Do you want to pursue a career in directing, producing, screenwriting, or digital media? If so, attending film school may be the right path for you. Most film schools provide state-of-the-art facilities, hands-on experience, and valuable industry connections to help launch your career.
But what are the best film schools in the United States, and which film school is right for you?
Based on reputable ranking lists and factors like successful alumni and high-quality opportunities for students, we’ve compiled a list of the best film schools the U.S. has to offer, with a focus on undergraduate programs. We’ll also discuss how to decide which film school aligns with your interests and goals.
1. University of Southern California (School of Cinematic Arts)
Los Angeles, California
USC’s School of Cinematic Arts is a film powerhouse that has produced famous alumni like:
- Producer, director, and screenwriter George Lucas (Star Wars, Indiana Jones)
- Producer, director, and screenwriter Judd Apatow (Step Brothers, Bridesmaids, Superbad, Freaks and Geeks)
- Actor, producer, and writer Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights)
- Actor, producer, and director Forrest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Lee Daniels’ The Butler)
SCA graduates have directed projects including:
- The Office
- Forest Gump
- A Beautiful Mind
- Donnie Darko
- Finding Nemo
- Back to the Future
And that’s just to name a few! Located in Los Angeles, SCA provides students with access to top-notch internships at places like Lionsgate, Pixar, and NBCUniversal. Students also attend industry events and have numerous opportunities to screen their work, including at the prestigious USC First Look Film Festival. These events and screenings allow for networking with professionals in the film industry. If you want proof of USC SCA’s extensive industry connections, look no further than the Hollywood Walk of Fame star in front of the school.
The School of Cinematic Arts offers specialized programs in film production, interactive media, screenwriting, media arts, critical studies, and animation. However, students are expected to take classes “without boundaries” across the seven disciplines. USC has a reputation for innovation, aiming to prepare students for the ever-evolving industry through training in new media like web series and virtual reality.
It’s important to note that USC SCA is highly selective, admitting only about 3% of applicants.
2. New York University (Tisch School of the Arts)
New York City, New York
New York City is another great location for aspiring filmmakers, and NYU offers another excellent film school. Successful alumni include:
- Director Chris Columbus (Rent, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
- Cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Black Panther, Mudbound)
- Screenwriter and producer Damon Lindelöf (Lost)
- Director, screenwriter, and producer M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village)
- Actor, producer, and writer Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems, The Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore)
- Director, producer, and writer Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcom X, She’s Gotta Have It)
- Producer Joel Coen (Fargo)
- Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)
While Tisch has its share of Hollywood stars, many alumni are independent filmmakers.
Tisch’s undergraduate program offers degrees in Dramatic Writing, Cinema Studies, and Film & Television. Like USC, NYU offers students many opportunities to screen their work and score prestigious internships with the likes of Fox Searchlight, A24 Films, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
The faculty is comprised of industry professionals. Tisch faculty, staff, and students collectively create about 5,000 films per year. The school’s admission process is the most rigorous at NYU, accepting around 20% of applicants.
3. American Film Institute
Los Angeles, California
Unlike USC and NYU, the American Film Institute (AFI) is a film conservatory. It’s different from the traditional college experience, but no list of film schools in the United States is complete without AFI. Students without undergraduate degrees can earn certificates, and students with undergraduate degrees earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA).
AFI offers highly specialized programs in Editing, Producing, Screenwriting, Cinematography, Directing, and Production Design. Rather than focusing on traditional college hallmarks like general education classes and internships, AFI is all about offering hands-on experience in making and screening films. Students work on numerous projects each year and participate in well-known screening opportunities like the AFI Film Festival.
AFI alumni have spearheaded projects like:
- Requiem for a Dream
- Black Swan
- A Star Is Born
- The Dark Knight
- Black Panther
- Shutter Island
- Django Unchained
- Schindler’s List
- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Alumni and other masters of their craft regularly deliver guest lectures and teach seminars for AFI students.
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4. Chapman University (Dodge College of Film and Media Arts)
Located about an hour outside of Los Angeles, Chapman University’s Dodge College offers undergraduate degrees in Film Production, Creative Producing, Television Writing, Screenwriting, Documentary, New/Broadcast Writing, and Digital Arts. The school also recently added minors in virtual reality and augmented reality.
Although Dodge College offers fewer screening and internship opportunities than the previously listed schools, Chapman has its own production company called Chapman Film Entertainment. This offers students unique experience in making, marketing, and distributing films.
Chapman’s Dodge College also offers 24/7 state-of-the-art facilities and award-winning faculty. Bill Gerber, producer of “A Star Is Born,” is currently its filmmaker-in-residence.
