Best Film Schools In the USA - Top 20 List (2024)

Student in film school holding a camera
Updated:
January 11, 2024
10 min read
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”Mary

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 1/11/24

Interested in attending film school? Keep reading to explore some of the best film schools in the US. 

Starting a career in film takes hard work, as it's a competitive field. To make it as a filmmaker, you need lots of experience and connections. But, despite the challenges, it's an exciting career with lots of opportunities for creativity in areas like writing, directing, and cinematography.

One way to get started in this field is by going to a great film school. There, you'll learn about both the technical and theoretical aspects of filmmaking. You'll also get to create a portfolio and make connections that can help you in your career. Going to film school is an investment in your future that can help you succeed.

Luckily, if you're a high school student in the US interested in filmmaking, there are many great film schools to choose from. In this article, we'll introduce you to the country’s top film schools and what they have to offer.

Top 20 Film Schools in the US

Film schools come in different forms, like those at universities, art schools, or schools that only teach film. Each type has its advantages and can help you become a successful filmmaker

Before choosing a film school, it's important to consider your preferences. What aspect of filmmaking interests you the most? Where would you like to go to school? How much money can you spend? Taking the time to think about these questions will help you find a film school that suits you.

Without further ado, here are some of the best film colleges in the US! These schools are great for undergraduate study, but many of them also offer some of the best film graduate programs you’ll find. 

Let’s get started! 

USC Cinematic Arts

USC Cinematic Arts

Source: USC Cinematic Arts

USC Cinematic Arts, located in sunny Los Angeles, is considered one of the best film schools in the country. It’s a part of the University of Southern California and offers students a unique approach to filmmaking education. Students can choose from seven disciplines, ranging from Animation and Digital Art to Writing for Screen and Television. 

Each program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts is taught by faculty members who have direct experience in the film industry, including prominent filmmakers, game designers, media makers, and scholars. They have won numerous awards, including Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and the Humanitas Prize.

USC Cinematic Arts boasts world-class facilities that offer state-of-the-art equipment. Students can delve into post-production:

  • Avid editing bays
  • Color correction suites
  • Sound mixing rooms
  • Visual effects studios
  • ADR
  • Foley stages 

In addition to being a stellar film school, USC is also home to the Thornton School of Music, one of the best music schools out there! Artists and creatives of all kinds can find a home at USC. 

Acceptance Rate: 3%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $66,640 per year (undergraduate), $2,386 per unit (graduate)

Notable Alumni: John Carpenter, Ryan Coogler, Will Ferrell, America Ferrera, Scott Gimple, George Lucas, Matt Reeves, Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Selleck, John Wayne, Forest Whitaker

NYU Tisch School Of The Arts

NYU Tisch School Of The Arts

Source: NYU Tisch

New York University offers the Tisch School of the Arts, a multifaceted school with performing, cinematic, and media arts programs. The Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television operates within the Tisch School of the Arts and is regarded as a pioneer in film, new media, and related technologies.

Students can pursue an undergraduate degree in Film and Television, a graduate film program, BFA and MFA programs in Dramatic Writing, or engage in Cinema Studies. The Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television is known for fusing technical and theoretical skills into each program. 

Various courses are available to non-majors, such as documentary traditions, film marketing and distribution, television production, and script analysis. Students can also pursue their love of film via the Climate Script Pitch Booth, where they can pitch ideas for scripts, stage plays, or episodic series addressing climate change.

Acceptance Rate: ~15%

Average SAT Score: 1470-1570 (middle 50%)

Tuition: $66,388 per year (undergraduate)

Notable Alumni: Joel Coen, Lady Gaga, Vince Gilligan, Donald Glover, Charlie Kaufman, Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Sandler, M. Night Shyamalan, Martin Scorsese, Miles Teller, etc.

American Film Institute

American Film Institute

Source: AFI Conservatory

The AFI Conservatory, which operates within the American Film Institute (AFI), is the #1 ranked film school in the US. As a non-profit organization in Los Angeles, AFI is dedicated to preserving the history of American motion picture arts by educating future filmmakers. It is funded through public membership dues and private financing.

Students can pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in six areas:

  • Cinematography
  • Directing
  • Editing
  • Producing
  • Production design
  • Screenwriting 

Graduates can receive either a Master of Fine Arts degree or a Certificate of Completion. AFI encourages students to collaborate to write, produce, design, direct, shoot, and edit four to ten films over the course of two years.

