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‘Tis the season once again to discuss the best film schools across the United States!

Last year was an anomaly, to say the least, in terms of film schools going hybrid or fully online in response to COVID-19. Though we are unfortunately not past this pandemic just yet, the availability of vaccines and the prevalence of masking have made it possible for schools to fully open their doors once again.

That being said, many of the best film schools have modified COVID-19 restrictions in place for the 2021-2022 academic year. Below is a breakdown of both the best film schools across the nation and links to where you can learn more about the safety measures they have in place.

In alphabetical order, our list of the best film schools includes:

  • American Film Institute (AFI)
  • California Institute of the Arts
  • Chapman University
  • Columbia University
  • Emerson College
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • New York University (NYU)
  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • University of Southern California (USC)
  • Wesleyan University

Your Top Questions About Attending Film School

Is a film degree worth it?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Film Staff)

Yes, film school is absolutely worth it. Sure, you can teach yourself a lot from buying a camera and watching classic films…but you’re not going to get the well-rounded education you’d receive in film school, where you’ll take coursework in directing, producing, screenwriting, and acting.

Film school gives you the time and space necessary to create your first films — something you might struggle with if you’re working full-time and attempting to write/direct/produce a movie, all of which are full-time jobs in and of themselves. You may be thinking you’ll power through and do all those things regardless so consider this: film school is where most people create the professional and creative networks that will power them into their first successes as a filmmaker.


Is UCLA a good film school?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Film Staff)

UCLA is on our list for a reason. The UCLA film program is one of the most well-known study options in the world simply because it’s one of the best film schools in the world. UCLA students learn from instructors with a reputation in the film industry. They learn their craft on top-notch sound stages with top-of-the-line gear.

The opportunities for mentorship and work experience are also incredible. The school’s proximity to Hollywood means students learn from Emmy and Oscar winners and have a better chance of getting a foot in the door through the connections they make at school and via internships.

In addition to the alumni listed above, famous UCLA graduates include Darren Star, Jack Black, James Dean, and Ben Stiller.


Is a film degree useless?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Film Staff)

Anyone who tells you a film degree is useless is either bitter, not living in a major film industry hub, or a combination of both. Fair enough. Film is not an easy industry to break into, which everyone should know going in. A film degree does not guarantee you’ll have a career in the industry.

It can, though, open doors for you. Especially if you earn a degree in a major center of filmmaking (or attend a school that has a Hollywood or New York semester option), you’ll build professional and creative connections that can serve you your whole life. You’ll learn many elements of filmmaking quicker and more in-depth than you’d probably learn on your own. And you’ll get access to filmmaking gear like professional-level camera and editing software to which you might not otherwise have access.

When you’re contemplating getting a film degree, please consider the costs of education, your commitment to your future field, where you want to live, and how soon you need to be raking in a steady salary. Then you’ll know if film school is right for you.

Best Film Schools 2021

American Film Institute (AFI)

Notable alumni include Darren Aronofsky, Susannah Grant, Amy Heckerling, Patty Jenkins, David Lynch, and Terrence Malick.

The American Film Institute is a highly regarded film school based out of Los Angeles and an option for those who have already completed an undergraduate degree. The school offers six different MFA programs in Screenwriting, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Producing, and Production Design.

These programs are rigorous, as students collaborate with their peers over their two years at the school to produce between four and ten films, but they also get to leave with several projects under their belt and valuable real-world filmmaking experience.

As of fall 2021, AFI is requiring vaccinations for all individuals working or learning on its campus. In accordance with local regulations, an indoor mask mandate is also in place.

Learn more about AFI’s COVID-19 policies.

American Film Institute

California Institute of the Arts

Notable alumni include Brad Bird, Alison Brie, Tim Burton, Don Cheadle, Sofia Coppola, and Dustin Hoffman.

Located about thirty miles north of Los Angeles, the California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, offers more than five dozen different degree programs across the media, literary, performing, and visual arts. Among those most closely related to film, the school has both undergraduate and graduate options, including a BFA and MFA in Film and Video, a BFA in Character Animation, and an MFA in Film Directing.

Given CalArts’ close proximity to LA, students can take advantage through internships and networking to hit the ground running in the industry upon graduation.

CalArts currently has in place both a vaccination and indoor mask mandate for all students, staff, and faculty. Outdoor gatherings of twenty people or more on-campus will also necessitate mask wearing.