Notable alumni include:
- Screenwriters and producers Matt and Ross Duffer (Stranger Things, Wayward Pines)
- Screenwriter Justin Simien (Dear White People)
- Comedian and actress Leslie Jones (Saturday Night Live, Ghostbusters)
- Actor Kellan Lutz (The Twilight Saga)
5. University of California, Los Angeles (School of Theater, Film, and Television)
Los Angeles, California
USC’s rival UCLA is also home to a prestigious film school, admitting only about 30 students per year. Although UCLA is less specialized than some of the other schools listed, it does offer undergraduate degrees in Film, Television, and Digital Media.
During junior year, students can select concentrations in areas such as Cinema and Media Studies, Film Production, Screenwriting, Animation, Documentary, and Digital Media. Juniors and seniors at UCLA are permitted to intern year-round at places like NBC Universal, Warner Brothers, Paramount, and MTV Networks.
Notable UCLA STFT alumni include:
- Producer, director, and writer Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now)
- Actress, producer, and writer Carol Burnett (Annie, The Carol Burnett Show)
- Actor and writer Rob Reiner (The Wolf of Wall Street, All in the Family)
- Screenwriter, director, and producer Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways)
6. Loyola Marymount University (School of Film and Television)
Los Angeles, California
LMU’s School of Film and Television offers undergraduate programs in Film and Television Production, Screenwriting, Recording Arts, and Film, Television, and Media Studies. Very few schools offer a Recording Arts degree, which is meant for future sound mixers, sound designers, and sound editors.
The Los Angeles-based school has over 400 internship partners, including Sony, Paramount, Disney, and NBCUniversal. It’s also home to state-of-the-art facilities such as a Foley stage, three greenscreen studios, and eight Avid editing rooms. The new Howard B. Fitzpatrick Pavilion features a screening theater, a motion-capture workspace, and a camera-teaching stage. Close mentorship and collaboration are emphasized, and students are encouraged to study abroad.
LMU’s film school boasts notable alumni like:
- Producer Patricia Whitcher (Thor, The Avengers, Spiderman: Homecoming)
- Writer and producer James Wong (The X-Files, American Horror Story)
- Producer Barbara Broccoli (James Bond franchise)
- Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games, I Am Legend)
7. Emerson College (Department of Visual and Media Arts)
Although not based in industry hotspots like Los Angeles or NYC, Emerson College has built a reputation as one of the best film schools in the U.S. The Boston-based college’s Department of Visual and Media Arts offers undergraduate degrees in Media Arts Production, Media Studies, Film Arts, and Stage and Screen Design/Technology, and Comedic Arts. The comedic arts degree, designed for students who aspire to work in comedy filmmaking, is the only degree of its kind in the country.
Students have the option to study for a semester at Emerson’s Los Angeles campus or in its Global Pathways Program, and they can participate in the excellent Los Angeles Emerson Film Festival. Emerson’s home campus features newly renovated media facilities, including audio and digital production labs, television studios, and advanced studio space for virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D modeling.
Notable alumni include:
- Screenwriter Alex Tse (Watchmen)
- Producer Pamela Abdy (current president of MGM)
- Screenwriter Stefani Robinson (Atlanta, Fargo)
- Doug Herzog (former Viacom president)
- Producer Holly Bario (The Girl on the Train, 40-Year-Old Virgin)
- Comedian and actress Iliza Shlesinger (Last Comic Standing, Good on Paper)
8. University of North Carolina School of the Arts (School of Filmmaking)
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Another conservatory like AFI, UNCSA’s School of Filmmaking requires students to direct and shoot numerous digital products during their first two years. Then, students select concentrations in animation, cinematography, directing, editing & sound design, producing, production design, or screenwriting. Unlike AFI, UNCSA does offer bachelor’s degrees.
Students network and learn from industry professionals and practice their craft on state-of-the-art soundstages and studios with professional equipment. They collaborate on original short films that are submitted to festivals around the globe. During senior year, students travel to L.A. with faculty mentors to screen their films for successful UNCSA alumni and industry executives.
UNCSA’s most influential alumni include:
- Actor, producer, and director Danny McBride (The Righteous Gemstones, Pineapple Express)
- Director, producer, and writer David Gordon Green (Halloween, The Righteous Gemstones)
- Screenwriter Travis Beacham (Dog Days of Summer, Pacific Rim)
- Cinematographer Zoe White (Westworld, The Handmaid’s Tale)
9. Boston University (Film and Television Department)
Although BU’s Film and Television Department offers more generalized degrees in Film and TV or Cinema and Media Studies, students can choose from a broad range of courses in screenwriting, directing, editing, sound design, producing, short film production, and more.
Students learn from professors who have written, directed, and produced national television series and feature films. BU has its own student-operated station, butv10, and an in-house, student-run agency called Hothouse Productions, offering students the opportunity to produce and distribute video content. BU also offers a summer internship program in Los Angeles and a series of screenings and conversations with industry professionals called Cinematheque.