With small class sizes and an average 3:1 student-to-faculty ratio, students receive individualized attention from faculty members with years of expertise directing films from screenplay to screen.

Students can explore the world of film through the AFI Fest and AFI Docs, where they can submit documentary, fiction, experimental, and animated short films. They can delve into creative workshops and connect with film experts and industry leaders. 

Acceptance Rate: 3%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $66,469 per year

Notable Alumni: Andrea Arnold, Darren Aronofsky, Ari Aster, Scott Frank, Patty Jenkins, Wally Pfister, Robert Richardson

The UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television

The UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television

Source: UCLA Library

At the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, students can study film through an interdisciplinary curriculum that encourages a comprehensive understanding of the art of film. They also have the opportunity to specialize in various aspects of filmmaking. 

UCLA offers various programs, such as Film, TV and Digital Media, Costume Design, and Theatre. Students can also learn about Social Impact Television, Special Programs, and study methods from a celebrated faculty. 

Students can also learn about film through events, festivals, and screenings that UCLA hosts. For example, the UCLA Festival of Preservation showcases the restoration of vintage films. The Billy Wilder Theater allows students to explore moving images in their original formats, such as silent films and new-age digital media. 

Acceptance Rate: 14%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $18,136 per year (graduate California residents), $14,478 (undergraduate California residents)

Notable Alumni: Jack Black, Carol Burnett, Francis Ford Coppola, James Dean, Steve Martin, Paul Schrader, Ben Stiller, George Takei

Columbia University

Columbia University

Source: Columbia School of the Arts

One of the top film schools in the US is located at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Students can study various mediums within filmmaking, such as media studies, visual arts and sound art, writing, and digital storytelling. 

The Columbia College and the School of General Studies offer Bachelor's degrees in the arts with concentrations in creative writing, film and media studies, and visual arts. Students also have an opportunity to take a joint program, such as the MFA Sound Art and Literary Translation program. 

Columbia boasts a vibrant community of forward-thinking artists worldwide and acclaimed faculty made up of film and theater directors, poets, fiction and nonfiction writers, playwrights, producers, critics, and academics.

A variety of resources and opportunities are available to students. They can hone their craft and learn at events and festivals like the Columbia University Film Festival. Students involved in the Film MFA Program have the opportunity to showcase their thesis work. 

Acceptance Rate: ~10%

Average SAT Score: 1500-1560

Tuition: $68,400 per year (undergraduate), $35,959 (graduate)

Notable Alumni: Kathryn Bigelow, Deborah Chow, James Franco, Olivia Newman

Dodge College of Film and Media Arts

Dodge College of Film and Media Arts

Source: Dodge College

Chapman University, located in Orange, California, is home to the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. 

This film school offers ​​a BFA in Film & Television Production that prepares students for a successful career in the film and television industry. Students also have the opportunity to specialize in directing, cinematography, editing, sound design, production design, or writing and production.

Dodge College also provides students with a liberal arts education to ensure they’re well-rounded artists. Your final year will culminate with a thesis film, which can be added to your portfolio and used in your future job search. It’s important to note that students have the rights to all projects they create during their studies. 

They also have the opportunity to participate in various interactive events and student-run organizations. There are many ways to get involved in campus life, learn about film, and make valuable connections. 

Acceptance Rate: 8% for Film & Television Production, 30-40% for all other programs

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $32,290 (undergraduate)

Notable Alumni: The Duffer Brothers, Justin Simien, Olatunde Osunsanmi, Parker Finn

California Institute of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts

Source: CalArts

California Institute of the Arts, commonly called CalArts, is located in Santa Clarita and is one of the best film schools in California. It’s a world-renowned institution offering education in art, critical studies, dance, film and video, music, and theater. 

Students interested in the world of film can choose from various courses, such as Film Directing, Lighting Design, Scene Design, Producing, and many more. CalArts offers an interdisciplinary approach to arts education and over 70-degree visual, performing media, and literary arts programs.

These courses are taught by world-class instructors who provide students with the knowledge they need to utilize state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. It’s also one of the best schools for animation, as their notable alumni list is stacked with skilled and accomplished animators. 

CalArts also offers international engagement opportunities, including residencies, internships, student exchanges, short faculty-led curricular or co-curricular projects, and independent extracurricular projects. Initiatives like the Emerging Artist Resources help students expand their professional horizons and become job-ready.  

