Become an actor

How to Become an Actor

Learn what is takes to prepare for the limelight in the ultra competitive Hollywood industry.

Many people dream of making it to the big screen or starring on Broadway. With the right moves and determination, some people turn these dreams into reality. If you want to be one of these people, knowing the options of how to become an actor is a good place to start.

Should You Go to College to Become an Actor?

There are two different paths you can take to become an actor. The first is a traditional method of going to college to become an actor. The second is a non-traditional method that involves learning from experience. Like many things, there are pros and cons to both paths, and what may be best for you might not be the best for someone else.

Female Actress

Going to College to Become an Actor

Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Tom Hanks, and Matthew McConaughey. While you may recognize these names as Oscar-winning actors and actresses, they also have something else in common; they each had higher education before obtaining a successful acting career. As this article from the Times Higher Education points out, public and private universities, community colleges and Ivy League institutions have all helped to produce successful actors. This is because there are many pros to a traditional method of attending college.

Pros of Attending College to Become an Actor

One of the most obvious pros of college acting classes is that you will enhance your skill set and develop an appreciation for acting techniques. While you will improve your own acting skills, you’ll also develop a well-rounded understanding of and respect for the many other roles that are involved in a production.

Attending college also provides opportunities to be cast in roles that may be hard to find otherwise. You can participate in school productions and challenge yourself as an actor by joining organizations such as a college improv team.

Many college acting programs will also have useful insight and industry contacts, which can help with networking and making the right connections. In addition, agents have been known to attend college showcases as a way to scout out talent and find who they want to represent next. This is especially likely to happen at prestigious acting programs.

Cons of Attending College to Become an Actor

While there are many clear benefits, there are also some cons of attending college to become an actor. Some of the most obvious cons are the cost of tuition and time it takes to get your degree. It may seem more valuable to spend that time getting experience in the real world. On the other hand, spending a few years in college can help give you time to mature before entering the real acting world.

Another disadvantage is that you may be stuck taking general education classes that are unrelated to acting. These classes may not seem necessary, but it is possible that they could supply you with life skills that will be helpful once you graduate and enter the workforce. For example, the experiences you have in college may help you transition to a big city and new way of life. College classes are also a great way to become exposed to different types of people that you may encounter when on the job market.

It’s ultimately up to you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons. But before you pay the tuition and get signed up for college classes, there is one thing you should keep in mind: the degree itself is not going to get you a job, but the skills you develop while getting that degree may help you to land a role.

Top Careers for Theatre Majors

While many theatre majors aim to have a career in acting, there are many different jobs someone can pursue after getting a theatre degree. These include:

Directors & Producers

With a median salary of $71,620, directors and producers work together to turn a writer’s script into a full production. This can include full-length movies, commercials, television shows and theatre productions. Directors often direct the cast and crew throughout production and are involved in the post-production editing process, whereas producers are more responsible for tasks involving budgeting, marketing and distribution.

Sound Engineering Technicians

Sound engineering technicians have a median salary of $42,640 and are responsible for operating the sound system of a production. Sound engineering technicians are needed in live productions as well as recorded productions.

Stage and Screen Actors

Stage actors can be found in large productions like those on Broadway or in smaller community productions. Screen actors, on the other hand, star in live or recorded productions such as movies, television shows, commercials, and music videos. In both instances, actors work to bring a script to life. Because the workflow can vary and because many things can affect an actor’s pay, it is hard to identify a median salary for stage and screen actors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, actors have a median pay of $17.49 an hour.


Playwrights write the scripts for theatre productions. This can include monologues, one-act plays and full-length productions. How a playwright is paid can vary. For example, a playwright can sell their script or charge a royalty fee each time their script is used in a theatre production. These royalty fees range, and reputable playwrights can charge more.


While playwrights produce scripts for musicals and play productions, screenwriters produce scripts for mass media such as television, movies and commercials.

