The Top 10 Non-BFA Theater and Musical Theater Programs

This list is a combination of the country’s best theater and musical theater programs. Many have the option to specialize in musical theater if it is not specified in the degree name, and all are known to graduate students with a broad and intense understanding of not only how to contribute to a theater, but the origins of theater and where the industry is today. A BA in Theater is ideal for students who are interested in more than the craft of theater, and who also want to understand the industrial context in which they are learning. Where theater is today, how is has evolved, how it might evolve in our lifetime, and how we can contribute effectively to help the art of theater evolve.

  1. Fordham
    Fordham’s BA in Theater program is the best of both worlds: its size and structure has the feel of an intimate conservatory program, but its location and resources give students the additional benefits of a liberal arts education. The theater program is located in the heart of Lincoln Center in New York City, which has its obvious benefits, in addition to having multiple tracks to choose from depending on what you’re interested in studying. Students choose Performance, Design and Production, Playwriting, or Directing. A combination of an audition, interview, and/or writing sample review are required for all tracks, and for some there is the option of a portfolio review. Fordham has a strong emphasis on collaboration between its tracks and departments, so students can truly exercise their creative juices.

  2. Northwestern
    The School of Communication at Northwestern offers a BA in Theater, and students can choose to study a number of concentrations, Music Theatre included. Northwestern’s emphasis on an interdisciplinary education has resulted in its graduates going into fields beyond theater, including business, law, marketing, education, and performance coaching, among others. The program has an incredibly close relationship with the Chicago theater community, giving its students ample opportunity to delve in as early and as much as possible. Students can also study Playwriting, Acting [INSERT LINK TO BEST ACTING BA PROGRAMS], Design and Stage Management, and Modules.

  3. Point Park
    Point Park University is known for its emphasis on training and faculty. Its BA in Theater Arts: Performance and Practices requires that students fully commit and immerse themselves in theater for the duration of the degree, providing students with internships in the Pittsburgh theater and film communities. The program was launched in 2015 and aims to foster the most innovative creativity that every student has to offer. The combination of technical practice and creative performance is a rare asset of a theater degree--it’s obvious that decades of thought was put into the creation of this program, and its unique structure reflects that. Students must complete the core curriculum as well as take the requirements of the major, which range from acting and improv to stage makeup, script analysis, and singing for actors.

  4. Marymount Manhattan
    Marymount Manhattan offers a BA in Theatre Arts, and students choose to focus on one of the following: Design & Technical Production, Directing, Producing & Management, Theatre and New Media, Theatre Performance, Theatre History & Performance Texts, or Writing for the Stage. This vast array of offerings makes this program stand out, just because you can focus on so many different aspects of theater so intensely. Students specifically interested in musical theatre can participate in the four year program offered--students who pursue it are typically also pursuing the BA in Theatre Arts major, concentrating in Theatre Performance.

  5. SUNY Purchase
    The Theater and Performance BA at SUNY Purchase is incredibly innovative. With a focus on modern theater, the program teaches ts students not only the basics of theater but teaches with an emphasis on the most cutting-edge aspects of theater today. The main theater at SUNY Purchase used by its theater students was recently renovated to give the program’s students a better facility to call home. SUNY Purchase is diligent about its student learning outcomes, which aim to equip every student with a thorough and in-depth understanding of every aspect of theater, including critical analysis, collaborative techniques, the importance of historical context, and an awareness of new theatrical and societal developments that influence the art.

  6. UCLA
    The undergraduate Theater BA at UCLA is a distinctive pre-professional program that aims to equip students with equal parts experiential learning, analysis, and foundational knowledge. Undergraduates choose from one of the following Theater Elective Sequences to pursue in addition to the core theater and general studies requirements: acting, design/production, directing, musical theater, playwriting, or integrated studies. The Ray Bolger Musical Theater Program, for example, requires students to complete 6 quarters of performance classes beginning their sophomore year. This program at UCLA is ideal for students who consider themselves both a scholar and an artist, as opposed to just one or the other. That is the beauty of a BA degree in general.

  7. University of California, Santa Barbara
    The BA Theater program in Theater at the College of Letters and Science at UCSB is a strong program that emphasizes coursework in dramatic theory and literature. Students choose from one of the following concentrations: design, directing, playwriting, theater and performance studies or theater and community. In addition to these concentrations, students can also pursue the highly selective three-year Acting Emphasis program beginning their sophomore year.

  8. American
    The Department of Performing Arts within the College of Arts and Sciences at American University offers a BA in Performing Arts: Musical Theater. Outside of the general education requirements, students must complete 51 credit hours (earning a C or higher) and participate in at least 4 department productions, playing an onstage or off-stage role. It is required that 1 performance must be a technical participation as a stage manager, assistant stage manager, or other technical role.

  9. Brandeis University
    The undergraduate curriculum within the Department of Theater Arts at Brandeis is a well-rounded and academically intensive program. Uniquely, auditions are not required to enter the program. The curriculum emphasizes the life skills that you learn within the context of a theater, such as collaboration, holistic engagement in one's work, and how to work efficiently in a stressful situation. The Springold Theater Center was created by a number of gifted artists, including the world-renowned composer and artist, Leonard Bernstein. Concentrations to choose from include: acting, dance and movement, directing, design, and stage management.

  10. Muhlenberg College
    The Theatre Program at Muhlenberg is nationally-ranked and its productions have won a number of awards. Every student is required to take the class “Theatre & Society” in addition to 1 acting class, 2 stagecraft and design classes, 5 from the fields of theatre history, dramatic literature, and theatrical and aesthetic theory, and in addition, courses in their concentration. Students choose from the following concentrations: acting, directing, performance studies, production design, and stage management. There are extensive performance opportunities throughout the college, ranging from mainstage performances (of which dozens of projects are performed every year), studio & third-tier productions (run by the Muhlenberg Theatre Association), and touring ensembles that perform on campus as well as in schools and community centers nearby.

Theater and musical theater programs are some of the most popular undergraduate performing arts programs available, and it can be overwhelming to figure out which one is the best for you. If you have any additional questions or want to talk about your interest in the field further, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us via email or phone with any of your questions. We’re happy to talk about it more with you or shed some light on something that might be confusing!