Acceptance Rate: 29%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $56,074 per year 

Notable Alumni: Brad Bird, Tim Burton, Brenda Chapman, Sean Daniel, Pete Docter, Ralph Eggleston, Alex Hirsch, John Lasseter

LMU School of Film and Television

LMU School of Film and Television

Source: LMU SFTV

Located in Los Angeles, the LMU School of Film and Television offers both undergraduate and graduate programs that provide students with the skills needed to succeed in the film industry. It’s well known as one of the country’s leading film schools.

LMU’s personalized curriculum combines small class sizes and a collaborative, hands-on approach that integrates a general liberal arts education with specialized courses. 

Under the direction of an experienced faculty, students learn about filmmaking's creative and practical elements. LMU’s deep connections in the industry also allow more than 70% of students to participate in internships and gain a competitive edge in the job market. 

Students also have ample opportunity to learn outside the classroom. LMU hosts a range of programs, events, and screenings. Industry insiders and guest speakers often stop by LMU to give special talks and connect with students.  

Acceptance Rate: N/A

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: ~$27,648 (varies depending on year & program)

Notable Alumni: Melissa Blake, Matthew Cullen, Effie Brown, Francis Lawrence, Sean McNamara

Wesleyan University

Wesleyan University

Source: Wesleyan Argus

Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts university in Middletown, Connecticut, that offers a film studies program called the College of Film and the Moving Image (CFILM). 

This program comprises the Department of Film Studies, the Jeanine Basinger Center for Film Studies, and the Ogden and Mary Louise Reid Cinema Archives. Each department focuses on familiarizing students with the theory and practice behind the film industry. 

Students can choose to take either a film studies major or a minor. The minor offers students a level of flexibility by accommodating their different course clusters. Both options offer students the opportunity to gain an appreciation for television and film as art mediums.

CFILM hosts a variety of events, screenings, and initiatives for students to enjoy and learn. The student-run Wesleyan Film Series provides programming four nights a week, and the Rick Nicita Gallery offers eclectic and educational exhibits. 

Acceptance Rate: ~20%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $66,716 per year (undergraduate)

Notable Alumni: Jordan Belfi, Beanie Feldstein, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Emerson College

Source: Emerson Today

The Department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College offers the Global Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Art and the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Stage and Screen Design/Technology

Emerson also offers MFA programs in film, notably the Master of Fine Arts in Film & Media Art and the Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Film and Television. Each program trains students in the fundamentals of liberal arts and offers experiential learning opportunities to facilitate hands-on skills. 

Along with a diverse selection of courses, Emerson provides students with a range of exciting opportunities. Such as the Emerson Film Festival and It’s All True Festival, which both celebrate student film work.

Acceptance Rate: 41%

Average SAT Score: 1280-1410

Tuition: $30,528 per year (undergraduate)

Notable Alumni: Shane Hurlbut, Bavand Karim, Michael W. King, Michael McCusker, Alicyn Packard, Brittany Martin Porter, Michael Grant Terry, Harris Wittels

The University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin

Source: UT Austin

The University of Texas at Austin offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in various areas of film. Students can pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Radio, Television, and Film or choose from several advanced degrees, such as:

  • MFA in Film and Media Production
  • MFA in Screenwriting
  • MA in Media Studies
  • Ph.D. in Media Studies

In addition to a range of film courses, students can supplement their education with educational conferences, workshops, and various initiatives. The RTF Student Showcase, for example, turns the spotlight on student-run productions. Events such as the Flow Conference and Global Fusion promote learning outside of the classroom. 

Acceptance Rate: ~25%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $5,815 per semester (Texas resident), $21,631 per semester (non-resident)

Notable Alumni: Wes Anderson, Diana Alvarez, Farrah Fawcett, Matthew McConaughey, Trevante Rhodes, Robert Rodriguez, Owen Wilson, Renee Zellweger

Stanford University

Stanford University

Source: Stanford University

Stanford University, situated in beautiful Stanford, California, offers students a BA in Film & Media Studies that takes an interdisciplinary approach to film studies. You can learn about film aesthetics, cinematic traditions, documentary films, and experimental films. 

If you’re interested in pursuing advanced studies at Stanford, you can also take graduate-level Cinema and Media Studies courses through its Art History Ph.D. program. Stanford’s well-rounded curriculum and experienced faculty make it one of the best schools to study film. 

