The 10 Best Film Schools In The United States for 2019

What is it that makes one film school superior to another? The process of creating a film, regardless of whether it is art, cinema, or documentary, and regardless of where it is filmed requires knowledge in a variety of areas. Directors are more than just camera operators; they must understand the theory behind film, the technology necessary to capture events on film, and the knowledge to produce a meaningful series of images which convey the intended meaning behind the project.

A good film school will teach students the skills and knowledge needed to convey their meaning and vision through film. An excellent film school will produce graduates who have developed an inherent understanding of film theory, as well as who have the creativity to produce unique projects and the ability to successfully implement their ideas. Developing a curriculum that advances each student’s natural abilities and cultivates an advanced understanding of film is essential to success in the commercial or private film industry.

Camera operators must understand the foundational premise of multiple subject matters. Gaining an understanding of journalism, communications, marketing, graphic design, computers, and photography are all invaluable to a career in film. Every one of these fields provide knowledge that is essential to the production of meaningful films, though students may also need to develop a more in-depth understanding of certain areas based on the nature of film in which they intend to work. To this end, certain schools may provide a general overview of the field but may concentrate more in one area than another.

Schools that offer strong degree programs in film will provide sufficient training in multiple areas to ensure graduates are equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the entire industry, not just small segments which barely cover the vital areas. By encompassing each aspect of the film industry, students are given the opportunity to explore their individual interests, and make an informed decision as to where their strengths lie and which specialty is most relevant to their abilities.

Picking the Right Film School

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With the high level of competition imposed on individuals vying for positions in the film industry, choosing the right school is crucial. Applicants should pay attention to film school rankings, and graduates entering the film industry will need to rely substantially on the reputation of their school in order to give themselves an advantage over other applicants applying for the same position. A limited number of entry level positions are expected to be available over the next several years, as competition will be fierce. With limited practical experience, the quality of the education received by a candidate will be the deciding factor most employers will consider above all else when selecting whom to hire.

Choosing a school ranked among the top in the nation can provide film graduates with a unique competitive edge. BLS reports that between 2014 and 2024, careers in filmmaking and production are expected to grow by 9%, a slightly faster rate of growth than most careers in the U.S. Most individuals entering this field can expect, over the course of their career, to earn a median salary of $70,000 per year, though those with graduate/master’s degrees are likely to make slightly more.

What Are The Best Film Schools?


Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN

Vanderbilt University was established in 1873 as a small private institution with ties to the Christian church. Throughout the next century, the university grew exponentially in geographical size, student enrollment, and academic regard. Vanderbilt has earned membership into the Association of American Universities and has placed among the top 20 private universities in the nation. The private research university possesses numerous degree programs which consistently rank among the top 10 in the country. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, students are in close proximity to one of the main a cultural hubs in the U.S. The school’s flexible curriculum affords students the opportunity to tailor degree programs to their educational goals, and is one reason that it is considered one of the top film schools in the country. Many alumni of the university hold leadership positions in the industries for which they studied. The University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Vanderbilt’s interdisciplinary film studies degree program provides a comprehensive education in the cinema arts, earning the school a top ranking as the best film school in the U.S. Through academic exploration and practical experience and training, film students learn about the cultural, historical, theoretical, and aesthetic aspects of the field. Required courses include film studies, film theory, communication, culture and consciousness, cultural rhetoric of film, culture and society, history of art, and American film. In addition to these major-specific courses, students are expected to complete general studies coursework in communications studies, philosophy, psychology, Asian studies, art, and European studies. In addition to traditional curriculum, students have the opportunity to participate in film festivals and contests hosted by the university, through which they have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and showcase their work.


University of Chicago Chicago, IL

The University of Chicago is a renowned research institution with highly regarded collegiate curriculum. Considered a pioneer in education and research, the University of Chicago is credited with developing programs which have been duplicated across the nation. The college boasts more than 80 Nobel Prize winners as well as a Pulitzer Prize winner among its faculty members and students. The University of Chicago has a history in film dating back to the late 1800s, when the institution provided one of the first ever public viewings of motion pictures. Since its early beginnings, the university’s Department of Cinema and Media Studies has evolved into a leader in the field. The program’s challenging, interdisciplinary curriculum encompasses film theory, history, and criticism, but also places emphasis on video production and performance studies. The university houses the oldest and most prominent student film society in the nation.

