Paying for an Acting Degree

If you’re hoping to attend a graduate program in acting, finances may be the first thing on your mind. Higher education across the board can be a costly but fulfilling experience for undergraduate and graduate students. For theater, a profession often greeted with “good luck making money with that,” finances can be a real stressor. Don’t fret; Theater.Academy has you covered with all of the facts and fixes about financing the MFA in Acting.

Most MFA in Acting programs do cost tuition to attend. This cost varies greatly, with a range from you getting paid, to costing $0 a year up to costing $60,000 a year for tuition, not including the cost of housing, food, and other necessities. This cost changes from program to program and will require a specific look from you as you consider which programs to apply for.

For instance, the MFA program at Florida Atlantic University can cost to attend for some applicants, but for others, like Florida State, a full tuition waiver as well as an assistantship to cover living expenses and additional scholarships/awards are available. Juilliard, on the other end of the spectrum, costs $60,000 in tuition a year to attend (plus the cost of living in NYC), where the only aid is that tuition is waived for the fourth year of graduate study. A select few programs do not cost to attend and pay for all tuition and living, such as Yale and Brown; some even offer additional living stipends on top of paying for your schooling, such as Case Western.

Most schools, even ones that may cost a little, offer tuition waivers. A tuition waiver means the student will not need to pay tuition for any of their coursework over the course of the MFA in Acting training program. Currently, 22 MFA in Acting programs in the United States offer a full tuition waiver to some or all MFA in Acting students.  

About half of the current MFA in Acting programs offer reduced or total coverage of the cost of the MFA program in exchange for some form of work for the university. This ranges from teaching classes, serving as a work-study, or participating in research in the realm of theater. The general term “graduate assistantships” is often used by the programs to describe this offering. The amount, style, and requirements of these assistantships vary between every single program, with some only offering a few assistantships and some offering them for every student. Since there is so much variety, the best course of action for an applicant to understand this is to look at their specific school of interest’s description of their assistantship. What is exciting about these opportunities is that the job used to finance your MFA doubles as deepened learning and experience in the field you are studying. In this way, you are being compensated for choosing higher learning. The theater lover in you should cheer!

Though general, scholarships are listed as available for every MFA in Acting program. In some situations, it refers to the FAFSA/need-based financial aid available from the government, sometimes it refers to merit-based scholarships awarded by each individual university, and sometimes it refers to private need-based awards from individual programs. Overall, they are available, but you mostly will not know what they are until you are accepted and offered them. For instance, Columbia’s School of the Arts awards over $13 million in student aid each year in the form of tuition scholarships, paid service positions, teaching appointments, and institutional awards.

Just like undergraduate, FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) allows students to fill out a form to apply for financial aid for college or graduate school from the US government. Every school that still costs offers this as an option.  

You may have luck in finding small contests, organizational awards, or prize money to help afford the MFA in Acting. Here are just a few options we found for you!

• F. Lammot Belin Arts Scholarship | Waverly Community House | Link
• Lyric Music Theater Scholarship | Link
• Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships | The Kennedy Center | Link
• Against The Grain Artistic Scholarship | Link
• SAG-AFTRA Foundation John L. Dales Scholarship Fund | Link
• Cody Renard Richard Scholarship Program | Broadway Advocacy Coalition | Link
• Hattie McDaniel Acting Scholarship | The Directors Company | Link


1. Search for what suits you. When selecting your ideal program, the finances should be just as important as the coursework. Look for what you need! If you have undergraduate loans already, consider only applying for the programs with lower tuition costs and work-study compensation. If you want time to focus on your studies but also need an affordable option, consider the free-to-lower-cost tuition schools that don’t necessarily require an assistantship. If you love to teach, the graduate assistantships may be the answer to this dilemma!

2. Plan ahead and save beforehand! Being mindful with your money before heading to graduate study can help give you more time and energy to focus on getting the most out of your MFA! There’s no harm in waiting a few years to save up money (and experience) before taking the next steps along your MFA journey!

3. Remember the small things. When applying for the MFA in Acting, there’s more than just the cost of the MFA to consider. In your process, you will also need to budget out money for application fees (multiple, if you are applying to more than one program), airfare or other transportation costs to get you to your auditions and callbacks, lodging for auditions and callbacks, new headshots, printing headshots and resumes, coaching, etc. While that list may seem large, having a practiced professional experienced in these kinds of auditions, like one of Theater.Academy’s coaches, can help you ensure your money and time are well-utilized and contribute to a more whole showing of all that you are!

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