The Best Film Schools & Tuition Costs

By Vince Matthews

usc-film-school-review
The University of Southern California consistently ranks at the top of any list of the best film schools. (Image: USC Film School)

For teens thinking about a career in filmmaking, the next logical step after a summer film camp at Digital Media Academy is college. And for young adults that want to make a career in the film industry going to film school is practically mandatory.

But what school is right for you? And as technology continues to evolve, what institutions are changing with it to prepare students for future jobs in the entertainment business?

If you’re considering getting a degree in film arts or media, look no further than the United States which offers some of the best film schools in the world. From state-of-the-art IMAX digital screening rooms to media labs that would make professional video games designers envious these schools are turning out the next generation of Hollywood’s movie (and media) making elite:

University of Southern California
Why it Makes the List: The new 60,250-square foot Interactive Media Building is a state-of-the-art facility which includes a 4K digital projection theater and mixed reality lab. Production designer Alex McDowell helped create SCA’s World Building Lab and the 5D Institute. McDowell knows his stuff, he created the world’s of Minority Report and Man of Steel.

Alumni: George Lucas, Ron Howard, Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and writer Chris Terrio (Argo).
Tuition: $45,602 undergraduate; $71,896 two-year master’s; $84,968 three-year master’s


The 5D Institute knows the science of building fictional transmedia worlds.

New York University
Why it Makes the List: Oliver Stone took classes taught by Martin Scorsese (or “Marty” as he was called back then) at NYU. Today, the school still boasts many seasoned instructors who share an almost unreal passion for making movies. Another interesting fact? NYU’s alma maters hold more spots on the 500 best films of all time than any other school.

Alumni: Oliver Stone, Joel Coen, Charlie Kaufman, Ang Lee
Tuition: $49,237 undergraduate; $50,632 graduate

University of California, Los Angeles
Why it Makes the List:If you’re interested in the craft of movie-making UCLA has you covered. Located in the heart of Westwood (the home of Hollywood’s Golden Age), UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television has an impressive curriculum that covers writing, directing, acting, producing, cinematography, costume and production design.

Alumni: Francis Ford Coppola, Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lone Ranger), Alexander Payne, Jack Black, Shane Black, Tim Robbins and Star Trek actor George Takei
Tuition: $23,748 to $29,295 undergraduate ($46,626 to $52,173 out-of-state); $15,288 graduate ($30,390 out-of-state)

California Institute of the Arts
Why it Makes the List: Considered “one of the finest art schools on the West Coast,” and called “the Harvard Business School of Animation,” CalArts as it has come to be known was founded by Walt Disney in the 1960’s. The school has helped foster the talents of some of Disney’s Nine Old Men, including the influential Disney artist, Mary Blair. The school has also been the incubator for many, many Hollywood talents, a recent estimate claims that films by CalArts alums have grossed more than $25 billion.

Alumni: Brad Bird, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Tim Burton, James Mangold
Tuition: $39,976 undergraduate

Columbia University
Why it Makes the List: Columbia prepares students for Hollywood in a variety of ways, not only do they learn filmmaking skills here, but business and entrepreneurial skills too. An extensive film and television program lets students get the education they need to meet the ever evolving world of media and its changing distribution system. The university’s Manhattan campus will get a $5 million screening room in 2016, until then students screen their movies at Columbia’s film festival, held at Lincoln Center. Past alumnus are Oscar and Pulitzer Prize winners—and regulars at the Cannes, Tribeca and Sundance film festivals.

Alumni: Greg Mottola (Superbad), writers Phil Johnston (Wreck-It Ralph), Simon Kinberg (This Means War) and Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph).
Tuition: MFA $51,674 a year for first two years; $4,268 for third year

best-animation-schoolLMU’s Animation school can help you get an internship at the Walt Disney Company or Warner Brothers.

Loyola Marymount University
Why it Makes the List: Want a job at 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks or Disney? LMU’s School of Film and Television will help you land it, in fact about one-third of LMU’s arts students get internships at those and 400 other entertainment companies thanks to the school. A recent $1 million grant from the Walter Lantz Foundation (Lantz created Woody Woodpecker) helped LMU’s animation department reach the top 20 animation schools.

Alumni: Barbara Broccoli, director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games), writer-producer David Mirkin (The Simpsons)
Tuition: $37,605 undergraduate; $1,020 per unit graduate

Boston University
Why it Makes the List: BU has continued to break down the educational boundaries by changing with the times. Recently BU hosted graduates in its Media Ventures program at the Los Angeles campus for Pitchfest, where grads got a chance to show HBO, Yahoo and AOL how they could

Alumni: Producer Joe Roth (Alice in Wonderland), producer Debbie Liebling (Comedy Central/South Park)
Tuition: $43,970 graduate

University of North Carolina School of the Arts
Why it Makes the List: Celebrating its 20th year, UNCSA School of Filmmaking resembles a small independent studio lot. The school takes pride in developing its program and is currently enjoying new two media buildings that house classes for Animation/Production Design and Gaming. And with faculty that includes Hollywood talent like animator Stephen Baker (Lilo & Stitch) and Patrick Read Johnson (Dragonheart exec producer), students get real-world experience from Pros. Past grads have represented at Sundance and other major film festivals as well.

Alumni: Writer Travis Beacham (Pacific Rim), director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), director Jeff Nichols (Mud)
Tuition: $8,271 undergraduate ($21,416 out-of-state)

Northwestern University
Why it Makes the List: John Logan, a multiple Oscar nominee, is penning the next James Bond film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, a 14-time Emmy nominee) is starring in Veep. Meanwhile, Stephen Colbert anchors Comedy Central’s faux news program that bears his name, The Colbert Report. What do they all have in common? They all got their start at Northwestern, where the Radio-Television-Film program is part of the School of Communication.

Tucked away in the town of Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern may be off the beaten path, but it’s a starting point for many of L.A. and New York’s talent—and graduates from Northwestern look out for each other as alumni become members of Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance (NUEA), aka “the Purple Mafia.”

Alumni: Stephen Colbert, Sherry Lansing, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Zach Braff, Warren Beatty, Seth Meyers
Tuition: $45,120 undergraduate; $39,000 MFA screenwriting

CFI 2011 Stanford’s D School turns students into innovators. (Image: Stanford Institute of Design)

Stanford University
Why it Makes the List: Stanford’s D School is a state-of-the-art creative and innovation lab, while Stanford’s Documentary Film & Video program is considered the best in the country. The comprehensive two-year documentary program teaches students everything from developing a proposal and script to research, preproduction, shooting and editing. At the end of the program students have three films, plus a fourth they co-direct and credits on other students’ projects.

Alumni: Director/cinematographer Jon Shenk, producer Richard Berge, producer Bonni Cohen
Tuition: $40,050 graduate

From Film Camp to Hollywood
A four year film school can help you get a job in the television or film business—And there’s no better time than now to think about your career and making plans to follow your dreams. If you spent your summer at a film camp, like Digital Media Academy and want more, DMA invites you back: Teens 15 years and up can take any one of DMA’s Pro Series courses, which include film production courses.

Having a finished film (which you made at DMA) on your college application can help you get into the film school of your choice. DMA’s film instructors have also helped by writing letters of recommendation for past students.