Master’s in Film Programs Guide

Are you ready to find your fit?

Be the director of your own career with one of the nation’s best Master’s in Film degrees.

Can you envision yourself working closely with actors, directing them intuitively through each take? Or perhaps you like to hang out behind the scenes, editing the narrative into a cohesive whole?

Whether you want to work in production or directing, animation or documentation, an advanced degree in film can help you bring your dreams into focus.

What kind of Master’s in Film degree should you get?

Each of the 20 programs on our list will provide a foundation in film theory. However, each program differs in it emphasis, structure, and requirements.

For example, some programs can be completed in under two years and others take a full three. Some programs are fine arts degrees, emphasizing creativity and placing you in workshops. Others are MAs, immersing you in theory coursework and research.

Here at College Choice we’ve done the work of laying out the details of each program. So you just need to be sure to find the best fit for you and your vision.

You should also consider online education. Not only is it a flexible way to earn your degree, it’s often one of the most affordable ways to advance your career. Check out College Choice’s Best Online Colleges and Universities.

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How much money do people make with a Master’s in Film degree?

Because there are many ways to utilize your Master’s in Film degree, there are many ways to get paid. But rest well, a job in the film industry is lucrative. For example, film and video editors make over $58,210 a year. And producers and directors make, on average, $71,620 a year.

But for those with experience and advanced education, like MA or MFA graduates, that number leaps up. Executive producers, for example, can make over $90,000 a year.

What can you do with a Master’s in Film degree?

A degree in film will open many creative and technical doors for you. Depending on the program, whether it’s creative or theory-based, you can end up working in an array of settings, from Hollywood studios to the college classroom.

You can choose to specialize in documentary film and journalism and go on to work with award-winning media outlets. Or you can earn a joint MBA and MFA (such as those offered by New York University and Chapman University) and go on to launch your own production studio.

From cameraman to the director’s chair, a Master’s in Film will help you get your foot in a competitive industry.

What are the requirements for a Master’s in Film degree?

As we’ve said, the 20 degrees below include everything from graduate certificates to an MA and MFA. The program cultures and emphases vary widely. However, there are a few key requirements that you can anticipate regardless of the program.

You will spend at least one full year taking coursework in film fundamentals. Whether you’re earning a creative or theory-based degree, these classes will provide you with the foundation you need. Such classes include:

  • World Film History
  • Directing
  • Storytelling and Narrative
  • Video and Film Editing
  • Film Theory

Then, in your second and third year you will have the opportunity to specialize in an area of your personal interest. Finally, many programs encourage you to participate in hands-on experience through workshops, film festivals, study abroad, and networking events. We’ve been sure to note those.

What are the best Master’s in Film degrees?

Some of these programs are creative and others theoretical. Some are offered through arts and design schools while others are offered through large research universities. But all 20 share one thing in common: they are the nation’s best Master’s in Film programs.

To find the top programs we looked exhaustively at every program across the country. We first examined academic reputation as well as student retention, since it’s a sign of student satisfaction. From there we looked at tuition rates as well as the placements and salaries of graduates to get an idea of the return on investment.

Our comprehensive research thus led us to the nation’s best Master’s in Film programs.

Our figures and information come from the university and colleges’ websites, PayScale, and nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.

The Top Master's Degrees in Film

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. University of California-Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA




    What more inspiring place than Hollywood itself to study film? One of the most renowned schools within the greater UC System, UCLA is home to over 45,000 students. UCLA is organized into six colleges and seven professional schools, among them the illustrious School of Theater, Film, and Television.


    There are two ways to earn a film degree at UCLA. They offer both an MA and an MFA in Film and Television. While the former is research and theory heavy, the latter is creative-driven. So whether you want to become conversant in the history, concepts, and traditions of film, or you want to learn how to actually make your own movie, UCLA can help you get there. Specialization areas include:

    • Animation
    • Directing and Producing
    • Screenwriting

    UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television is the first of its kind. Both the undergraduate and graduate programs are top-ranked on both national and global levels. It is also home to the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the largest academic archive of its kind in the world.

