Getting Into Drama School In The UK

Drama school offers full-time training into a performance career but it’s not for the faint-hearted. We list the top Acting and Musical Theatre destinations.


How Do You Get Into Acting School?

It’s best to visit as many drama schools on open days as you can, to assess if you’d be happy there. Then, make your application before the deadline.

Drama schools audition and meet everyone at least once. Popular drama schools may ask you to return three or four times as they whittle down the applicant numbers in each round.

What Qualifications Do You Need To Get Into Drama School?

It’s rare for drama schools to demand specific qualifications. Instead, the selection processes will focus on an individual’s talent and commitment.

You might find representation with an acting agency, professional credits or even experience on the set of a micro-budget film helps.

But at the end of the day, it’s your talent in the audition room which must stand out.

Paying For Drama School Auditions

Unlike academic courses, paying for entry assessment is normal. By the time you have auditioned for five or six drama schools, your audition fees alone will have set you back many hundreds of pounds.

Add to that the cost of travel, especially if you are lucky enough to get a callback or two, and all your savings may well disappear even before you get a place.

How Do You Prepare For Drama School Auditions?

You’ll be given clear instructions about the number and types of monologues they want you to deliver. Read these instructions carefully and follow them.

Many applicants have an acting coach for their monologue, but you’ll also be given direction in the casting room. They want to see how natural you can be, and your ability to live in the moment.

Your group work and improvisation skills also count in the selection process. If you don’t have experience of this, join a Youth Theatre now.

Musical theatre applicants will be given instructions about the dances and songs to prepare. But you’ll also be tested in the audition room to see how you cope with new routines and instruction. You’ll need to be appropriately dressed so you are comfortable and able to dance well.

Monologues For Drama School Auditions

If you have been given a list of monologues to choose from, choose your monologue from that list. Doing something else suggests you can’t follow simple instructions or are a pain to work with, whatever your explanation.

Choose a monologue that fits your casting type. Think carefully about what role a casting director would consider you for.

You need to know your monologues inside and out. Understand what the plot is, where the monologue comes in the play, who the character is, and who they are speaking to. What emotions exist in the piece?

But your flexibility and skill in taking direction are also under the microscope. So however well you deliver your monologue in the audition room, listen carefully to the changes the interview panel now wants to see.

What Are The Chances Of Getting Into Drama School?

Competition for the most prestigious drama courses far exceeds anything faced by candidates for academic places at the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge. And all of it is intense.

The odds of getting into a good drama school are low, and any course which has a high acceptance rate should make you pause for thought. You don’t want to spend years and thousands of pounds training if it doesn’t improve your chances of getting relevant work.

When Do You Hear The Results?

Many drama schools will indicate a timescale for results. But in reality, some applicants will hear within hours, while others wait for weeks before getting their result. Even applicants to the same course can be told at different times.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Go To Drama School?

Courses which lead to a bachelor’s degree usually set 18 as the minimum age for new entrants. If you’re younger than this, you could consider full-time training at an arts school or a drama course at a local college.

There’s rarely an official maximum age limit for drama school entrants. Many students go to drama school after university. It’s common to find people at drama schools who are changing careers after a decade or two.

The average age of getting into drama school depends on the institution and courses offered, as a different focus demands different skills and abilities.

A large number of applications to drama school are from young people around the age of 18. Some do get accepted. But many benefit from two or three years in the adult world and come back to audition as better and more experienced actors.

How Long Do You Have To Go To School For Acting?

Foundation courses run for two or three terms, but do not lead to accreditation. They are often used as a springboard (albeit an expensive one) to gain entry on a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor degrees run for three years full-time, whilst post-graduate acting courses are a year full-time.

Many drama schools also run short courses. You won’t get accreditation but may learn some valuable skills.

If casting directors look at someone’s training, they are primarily interested in bachelor and postgraduate courses.

Can I Get A Student Loan For Drama School?

Once you have secured a place, you face a funding issue.

