Performing Arts Colleges and Schools in California

There are about 45 schools within the state of California that have performing arts degree programs. Read an overview of the 10 largest schools' programs, requirements, and tuition info and find out which school is the right one for you.

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Essential Information

California students who are interested in the performing arts have many program options within the state at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These programs may have emphases within them to help students customize their education. In some cases, credits from a program may transfer to a higher-level degree program.

Students may need to audition or provide a portfolio in order to be admitted to a program. Graduate students may be required to complete a thesis or a comprehensive exam. Additionally, students may have the opportunity to participate in performances. Profiled below are the ten largest public and private non-profit schools in California that offer performing arts programs, as well as a comparison table that highlights key tuition and program info.


American River College

American River College is a 2-year school located in Sacramento. Students interested in the performing arts can find certificate and associate's programs in the theatre arts. The certificate programs are offered in acting, children's theatre, costuming, musical theatre and technical theatre. Individuals who enroll in the associate's program can select between concentrations in acting and technical theatre. Some courses common to both programs include theatre basics, stagecraft and acting techniques. All theatre arts students have the opportunity to participate in plays, improvisation performances and solo acts. The school theatre facilities provide enough space for full-scale productions.

  • Programs Offered: Acting Certificate
    Children's Theatre Certificate
    Costuming Certificate
    Musical Theatre Certificate
    Technical Theatre Certificate
    Associate of Arts in Theatre Arts
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $1,104 in-state; $7,200 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 2-year, public; large suburb

El Camino Community College District

This community college in Torrance offers the following performing arts programs: Associate in Arts (AA) in Dance, AA in Theatre with a specialization in acting and AA in Music. All students have the opportunity to perform in front of an audience, and the school hosts main stage productions, choirs, orchestras and formal dance showings. Music students can choose a specialization like keyboarding or general music. Associate degree courses range from jazz, ballet, acting fundamentals and much more.

  • Programs Offered: Associate in Arts in Dance
    Associate in Arts in Theatre
    Associate in Arts in Music
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $1,142 in-state; $6,204 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 2-year, public; large suburb

Long Beach City College

Situated in the city of Long Beach, this 2-year college offers both theatre and dance programs. The school has an Associate in Arts in Theatre program with emphasis areas in general, technical or acting. Topics covered in all three areas include performance, acting and production. Students can also pursue a vocational media certificate with a concentration in voice-overs, commercials or film acting. Students working toward the Associate in Arts in Dance degree study choreography, dance techniques and ballet. The school also has a dance club that provides scholarship opportunities to exceptional students.

  • Programs Offered: Certificate of Completion in Vocational Media
    Associate in Arts in Theatre
    Associate in Arts in Dance
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $1,366 in-state; $7,218 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 2-year, public; large city

Pasadena City College

Students at this Pasadena school can find an associate's program in theatre arts. The 60-credit Associate of Arts in Theatre Arts program is designed for students who plan to transfer to a 4-year school. Courses include performance and rehearsal, acting basics, studio production fundamentals and more. Although the school doesn't offer any dance programs, the Performing and Communication Arts Department has a range of dance electives like jazz, ballet, ethnic dance and modern dance.

  • Program Offered: Associate of Arts in Theatre Arts
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $1,152 in-state; $6,504 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 2-year, public; midsized city

San Jose State University

This San Jose school offers undergraduate programs for students interested in dance and theatre, as well as a graduate program in theatre. Undergraduates can earn a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. Both require 120 credits and allow students to specialize in jazz or modern dance. The 120-credit theatre major provides courses in directing, screenwriting, acting, stage management and costuming, to name a few. Students who seek to major in an area outside the performing arts can still gain exposure to the field by selecting a 20- to 21-credit minor in theatre arts, musical theatre or dance.

Graduate students can earn a Master of Arts in Theatre Arts. To enroll in the program, they must submit a portfolio and possess an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. This 30-credit program includes core and elective courses in performing arts history, scriptwriting, graduate research and dance. Students have a choice of a thesis or a non-thesis (examination) option.

