center of Inner City Studies. The university's Department of Communication, Media and Theatre feature a state-of-the-art Video Production Lab, a Film and Television Library, and a Stage Center Theatre.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $7,273 in-state; $14,548 out-of-state
#7 – Emerson College
Master of Arts in Theatre Education & Applied Theatre
Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Education & Applied Theatre
Emerson College offers programs leading to either a Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Education & Applied Theatre. Students can follow a track in Theatre and Community or Theatre Teacher Education. The curriculum integrates both theory and practice in theatre arts. The MA program consists of 36 credit hours, which can be completed in one to two years of full-time study or two and a half years part-time. The MFA program consists of 48 credit hours, which can be completed under three years while attending full-time, or three and a half years while attending part-time. Graduates of either program or track can earn Massachusetts state licensure as a theatre teacher for pre-K through grade 12. MFA students can also obtain licensure to teach at the college level.
Emerson was founded in 1880 as a "school of oratory," focused on public speaking. Today, it is a private college with a foundation in the liberal arts and a focus on arts and communications. The campus is located in Boston's historic Washington Street Theatre District, with satellite locations in Los Angeles and the Netherlands. The main campus includes the Cutler Majestic Theatre, the Paramount Center, and the Tufte Performance Production Center. The school is an establishing member of the ProArts Consortium, which is comprised of six Boston schools dedicated to collegiate art education. U.S. News & World Report ranks Emerson at No.10 in Most Innovative Schools and No. 6 in Regional Universities-North.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $30,024
#6 – Yale University
Master of Fine Arts in Acting
New Haven, CT
Yale University offers a Master of Fine Arts in Acting through its School of Drama. The degree program combines classroom training and extensive work in staged productions. Each class of actors trains as an ensemble and each ensemble teams up with two others to form a larger company of actors. Among the production, opportunities are Drama 50, a three-week workshop collaboration between first-year actors, directors, playwrights, and more. Students may also participate in the Langston Hughes Festival of New Work, Shakespeare Repertory Projects, Yale Cabaret, and so on. The Yale Repertory Theatre is a Tony Award-winning professional theater which produces several plays a year that drama students can participate in. The degree program generally requires three years in residency.
Founded in 1701, Yale is the third-oldest university in the United States, and also one of the nine colonial schools established before the American Revolution. The private Ivy League research university is located in downtown New Haven, Connecticut. It also operates a campus in West Haven and nature preserves throughout New England. The Yale School of Drama was established in 1955 and is housed in a Collegiate Gothic building. Notable Yale alumni include actors Edward Norton, Lupita Nyong'o, and Meryl Streep. U.S. News & World Report ranks Yale at No. 4 in Best Value Schools and No. 3 in National Universities.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $42,100
#5 – DePaul University
Master of Fine Arts in Acting
DePaul University offers a Master of Fine Arts through its Theatre School. The degree program prepares graduates for both stage and screen. The first year of the curriculum focuses on imagination, movement, and voice. Students work on self-directed ensemble presentations, production work, and an ensemble studio performance directed by a guest artist. In the second year, students explore modern and classic plays while continuing to work on voice and movement in a period context. Second-year students enter the school's Acting Company. In the third year, students have opportunities to connect with industry professionals and explore the business aspects of the acting profession. The program culminates with a written thesis. Each student can expect to participate in seven productions throughout the program.
DePaul was founded by Vincentian Catholics in 1898. The private university is now the largest Catholic university in the United States. Its universities are located in the Lincoln Park and Loop areas of Chicago, Illinois. The university emphasizes the recruitment of first-generation students and those from underserved communities. Founded in 1925, DePaul's Theatre School is the oldest theater conservatory in the Midwest. The school has a "learning by doing" philosophy, emphasizing production participation. DePaul alumni include actors Gillian Anderson and John C. Reilly. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University at No. 54 in Best Value Schools.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $19,032
#4 – University of San Diego
Master of Fine Arts in Acting
San Diego, CA
The University of San Diego awards a Master of Fine Arts in Acting in collaboration with the Old Globe Theatre. The degree program recruits seven students each year, allowing for individualized attention. It is a professional actor training program with a focus in classical training and an emphasis on participation in the Globe's productions. Because The Old Globe is modeled after Shakespeare's Globe in London, the training program is centered around Shakespeare. Students in the program have the opportunity to take a theater tour in London. Each student also receives a full university scholarship and a stipend from the Globe. The intensive program spans two years of year-round study.
