17 Best Performing Arts High Schools in the US — 2024

May 22, 2024

best performing arts high schools

Although some might think performing arts high schools are all musical theatre and no APs, the best arts-focused schools are rigorous, well-rounded institutions that push students to excel academically and creatively.

Some graduates do go on to become actors, dancers, musicians, and filmmakers. However, the primary goal of performing arts high schools is to nurture creative thinkers who can go on to innovate across industries. The public, private, and boarding performing arts high schools listed below have it all: high college placement rates, rich arts programming, and alumni who have gone on to successful careers inside and outside of the arts.

Best Performing Arts High Schools: Admissions

Though many of the schools listed below are tuition-free public schools, admission to performing arts high schools can often be selective. Applying typically involves an audition and interview. It’s a nerve-wracking prospect, but the process is ultimately an experience that will help prepare students for many auditions and interviews to come.

Just like they always say: practice makes perfect. So, it’s a good idea to have experience in the arts before you apply. Middle school choir, music lessons, summer theatre camp—every arts experience you immerse yourself in will help you succeed when it’s your time to stand in the spotlight in front of the admissions board.

What should I look for in a school?

When considering a performing arts high school, make sure to look for a school that offers classes in your performance area. Most arts-focused schools will teach dance, music, and theatre, but robust programs will offer a wide variety of electives within each field plus additional courses in topics like filmmaking, creative writing, and visual art.

Other must-haves to look for include:

  • An array of practice rooms, performance stages, and theatres
  • Teachers who are experienced artists and performers
  • Connections to the local arts community
  • Professional guest speakers with arts careers
  • A supportive, collaborative environment

Ready to pick the right performing arts high school for you? Read on for more information about:

  • The best performing arts high schools in NYC
  • The best performing arts high schools in Los Angeles
  • The best performing arts high schools in the rest of the US

Note: The criteria considered in compiling this list included peer reputation, unique programs/opportunities, and career connections/outcomes data. As with all rankings, we advise you not to place too much emphasis on whether a school was listed at #1 or #7. The better way to use this list would be as a launching point to further explore each of the performing arts high schools to see which best suit your unique needs. 

Best Performing Arts High Schools in NYC

1) Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts

Since 1936, gifted performers have been pursuing an arts-based education at LaGuardia High School, otherwise known as the “Fame” school. Located in Manhattan near Julliard and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, LaGuardia students have access to everything NYC has to offer while earning their high school diploma. At this free public school, admitted students can pursue dance, fine arts, technical theater, drama, instrumental music, and vocal music. Moreover, they undertake conservatory-level pre-professional training (3-5 periods per day, 5 days per week) alongside college prep-level academics. Over 20 APs are available, and graduates go on to some of the most selective schools, universities, and performing arts colleges in the country.

  • Location: New York, NY

2) Professional Performing Arts School

Founded in 1990, PPAS is a public school that serves students in grades 6-12. Courses in musical theater, dance, drama, and classical vocal are all taught by professional artists, and the school partners with a number of performing arts organizations including The School of American Ballet and The National Chorale. Moreover, students take a challenging academic curriculum that includes AP and dual enrollment classes. To accomplish their professional and academic objectives, students have a longer school day; they take performance classes in the morning and academic courses in the afternoon.  Finally, one recent graduating class sent nearly 75% of students to four-year colleges, universities, or conservatories.

  • Location: New York, NY

3) Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School

Founded by Tony Bennett in 2001, the Frank Sinatra School of The Arts High School balances traditional academic coursework with the performing arts. Students at this conservatory-style public school get to stage performances in a 750-seat concert hall, two black box theaters, and a rooftop performance space. On the academic front, all students are encouraged to take at least one AP course as well as four years of math and science. On the arts front, FSSA offers  intensive study in the following areas: art (including drawing, painting, ceramics, and photography, among others), dance, drama, film, instrumental music, and vocal.