Famous alumni include:
- Directors and actors Josh and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems, Good Times)
- Nina Tassler (current chairman of CBS Entertainment)
- Jim Gianopulos (former head of 20th Century Fox and CEO of Paramount Pictures)
- Script supervisor and director Jennifer Getzinger (Mad Men, Outlander, Westworld)
10. California Institute of the Arts
Better known as CalArts, the Walt Disney co-founded school specializes in animation. It also offers a renowned bachelor’s degree program in Film & Video. CalArts’ close proximity to Los Angeles gives students the opportunity to make industry connections and participate in prestigious internships.
To ensure a well-rounded education in the art of filmmaking, all students undergo rigorous technical training in film and video production, editing workflows, and sound production and design. During the final two years, students must produce a senior project or contribute cinematography, sound design, production, or editing to other student projects. Students benefit from substantial hands-on experience and faculty mentoring.
Famous CalArts alumni include:
- Producer and director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman Returns)
- Screenwriter, producer, and director John Lasseter (Frozen, Zootopia, Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Cars, former chief creative officer of Pixar)
- Director, actress, and screenwriter Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, The Godfather: Part III)
- Actor and producer Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate, Rain Man, Midnight Cowboy)
- Actor and producer Don Cheadle (Crash, Hotel Rwanda, House of Lies)
- Actress Allison Brie (Glow, Community)
11. Ringling College of Art and Design
Students pursuing a film degree at Ringling College choose between two paths: narrative or branded entertainment. In the narrative track, students learn cinematography, screenwriting, editing, production design, and filmmaking. Students pursuing branded entertainment learn to create dynamic film and video content for consumer brands.
The Ringling College Studio Labs feature over 25,000 square feet of soundstage spaces and over 5,000 square feet of post-production facilities, including editing suites, a Foley sound effects stage, dubbing bays, and a final color room. Students gain hands-on, industry-ready access to state-of-the-art equipment and resources, along with opportunities to collaborate with industry professionals.
Students have attended workshops and collaborated on projects with the likes of Matt Dillon, Anna Paquin, Forest Whitaker, Marissa Tomei, Luke Wilson, and Richard Dreyfuss. The up-and-coming film program boasts alumni who have made independent films and worked with Netflix, ABC, NBC, and Comedy Central. Alum Patrick Osborne is an animator, writer, and producer who has contributed to Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, and Tangled.
12. University of Texas at Austin (Moody College of Communication)
UT Austin offers a generalized degree in Radio-Television-Film, where students learn about creating cross-disciplinary content and utilizing multiple media platforms. Students submit their work to film festivals around the world and participate in internships with film production companies, festivals, and television stations.
Students have access to a massive greenscreen facility and a range of high-tech production studios. And alum Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, True Detective) makes frequent appearance to present guest lectures and teach classes!
Other famous alumni include director, screenwriter, and producer Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and actress Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River, The Mist, Into the Wild).
Which Film School Is Right for You?
So, how do you now which film school is right for you? Consider what you want to specialize in and what opportunities you’re interested in outside of the classroom. Then, think about factors like location, school culture, and size.
Area of Specialty
Most importantly, you want to go to a film school that will prepare you for a career in your preferred area of specialty (e.g., cinematography, screenwriting, or directing).
If you don’t know what aspect of film you want to specialize in yet, it may benefit you attend a more generalized program, like UT Austin, UCLA, or Boston University. Once you develop a well-rounded understanding of film, you can branch out into concentrations or courses related to your favorite aspect of filmmaking.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, do you have something very specific in mind? If you want to go into sound design or editing, Loyola Marymount University may be the place for you. If you’re committed to comedic filming, check out the comedic arts degree at Emerson College. CalArts is a great choice for future animators.
You should also look into opportunities for students, like internships, film festivals, and networking. Will you gain hands-on experience with the sort of facilities and equipment you’d like to work with in the future? Do your research to ensure you’ll be able to build expertise that aligns with your goals for the future.
Finally, consider standard college criteria like location, size, and school culture. Think about your preferences to determine which film school is the best fit.
Some of the programs on this list are tiny (like CalArts and Ringling) while others are part of massive schools (like USC and NYU). Many of the programs are based in Los Angeles or New York, while others are in Florida, Texas, and Massachusetts.
It’s also important to consider whether you want a traditional college experience or prefer to attend a conservatory. AFI is known for its intensity, while schools like USC provide a fun, spirited college atmosphere.
Narrow your list down to film schools that offer the degree programs and opportunities you’re interested in, then research the schools to get a better idea of the overall culture and student life. Keep in mind that some schools, like USC and NYU, have extremely selective film programs, so apply to a few safety schools as well.
Final Thoughts: Best Film Schools in the U.S.
If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, these film schools in the U.S. offer the skills, knowledge, hands-on experience, and industry connections necessary to launch your career.
The film school that’s right for you depends on what you want to specialize in, as well as the opportunities and other factors that are most important to you. At any of these schools, you’ll create and collaborate with like-minded students with a passion for film. And you never know who might make a cameo appearance!