top film schools

Top Film Schools for Any Budget

When it comes to top film schools, it seems like the list is ever-expanding. There are a few schools that have held rank for decades and others that have come on the scene that are ramping up their film programs to compete. If you want to keep track, The Hollywood Reporter rates the top 25 each year.

However, before you start applying, be clear on what you are looking for in a film school. It’s a big investment and just because a school is considered number one, it might not be the best fit for you. Let’s face it, not everyone will come out of film school a George Lucas or Robert Evans. But here’s why: they were George Lucas and Robert Evans before they ever set foot on campus. Film school is what you make of it. All the open doors in the world won’t help if you can’t deliver the goods. Focus on building community and developing a craft.

This is a small sampling of schools that Variety and The Hollywood Reporter (cited above) consider the best. I didn’t want to just highlight the schools that have the greatest reputation; I wanted to include options that offer a competitive education at a fraction of the price. I also included a few alternatives to film school.

Our picks for the top film schools in America include:

  1. University of Southern California (USC)
  2. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  3. Chapman University
  4. California State, Northridge (CSUN)
  5. New York University (NYU) – Tisch School of the Arts
  6. Columbia University
  7. University of North Carolina School of The Arts
  8. University of Texas, Austin
  9. Florida State University
  10. Savannah College of Art and Design
  11. Makeup Designory (MUD)
  12. Maine Media Workshops & College
  13. American Film Institute (AFI)

Los Angeles

University of Southern California (USC)

Yearly Tuition: $53,448
Acceptance Rate: 13%
Notable Alumni: George Lucas and Ron Howard
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

USC is recognized as one of the top five film schools. Because of its location and successful alumni, the networking opportunities here are some of the best.

You spend two years on overall production – writing, directing, producing and editing your own films and group projects, and the last two years focusing on a specialty, such as editing, sound, directing, cinematography or producing.

UCLA

Yearly Tuition: $13,239 for California residents; for non-California residents, there is a supplemental fee of $29,754
Acceptance Rate: 18%
Notable Alumni: Francis Ford Coppola and Rob Reiner
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

UCLA has a more attractive tuition, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t come at the cost of a good education and strong mentors. UCLA is another school with great networking opportunities and the film program is integrated with the theater arts program.

As an undergrad, you will spend your first couple of years learning film theory and aesthetics and preparing for your major within the film studies program. Once again, you are expected to choose a focus, whether it is writing, directing, or digital studies, etc. By your junior year, you will get more hands-on experience.

Chapman University

Yearly Tuition: $54,540
Acceptance Rate: 8% to 30%, depending on what major you choose
Notable Alumni: Dear White People Director Justin Simien and BoJack Horseman Staff Writer Kelly Galuska
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

Chapman University is relatively new on the scene compared to old-timers USC and UCLA, but they have been rising in the ranks steadily for decades. As a student, you will get access to state-of-the-art equipment, an intimate setting, and industry-connected Professors. Chapman also seems to keep up with trends, adding VR to their curriculum and staying on top of the evolution of digital spaces.

Cal State Northridge (CSUN)

Yearly Tuition: $6,587 in-state; for out-of-state it is $17,747
Acceptance Rate: 48%
Notable Alumni: Don Hahn, Executive Producer of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and How I Met Your Mother Actress Alyson Hannigan.
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

CSUN is a great alternative to expensive film schools. Do not let either the tuition or the acceptance rate deter you. CSUN is smart in recognizing that creative people don’t always come with a high GPA. Cal State Northridge is plugged into Hollywood and has a reputation for making sure students are employable when they graduate. Variety ranks it as one of the top schools in the world.

Their curriculum is similar to UCLA, following the state standards of education. The program is hands-on, but you might not get be able to really sink your teeth into anything until your junior year.

Film school is what you make of it. All the open doors in the world won’t help if you can’t deliver the goods. Focus on building community and developing a craft.

New York

New York University (NYU) – Tisch School of the Arts

Yearly Tuition: $27,964, with additional fees up to $15,000 a year for equipment and production insurance costs
Acceptance Rate: 17%
Notable Alumni: Martin Scorsese and Lady Gaga, among many more.
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

NYU is New York’s big hitter and USC’s biggest competition when it comes to luring people from “the coast.” The program appears to be hands-on from the first semester, integrating theory and practice. They are well known for their connections in the industry and have terrific networking opportunities.

