Born and raised in the digital age, many of today’s high school students dream of pursuing careers in film and attending the country’s best film schools. Most undergraduate programs have updated their classes and facilities to reflect 21st century innovations, making this an exciting area of study. Making films is both an art and a science, and the discipline can be great for students with both creative and technical interests.
There are several factors students should consider when deciding where to apply to film school. Tales of famous writers and directors who attended certain film programs attract many high schoolers. While an distinguished alumni base is important, students should also think about their daily experiences at a school, and the opportunities they’ll have access to upon graduation.
Here are 10 best film schools that earn high marks for both teaching students the principles of film, and enhancing their career prospects after college. Note that colleges are listed in alphabetical order, rather than ranked, because each features unique offerings.
American Film Institute
Unlike the other schools in this list, Los Angeles’ AFI offers degrees exclusively in film. It should be noted that due to the intense workload of the program, the school prefers applicants who are 21 or older. Nevertheless, younger applicants with significant experience in a film-related area are permitted to apply. The program is selective, with 140 students ultimately accepted out of hundreds of applicants.
Students of the Conservatory Program can earn degrees in six areas: Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design, or Screenwriting. Students without an existing B.A. earn a Certificate of Completion at the end of the program, while college graduates earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA). The program’s conservatory model emphasizes “learning through doing,” and students complete multiple collaborative projects over the course of the 2-year program. Each discipline has a unique curriculum, and students have the opportunity to learn one-on-one from film experts.
AFI requires all applicants to submit transcripts, a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a narrative statement. Students are not required to submit standardized test scores. The AFI Scholarship Application is optional. Students apply directly to their chosen discipline and must submit supporting materials related to their area of focus. More details on admissions requirements can be found here.
Located beside the Charles River, BU provides easy access to both downtown Boston and the historic college town of Cambridge. With a student body of 33,000, students benefit from the resources of a large university, while receiving a well-rounded education in the liberal arts and sciences. The school’s attractive location and admirable position on college ranking lists make it highly popular: in 2016, only 29% of applicants were accepted.
BU’s College of Communication offers a B.A. in Cinema & Media Studies, and a B.S. in Film & Television. Students earn the B.A. while simultaneously studying a second discipline through the School of Arts and Sciences of School of Communication. Areas of instruction within the B.A. include film criticism, art journalism, education, and entertainment law.
The B.S. is a more traditional film degree, and students choose a concentration in one of four areas: Production, Screenwriting, Film and Television Studies, or Management/Producing. Students in all focus areas take a few core classes, but have the freedom to choose most of their remaining courses. Students gain practical experience through contributing to BUTV10, the University’s TV production and media outlet. Internships in Los Angeles, London, and Sidney are available, where students work alongside industry experts.
Students interested in these B.A. or B.S programs must apply through Boston University Admissions. Admissions requirements for all freshman applicants can be found here. Students must submit either SAT (essay not required) or ACT (writing not required) scores.
California Institute of the Arts
Located in Los Angeles county, California Institute of the Arts’ nearly 1,500 students spend four years focusing on their chosen concentration. Programs are available in a variety of disciplines, including dance, visual arts, film/video, music, and theater. The school accepted 25.7% of applicants in 2015, making it a relatively selective option.
Undergraduate students studying film at the Institute graduate with a Bachelor of Fine arts (BFA). The Program in Film and Video emphasizes student understanding of the technical processes behind filmmaking, before focusing on its artistic aspects. The foundation of the BFA curriculum includes courses in production, editing, sound production, and design. The program also incorporates critical studies.
Students interested in the Program in Film and Video must complete all application requirements for freshmen. The include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an artist statement, but SAT/ACT scores aren’t required. Students also must submit a portfolio to apply to the Film and Video major, following these guidelines.
University of California Los Angeles
Ranked by Niche as the best University of California school, UCLA’s 18% acceptance rate (2016) reflects its immense popularity. Students nationwide aspire to attend college in the epicenter of the entertainment industry, while enjoying the SoCal sun. A student body of almost 45,000 ensures students have access to plenty of resources.
B.A. candidates in UCLA’s Film, Television, and Digital Media major receive instruction in cinema and media studies, production, and film and television craft. Because of UCLA’s liberal arts orientation, all freshman must also fulfill general education requirements. FTDM classes for freshman and sophomores are considered “introductory,” focusing mainly on cinema and media studies. As juniors and seniors, students develop a variety of technical skills, and ultimately specialize in film production/directing, screenwriting, cinematography, animation, digital media, or editing/postproduction. Students are also required to complete a relevant internship to earn the B.A.
Freshmen applying for the Film major must complete the general UC Application, due in November. They also must submit the TFT Undergraduate Supplemental Application, which includes several written materials.
Located in Orange, CA near Disneyland, the private Chapman University has a total enrollment of about 7,300. 47% of students were accepted in 2016, making it less selective than other small California schools, like Pomona and Claremont McKenna. In recent years, Chapman has become well-known for its film, television, and performing arts programs.
Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts offers a B.F.A. in Film Production, and a B.A. in Film Studies. While the Film Production major teaches students to make films, Film Studies focuses on the history and criticism of film. Film Production students learn through a “hands-on, project based approach,” choosing an area of concentration as sophomores. Students may specialize in cinematography, directing, editing, production design, or sound design. Juniors complete a short Advanced Production project, and seniors produce a Thesis film, the latter serving as a sort of resume.
