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Filmmakers and creative professionals have the best – and worst – jobs in the world. On the one hand, they bring a magic world of entertainment to life, working as directors, producers, game designers, editors, cinematographers, screenwriters, and special effects gurus. On the other hand, filmmakers have to deal with constant competition, unpredictable employment, and a constant lack of funds. Many film school graduates find it impossible to have a sustainable career in the movies.
If this reality hasn’t put you off, then it’s time to consider education options. That’s why we created our guide to affordable film, video, and photography programs. Here you’ll find information on everything from common majors, degrees, and career opportunities to accreditations and the issue of for-profit schools. Most importantly, we tackle the most critical question you’re likely to face – do you really need to go to film school at all?
The Bachelor of Arts in Film and Media Studies program at the University of California-Irvine focuses on history, theory and criticism of modern media and audio-visual language. The program draws from the humanities to analyze film, television, popular music and new technologies. Students can take advantage of professional internships in editing, music, film, writing, animation, marketing and more through a network of studios and firms, and international learning programs are offered. The school offers a screening room for students, a media editing lab and film production equipment. There are also a number of student organizations that provide collaborative experiences, such as ZOTFEST, a student-created film festival and celebration.
CAG Score 97.2
The School of Theater, Film and Television at the University of California-Los Angeles is developing a new curriculum that reflects the evolving industry. Degrees include the Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Studies. Students train in all aspects of film production and studies the best work from the history of film. The school is affiliated with the UCLA Film and Television Archive and REMAP and offers internships and a number of community engagement programs. Film students work with the Department of Theater to produce original works as part of the Coppola One-Act Marathons. Scholarships include the Antonio David Blanco Scholarships, Archive Research Awards and Dana and Albert R. Broccoli Charitable Foundation Scholarship.
CAG Score 96.8
The University of Illinois-Chicago offers a Bachelor of Science and graduate minor in Media and Cinema Studies and a Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts in Photography. Media and Cinema Studies explores aesthetics and social implications of film. Students are aided in research by the Institute of Communications Research. The School of Art and Design has developed a photography curriculum that blends creative and technical abilities with art history and criticism. Facilities include darkrooms, computer workstations, editing facilities, shooting studios and an extensive fine art library. Master's students produce final projects exhibited in the Krannert Art Museum. Scholarships include the Hugh and Allie D. Hughston Enochs Memorial Award, the Paula Gottschalk Scholarship and the Caterpillar Excellence Fund.
CAG Score 96.8
Vassar prides itself on being one of the first liberal arts colleges with a film major. Everyone in the BA in Film program begins with coursework in film history and theory. After a thorough introduction, they may stay in one of these lanes or start exploring film production or screenwriting, which they do via courses and, potentially, internships in nearby New York City. The Film Department supports the production of more than a dozen student films each year. Students don't need to buy their own gear; the department has cameras, audio equipment, lights and editing software for student use - all within the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, which houses the Rosenwald Film Theater, a studio, and editing labs.
CAG Score 96.7
The University of California-Riverside offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media and Cultural Studies through its newly-formed department. The curriculum incorporates study of race and gender studies, textual analysis, political economy and media policy through interdisciplinary humanities and social sciences courses. While the program is not a film production program, students do undertake short film projects as part of its annual MCS Film Festival. The program works to examine media of the past and present, including visual, audiovisual and computer-generated media.
CAG Score 96.6
The Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities offers an interdepartmental Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and Media Culture. Courses are taken in departments of art, communication, cinema and media culture, and literature. Students study themes of society, history and culture; production and training; national, international and foreign cinemas; and theory, method and critique. A senior project is required, which can be completed by directed study, a thesis, or a significant production project. Student groups and mentoring programs help establish career contacts while students are encouraged to pursue internships. The College of Liberal Arts offers the Neil Anderson Scholarship ($2,500) and Waller Scholarships ($3,000).
CAG Score 96.6
Buffalo State University, part of the State University of New York, has an interdepartmental program leading to a Bachelor of Arts in Television and Film Arts. Students can choose either a directing and producing track or a writing and storytelling track. Students from this program have completed internships at major entertainment companies such as Disney, Bravo, and NBC Universal. A TFA Semester in NYC option is available for students who want to study in the East Coast entertainment hub. Every year at Oscar time, the Department of Television and Film Arts hosts an awards ceremony viewing party to raise money for department scholarships and student trips to film festivals.
