Student Support: CDS

The CDS are a highly recognised body in the industry. But do you know exactly what it is they do? Kate Ashcroft sets the record straight.

Photo: Birmingham School of Acting

What is the CDS?

The Conference of Drama Schools (CDS) is the body which represents the top 22 drama schools in the UK. It exists to: “strengthen the voice of the member schools, to set and maintain the highest standards of training within the vocational drama sector, and to make it easier for prospective students to understand the range of courses on offer and the application process.” In 2008, it celebrated its 40th birthday. The 22 member schools can be viewed via the CDS website at (click on ‘Links to CDS members').

The CDS represents schools which offer practical, hands-on training. All schools offer three year, full-time courses in acting, and many offer one year and two year acting courses as well. However, there are not just drama courses on offer, but also technical theatre skills, stage management and musical theatre. In recent years, several CDS schools have increased the number and variety of their courses which means that you'll not only need to think carefully about which school is right for you, but also about which course you want to pursue.

Choosing a school

The CDS advise in their 2009 Guide that “the choice you make should be based on a mixture of informed judgement and gut feeling.” This means that, funds permitting (all schools charge an audition fee of around £35-£40), you should try to audition at a number of different schools so that you can get a feel for what they're like. It's also a good idea to talk to current students at all the schools you're interested in to see what they think of their training. Remember that your audition day is not only a chance for you to demonstrate your skills but also for you to put your questions to the staff and students, so make sure you use it to the full.

Choosing a course

There is a huge range of acting courses available, and you'll find that that some offer degrees while others are diplomas or certificates (professional qualifications which are degree-equivalent). The important question when choosing between them is why do you want to train? If you're committed to becoming a professional actor then what is important is high quality training which is intensive and rigorous, and which prepares you fully for all the demands that will be made of you when you enter the acting profession.
That said, it isn't always easy to know how to recognise signs of top-quality training, so look at things like how many hours teaching you'll receive each week, what contact you'll have with influential people in the profession during the training, what's the staff/student ratio like, what's the range of public performance opportunities during the course.


There are two funding systems at work:

  • Degree courses which are funded in the same way as other 1. university degrees so that, if you are on a three year course, you pay £3,070 per year towards your fees (in 2009/10).
  • Courses which lead to the Trinity College London Diploma or 2. Certificate, and which offer full scholarships and a maintenance grant to up to 60% of its students under the Government's Dance and Drama Awards (DADA) scheme. Students who do not receive a scholarship have to pay private fees of around £12,000 per year. All students who meet the residence requirements are eligible to compete for a DADA. You can receive a DADA even if you have already been funded to undertake a degree from a British university.

Making your applications

Some schools will ask you to apply to them directly while others will need you to apply through UCAS, so make sure you check the protocol before you apply. For your copy of the CDS Guide, write to French's Theatre Bookshop (52 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 5JR, tel: 020 7255 4300,


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