If you received an offer of a place on a bachelor’s degree in acting, and you haven’t already been to university, you can get a student loan for the tuition fee. Depending on your household income, you may also be eligible to receive a student loan for maintenance costs.

But many institutions offer places on their Foundation degree course or deliver courses not qualifying for the student loan criteria.

If you move to London, the cost of rent is crippling. As hard as it is to win a place at drama school, obtaining a scholarship or financial support will be even tougher.

But don’t think “Well, I’m going to drama school near me” unless that happens to offer high-quality training and industry contacts to improve your chances of a successful career. Otherwise, you will spend years training and thousands of pounds in fees and living costs with little benefit in the long term.

Working During Drama School

Don’t be fooled into thinking a part-time job will provide the answer to your financial problems. Many institutions specifically bar students from accepting work which will interrupt their training. A good musical theatre or acting course can have students on site from breakfast until the evening.

Once you graduate, fame and riches are a long way off, should they ever arrive. Analysis of graduate income shows that Performing Arts degrees consistently deliver the worst income outcomes five years later.

Reasons To Go To Drama School

So, why bother applying for drama school?

You have the answer. Otherwise, you’d be making a different decision.

The Best School For Acting or Musical Theatre

The biggest issue for drama school graduates is access to casting directors. They are the gatekeepers to paid acting work for stage, TV, and film. Each year, they visit a select number of drama schools to spot up and coming talent. When reviewing submissions for work, they look at the institution you trained with as part of the decision making process.

Unfortunately, this means reputation is one of the most important elements you must consider when deciding which drama school to apply for.

It doesn’t mean those places alone have access to the highest quality teaching staff and best training experiences. Many staff work across two or three drama schools. Moreover, some of them may not feel the right fit for you and three years will feel like a lifetime if you are unhappy or desperately short of money throughout.

There is an ever-expanding choice of courses with newer organisations which offer drama and musical theatre training which can be very high quality and affordable. However, be aware that they lack the reputation which opens the right doors to top-level casting directors. That puts the onus onto you to work harder to make your career happen.

So choosing the best drama school for acting or musical theatre training isn’t straightforward. It all relies on your funding, ability – and a few massive dollops of luck. But if you visit a drama school and feel it is a good fit for you, and there is a solid alumnus showing that the previous graduates have gained work, you have important pieces for what is ultimately your decision.

8 Drama Schools To Turbo-Boost Your Career

In August 2018, The Stage magazine’s WestEndProducer listed top drama schools which would seriously help aspiring performers to get into the right casting circles. They are:

Top Drama Schools For Straight Actors

  • The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA)
  • London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art (LAMDA)
  • Guildhall School of Music & Drama
  • Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

Top Drama Schools To Launch A Musical Theatre Career

  • Mountview
  • Guildford School of Acting (GSA)
  • Arts Educational School, London
  • Urdang Academy

With thousands of people wanting to secure training places on acting and musical theatre courses each year, only a select few will be given places at these drama schools listed. Approximately 1 in every 100 applicants will be offered a place.

Conservatoires In The UK

Conservatoires offer a range of musical and drama training, along with other specialisms in the theatre arts profession. Degree and postgraduate degree courses are among the options available in these elite institutions.

The Conservatoires in the UK are:

  • Royal Central School of Speech And Drama
  • Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
  • London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art (LAMDA)
  • Royal Academy of Music
  • Guildhall School of Music & Drama
  • Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
  • Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
  • Royal College of Music
  • Leeds College of Music
  • Royal Northern College of Music
  • The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

The forum ‘Not a pushy mum’ (NAPM) is repeatedly recommended in our articles. The young people and their parents contributing to the forum have genuine experience of working and training in the acting and musical theatre industry. The annual round of auditions for training places draw existing and new members to support and encourage each other. You can find out everything from what to wear to a drama school audition to locating nearby places to board.

Popular destinations for drama and musical theatre students discussed in the forum, which have not already been listed above, are:

  • Bird College
  • Laine Theatre Arts
  • Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts
  • Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance
  • Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA)
  • Emil Dale
  • East 15 Acting School
  • Chichester University
  • University of Central Lancaster (UCLAN)
  • Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA)
  • Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama (MADD College)
  • Evolution Foundation College

Some of these institutions have a mixed response from forum contributors. It’s a good reminder that you must do detailed and thorough research before making your application.