CAG Score 96.5
The Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and Screen Studies program at State University of New York-Oswego includes courses in history and theory of film, with hands-on learning in digital film production and screenwriting. The program is a cooperative degree offered by the departments of English and Communications. Film production courses include production of a dramatic film, which serves as the capstone educational experience. Students have extra-curricular activities available including the Film Scholars Guild, Creative Writing Club, Oswego Independent filmmaking group, and SUNY-Wide Film Festival. Scholarships include the Gerhard D. Zeller Cinema Studies Outstanding Senior Award ($1,000).
CAG Score 96.5
The University of California-Berkeley offers an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in Film and a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Film. The focus of the program is on study and analysis of moving images, though electives in production and screenwriting are available. The department is affiliated with the Pacific Film Archive, and internship opportunities are offered there as well as with local production studios. The graduate program allows Ph.D. candidates to pursue an emphasis in new media, critical theory or women, gender and sexuality. Though Ph.D. candidates earn a Master of Arts after partial completion of the Ph.D. requirements, there is not a separate curriculum. The department awards the Roselyn Schneider Eisner Prizes in Film and Video ($2,000).
CAG Score 96.4
In the fall of 2015, UC Davis closed the undergraduate majors in Film Studies and in Technocultural Studies and replaced them with a new program - Cinema and Digital Media. This program integrates the study of digital and audio-visual media and offers a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and Digital Media degree. The curriculum includes coursework in the foundations of filmmaking, advanced video and electronic arts, animation, community media and activism, computer graphics, and gaming. As part of the College of Letters and Science (CLS), cinema and digital media majors can apply for the following general CLS scholarships: Cusumano Family Scholarship (incoming freshmen), William B. Jameson Scholarship (sophomore male students), and the Carolyn F. Wall Scholarship (students with financial need).
CAG Score 96.4
Students seeking a Bachelors in Film Studies at St. Cloud University get a firm socio-cultural grounding in film history, learn by studying the works of master filmmakers, and develop hands-on skills like writing scripts, creating storyboards, and shooting and editing film. Classrooms used for film courses are equipped with modern sound and projection systems, and the department maintains a large library of films. The university hosts an annual international film festival, and many students participate in the Telluride Film Festival Student Colloquium in Colorado. Undergrads in the film department can apply for paid teaching assistantships. Available scholarships include the Dale L. and Gretchen N. Swanson Film Studies Scholarship and the Ronald G. Perrier Endowed Scholarship in Film Studies.
CAG Score 96.3
The Department of Film and Electronic Arts at CSU Long Beach offers a Bachelor of Arts program with options in narrative production and in theory and practice of cinema. A minor in film and electronic arts is also available. The BA program has the following areas of specialization: broadcast production, cinematography, creative nonfiction production, editing, sound design, screenwriting, production management, critical practice, and digital arts. The California State University system offers a number of internship opportunities to CSULB film and electronic arts students through its Entertainment Industry Initiative. Internship programs provide students with the first-hand work experience in areas such as administration, distribution, and media production. The college awards more than $150,000 in scholarships every year to qualified students in each department.
CAG Score 96.1
The Department of Communication and Cinema at McDaniel College offers an undergraduate major in cinema that focuses on three core cinematic skills: writing, critical studies and production. The cinema major curriculum requires 50 credits of major coursework, including six core courses in subjects such as video editing, scriptwriting and television production. Students are also required to complete a two-credit internships in an area of emphasis: production, writing or critical studies. Cinema majors have the option to complete a dual major in theater arts, which requires a total of 62 program credits. Cinema students also complete a senior capstone in the form of a 20-minute film that is played in a public screening in May.
