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THE BEST FILM AND CINEMA SCHOOLS IN THE U.S. 2017

Film and cinema schools teach students the art of filmmaking, or in an academic context, film production.  Like painting, playing the piano, or designing fashion, learning the art of filmmaking takes time and dedication. Individuals who are hardcore film buffs and passionate about the industry will study coursework in screenwriting, casting, film production and theory, digital media production, editing, sound recording and reproduction, and film history. Many schools will also train students in subjects like broadcasting, audio engineering, and television production.  Film and cinema schools differ in types of classes and content. The cost and duration spent in school can also differ greatly. The best schools offer a more-rounded theoretical understanding of film production techniques, and the opportunity for students to gain from the knowledge and experience of professional instructors who work in, or have worked in the industry. On this page, we provide a list of the nation’s best film and cinema schools, along with guides and links to additional resources for students seeking education or training in a specific area of focus:

  • School Name

    28 schools ranked

  • USC Cinematic Arts was founded by historic filmmakers Douglas Fairbanks, Darryl Zanuck, W.C. DeMille (just to name a few). The nation’s first university to offer a BA in Film, it has over 10,000 alumni.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 43,401
  • With a mission to preserve the heritage of the motion picture, AFI offers students curriculum from over the first 100 years of film. The not-for-profit institution exemplifies dedication to the arts.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 328
  • NYU recently announced designs for its new and largest educational facility. The new location will provide art students with new practice locations, rehearsal rooms and spaces in which to perform.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 50,027
  • Located in the heart of one of the world’s cultural centers, the UCLA School of Art emphasizes the necessity of a profound interdependence between the creative arts and academic scholarship. Drawing from the richness of the surrounding culture, the School hosts a distinguished, world-famous faculty who effectively combine studio-based experience with critical studies and liberal arts. As part of a leading research university, students are guaranteed an exclusive and empowering education.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 41,908
  • As a graduate professional school with deeply intellectual Ivy League roots, the School of the Arts offers students a faculty known for their Tony Awards, Academy Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, Nobel Prizes and Guggenheim Fellowships.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 28,086
  • Educating students since 1970, Newsweek Magazine and The Daily Beast have ranked CalArts as the nation’s top college of the arts. Its six schools offer rigorous graduate and undergraduate degree programs.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,448
  • With a mission to enrich the human mind and spirit, Chapman University prepares future artists, designers and scholars by balancing the development of both artistic and academic excellence.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 8,305
  • Striving for excellence in academia; social justice and transformative education; students enjoy dedicated lab spaces for theatre, art, dance and music; as well as Strub Theatre, Murphy Recital Hall and 2 galleries.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 9,392
  • Wesleyan’s Art Studio Program focuses on graduates acquiring fluency in visual language: analytically; through critical use of language, technique and methodology; as well as exploration of intellectually relevant, global issues.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 3,138
  • Emerson offers programs in: Writing, Literature & Publishing, Visual & Media Arts, Performing Arts and Comedic Arts. Their community approach is dedicated to developing sophistication, expertise and a sense of artistic responsibility.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 4,479
  • Ranked consistently in the top 10 programs nationwide, RTF confers the BS, MFA, MA and Ph.D. One factor contributing to RTF’s uniqueness is the offering of both practical and theoretical-based degrees.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 50,950
  • Stanford offers four undergraduate degrees in art; a Coterminal MA in Art History; three MFA programs and a Ph.D in Art History. Programs utilize academics, studio and museum work to ensure comprehensive curricula.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 16,980
  • Recognized as a leading educational force, the School of Film and Media Studies is characterized by methodological innovation, rich connections with other relevant disciplines and a wide array of courses.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,385
  • Encouraging scholars to narrow their focus while broadening their scope of thinking is what makes BU unique. The elite research university emphasizes teamwork and individuality, simultaneously, furthering its sui generis approach.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 32,158
  • From high school to the master’s degree level, UNCSA programs and five conservatories of a professional caliber; encourage total immersion in one’s chosen discipline; to eat, sleep and breathe the art form.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 970
  • The School of Fine and Performing Arts upholds that living a creative life is a calling to be answered with driving force. To that end they offer over 50 programs upon which to build success.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 8,961
  • Founded in 1931, Ringling College excels in propelling students into the real world of art through substantive internships, national competitions, cutting-edge technology, and client projects (to name a few).