  • Programs Offered: Minor in Dance
    Minor in Musical Theatre
    Minor in Theatre Arts
    Bachelor of Arts in Dance
    Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance
    Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts
    Master of Arts in Theatre Arts
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $6,852 in-state; $18,510 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 4-year, public; large city

University of California - Davis

Located in Davis, this university has undergraduate and graduate programs in the dramatic arts. Undergraduate dramatic arts majors can choose an emphasis in theatre or dance. Theatre students take courses like acting, analyzing performance and movement fundamentals, while dance students study styles including ballet, jazz and hip-hop. Students may also minor in the dramatic arts.

Graduate students can earn a Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Arts. The program requires students to complete a thesis, and they may take courses in choreography, directing and design.

  • Programs Offered: Minor in Dramatic Art
    Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Art
    Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Art
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $13,877 in-state; $36,755 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 4-year, public; small suburb

University of California - Irvine

This Irvine university has degrees in performing arts like dance, drama and musical theatre. Those interested in dance or musical theatre must audition to be admitted. Music theatre courses combine dance and drama, as well as class topics such as production theory, scripting and American musical theatre history. The drama program integrates professional performance training and classroom academics, while the dance programs cover choreography, dance, research and performance opportunities.

At the graduate level, students can earn a Master of Fine Arts in dance or drama, as well as a doctorate in drama and theatre. Drama students may select an emphasis in acting. The research-oriented doctoral program is the only one of its kind in the country, and it provides seminars and teaching opportunities.

  • Programs Offered: Bachelor of Arts in Dance
    Bachelor of Arts in Drama
    Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance
    Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Theatre
    Master of Fine Arts in Dance
    Master of Fine Arts in Drama
    Doctor of Philosophy in Drama and Theatre
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $13,122 in-state; $36,000 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 4-year, public; midsized city

University of California - Los Angeles

This university in Los Angeles offers a plethora of undergraduate and graduate programs in the performing arts. Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Dance program complete at least 102 units, including classes like dance theories and methods and dance improvisation. The Bachelor of Arts in Theatre allows students to select an elective sequence like acting or general theatre studies. Students can also minor in theatre.

Graduate students can pursue a Master of Arts or a Doctor of Philosophy in Culture and Performance through the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. These programs allow students to combine creative and scholarly work in selected areas like dance, traditional cultural performance and ethnography. The department also offers a 72-unit Master of Fine Arts in Dance program. The Theatre Department also has a Master of Arts in Theatre and a Master of Fine Arts in Acting.

  • Programs Offered: Minor in Theatre
    Bachelor of Arts in Theatre
    Bachelor of Arts in Dance
    Master of Fine Arts in Dance
    Master of Arts in Theatre
    Master of Fine Arts in Acting
    Master of Arts in Culture and Performance
    Doctor of Philosophy in Culture and Performance
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $12,692 in-state; $35,570 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 4-year, public; large city

University of California - San Diego

Located in La Jolla, this school awards performing arts degrees in theatre and dance. Undergraduates can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Dance or Theatre. Dance majors study kinesthetic movement and expression under the tutelage of seasoned dance professionals. Those who select theatre have the option to design a broad liberal arts program or to choose a theatre-intensive curriculum in preparation for graduate school. The university also offers minors in dance and theatre.

Graduate students can earn a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre and Dance. They choose from concentrations like dance theatre or acting. The school also offers a joint Doctor of Philosophy program in drama and theatre in collaboration with UC Irvine.

  • Programs Offered: Minor in Theatre
    Minor in Dance
    Bachelor of Arts in Dance
    Bachelor of Arts in Theatre
    Master of Fine Arts in Theatre and Dance
    Doctor of Philosophy in Drama and Theatre
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $13,217 in-state; $36,095 out-of-state*
  • School Type & Setting: 4-year, public; large city

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is located in Los Angeles, and it offers undergraduate and graduate programs in theatre and dance. Undergraduate students can pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Performing Arts, which covers analysis and appreciation of various disciplines, such as architecture, fine arts, cinema, dance, music and theatre. The school also has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting program. The undergraduate dance program provides training in both the craft and the business knowledge required of professional dancers. Students interested in obtaining formal education in the performing arts without committing to a major can minor in dance, performing arts, applied theatre arts, musical theatre or dramatic arts.

