Visual and media literacy is crucial in the 21st century. Professional storytellers are in greater demand as we rely more on visual media for information and entertainment. And even while the skill comes naturally to us, storytelling in film is a different ball game. Cinema is a synthesis of many freshly emerging fields — studying its different facets, from screenwriting to cinematography, can help build strong visual literacy.
When it comes to picking the best film schools, the North American and European colleges from AFI and NYU Tisch School to UCLA and London Film School, come out on top. There are also international schools like Beijing Film Academy that make it to the list. Film programs often evolve with industry standards. These film schools nurture creators who not only define but also rewrite these standards. A film school setting can further help strengthen aspiring filmmakers politically, socially, and culturally.
Quickly then, here are some of the best film schools in the world, based on a variety of factors such as reputation, alumni success, facilities, faculty strength, and location:
1. AFI Conservatory
The American Film Institute launched in 1967 to preserve American motion pictures since the birth of cinema in the 1890s. The AFI collection at the Library of Congress houses more than 60,000 feature films. AFI established the AFI conservatory in 1969 in Los Angeles and introduced a graduate-level program to train world-class narrative filmmakers. The prestigious AFI conservatory offers MFA programs in six different disciplines: direction, production, cinematography, editing, production design, and screenwriting.
America’s top film school has less than a 1% acceptance rate. AFI Conservatory also features tuition-free innovative programs. It includes a directing and cinematography workshop for women and historically underrepresented filmmakers. Despite a string of controversies and changes in leadership, AFI continues to hold its position as one of the top film schools in the US.
Notable Alumni: Darren Aronofsky, Andrea Arnold, Janusz Kaminski, Patty Jenkins, Ari Aster
2. USC School of Cinematic Arts
University of South California School of Cinematic Arts is one of the biggest colleges in the US for film education programs. It repeatedly ranks among the top 5 colleges for film majors. The Los Angeles film school is unrivaled when it comes to technical training. In fact, the 1,700 undergraduate and postgraduate students who enroll there would find it to be a microcosm of the Hollywood film industry. The students have access to state-of-the-art technologies, including a virtual production studio, scoring stage, and edit bays.
Apart from training in every major aspect of film, the institute offers intensive programs on specialized topics such as entertainment marketing and interactive media businesses. And if you’re wondering what is the hardest film school to get into, USC film school acceptance rate is only 3%.
Tuition: $50,260-$63,568 (undergrad); $37,149-$54,461 (graduate)
Notable Alumni: George Lucas, Stephen Chbosky, Judd Apatow, John Chu, Ryan Coogler.
3. UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television
Among the top US universities for film programs, UCLA ranks among the top 5 colleges. The institution offers grants and scholarships to students hailing from underrepresented or marginalized communities. In fact, more than 60 percent of UCLA’s faculties and students are said to be people of color. The school’s BFA and MFA programs cover numerous disciplines from film & television production to acting, lighting, costume design, and animation.
UCLA also accepts graduate applications for Ph.D. programs. The question of stable leadership has been a topic of debate, since the departure of Dean Teri Schwartz (in 2019). Nevertheless, the division heads and professors include renowned industry people like Deborah Landis, Phyllis Nagy, and Barbara Boyle. UCLA features a film & television archive, which is the largest university-based library in the world.
Tuition: $13,804 resident (undergrad), $31,026 non-resident; $17,756 resident (grad), $32,558 non-resident.
Notable alumni: Ava DuVerney, Marielle Heller, Dustin Lance Black, Alex Gibney.
4. NYU Tisch School of the Arts
The Kanbar Institute of Film and Television in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts is one of the top undergraduate colleges for film majors outside of L.A. In 1997, businessman and philanthropist Maurice Kanbar gave $5 million to NYU, which later named its film school in his honor. The illustrious, 57-year-old film school has built a permanent campus in LA for higher-level undergraduate students. Kanbar Institute covers major disciplines in filmmaking and also provides a unique mentorship program where students are paired with filmmakers.
Besides, the institute also provides specialized online and residential programs for high-school students. Its Cinema Studies program, devoted to film history and theory, helps students develop a keen eye for critical analysis. Recently, a generous gift from Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation helped establish a state-of-the-art virtual production center at NYU Tisch, which is named after the institute’s legendary alumni Martin Scorsese.
Tuition: $63,000 (undergraduate); $68,000 (graduate)
Notable Alumni: Elizabeth Olsen, Ryan Fleck, Damon Lindelof, Dee Rees.
