Finding the Right Musical Theatre School

It takes deep soul-searching and significant research to find the right kind of school and program for you. These questions you must ask yourself to find the right musical theatre schools for you.

Do you want:

  • A liberal arts education with a musical theatre emphasis?
  • An intense BFA conservatory program?
  • To live on a beautiful college campus, or have a big city college experience?
  • A Performance emphasis, or to explore other aspects of theatre such as: set design, directing, costume design, stage management, or arts management?
  • To pursue academic interests as well as musical theatre, or to focus on performance and take as few academic courses as possible?

Here are a few basic programs of study in musical theatre at the collegiate level:

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Musical Theatre
BFA programs provide a fast-paced conservatory atmosphere, where 80-90% of coursework is comprised of musical theatre classes and usually few general education requirements. Usually BFA students take 1-2 academic courses per semester.  

Schedules are rigorous with students in classes from 8am-6pm plus rehearsals or crewing for a show in the evenings. Prepare to live, sleep, eat, and breathe musical theatre, with little interactions with non-BFA students. Many programs admit 10-25 freshmen per year, so admission is competitive.

Top tier BFA programs look for “triple threats” students who proficiently act, sing, and dance. With few electives this is not an ideal choice for someone who wants to pick and choose their classes or double major. For a student set on a musical theatre performance career, BFA programs offer the most comprehensive training in acting, singing, and dance as well as showcase opportunities and professional connections.

Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Theatre with a Musical Theatre Certificate or Emphasis
BA programs provide the traditional college experience, with a wide variety of liberal arts courses, as well as classes in musical theatre.  For more academically oriented students this provides a balance between academics and performing arts. BA students have more free time to enjoy campus life, participate in extracurricular activities, and interact with students from a wide variety of majors. These programs are ideal if you want behind-the-scenes aspects of Theatre, such as design, technical theatre, and directing. These schools offer more electives, choices of study, and student-organized productions, but may have less training in voice and dance compared to BFA programs. These are general observations but it varies from school to school.


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Bachelor of Music (BM) in Musical Theatre
Most musical theatre programs are in the Theatre department. However, a few programs offer a Musical Theatre major in the Music Department.  This is an ideal program for students interested in a “crossover” career between opera, operetta, and musical theatre. Students take some of the same classes as the classical Voice Majors, so training in voice, music theory, sight singing, choir, music history, and piano may be more rigorous than in some BFA and BA programs. Students may audition for school operas, and musicals. Voice recitals may be requirement. However, sometimes there is less focus on acting and dance, but it varies depending on the institution.

With all of these different types of academic offerings in musical theatre, it can be hard to know where to go from here. There are over 250 MT programs in the U.S.! How do you even find out about all of these programs? Here are a few options:

  • Theatre College Expos and Conferences:  Theatre College expos are a great way to check out a wide variety of programs, collect brochures and materials, speak to current faculty, and sometimes even attend masterclasses with faculty from various schools. Here are a few options to look into:
  • CS Music International Competition and Convention/College Expo

During the optional vocal competition is their College Expo for MT and Classical Voice programs where more than 50 of the top schools exhibit. In addition you can attend masterclasses by Broadway and Classical stars.. https://www.csmusic.net/content/convention/

  • International Thespian Festival

This festival happens every summer at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. You must be a member of Thespians to attend. Students often attend with their school’s Thespian troupe. There are many performances and workshops in all areas of theater. It is even possible to do a preliminary audition for colleges at the festival. There are also state-level Thespian festivals that may also have college expos. https://www.schooltheatre.org/itf2019/home

  • National Association of College Admission Counseling Performing and Visual Arts Fairs

These College Fairs take place in a wide variety of regions around the country and offer lots of workshops about the college admissions process. Schools in attendance may vary from region to region. https://www.nacacfairs.org/attend/pva/

