The 8 Best Film Schools Where You Should Study
Love movies and want to learn how to start making your own? These schools can help.
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. Obviously 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.
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
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
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.
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 mind while doing so) and read up. This decision has the potential to profoundly affect your career and the rest of your life.