How can acting students determine the real value of a BFA?
Is a degree really necessary to be a successful actor? The short answer is no. You can find a lot of debate on the topic. Most will agree that one can excel as an actor without a college degree. The real question, however, centers on the value of the acting program itself. Does it enable the acting student to develop a variety of tools and skills that translate beyond college? Can the student apply what is learned to a successful career path, acting or otherwise?
Yes, it’s possible to be a successful actor without the paper to prove it.
A number of people have the innate ability to naturally express themselves on stage or in front of the camera without any formal training at all. And a relatively small subset of these people are fortunate enough to be cast in acting roles that can suddenly elevate their status as actors or even celebrities. The point is that while some successful actors have a BFA or even an MFA, the degree itself is certainly not required.
It’s not about the degree. It’s about the training to develop skills.
Great actors are always looking to dig deeper and develop further. For many theater students, the right college, conservatory, or program has provided the environment and guidance to allow them to blossom as performers. Additionally, the variety of skills that are developed with proper theater training can carry over to a number of different career tracks. Even within the theater world, you’ll find many directors, producers, and writers who were trained as actors.
BFA or no BFA, here are 50 top actors, the schools they attended, and the degrees they pursued or completed.
- Sandra Bullock, East Carolina University, BA
- Steve Buscemi, Nassau Community College, no degree
- Kristen Chenowith, Oklahoma City University, BFA
- George Clooney, Northern Kentucky University, BA
- Gavin Creel, University of Michigan, BFA
- Johnny Depp, did not attend college, n/a
- Will Ferrell, USC, BA
- Anna Ferris, University of Washington, BA
- James Franco, UCLA, BA
- Richard Gere, UMass Amherst, BA
- Paul Giammatti, Yale University, BA
- Whoopi Goldberg, did not attend college, n/a
- Tommy Lee Jones, Harvard University, BA
- Keira Knightly, Esher College (UK), BA
- Lisa Kudrow, Vassar College, BA
- Mila Kunas, UCLA & Loyola Marymount, BA
- Ashton Kutcher, University of Iowa, BA
- Laura Linney, Juilliard, BFA
- John Lithgow, Harvard University, BA
- Julianna Margulies, Sarah Lawrence College, BA
- Rachel McAdams, York University (Canada), BFA
- James McAvoy, did not attend college, n/a
- Audra McDonald, Juilliard, BM
- Idina Menzel, NYU, BFA
- Debra Messing, Brandeis University, BA
- Edward Norton, Yale University, BA
- Chris O’Donnell, Boston College, BA
- Laura Osnes, University of Wisconsin, BFA
- Al Pacino, did not attend college, n/a
- Mary Louise Parker, North Carolina School of the Arts, BFA
- Brad Pitt, University of Missouri, BA
- Natalie Portman, Harvard University, BA
- Alan Rickman, Chelsea College of Art and Design, BFA
- Tim Robbins, UCLA, BA
- Julia Roberts, Georgia State University, BA
- Seth Rogen, did not attend college, n/a
- Meg Ryan, NYU, BA
- Winona Ryder, did not attend college, n/a
- Adam Sandler, NYU, BFA
- David Schwimmer, Northwestern University, BA
- Brooke Shields, Princeton University, BA
- Anna Deveare Smith, Beaver College (ACT), BA (MFA)
- Kevin Spacey, Juilliard, BFA
- Meryl Streep, Vassar (Yale), BA (BFA)
- Barbara Streisand, did not attend college, n/a
- Denzel Washington, Fordham University, BA
- Sigourney Weaver, Stanford University, BA
- Kristen Wiig, University of Arizona, BA
- Renee Zellweger, University of Texas, BA
- Katherine Zeta-Jones, Arts Educational School, London, BA
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