Choosing the right college is an important decision, especially for aspiring filmmakers. A college’s film program should provide students with applicable training in everything from screenwriting to editing. It should also set students up for success in what is one of the toughest, yet very rewarding industries. Modern equipment and state-of-the-art studio spaces, ample freedom to create, and lots of networking opportunities are often what separate the good film programs from the great ones.
These were just the things we had in mind as we hunted for the very best colleges for aspiring filmmakers. We considered everything from curriculum and required courses, to the equipment on hand, to the college’s relationships with working studios and production companies. We considered only those schools with fewer than 20,000 students to ensure that these were places where aspiring filmmakers would be more likely to receive one-on-one attention. While some schools on our list, such as the American Film Institute, are exclusively for filmmakers and artists, others, like Ithaca College, are traditional universities which just happen to have stellar film programs.
American Film Institute is the granddaddy of all film programs. From its beautiful campus overlooking Hollywood, the Institute offers aspiring filmmakers a unique program that uses hands-on collaboration as its primary teaching tool. Students spend the entire length of their program doing exactly what student filmmakers want to do: make films! Especially exciting is the fact that student thesis films are made available for rental and purchase through AFI.com, and are submitted to some of the biggest film festivals as well as the Student Academy Awards.
Aspiring filmmakers at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California will find that their education mirrors the industry that they are attempting to break into. Students compete for opportunities that include internships and local jobs, while also creating their own work in the college's state-of-the-art labs and facilities. As an added bonus, ArtCenter is one of the few colleges that allows film students to retain the rights to any work they produce while on campus.
The film industry is not always equal when it comes to gender equality, so it's no wonder female aspiring filmmakers flock to Barnard College, an all-female institution located in New York. The school's film major includes courses that are both practical and theoretical. In addition to workshops on filmmaking and screenwriting, students take such classes as Narrative Strategies in Screenwriting, Documentary Tradition, and Script Analysis, to name but a few. Before graduation, students are required to write a screenplay and produce a short film.
Walt Disney built this school, so it should come as no surprise that it's a top choice for aspiring animators. Indeed, CalArts offers not one, but two degrees in animation, as well as a B.F.A. in Film and Video. Each degree program functions in a workshop environment, with students creating a wide breadth of projects in state-of-the-art studio spaces with the very latest technologies. Fun fact: For the last five years, actor James Franco has been teaching a class at CalArts called One Act to Cinematic Event.
People who already work in the film industry send their kids to film school at Chapman University in Orange County near Los Angeles. The Dodge College of Film and Media Arts has state-of-the-art everything. It's a $42 million, 76,000-square foot facility designed by the same company that built sound stages at Paramount, DreamWorks, Universal, and Warner Brothers. Despite all of these things, Chapman alums Matt and Ross Duffer, known for Netflix's "Stranger Things," insist that the school is anything but pretentious.
Colorado Film School, located in Denver and associated with the Community College of Aurora, has repeatedly been named one of the best film schools in the world. It has only about 400 students, but produces nearly 1,000 films each year. Though the school does not offer traditional bachelor degrees, it does offer certificates and A.A.S. degrees in a variety of specific disciplines, plus a unique core curriculum in which students learn to exercise their creativity while learning just how sets and studios work.
Columbia College may be situated thousands of miles from Los Angeles, but film students there aren't likely to feel any lack of opportunity or talent. Quite the opposite, in fact. Columbia offers more than 200 specialized courses in film, giving students every opportunity imaginable to study those topics that especially interest them. Plus, students begin working on their own projects almost immediately thanks to an annual $100,000 fund that is set aside for student work. As for Los Angeles, students do have the opportunity to spend five weeks there as part of a studio immersion program.
Brooklyn College has graduated a huge list of people now successful in all facets of the entertainment industry, including actors James Franco and Jimmy Smits. The college offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film. Students can also choose from five concentrations: film studies; film production; documentary film production; screenwriting; and most uniquely, industry studies. Thanks to the college's excellent city locations, film students have valuable opportunities to network and intern at places like Film Society of Lincoln Center, HBO, and various studios.
CUNY City College's Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Video Production degree is an excellent choice for aspiring filmmakers who want an all-around education and a strong foundation in various aspects of the film industry. The college's major is extremely structured, and each semester includes a production course, a film theory or film history course, and a craft course. The degree program then culminates in students completing either a short film, a screenplay, or a research paper.
