Top College Theatre Programs You Might Not Know, but Should; Part 2, the Northern US Schools

Written by Michelle J. Evans

February 19, 2020

As a professional acting and college audition coach, I frequently have students that start their audition list off with widely popular schools, or what some call “top” schools. I never tell them to take those schools off their list, but we do spend some time broadening those lists to include other programs that also offer the type of training and environment they are seeking. The landscape of college auditions is ever-changing, and because of that, students need to be prepared like never before. 

Now, there is no arguing that schools that you find on the “top” list belong there. However, some programs this year have reported receiving prescreens from almost 3,000 students. For some schools, that number doubled from last year. That is nearly 3,000 people auditioning for a limited number of spots in a program that may take less than 20 students. There simply are not enough spots in these “top” schools for all of these high school seniors and GAP year students. So, that is why a diverse selection of schools is essential for anyone going through this process.

So, let’s add some more names to the list of schools you “may ” not know of but should. Part 1 of this series focused on programs in the Southern US, and now in Part 2, we are traveling up North. As I expressed in the last article, this list compiles of schools that you may not have seen on a “top” list in the previous few years. The Northern US is a popular and desired destination for many seeking an arts education; proximity to NYC is appealing to most. Because of that, there are a lot of popular schools in and around New York. However, some programs are just as close to the city with equally as much potential despite students having heard little or nothing of before. So, grab your coat and gloves and get ready to uncover some gems in the Northern US!


LOCATION: Brookville, NY

DEGREES OFFERED: BA Theatre Arts, BFA Arts Management, BFA Dance Studies, BFA Theatre Arts in Acting, Design & Production, Directing & Playwriting or Musical Theatre

AUDITION FACTS: Acceptance into the program is based on an audition/portfolio review and interview.

ALUMNI FACTS: LIU-Post alumni have made their mark on all areas of the entertainment industry. Darek Davis starred as Mufasa in the Lion King on Broadway, and Rhaamell Burke-Missouri danced his way into the cast of Broadway’s King Kong, as for actress Gloria Garayua, she flexed her acting chops on TV and Film in shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Six Feet Under.

DEPARTMENT FACTS: The department offers rigorous arts training while providing a broad-based liberal arts education as well. Educating all aspects of the student is essential. LIU-Post has impressive facilities for its students to learn and train in as well as proximity to NYC. This location allows for numerous guest artists and professional collaborations for the students.

MY EXTRAS: LIU-Post has a resident theater company called the Post Theatre Company, where students gain hands-on participation in all aspects of a working theatre company. Students gain a broader perspective through internships on and off-campus and have the opportunity to travel to festivals in the United States and abroad.

Explore LIU-Post Theatre Here



DEGREES OFFERED: There are 4 BA degree concentrations: Performance, Design and Production, Directing, and Playwriting

AUDITION FACTS: Each degree concentration will require either an audition or an interview/portfolio review.

ALUMNI FACTS: There is no denying that some big names in the industry have come out of Fordham. People like Denzel Washington, Patricia Clarkson, John Johnson, John Benjamin Hickey, and Christopher Larkin, to name a few!

DEPARTMENT FACTS: Fordham has an experimental curriculum and offers four mainstage productions and 20 studio production a year. Collaboration is a big part of the experience, and they start their training with a yearlong class in collaborative techniques. They also encourage and foster a curriculum that exposes students to classical and experiments work as well as a variety of cultures and eras, all in their training and academic study both on and off the stage. Also, because of their location, they have strong bonds, and work relationships with NY Theatres are guest artists.

MY EXTRAS: Their studio series is an excellent opportunity for students to get hands-on experience in all areas, mainly because this series is entirely student-run.

Explore Fordham Theatre Here


LOCATION: Staten Island, NY

DEGREES OFFERED: Wagner offers a BA in Theatre and Speech. Students can elect to concentrate in Performance, Design/Technology/Management, and Theatre Studies, or complete a Dual Major in Theatre and Education. The Performing arts department also offers a BS in Arts Administration and a BS in Dance Education.

AUDITION FACTS: There are currently no prescreen, and Unlike many performing arts programs, the first review for prospective theatre majors at Wagner College is academic. Once a student has passed the academic requirements, they will then need to audition or interview for the department, based on their desired major.

ALUMNI FACTS: Monette McKay, Bret Shuford, Alex Boniello, Christina DeCicco, Brian Sgambati are just a few of the names that came out of WCU. Other recent graduates are represented on Broadway with shows like Dear Evan Hansen, Aladdin, Fiddler in Yiddish, and Moulin Rouge, to name a few!