Degree programs offered at the University of Chicago include both undergraduate and graduate programs. This top film school’s programs examine various cinematic forms and techniques and explore how cinema is affected by production. Students also analyze the methods by which cinema conveys a story. Cinema studies courses also explore the aesthetic perspective of films, film culture, and film style, and include topics such as narrative contexts, racial and national identity, transnational media production and circulation, commercial and leisure entertainment forms, and consumer culture. Students concentrate on American films with supplemental coursework in European, Russian, and East Asian films. Curriculum requires completion of general studies courses, as well as anthropology, art history, music, history, philosophy, English, and Comparative Literature. Students must complete a research paper to close the degree.


University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA

The University of Southern California has earned its reputation as one of the nation’s best film schools for its high caliber degree program, central location, extensive resources, and expert instructors. The university is dedicated to developing the creative and leadership abilities of students through the study of film and interactive media. A focus on experiential learning provides ample opportunity for students to gain practical experience in the field. Students can create their own short films, assuming the role of camera operator, writer, director, and scriptwriter for their projects. Located in the film capital of the world, Los Angeles, and in close proximity to all major motion picture and television companies, the University of Southern California offers unparalleled state of the art facilities including sound stages, animation facilities, mixing theaters, digital classrooms, screening rooms, and post-production suites. USC faculty members are working professionals in the field; comprised of directors, screenwriters and a number of other industry professionals.

USC’s School of Cinematic Arts offers interdisciplinary undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs in the creative field of film. The school comprises six divisions and includes two research units. Students study theory and practice within the film industry and related fields. Curriculum provides exposure to all aspects of the moving image including film, television, and interactive video. Students, regardless of their area of focus, explore all aspects of the field to develop their understanding of the industry and to expand their abilities into related areas. Students are provided with ongoing opportunities to combine theory with substantial practice. Concentration areas include critical studies, centering on the processes behind creating film and their cultural impact, film and television production, with a focus on scriptwriting, storytelling, editing, sound design, producing, and directing, and animation and digital arts, incorporating various aspects of interactive media.


New York University New York, NY

The department of Cinema Studies at New York University was one of the earliest departments dedicated to the discipline. Film studies at NYU concentrate on the traditional areas of history, theory, and film aesthetics through interdisciplinary study. Curriculum explores the impact of the international and cultural influences on film, as well as the technologies and central mediums utilized to produce the finished results. The study of film at New York University isn’t limited to traditional scopes, however, and also encompasses the areas of video art, online projects, and broadcast television. The program is consistently updated to include evolving aspects of the discipline, taking into consideration the changing nature of film. The more than 300 instructors within the department are professional artists with extensive experience in the profession. New York University offers an extensive library of videos for its students to use and its weekly cinematic events provide opportunities to participate in film screenings. Located in New York City, NYU provides countless opportunities for cultural enrichment.

New York University offers a number of degree options through its filmmaking school. Some film programs may require students to compile and submit a portfolio for admission. Degree options include the Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in cinema studies, a double major option with the second major in humanities, social sciences, or arts, the Master of Arts in cinema studies or in moving image archiving and preservation, and the Ph.D. in cinema studies. Three areas of study are required for the major: core curriculum, small lecture courses in cinema studies, and large lecture courses in film aesthetics, directors and genres. The curriculum includes an intensive expository writing requirement, as well as courses in language, dramatic literature, theater history, world cultures, social science, and more. Other requirements include journalism and linguistics, and a quantitative reasoning and natural science course. Special programs include a study abroad option in London, Prague, Shanghai, or Dublin, and summer internship opportunities.