CAG Score 96.1
Southampton Arts, part of Stony Brook Southampton, has a Master of Fine Arts in Film that covers a broad range of creative endeavors. Students can take classes in screenwriting, TV writing, directing, and producing at facilities in Southampton or Manhattan. This MFA is the only program within the SUNY system to focus on independent filmmaking, and students learn by doing. The MFA takes more than two years, with students earning at least 45 credits while creating screenplays, TV writing, or a thesis film. Faculty members have first-hand knowledge of the indie film world and contacts in the industry. The program has recently created several full and partial graduate and teaching assistantships that are open to full-time students.
CAG Score 96.1
Starting out as a small film studies program in 1973, UC Santa Barbara's Department of Film and Media now offers Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in film and media studies. Students can apply for admission to the joint MA/PhD program or the PhD-only program. The doctoral program offers two optional areas of emphasis in global studies and in technology and society. Coursework includes classes that cover a wide range of topics such as media criticism, advanced film analysis, new media production, and contemporary animation. Students can compete for several departmental awards such as the David F. Siegel Award ($1,500), the Dorothy and Sherrill C. Corwin Award ($1,300), and the Alexander Sesonke Prize ($1,000).
CAG Score 96.0
Ferris State offers students interested in film and video two different possible career paths. The Bachelor of Science in Television and Digital Media program trains students in film and video production, including skills such as scriptwriting, directing and producing. Before graduation, students take a six-month full-time internship at a production studio or station, typically in Michigan or Chicago, allowing students to gain hands-on experience while working with professionals in the field. The Bachelor of Applied Science in Digital Animation and Game Design prepares students for work in fields such as 3D animation, simulations and game design. Both programs use current technology and update equipment frequently to keep abreast of changes in the industry.
CAG Score 96.0
The State University of New York - New Paltz offers a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in Visual Arts, in which the student may concentrate on photography, taking a number of studio classes. Students must submit a portfolio to be admitted to the program. New Paltz students can also apply for the Bachelor of Fine Arts program in photography, which requires they submit a portfolio and be interviewed. The BFA program emphasizes photography as a fine art but students also study commercial photography. Mixed media, digital photography, experimental and manipulative techniques are all covered in the program. Photography students may apply for the Luigi and Anita Traverso Endowed Photography Scholarship.
CAG Score 96.0
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a Bachelor of Science in Media and Cinema Studies degree. Students can choose to concentrate in cinema studies or in media. Coursework for the cinema studies concentration include film theory and criticism, politics of popular culture, film and nature, and various courses in foreign films. In addition to the 44+ hours that must be taken within the major, students are required to complete at least 18 hours in approved areas of study outside the major, such as anthropology, gender and women studies, history, or philosophy. There are a number of scholarship opportunities (with variable amounts) available to media and cinema studies students, including the Christopher L. Allen Scholarship and the Forsythe Family Endowed Scholarship.
CAG Score 95.9
Students in the BA or BFA Art program with an emphasis in Photography are eligible for eight studio art grants, including the McAllister Novel Scholarship for minority students with financial need and the Schumacher Scholarship for super-talented enrollees. The MFA in Film and Video Production and the MA in Film Studies programs, meanwhile, offer teaching assistantships to several students a year, and all PhD candidates in Film Studies typically receive one. The program also sponsors some research assistantships.
CAG Score 95.9
The Cinema Department at the State University of New York-Binghamton bills itself as the antidote to Hollywood, because it puts the spotlight on underground, experimental and independent production. This focus continues in the guest lectures and film series the college hosts. Students earning a Bachelors in Cinema take six core courses to acquaint them with film analysis and how to produce a work in both film and video. Once they have gained that background, students choose an area of concentration, such as directing, editing or writing. The college has up-to-date filmmaking equipment students may borrow, and lab spaces for processing, printing, editing and animating films. Scholarships include the Cinema Scholarship in Honor of Professor Kenneth Jacobs.
CAG Score 95.8
Michigan State University's College of Arts and Letters has a program leading to a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies, which covers history, theory, and production. Two filmmaking minors are also available: fiction filmmaking and documentary production, which students can apply for in their sophomore year. A more general, 20-credit minor in filmmaking is open to students with any major. Film students have access to a film production lab equipped with editing stations, and they can check out cameras and audio equipment for projects. For their capstone, film students have the option of performing an internship, and a recent film major interned with NFL Films.
