It’s that time of year where students leaving compulsory education may be wondering whether they want to continue their study of drama in the space of a university, or at a prestigious drama school. Much like the video I made last year, I’ve decided to break down the pros and cons of each one in each category.
WHAT YOU LEARN
The reason people go to drama school is because they want to be in the “biz” and train as an actor/performer/director etc. So, the way you learn at drama schools and conservatoires reflects that. Days can be eight-hours long full of practical classes and run on late into the evenings and weekends. Students spend time meeting with coaches, agents, and directors, performing in showcases and auditions to get as much experience, and hopefully jobs, as possible. If you are absolutely certain that this is the career you want, then go for these types of schools.
University, however, is a different story. The days are a lot shorter (of course, depending how much work you put in), as contact hours/classes are few. What is taught is an extension of A-Level; a mixture of both the academic and practical, though I will stress that there is a lot more theory/essays than practical classes, at least in my experience anyway. You learn about the cultural, social, and historical aspects of theatre, practitioners, and think about different elements and how to read theatre academically as opposed to just performing it. The practical classes, I’ve found, are also based more around performance art and are an extension of the academic work, rather than acting. Most students fuel their desire to perform through joining the theatre societies which run at their university. Also, you can do a joint honours degree at university, by combining drama with another subjects such as English, Film, or Languages, to name a few.
Both types of institutions award you with an undergraduate (BA) degree!
HOW TO GET IN
For university, you have to apply through UCAS, which is commonplace for all courses. I won’t go into too much detail about how UCAS works as I feel most people know this by now. Universities expect you to get a specific set of results in your A-Levels (or equivalent). For example, Queen Mary wanted AAB, Royal Holloway ABB, and Bournemouth BBB. Some may also ask for a specific grade in a specific subject, such as a B in Drama (if this subject was taken). On top of these grades and your personal statement, some universities (such as UEA) may ask you to come to an interview/audition, though the audition is purely to measure your responsive-ness and enthusiasm rather than talent, as opposed to drama schools. Through UCAS, you can apply for up to five universities for around a £30 fee.
Drama schools, however, are an entirely different kettle of fish. The audition is make-or-break, and they are of course highly selective. Auditions are rigorous, and can involve a few callbacks.
You usually have to perform two contrasting monologues (classic and contemporary) as well as follow direction from the panel to see how easy to direct and take on critique you are. Some schools may also ask you to perform a song or two. An up-to-date resume with experience and a headshot is a must, and many also want to see some qualifications.
On top of this, drama schools ask that you pay a fee to audition, which can be in the range of £40. This, on top of travel/hotels to each audition, can add up, so it’s something to bear in mind.
As many of you probably already know, if you go to a traditional university, the yearly tuition fee of £9,000 can be paid for by the Student Loans Company, and is only repayable when you earn over £21,000 after graduation. You are also eligible for maintenance loans and grants.
Despite also training and getting a degree, the drama schools who do not go though UCAS do not have student loans, as you will have to pay for the fees upfront, which is pretty expensive, especially on top of accommodation/living expenses. Of course, there are scholarships and bursaries available, but as always in this industry they are competitive.
Each institution has their own policy, so it’s worth researching this yourself.
The aim of university is to make you a scholar and academic in your chosen field. So, studying drama at university should make you a scholar in Drama, but of course still be an able enough performer. Your job prospects are usually wider, especially if you have completed a joint honours degree. Possible jobs include teaching, dramaturgy, academia, management, and more.
At drama school, your aim is to become an actor or someone who is “in the business”, hence agency showcases and the focus upon performing and the industry itself. This doesn’t necessarily limit you compared to a university education, but it must be known that many employers look at degrees more favorably from universities than drama schools if looking for an “ordinary” job.
From things I’ve read about drama school, they don’t often accept people straight out of school at eighteen. Instead, they opt for those who may have a bit more “life-experience” (whatever that means) to work from. Though that doesn’t mean you won’t get in at eighteen!
Drama schools also run postgraduate courses, which is something you may instead opt to look at after doing an undergraduate degree at a conventional university.
This is often chosen because unfortunately drama is still not seen as a very respectable subject. Many actors do a degree in History or English, whilst doing theatre on the side, before going to drama school for an MA.
Benedict Cumberbatch, for instance, got his BA in Drama from Manchester University, before going to LAMDA for a postgraduate in acting. Drama schools also offer more than just acting degrees – they also run courses on directing, musical theatre, playwrighting, set design, stage managing, and many more.
I hope this was useful to some of you! Let me know if it was or if you’ve got any questions!
Header image courtesy of Queen Mary, University of London.