Should You Get an Acting Degree?

actor on stage

If you want an acting degree, you have a few options: you can get a bachelor of the arts degree, like a BA in Theatre, or you can get a BFA in Acting, which usually includes more conservatory-style training. A few drama schools also offer Associate Degrees in Acting. Finally, actors who want to take their skills to the next level can also apply for an MFA in Acting, a graduate education program. You can find more information on all of these degrees below, but first let's see what a degree in acting can do for you.

When you walk into an audition, no casting director is going to stop you at the door and ask you to show your acting degree.

So do you need one?

Well, an acting degree can help for 2 reasons. First, at a time when a lot of aspiring actors think they can just move to Hollywood and land a role in a TV show, graduating from an acting college, especially a good one, puts you ahead of the game. Second, even if you don't need an acting degree, you may need a degree to help you secure a good day job while you pursue your dreams.

The importance of going to a good acting college was obvious to me when I interned for a successful talent manager in Los Angeles. Almost all of her clients had graduated from top acting colleges. Until then, I always had this romantic notion that most successful actors just moved to the big city, talent in hand, and suddenly got "discovered". It's not surprising I felt this way, since the media tends to focus on overnight sensations who never take an acting class and suddenly make it big.

But these stories have led to a lot of actors moving to New York or Los Angeles untrained and unprepared to face one of the most competitive fields out there. Casting directors get hundreds of submissions every day, especially when it comes to actors in their young twenties. If you don't have any experience on your acting resume, it can be hard to get called in to audition for projects beyond non-union theater and student films. The best acting colleges have fully-equipped professional theaters where students can get experience, sometimes working with established guest directors.

BFA programs also offer a range of classes that go beyond acting technique and develop the whole actor's instrument, from voice to body and mind. That's important because an actor can be very talented, but if they can't project their voice or do an accent, they won't get the role.

Finally, most of the best acting programs help their graduates find representation through an industry showcase. When an acting school has a good reputation, agents and casting directors are more likely to come see you perform. Acting colleges also often assist students in finding meaningful internships that can further their acting career.

Naturally, not every acting student leaves school with an agent and many graduates from top acting programs struggle to find acting jobs like everyone else. But they have a Bachelor of Arts (or Fine Arts). That can come in useful when you can't find an acting job or when you're in between jobs. A lot of actors need a day job to support their acting career, and aside from small gigs and waiting tables, most job opportunities require an undergraduate degree.

That being said, a college degree is expensive, not to mention there is no reliable out of school salary for actors. According to the bureau of labor statistics, the average hourly wage for actors in 2008 was $16.59. And that's for the actors who aren't unemployed.

In the end, every actor must follow his own path. An acting degree will jump start one actor's career and not the next. But here are a few things to think about:

  • If you want to get an acting degree, shoot for the good colleges with the most intense training, best performance opportunities and best record of alumni working as actors.
  • Many acting programs have talent Scholarships and Awards you can audition for.
  • If you don't want to go to college, you can still get a certificate of training from an acting school. It could be Certificate in Professional Performance Training, a Certificate of Merit or a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Acting. It doesn't really matter what it's called. What is important is if your acting courses can be transferred as college credits down the road if you decide to get a degree.
  • If you can't afford a degree now, you may still be able to take part in an MFA program later.

If you decided you want to go to college for acting, it's time to choose what acting degree you want. Below is an overview of your options:

1) BFA in Acting

We'll start with the BFA in Acting because it's the college acting degree that is best suited to those who specifically want to be actors.

Why?

Because unlike a BA in Acting, where you take a lot of general study and liberal art courses, a BFA focuses on training you to prepare to be a professional actor, which means more acting and performing arts classes, and often more lab work and performance opportunities. Every acting college is different, of course, but your training will resemble more an acting conservatory training if you choose a BFA in Acting. Most of the best theater colleges offer a BFA in Acting.

2) BA in Theatre

If you want a more general education, a bachelor of the arts degree in theater may work better for you and give you more options when you graduate, like becoming a producer, director, teacher, stage manager or other profession in the world of the theater. A BA is 60% theater classes and 40% liberal arts courses. Some BA programs don't have many practical acting classes, but in some theater schools, you can choose an emphasis on acting or performance

3) Associate of Arts Degree in Acting (A.A.)

Some drama schools, like the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, offer an A.A. in acting to students who complete some extra college general education courses and study for 2 years full-time. This can be an option for students who want an acting degree but are not ready to commit to 4 years of studies. If you are thinking of getting an A.A. degree, check if the credits earned will be transferrable toward a B.A. at an acting college.

4) MFA in Acting

An MFA in Acting is usually reserved for actors who have been working for a while and are looking to take their acting career to the next level. Many of the best MFA acting programs offer near-professional performance opportunities in large theaters with an opportunity to work with guest directors or resident theater companies and earn points toward an Equity card.

Getting an MFA in Acting can be a lot of hard work but can also pay off. Masters acting classes are usually small and graduates often appear in an industry showcase in New York and Los Angeles to get noticed by agents and casting directors.

You don't need to have a bachelor of the arts degree in acting to apply to an MFA acting program. You can usually have any type of undergraduate degree, as long as you have significant experience as an actor and show potential at entrance auditions. Actually, some graduate acting colleges, like the prestigious Yale School of Drama, don't require students to have a bachelor of the arts degree at all to apply to their Masters program (students who don't have a degree receive a Certificate in Drama in place of an MFA in Acting)

Hope this helps you choose the right acting degree to reach your acting goals. Now you know the degree you want, you can start reading about choosing an acting college. You can also browse our listings of acting schools and acting colleges to find acting colleges and drama schools that offer acting degrees. Or just use the search box below and enter the acting degree you want.

Good luck with your acting career!

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