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Creative individuals eyeing careers in screenwriting, directing, cinematography, and more will find that a master’s in film is the key to achieving these goals. These degrees are designed to prepare students for high-caliber positions in the industry, such as producers and directors, who receive a median salary of $85,320, or film and video editors, with a median salary of $63,520. However, these opportunities extend beyond Hollywood; graduates often find rewarding careers in advertising, public relations, television, performing arts, and other sectors. Some MA graduates might even explore academic or research careers.

Typically, completing a master’s in film takes two to three years, with an average tuition cost of $19,749. This investment provides opportunities for several professional pathways, making it a valuable step for those committed to making their mark in visual storytelling.

How to Choose a Master’s in Film Program

Choose your area of study

Choosing an area of study — often called a “specialization” — for your graduate degree is essential in a field as versatile as film, as this decision will shape your career trajectory. This is also an excellent time to assess whether an MA or MFA degree is right for you, as specializations will vary between the two. While an MA is more academic and theoretical, an MFA is more creative and hands-on.

For MA candidates, options like film studies or film history cater to those interested in research or teaching. MFA students may focus on directing, screenwriting, or cinematography, which is ideal for aspiring filmmakers concentrating on craft and storytelling.

No matter the specialization you choose, it’s essential to make this decision early on so you can be sure to select a program that offers the education and opportunities you need to succeed.

Research schools and programs

Once you’ve chosen between an MA or MFA in film and identified a potential specialization, thorough research is key to finding the best program. Consider using the following questions to guide your research:

  • What is the program’s reputation in your chosen field?
  • Are there networking opportunities with industry professionals?
  • Does a recognized accrediting body accredit the program?

Most programs make this information readily available on their website. You can also find answers to these questions by reaching out to an admissions counselor or attending an information session about the programs you’re interested in.

Prepare for tests and applications

Now that you have a shortlist of programs, you can begin preparing for tests and applications. Regardless of whether you plan to attend an MA or MFA program, you’ll need to focus on tailoring your personal statement to illustrate your enthusiasm and fit for the program and securing strong letters of recommendation. Both program types generally emphasize a creative or academic portfolio, so you’ll want to dedicate ample time to refining this element of your application.

If GRE scores are required, enrolling in a test prep program can significantly improve your performance — providing strategies and plenty of practice to help you earn a competitive score.

Select your program

The arrival of acceptance letters is often an exciting time, but it can quickly become overwhelming if you receive more than one. This is a great time to revisit your initial research criteria, prioritizing what’s most important in your educational experience — whether it be the faculty you’ll learn from, student support services, or hands-on opportunities. It’s also crucial to thoroughly research the overall cost of attendance and explore financial aid options, including scholarships and assistantships.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

To finance your degree without accruing significant debt, you’ll want first to prioritize scholarships and grants, which don’t require repayment. Though grants are more common for undergraduates, several scholarships are available for graduate students based on merit or specific criteria.

Next, consider assistantships, which offer tuition waivers or stipends in return for teaching or performing research duties. If you’re currently employed and this degree is relevant to your current field, you may be eligible for tuition reimbursement through your employer.

If financial gaps remain, federal loans may fill them, but borrow carefully to avoid disrupting your future economic stability. To position yourself for post-graduation success, always explore all non-repayable financial aid options first.

Best 50 Accredited Master’s in Film Programs

Best Master's in Film Degree Programs_2024 badge

Stanford University

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

USC School of Cinematic Arts

Columbia University School of the Arts

Boston University

Loyola Marymount University

The University of Texas at Austin

Emerson College

California Institute of the Arts

Stony Brook University

University of Iowa

Chapman University

San Francisco State University

Syracuse University

University of Miami

Savannah College of Art and Design

Discover More Options

How we rank schools

We reviewed many master’s in film programs, including Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) options. These programs have different emphases, so you’ll want to find one that fits your interests and goals.

The list also includes on-campus, online, and hybrid programs. Online programs may have brief in-person requirements for orientations or seminars.

All of the schools listed are regionally accredited, and many of these options also have programmatic accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD). Attending an accredited program guarantees that your degree will be recognized upon graduation.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in Film Program?

These degree programs offer a top-tier education in film theory, history, and filmmaking. As a student, you’ll learn narrative techniques and practical skills in directing, screenwriting, and cinematography — preparing you for several potential career paths.

Curriculums often include hands-on projects, workshops, and internships with professionals, but this may differ slightly depending on whether you enroll in a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. While an MA emphasizes theoretical aspects of film studies and is suitable for those interested in teaching or research, an MFA is more practice-oriented and ideal for aspiring filmmakers seeking a direct path to creative roles.

Regardless of which type of degree you pursue, most programs can be completed in two to three years, with many requiring a thesis demonstrating mastery in your area of interest to be eligible for graduation.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in film program

  • Film Theory and Criticism: A cornerstone in most curriculums, this course delves into the critical theories and underlying philosophies of film as an art form. Participants will explore several schools of thought, including formalism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, and postmodernism, to understand how films create meaning and affect audiences.
  • Directing the Narrative: Focusing on the art of directing, this course teaches students to visualize and bring a script to life on screen. Lessons cover directing actors, visual storytelling, and the collaborative nature of film production. Through practical exercises, students learn to develop their directorial voice.
  • Cinematography: This technical course covers the principles of cinematography and the use of lighting to improve storytelling. Students learn about camera operation, composition, movement, and the role of lighting in creating mood and supporting the narrative.
  • Screenwriting Workshop: In this course, most often seen in MFA programs, students are guided through developing and writing an original screenplay. From concept to final draft, topics include structure, character development, dialogue, and the business of screenwriting. Peer review and revisions are vital components, fostering a collaborative environment that mirrors the writers’ rooms you’d find in the industry.

Master’s in Film Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a master's in film degree program?

To apply for these degree programs, you’ll need first to figure out if you’d like to pursue an MA or MFA program. Generally, both programs require a bachelor’s degree, transcripts, letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a portfolio of work, with MFA applications often emphasizing creative samples — like films or scripts — more heavily. MA applications might lean towards academic writings or theoretical analyses.

Of course, speaking with an admissions counselor before applying is always essential, as application criteria can vary by institution.

How much does a master's in film degree cost?

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the average tuition for graduate-level programs was $19,749, but this can vary widely between institutions. When budgeting for your degree, you’ll also want to consider additional expenses — like equipment, software, books, and project production costs. Living expenses, including housing, food, transportation, and potential travel for internships or research, can also significantly add to the overall cost.

Financial aid, scholarships, and assistantships can help offset these expenses, so exploring all available funding options is crucial. Be sure to contact a financial aid counselor at the schools you’re considering attending to understand the opportunities available.

How long does it take to earn a master's in film degree?

Earning your master’s in film will likely take two to three years if you enroll full-time, depending on the program’s structure and requirements. However, enrolling part-time will take longer, often four to five years, due to balancing coursework with other responsibilities — like having a full-time job or caretaking.

The duration will also vary based on the total number of required credits for graduation, with some programs necessitating more extensive coursework. It’s essential to check each program’s specific credit requirements and structure to gauge the time commitment needed to complete the degree accurately.

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