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How to Select a Graduate Program in Screenwriting

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: SForsyth•updated: 5/19/2011

Here are some things to look for when trying to choose the right graduate screenwriting program for you.

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    Going Graduate

    Graduate programs in screenwriting are very hit and miss as they really help you to develop your creative writing skills rather than technical production ones. What you are looking to develop is one of the most difficult careers in the film industry to begin, not to mention one of the hardest to achieve over all. A master's degree is often the best place to focus in on screenwriting since this field would be much to limited for your undergraduate major. If you are trying to select a graduate program in screenwriting from a graduate film school or otherwise then there are a few things that you are going to want to select.

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    Degree Type

    The type of degree you are going to get is going to be important as it is going to do a number of things for you. First off, if you want a full screenwriting master's program then it should be a Master's of Fine Arts program and not just a Master's of Arts. An MFA is going to be much more project oriented since it has a large scale thesis at the end, which in your case will likely just be a feature script and another treatment. The MFA will also be a much better element for your resume if you want to end up working in academia as a professor, which is a very likely scenario for you later on. Many working screenwriters also work as professors, so this is not an unheard of scenario. If you are going to look at jus a post-graduate certificate in screenwriting, one that requires you to have a Bachelor's already and is not a full master's degree of some sort, then it is going to be good to then look at the type of school you are applying at and choose one that will meet your specific creative goals and will also not limit you because of an excessive amount of required time or tuition cost. The UCLA Professional Progam in Screenwriting is a great option, as is NYU's summer certificate program in screenwriting that essentially asks you to take four screenwriting classes in two different summer terms.

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    Projects and Connections

    You have to remember that you are going to come out of your screenwriting graduate program with the ability to write screenplays, not the ability to run equipment, edit films, or produce projects. This is so specific and the field is so particular that you are going to need to have projects to show right away. You will want to find a program that is going to allow you to write the most as you are going to need to have actual product afterwards to both display to professionals and to sell eventually. You will also need a program that helps you bridge to the professional world by working with your screenplay projects by getting them out to agents and studios, showing them to prospectors, and generally making them available to the industry. More than this, the school should already have industry relationships so that you are ensured the ability to get screenwriting and film internships and will have professionals coming to class to work with you.

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    Graduate Film School

    A graduate film school is usually going to be the best place for your screenwriting master's program to be housed in, which is to say that it should be an option within the film school. What this is going to allow you to do is to take some classes in film production and post-production so that you will maintain a head about filmmaking while you are working and to develop technical film skills that you will likely use professionally. Without remaining grounded in the practical world of filmmaking it may be difficult to maintain your screenwriting skills in relation to the medium. This means that you projects may be disconnected from the actual filmmaking process, which they will not benefit from. You will also have the ability to work on projects that will then be produced by student in school, or even yourself. This will give a new area for your creative screenwriting work to be viewed by professionals both at your school and at festival. Those who would not just look at student screenplays may look at student films and festival submissions, so this is another way to get out what you have written and to prove how it will look when produced.

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    Alumni Lists

    Alumni lists are always important when choosing a graduate film school, and they are possibly even more important here. You want to see who at school has actually made it in the industry, both because it is a testament to the quality of your education and because those people will likely act as a bridge to the professional world. It is these alumni lists that have helped maintain schools like USC and NYU, and what are helping Loyola Marymount and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Try to look at who is working, but not just the largest names. Any school can turn out a few big names, but the best way to measure a school's success is how many working screenwriters actually came from there.