The 3-year Master of Fine Arts in Acting is a conservatory-style program that has training in movement, voice, diction and dramatic analysis. Educators and individuals seeking to bring theatre into non-traditional realms might be interested in the 1-year Master of Arts in Applied Theatre Arts program. Some of the many classes students can take include cultural fieldwork, community engagement, community theatre and writing culture.

  • Programs Offered: Minor in Dance
    Minor in Performing Arts
    Minor in Applied Theatre Arts
    Minor in Musical Theatre
    Minor in Dramatic Arts
    Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance
    Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Performing Arts Studies
    Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting
    Master of Fine Arts in Acting
    Master of Arts in Applied Theatre Arts
  • Tuition & Fees (2012): $44,463*
  • School Type & Setting: 4-year, private not-for-profit; large city

School Comparison: At a Glance

School Name School Type & Setting Performing Arts Degree Programs Offered Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (2012-2013)
American River College 2-year, public; large suburb Acting Certificate,
Children's Theatre Certificate,
Costuming Certificate,
Musical Theatre Certificate,
Technical Theatre Certificate,
Associate of Arts in Theatre Arts
$1,104 in-state; $7,200 out-of-state*
El Camino Community College District 2-year, public; large suburb Associate in Arts in Dance,
Associate in Arts in Theatre,
Associate in Arts in Music
$1,142 in-state; $6,204 out-of-state*
Long Beach City College 2-year, public; large city Certificate of Completion in Vocational Media,
Associate in Arts in Theatre,
Associate in Arts in Dance
$1,366 in-state; $7,218 out-of-state*
Pasadena City College 2-year, public; midsized city Associate of Arts in Theatre Arts $1,152 in-state; $6,504 out-of-state*
San Jose State University 4-year, public; large city Minor in Dance,
Minor in Musical Theatre,
Minor in Theatre Arts,
Bachelor of Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts,
Master of Arts in Theatre Arts
$6,852 in-state; $18,510 out-of-state*
University of California - Davis 4-year, public; small suburb Minor in Dramatic Art,
Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Art,
Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Art
$13,877 in-state; $36,755 out-of-state*
University of California - Irvine 4-year, public; midsized city Bachelor of Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Drama,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Theatre,
Master of Fine Arts in Dance,
Master of Fine Arts in Drama,
Doctor of Philosophy in Drama and Theatre
$13,122 in-state; $36,000 out-of-state*
University of California - Los Angeles 4-year, public; large city Minor in Theatre,
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre,
Bachelor of Arts in Dance,
Master of Fine Arts in Dance,
Master of Arts in Theatre,
Master of Fine Arts in Acting,
Master of Arts in Culture and Performance,
Doctor of Philosophy in Culture and Performance
$12,692 in-state; $35,570 out-of-state*
University of California - San Diego 4-year, public; large city Minor in Theatre,
Minor in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre,
Master of Fine Arts in Theatre and Dance,
Doctor of Philosophy in Drama and Theatre
$13,217 in-state; $36,095 out-of-state*
University of Southern California 4-year, private not-for-profit; large city Minor in Dance,
Minor in Performing Arts,
Minor in Applied Theatre Arts,
Minor in Musical Theatre,
Minor in Dramatic Arts,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance,
Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Performing Arts Studies,
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting,
Master of Fine Arts in Acting,
Master of Arts in Applied Theatre Arts
$44,463*

Source: *NCES College Navigator.

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    • Stanford
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    Areas of study you may find at University of Pennsylvania include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
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    • Providence
    Areas of study you may find at Brown University include:
      • Graduate: First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
  • School locations:
    • Durham
    Areas of study you may find at Duke University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
  • School locations:
    • Notre Dame
    Areas of study you may find at University of Notre Dame include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
  • School locations:
    • Nashville
    Areas of study you may find at Vanderbilt University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Gainesville
    Areas of study you may find at University of Florida include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
  • School locations:
    • Ithaca
    Areas of study you may find at Cornell University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
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      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
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