The 20 Best Film Schools in the USA

If you're going to pay for school, why not go to one of the best film schools in the US? 
So, you love film. You've memorized entire movies, know everything about the filmmakers involved, and want to carry that passion forward by attending one of the top film schools. 

But where do you go? 

You want to make sure you're going to one of the best film schools in the country, one that fits your specific needs, wants, and specifications.

Well, we are here to rundown a handy list of some of the best colleges for film.

This is not the end-all, be-all list, as we encourage you to do your own research before signing on the dotted line (and keep in mind that online film school might be a great alternative for you), but as a starting point, this should do the trick.

The 20 Best Film Schools in the USA

1. University of Southern California - Los Angeles, CA

Regularly regarded as one of the top film schools of all time (my boastful friend who went there loved to shout that it was one of "the best film schools in the world"), chances are if you have a favorite American filmmaker, they probably graduated from here -- John Carpenter, Ryan Coogler, Robert Zemeckis, the list goes on and on. (Steven Spielberg, who was rejected from the film school, eventually got an honorary degree and became a trustee.)

Arguably the best film school in California (a state known for being full of great film schools), it features state-of-the-art facilities (many donated by folks like George Lucas, who attended classes at USC because it was close to where he lived), innovative programs (many focusing on animation and VR) and some of the best and most highly paid professors in the country. It's not cheap -- a typical undergraduate year will cost you close to $60,000 -- but it seems like you get plenty of bang for your buck, with USC towering as an unparalleled national film and television school. 

2. New York University - New York, NY

Considered the east coast version of USC, New York University boasts a similarly high-profile list of attendees, including Vince Gilligan, Spike Lee (who got an honorary degree in 1998 and now teaches classes regularly), Alec Baldwin, Joker director Todd Phillips, and Mahershala Ali, and a fine veneer of respectability and prestige.

Also notable is how diverse the successful graduates from NYU are, with award-winning female filmmakers Reed Morano, Dee Rees and cinematographer Rachel Morrison all having walked the hallowed NYU halls. And judging by how many people they let in, only the best of the best should apply. According to a recent online report, the acceptance rate for Tisch School of the Arts was 16 percent, while the NYU film school acceptance rate was 7 percent.

And, yes, NYU is just as expensive as USC. Yowza. Still, NYU is one of the best film schools in New York -- and certainly one of the best film schools in the USA.

3. University of California Los Angeles - Los Angeles, CA

While seen as slightly less prestigious than USC, UCLA is undoubtedly one of the best film schools in California and, when you look at tuition, it comes across as a huge steal.

It boasts plenty of starry alumni (including Steven Spielberg's producing partner, Frank Marshall, and Alexander Payne), a number of high profile sales (including several that started out as school projects, including the script for a pilot that eventually became FX's buzzy transgender drama Pose), and cutting-edge facilities (including, just like at USC, an emphasis on VR technology). But perhaps the best, most appealing aspect of UCLA is the price -- in-state applicants can attend for a little over $15,000 a year, which is a fraction of what most top tier film schools will set you back (out of state costs more than $44,000). It shouldn't all be about money (especially when you're looking at costly film production schools), but it should a little bit be about money.

4. Chapman University - Orange, California

Credit: Netflix/THR
Chapman University is actually known for its forward-thinking sensibilities, with the Chapman Film School having notably produced the Duffer Brothers (pictured above), the siblings behind Netflix's envelope-pushing blockbuster series Stranger Things. (Netflix head Ted Sarandos is on the board.)

With beautiful facilities and a slightly-removed-from-the-Hollywood-nonsense Southern California location (it could, depending on where you are, be the best film school near you), Chapman University has quickly become one of the best film schools in California, especially for those looking for a more intimate experience. The price point for attendance, too, is slightly below the USC/NYU watermark, so that is appealing to students chasing their dream on a slightly more affordable budget than other SoCal schools.

5. Columbia University - New York, NY

Who wouldn't want to go to Columbia University?

