Some Tips and Tricks for Applying to Stanford University's School of Arts and Art History's Graduate Program in Documentary Film

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For those who want to be documentary filmmakers a normal graduate film school experience may not fit their actual needs. Documentary goes beyond the simple non-fiction filmmaking and extends into issues around journalism, history, research, storytelling, and the mixture of a whole host of media platforms. The Stanford Graduate Documentary Program is one of the most well known and respected graduate film programs that is specifically formatted to the needs of a documentary filmmaker, focusing on several areas that any of the top film schools may overlook. Anyone who knowns anything about American colleges understands how good a school Stanford University is, and how difficult to get into. It’s graduate documentary program is no different, so here are a few tips to help with your application process to Stanford University’s Master’s of Fine Arts program in Documentary Film.

Standard Application Materials

You are going to have to submit many of the standard application pieces that you would normally need to apply to graduate school. This means that you will need to give two copies of your complete undergraduate transcript, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose that is specific to this graduate documentary program. All of this needs to be sent in in proper positioning, yet the application is done entirely online. Since you are going to be judged somewhat on your undergraduate performance it will be important to focus in the last year or two of your undergraduate degree on coursework that will serve your final academic goals and help you prepare your portfolio. Since the Stanford program is different than one of the other top film schools you will have some unique things to prove. Really this is an interdisciplinary program, even if it is stated as being part of their film school division in the School or Art and Art History. This is why a journalism degree with a focus on electronic media, a film focused program with a lot of focus on non-fiction writing and history, or experience that combines social sciences with storytelling and digital video will look great. Your letters of recommendation need to be appropriate as well, and in this case having most academics may be fine.


Stanford University, as well as the Master’s of Fine Arts in Documentary Film, require GRE scores. This is different than most top film schools that do not require GRE scores, which means that if you are applying to the Stanford program it may indicate that this is specifically what you are looking for and not a more standard experience. Make sure to prepare for the GREs well, which means taking a specialized training course for them as you are going to have stiff competition and serious requirements from Stanford.

Portfolio DVD

A portfolio DVD is always going to be important when applying to a graduate film program, and the Documentary Film MFA is no different. What is somewhat different about this is that most top film schools will ask you to send in examples of your best storytelling and here your documentary film work is what is important. If you do not have any documentary film work done then you are not ready to apply to this program and should put in some effort on your own work. If you did not do this in your undergraduate you should find a community film organization to find workshops.