  • Location: Queens, NY

Best Performing Arts High Schools in Los Angeles

4) Los Angeles County High School for the Arts

Working musicians, actors, choreographers, singers, and filmmakers comprise the faculty of Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Renowned as one of the most selective performing arts high schools, LACHSA boasts notable alumni such as singer Phoebe Bridgers, actress Elizabeth Olsen, and painter Kehinde Wiley. This award-winning public school—located on the campus of CSULA—also offers top-notch performance spaces and invaluable industry connections. Available arts disciplines include cinematic arts, dance, music, theater, visual arts, and interdisciplinary arts. Finally, APs are offered across most major subject areas.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA

5) California School of the Arts – San Gabriel Valley

Easily ranked as one of the best performing arts high schools, California School of the Arts – San Gabriel Valley is a charter school that prioritizes small classroom sizes and student engagement. CSArts students enroll in one of four schools: the School of Dance, Fine & Media Arts, Music, or Theatre. At each, students attend master classes with renowned artists. They also have multiple pre-professional opportunities, including auditon-only ensembles, on- and off-campus performances, and the chance to write and produce original rock musicals through the Incubator Project. Finally, over 25 AP and honors courses are offered as well as a dual enrollment Early College Program.

  • Location: Duarte, CA

6) Idyllwild Arts Academy

A private boarding school two hours outside of Los Angeles, Idyllwild Arts Academy is a haven for students passionate about art. Eight arts majors are available: dance, fashion design, film & digital media, InterArts (interdisciplinary program), music, dramatic arts, and visual arts. Moreover, honors courses are offered in all academic subjects. A strong option for students who are both arts and STEAM-inclined, Idyllwild has options in everything from 3D Modeling to Drafting for Theatre to Electronics for Musicians. Finally, several Signature Programs are available that include semester exchange, volunteer, and entrepreneurship.

  • Location: Idyllwild, CA

Best Performing Arts High Schools: The Rest of the United States

7) Interlochen Center for the Arts

Known as a school that balances artistic and academic achievement, 96% of Interlochen graduates are accepted into one of their top three college choices. A private boarding school in a picturesque part of Michigan, Interlochen is known as a supportive setting that emphasizes hands-on learning. To that end, seven arts disciplines are available: music, theater, visual arts, creative writing, dance, film & new media, and interdisciplinary arts. Also, several math AP courses are offered as well as college courses through Indiana University. Students in grades 3-12 who don’t plan to attend Interlochen full-time can also take advantage of their celebrated summer camps.

  • Location: Interlochen, MI

8) University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Don’t let the name fool you—the University of North Carolina School of the Arts offers both college and high school degrees. High school programs in dance, drama, music, and visual arts give future artists and performers a wide range of specializations to choose from as well as a combined conservatory and academic experience. With a focus on personalized attention, even UNCSA’s academic classes are kept to a 13:1 student-to-teacher ratio. A variety of AP courses are available, and all students must complete a year-long citizen artist project to graduate. Finally, in-state high school graduates receive free tuition to any college within the UNC system.

  • Location: Winston-Salem, NC

9) Walnut Hill School for the Arts

A New England school for both boarding and day students, Walnut Hill began as a school for women in 1893. It has since evolved into a well-rounded arts academy. Located about an hour outside of Boston, Walnut Hill teaches courses in theater, visual art, music, dance, and writing, film, & media arts. They also have a cross-departmental program: ART360. Typically, students undertake intensive training within their selected discipline in the afternoons and focus on academics in the mornings. Students have gone on to myriad elite universities, colleges, and conservatories around the world.

  • Location: Natick, MA

10)  Baltimore School for the Arts

With four hours per day of art classes and four hours of academics, Baltimore School for the Arts students split their time evenly between both worlds. Located in a city with a rich artistic history, BSA is a diverse public school with partnerships with the Baltimore City Orchestra, Center Stage, and the Walters Museum. Students can pursue dance, music, acting, stage design & production, visual arts, and film & visual storytelling. Honors and AP-level courses are available within BSA’s rigorous college-prep curriculum. Finally, the graduation and college acceptance rate are nearly 100%.

