One of the most common questions for people that want to study acting is, should I go to drama school or university, is one better than the other? In this article, I’ll be going over the differences between the two, when you should pick one over the other, and the types of training you’ll encounter in each.
Drama school is considered to be the best form of training for actors. Although there are a few university degrees that will give you the same high level of training. Actors can often benefit from having the name of a top-tier drama school behind them.
The fact of the matter is, I can’t say which option is better for you. There are good drama school and university acting courses worth attending. So instead, I’ll present the facts and things to look out for, in order to assist you in making this important decision.
Table of Contents
What Defines a Drama School?
Before continuing, it’s important that I clarify what I mean by a drama school or as some people call it, acting school. Although acting students at universities can say they attended a drama school, most people that talk about drama school are talking about conservatoire training. This includes schools such as RADA, RWCMD, RCS and many more.
Drama schools will focus on vocational and performance-oriented learning that reflects the professional working environment. Actors in drama school usually have a 9-5 Mon-Fri schedule, but often train longer when preparing for a show.
Many university courses will follow these same guidelines, but most university courses focus on more academic training. So if you want to train vocationally, you must do your research.
The Drama School Experience
There are a few reasons you would choose a drama school over a university, that’s what we’ll go over here.
1. The Training
Drama schools hold themselves to high standards, and actors that go to these schools will receive top-quality training while getting to work with industry professionals such as writers and directors.
Drama schools place a large importance on both practical, performance-based training, and academic learning. When studying at drama school you will get to read many, many scripts, and learn about the different practitioners, while practising their techniques practically.
Here are some of the most popular techniques popularised by Konstantin Stanislavski:
For a drama school, it’s important that every graduate has both an understanding of the art and an outstanding ability as a performer, as each graduate will be representing the school as they become professionals.
Drama schools have a 9-5 Monday – Friday schedule that often touches on voice, movement, acting, script study, and more. But actors will often train well into the evening when rehearsing and putting on productions. Actors will also be expected to work on their own time, learning lines, rehearsing scenes and reading. Not all drama schools teach acting for screen, so if this is important to you, do your research.
Drama school training is very full-on, you’ll often find yourself coming home wanting to fall straight into bed. Physical health and fitness are very important in order to push yourself.
2. The Reputation
There’s a reason that drama schools have a perception of being better, whether it’s true or not. And that’s because most drama schools have amazing reputations with long lists of successful alumni. When actors graduate, having the name of a reputable drama school on your CV can be a massive bonus, which often helps get your foot in the door.
Although many casting directors and agents care more about your acting ability and your experience, it can be an extra penny in the bucket that can only help.
3. Applying to a Drama School
Drama schools are very sought after for actors. Thousands of people apply to drama schools each year to audition, and that means it’s very hard to get in. They will only let in the people they believe have the potential to be the best. If you get a place in drama school, don’t take it lightly, work hard, and you can be one of the best.
There are two ways of applying to drama schools. For some schools you apply through UCAS Conservatoires, pay a small application fee, and then you must also pay to audition for each school individually. For schools that aren’t on UCAS Conservatoires, you must apply on their website and pay a small
When auditioning, you’ll usually be expected to do two varying speeches, each under 2 minutes. One contemporary and one from before the 1800s, although this depends on the school.
Although your performance is important, arguably the most important thing is your ability to take direction. If the person you’re auditioning for asks you to do the monologue again and gives you some direction, don’t worry about making it good. Make a strong choice, in relation to that direction and run with it. When the audition panel can see you took the direction and ran with it, taking a risk, they will be more likely to bring you back for recall auditions.
4. Productions & Showcases
Drama schools have great contacts in the industry and many actors, directors, agents, casting directors and other industry professionals go to drama school productions and showcases to find new talent.
This is a major opportunity to network with industry professionals, like agents. Give your best performances as you never know who’s watching.
