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College Counseling: Great Schools for Theater Design and Technology

Monday, June 22, 2015


When students fall in love with the world of theatre, they don’t always want to be front and center on the stage. Often, they fall in love with the preparation for the show -- scene design and construction, costume design, promotion, marketing, ticket sales -- or with the minutiae backstage that makes the show a success and creates magic for the audience. Students who learn the production elements of the performing arts have thousands of professional venues worldwide to consider, some of which have not been invented yet. Hundreds of colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in all elements of technical theatre: stage management, costume design, sound design, lighting design, arts management, gaming, interactive media. Often, colleges and universities with top-notch musical theatre and drama programs offer extensive technical theatre degrees, too.

Here are five great schools where kids can earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts or a Bachelor of Arts in theatre design and technology programs:

Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, WA

  • Students in the Performance Production department build and staff seven main stage productions of the Dance, Music, and Theatre departments each year.  
  • Performance Production majors may concentrate in Costume Design, Lighting Design, Scenic Design, Stage Management, or Technical Direction.
  • By the numbers: Undergraduate enrollment 775; Cornish College of the Arts is test-optional.


Emerson College, Boston, MA  

  • Students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program in Theater Design/Technology plan an individualized course of study with their advisor to include classes in costume design, set design, lighting design, and technical design.
  • Working to design stages for Emerson’s various performance spaces, students will develop a portfolio that culminates in a senior-year review with theater professionals. 
  • By the numbers: Undergraduate enrollment: 3700; 48% acceptance rate; SAT Mid-ranges: CR 590-670, M 550-650; ACT Mid-range: 26-30.


Otterbein University, Westerville, OH  

  • The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Design and Technology spend the first two years focusing on practical technical skills, drafting, rendering and visual arts courses, and the junior and senior years specializing in comprehensive design or technology training, serving as master carpenters, wardrobe masters, master electricians, sound assistants, and stage managers. 
  • All students interested in applying to the Design and Technology major at Otterbein must submit a portfolio of work to be pre-screened. After that, a portfolio review will be offered by invitation only. 
  • By the numbers: undergraduate enrollment: 2500; 74% acceptance rate, with 8-10 students accepted into the Design and Technology program each year; SAT Mid-ranges: CR 490-590, M 480-580; ACT Mid-range: 21-26. 


Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 

  • Students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts may earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Design and Technology and may specialize in costume design, set design, or lighting design while working in a variety of production venues on- and off-campus. 
  • Theater design and tech students may participate in a program with Rose Bruford College in London, a semester in New York City, or a study abroad in Florence.
  • By the numbers: Undergraduate enrollment 15,00; 49% acceptance rate; SAT Mid-ranges: CR 500-620, M 540-650; ACT mid-ranges: 23-28.


University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM  

  • The Bachelor of Arts in Design for Performance (D4P) leads to careers in theatre, dance, opera, film, television, gaming and interactive environments, and new media after a course of study including lighting design, stage management, stagecraft, architectural modeling, new media design, and more.
  • The D4P students have the opportunity to design and produce realized pieces for many on- and off-campus theatre and dance performances in order to build a portfolio to present when acquiring professional work. 
  • By the numbers: undergraduate enrollment 21,000; SAT Mid-ranges: CR 470-610, M 470-610; ACT Mid-range: 19-25.


Other colleges and universities that offer an undergraduate degree in theater design and technology include Abilene Christian University (TX), Avila University (MO), Ball State University (IN), Brenau University (GA)< Columbia College Chicago (IL), Drake University (IA), Elon University (NC), Point Park University (PA), Uniersity of Arizona, University of California Irvine, University of Cincinnati (OH), University of Colorado Boulder, University of Florida/Gainesville, University of Idaho, Southern Oregon University, Utah State University. A searchable list by area of interest is available at BroadwayWorld.com

Emily Standish is a partner in Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. Contact me at [email protected].


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