DEPARTMENT FACTS: With over 50 years of producing theatrical production on Staten island, the WCU performing arts program has a long-standing tradition of training artists to prepare for a life in the entertainment industry. They offer a well-rounded liberal arts curriculum as well as other training opportunities like the Expanding Your Horizons program, where students travel to cities like Amsterdam and Paris to study with international theatre artist Carlos Garcia Estevez. This 2-week intensive workshop focuses on movement and devised theatre.

MY EXTRAS: There are a few student-led clubs that offer students even more opportunities to use their new skills and broaden their experience while in school. There is the Completely Student Productions (CSP), The Theatre Advisory Board (TAB), The Wagner College Dance Club, and Student-Run Musical Theater (SRMT).

Explore Wagner Theatre Here



DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Acting, BFA Theatre Arts: Performance (there is a Musical Theatre concentration that can be added to the BFA Acting or BFA Theatre Arts degree), BFA Design: Costume, Scenic, Lighting, Sound, BFA Production: Costume and Technical, BFA Stage Management, & BFA Theatre Arts: Design & Production

AUDITION FACTS: As of the 2019-20 season, there were no prescreens required. However, everyone will need to apply to the school and be accepted before they can request an audition or interview/portfolio review appointment.

BU Alumni can be found all over the entertainment industry. From EVP & HEAD, WARNER HORIZON UNSCRIPTED TELEVISION, Brooke Karzen, to actors like Olympia Dukakis, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Jason Alexander, all way to the playwright and director Craig Lucas.

DEPARTMENT FACTS: For those that want an opportunity to perform lit in college, BU offers guaranteed casting in the School of Theatre’s 35+ Productions each season, twice a semester beginning in the sophomore year. They also provide a senior showcase both in Boston and New York.

BU offers the possibility of working with one of their Professional Theatre Initiative–affiliated companies while you are an undergraduate. Some students are invited to work with an Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) affiliated theatre company in and around Boston or with the School of Theatre’s professional extension, Boston Center for American Performance.

Explore BU Theatre Here



DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Acting Concentration, BFA Musical Theatre Concentration & BFA Theatrical Design & Technology Concentration

AUDITION FACTS: Students will need to audition to gain acceptance in the department or a portfolio review for those interested in Design & Technology.

Syndee Winters, Tyler Belo, and Sarita Nash all graduated from Five Towns and quickly found themselves on Broadway and National tours. Other alumni can be found throughout the entertainment industry, finding success with the education they received at Five Towns.

Five Towns offers conservatory-style training, with only 21 credits of core curriculum classes required. Because of its proximity to the city, Five towns often invite professional industry guest artists to teach master classes and workshops.

MY EXTRAS: Five Towns is a college that solely focuses on music, business, education, media, and the performing arts. With these focuses, they have garnered a college that is centered around the entertainment industry and supplying students with means necessary to help them grow.

Explore Five Towns Theatre Here


LOCATION: Niagara University, NY

DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Performance, BFA Design & Production Theatre Specializations (emphasis on Directing, Playwriting or Dramaturgy)

AUDITION FACTS: Students wishing to gain admittance into a BFA program will be required to audition and/or interview.

ALUMNI FACTS: NU Alumni can be found both on and off the stage and screen. Alumni like Carmen Ruby Floyd, Brandon Sierra, Armond Schultz, and Ryan Murphy have all used the skills they learned at NU to fuel their successful careers.

DEPARTMENT FACTS: NU Theatre offers one-on-one mentorship with theatre faculty to provide extra confidence to their students as they prepare for careers in the entertainment industry. NU is one of the oldest professional theatre training programs in their region. They offer students a rigorous theatrical and liberal arts education and help guide students through every step of the learning process.

MY EXTRAS: I love that NU offers a study abroad program in London where students can earn 12 credits for their two months of study during the summer. They also have a student-run organization that opens NU theatre students up to more opportunities during their four years.

Explore Niagara Theatre Here


LOCATION: Slippery Rock, PA

DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Acting (Theatre Performance), BFA Acting (Musical Theatre), BA Acting, BA Theatre Arts Management, BA Design & Technology, and BA Theatre Studies

AUDITION FACTS: There are required auditions for the BFA degrees, but the BA degrees do not require an audition.

ALUMNI FACTS: Slippery Rock University has alumni all over the entertainment industry. SRU alumnus, Jeff Feola, was the company manager for Broadway’s hit “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 ” and the team that received 12 Tony nominations.

DEPARTMENT FACTS: A NAST (National Association of Schools of Theatre) accredited department that offers students a liberal arts education with rigorous pre-professional training in the arts. The department also participates in a few festivals, including KCACTF, USITT, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as well as given the opportunity to produce student-led productions.

MY EXTRAS: Starting in 2019, Jonathan Floam joined the faculty of the SRU Theatre Department with a primary focus on the BFA Musical Theatre degree track. Previously he was the head of Musical Theatre at Shenandoah University for nine years and is the author of many books, including “Get The Callback,” he is also President for the Musical Theatre Educators Alliance. He brings decades of knowledge to the already exceptional faculty and is a serious reason a student looking into BFA Musical Theatre programs should look into this program.

