While many universities offer film programs, there are several top film schools in the U.S. that standout among the rest.
Where a school falls in the rankings for best film schools depends on various factors, like prestige of the program, notable alumni, and networking possibilities in the industry after college.
Though students should certainly take rankings into account, considering a film school requires taking a look at what qualities of the school will fit the student’s needs and future goals–including location of the school, degrees and specialties offered, and chances to intern at professional film companies.
That said, here are ten of the top film schools in the U.S., listed in no particular order.
University of Southern California - School of Cinematic Arts
Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the USC School of Cinematic Arts offers one of the best film programs for students looking to learn from experts in the field–and add their names to a list of some impressive alumni, along with film giants like George Lucas and Judd Apatow (Amercian filmmaker who produced films like "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" among many other movies and television series.).
Along with a full production-based curriculum, plentiful film equipment for student use, multiple opportunities to screen student work, and a beautiful campus, USC also offers ways for students to get connected both during and after college. USC connects students with internships in the industry that could help them land a job after graduation.
USC School of Cinematic Arts is highly selective, so students should research the school before applying and make sure they work to meet all requirements.
Since USC offers a full four-year degree, complete with general education requirements and centralized campus, students attending film school will also get a more traditional college experience by matriculating.
New York University - Tisch
Located in New York City, NYU Tisch School of the Arts offers three potential programs for film students: Cinema Studies, Film and Television, and Dramatic Writing. Like USC, NYU has an impressive list of alumni, including Martin Scorcese and Spike Lee.
NYU is well suited for students particularly interested in independent filmmaking, since New York has become a hub for the indie film scene. Students at NYU have access to internships and opportunities with companies around New York like Fox Searchlight and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, as well as various opportunities to screen their films.
Since NYU’s campus is located in buildings throughout the city, it does not have a centralized campus feel, but rather, allows students to feel part of bustling Manhattan.
American Film Institute
Located in Los Angeles, AFI differs from other film school options in that it’s a true conservatory program and does not offer the traditional college experience. This allows students to choose a specialty like Directing, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Screenwriting, or Producing.
With the opportunity AFI offers for students to make many films throughout their schooling, students will learn the craft by doing, rather than focusing on as many internship opportunities as other film schools might promote. Notable AFI alumni include David Lynch (acclaimed films such as Eraserhead and Blue Velvet) and Darren Aronofsky (American filmmaker and screenwriter popularized by the film Requiem for a Dream), demonstrating the success of the conservatory approach.
University of California - Los Angeles
Also located in Los Angeles, UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television only accepts about 30 students a year, making it extremely competitive. Students at UCLA have the chance to earn a more general Film, Television, and Digital Media degree with the ability to choose a concentration the spring of their junior year in fields like Film Production, Screenwriting, Animation, Documentary, and Digital Media.
UCLA offers a more traditional college campus experience with the chance for juniors and seniors to intern year-round at companies like NBCUniversal in Los Angeles. UCLA also boasts accomplished alumni like Rob Reiner and Francis Ford Coppola.
Located in idyllic Orange County, an hour or so drive from Los Angeles, Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts offers state-of-the-art facilities for students to specialize their skills with degrees in Film Production, Creative Producing, Digital Arts, Broadcast Journalism, Documentary, Screenwriting, and Television Writing. Students who already know which niche within film they’d like to pursue could greatly benefit from Chapman’s programs.
What sets Chapman apart from other film schools is that it has its own production company, Chapman Filmed Entertainment. This allows students to experience not only creating films but also marketing and distributing them.
Chapman’s notable alumni include Dear White People director Justin Simien and Masters of Sex editor Rebekah Parmer. Though the distance from LA makes interning during the school year more difficult, Chapman does offer opportunities to intern and has a centralized, traditional college campus.
Located in New York City, Columbia University School of the Arts boasts alumni like Kathryn Bigelow and Lisa Cholodenko (both highly-acclaimed American film directors). Its digital storytelling lab was launched only two years ago, and already students from the lab have been at Sundance Film Festival with their work. Columbia grads were well represented at Cannes and Sundance this past year, demonstrating the success of the program.
The undergraduate program in Film Studies focuses on a more scholarly approach to film with a more writing-intensive than practical program. Students choose a concentration by the end of their sophomore year and work with a counselor to craft the rest of their studies at Columbia. However, students have the opportunity to intern with film companies in New York City and work on graduate films while working on their undergraduate degree.
Loyola Marymount University
Located near the Los Angeles International Airport, Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television is another film school that offers specialized undergraduate degrees in subjects like Production, Screenwriting, Animation, Film Studies, and even Recording Arts.
Notable LMU alumni include James Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli and Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence. LMU offers students opportunities to intern with companies like Paramount, Disney, Sony, and NBCUniversal, focusing on the importance of making industry connections.
California Institute of the Arts
Located in Valencia, California, about 45-minutes from Los Angeles, CalArts School of Film/Video exists within a conservatory program, which Walt Disney founded in 1961, and is well known for producing famous animators like John Lasseter and Frozen co-director Chris Buck.
Since CalArts is a conservatory program, students who attend have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in their study of choice, while making films and exploring the industry in nearby LA.
Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Boston University Department of Film and Television offers two undergraduate degree options: a BS in Film and Television and a BA in Cinema and Media Studies. BU’s program is best for students unsure exactly which area of film they want to study, since they do not need to declare a major until sophomore year.
BU also boasts a well-rounded film degree with classes in production, film and television screenwriting, producing, management, and film studies.
Though Boston is not an ideal location for film connections, BU opened an LA campus that allows BU students to visit LA and intern at places like The Jim Henson Company. Notable alumni include Howard Stern and Nina Tassler.
Though located in Boston, Massachusetts, Emerson College’s Department of Visual and Media Arts offers strong connections to the Los Angeles film industry, hosting an annual LA-based film festival and offering students a chance to visit and study from its Hollywood campus while pursuing internships.
Emerson’s most unique quality is its comedy arts degree–the only degree of its kind offered at a film school in the U.S. This makes Emerson a popular choice for students who are interested exclusively in comedy filmmaking over other genres.
Famous Emerson alumni include Viacom’s Doug Herzog and DreamWorks’ Holly Bario. Emerson also hosts the Los Angeles Emerson Film Festival and offers many other opportunities for students to screen their films.
Students interested in film should start looking at possible film schools early in their high school career to find one that is right for them. Aspiring filmmakers should also be finding as many ways as they can to practice their craft and gain experience.
NSHSS members, for example, have the opportunity to take part in the 2019 NSHSS Video Competition, a creative film scholarship for high school students that asks students to submit a scripted film narrative, animation, documentary, or music video/musical/dance performance of no more than five minutes long for the chance to win up to $1,000, with awards available for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.