Screenwriters make an average of $80,000, but much like playwrights, the pay varies greatly, and many screenwriters are paid in installments based on their work.

Male Actor

Becoming an Actor Without Going to College

While many actors and actresses started their careers with a traditional college education, other actors went straight into the business. Some of these people include Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, and Russell Crowe. This non-traditional method works for some individuals, but it’s also important to keep in mind that many actors and actresses who became successful without a college career began acting at a very young age. Just like the traditional method of going to college to become an actor, there are pros and cons to becoming an actor without going to college.

Pros of Becoming an Actor Without Going to College

By choosing not to go to college, you’ll save money on tuition and the time that you would have spent on taking unnecessary general education classes. This means you’ll also get out into the real world much sooner and can start getting experience with casting calls and auditions. This can be a nerve-wracking process, but the sooner you put yourself out there, the sooner you’ll start to feel comfortable. It’ll also be nice to know you won’t have any student loan debt hanging over your head.

Cons of Becoming an Actor Without Going to College

There is a chance that by not going to college, you will have a harder time landing roles in productions. This could be a result of your lack of experience or training, or it could be that some people in the industry won’t take you seriously without formal education.

In fact, many of the successful actors who “made it” without going to college, still had some form of training or took professional classes elsewhere.

“Many well-known actors have “made it” in the business without a theater degree, but what they did get is proper training,” said Denise Simon, a New York City-based acting coach in an interview with Backstage. “The industry is looking for smart, well-rounded actors. Where you learn that is up to you.”

Without formal education and experience gained in college, you may also lack confidence compared to fellow actors who have a degree.

Do I Need to Move to Hollywood to Become a Successful Actor?

Whether you decide to go the traditional or non-traditional route, you’ll have to consider your location and where your opportunities are going to come from. Eventually, you may need to venture to Hollywood since it is the home of entertainment. But first, you should aim to become famous within your hometown where you’ll be more comfortable and likely have more financial and emotional support. Once you feel like you are starting to run low on opportunities at home, it may be time to make the move.

Moving to Hollywood, or one of the other best cities for actors, can also be a great step for anyone who just needs a change or for anyone who needs a push. It can be easy to become distracted or fall back on a “plan b” if you are home where you are comfortable, but if you are in Hollywood, things will be different. It’ll likely be a struggle, but you’ll be surrounded by creativity, and the hardships that come with the journey can help turn you into a stronger person.

What You Should Know Before Starting an Acting Career in Hollywood

It can be hard to prepare yourself for Hollywood fully, but there are a few things that you should do before you make the move. First of all, prepare your resume, professional headshots and a demo reel so they are ready to share. You wouldn’t want to show up for your first audition missing any of these three key items!

You should also know how much money you need to survive and prepare your finances accordingly. You should ideally move to Hollywood with enough money to cover your living expenses for a few months. You won’t land an acting gig right away. Instead, you’ll be unemployed and will likely have to support yourself with a job such as bartending or serving at a restaurant. You’ll quickly find that this is an expensive industry as you have to pay for things like updated head shots, acting classes, living expenses, transportation, casting websites, and personal marketing.

Lastly, make sure you truly know what you are getting yourself into and try to prepare yourself mentally. If you can’t handle competition and rejection, this may not be the right career for you. Be prepared to be surrounded by many other aspiring actors who are looking for the same big break you are. The best way to survive is to fully commit yourself and stay determined.

Setting Realistic Expectations

Becoming a famous actor doesn’t happen overnight. Knowing how to become an actor is hard work, and actually becoming a successful actor is even harder. That being said, it’s important to keep realistic expectations. You may not become the star of the next big blockbuster movie or the next person to win an Oscar, but you can still love acting and aspire to be the best actor or actress that you can be. Celebrate your successes, and take each audition and role as an experience and learn from them.

“Acting is equal parts talent and perseverance.”
- Zach McGowan, American Actor

The Nth Degree

Is an online magazine created by Newman University to provide valuable content to all students bound for undergraduate and graduate college.