5. London Film School
Founded in 1956, London Film School is located adjacent to Soho, London’s historic entertainment district. While LFSprovides a narrow selection of film courses for master’s programs, the school’s reputation is highly regarded in international film circles. The MA courses cover the core film disciplines such as directing, screenwriting, editing, cinematography, production design etc. In each term, students are asked to make a short film utilizing the technically sophisticated studio complex.
Moreover, students are given independence over aesthetic choices and in solving on-set problems. They’re taught to look at film history through different critical contexts. The admission at LFS is limited to just over 200. But the mix is diverse with students from at least 30 different countries admitted every year.
Notable alumni: Michael Mann, Mike Leigh, Ann Hui, Duncan Jones, Anjali Menon.
6. Northwestern University
Situated in Illinois, Chicago, Northwestern University’s Department of Radio/Television/Film provides ample opportunities to collaborate with the thriving artistic community of Chicago. The film school’s curriculum is known for its holistic approach to film history and critical analysis. Undergraduate programs include specialized short courses on comedy arts and sound cultures. The school’s journalism program and MFA in documentary media are in demand among students, especially after the boom in non-fiction storytelling.
Radio/Television/Film students have access to internships in media companies and organizations such as Lionsgate Entertainment, MTV/Viacom, Showtime Networks, etc. The film school also has its own development and distribution platform called Open Television, which often collaborates with Hollywood. The university is committed to diversity and inclusion. Fall 2022 onwards, the university will fully fund MFA programs. The idea is to make advanced degrees more accessible, especially for students of color.
Notable alumni: Zach Braff, Seth Meyers, Zooey Deschanel, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kathryn Hahn
7. Rhode Island School of Design
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) often occupies the top position when it comes to ranking art schools in the US. That should give you the idea of the quality of the courses in its Department of Film/Animation/Video (FAV). The robust curriculum encourages students to learn different forms of media while practicing their experimental storytelling skills. The school’s hands-on learning method allows junior year students to work in projects outside of their core curriculum. They can work on challenging projects involving lighting, storyboarding, etc.
Rhode Island School’s workspace contains state-of-the-art animation studios and green screen studios. At the same time, students also have the opportunity to work with 16mm cameras and HDV camcorders. Special courses are offered on documentary production, CGI imagery, lighting, and sound design. The school also provides specific courses on stop-motion puppet animation, which covers everything from storyboarding, character design, art direction, and sound design.
Notable alumni: Gus Van Sant, Seth McFarlane, Ellen Kuras, Angus MacLane
8. Ringling College of Art and Design
Founded in 1931, Florida-based Ringling College of Art and Design is one of the best art schools in the US. Though theRingling Film Department was formed only in the 21st century, it has rapidly grown and often ranks among the top 25 colleges in America for film studies. The film department has recently added a state-of-the-art facility called Studio Labs Soundstage and Post-Production Complex. The 36,000 square-foot building includes five huge sound stages for production and set construction.
The post-production facility includes 5,000 square-foot editing suites, color correcting theater, and dubbing bays. Screenwriting and production planning are part of the pre-production courses. Ringling College is well known for its undergraduate program in computer animation. Most graduates find work in the animation departments of Pixar, Blue Sky Studios, DreamWorks, and Paramount.
Notable alumni: Patrick Osborne, Andrew Halley, Aaron Blaise, Mark Bagley.
9. UNC School of the Arts
University of North Carolina School of the Arts was founded in 1963 as America’s first public art conservatory. The university’s filmmaking program boasts top-notch, state-of-the-art facilities which house different departments, including animation, motion capture, visual effects, and digital design. Compared to other prestigious film colleges in the US, UNCSA charges a minimal fee of $6,497 for the resident 4-year undergraduate program. Besides, the school also covers the costs of a senior film thesis.
Undergraduates are also put in charge of directing numerous digital projects to gain hands-on learning experience. UNCSA has recently introduced two MFA programs for screenwriting, film music composition, and creative production. Interestingly, the university has built fruitful partnerships with Sundance and Riverrun International Film Festival. In 2017, UNCSA founded Media + Emerging Technical Lab (METL). The lab now offers an Immersive Storytelling Residency Program.
Tuition: $6,497 resident (undergrad), $23,731 non-resident; $17,756 resident (graduate), $32,858 non-resident.
Notable alumni: Jada Pinkett Smith, Anthony Mackie, Jake Lacy, Craig Zobel.