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1262
  • Embracing a forward-looking approach to artistic academia, SCAD is a student-centered institution determined to provide educational excellence within the context of a positive learning environment. Students learn to create art, as well as live creatively artistic lives.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 11,861
  • The recipient of a multitude of awards and recognition from across the globe; VCUART demonstrates it student support by having one of the lowest tuition rates of the nation’s Top 10 Art Institutions.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 30,918
  • Exceptional internships and trips to New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Toronto make the Art Department at Ithaca engaging in visual and intellectual dialogue. Through emphasizing synergy, students receive an encompassing education.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 6,769
  • Nestled amidst the picturesque New England seaboard, Rhode Island School of Design has long been one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious colleges offering rigorous art programs at both an undergraduate and graduate level.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 2,481
  • With a tradition of learning to create and influence change; the Center impacts its community as well as global society. Its visionary methodology regarding art and design reflects the conservatory approach it embraces.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 2,133
  • Paramount to its success, The School of Art at San Francisco State University focuses on the development of socially engaged artists who are cognizant of the importance of both individual and collaborative contributions.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 30,256
  • Located in a state known for its rich artistic heritage, Cal State offers undergraduate and master’s programs. Concentrations include all areas of artistic development and a foundation for a state art teaching credential.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 41,548
  • The College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University embodies the vision that art and scholarship can affect change. Emphasis is on self-discovery in visual art and design; risk-taking and critical thought.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 21,789
  • Offering innovative programs in filmmaking, the College confers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Their prestigious programs are famous for being career-centered, providing state-of-the-art professional facilities and having a world renowned faculty.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 40,830
  • The graduate and professional programs at Weinberg College (Northwestern) are world-famous for the breadth and depth of their multidisciplinary and intellectual approach to education. Students enroll from over 30 countries.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 21,655
  • Colorado Film School offers a variety of instruction: Screenwriting; Acting/Directing; Cinematography; Writing/Directing and Post Production. In conjunction with Santa Fe University, students can finish 4 year degrees with 50% tuition discounted.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 350

HOW TO SELECT A FILM AND CINEMA SCHOOL

Besides the different types of film and cinema schools, is also the argument by professionals in the field about the relevance of a degree in film in relation to finding work in the industry. However, all you have to do is look at the filmmakers who attended and earned degrees from film schools, like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas to understand that the knowledge learned and opportunities that earning a degree can afford graduates cannot be overstated.  So, how do aspiring filmmakers decide which institution – a university, private film school or even online schools teaching filmmaking through videos and tutorials, is best? 

DECIDE ON A DISCIPLINE

Filmmaking is different than film studies. Whereas filmmaking deals with the actual production of a film, film studies deals with the theoretical, critical, and historical approaches to film.  Film studies is less about gaining proficiency in film production, and more about exploring the artistic, economic, and political implications of cinema.  Today, there exists a number of schools with specific coursework dedicated to film studies, and many liberal art colleges and universities have added courses geared toward the discipline into their curriculum.  No matter where your interests lie, it’s best to start by researching college websites; their mission statements, faculty, and course descriptions to see if a particular college offers film degrees as part of their arts or communications curriculum, or if a college has a dedicated film program that offers degrees in multiple aspects of film, such as screenwriting, cinematography, and directing. Keep in mind that many aspiring filmmakers start their postsecondary education with one career goal in mind, and once submerged in a program change directions, so unless you are certain about a particular direction for your career, choosing a school that offers a well-rounded curriculum may be best. 

