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Interpreting Film School Rankings

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: SForsyth•updated: 5/12/2011

When deciding where to go to school to study film, school rankings are one tool to help you consider your options. However, not all lists are accurate and your decision will ultimately depend on what you are most interested in.

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    School rankings are often the main place that people look when choosing a college whether it be for film or anything else. These ranking systems have a strange way of defining what schools are acceptable, or at least the proper options for those who want to be directors, producers, or other main creative and professional positions in the professional film industry. While rankings can be an effective tool for selecting a college, those listed should not be the only choices you consider. Learn how to decode these film school rankings so they make a little more sense when selecting the right college for you.

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    Official Rankings

    The best known and accepted film school rankings for Master's of Fine Arts programs in film are those published by U.S. News and World Reports. These rankings are not released regularly and here are the 2001 rankings that, though are not up to date, still hold the most accurate listing for film school rankings.

    1.New York University

    1.University of Southern California

    3.University of California-Los Angeles

    4.American Film Institute

    5.California Institute of the Arts

    6.Columbia University (NY)

    7.School of the Art Institute of Chicago

    7.University of Texas-Austin

    9.Florida State University9.Northwestern University (IL)

    9.Temple University

    12.Rochester Institute of Technology (NY)

    12.San Francisco Art Institute

    12.University of California-San Diego

    These have been challenged by several other locations, such as the Education-Portal.com that includes Northwestern University. Many other lists from reputable organizations will also include many for-profit film colleges that edge out those on this list. One thing that is common to most lists is the top six, which will almost always start with NYU and USC, and then head into the AFI, UCLA, Columbia, and Cal Arts in some order.

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    But are These Really the Best?

    The reality is that many ranking systems ignore film colleges that have become very high profile and elevates others that may be much more obscure. An example of this is the notable lack of Chapman University and Loyola Marymount University, two very worthy schools, and the inclusion of so many art institutes, many of which only teach film in an intangential type of way. Many of the film schools that were put onto these rankings only jumped on there because they were up and coming and not because they end up being the most respected or best programs.

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    How do I Choose?

    Choosing a film school is very difficult and just looking at rankings is irresponsible, as is only basing your decisions on the quality of their alumni lists. Each film school is known for different things and is going to be better suited to some than for others.

    A great example of this is the acclaimed film program at California Institute of the Arts. The program is actually divided into two competing programs, one in video art and one a director specific program. What is difficult about this is that they are not in a single program and it makes you to connect to only one or the other without bringing into a full filmmaker program. This may be fine for very specific types of filmmakers, but could cause problems for those who want to try different forms of filmmaking.

    Chapman University has some of the best equipment and facilities of any program in California, but does not have a great track record for documentary film. The American Film Institute has an incredibly good track record for pushing out professional filmmakers and other high level positions, but it does not focus much on technical skills besides your specific discipline and will limit your career options. Florida State University is not as high on many of the film school rankings as other schools, but will actually subsidize students to shoot on film so that it remains equal opportunity. Columbia University is a great program, but forces you to shoot on digital video the entire time of coursework and costs over $42,000. The Rochester Institute of Technology is going to allow you to combine animation and live action quite a bit, and it is also well known for awarding good scholarships.

    All of this information is going to be left out of most film school rankings, but is really going to help you dictate what film college is for you.