First-year students interested in Dodge must submit the Common Application, as well as a “Creative Supplement.” SAT or ACT scores (writing recommended) are also required, along with any available AP/IB scores. More details on application requirements can be found here.
The ever-popular Columbia University in the City of New York boasted a 6% acceptance rate in 2016. The University’s total enrollment of over 31,000 and its Manhattan location promise a somewhat nontraditional college experience. Students in search of a tight-knit campus community should look elsewhere. But those ready to take advantage of all NYC has to offer will look forward to applying.
Columbia University School of the Arts’ Film Program offers an undergraduate major in Film Studies. This program is more academic and writing-intensive than most others listed here, although it still teaches the practical skills needed to work in the film industry. After declaring the major, students can practice filmmaking through the student-run Columbia Undergraduate Film Productions (CUFP). Students also have access to plenty of internships with film companies.
First-years interested in the Film Program must apply through Columbia College. SAT (without essay) or ACT (without writing) scores are required. Columbia also welcomes students to submit SAT Subject Test scores, although they aren’t mandatory. Students interested in film may submit resumes that highlight their artistic backgrounds. More information on undergraduate admissions requirements can be found here.
All of Emerson’s 4,500 students study communications or performing arts, making it an excellent choice for those who want a specialized undergraduate education. Located near Boston Architectural College and the Berklee College of Music, Emerson students are surrounded by many other young people with creative aspirations. The College’s 49% acceptance rate (2015) makes it relatively accessible for those with the right qualifications and interests.
Emerson’s Department of Visual & Media Arts does not offer a traditional film major. Instead, B.A. programs are available in Media Studies or Production. Students may also earn a B.F.A. in Stage & Screen Design/Technology, or Media Arts Production. Any and all of these majors may incorporate the study of film. Internships are available in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., the Netherlands, Spain, and China.
Students interested in one of the majors above must complete Emerson’s application process for freshmen. SAT or ACT scores are required. Those hoping to focus on Media Production may submit a creative sample — more details can be found here.
New York University
New York University has become increasingly selective in recent years, as greater numbers of students from out of state apply. 33% of applicants were accepted in 2015, an impressive number for a university with a total enrollment of 50,000. Like Columbia, NYU is best for students ready to embrace big-city life, rather than an insulated campus experience.
The Tisch School of the Arts was founded in 1965, and has since become a highly desirable destination for aspiring filmmakers. Some of the biggest names in film and television graduated from Tisch, including Martin Scorsese and Chris Columbus. The Kanbar Institute of Film & Television offers an undergraduate degree, which consists of four stages: freshmen, sophomore (fundamentals), junior (intermediate), and senior (advanced). Lower-level classes cover a variety of disciplines, and students become increasingly specialized throughout their four years. Courses for seniors result in a “capstone” project. Students may complete internships for credit, including participation in the Los Angeles Internship Program.
Students applying to Tisch must submit the Common Application and NYU Supplement, as well as undergo an artistic review. For those interested in Film & Television, a five-part creative portfolio serves as the review. Students must submit scores from one of many accepted standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and AP exams. More information on requirements for freshman applicants can be found here.
University of Southern California
Located in the city of Los Angeles, University of Southern California is often compared to UCLA. With a 16.5% acceptance rate, it’s even more selective than the gem of the UC system. USC has a total enrollment of about 44,000, meaning students will have access to many resources through the University, in addition to studying at the center of the entertainment industry.
The USC School of Cinematic Arts offers undergraduate programs in Cinema & Media Studies, Film & Television Production, and Writing for Screen & Television, among other specializations. The University’s many famous alumni, such as directors George Lucas and Ron Howard, speak to the quality of the program. USC’s facilities are top-notch, and include the Cinematic Arts Library, the Marcia Lucas Post Production Center, and an IMAX theater. USC is also home to an award-winning television station, Trojan Vision.
Admissions requirements for first-years vary depending on the Cinematic Arts program students are interested in. More details on the requirements for each specialization can be found here.
For students in search of a non-traditional liberal arts experience, the private Wesleyan University is an obvious choice. Located in Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan is famous for its liberal political leanings. A total enrollment of about 3,200 ensures students will receive plenty of personalized instruction. Accepting 17% of students in 2016, the University requires excellent credentials.
Wesleyan’s Film Studies B.A. views film through an academic lens, focusing on history and theory. Students in the major must take two prerequisite courses, as well as one of two required courses as juniors. Otherwise, they may choose among a variety of electives before completing a senior seminar or thesis. The University is known for its Cinema Archives, which are used by both Wesleyan students and professional academics.
Students interested in Film Studies must fulfill application requirements for first-years. It should be noted that submitting SAT or ACT test scores is optional, but they will be considered if submitted. Students may also send an artistic supplement with their application if desired.
Next Steps to Finding the Best Film School for You
College-bound film enthusiasts have a head start with admissions, because they’ve already identified what they’re interested in studying. Colleges want to accept qualified students who have done their research on specific programs, and are excited to learn and contribute.
The next step to building a college list is considering other characteristics that make a college a great fit. You can use this list as an introduction to some colleges that offer excellent film programs, and further explore when you step foot on their campuses!