30 Best Small Colleges for Aspiring Filmmakers

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Small College Film Schools

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.

Rank School Location
1 American Film Institute Conservatory Los Angeles, CA
2 Art Center College of Design Pasadena, CA
3 Barnard College New York, NY
4 California Institute of the Arts Santa Clarita, CA
5 Chapman University Orange, CA
6 Colorado Film School Denver, CO
7 Columbia College Chicago Chicago, IL
8 CUNY Brooklyn College Brooklyn, NY
9 CUNY City College New York, NY
10 CUNY Queens College Flushing, NY
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  1. American Film Institute Conservatory
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  2. Art Center College of Design
    Location

    Pasadena, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  3. Barnard College
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  4. California Institute of the Arts
    Location

    Santa Clarita, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  5. Chapman University
    Location

    Orange, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  6. Colorado Film School
    Location

    Denver, CO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  7. Columbia College Chicago
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  8. CUNY Brooklyn College
    Location

    Brooklyn, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  9. CUNY City College
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  10. CUNY Queens College
    Location

    Flushing, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

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