  2. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA




    Another Hollywood-based, world-renowned school, the University of Southern California is the state's oldest university. Though known for its business and entrepreneurship programs, USC is strong in innumerable areas, including the fine arts and film. Around 43,000 students attend USC.


    USC offers an MFA in Cinematic Arts, Film, and Television Production. This creative degree first gives you grounding in production and film creation. You'll also study screenwriting. Then you will have the opportunity to take highly specialized classes that reflect your career and creative goals. For example, some USC classes include:

    • Interactive Cinema
    • Music Video Production
    • Reality Television Survey
    • Directing in a Virtual World

    USC is home to the School of Cinematic Arts, the oldest and biggest film school in the nation. Students enrolled in the school study everything from film theory to game design. Indeed, graduates have gone on to found production companies such as Lucasfilm.

  3. University of California-Berkeley

    Berkeley, CA




    The University of California Berkeley, based in the Bay Area, is the flagship campus within the UC System. One of the best universities in the world, Berkeley barely needs introduction. It is well-ranked in everything from STEM to the fine arts. Around 42,000 students attend UC Berkeley.


    UC Berkeley offers two graduate opportunities for film students: a PhD in Film and Media or a Certificate in Film & Media Industries and Professions. The former is obviously a rigorous, multi-year program, so let's look at the certificate instead. It was designed to be completed in a summer, but it still gives students a broad introduction to film, readying them for an equally diverse range of career options. The classes are:

    • Pitch to Production
    • Entertainment Law
    • Film and Media Professions
    • Understanding Film Sound

    In addition to all its academic rankings and recognitions, which are way too many to list here, Berkeley is the site of dozens of cultural centers, museums, galleries, archives, and more. For example, the renowned UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is on campus.

  4. Columbia University in the City of New York

    New York, NY




    If you're more East Coast then West, consider Columbia University for your graduate work in film. Columbia is an Ivy League with an impressive film tradition. Graduates have won a combined 39 Academy Awards, for example. Columbia is organized into 20 schools, through which around 28,000 students are enrolled.


    Columbia's School of the Arts offers an MA in Film and Media Studies. This program considers the most current theoretical engagements with film, and allows students to concentrate in one of two areas: film or media. But you can also supplement your specialization with electives such as:

    • Cinephilia
    • Queer Film Theory
    • Visual Bodies: From Cinema to New Media
    • Cuban Cinema

    In addition to its many Academy Award winners, Columbia has also graduated dozens of Pulitzer Prize recipients, Oscar winners, Nobel laureates, and much more. Oh, and of course, Columbia is hands down one of the best schools in the world. It is ranked nationally and globally by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and much more.

  5. New York University

    New York, NY




    Greenwich Village's New York University is home to more than 50,000 students. It is comprised of dozens of schools and colleges, including the prestigious Tisch School of Arts. Tisch provides undergraduate and graduate degree opportunities that range from animation to film and international media. Features

    NYU offers one of the best, most creative MFA in Film Production degrees in the nation. While at NYU you will work closely with your cohort, workshops, and faculty while also developing a polished portfolio. And unique to this program is the opportunity to earn a dual degree in business. The MBA/MFA program is ideal for those who want to become leaders in the entertainment industry. At NYU you will learn how to make:

    • A four-minute, silent, 16mm film
    • A five-minute, digital character study
    • A seven-minute, digital narrative

    NYU has graduated Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, Pulitzer Prize recipients, and over 30 Academy Award winners. It is considered a “New Ivy” and is nationally ranked by the likes of U.S. News & World Report, Times Higher Education,

    and many more. The Tisch School is consistently ranked first in the nation.

  6. Stanford University

    Stanford, CA




    One of the most prestigious universities in the world, Stanford's reputation crosses many disciplines and contains many categories. It is considered the epicenter for innovation and scholarship. Around 16,000 combined undergraduate and graduate students attend Stanford, enrolled in one of its three traditional colleges or four graduate schools.