CAG Score 95.7
Minnesota State University, Mankato, has a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Media Studies and a minor in film studies. Majors in this program take 24 credits in common core classes, 24 credits in restricted electives, and complete a capstone. The capstone can be an internship or individual study project. In addition to two credits for the capstone internship, students can earn up to four credits through other internships to gain professional experience. The minor requires 20 credits in film classes. The department awards the $1,000 Film Studies Scholarship to a film major who demonstrates financial need. The annual Speechless Film Festival in Mankato is an event where film students can meet industry professionals and find internships.
CAG Score 95.7
The Bachelors in Film Studies at Queens College is an interdisciplinary program focusing on the film history, theory and criticism. Students take classes across a number of departments, including media studies, history, comparative literature, art history and foreign languages. The program puts a strong emphasis on writing, and graduates will be able to produce academic papers such as criticism and to produce professional projects such as screenwriting and treatments. Courses required for the film studies major include only a few production courses, although students interested in taking more film or video production courses can minor or double major in Media Studies.
CAG Score 95.7
Students pursuing the Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media follow an integrated curriculum that gives them the opportunity to produce various works in film and interactive digital media, while studying the effects of modern media (movies, television, the internet, videos) on society. Concentrations are available in critical studies, production, and integrated critical practice. Coursework includes classes in visual culture and technology, screenwriting, and sound and image in theory and criticism. A Master of Arts degree in social documentation and a Doctor of Philosophy program in film and digital media are available. Film students can apply for the Eli Hollander Aspiring Filmmaker Award that provides financial assistance for the completion of a current film project or for future creative endeavors.
CAG Score 95.6
Students who earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Video Production at City College receive hands-on training in making single-camera fiction and documentary films. The film major is designed as a two-year, four-semester program with a very structured format that requires students to take classes in a number of different but related aspects of the filmmaking process at the same time. During each semester, students take a production course, a theory or history class, and a craft course such as screenwriting or film editing. Before graduating, all students are required to do a thesis project that requires either producing a short film, writing a screenplay or writing a research paper.
CAG Score 95.5
Hunter College provides film students with both theoretical perspectives on film and practical skills required to produce films. On the analytical side, students study current critical theories, multicultural perspectives on cinema, and alternative filmic practices. On the production side, they learn screenwriting, direction, production, sound, editing and cinematography. Thanks to Hunter's location in New York City, film students are able to land internships at leading film, television and video companies. Facilities available to Hunter film majors include four multimedia computer labs, a black box space for film screenings and other uses, a video editing lab and two screening rooms. Scholarships available for film students include the Charles and Lucille King Family Foundation Scholarship Awards, a multiyear scholarship.
CAG Score 95.5
Cinema majors at Denison University study history and theory of film and gain skills working with both film and digital equipment. The department has cameras, lighting, and other equipment available for loan, plus spaces and equipment for film and digital editing and a multimedia lab designed to promote collaboration. There's also a 50-seat screening room and an extensive library of DVDs and books. The Bachelor of Arts in Cinema requires 36 credits in the major, or students can achieve a minor in cinema with 24 credits. In addition to working on their own creative projects, students can meet visiting filmmakers and complete a cinema internship. Students also run an annual film festival where juniors and seniors show their work.
CAG Score 95.5
The University of Georgia Department of Theatre and Film Studies offers a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies. The curriculum includes courses in film theory, history and criticism as well as comparative literature and a variety of languages. Though history and theory are the primary focus of the program, students do have the opportunity to study acting, directing and writing. Students may also choose to double major in Theatre and Film Studies. Scholarships offered by the College of Arts and Sciences include the Chelsea Montgomery Machemehl Undergraduate Scholarship, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Scholarship and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Council Scholarship.
CAG Score 95.3
With New York City's role as a major film center, CUNY Brooklyn film majors are well positioned to gain important internships and meet working film professionals who come to speak at the school. The college offers a Bachelors in Film with several concentrations, including film studies, film production, documentary film production, screenwriting and industry studies. Brooklyn College students have the opportunity to intern at places such as the Film Society of Lincoln Center and HBO. They are also eligible to participate in the Annual Brooklyn College Student Film Festival and attend workshops, film screenings, and talks by independent filmmakers sponsored by the Brooklyn College Film Society. Available scholarships for film students include the Paul and Betsy Mazursky Scholarship.