Continuing CUNY's reputation as a top choice for aspiring filmmakers is Queens College. Because the entire process of making films incorporates more than just technical skills, students pursuing a Bachelor's in Film Studies at Queens take additional classes in media studies, history, comparative literature, art history, and foreign languages to complement the creative process. This program is especially beneficial for aspiring screenwriters as the program places a big emphasis on writing for the screen.
Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, is a great option for students interested in a film program with a wide breadth of skill and theory classes. Students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Cinema complete a core that consists of classes in three-dimensional design, drawing, and design applications. They then continue on to classes in color photography, acting, film production, and various courses in film studies. Before graduation, students must complete a capstone project of a portfolio-length narrative or documentary.
Boston may be thousands of miles away from Hollywood, but tiny Emerson College has more La La Land connections than most schools put together. As students progress through their chosen film program (there are multiple, including film and comedic arts), they can take part in Emerson's top-notch internship program which has placed students with well-known producers, major networks, and the biggest studios. Indeed, Emerson's connections in California have become such a major part of its overall film program that the school now has a satellite campus in Hollywood.
Fashion Institute of Technology may have the word "fashion" in its name, but this small arts school is a great option for an aspiring filmmaker, especially one on a budget. FIT students pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Film and Media spend each semester taking a mix of hands-on practical courses and courses on theory and criticism. Plus, students can tailor the program to focus on the discipline that interests them most, from editing and directing, to storyboarding and costuming.
Ferris State University offers two options for aspiring filmmakers: one for those interested in animation and game design, and one for those who aspire to careers such as screenwriting, producing, and directing. In the latter program, students learn all the necessary skills needed to work in the industry, and even spend the six months before graduation in a full-time internship with a production company or television station.
Aspiring filmmakers at Fordham University in New York have the option of either film or television as a concentration. From there, students take an exciting mix of hands-on and theoretical courses to prepare them for careers in entertainment. Thanks to Fordham's location in New York, film students have lots of opportunities for experiential learning and internships at places like Nickelodeon, CBS Casting, New York 1 Latino, and Sesame Street.
Ithaca College offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film, Photography, and Visual Arts — a unique mix of disciplines that can be hugely beneficial for an aspiring filmmaker. As freshmen, film students at Ithaca take classes in photography and film production, work in darkrooms and editing labs, spend time on film and television sets, and take art lessons in 2-D design or drawing. As the program progresses, students gain more and more skills necessary to produce their own work and succeed in the competitive film industry. There are even opportunities to study off campus through Ithaca's internships with film studios and production companies, as well as other film schools around the world.
We like Kean University as one of the best small colleges for aspiring filmmakers because of its unique list of options for a degree concentrations. Students pursuing a Bachelor of Art in Media and Film at Kean can choose to concentrate in film, broadcast, or multicultural programming and management. In addition to learning the basics of audio, field production, and studio work, students work together to produce projects to be shown during senior film festival. By the time students have completed their degree requirement, they will be ready for just about any intro-level job in the entertainment industry.
There are dozens of reasons why Loyola Marymount University is one of the best small colleges for aspiring filmmakers. Most notably, it's located in Westchester, California, a stone's throw from Los Angeles. Plus, its small student population means that there is one instructor for every 12 students — a huge benefit when one considers the role networking and relationships play in this industry. LMU offers a number of different degrees, but each provides students with a full understanding of just how to express ideas on a screen. The degree culminates with a senior project, usually a screenplay or thesis film.
We like the B.A. in Cinema offered by McDaniel College simply because it provides such a thorough education for aspiring filmmakers. To acquire the degree, students must complete 50 credits of major coursework. This includes at least six classes on the basics — editing, screenwriting, production, etc. — plus an internship in a chosen area of emphasis. The program then culminates with a 20-minute film as a capstone project. Uniquely, McDaniel's film major also allows a student to double major in theater arts.
Pratt Institute seeks to graduate "total filmmakers," artists who can create, write, direct, and edit. Aspiring filmmakers at Pratt gain a solid knowledge in just about every part of the filmmaking process while pursuing their degree, while also taking other art electives like drawing and creative writing in order to fully develop the artistic mind. Besides a top-notch curriculum, internships and hands-on experience is a vital part of Pratt's philosophy, and students have a number of opportunities to intern with top production companies, studios, and productions throughout New York.