But don’t think the applications will be a breeze for any drama school – the competition for entry will be severe at any institution with high-quality training valued by casting directors. Plus, you must work hard throughout your studies. You could find yourself in classes and rehearsals for up to 40 hours a week.

Drama Colleges For 16-Year-Olds

This article is aimed at those over the age of 18 seeking a course at drama school. But many people decide to leave school after GCSEs and seek immediate training at a drama college or school.

Firstly, think carefully about following this route. Performing arts careers are precarious and rarely bring in earnings equivalent to full-time minimum wage income. A-levels or a technical qualification might later be more useful to pay your bills when you’re having difficulties even getting invited to an audition room. You can still attend a summer course for the performing arts or join a local youth theatre.

Secondly, look at one of the performing arts colleges even if it means boarding onsite or with a nearby family. Tring Park School, The Hammond School, Italia Conti, Emil Dale, the Wilkes Academy, and the Sylvia Young Theatre School are some of your options. They are expensive but some scholarships are available if your talent is exceptional.

Finally, high level intensive, industry-focussed local training might exist in your own area. Local sixth form colleges, however, usually offer performing arts courses targeted to national qualifications rather than industry training.

At each facility you visit, ask a lot of questions about what happened to previous cohorts from any course you offered. Also, if you are given the name of a past student who became successful, do a bit of online searching. See if the course was a key part of entering their career or whether they found an alternative route into the industry.

Even if you are desperate to act, you don’t need to drop everything else at 16. There is nothing stopping you doing A-Levels and acting in your spare time to get experience and IMDb credits. Keep yourself and your money safe though!

Not Getting Into Drama School

Even if you can’t get into drama school, you can still become a screen actor. The route will be harder, and you’ll probably need to keep earning money from another source while you build up experience and contacts. You can always go to drama school later if you want to be a straight actor – many admissions teams prefer applicants with life experience anyway.

To gain acting experience without an agent or drama school training, you can apply directly for jobs through a number of Casting Websites.

Roles also regularly crop up on Facebook Groups for film networks. They are often disorganised and unreliable student projects. However, you can usually get some decent showreel out of it to support future applications.

In addition, approach selected casting directors with a well prepared and concise email. You can find out more about the content your email should include in our article What Does A Casting Director Do? There, you’ll also find information about some of today’s top casting directors in the UK.

An Introduction to RADA

RADA is based in the Bloomsbury area of central London. It is a famous drama school which has been training actors and stage management professionals since 1904.

There is fierce competition for places at the school, especially for the prestigious degree courses.

What Can You Study At RADA?

The school offers everything from short courses to three-year bachelor degree courses, from foundation degrees to masters degrees. You must be at least 18 years of age when most courses start but there is no upper age limit. RADA does not participate in the UCAS scheme so you will need to make a direct application. You don’t need formal qualifications to be considered but you will need to be well prepared for each audition. Successful candidates are offered a place at the end of a rigorous process of four audition rounds.

Auditioning For RADA

RADA offers the first round of auditions at a number of different locations outside of London. This ensures applications are made regardless of location or income. The final audition rounds all take place in London. The first round audition venues visited each year are:

  • Leicester
  • Manchester
  • Newcastle
  • Plymouth
  • Dublin
  • New York
  • Los Angeles

All applicants are charged an audition fee, but if your household income is low then you can apply for the fees to be waived. Some help towards the travel costs to attend an audition may also be offered. You can find more information on the  RADA website. There are only 100 fee waivers available each year. Allocation is on a first-come-first-served basis. So if you think you are eligible then apply as soon as possible.

More than 3,000 people apply for the BA Hons Acting course each year. There may be up to four rounds of auditions. Only 14 men and 14 women will receive an offer of a place.

Please remember that the entire career of an actor involves a constant round of auditions which come to nothing. If you are not resilient, this is not the career for you.