10. National Film and Television School
Championed as one of the top European film schools, the National Film and Television School is situated on the outskirts of northwest London. The film school offers full-time courses in 19 masters programs. The wide range of film disciplines covers cinematography, direction, screenwriting, creative business, VFX, etc. Nine full-time diploma courses are offered at NFTS’ Beaconsfield location. There are also specialized short courses that are aimed at industry professionals looking forward to advancing themselves in their careers.
The NFTS site has been a film studio since the 1920s. Now the production house is equipped with all the state-of-the-art technologies, including music recording studios, dubbing theaters, prop stores, and screening rooms. In March 2022, NFTS introduced a flag-ship three-year collaboration with Amazon Studios for a directing and post-production supervision workshop.
Notable alumni: Roger Deakins, Nick Park, Terrence Davies, Lynne Ramsay, Michael Radford.
11. Beijing Film Academy
Beijing Film Academy was established by the Chinese government in 1950 and is still one of the topmost film schools in Asia. The Academy offers a 4-year BFA program taught in English. The course is divided into four categories, namely theoretical, historical, technical, and production. In the freshman and sophomore years, the students take a generalized approach to film. In the junior and senior years, students are asked to choose a major in direction, cinematography, screenwriting, and so on.
More than 50 percent of the course focuses on the production aspect, encouraging students to develop a hands-on approach to filmmaking. The Academy also offers a wide range of post-graduate Chinese language programs, alongside a Chinese-language learning program for international students. The film school maintains deep ties with the rich domestic film industry.
Tuition: $12,720 per year
Notable alumni: Ai Weiwei, Zhang Yimou, Jia Zhangke, Chen Kaige.
12. ArtCenter College of Design
ArtCenter College of Design, situated in Pasadena, California, trains students in film as well as graphic design and advertising. In fact, it comes as no surprise that ArtCenter’s film department churns out storytellers with a strong visual sense who’ve made some of the most cinematic movies. Its undergraduate program offers a three-track curriculum focusing on direction, cinematography, and editing. MFA programs are tailored to students wanting to engage with screenwriting, production, and art direction.
The latest lenses, lighting techniques, RED cameras, and green-screen studios are available in ArtCenter’s workshops for cinematography. On completing the program, students are given an opportunity to direct an individual film. They also have access to Ahmanson Auditorium, where they can color-correct their college movie and make use of the Dolby Atmos sound system.
Tuition: $48,942 (undergrad); $51,726 (graduate)
Notable alumni: Michael Bay, Zack Snyder, Tarsem Singh, Doug Aitken
13. Boston University
BU’s Department of Film & Television (FTV), often ranked among the top 25 colleges for film programs, offers well-crafted cross-disciplinary undergraduate courses. The well-rounded degree courses in film production are primarily aimed at inculcating visual literacy. The film programs explore the history of films and their evolution before delving into the art of storytelling. Another added benefit at BU is that film students can declare their major in the spring of their Sophomore year. Until then, students can test out their interest in the different disciplines of filmmaking.
One of FTV’s programs facilitates collaboration between TV and film students and BU’s School of Theatre students. They come together to create and produce a sitcom. The idea behind it is to bring together spirited storytellers from multiple platforms.
Notable alumni: Josh and Benny Safdie, Geena Davis, Uzo Aduba, Scott Rosenberg.
Founded by Walt Disney in Santa Clarita, California, CalArts is one of the best film schools in the US for animation. California Institute of the Arts offers its programs through six schools: film/video, music, theater, dance, art, and critical studies. The BFA and MFA programs focus both on critical thinking and technical training. Each year, CalArts creates a number of animators with studio aspirations. The institute also supports the growth of experimental animators.
In both the animation and live-action movie courses, students are given the opportunity to utilize a wide array of old and new technologies. If students feel like making a work in 16mm film, they can go for it. In the Experimental Animation MFA program, students not only develop abstract animated works, but they contribute to the advancement of the animation medium. CalArts also boasts a fair share of graduates in creative documentary filmmaking.
Notable Alumni: Tim Burton, John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Eliza Hittman, Andrew Ahn.
15. The Savannah College of Art and Design
SCAD, one of the best art colleges in the US, offers film and television studies at two different beautiful locations in the college’s namesake city Savannah, and in Atlanta. It is one of the most sought after film schools in Atlanta and in the state of Georgia. Over the last two decades, the state has become the Hollywood of the Southern United States. And so, SCAD students have insider access to the multi-billion dollar film industry of Georgia. Their 11-acre campus includes an integrated film studio complex.
