Is a Musical Theatre Degree worth it?

bfa broadway industry college Sep 22, 2022
Performer looking through the curtain at the audience and stage. Is a musical theatre degree worth it? Broadway Vocal Coach responds.

Thinking about a career in Musical Theatre but unsure which path to take? 

Chelsea here!

I graduated with my BFA in Musical Theatre ten years ago, enough time to now wax poetic on my college years and look at my experience with pragmatic hindsight. Rear view is 20/20 right?!

When I graduated, I was sure that within a few years (three at most) I’d be performing in a Broadway musical. Spoiler alert, I was not performing on Broadway within three years (or any number of years). 

My post-college career has turned out very different than I originally imagined! And for that, I am ultimately very grateful for. 

In 2015, around three years after graduating and moving to New York City, I decided to stop auditioning. Instead, I turned all of my efforts to my building my budding vocal studio. I’d been teaching voice lessons since graduating college (and training to be a voice teacher for years before that, all the while I was in college), and in 2015 I finally decided to commit to that full time. 

That was a scary decision, and one I felt a little embarrassed of at the time. After all, I was supposed to be on Broadway!! Not teaching voice lessons! Not giving up on my dream! That’s what it felt like anyway. 

Long story short, in 2017 I made my “Broadway Debut” with SCHOOL OF ROCK as the associate vocal coach. Seeing my name (in small print!) in the back of that playbill was truly thrilling. It wasn’t what I ever imagined my Broadway debut to be, but it was nonetheless satisfying and a dream come true. Just under totally different circumstances than 18 year-old or 22 year-old me could have thought. 

So you might be wondering: “Chelsea, was getting your musical theatre BFA worth it?”

Great question! After graduating college I did some professional performing, but for the most part my time was spent investing in my teaching career. So, was that musical theatre performance degree worth it? Worth all of the money, time, and effort it took to get?

If you have aspirations of Broadway, you might be wondering: is getting a musical theatre BFA worth it??

I can only answer this question for myself, but I’ll also put forward a few pros and cons to consider if you’re thinking about getting a BFA in musical theatre.

For me, my degree was totally worth it, and for a number of reasons. 

  1. The scope of my training at school has proven useful to me every day. I’m an expert in musical theatre history, vocal styles, acting performance, and more. Since most of my students are musical theatre professionals (or aspiring professionals!), this expertise is crucial!
  2. My performance training allows me to speak confidently, present ideas and information with clarity, and be a good listener. All important elements in my work as a teacher, and even more so in my personal life!
  3. The people I met in college are my best friends, my colleagues, and now my business partner! (That’s right, BVC was co-founded by me and Cynthia Kortman Westphal–my college professor!!) I wouldn’t be where I am today without the relationships I formed in college. It’s a special experience to study and train with the same 20 or so classmates for four years. Professionally and personally, I wouldn’t trade my time with those people for anything. 

(Totally random but related to the relationships: TWO couples in my graduating class ended up getting married post-graduation! You never know who you’ll meet and how important to you they will become!)

If you’re thinking about whether getting a BFA in musical theatre is worth it, here’s some points to consider: 


  1. Training: In a rigorous, structured, four-year degree program, you are going to emerge with specialized singing, acting, and dance training! BFA programs are designed to build your skills year after year and set you up for professional success. 
  2. Interpersonal life skills: A degree in musical theatre helps develop confidence and self awareness. Students become skilled at collaboration, public speaking, organization, critical thinking, and discipline.
  3. Diverse career options: With a degree in musical theatre, you can do so much more than only act, sing, and dance! (I wish I had realized this sooner!) Students can go on to be highly successful as producers, performing arts teachers, designers, casting directors, technical support, directors, music directors, choreographers, composers, writers, dramaturgs, company managers, public speakers, digital media experts, and more.
  4. Discourse and dialogue: Theatre demands that we see different perspectives than our own. This allows us to consider the humanity, psychology, and motivations of others. We become better at discussing difficult topics from a point of empathy and understanding, and learn how to manage conflict and resolution. And don’t we all need more of that!
  5. Relationships: This is a big one! Studying musical theatre in college allows you to develop relationships in ways you don't even know will benefit you yet. If you’ve been the odd one out in your high school for loving musical theatre and dreaming of Broadway, then going to college for musical theatre is an easy way to find “your people.” BFA degree programs are often quite small (80 or so students in all four years) and it’s likely those relationships will last (professionally and personally) far beyond your college years! Did you see my video about the importance of cultivating good relationships?


  1. Student Loan Debt: While this isn’t something only musical theatre majors need to think about, performing artists may have to more carefully consider what the immediate professional opportunities will be for them after school. Are you going to need to take out student loans to cover tuition? Will you need financial support (from family, loans, grants, or work study) to cover your living expenses in school? What about after graduating? Getting started in the theatre industry can take time and patience, and it’s the exception (not the rule!) to “book Broadway” and take home a production contract paycheck shortly after graduating. Think about how you will support yourself financially after graduating while being able to attend auditions, and pay back any loans you might take out. 
  2. Four years of a time investment: You might be in the unique position to do well moving to NYC right away, like top-notch dancers that are in their prime. Sometimes the very best dancers in a musical theatre program don’t maintain their skills because they are no longer able to spend as much time dancing in college as they did before.  And there are some folks who are perfectly cast-able in teen roles. If you fall into one of these categories, you could also consider taking a gap year to audition and see how things go. 
  3. Different learning styles: Some people really struggle in academic settings even though they are incredibly smart and talented.  Not everyone learns the same! If you know that test-taking and paper-writing is just not your thing, but you thrive in voice lessons and dance classes, then college might not be worth the stress and money for you.  You might consider spending it on professional training instead.
  4. No roadmap to a performing career: Other college majors may place you in an internship that leads to a long-term job offer, or train you to become a highly sought-after skilled worker (like nurses, accountants, and school teachers). Unfortunately, there’s no simple road map to success as an actor, even if you get a musical theatre degree from a “top” program. You’re on your own after graduation and what you choose to pursue is entirely up to you. There’s no one “right” path to take which can be incredibly difficult. No amount of training can prepare you for the realities of early morning auditions, waiting in lines, and hours of self-taping alone in your apartment. 

If you’re considering a different path to a career in musical theatre, one that doesn’t include a performance degree, that’s fine too! There are plenty of examples of professional performers who went to college and studied completely outside of the arts. And there are plenty of Broadway actors who didn’t go to college at all. A BFA degree, or any degree, is not a prerequisite to becoming a Broadway actor. 

What I will say is a prerequisite (or at least in your very best interest!) is to have invested in top-level training and developed great relationships. It boils down to training and relationships. You need both of these things to make a go of it in the professional theatre industry. College BFA programs are simply the most efficient, pre-packaged route to get tons of necessary training in all disciplines and develop relationships with fellow actors, future directors, and lifelong friends.

If after all of this you think you might be interested in pursuing a BFA degree in musical theatre, you’re in luck!

Get our Getting Started Guide–for free–right here

And if you’re interested in professional training outside of the college path (or during or after graduation!) then our BVC Membership is perfect for you. Click here to learn more about how to make your Broadway dreams a reality. 

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