Student groups like the Stanford Film Society, Stanford Storyboard Club, and 

Golden Spikes Studios help students thrive and connect. Programs such as the Stanford Storytelling Project foster creativity and offer a variety of courses, workshops, and grants. 

Acceptance Rate: 3.9%

Average SAT Score: 1500-1550

Tuition: $20,577 per quarter (undergraduate), $12,720 per quarter for 8-10 units (graduate)

Notable Alumni: Jennifer Connelly, Ted Danson, Issa Rae Diop, Sam Ellison, Mason Flink, Jonathan Green, Kira Snyder, John Steinbeck

DePaul University

DePaul University

Source: DePaul University

The School of Cinematic Arts at DePaul University offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in comedy filmmaking in conjunction with The Second City

DePaul University is a private Catholic University located in Chicago. The Second City is an improvisational comedy company and the first improvisational theatre company to have its permanent home in Chicago.

The School of Cinematic Arts offers both undergraduate and graduate programs focused on film studies. Students can delve into animation, film, television, creative producing, directing, documentary film, and screenwriting, and make the most of state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge technology. 

Acceptance Rate: 70%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $43,665 per year (undergraduate)

Notable Alumni: Vera Drew, Zoe Lubeck, Daniel Willis, Michel Kreisel Vaisberg, Art O’Leary

Boston University

Boston University

Source: Boston University

Students at Boston University gain a comprehensive understanding of the industry while pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Film and Television. Depending on your interests, you can also choose to specialize in production, screenwriting, film and television studies, or management and producing.

Boston University is all about offering students the chance to pursue their interests. They can gain hands-on experience by working at a student-operated station, butv10, and a student-run agency - Real World Productions.

Students learn from a multifaceted faculty with experience in both academia and the film industry. They’ve written, directed, and produced feature films and national television series, such as Toy Story, Queer Eye, and Uncut Gems. Faculty are also published in both academic and public press. 

Acceptance Rate: 14%

Average SAT Score: 1442

Tuition: $63,798 per year

Notable Alumni: Bonnie Arnold, Orlando Bagwell, Nancy Dubuc, Scott Rosenberg, Josh & Benny Safdie

Ringling College of Art and Design

Ringling College of Art and Design

Source: Ringling College

The Ringling College of Art and Design, situated in Sarasota, Florida, has a Digital Filmmaking Studio Lab program for aspiring filmmakers. It guides students through all facets of the film industry, including cinematography, production design, editing, sound design, screenwriting, post-production, directing, and producing. 

Students can choose from two areas of focus - narrative film or branded entertainment. The former offers insight into the nuances of the film production process, and the latter focuses on teaching students how to craft film and video content with a brand image in mind. 

Ringling College offers valuable, hands-on experience. Students create 3-5 films annually, with full access to professional facilities and cutting-edge equipment. There are also opportunities to network with alumni who have gone on to work for ​​Netflix, Disney, Comedy Central, MTV, NBC, and ABC.  

Acceptance Rate: 65%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $50,500 per year

Notable Alumni: Jeff Fowler, Brandon Oldenburg, Patrick Osborne, Nick Pitera

Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design

Source: SCAD Savannah

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has campuses located in both Atlanta and Savannah. It offers BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in Film and Television. The BFA and MA programs can be completed in just four years, and a BFA and MFA in as few as five years.

Students have access to talent and resources at the forefront of the film industry. They learn from world-renowned professors and have the opportunity to build valuable industry connections. At SCAD, students can work on real sets and hone their craft on student-produced films. 

If you choose to major in film and television, you’ll have the chance to broaden your horizons and develop your creative potential thanks to the availability of programs, including animation, television production, sound design, performing arts, and more. 

SCADFilm offers eclectic programming surrounding film, television, animation, video production, and more. With screenings, master classes, and presentations, students can learn and connect with industry leaders. 

Acceptance Rate: 82%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $41,130 per year (undergraduate), $42,120 (graduate)

Notable Alumni: Austin Bonang, Amelia Brooke, Colin Levy, Adam Wagner

The Rhode Island School of Design

The Rhode Island School of Design

Source: RISD

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has a Film, Animation, and Video program where students can explore the art of film, animation, installations, and interactive media. 

Students can choose from various courses and graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts (BFA), such as directing film, video installation, film practices, etc. The goal behind the BFA program is to encourage students to foster a unique voice and experiment while learning about the intricacies of film. 