CAG Score 95.3
The Department of Media Studies at the University at Buffalo awards a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies or Media Studies, Master of Arts in Film and Media Studies, Master of Fine Arts in Media Arts Production, and Ph.D. in Media Studies. The B.A. in Film Studies is an interdisciplinary program focusing on history, theory, criticism, and analysis of cinema. Media Studies students can concentrate in Production (choosing from tracks such as film, video, or documentary), or Critical Studies. The M.A. in Film and Media Studies is designed for students who plan to pursue a Ph.D., while the M.F.A. is for students interested in making media. Departmental scholarships include the Levy-King-White Scholarships, awarded based on merit and financial need.
CAG Score 95.1
The University of Central Missouri School of Technology offers an in-depth and accredited Bachelor of Science in Professional Photography. Technical instruction is provided in both traditional formats and digital imaging, with a student-teacher ratio of 16 to 1. Students supply their own primary camera, but professional equipment is available for student use. Computer labs and fully functional black and white film processing labs are also supplied. Classes cover not only the technical and creative aspects of photography, but also the business skills needed for the field. Outside of class, the school offers a Special Housing Interest Program, allowing photography students to live together in a dorm. The school offers the Mel Jenkins Photography Scholarship.
CAG Score 95.0
Students admitted to the San Francisco State University's Bachelor of Arts in Cinema program are required to complete the following coursework within the first semester of their junior year: cinema studies, filmmaking, filmmaking lab, film history (I & II), and critical studies. The program offers the following areas of emphasis: animation, filmmaking (documentary, fiction, and experimental), media and culture, and screenwriting. Students also have the option of crafting an individualized plan of study in fields such as critical theory, cinematography, sound design, and experimental filmmaking. Master of Arts degrees in cinema studies and Master of Fine Arts programs in cinema are available. Students can apply for the Robin Eickman Cinema Student Scholarship ($1,000) and the James (Jim) Goldner Scholarship ($1,000).
CAG Score 94.6
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and New Media and a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies. The BFA program offers training in film and media production, including screenwriting, visual effects, and computer animation. The BA in Film Studies is focused on film history, criticism, and theory, with a liberal arts curriculum. Students choosing a BA degree choose a related minor, such as Communications Studies or Theatre Arts. Recent UNL students have had their short films accepted to the Cannes Film Festival, and the Cinema 16 student filmmaking group supports student-led creative projects. Scholarships offered include Hixson-Lied Undergraduate Scholarships and the Paul and Bernice Crounse Scholarship ($1,400).
CAG Score 94.6
The University of Central Florida School of Visual Arts and Design awards a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Studies, a Bachelor of Science in Photography, Master of Arts in Digital Media and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Cinema. The undergraduate Cinema Studies program includes a foundation in film styles and aesthetics with students moving on to production courses and critical analysis. The photography program is a 2+2 program with Daytona State College and incorporates technical, creative and critical skills. Master's programs involve interactive media and production of a motion picture. Scholarships and grants include the Maria Caccavo Diversity Scholarship and UCF/Orlando Capstone Production Grant.
CAG Score 94.5
The Department of Art at the University of Houston recognizes the field of photography is evolving thanks to advances in technology. To address the needs of students, the school developed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography/Digital Media that makes use of new technology while building on a foundation of traditional photography. Technical skills, such as lighting and film processing, are combined with study of photography history and criticism. The school offers digital photography and wet photography labs, with fully equipped photo editing computer labs. Students also have access to specialty photographic equipment and video cameras. Students are required, however, to supply their own laptop.
CAG Score 94.4
At the University of Utah, the Bachelor of Arts in Film & Media Arts degree is available through the College of Fine Arts. Students are required to take an introduction to film class as well as courses in the history of filmmaking and in film production. Students can customize their program by enrolling in elective classes that reflect their interests. There is a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Film & Media Arts degree available, which can be completed within two to three years. Students are required to pass a comprehensive test in film history, submit a portfolio of work, and write a thesis in order to graduate from the program. Graduate students are offered teaching assistantship positions that include tuition benefits.
