Applying to Film School: Getting Organized, Taking Tests & Getting Letters of Recomendation

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There has been a lot of debate over whether or not film school, or art school for that matter, is a worthwhile investment. Many people suggest that an individual should gather their friends together and use the money they would use for tuition and instead spend it on a film. Since the majority of people do not have the technical expertise to do this, the connections to get enough good people, or the ability to get money other than student loans, film school does fit a certain need in the sphere. For those thinking about doing this the likelihood is that they previously have some form of education, preferably a bachelor’s degree of some sort. What this then requires is one of the most trying processes in formal education: the application process.

A Unique Process

Applying to film school, what ever kind of program it is, is completely unlike applications to any other school. Every program available is somewhat unique in terms of requirements, but film programs are a strange synthesis of artistic creativity, technical expertise, literary and political understanding, and a fair amount of economic and business minded thought. With this in mind you have to explain to the admissions committee how you will be successful in said program with all of these factors in mind.


The first thing you have to do is itemize exactly what type of program it is. All of the best programs in the world are graduate programs so you have to first go about the graduate requirements. Though not all film Master’s of Fine Arts programs require the GRE, some do and you do not want to shrink your pool of possible schools. This is not a simple test, and tends to make the SAT look extremely elementary. The best choice for this is to take the term following your undergraduate graduation to study for the exam. A class on it would be best, especially if several of the programs you are applying for consider the scores. The test consists of verbal questions, essays, and math, which needs to be studied thoroughly. Though you likely have a large background in essay writing, and probably have been forced into having some mathematics, the verbal section requires an in-depth knowledge of archaic and difficult vocabulary.


It is important to consider all possible programs before you begin the application process. Each program has its own requirements, but many of them have overlaps. Begin putting together a schedule, not just for when the applications are due, but when you want to have certain elements of them done by. This way you can leave enough time to complete everything for each application in time. Most admissions departments provide an application checklist for applicants, which will make it much easier.

Letters of Recommendation

The most difficult parts of the application are the parts you do not have control over. The letters of recommendation are one of the most important parts of the application because it shows how other people have influenced your work and how they feel about your abilities. To get a good set of letters of recommendation you need to find a diverse cross-section of professionals and academics. Professors are always going to be your best bet, but if someone is an esteemed film or video professional they will be helpful as well. Hopefully you will have worked on several extracurricular activities or internships in your time as an undergraduate, so professionals involved in these can help quite a bit. If you took part in film events or other art related organizations then these are good places to look as well.

Every school has different numbers of letters they require, but it is usually two to three. Go ahead and try to get four to be safe, especially since it cannot really hurt to send more than is asked for. You may want to contact possible recommenders by email ahead of time. This gives you a chance to give them updated information, such as a resume, filmography, and maybe links to more recent work that you have put to an online venue. Make sure that they are able to reference specifics in your work, so it is best if they have been intimately involved in your filmmaking or artistic process.

Many schools now ask for an online recommendation process, which can complicate things further. Ask them to write the base letter of recommendation, but have each copy addressed specifically to each school. From here you can get some in physical form from them to send to the institutions and then the other ones can be submitted online according to the specifications of the schools’ website. Usually you can opt to send all of the letters to the school on your own in physical form, which makes things much easier. All letters that you do get in physical form you need to make sure that the envelope is sealed and the initials of the author should be written over the seal.

This post is part of the series: Film School

Series of articles dealing with film school.

  1. Choosing a Graduate Film School
  2. Tips for Selecting a Film School
  3. Applying to Film School Pt. 1 of 2
  4. Applying to Film School Pt. 2 of 2