Cornell University Ithaca, NY

Cornell University, among the nation’s elite Ivy League schools, offers a long history of excellence in education, research and alumni success. The department of Theatre, Film, and Dance at Cornell provides flexible degree options with an extensive range of academic opportunities. Students may take courses in film without committing to the major, which can be declared in the sophomore year, permitting students the time to decide which course of study they plan to pursue. The interdisciplinary film studies program encourage students to explore courses in other related disciplines, including history, romance studies, psychology, anthropology history, German studies, and Asian studies. The Cornell Cinema Exhibition provides an opportunity for students to screen a range of film projects and participate in film workshops, and they are also able to join filmmaking clubs where they can organize screenings of their work and receive funding for equipment and various projects. Guest filmmakers regularly visit the campus to participate in various events.

Students pursuing film studies at Cornell University can enjoy exceptional flexibility in developing their degree program. Both undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered at this top film school. Students may choose to complete a double major or create their own, inspired by film studies curriculum. Students can pursue a program in film studies or film production. Film studies centers on the history, theory, and criticism of film, as well as the various genres of film, its cultural contexts, and other artistic and creative aspects. Film production concentrates on creating and developing ideas and learning the various techniques of filming, including audio editing, using software tools, and video editing. Film students learn about the various genres of film such as documentary, animation, and narrative, and take courses in directing, playwriting, screenwriting, and acting. All students must complete a senior project, providing the opportunity to create and experiment with their own film. The university’s study abroad program allows students to spend their junior year in Paris at the Center for Film and Critical Studies.


Columbia University New York, NY

In addition to being regarded as one of the top ranked national universities, Columbia University is considered one of the best film schools in the country. At Columbia, various forms of art, including film, are researched as vigorously as other disciplines. Together with expert faculty, students collaborate on intense and innovative research projects to create new processes and techniques within the traditional concepts of history, theory, and criticism. The university adheres to a distinctive perspective on the study, endeavoring to develop unique methodologies from which to view the field. Students learn and are encouraged to develop their own style and creativity through studying and analyzing film experts from the past and present, learning the history of the field and exploring related disciplines and their impact on film. Both intellectual and creative aspects of the field are emphasized equally throughout the curriculum.

Students are able to pursue both undergraduate and graduate degree programs at this top film school. Curriculum permits students to explore the discipline from varying perspectives, offering programs which focus on art, technology, or even cultural significance. Students create a customized program comprised of twelve required courses with the assistance of an adviser. All programs include coursework in the arts and humanities; other courses include introduction to the study and theory of film, auteur studies, genre studies, national cinemas, film theory, lab in fiction film making, script analysis, narrative strategies in screenwriting, and nonfiction filmmaking. Intense concentration on writing, as well as seminars in screenwriting and filmmaking, are also part of the screenwriting school. Many students are offered internship opportunities with notable film companies. Other opportunities to participate in film projects can be found with the university’s student-run film organization.


University of California – Berkeley Berkeley, CA

The University of California Berkeley campus is a part of the renowned California University system. Film studies at Berkeley encompass the traditional, historical forms of the moving-image, as well as the most recent, cutting edge developments in the industry. The degree programs emphasize theoretical and historical analysis of films in the context of humanitarian and interdisciplinary studies. Students are able to attend the Pacific Film Archive, a highly regarded internationally recognized cinematheque where filmmakers are able to visit the campus to screen films. Located in one of the cultural hubs of the world, the University of California provides extensive opportunities for students to explore the various aspects and settings of the film industry. University advisers help students develop a plan to ensure all requirements are met and guide them toward meaningful internships.

Students majoring in film studies at the University of California Berkeley have the opportunity to pursue undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs. Students may also pursue a double major. Film studies coursework includes history of silent and sound film, documentary and the avant-garde film, film theory, film genres, introductory film and video production, screenwriting, and a variety of courses centering on specific film makers and various national cinemas. The curriculum develops the student’s skills in analytical thinking, critical thinking, communications, and visual literacy. Students also study political science, anthropology, ethnic studies, women’s studies, comparative literature, and foreign languages. Hands-on production opportunities are sometimes offered as internship opportunities with local film and video production companies, the Pacific Film Archive, and Film Quarterly.