    Stanford offers a MFA in Documentary Film and Video. This is an ideal program for those who specifically want to immerse themselves in the theory and techniques of documentation. Students form a foundation in the historical, theoretical, and critical components of film. Stanford's core curriculum includes classes such as:

    • Film/Video Writing and Directing
    • Nonfiction Film Production
    • Digital Video
    • Advanced Documentary Directing

    Literally hundreds of Nobel laureates, MacArthur Fellows, and Pulitzer Prize winners have attended Stanford. The university is ranked among the top five in the world by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Washington Monthly, Times Higher Education, and more.

  7. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA




    The University of Pennsylvania is a leader in many fields and industries. It has one of the best business schools in the nation as well as some of the most renowned arts programs in the world. Around 22,000 combined undergraduate and graduate students attend Penn.


    The Cinema and Media Studies program at Penn allows students to earn a graduate certificate. Students will complete four seminars which cover current debates in and theories of film. You will also be required to write an advanced research paper on film that demonstrates the knowledge and skills you've learned over the course of your seminars and colloquia. Core classes include:

    • World Film History to 1945
    • World Film History 1945 to Present
    • Television and New Media

    One of the most selective schools in the U.S., Penn is also ranked among the country's top 10 best universities by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Washington Monthly. In addition to its academic accolades, Penn is also known for its industrious research accomplishments and for being founded by Benjamin Franklin.

  8. Loyola Marymount University

    Los Angeles, CA




    A member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Loyola Marymount University is a Catholic school. In fact, it is one of the largest Roman Catholic schools on the West Coast. Located near Los Angeles, More than 9,000 students attend LMU.


    For those who want to focus mostly on the production part of filmmaking, LMU offers the perfect program. The MFA in Film and Television Production program equips students to produce, direct, screenwrite, edit, record, and design their stories while also emphasizing the current technologies involved in the film production. Classes include:

    • Cinematography
    • Fundamentals of Production
    • Writing for Production
    • Post-Production

    A top producer of Fulbright Scholars, Pulitzer winners, and more, LMU has earned a solid reputation for its academics. Indeed, Loyola Marymount is well ranked and highly regarded by an array of sources, from The Wall Street Journal to Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Businessweek, among others.

  9. Emerson College

    Boston, MA




    Emerson College is located in Boston, Massachusetts and is a small liberal arts-focused school. Around 3,500 students attend, including nearly 1,000 graduate students. Emerson is organized into many distinct schools, including its film program, which is one of the largest in the nation.


    For those who want a small school with big opportunities, look no further than Emerson. Their MFA in Film and Media Art program introduces students to everything from image and sound to emergent media forms. While core classes cover screenwriting, production, narrative history, and the business of modern media, you can also specialize in a wide range of ways:

    • History of Documentary
    • Avant-Garde/Experimental
    • Installations
    • New Media

    The Hollywood Reporter ranks Emerson's film programs as being among the top 10 best in the country. Indeed, campus is home to the historic Paramount Theatre and the Paramount Center. U.S. News & World Report ranks Emerson 7th among all universities and colleges in its region.

  10. Boston University

    Boston, MA




    Boston University enrolls nearly 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students in its 17 colleges and schools. A private research university, BU is one of the best schools on the East Coast. It is designated as having the highest research activity by Carnegie and it is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities.


    The College of Communications at BU offers an MFA in Film and Television Studies degree comprised of 16 classes. However, only four of those are required (listed below), so you have a lot of flexibility to pursue your personal interests and career goals. Students have specialized in everything from feminist film to experimental media.

    • TV Theory and Criticism
    • American Masterworks
    • Film Theory and Criticism
    • International Masterworks

    Boston University has graduated dozens of Pulitzer winners, Sloan Fellows, Academy Award and Emmy winners, MacArthur scholars, Nobel laureates, Tony winners, and so much more. It comes as no surprise then that BU is nationally and globally ranked by a range of sources, including Times Higher Education, U.S. News & World Report, and Newsweek, among others.

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