RESEARCH COURSE CURRICULUM & COURSE TITLES

Aspiring filmmakers can find programs at both public and private, as well as not-for-profit schools across the US and Europe. Film and cinema students who attend a liberal arts college or university as a communications or art student will take a wide range of courses in film and cinema, along with fundamental classes in English, art, math, science, etc.  Some liberal arts colleges offer majors in Media and Cinema Studies, which is much more immersive and combines film, radio, and television with new media fields of study. Private film and cinema schools offer more rigorous and dynamic degree programs in film and cinema with classes that concentrate on traditional areas of practice and criticism and place a strong emphasis on experiential learning, creative development, and analytical thinking.

Private film schools also typically have a low student-to-faculty ratio.  It’s important to ask yourself, does the course curriculum offer students the opportunity to take a range of courses in film editing, cinema and production, or cinematography?  Are there courses in film history and film theory? Are there areas of focus, such as documentary or independent filmmaking? What is the ratio of general courses compared to specific classes in film and cinema? Does the academic program offer hands-on experience and internships in the field of film and cinema? 

REPUTATION OF SCHOOL & ACADEMIC DEPARTMENTS

With such fierce competition for individuals seeking positions in the film industry, choosing a school with a highly-regarded reputation, where the degree earned will provide an advantage over other applicants vying for the same position, is important. The quality of education will be a factor employers are certain to consider when selecting a candidate.  An accredited degree from a state college may be as valuable as a degree earned from an Ivy League or other prestigious private school, so be sure to look at graduation rates and endowments, as well as alumni support and job placement numbers. 

FACULTY

Many classes in film and cinema school are small and critique-based, and students work very closely with faculty.  In addition to teaching, faculty should be able to counsel you about your career goals, help you choose an area of specialization, develop your strengths and identify opportunities for further knowledge and understanding. They should act as a mentor who will not only provide you with a good education but with avenues into the real world of film and cinema.  Scrutinize the professors who support the department you will be involved in, and if possible, chat with students about their experiences with faculty.  Find out who are on the list of alumni that have graduated from the school, and how many classes are taught by graduate students versus tenured professors or adjunct faculty. 

SCHOOL CULTURE

The culture of a school can be a bit intangible, but that doesn’t mean it’s undefinable.  Often all you have to do is walk into a classroom or walk the campus to know immediately whether or not you want to be there.  The same thing goes for staff and other students.  Does the school offer a shared sense of purpose and values?  Will you be provided opportunities for continuous learning and improvement in a safe and welcoming environment? Are classes innovative and goal-oriented, allowing for creative expression? And is the environment conducive to gaining collegial relationships with other students and faculty? Some schools encourage and push students to take greater risks with their artistic abilities, while others prefer to teach the fundamentals; providing students with a wide-ranging education and allowing them to discover their innate abilities on their own. How does the school make you feel? Do they inspire or motivate you to take risks? Do you believe the staff and faculty care about your career goals and will advise you in a direction that will benefit you individually?

COST OF YOUR EDUCATION

The primary goal upon graduation from college is to earn money in your chosen career field.  While that’s true, college costs money, and the price tag can vary greatly depending upon when you attend – private college, university, online coursework, etc.  Feels may include housing (if offered), meals, and health services.  Many private colleges don’t offer any of these items, so off-campus housing, food, etc., must be considered.  Fees for out-of-state or non-resident students can cost much more than if you are a resident in the state where the school of your choice is located. Does the college or university offer financial aid? Are there grants or scholarships you can apply for offered through the school? Many private film and cinema schools do not offer grants or scholarships.

SCHOOL & CLASS SIZE

The size of the college (campus size and class size) should also be taken into consideration.  Large colleges and universities typically offer a larger variety of majors and concentrations than smaller schools, whereas smaller schools usually focus on liberal arts courses.  Larger universities also offer extensive student resources, like housing and athletics. They have a diverse student profile, which can be attractive to some students, but overwhelming to others. Smaller colleges usually offer fewer distractions (like dorm parties) than larger colleges, and often a more intimate setting where students get to know each other more easily.  Smaller colleges also typically have a smaller student-to-professor ratio, which offers students more one-on-one time and personal attention. 