The campus (on Manhattan's ridiculously lovely Upper West City) is absolutely stunning, made even more so by the recent addition of the Lenfest Center for the Arts, a facility that includes a brand new, 150-seat theater and the school's new, technologically advanced post-production facility. And the filmmakers who have attended the school are enough to inspire anybody (including Kathryn Bigelow, Frozen filmmaker and Walt Disney Animation Studios bigwig Jennifer Lee, Lisa Cholodenko, and Deborah Chow, who was recently tapped to direct the Obi-Wan Kenobi limited series for Disney+).

Also, did we mention its location? One of the best film graduate programs will cost you, though, with annual tuition costing more than $60,000.

6. University of Texas, Austin - Austin, TX

Hee-haw! Another technologically-minded campus, with some truly state-of-the-art facilities (including one of the biggest green screen stages outside of Hollywood) and a healthy dose of chip-on-your-shoulder, we-can-do-that-too attitude, befitting a city with a booming film industry and list of notable Texas film personalities (Wes Anderson, who has fashioned himself as being born in the back of a Parisian dress shop, actually attended UT).

Easily one of the best film schools in Texas, UT is also known for a graduate-level program that pairs students with established showrunners, in an attempt to fashion an entire season of television. And it gets even better if you live in Texas, with the undergraduate program costing just over $11,000 a year, which is about what my first car cost. As grad Matthew McConaughey would say: Alright, alright, alright.

7. California Institute of the Arts - Valencia, CA

Credit: Touchstone
If you want to work in animation, there's really only one school you should attend (and certainly only one you ever dream about), CAL Arts.

Founded in 1961 by Walt Disney, it has been largely used as a farm school since, with a number of legendary industry professionals -- including Brenda Chapman, Tim Burton, Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas), John Musker and Brad Bird, who named his production company after the storied A113 classroom having attended classes here. One of my best friends growing up, who shared a similar passion for animation, wound up attending CAL Arts. When he got out of school, he created a little show called Adventure Time.

But part of why these alumni succeed is because of how well-rounded and practical their education at CAL Arts really is. And unlike most schools, chances are you'll get drafted before graduating, which will at least let you get a jump on those pesky student loans (tuition for undergraduate and graduate programs is nearly $50,000 a year).

8. Wesleyan University - Middletown, CT

How's this for a varied student body? Michael Bay (above) and Joss Whedon were in the same class together at Wesleyan, a posh, private university (and a very expensive one - tuition can go as high as $70,000, which is indeed a spicy meatball) located in the rolling hills of Connecticut. Just think about their respective paths in Hollywood, style of filmmaking, and general outlook on the industry, and you can see why Wesleyan is so beloved by so many. (Bay's professor would show up on the commentary tracks for Bay's films that made it into the Criterion Collection.)

Other alumni include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Matthew Weiner and The Meg filmmaker Jon Turtletaub, with new filmmaking facilities recently being constructed on the gorgeous campus.

9. The American Film Institute, Los Angeles, CA

Want diversity in your film school? AFI boasts a 50/50 of male and female students studying the craft. Alumni like Rachel Morrison, Sam Esmail, and Mimi Leder lead the way and show how many different professions are available after graduation. To get you there, the professors help clarify your vision and give you a real taste of what to expect within the industry. 

The cost is in the upper echelons too, at 60+ thousand a year. Their justification os the hands-on experience you get with professors who are working professionals. 

10. Emerson, Boston, MA 

With campuses in Boston and Los Angeles, Emerson boasts a good bi-coastal hold on the industry. Students study abroad in Los Angeles and get a taste for the industry with internships at places across the city. 

Alumni like Henry Winkler, David Cross, and Norman Lear all got their start here. 

The school continues to expand, with a large building in Hollywood and refurbishments to all their screening rooms in Boston. 

11. Stanford, Palo Alto, CA

Want to be a documentarian? This might be the place for you. Stanford has a film studies undergraduate degree and an MFA program that takes under ten people a year. They concentrate on documentaries and give the kids the tools to produce, direct, and edit them. 