In the Atlanta campus, a 60,000 square-foot digital media center trains students on different forms of storytelling. Theprograms also cover a broad curriculum ranging from animation, and dramatic writing to visual effects, sound editing, and motion media design. SCAD’s annual film festival is one of the largest university-run film festivals in the world.
Tuition: $39,105 (undergrad); $40,050 (graduate)
Notable alumni: Austin Bonang, Ken Rosen, Clayton Haskell
16. Chapman University
Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts offers a wide array of graduate and undergraduate programs to help students adapt to the rapidly-evolving film industry. Situated in Orange, California, Dodge College trains its students in the marketing, distribution, and financing aspects of the movie business. The film school provides specialized courses in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
The current Dean of Dodge College is Emmy Award-winning producer Stephen Galloway, who was also Hollywood Reporter’s former executive editor. He introduced the Chapman Mentorship Program in order to allow first-generation students from underrepresented communities to connect with their professors. The University’s paid and unpaid internship programs transform students’ classroom knowledge into tangible skills on the film set. There’s also a career center for post-graduate students seeking a chance in the industry.
Tuition fee: $60,290 (undergrad); $46,900-$47,700 (graduate)
Notable alumni: Matt and Ross Duffer, Justin Simien, Carlos Lopez Estrada, Harshvardhan Kapoor.
17. Columbia College
Columbia College’s Cinema and Television Arts Department clearly qualifies as one of the best film schools in Chicago. The college’s well-rounded BFA and MFA programs combine lectures on filmmaking and film history studies with filmmaking projects that align with current industry practices. The curriculum focuses on acting, comedy writing, creative writing, direction, cinematography, etc. The Semester in LA Program (SiLA) offers courses and internships for students looking to enter the film industry. The Chicago film school campus has a 35,000 square-foot media production center with two sound stages, a production design workshop, and a motion capture studio.
There’s also a post-production center with audio and animation suites. At both L.A. and Chicago, students gain access to a connected alumni network and are mentored by industry professionals.
Tuition: $31,026 (undergrad); $35,000 (graduate)
18. Columbia University
One of the top-ranked colleges in the US for film programs, Columbia University School of the Arts predominantly focuses on screenwriting. Graduates of this New-York based, Ivy League college have received much recognition at the Oscars, Emmys, Cannes, Venice, and Toronto Film Festivals. School of the Arts is invested in exploring new forms of technical storytelling. The University’s Digital Storytelling Lab introduces creative tools and a fresh approach to craft stories for the future landscape of digital media. Their faculty comprises revered professionals from both the indie film scene and Hollywood.
The School of Arts’ MFA program offers courses on ‘Writing for Film & Television,’ ‘Creative Producing’ and ‘Screenwriting & Directing’. Students belonging to each of these programs can collaborate in their respective projects.The thesis work of the MFA film students gets highlighted during the annual Columbia University Film Festival.
Tuition: $69,150 (undergrad); $65,520 (graduate)
Notable alumni: Kathryn Bigelow, James Ponsoldt, James Franco, Lisa Cholodenko.
19. Academy of Performing Arts’ Film and TV School
Academy of Performing Arts’ Film and TV School aka FAMU, established in the Czech Republic capital city, Prague, is one of the most revered and oldest film schools in the world. Founded in 1946, the academy is now divided into 11 departments, offering studies from directing, cinematography to documentary filmmaking and animation. FAMUinternational department teaches various film discipline courses in English. A maximum of 100 international students are accepted each year.
Apart from working in the integrated FAMU studio, students can choose from a number of ad-hoc modules. The curriculum begins with theoretical preparation and later emphasizes on on-set training. In fact, each student is encouraged to develop good working relationships with young filmmakers and teachers. They work in at least 30 productions a year.
Notable alumni: Jay Oza, Ross Giardina, Milos Forman, Vera Chytilova, Agnieszka Holland.
20. Emerson College
Boston-based Emerson College’s Department of Visual & Media Arts offers undergraduate and graduate programs to almost 1,700 students. The Emerging Media Lab at Boston home campus allows students to explore exciting areas of new media, including 360 Cinema & 3D modeling. New programs such as Art of Anti-Racist Media Making strive to support and enhance diverse voices. Fifty percent of Emerson’s students and faculties are said to be women. There are also four-year scholarship programs for talented students from marginalized communities.
Emerson has built a beautiful and expansive 107,000-square-foot campus in Los Angeles. The film school provides global opportunities in the Netherlands and Paris. The BFA program at Paris College of Art and the summer film program at Prague’s FAMU inspire global engagement and open new avenues for aspiring filmmakers. It’s also the only film school in the US to provide a comedy arts degree.