When you graduate from a drama school in the UK, you become eligible to join Spotlight. Spotlight is the industry standard casting platform for agents and casting directors around the UK. This where professional actors get their auditions.
There are a few ways to get spotlight. You either need a 3 professional credits (not including short films, commercials, or extra work.) Or if you’re a graduate of a partnered school. All UK conservatoires are Spotlight eligible, which is very important.
Although you can get Spotlight by landing an agent. Most agents aren’t interested in taking an actor onto their books until they have Spotlight.
The University Experience
What about university? There are many similarities between a university and a drama school, that’s what we’ll go over here.
1. Academic vs Performance Based Courses
There are a lot of university acting courses in the UK and finding the good ones can be hard. BA Acting, BA Drama, BA Theatre Studies, to name a few. If you’re wanting to become a professional actor, for ease, it’s probably best to stick to courses named “Acting” rather than “Drama,” “Theatre Studies,” or anything similar.
Theatre Studies courses will usually be more academic, and although they may include acting, you’ll spend most of your time doing academics, you’ll also be expected to do a dissertation.
For me, if I have to do a dissertation, it’s a no-go. I want to train to become the best actor I can be, not write about it. Although most courses in both drama schools and universities will include some form of written coursework. If you want to act for a living, try to look for courses that focus more on the performance side.
2. The Training
When choosing a university course, you’ll want to do your research. Talk to the people in charge of the course and maybe even some graduates if you can, to find out what the program is like. University courses that have a 9-5 Monday – Friday are the best.
A good university course will focus on voice, movement, acting technique, scene study, and much more. Just like drama school, not all university courses will have modules on acting for screen, if this is something you find important, do your research into which courses include it.
There are some really top-quality university acting courses out there that teach acting to the highest quality, you just have to find them.
When it comes you university courses, even more so than drama schools – DO YOUR RESEARCH!
3. Applying to University
Universities are usually easier to get accepted into than drama schools as they’re not as sort out as drama schools, although this doesn’t mean they’re any worse courses, and it can actually be a huge benefit.
In the UK, we apply to universities through UCAS. You pay a small one-time fee to apply to up to five courses you’d like to audition for.
When auditioning, you’ll be asked to do a monologue, sometimes two. Make sure you follow the specifications of each school as some will ask for one contemporary and one from before the 1800s.
The one thing that the audition panel will find more important than your acting ability is your ability to take direction. If you’re a good actor but you can’t take direction, then what’s the point in training, you’ll never improve. After giving your speech if you’re given a direction, go all in. Make a strong choice, and run with it. Don’t worry about being good, necessarily, as they understand they’re putting you on the spot. They just want to see how open to direction you are. If you make a mistake, just run with it and be confident. This will increase your chances of being accepted tenfold.
Most university courses only have one audition, and there are no recalls, so now you just need to wait. You’ll then get a letter or email letting you know whether you got in.
Not all university courses are Spotlight eligible. That means that after you spend three years training, you won’t even be able to join the industry-standard casting platform. In my opinion, these courses should be avoided!
Becoming Spotlight eligible the normal way, without going to an accredited school is very hard, and takes many people years. This can then cause you to struggle when getting agents too.
Before applying to a university course, send Spotlight an email with the schools you’re interested in attending and ask if they’re Spotlight accredited, all good university acting courses will be eligible.
How Do I Choose?
So how do you choose between drama school and university? You don’t have to choose, why not apply to both and if you get into a top drama school, great!
When attending the auditions for all the universities and drama schools you applied to, take in the atmosphere. How does it make you feel? The most important thing is that you enjoy being there. When I auditioned at my school, I knew that it was going to be my first choice, instantly. You’ll know too.
Other than that, do your research and don’t rush your decision. If you are dead set on attending a top drama school like RADA or LAMDA, it can take years of auditioning to be accepted. That’s a choice you must be prepared to make.
To hear more about the differences between university and drama school, click here to read an article from ActingInLondon.