University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA

As one of the top ranked universities in the nation, the University of Pennsylvania is a premier institution of higher learning. The university offers superior degree programs, expert faculty and an advantageous location in the cultural center of Philadelphia. The university has a pioneering history in cinema studies, beginning with controversial performances in the late 1800s. Cinema studies at the University of Pennsylvania center on the essential areas of history, theory, and criticism, but also encompass the vital aspects of production and screenwriting. The University of Pennsylvania boasts among its alumni a DreamWorks CEO, former presidents of CBS and Warner Home Video, the current president of Columbia Pictures, and directors from the renowned Sundance Film Festival. The University of Pennsylvania possesses an extensive film library and also affords students the opportunity to participate in study abroad programs, which enables them to attend festival screenings or experience preservation and archiving at the National Film Archive.

Cinema degree programs at the University of Pennsylvania are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students may pursue the field as either a major or minor course of study, as well as through a certificate program in graduate studies. The program incorporate a traditional framework in humanities, including theory, history, and aesthetics. Students will analyze national cinemas, international film movements, legal and political forces governing film industry practices, various filmmakers, and film and media theory. Curriculum is interdisciplinary, drawing on methodological approaches from varying subjects, including languages and literature, women studies, romance languages, fine arts, communications, anthropology, English, and history. Students will also evaluate the relationship between film and other various forms of art. Other required and elective courses include world film history, introduction to film theory, Soviet montage theory, French auteur theory, and more.


Yale University New Haven, CT

Yale University is ranked among the top universities in the nation and has earned international recognition for the superior quality of its degree programs across all areas of study. The array of Film Studies programs offered at Yale University are no exception. These undergraduate and graduate degree programs are concentrated on the history, theory, and criticism of film. Students are given the opportunity to create films or videos as part of class curriculum, as well as possibly gain admission into either the fiction or documentary film workshop. Film students are encouraged to collaborate with other departments. Yale University’s lecture series in film studies provides students with the opportunity to hear renowned experts discuss various aspects of the film industry.

Yale’s interdisciplinary degree programs in film studies encompass all of the essential elements of the discipline. Students are permitted to develop a curriculum tailored to their interests, pending approval by a committee within the department. They are expected to complete certain prerequisite courses, including an introduction to film studies. Other required courses include close analysis of film, film theory and aesthetics, issues in contemporary film theory, and studies in international and cultural films. Beyond film college coursework, Yale prides itself in providing students with a versatile education, offering courses like art history, comparative literature, gender studies, and more. Production seminar courses, theater studies, creative writing, and art courses concentrate on the creative aspect of the film process. Students may choose a concentration such as history of art, literature, philosophy, social sciences, film theory, productions, race and gender, photography, or national or regional cultures and their cinemas. All students are required to complete a senior essay or project which incorporates the knowledge and skills gained throughout the degree program.


University of California – Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA

The University of California at Los Angeles has long been regarded as one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the United States. The School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA maintains that reputation by continuing school tradition through rigorous and dynamic degree programs, award winning faculty members, advisors, extensive resources, and network connections. The curriculum concentrates on the traditional areas of film theory, practice, and criticism, with a strong emphasis on experiential learning, analytical thinking and creative development. Students enrolled at UCLA have access to the school’s renowned film and television archive, as well as alliances with several film and arts festivals such as Telluride and Sundance, which often feature student work. Additionally, UCLA offers summer programs for high school and college students as well as professionals in the field. This school’s online film program allows students to complete coursework in their own time.

UCLA offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs in film studies. Students intending to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Television will only be able to do so during the last two years of their undergraduate program; the first two years of this program are dedicated almost entirely to general education studies. Coursework includes foundational arts and humanities, society and culture, scientific inquiry, writing, foreign language, literature, and American history and institutions.

Storytelling is a main focus of the screenwriting school, as it is considered the central element of filmmaking. Additional areas meant to enhance the student’s abilities in and understanding of special effects for film and television, costume and set design, digital library research and archival restoration, computer animation, interactive television, and web based media arts.

To determine the best film schools, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 10 best film schools. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.