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It can be difficult to choose a course of study for college-- with college applications, questions about financing your education, and concerns over where your school is located, you might be tempted to wait for a year or two to declare a major. This isn’t always a bad thing, but if you’re aiming to land a career in a competitive or niche field, it’s important that you go in knowing what you need to study and how to use it.
This is especially true when you’re interested in the performing arts. Acting is an extremely competitive career. You’ll want to find internships and work experience in the field while you’re in school, and you’ll definitely want to select a relevant major-- but which programs are the most useful to give you the skills you’ll need to get a leg up in the acting world?
Of course, there are several majors that are no-brainers to include on any list of recommended majors for actors-- but there are also other, less obvious courses of study that can prove extremely helpful in landing you a job in the acting world. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best college majors for actors.
Acting and Theater
It may seem a little too obvious that if you want to pursue a career in acting, you’ll want to consider majoring in acting. It’s true, though-- it’s a good idea to make sure that any colleges you’re thinking of attending offer an acting, drama, or theater major.
Programs like these will help you gain familiarity with various different types of genres and roles onstage-- you’ll learn how to analyze a role in a production in order to determine how best to portray a character, how to appropriately use your voice and movements to express emotion in specific contexts, and how to respond to an acting partner in real time while keeping a performance going.
You’ll also gain confidence in general-- pretty much all acting degrees require you to spend considerable amounts of time onstage from the beginning, so your speech and rhetoric abilities will improve, and you’ll likely find yourself more comfortable giving presentations of all sorts.
For an idea of what a degree in acting or drama might consist of, these are the requirements for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting at Syracuse University.
Another major you’ll want to look out for while applying to colleges is theater history. Although you might think that the history of theater won’t be incredibly helpful when you want to participate in theater as an actor or actress, it’s actually incredibly important to have an understanding of how the field has developed into what it is today.
By learning about ancient drama traditions and how they have changed over time-- or, sometimes, how they’ve stayed the same-- you’ll find that your understanding of the art of acting shifts and develops a lot. Possessing solid knowledge of the history of theater will allow you to bring your own acting to a new level-- one that can allow you to put a new spin on old theatrical traditions.
Programs focusing on theater history will likely include a general introduction to the history of theatrical traditions, followed by courses specializing in one type or time period of theater history. You’ll get to learn about ancient Greek drama and its forms, how those forms developed into Roman drama, and from there, you’ll see how each generation grows from the traditions of the one before it, adding new elements to the art form as time progresses. By the end of your course of study, your understanding of modern drama will have deepened considerably-- which can be extremely useful in helping you make decisions as an actor in your future career.
For an example of what a degree in theater history might include, we’ve included the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in theater (history and criticism concentration) at Texas State University. Although these requirements are for a Master of Arts degree, it’s still useful to get an idea of what the program includes.
Musical theater is both a similar and a different beast from traditional theater, so it often has its own major within a school’s performing arts program. Still, even if you aren’t planning on getting involved in musical theater after graduation, you should definitely consider majoring in it anyway.
A musical theater program will aim to develop a wide range of performance skills over the course of your undergraduate career. You’ll learn the basics of several styles of dance, how to sing healthily and sustainably in different genres, how to project your voice to a live audience, how to incorporate music, acting, and storytelling to form a cohesive musical, and how to handle a cut-throat audition room-- and more. Since musical theater, like acting in general, is an extremely competitive field, undergraduate programs are often focused on providing you the opportunity to develop a slew of skills that will give you a competitive edge in the real world as an actor.
For an example of what a degree in musical theater might require, here are the requirements for the Bachelor of Fine Arts in music theater at Syracuse University.
If you want to pursue a career in acting, you should definitely consider majoring in film. In a similar fashion to a theater history program, film programs will provide you with an overview of the history of film, enabling you to develop a deeper understanding of the medium and its production.
It will also give you a lot of technical knowledge about how movies and films are made-- which can prove invaluable in the acting world, where accomplished actors frequently end up directing films themselves. In addition to giving you a different perspective on acting, a degree in film can open up a new potential career path for you in the future, so it’s worth keeping in mind.
For a reference on how a film major might look in college, here are the requirements for the Film and Media major at UC Berkeley.
In a similar vein to film, majoring in theater production can give you lots of much-needed practical knowledge about how plays and musicals are put together from the directing and stage-managing side of things. Theater production programs will go far beyond merely teaching students how to act-- you’ll learn about set design, costume design, stage makeup, how to direct, and what a stage manager’s responsibilities are. You’ll also learn how to read a script and translate it appropriately onto a stage, while also developing the ability to make artistic staging decisions.
It can be extremely valuable for an actor to have an understanding of the practicalities of staging a show-- this knowledge can help you make more powerful acting decisions in your portrayal of a character or in your onstage interactions with other actors. It also opens the door for you to get involved in production and directing after graduation as well as acting-- so keep this major in mind.
If you’d like an example of what might be involved in a theater production major, here are the requirements for the Bachelor of the Arts degree in Theater Design and Production and the University of Northern Iowa.
Majoring in screenwriting is a sure-fire way to develop an in-depth understanding of any script you are given and get a good idea of a playwright’s vision for his or her play, which can help you grow into an extremely versatile actor. Screenwriting programs will generally go through the basics of acting and theater production in order to teach students about the history of theater production as well as the current bounds and limits of live performance and film, so this major is useful for getting an idea of how acting looks from a director or audience member’s point of view.
But a screenwriting program also goes further than that. Screenwriters must have a strong understanding of the different elements of a compelling story, the flow of human dialogue, and the ability to imagine human interactions that will tell a story aside from speech-- in other words, they need to be actors without acting. Screenwriting programs will involve a host of writing and scene development workshops, enabling you as an actor to get an inside look at how the plays or movies you hope to play a role in are written.
Here are the requirements for the Bachelor of Sciences degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, if you’d like an idea of what a screenwriting major might include.
Those Were the Best College Majors for Actors
Although it can be daunting to try and figure out what course of study to take in college, it’s always helpful to have an idea of what majors are the most useful for your chosen career path before going in. The majors on this list all provide students with skills that become crucial if you want to pursue a successful acting career-- from screenwriting to theater production to the history of theater, it’s important to have a well-rounded understanding of your own art. So keep these majors in mind while applying to colleges-- and once you’re in, give it everything you’ve got!