Still, it might be a bit pricey, you're looking at around 70k a year. 

12. DePaul University, Chicago, IL

Never underestimate the power of production in your own city. Chicago Fire shoots locally, as well as several other shows. That means students here get on the job training and jobs before they graduate. 

Feeling funnier than that? They also have a deal with Second City that allows students to take sketch classes. 

They're also the only school in America to hand out an MFA in "Comedy Filmmaking."

13. Boston University 

Located in the heart of Boston, BU takes up several city blocks. Across the Charles River from Harvard and down Commonwealth avenue from both BC and Emerson, BU has made its name by offering a wide range of film and television classes. 

Like Emerson, they have a campus and housing in Los Angeles, where students can study abroad and take internships. Alumni include Jim Gianopulos, Bonnie Hammer, Bonnie Arnold, and Joe Roth. 

14. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, FL 

What makes filmmakers like Ethan Hawke, Kevin Smith, and Justin Long regulars on campus? Perhaps it's the state of the art studio. They pride themselves on being cutting edge. They offer a BFA in Virtual Reality and have other concentrations in animation. They have dozens of alumni working for Pixar and thinking outside the box, at places like Crypt TV.  

15. Savannah College of Art and Design 

Commonly called SCAD, you wouldn't be surprised to see people like John Boyega, Salma Hayek, Robert Pattinson, Patrick Stewart, Richard Jenkins and Aaron Sorkin strolling around campus when the Savannah Film Festival is happening. 

Aside from the celebrities, they also make a successful TV show on campus and have classes focused on production. 

16. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

"I kind of learned my first things about filmmaking at RISD," said Gus Van Sant, who counts himself as an alumnus. He's in good company with Seth McFarlane and Mary Lambert. The school is focused on bringing the best people in every artistic field. 

That means you'll study with some stiff competition. 

But iron sharpens iron. Your classmates can help you and you can help them. 

17. Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

Sometimes all it takes is one alum to help you get your first job. And FSU students got more than they bargained for in Barry Jenkins, who has returned to campus to hire classmates and undergrads for all his features. 

And it's not just Academy Award winners. 

FSU prides itself on having a good hold on TV production too. With students working on Stranger Things and other nearby projects. 

18. Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

Want to study film and not just Hollywood? Syracuse offers 10-day immersion sessions in Venice and Bologna, Italy, as well as a full semester of film studies in Prague. That's pretty epic. Even more epic Their 15,000 square foot soundstage used by students and professional filmmakers. 

Modern Family EP David Zuker is an alumni and director Jeremy Garelick has shot multiple features on campus.  

19. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY 

A brand new screening room and speaker series cement Pratt as a place where thinkers go to learn. From screenwriter Liz Hannah to filmmakers Requa and Ficarra, Pratty is churning out people who know how to do their jobs. 

The campus recently got a refurbishment by some of Pratt's own architects, so get ready for new and improved study and work areas. 

20. University of Colorado

Probably most famous for alumni Matt Stone and Trey Parker, this school focuses on the basics, directing, animation, and digital cinematography. That's a great course load for people trying to find their way with practical filmmaking skills. 

Nick Houy, editor of Lady Bird says, "What makes the school so unique, the emphasis on experimental film, DIY filmmaking, and most importantly film specifically — that is — the celluloid you hold between your fingers, up to the light. CU Boulder truly treats filmmaking as a Fine Art."

Summing up the Best Film Schools in America 

Of course, this is just the tip of the proverbial film school iceberg. Be sure to look around for yourself, attend open houses (and keep an open mind while doing so) and read up. This decision has the potential to profoundly affect your career and the rest of your life.

Choose wisely.               

What film schools did you attend? Or would you recommend folks attend? Sound off in the comments below. 

Your Comment

8 Comments

Go to Brooklyn College for a quarter of the price and be taught by NYU professors there. That's what I did and I don't regret my decision at all.