The Difficulties Of Funding Your RADA Studies

RADA does not offer student accommodation for any of its students. Moreover, London is a very expensive place in which to live. As a student, you cannot claim housing benefit from the local council.  Because of the high number of contact hours and rehearsal time required on a RADA course, you will not do paid work during term time. You may, therefore, expect RADA students to be overwhelmingly wealthy. But in 2012/13 71% of their acting students had previously attended state schools, and 40% of the total student cohort came from families with a household income of less than £25,000 per annum.

Unfortunately, your financial difficulty will continue after graduation. Casting directors expect actors to be highly flexible and available to audition with very little notice. Sometimes you will have to learn many pages of script overnight ready for an off-page audition. All this will prevent you from earning a decent income whilst waiting for the big break, and London is the most expensive city in the world to live in.

Attend A Short Course At RADA

RADA runs a number of short courses, including the Saturday workshops for 16 to 20-year-olds. They cost £50 a workshop, and whilst they cover a variety of subjects you can apply to do as many or as few of them as you wish to attend. Each workshop has only 16 places available and they only run for a limited number of weeks.

Young People aged between 16-20 who live in the London area may apply for the RADA Youth Company. This requires successful applicants to attend intensive Saturday workshops for 35 weeks during the academic year. The fees are £170 per year and financial assistance is available to those who need it. The photographs on the RADA website suggest the Youth Company welcomes diversity amongst its members.

RADA is more than an acting school. Those interested in technical theatre and stage management, stage costume, lighting design or property making will find practical and inspiring courses on offer.

An Introduction To Central

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is one of the top drama schools in the UK. Now part of the University of London, competition for places through UCAS is fierce.

A Top Drama School Offering Conservatoire Training

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is commonly referred to as ‘Central’. It became a college of the University of London in 2005. The high-quality training provided since Central’s foundation in 1906 means that the school has a strong national reputation for spotting and developing tomorrow’s talent. 

Central offers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, centred around the performing arts. They include acting, stage management, puppetry, theatre lighting design, voice studies, creative producing and scenography.

Research degrees are also offered, as are evening courses, short courses, and workshops.

You can view the full list on Central’s website.

Applying To Central

Most of the courses prepare students for professional practice and a higher education qualification. This means they are looking for young people who would thrive from both and professional training and intellectual engagement. Aptitude and motivation are as important as formal qualifications.

If you are applying for an undergraduate place at Central, you should apply through UCAS. Ideally, submit the application during the September or October in the year before you want to start.

Central’s Acceptance Rate

 You will be against a lot of tough competition. Over 100 people apply for every space on the acting courses. Now let that sink in. It is more than apply for each place at Oxford or Cambridge University, so you need to be ahead of the crowd.

Auditions At The Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama

Auditions start in November. Make sure you apply before the audition slots are full.

Invitations to the audition are sent to the email address used to make an application. Keep an eye on your spam box! The email will include details of the preparation you must do. The audition day will also include a tour around the school.

The audition fee is £55 per applicant. However, if your family circumstances make you eligible, you will have the fee waived.

A number of Youtube channels discuss the audition process and these give a good insight into the challenges ahead.

If you don’t get in the first time, come back and try again next year because experience helps. 

Accommodation For Central Students

The Royal Central School for Speech and Drama is based in the Swiss Cottage area of London. Local accommodation is expensive. However, the University of London allocates a number of rooms in its halls of residence to Central students. Also, there are several private halls of residence in the area.

Saturday Youth Theatre at Central

Obtaining acting and stage experience in a Youth Theatre is a great way to prepare for drama school and a performing career. Because training is so important, we have written about Youth Theatre In The UK and compiled a list of your options around the country. 

The Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama runs a Saturday Youth Theatre. This is for children and young people between the ages of 6 and 17 years.

The term fees for 2017 are £235. Younger siblings of current Saturday Youth Theatre students receive a 10% discount. Furthermore, bursaries are offered to applicants meeting strict criteria – if sufficient funding is available. If you need a bursary, apply as soon as you can.

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