USD was founded in 1949 as the San Diego College for Women. It is now a private Roman Catholic research university. The campus sits atop a mesa overlooking San Diego's Mission Bay and features Spanish Renaissance architecture, and has been named one of the most beautiful educational establishments in the United States. U.S. News & World Report ranks USD at No. 85 in National Universities and No. 66 in Best Value Schools. The Old Globe Theatre is located in San Diego's Balboa Park.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $26,712
#3 – Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
Master of Fine Arts in Performance and Interactive Media Arts
Brooklyn College of the City University of New York awards a Master of Fine Arts in Performance and Interactive Media Arts. Most students enter the program with an established career or career goal in the realm of the performing arts. The multidisciplinary degree program is a collaboration between the college's departments of art; cinema, television, and radio; computer and information science; theater; and the Conservatory of Music. Students are trained in theory, technique, and practice in performance arts. The program emphasizes collaboration, diversity, technology, and mentorship. It culminates in a collaborative thesis production in a professional venue. The degree program is designed to span four semesters of full-time study.
Brooklyn College began in 1930 as an extension of the City College for Teachers. It became Brooklyn College when it merged with the City College of New York and the Downtown Brooklyn branches of Hunter College. As a result of this merger, Brooklyn became the first public liberal arts college in New York City. The college's Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema was the first public graduate film school in New York City. The school holds classes on a film lot in collaboration with Brooklyn's Steiner Studios, the largest soundstage on the East Coast. U.S. News & World Report ranks Brooklyn College at No. 74 in Regional Universities North and No. 19 in Top Public Schools.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,770 in-state; $19,920 out-of-state
#2 – New York University
Master of Arts in Performance Studies
New York, NY
New York University offers a Master of Arts in Performance Studies through its Tisch School of the Arts. The degree program takes an interdisciplinary approach, encouraging students to think about performance in the contexts of gender and sexuality, ethnicity and diversity, literature, and more. The degree requires 34 points of department coursework, including two required courses: the beginning Introduction to Performance Studies and the culminating Projects in Performance Studies. Students may only take one practical workshop during the program, which is typically the department's Performance Composition. Students begin the program in June and finish the following May, totaling three consecutive semesters of study.
NYU was founded in 1831 by former Secretary of Treasury Albert Gallatin. Today, it is a global private research university. In addition to its historic campus in Greenwich Village, New York City, it has schools in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. The university also operates learning locations worldwide, in cities including Berlin, Florence, London, Paris, and Sydney. NYU manages one of the nation's largest university research budgets, which includes grants from institutions such as Google, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. U.S. News & World Report ranks NYU at No. 37 in Most Innovative Schools, No. 30 in National Universities, No. 48 in graduate fine arts programs.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $42,888
#1 – University of California, Irvine
Master of Fine Arts in Acting
The University of California, Irvine offers a Master of Fine Arts in Acting, which GSH ranks first in the nation. The core curriculum trains students in acting for stage and camera, movement, speech, and voice. The program also includes seminars in areas such as acting theory, dramatic criticism, and script analysis. Electives are offered in areas including audition techniques, clowning, dance, and musical theatre. Core classes are held Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The program spans nine quarters or three years. Most graduates of the program go on to act on stage or screen or to work in university theatre departments.
UC Irvine was established in 1965 to accommodate the baby boom generation of students. The public research university is one of the 10 campuses of the University of California system. U.S. News & World Report ranks UCI at No. 45 in Most Innovative Schools, No. 33 in National Universities, and No. 7 in Top Public Schools. The university also ranks at No. 33 in graduate Fine Arts programs.