  • Location: Baltimore, MD

11)  The Chicago Academy for the Arts

Widely viewed as the #1 arts high school in Illinois, Chicago Academy for the Arts puts on more than 100 productions throughout the school year. A small, private school that emphasizes student-teacher relationships, Chicago Academy’s “method” makes it one of the best performing arts high schools. This school sets high expectations, provides critical feedback, and assigns challenging material that encourages artistic and intellectual growth. Departments include dance, media arts, music, musical theater, theater, and visual arts. Moreover, eight honors and nine AP courses are available.

  • Location: Chicago, IL

12)  Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts

Located in the heart of downtown Dallas, Booker T. Washington High School is an award-winning arts magnet school that sends 98% of its students on to higher education. BTWHSPVA students opt to major in dance, music, visual arts, or theater and can also select from more than twenty AP classes. Moreover, students enjoy plenty of personalized attention from faculty, 88% of whom have been teaching for more than ten years and 83% of whom have advanced degrees. In 2016, this school won a National Blue Ribbon Award for Exemplary Education awarded by the U.S. Dept of Education and has been recognized as one of five Distinguished Schools in the Arts by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.

  •  Location: Dallas, TX

13)  New World School of the Arts

Part of Miami Dade College, New World School of the Arts’ high school program received a 2023 Magnet School of America School of Excellence Award. Enriched by access to Miami’s art district, museums, and theaters, New World students study dance, music, theater, or visual arts within an intensive conservatory program. On the academic side of the coin, 13 AP courses are available in all major subject areas. Students have gone on to win many state and national awards, and regularly attend top colleges and conservatories.

  • Location: Miami, FL

14)  Las Vegas Academy of the Arts

It makes perfect sense that a city that’s all about showmanship would produce one of the country’s best performing arts high schools. At Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, students gain invaluable exposure to the arts through the Master Artist speaker series. This public school offers a diverse range of programs, including traditional conservatory programs in theatre, visual & media arts, dance, and music as well as specialty concentrations like mariachi music, technical theatre, and 3D sculpture. Academics-wise, AP and dual enrollment classes are offered. Finally, LVA has been recognized as a School of Distinction by Magnet Schools of America.

  • Location: Las Vegas, NV

15)  Arizona School for the Arts

A combined middle and high school, Arizona School for the Arts provides students with rigorous training in dance, music, and theatre. Viewed by most to be the best performing arts high school in Arizona, ASA puts on more than 200 performances per year. For additional student enrichment, this public charter partners with Arizona Opera, Ballet Arizona, Phoenix Center for the Arts, and many other local arts organizations. Moreover, AP and college prep courses are offered, and all students participate in a yearly 3rd Quarter Presentation (3QP) Program that develops their research and presentation skills.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ

16)  Denver School of the Arts

Determined to bring the arts back into education, Denver School of the Arts offers high-quality performance and media arts programs to middle and high school students, including majors in band, creative writing, dance, guitar, orchestra, piano, stagecraft and design, theater, video cinema arts, visual arts, and vocal music. With two large theatres, a recital hall, and a film and video sound stage, this free public school gives its students many opportunities to stage professional-level performances. Moreover, gifted & talented programming, AP courses, and concurrent/dual enrollment courses are available. After graduation, close to 100% of DSA students go on to college.

  • Location: Denver, CO

17)  Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts

Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts encourages students to explore their creativity and design their own artistic paths. On top of dance, music, and theater, Academy students have the option to study media arts, visual arts, and creative writing, including specialty courses in carnival art, filmmaking, game design, printmaking, and slam poetry, among many others. For example, in this school’s innovative Looking In theatre program, students write short dramatic scenes designed to open up a conversation about social justice issues. All students must complete a capstone project to graduate. Finally, AP, honors, and/or UCONN Early College Experience courses are available in all major subject areas.

Location: Hartford, CT

Performing Arts: More Resources

If you’re a high school student looking for summer enrichment in the arts, check out College Transitions’ list of the best summer programs for performing and visual arts. Feeling inspired to get a head start on planning for a college major in the arts? You might peruse our round-ups of the top colleges for:

You may also wish to explore our lists of the Best Private High Schools in major cities such as: