Studying drama and theatre at university

Drama students participating in a workshop
This degree could suit you if you love drama and want a course where you can learn a bit of everything, rather than training for a particular career straight away.

Drama is a broad degree that combines theatre theory and practice. Most courses are quite flexible, allowing you to explore the areas that most interest you once you’ve got a few basics under your belt. You’ll collaborate closely with coursemates, helping you develop career-friendly skills that you can use in the theatre world or beyond.

Courses might be called a theatre degree, theatre studies degree or theatre arts degree instead of (or as well as) drama but all these tend to be fairly similar. In contrast, an acting degree is different and trains you as an actor.

Drama degree entry requirements

  • Some universities accept any subjects at A level, BTEC, IB or Scottish Higher.
  • Some universities ask for at least one essay-based subject.
  • Some universities require a subject such as drama, theatre studies, performing arts or English literature.

Drama degree selection procedures – do I have to audition?

  • Some universities make offers without seeing candidates.
  • Some universities interview shortlisted candidates.
  • Some universities assess shortlisted candidates via a drama workshop, or occasionally an audition.

Skills and experience that will help you get a place

Universities like evidence that you’re genuinely interested in drama and will be positive and team-focused when it comes to practical work. For example, Bath Spa University assesses applicants in person for:

  • group skills
  • aptitude for taking part in workshop activities
  • spontaneity and creativity
  • interest in drama practices.

York St. John University suggests that you show your enthusiasm for drama in your personal statement through examples such as ‘involvement in both devised and text-based (script) work, creating new performance pieces, and/or engagement with contemporary theatre.’ Other examples include involvement in theatre in community or therapeutic sessions, attending live performances and involvement in dance and music.

What modules will I take on a drama degree?

Typically on a drama degree you’ll study a mixture of theoretical and practical modules. You’ll find lists of modules on university websites, though this isn’t a guarantee that all these options will be available to you.

Theory modules

  • In first year (and sometimes second year) you’re likely to study compulsory theory modules covering topics such as the history of theatre, influential theatre practitioners, key concepts such as narrative and character, and how theatre making is influenced by wider society.
  • There are typically optional theoretical modules that examine a topic in depth. Examples include individual playwrights (such as Brecht or Shakespeare), theatre in particular periods (such as the Restoration or contemporary theatre) or how particular themes have been reflected on stage (such as gender, sexuality or political activism).

Practical modules

  • Your first year (and possibly second year) is likely to include compulsory practical modules. These typically develop your performance skills and sometimes also cover roles such as playwriting, directing, technical theatre and/or stage management.
  • There’s usually a range of optional practical modules. Common options include acting, devising, physical theatre, directing, playwriting, technical theatre and stage management. Some courses also offer options such as mask, clown, puppetry, choreography, stage design, stand-up comedy, arts management and media/film production.

Are there modules that involve working on a show?

Most courses include modules that involve creating and staging a performance with fellow students, particularly in your final year. The form this takes depends on the university.

  • The performance might be student-led (that is, students take the lead in all roles, including directing) or be directed by a staff member.
  • You might create your own original piece of theatre, or use an existing script.
  • The performance might be a full-length show, or a short extract (eg 20 minutes).

Teaching and assessment methods on drama degrees

Teaching methods typically include:

  • Lectures (listening to a talk and taking notes)
  • Seminars (discussing a particular topic in a group, led by a tutor)
  • Practical workshops (practical learning activities led by a tutor)
  • Viewing live performances and potentially film/video extracts
  • Receiving some supervision/guidance to support independent group projects or academic work
  • For some courses, attending rehearsals led by a member of staff.

Assessment methods typically include:

  • Written exams
  • Written coursework (eg essays, critical reflections, learning logs and research reports)
  • Presentations
  • Continuous assessment of practical work
  • Performances
  • Project work (eg a short video you produce in a media production module or a piece of original writing you produce in a playwrighting module)

Contact hours on drama degrees

Contact hours vary between universities and modules, but typically you might spend around 20-25% of your time being taught and 75–80% studying independently or working on group projects without your tutors. Expect on average a couple of hours’ contact time per day and make sure you can motivate yourself for all the independent study. Universities tend to expect students to work for around 35–40 hours per week in total – equivalent to 9.00 am to 5.00 pm/6.00 pm five days a week.

Alternatives to a drama degree

The following degrees might also be worth considering, depending on your interests and career aspirations.

  • A joint honours English and drama degree – if you want more opportunities to study play scripts and other works of literature, or you want a degree that sounds more academic for when you enter the job market (see below).
  • An acting degree – if you know you want to become an actor and want to get straight on with specialist training rather than doing a broader degree first.
  • A musical theatre degree – if you want to train as a musical theatre performer and have decent acting, dancing and singing abilities.
  • A creative writing degree – these tend to cover a range of areas including writing novels and short stories as well as playwriting and screenwriting.
  • A technical theatre degree – some cover a range of backstage roles (eg set design and stage management); others focus on a particular area such as lighting or sound.
  • A theatre design degree – these typically cover set and costume design, and sometimes lighting.
  • A stage management degree – some specialist courses focus specifically on training you up to be a stage manager.
  • A film degree – some are more theoretical and focus on studying other people’s films; others combine this with developing your own practical filmmaking skills.

What careers can a drama degree lead to?

Drama graduates can pursue a career in drama or do something else entirely. However, drama degrees aren’t designed to lead to a specific career, so whatever you want to do you’re likely to have to get relevant work experience and/or undertake further training.

Careers in drama

Our arts and creative career sector has lots of detail on careers drama graduates might enjoy and how to get into them.

Creative and media careers for drama graduates to consider

Creative or media roles outside drama are another option to consider.

  • If you enjoy the writing aspects of your degree, careers involving writing might be for you.
  • Our media section can tell you more about media careers and how to get into them. For example, experience of organising theatre productions or short films during your degree could help you get work as a TV runner.

Careers outside the creative industries

Many graduate jobs are open to people who’ve studied any degree subject. For example, you might choose to go into retail management or the public sector.

In areas such as finance, law and management consulting, in theory any degree subject is accepted but in practice more academic subjects are preferred. If you want to keep these options open, consider taking a combined degree that includes at least 50% of a more academic subject (such as English) as well as drama.

Drama degree skills

Patty studied drama and integrated arts at the University of Chester and is now a publishing circulation manager. She lists the following skills as ones you’re likely to develop through a drama degree:

  • public speaking and speaking in groups
  • communicating confidently
  • building rapport and relationships
  • time management (eg through coordinating all the different aspects of a group project)
  • budget skills (if your university gives you any funding for a project) and getting maximum impact from minimum resources (eg sewing your own costumes at midnight)
  • negotiation and sales skills (eg if you seek sponsorship for a show programme from local businesses or negotiate use of a venue with its owner).

All these skills are useful in a wide vary of jobs. For example, Patty comments: ‘The vast majority of my time is spent on the phone building rapport with clients who order our publications. The ability to listen and to build personal trust is very important.’

Quick stats – what do drama graduates do after university?

Each year universities contact their graduates six months after leaving to find out what they are doing. The results form the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey. The 2018/2019 survey is based on those who graduated in 2017, and groups all performing arts graduates together. It found that:

  • The percentage of performing arts graduates working part time in the UK was much higher than for graduates as a whole (26.9%, compared with 11.9%). This may reflect the fact that those wishing to make a career in the arts are unlikely to walk straight into a paid, full-time, permanent job and may be working part time in an arts role or a casual job in order to support voluntary arts work or personal creative projects.
  • The unemployment rate was slightly lower than for graduates as a whole (4.7% for performing arts graduates, compared with 5.1% for all graduates).

Among performing arts graduates who were working, the most common job areas were:

  1. arts, design and media professionals (34.8%)
  2. retail, catering, waiting and bar staff (20.6%)
  3. other occupations* (8.9%)
  4. education professionals (7.5%)
  5. marketing, PR and sales professionals (5.8%)

*A broad category of jobs that didn’t fit neatly into a group.

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