RISD has an assortment of leading-edge equipment and tools for students to use on their projects and assignments, and skilled faculty are there every step of the way to lend their expertise as they develop their craft. 

Acceptance Rate: 19%

Average SAT Score: 1350-1490

Tuition: $58,690

Notable Alumni: Ilene Chaiken, Michael Dante DiMartino, Dan Golden, Bryan Koneitzko, Seth McFarlane, Robert Richardson, Daniel Sousa, Gus Van Sant

Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago

Source: Columbia College Chicago

Students can immerse themselves in Cinema and Television Arts at Columbia College. A selection of undergraduate, minors, and graduate degrees are available, including a BA and BFA in Film and Television and an MFA in Cinema and Television Directing. 

At Chicago College, students learn from the very best. Professors have experience in everything from filming documentaries to directing and producing motion pictures. They teach students how to be well-rounded professionals by exposing them to the many facets of the film industry. 

Columbia College also incorporates team building into its film program by encouraging collaboration and communication. Meet and greets and opportunities like the Chicago Feminist Film Festival, DocYourWorld, and FrameWork Interviews help students connect and learn from one another. 

Acceptance Rate: 95%

Average SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $15,367 per year (undergraduate)

Notable Alumni: Mauro Fiore, Jeffrey Jur, Janusz Kaminski, Annie Tighe, Lena Waithe

Florida State University

Florida State University

Source: FSU

The College of Motion Picture Arts at Florida State University exposes students to the multifaceted world of film. They graduate equipped for the film industry with hands-on skills, extensive knowledge, and deep connections. 

Students can choose to take a BFA in Motion Picture Arts, focusing on production or animation and digital arts. Florida State also offers graduate programs in production and writing and a film studies minor. Each program is designed to guide students through the art of storytelling and encourage them to craft their own films. 

The FSU Film School​​ has a production facility dedicated solely to studying motion pictures. It is a professional production studio, including everything from writers' rooms and sound stages to post-production studios, animation labs, and screening rooms.

Acceptance Rate: 25%

Average SAT Score: 1370-1480

Tuition: $5,616 (undergraduate Florida residents), $18,746 (non-residents)

Notable Alumni: Alan Ball, Wes Ball, Kat Candler, Steven Conrad, Barry Jenkins, Christine Lahti, David Robert Mitchell 

ArtCenter College of Design

ArtCenter College of Design

Source: ArtCenter College of Design

Budding filmmakers can pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Degree at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Students can choose to focus on cinematography, editing, or directing.

They’ll learn film history and business fundamentals, gain experience in different facets of filmmaking, and take multidisciplinary courses. As an art school, ArtCenter allows students to explore other mediums and methods, such as advertising, interaction design, writing, and more.  

Students can create, shoot, edit, and produce films using top-notch tools and deep connections in the film industry. Along with an experienced faculty, ArtCenter also provides students with mentorship opportunities with expert writers and directors.  

Acceptance Rate: 63%

Average SAT Score: 1296

Tuition: $25,303 (undergraduate), $26,742 (graduate)

Notable Alumni: Roger Avary, Don Burgess, Michael Bay, Tarsem Singh, Zack Snyder

FAQs: Best Schools For Film

Keep reading if you have any more questions about the top film schools in the US.

1. What University Has the Best Film Program?

UCLA has the best film program, known as the School of Theater, Film, and Television.

2. What Is the #1 Film School in America?

The American Film Institute in Los Angeles is the best film school in the United States. 

3. Are Film Schools Worth It?

Attending film school is absolutely worth it. It’s a valuable investment in your future that provides a well-rounded education, valuable connections, access to professional equipment, and much more. 

4. What Major Is Best for the Film Industry?

The major you choose depends on what area of the film industry you’re particularly interested in. However, choosing film studies as a major is a great choice as it offers a comprehensive overview of the film industry. 

Final Thoughts

After exploring these 20 fabulous film schools, you hopefully have a good understanding of what they each have to offer. Any of the schools mentioned in this guide can provide the resources and experience you need to thrive in the film industry. If you’re going to attend film school, consider one of the best film schools. 

Choose a film school that suits your needs and make the most of its facilities, equipment, and knowledgeable faculty. Along with providing a comprehensive education on film, attending film school also offers the opportunity to build a portfolio and foster industry connections. It exposes you to the exciting and multifaceted world of film.

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