  • Books about Musical Theatre College Auditions:
    • Mastering College Musical Theatre Auditions: Sound Advice for the Student, Teacher, and Parent by David Sisco and Laura Josepher
    • I Got In! The Ultimate College Audition Guide for Acting and Musical Theatre (2019 Edition) by Mary Anna Dennard. Ms. Dennard also offers extensive online college coaching services at www.collegeauditioncoach.com.
  • Relevant Websites:
    • http://www.broadwayworld.com/studentcenter.cfm This is a great resource for searching for specific types of programs (BFA, BM, BA, etc..) as well as specific major offerings at different schools. Lots of MT college articles, too.
    • www.majoringinmusic.com There are some excellent articles to be found here about musical theatre and other music majors, as well. This site also offers college counselling.
    • www.playbilledu.com Lots of relevant education news articles here.
    • http://www.unifiedauditions.com A list of 26 theatre schools that participate in combined auditions in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. This can cut down significantly on your audition travel if you are applying to any of these programs. You can also do walk-in auditions at many schools, so you may find out about some programs you hadn’t heard of before.
    • https://www.csmusic.net/content/  There are many excellent articles on the CS Music site as well as Classical Singer Magazine.College Theatre Audition Coaching and Advising:
      For a more personalized approach to the audition preparation and school selection process, you can use the services of musical theatre audition counseling services.  If you are completely confused about where to apply, or if you want professional help preparing your monologues, songs, or pre-screening videos, you could seek the assistance of professional MT college audition experts. Most high schools’ college counselors do not know a lot about musical theatre programs, but these MT counselors specialize in advising students on where to apply and helping them to pick and perfect their material. Most counseling is done online or via Skype, and there are fees for these services, but many students and parents have found it to be money well-spent. You may be able to pick and choose what kind of help you are interested in, or there may be a pre-determined package of services offered. Here are a few options:
  • Musical Theatre College Auditions (www.mtcollegeauditions.com) This service specializes in providing one-on-one online coaching for various aspects of the audition: song/monologue coaching, dance audition prep, audition interview prep, and college counseling. The coaching staff is comprised of performing artists, teachers, directors, and choreographers.
  • ArtsBridge (www.artsbridge.com) This service provides college counseling and online coaching for Theatre/Musical Theatre, as well as Music, Dance, and Visual Arts. They also provide online coaching for all aspects of the audition process. The coaching staff is comprised of faculty from various performing arts colleges, as well as performing artists in the field.
  • Musical Theater College Auditions (www.mtcollegeauditions.com) This company puts a lot of focus on audition preparation, as well as advising and school selection. They also provide audition workshops, webinars, dance classes, etc…

Choosing where to apply can seem like a daunting task, and it can be hard to know where to start. You can Google “Top Musical Theatre Programs” lists, and apply there, but that approach will not garner the best fit for you.  Most programs are highly selective, and a lot of musical theatre students apply to as many as 8-25 programs, particularly for the more competitive BFA programs! There are also so many variables, and no program is right for everyone. It really pays to do a lot of research and to take your personal circumstances into account including:

  • Do you have the GPA to get into this school?
  • Are you a strong enough dancer to get into this particular program?
  • Can your family afford the tuition?
  • What kind of scholarship opportunities are there?

Be sure to visit as many schools as you can, talk to students, and sit in on classes. You might visit that “top” program and absolutely hate the vibe there.  Your personal experience and gut instinct matter more than institutional prestige.

  • Do you like where the campus is situated?
  • Can you see yourself there for four years?
  • Can you handle the weather?
  • Are the students “your people”?
  • What is campus life like?
  • Did you like the faculty you met?

All of these things matter, too. You are auditioning the schools as much as they are auditioning you. Take time to do your research, and you will start to narrow down the list of the right school for you. Then you can start preparing for the auditions!

Nadine Gomes

Nadine Gomes has spent her career exploring the genres of musical theatre, jazz, and opera as a singer and voice teacher. She is a full-time Lecturer in Voice in the Theatre Conservatory in the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where she has been on faculty since 2004.   Nadine received an M.M. in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from the Music Conservatory in CCPA at Roosevelt University, she earned a B.S. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and she was a Vocal Jazz Performance Major at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her students sing on Broadway, in national tours, in regional theatres, and throughout Chicago.