Drama schools vs universities: What's the difference?

The cost of undergraduate training is expensive at up to £9,250 per year, along with the added cost of living, leaving many people owing up to £50,000 in student loans. So, choosing the right institute and course for you is important. So university or drama school? Here are some comparisons between the two to help with your decision.

Application process:

Applying for a university is usually done through UCAS and you will need a certain set of grades to gain a place on your chosen course. Some universities will interview candidates, but most will select based on your grades and personal statement.

Applying for a drama school is different depending on the school; it may be through direct application, UCAS Conservatoires or the main UCAS scheme. Drama schools will likely hold auditions or interviews and focus more on talent and potential than grades. Acting courses at drama schools are the most difficult courses to get into as they can attract thousands of applications for a relatively small number of places.

Contact hours:

Universities allow students to take care of their own time management, with a few lectures/classes a week along with research and writing expected to be done in your own time. There is also little to no consequence if you do not attend the contact hours as you are responsible for your own time keeping. This is great experience for self-discipline and time management.

A drama school will have a much more intensive time structure where you will spend most of your time in classes 9am - 5pm, if not longer. The contact hours set are compulsory and there is likely to be severe consequences for missing or being late for a class.

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Universities will tend to offer more of a broad course that will teach a range of skills such as Theatre Arts. This will give students a good insight into different areas within the theatre that you can work in. However, due to it being so broad you won’t receive the same level of detail and teaching as if you were to study only one field. However, there are a small handful of universities who do offer more specific courses.

A drama school will give in-depth and intensive training into a specific area. You will not be taught on the details of the other roles within theatre and only focus heavily on your particular field of study. Due to the small class sizes you will tend to have more one-on-one time with your tutors compared to at a university.  


Universities often offer the chance at the end of the course for a public performance where students have a chance to showcase their talent whether on stage or offstage. However the attendance by industry professionals can be quite low at most universities. Personal invitations by a student to professionals can help boost the attendance.

Top drama schools attract a lot of industry professionals to their showcases. Many will actively look out for when the showcases are in order to go along, rather than needing to be persuaded by a personal invitation.

University AND drama school?

There are more and more opportunities at drama school to train in a postgraduate degree. Therefore, one option is to study a non-theatre related undergraduate degree at university and then go on to train in a postgraduate degree at a drama school. However, there are fewer funding opportunities and financial support for a second degree, so this option may not be readily available for everyone.

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Life experience:

Due to the range of subjects studied at universities you are more likely to come across and/or live with people who are studying different courses to you. You also may have the opportunity to work outside your contact hours and join societies and clubs that don’t necessarily have a link to your course which can offer a wealth of experience. You are more likely to be more independent at university, which can be seen as a good way to set you up for life after studying.

At drama school, due to the specialist studies at the institute, you will only come across and/or live with people who also study at your school. This can be helpful as they will understand your day-to-day life and you will be going through a similar experience, however it can also be seen as a ‘bubble’, which is unlike life outside of drama school.


Take a look at what past students have gone on to do after graduating from a particular university or drama school and see what their progression has been within the industry. It can help give you an idea of how well equipped the course makes you for life after training. Do their careers match the kind that you aspire to?


There are many ways for an institution and a course to be accredited for both universities and drama schools. Take a look at our blog on accreditation here.

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Published: 04 March 2019

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