Rhode Island School of Design is arguably the most competitive and sought-after arts school in the country. The school's film program is dominated by its top-notch reputation for animation, and even has direct access to Hollywood thanks to a partnership with Laika, the animation studio that has produced such hits as "ParaNorman" and "Coraline." Regardless of whether or not students choose to pursue animation, the program allows students to experiment with a variety of styles and genres, and consistently have their work exposed to critics and reviews at film festivals, visiting artist series, and special seminars.
Having only established their film program in 2007, Ringling College of Art & Design is the youngest degree program for filmmakers to make our list. But we think it's safe to say that Ringling has gained quite the respectable reputation in its short life. Film students at Ringling work on a 30,000-square-foot soundstage and post-production complex that is, for all intents and purposes, a professional studio. Such impressive facilities have done wonders to draw in major talent like Kevin Smith, Sissy Spacek, Roman Coppola, Werner Herzog, and others, who then collaborate with students on various projects.
Aspiring filmmakers pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the prestigious San Francisco Art Institute will get a taste of everything from experimental and narrative filmmaking, to documentaries and animation, to hybrid forms of film and television. A core set of classes offers students the basics of the production process, while the rest of the degree can be filled in with classes from a long list of choices both practical and theoretical. The facilities at the Institute are all state-of-the-art, and even offer students 24-hour access to private editing suites.
The film and television degree program at Savannah College of Art and Design focuses on both the technical and conceptual aspects of the filmmaking process. While gaining hands-on experience through actual film and television projects (SCAD is the only college that produces its own weekly sitcom), students also take courses like Foundations of Story and History of Cinema in order to gain a valuable understanding of what it means to be a storyteller in today's world of filmmaking.
While most notable film schools in New York are part of [much] larger universities, School of Visual Arts (SVA) offers students the same quality education in a much more intimate environment. SVA students are immersed in storytelling and the filmmaking process from day one, while the rest of the B.F.A. in Film program is spent in hands-on, workshop-type classes that will give students a solid foundation in everything from screenwriting to editing.
Aspiring filmmakers who aren't yet sure about what exactly it is they want to do in the industry might greatly benefit from a program like that at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. The Bachelor's in Film Studies program provides students with a very solid grounding in everything from film history, to screenwriting and storyboarding, to shooting and editing. A number of hands-on classes are held in modern studio spaces, and student films are frequently shown in the Student Colloquium at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.
Aspiring Quentin Tarantinos and wannabe David Lynches will feel right at home in the Cinema Department of SUNY Binghamton. Unlike most college filmmaking programs which focus on the traditional, this B.A. in Cinema program stresses the "underground, experimental, and independent production." Though students take six core courses on the basics of the filmmaking process, the major allows for plenty of time to choose an area of concentration and thenâ¦experiment. Students work with top-of-the-line production equipment, and are given access to studios and labs for processing, printing, filming, editing, and animating.
Syracuse University is the perfect example of why one might choose a smaller school to pursue film. Everything about Syracuse's filmmaking program is practical, and students make multiple films as early as their freshman year. This is pretty significant considering just how strong of a presence the university has on the major festival circuits. Indeed, each year it sends multiple students for internships at Cannes and Sundance, among others. Uniquely, students pursuing film at Syracuse have the opportunity to focus on international filmmaking through exchange programs in Bosnia, Peru, and Italy.
Walk across the campus of University of North Carolina School of the Arts and you might think you've landed on the backlot of a major Hollywood film studio. This is because the goal of the school is to turn students into professional filmmakers who make movies. Professional sound stages, state-of-the-art animation studios, a beautiful cinema in which to screen films — it's all here. Selected seniors are sent to L.A. to screen their thesis films for industry pros, while new grads take really big field trips to Hollywood to meet with some of the biggest agencies in town.
Wesleyan University may be a liberal arts college, but there is a reason this small college has produced such renowned names in movies and television as Michael Bay, Akiva Goldsman, Matthew Weiner, and Joss Whedon, to name but a few. Wesleyan's film studies program educates students in both the practical side of filmmaking as well as the critical. In addition to making their own films and writing their own scripts, students take classes like The Musical Film, The Cinema of Horror, The Art of Film Criticism, and more.
Get prepared for your next steps
Use articles and resources to uncover answers to common questions, get guidance on your goals, and learn about applying to schools.
Mental health counseling jobs exist across many settings — from hospitals and government agencies to schools and private practices, and they’re projected to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)...
Discover a program that is right for you.
Explore different options for you based on your degree interests.