LOCATION AND RELOCATION

One of the most important aspects in choosing a college, university, or private school is location. Are you willing to move away from family and friends to receive the best possible education? Do you want to live in a big city or smaller community? Near the beach or in the colder tundra? Are you willing to pay out-of-state tuition? Or, are you open to the increasingly popular distance or online learning opportunities?

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A DEGREE PROGRAM

UNDERSTANDING PROGRAM GOALS, TYPICAL CURRICULUM & SKILLS LEARNED

Whether pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Art, certificate or associate degree, or furthering your education by pursuing a Master of Fine Art program, the goal of most film and cinema programs is to introduce students to the history, understanding, involvement, and background of filmmaking or film studies through an interdisciplinary approach. These programs explore film and cinema as an art form and cultural specialty and reflect the vision of filmmakers throughout history.  Key goals of film and cinema programs is to educate students to critically analyze film, to demonstrate mastery of basic concepts of film and cinema, in regards to cinematography, sound and lighting effects, editing, and narrative structures. 

Students will learn about US and foreign cinemas, as well as major filmmakers and different genres. They will be able to describe the relation of film to other art forms, like theater, music, or dance.  Another student outcome will be to demonstrate an understanding of the different aspects of film, from concept and pre-production, to post-production and distribution, and marketing.  Students will be able to analyze the formal components of film and cinema within sociocultural, political, historical, aesthetic, and international contexts, and how film relates to gender, race, ethnicity, and global interactions. 

Curriculum varies greatly from one program to the next, and from one school to the next. However, most programs will include classes in film directing, film producing, screenwriting, cinematography, film editing, and acting.  Many schools will also emphasize coursework in areas such as documentary filmmaking, independent filmmaking, or fiction filmmaking.  Within their film and cinema departments, larger universities will often offer classes in visual effects, digital media studies, digital audio production, animation, and more.  Classes in videography and editing are offered in nearly every program, but students should also consider taking classes in graphic design and music theory. 

Most schools offer internship opportunities to gain experience and get the kind of on-the-job education not found in the classroom.  Nearly all programs will also offer student workshops, and in graduate programs, access to directed individual studies in research, writing, directing, and film production. 

Besides learning the basics of film and cinema, students will graduate with a number of essential skills such as lighting techniques, how to operate a boom and film camera. Students will learn the importance of an apple box and C-stand, and why gaffer’s tape is critically important to any production. You’ll learn how to entertain and engage an audience through film and cinema, and how to accept feedback and criticism.  Students will learn the importance of leadership, and why it’s important to be able to motivate and inspire a cast and crew. You’ll have access to professional tools of the trade that most people can afford, such as sound equipment and multi-track mixing studios. Students will also work with 16mm and 35mm film cameras, and have the opportunity to learn High-Def, and even create a film on their own. 

In film school, students are given specific assignments with specific deadlines. You will get help from other students/crewmembers, access to equipment, and feedback. Film school is the best environment to acquire and practice the highly-specialized world of film and cinema. 

Master of Fine Arts film and cinema programs build on the skills and instruction found in BFA, associate, and certificate programs that have concentrations in filmmaking.  To be considered for acceptance into most MFA programs, students must complete their BFA.  Because accepted into an MFA program is competitive, you may not be accepted the first time around and may have to reapply. Some people apply right after graduation.  Others will gain real-world experience by working in the industry, participating in residencies, or after applying for grants. And, since graduate school is centered around independent study, an artistic career outside of an academic setting for a year or two can prove valuable prior to applying for your MFA. 

In most MFA programs, students learn the art and advanced techniques of visual storytelling, including directing, editing, cinematography, and post-production sound design.  They will learn the latest techniques in the fundamentals of digital video production and digital editing, training in acting and directing actors, and immersion in screenwriting.  Master’s students most often write and direct their own films ( part of their thesis), which increases in complexity and length as the student advances in his or her studies.