November 11, 2019 at 1:34PM

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Alex Alva
1596

What happened to "no film school"?

November 11, 2019 at 6:38PM, Edited November 11, 6:38PM

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The shark has been jumped.

November 12, 2019 at 8:07AM

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Dan Maher
203

I know you guys are US based but would love to have seen some international schools in here. Maybe there’s room for another list? I might be able to attend one of these US schools if I saved until I’m in my eighties.

November 12, 2019 at 2:54AM

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Liam Martin
DP, editor, part time director
1223

You forget NC School of the Arts Filmmaking. Considering the alums and facilities and it's ranking on other lists, might want to make this a top 10 instead of top 8

November 12, 2019 at 11:34AM, Edited November 12, 11:34AM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
592

It should be noted that Wesleyan offers a film STUDIES program not a film production program. Wesleyan does offer production classes but they are limited when compared to the other schools. Also it should be noted that all alumni examples from Calarts went for animation, which is what the school is famous for - not film. Also, Columbia and UT Austin only offer film production master's degrees not bachelors, so this list will be unhelpful for any high-school students. It would be more useful to have two lists, one of schools which offer film production BFA degrees and another of schools which offer film production MFA degrees. Granted there will be criss-crossing but it would help clear the confusion.

November 12, 2019 at 8:09PM

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Matt Nunn
Amateur
526

If you want to learn film production rather than film theory, check out Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington,NC. You wonder why I don't say the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW)? They're primarily based around film theory, which is good to know, but film production will make you more well equipped to work on set and make you an effective crew member. All the instructors and lab tutors at CFCC are professionals in their respected fields and will teach you the skills you need to know to work in the field your trying to obtain.

February 22, 2020 at 3:37PM, Edited February 22, 3:37PM

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Bennett Todd
Director of Photography, Gaffer, Key Grip (IATSE 491 Grip)
111

Hey Drew,
Check out The American University's Film and Media Arts program in Washington, D.C. We offer a full range of undergrad and graduate degrees in documentary and fiction film, video, TV broadcast, photography (including wet lab), and VR/AR/XR and immersive media. It's one of the most comprehensive film programs in the United States. Our faculty are award-winning creative professionals, including the head of the Fiction Film department director Claudia Myers (Fort Bliss, Above the Shadows, Kettle of Fish), Artist-in-Residence Russell Williams (Oscar awardee for sound on Glory and Dances With the Wolves), Bill Gentille, award-winning photojournalist and producer/director of Freelancers (Disney Plus, 2020), and many more. I have 30 years of doc experience and run the Center for Environmental Filmmaking (CEF) which offers one of the few graduate concentrations in wildlife and environmental filmmaking in the world. We partner with National Geographic, PBS, Smithsonian, Discovery, the National Park Service, NASA, NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and many other NGOs. Our internship program is one of the best! It's one of the great advantages of being based in Washington D.C. We offer experiential education, ranging from field adventures in remote locations, to urban experiences in L.A. and NYC, to cross-cultural partnerships. Our Center for Media and Social Impact recently received $1.1 million in grants from the MacArthur Foundation for civic storytelling for social justice and comedy for social change. Their partnership with Comedy Central is a first. Our Game Lab, led by Andy Phelps who created RIT's MAGIC Lab, is pushing the creative edge of VR/AR/XR and volumetric immersive media. Our feature film program with FAMU in Prague offers a unique 35mm production experience. Our Investigative Reporting Workshop includes the only Frontline Production unit on a college campus. And the list goes on and on. . .At the very core of our program are the passionate, caring students who come together to create a diverse community that is dedicated to positive change.

Contact me and I can direct you to more sources for additional info. Or better yet, come visit us!
Best,
Maggie Burnette Stogner
Professor, Film and Media Arts
Executive Director, Center for Environmental Filmmaking
School of Communication, American University
stogner@american.edu
202-885-2160

February 23, 2020 at 11:00AM

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