And look out, California, NYU has opened a campus in Los Angeles!

Columbia University

Yearly Tuition: $58,756.
Acceptance Rate: 6%
Notable Alumni: Kathryn Bigelow
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

Columbia also makes the list of the best film schools. On top of getting a film degree, you will also get an Ivy League education, so the acceptance rate is probably in line with the rest of the University. They focus primarily on directing, writing and creative producing, and seem to have an emphasis on storytelling.

The Rest of the Country

Here are some of the smaller gems outside of Los Angeles, but there are many other options if you want to start your career away from the pressure of Hollywood or New York. You might find more space in these environments to focus on creativity and craft before you hit the coasts.

University of North Carolina School of The Arts – North Carolina

Yearly Tuition: In-state $9,139, out-of-state $24,609
Acceptance Rate: 54.4%
Notable Alumni: Alumni have gone on to work on big films like Pineapple Express and Despicable Me. Zoe White, Director of Photography for The Handmaids Tale
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

The University of North Carolina has a solid hands-on program that will have you writing and directing in your first semester. Students start their training collaborating with cohorts and working with state-of-the-art equipment, integrated with a liberal arts education.

There are many other options if you want to start your career away from the pressure of Hollywood or New York. You might find more space in these environments to focus on creativity and craft before you hit the coasts.

University of Texas, Austin

Yearly Tuition: $10, 092 in-state, out-of-state $35,682
Acceptance Rate: 40%
Notable Alumni: Wes Anderson, Renee Zellweger, and Matthew McConaughey (who is now a full-time Professor!)
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

UT Austin offers the best of all worlds. It’s removed from Hollywood, so you can focus on learning and creating, but it also taps into Austin’s robust film scene that includes filmmakers such as Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater.

Florida State University

Yearly Tuition: $5,901.52 for Florida residents, $21,321 out-of-state
Acceptance Rate: 7-12%
Notable Alumni: Barry Jenkins and Hunter S. Thompson
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

FSU, located in Tallahassee, FL, ranks in the top 20. It has a very small teacher-to-student ratio and has not only a hands-on curriculum, but they boast that 97% of their alumni are working in the industry within a year. Another huge bonus is that all student productions are fully funded.

Specialty Schools

Below are some schools that are not necessarily a university, but have solid training programs.

Savannah College of Art and Design

Yearly Tuition: $35,910
Acceptance Rate: 93%
Notable Alumni: Alumni work(ed) behind the scenes of many Oscar-winning films
Programs: undergraduate and graduate

Located in Savannah, GA, SCAD ranks as a top film school and offers many courses of study, but it really scores big in visual effects and animation.

Makeup Designory (MUD)

Yearly Tuition: $17,778 – $23,600
Acceptance Rate: n/a
Notable Alumni: n/a
Programs: n/a

If you want to learn about film makeup and special effects makeup, MUD is the school for you. There’s no need for film school if you know this is your passion. There are New York and Los Angeles campuses with partner schools around the world. Go for it!

Maine Media Workshops & College

Yearly Tuition: It varies, from one day at $255 to four weeks at $2,995
Acceptance Rate: n/a
Notable Alumni: n/a
Programs: n/a

The Maine Media Workshop & College is a less well-known opportunity to get concentrated training on a particular craft. They offer workshops in cinematography, post-production, graphic design, screenwriting and documentary filmmaking, among others. The college doesn’t necessarily rank, but the faculty is top-notch. Self-motivated go-getters can take the information from these workshops and create their own hands-on experience. If you are a self-starter, this is a great option. You can build the curriculum you want and be a part of a great community.

American Film Institute (AFI)

Yearly Tuition: $66,303
Acceptance Rate: 2%
Notable Alumni: Terrence Malick, Amy Heckerling and Julie Dash

AFI is another heavy hitter in Hollywood. Some would put AFI at the top of the list, but it is not necessarily a college. They offer a Masters Degree, but you don’t need a BA to get in. But, yes, it is ranked as one of the best schools and competes with USC and NYU for networking and hands-on training. You must choose a field of study like film editing or cinematography (among others) and spend your two years concentrating on that skill.

Daily Music Career Info! Follow Us.

Jobs. Career Articles. Quality Blog Posts. School Info, & More.