Learn more about CalArts’ COVID-19 policies.

California Institute of the Arts

Chapman University

Notable alumni include Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Colin Hanks, Leslie Jones, Kellan Lutz, and Justin Simien.

Unlike AFI and CalArts, Chapman University’s areas of expertise extend beyond the arts. Located about thirty miles south of Los Angeles, Chapman is made up of ten different schools across a spectrum of fields, one of them being the reputable Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.

This highly regarded school offers multiple undergraduate and graduate options, such as a BFA in Film Production, BFA in Creative Producing, BFA in Animation and Visual Effects, BFA in Screenwriting, BFA in Television Writing and Production, BFA in Screen Acting, BA in Film Studies, MFA in Film Production, MFA in Film and TV Producing, MFA in Screenwriting, MFA in Television Writing and Producing, MFA in Production Design, MFA in Documentary Filmmaking, MA in Film Studies, as well as a combined JD/MFA in Film and TV Producing or MBA/MFA in Film and TV Producing.

Chapman University is also enforcing an indoor mask mandate for all students, staff, and faculty. However, vaccination is not mandatory. Should an individual not be vaccinated, they will have to submit twice-weekly COVID-19 test results.

Learn more about Chapman’s COVID-19 policies.

Chapman University

Columbia University

Notable alumni include Kathryn Bigelow, James Gunn, Jim Jarmusch, Kate McKinnon, Kimberly Peirce, and Julia Stiles.

On the other coast sits Columbia University in New York City. Established more than 250 years ago, Columbia is New York State’s oldest institution of higher learning, and like Chapman University, offers students many options in different fields of study.

For those interested in film, Columbia’s School of the Arts has both undergraduate and several graduate programs. Students can pursue a BA in Film and Media Studies, MA in Film and Media Studies, MFA in Screenwriting/Directing or MFA in Creative Producing. Moreover, like Los Angeles, New York City is a hub of entertainment industry activity where students can earn in-the-field experience as they finish their studies.

As of fall 2021, Columbia University is requiring all students, staff, and faculty to be vaccinated. An indoor mask mandate is likewise in place.

Learn more about Columbia’s COVID-19 policies.

Columbia University

Emerson College

Notable alumni include Vin Di Bona, Joely Fisher, Norman Lear, Stefani Robinson, Alex Tse, and Henry Winkler.

Though not located in either Los Angeles or New York City, Boston’s Emerson College has built an earned reputation as one of the best film schools in the nation. And like most of the film schools already mentioned, prospective students can enroll in its Visual & Media Arts department as either an undergraduate or graduate student.

Emerson offers multiple competitive programs, such as a BA or BFA in Film, BA in Production, BFA in Film Art, BFA in Stage & Screen Design/Technology, MFA in Writing for Film and Television, and MFA in Film and Media Art. The school also provides students with options to study for a semester at its LA campus or its international Global Pathways Program.

Currently, Emerson has in place an indoor mask mandate, though it may revisit this policy come later in the fall. It also requires vaccinations for all students, staff, and faculty. Those with medical or religious exemptions must be tested weekly.

Learn more about Emerson’s COVID-19 policies.

Emerson College

Loyola Marymount University

Notable alumni include Clark Duke, Brian Helgeland, Gloria Calderón Kellet, Kate Micucci, and Busy Philipps.

Like the American Film Institute, Loyola Marymount University is located in Los Angeles and offers a wide selection of undergraduate and graduate programs for aspiring filmmakers. Prospective students can pursue a BA in Film, Television, and Media Studies, BA in Film and Television Production, BA in Screenwriting, BA in Animation, BA in Recording Arts, MFA in Film and Television Production, MFA in Writing and Producing for Television and MFA in Writing for the Screen.

Outside of the school’s highly regarded film programs, students are drawn to Loyola Marymount University for its proximity to Los Angeles and the film networking and internship opportunities afforded to them during their time at school.

As with other Los Angeles-based film schools, LMU is following the local indoor mask mandate. Faculty and staff are likewise required to get vaccinated for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Learn more about LMU’s COVID-19 policies.

Loyola Marymount University

New York University (NYU)

Notable alumni include Donald Glover, Spike Lee, Adam Sandler, Martin Scorsese, M. Night Shyamalan, and Oliver Stone.