CAG Score 94.4
The School of Communication at Grand Valley State University offers Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in both film and video production and photography. The B.A. and B.S. degrees in both subjects have similar requirements, except the B.A. requires proficiency in a foreign language and the B.S. requires coursework in statistics and research. Students in the film and video production major are also required to complete 22 credits of foundation coursework, 15 credits of emphasis coursework and one to six credits of internship or thesis coursework. The photography major requires 31 to 34 credits of core coursework, including a three to six credit senior capstone. Additionally, students are required to complete a minimum of nine credits of electives, with the option to complete an independent study and an internship.
CAG Score 94.2
Western Michigan University offers a Bachelor's in Film, Video and Media Studies, with a focus on radio and television production. The university provides state-of-the-art facilities with practical experience and courses that include hands-on work. Students are encouraged to seek internships, freelance work and volunteer positions that enhance their coursework. Students may also find positions with the campus radio station. The Clifford Center includes a broadcast production lab, imaging lab, graphics programs and a multimedia auditorium, with cameras and equipment available for students to use. Scholarships include the Roslyn Abrams Endowed Scholarship in Communication, Paul and Julie Yelsma Scholarship and Peter and Laurel Northouse Endowed Leadership Scholarship.
CAG Score 94.0
Some graduates and professionals claim film school is useless. Others say it’s a unique experience that they would never give up. There is no right or wrong answer here. The question is what works for your personality and goals. Benefits of going to film school include:
A variety of famous directors – including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and David Lynch – have earned MFAs in film directing.
Here’s the hard truth. Crappy film schools abound. Quentin Tarantino never earned a degree. Werner Herzog advises you to forget the conventional wisdom and “work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse.” In reality:
A career in film takes luck, talent, stubbornness, and a knack for getting to know people. You don’t need to go to film school to acquire these skills.
An associate’s degree in film is a 2-year undergraduate program that covers core general education and film courses. These degrees are offered by a variety of community colleges, technical schools, and universities. Shop around – you may find that facilities at a community school are just as good, or even better, than a conventional film school! A high school diploma or GED is needed to apply.
Some students earn an associate’s degree as preparation for a bachelor’s degree down the track. If you’re interested in this option, make sure your course credits will be transferable to the 4-year program of your choice.
Please see our section on Common Film Majors for more information on common coursework in each major.
As we noted in our section on Should I Go to Film School?, you don’t need a degree to work in the industry. However, an associate’s degree from a community college with great facilities can give you a strong technical foundation for jobs such as:
A bachelor’s degree in film is a 4-year undergraduate program that is aimed at giving students a comprehensive education in film theory and practice. Most bachelor programs are a mixture of general education requirements and courses in a specific film major. Baccalaureate programs are offered by a wide range of colleges and universities. A high school diploma or GED is required to apply.
Please see our section on Common Film Majors for more information on common coursework in each major.
Film and photography are highly competitive fields. For every 1 job, there are 100 qualified candidates. As we talked about in Should I Go to Film School?, you don’t need a degree to become a filmmaker or work in the business. Having said that, a strong degree from a well-known school, a stunning portfolio, and a bucketload of luck can qualify you for a variety of careers, including producer, director, cinematographer, camera assistant, video editor or screenwriter. Remember that it’s your work experience that counts the most.
A master’s degree in film is a 1-3 year graduate program that focuses on advanced studies and research. Eligibility will depend on your choice of program, but most universities will expect you to have an undergraduate degree in film (or a closely related field) from an accredited film school. MFA screenwriting programs (~2 years) tend to be shorter than MFA production programs (~3 years).
You may also find master’s programs that allow you to transfer from an MA or MS into an MFA after your first year is complete.
For general information on degree choices, please see our section on Common Film Majors. As a master’s student, you will also be allowed to choose a concentration/specialty. For example, you might wish to focus on documentaries or advanced film production.