Notable alumni: Bill Burr, Denis Leary, Gina Gershon, Spalding Gray
21. Florida State University
Situated in Tallahassee, Florida, FSU is one of the best schools in the US for film studies, with a great student/faculty ratio (5 to 1) and a minimal tuition fee. The curriculum is an eclectic mix that teaches basic filmmaking skills as well as introduces students to the latest storytelling techniques. Students are also guaranteed complete funding for their college movie projects. The University boasts a track record of 97% graduates finding work in the industry within a year of graduation.
FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts recently launched a specialized visual production stage. The engineering and computer science students collaborated with film students to build software for creating pre-visualizations in live-action films. The University’s Torchlight Program conducts unique cinema-related events.
Tuition: $6,517 resident (undergrad), $21,683; $14,379 resident (graduate), $33,300 non-resident.
Notable alumni: Barry Jenkins, Aaron Moorhead, David Robert Mitchell, Alan Ball.
22. Loyola Marymount University
The Los Angeles film school is one of the fastest-growing schools in the US. Its Film, Television, and Media Studies program was established in 2003. In the last five years, LMU has consistently ranked among the top 20 colleges in the US for film programs. In the Fall of 2021, the university opened its vast, cutting-edge campus Playa Vista. The 35,000 square-foot structure includes a foley stage, Avid editing rooms, and greenscreen studios. There’s also the 25,000 square-foot Howard Fitzpatrick Pavillion, which is equipped with a motion-capture workspace, screening theater, and animation lab.
In 2011, the university launched the Independent Story Development Incubator Lab. It is a one-year program that provides alumni with resources and tools to make their transition into the industry.
Tuition fee: $54,630 (undergrad); $26,226-$34,968 (graduate)
Notable alumni: James Wong, Mila Kunis, Scott Eastwood, Barbara Broccoli, and John Bailey.
23. Syracuse University
New York-based Syracuse University’s Visual and Performing Arts program trains students in diverse fields within the entertainment industry. From VFX, and production design to animation, podcasting, and smartphone filmmaking, the university tries to embrace multiple approaches of technical storytelling. The university’s Department of Transmedia has trained industry leaders and entrepreneurs at top positions in Sony Pictures, Pixar, DreamWorks, and so on. University students receive a work-study program in Los Angeles. In L.A, the students can work at a high-tech production space at Dick Clark Studios.
Apart from the six-week summer internship programs, they can also study a semester abroad in Prague at the prestigiousFAMU. Repeatedly ranked among the top undergraduate schools for film studies, the university students can now work for a semester at Lionsgate Studios, located just outside New York in Yonkers.
Tuition: $58,440 (undergrad); $32,436 (graduate)
Notable alumni: Vera Farmiga, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Falk, Aaron Sorkin.
24. UT Austin
The University Of Texas Moody College Of Communication’s Department of Radio-Television-Film (RTF) consistently ranks among the top 20 film schools in the US. One of the best film schools in Texas, UT is also one of the low-cost schools after UNC School of the Arts and Florida State University. In fact, Austin is one of the most affordable places to live in the US. The RTF department is the biggest in the University of Texas and boasts a motion capture studio and TV writer’s room. The undergraduate internships offer a fine mix of the practical and the theoretical.
The college has introduced Latino Media Arts and Studies, a program aimed to promote the growth of Latino filmmakers and media professionals. UT’s Emergent Cinematic Arts program offers multiple courses on digital video production, CGI, post-production techniques, etc.
Tuition: $11,230 resident (undergrad), $39,756 non-resident; $9,996 resident (graduate), $18,816 non-resident
Notable alumni: Matthew McConaughey, Wes Anderson, Mark Duplass, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez.
25. Wesleyan University
A respected liberal-arts college, its film school College of Film and the Moving Image was founded by film historian Jeanine Basinger. She first came to Wesleyan University in 1960 as a marketing director. Film studies became a standalone program at the university in 1990, and later morphed into a formal department in 2000. Under Basinger’s leadership, Wesleyan University emerged as one of the most sought-out auteur-making factories in the US.
Basinger introduced several innovative film studies programs which didn’t always strictly revolve around learning technology. The college does contain state-of-the-art facilities, including a 16,000 square-foot Basinger Center for Film Studies featuring a production studio, theater, archival research space, and sound stage, among others. The university is also known for teaching and supporting documentary film projects.
Notable alumni: Lin-Manuel Miranda, D.B. Weiss, Kenneth Lonergan, Sebastian Junger.