New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts is regarded as one of the best film schools across the globe, having played a role in the education of some of the filmmaking world’s most renowned artists.

Like virtually all of the other film schools already mentioned, prospective students just beginning their collegiate careers, as well as those interested in building upon their bachelor work, can grow their filmmaking expertise at NYU. Undergraduate and graduate programs in Cinema Studies, Dramatic Writing, and Film & Television are offered through Tisch.

NYU is requiring all students, staff, and faculty to show proof of vaccination for the upcoming school year. Masks are also mandatory indoors while on campus.

Learn more about NYU’s COVID-19 policies.

New York University

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Notable alumni include Carol Burnett, Francis Ford Coppola, Alexander Payne, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins, and John Williams.

On the westside of Los Angeles sits the University of California, Los Angeles, better known as UCLA. Over its 100-year history, UCLA has created a name for itself as a highly regarded and competitive school for aspiring filmmakers, and through its School of Theater, Film and Television, students can pursue a degree in any one of its many specialized programs.

Currently, UCLA has an undergraduate program for Film, Television, and Digital Media, as well as graduate programs in Screenwriting, Cinema and Media Studies, Cinematography, Animation, Production/Directing, and the Producers Program. The school also provides a Ph.D. option in Cinema and Media Studies and its Professional Program in various film and TV-related specialties for students interested in a more abbreviated certificate program.

Students, staff, and faculty are required to submit their proof of vaccination for the 2021-2022 academic year. In accordance with the current L.A. County Department of Health mandate, masks likewise must be worn indoors while on the UCLA campus.

Learn more about UCLA’s COVID-19 policies.

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Southern California (USC)

Notable alumni include Judd Apatow, Ryan Coogler, Paul Feig, Nahnatchka Khan, George Lucas, and Shonda Rhimes.

Across the city from UCLA stands the University of Southern California and its School of Cinematic Arts. The highly competitive and world-renowned USC has long been the backdrop for the burgeoning careers of many talented and famous filmmakers.

For those looking to begin their training at USC, they can select from several undergraduate and graduate options, such as a BA in Cinema & Media Studies, BA in Animation & Digital Arts, BA or BFA in Cinematic Arts, Film & Television Production, BFA in Writing for Screen & Television, MA in Cinema & Media Studies, MFA in Animation & Digital Arts, MFA in Writing for Screen & Television, MFA in Producing, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design or Sound and MFA in the Peter Stark Producing Program. Like UCLA, USC too provides interested students a Ph.D. option in Cinema & Media Studies.

Save for those with a medical or religious exemption, all USC students, staff, and faculty must be vaccinated at the start of the fall 2021 semester. Masks likewise must be worn indoors while on campus.

Learn more about USC’s COVID-19 policies.

University of Southern California

Wesleyan University

Notable alumni include Michael Bay, Toby Emmerich, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon Turteltaub, Joss Whedon, and Bradley Whitford.

Last but certainly not least is Wesleyan University, located in Connecticut. Along with Emerson College, Wesleyan University is only one of two film schools on this list not located in the greater Los Angeles or New York City area, but that has hardly prevented WU from becoming a prestigious center for aspiring filmmakers.

Its College of Film and the Moving Image is comprised of several smaller departments, which are the Center for Film Studies, the Ogden and Mary Louise Reid Cinema Archives, and the Department of Film Studies. What largely sets this school apart from other colleges and universities is its specific focus on undergraduate study for those interested in “image making, history and studies.”

All Wesleyan employees and students must be vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination for the 2021-2022 academic year. Due to the recent rise in COVID-19 rates, the school is also mandating mask-wearing in all indoor spaces while on campus.

Learn more about Wesleyan’s COVID-19 policies.

Wesleyan University

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A Final Word

The COVID-19 policies of the best film schools may change at any time given the mercurial nature of this pandemic and the multiple waves of it experienced in the United States over the past months.

As such, we recommend that all prospective students frequently check their school’s website and COVID-19 pages for the most updated information.

The good news is that we are moving forward. Classes are back in session, and some semblance of normalcy is returning for students across the nation.

Moreover, the best film schools are clearly committed to both providing an excellent learning experience for students and making sure that they are safe and healthy while on campus.

While we must all still be mindful of our safety and that of others as we continue to navigate this pandemic, it’s an exciting time to be attending one of the best film schools, as they each are remarkable steppingstones for those looking to pursue a career in film.

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