If you’ve skimmed through our section on Should I Go to Film School?, you’ll have noticed that a number of well-known directors hold an MFA. But you certainly don’t need a master’s degree to work in the business. Instead, the master’s degree is often earned by professionals who wish to push themselves further in their field.
The MFA is considered a terminal degree – i.e. you’ll be able to lecture at colleges. However, you may not be able to become a fully fledged professor with tenure without significant work experience and/or a PhD.
A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Film is a 3-7 year advanced degree and the highest academic qualification you can achieve. This is a purely research-based degree – if you’re interested in advanced hands-on experiences, you should consider the MFA instead. You’ll find PhD programs being offered by film schools, English departments, and media studies programs. Unless it’s a combined master’s/PhD program, a master’s degree in film or a closely related field will be required to apply.
Regardless of the subject, PhD programs are typically split into two major parts. The first few years are spent in advanced coursework and early stages of research. The remaining years are devoted to original research and writing a doctoral dissertation. Many PhD students supplement their income by teaching classes to undergraduates.
PhD graduates frequently go on to teach film at the university level. Others become researchers or go back to working in their original field. Most practicing filmmakers don’t bother with a PhD.
A standard degree isn’t your only option for film study. Accredited schools also offer workshops, conservatory programs, and certificates – non-degree qualifications that take ~6 months to 1 year to complete. Like a minor in a conventional degree program, undergraduate and graduate certificates are intended to provide students with specific skills in an area of film. Please talk to your academic adviser to see what combination of qualifications might work for your goals.
If you are thinking of pursuing a certificate in order to earn course credits for a conventional degree (bachelor’s or master’s), first make sure that your certificate credits will be transferable to the program of your choice.
This is the broadest film major and one of the most popular. Film production majors learn how make a film by getting involved in everything from set design, camera operation, screenwriting, lighting, cinematography, broadcasting, sound engineering, editing, and scoring. They may also study theory, film history, and the business of television and Hollywood.
Much of the work in a film production program is supposed to be hands-on. Students are often required to alternate jobs, serving as a production manager one day and an editor the next. Almost everyone is expected to produce a portfolio with a variety of shorts, documentaries, and feature-length films.
Film studies is often less practical and more theoretical than film production. Film studies majors explore areas like film history, theory, criticism, and media studies. They study films, conduct research on media trends, and debate film’s significance in society.
Like their buddies in film production, animation majors learn how to create films – from planning and storyboarding, to sound design, screenwriting, and editing. A lot of their time is spent learning how to use digital animation software, editing equipment, and similar facilities. They may also take classes in areas such as interactive media, 3D modeling, and the history of animation.
When it comes to conventional universities and colleges, we suggest you look for ones with regional accreditation. This is a “seal of approval” granted to institutions (e.g. non-profit and public colleges and universities) by one of six regional accrediting bodies (e.g. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools).
You can learn more about the difference between regional accreditation and national accreditation in Accreditation: Understanding the Difference Between Real Schools and Diploma Mills.
Choosing a regionally accredited school will make it easier for you to:
Regional accreditation only applies to a college or university, not to individual film or photography programs. If you’re concerned about the quality, you may wish to see if the film program has NASAD accreditation. We talk more about the debate between For-Profit vs. Non-Profit below.
Founded in 1944, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is the only accrediting body for visual art programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It sets the standards for both graduate and undergraduate degrees in 330+ schools of art and design. Postsecondary, non-degree granting schools such as the for-profit New York Film Academy are eligible for accreditation.
Unlike many conventional subjects, there are two major types of film schools:
Generally speaking, traditional colleges and universities are built on a liberal arts education framework. For example, they may ask you to take survey courses in film history and theory. Having said that, you may be able to find BFA or BS degrees that give you more opportunities to specialize.
For-profit schools, often called trade or vocational schools, usually skip the academics and head straight for practical work and labs. For example, you might spend a great deal of your week working on film projects and building your technical skills.
If you are thinking of for-profit schools, be aware that they may have high student loan default rates. And be sure to check your budget. A for-profit school may be just as expensive – if not more – than a non-profit.
No matter which film school you go to, it can be really tough finding work. Your best bet is to aim for a program with a great reputation that provides plenty of networking opportunities.