Explore SRU Theatre Here


LOCATION: Rochester, NY

DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Acting, BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Technical Production, BS Dance Studies, BA Theatre Arts, BA Theatre Arts with adolescence certification in English, and BS Theatre Arts with childhood education.
AUDITION FACTS: Auditions are required for majors in acting, musical theatre, dance, or theatre arts. Portfolio reviews are required for technical production.
ALUMNI FACTS: Recent graduates, like Anna Kostakis, have secured performance or production positions at Disney Tokyo, Busch Gardens, Cinderella national tour, Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona and Brooklyn (off-Broadway), Kid Frankenstein The Musical (off-Broadway), to just name a few!
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Small class sizes allow for NU to offer the rigorous training that other larger programs may offer while cultivating each individuals’ talents and needs. Partnerships with regional professional theatre and frequent guest artist give the students hands-on, real work experience while pursuing their degree.

MY EXTRAS: Nazareth offers some genuinely fantastic study abroad programs for their theatre students. You can study acting in Florence, Film Acting in Paris, Arts Administration is Barcelona, Circus Arts in Costa Rica, Theatre in London, Acting at the Globe or even Musical Theatre in the West End. These are a few of the additional opportunities that Nazareth has to offer students outside of the typical classroom. BFA Acting, BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Technical Production, BS Dance Studies, BA Theatre Arts, BA Theatre Arts with adolescence certification in English, and BS Theatre Arts with childhood education.

Explore NU Theatre Here


LOCATION: Hempstead, NY

DEGREES OFFERED: BA Drama, BFA Performance, BFA Production, BFA Dance, and BS Dance Education

AUDITION FACTS: No audition is required to major in drama performance at Hofstra University. All performance or generalist students begin as B.A. candidates and have the option to apply for the B.F.A. program in their sophomore year.

ALUMNI FACTS: Many famous Broadway and Hollywood actors trained in the drama department at Hofstra. Francis Ford Coppola, Madeline Kahn, Phil Rosenthal, and Joe Morton are just a few recognizable names.

DEPARTMENT FACTS: Hofstra believes that students need a well-rounded liberal arts education to help them succeed in all areas of the arts. Those that choose to pursue the BFA track will gain rigorous training that will prepare them for a career as a performer or technician. All majors will receive equal treatment in casting and other opportunities that the department offer, it doesn’t matter if you are a BA or BFA student.

Hofstra offers some fantastic performance opportunities for students. There is the Shakespeare Festival on Hofstra’s replica of the Globe Theatre, the most historically accurate reproduction in the US! There are also student clubs, such as Tequila Mockingbirds (improv Troupe), Masquerade (produces two musicals a year), and Spectrum (started by Francis Ford Coppola in 1959) and presents a main stage show, touring show and a night of experimental works each semester.

Explore Hofstra Theatre Here

Western Connecticut University


DEGREES OFFERED: BFA in Musical Theatre and BA in Theatre Arts Concentrations in Performance, Design/Technology, Theatre Arts Management, and Drama Studies

AUDITION FACTS: The BFA in Musical Theatre will require a prescreen and then a live audition if you pass the prescreen audition. The BA degrees do not require the prescreen or the audition.

ALUMNI FACTS: WCSU alumni constantly find success in the entertainment industry. Alumni such as Andrew Hendricks, Alana Cauthen, Vincent Roca, Eric McKinley, and Jared Starkey are just a few of the recent grads that have been working professionally, using the skills they gained at WCSU!

DEPARTMENT FACTS: Western Connecticut’s theatre department is equipped to help the next generation of artists prepare for a career in the industry. With professional resident faculty, six faculty or guest directed main stage and studio stage productions per academic year, yearly New York City Senior Showcase with Broadway casting directors & agents, workshops with NYC Stage, TV and Film professionals. As well as internships possible with New York City and Connecticut regional and professional theatres, and participation in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, are just some of the offerings that students have.

MY EXTRAS: This NAST accredited program has won numerous awards at KCACTF (Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival), showcasing the excellent training received at WCSU. Prospective students can sign up for one of their “shadow Day” and spend a day shadowing a current student to see if WCSU is a good fit for you and even get a tour of their new $98 million Visual and Performing Arts Center.

Explore WCSU Theatre Here

Michelle is the owner of MJE Acting Studio where she offers her services as a private acting and audition coach to students around the nation both online and in person. Her students have been accepted to top universities around the world as well as professionally on Broadway, National Tours, regional theatre and TV/Film. She is also Co-Owner of CAP: College Audition Project, which host the CAP United Auditions as well as premier college audition coaching website with online navigation tools to help students through the college process. You can find out more about Michelle at or CAP at