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Most schools have rolling admissions and financial help so you can start your degree in a few weeks!

Students who graduate with a film degree are on their way to careers such as cinematographers, camera operators, media researchers, multimedia illustrators, producers, directors, editors, production managers, location managers, lighting technicians, screenwriters, and more. They can find work not only in movie and television studios, but also in advertising and marketing agencies, media companies, institutions of higher learning, social media platforms, journalism companies, and other areas. Film degrees can be earned at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s levels.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual pay for film editors and camera operators in 2021 was $60,360, while writers made a median yearly salary of $69,510. The median salary for directors and producers is $79,000 annually.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2021-22, the average annual tuition for undergraduate programs was $7,869 at public universities and $37,095 at private institutions. Meanwhile, in 2020-21, the average tuition for master’s programs was $12,394 at public schools and $26,621 at private colleges.

It generally takes four years of full-time study to complete a bachelor’s degree. Associate’s and master’s degrees usually take two years to complete.

How to Choose an Online Film Degree Program

Choose your area of study

Since a film degree can prepare students for a variety of different career paths, those interested in this degree should consider their career objectives before selecting a program. For example, various programs offer concentrations in cinematography, editing, directing, producing, screenwriting, sound, animation, and more.

Your career goals may also impact which type of degree you want. At the undergraduate level, students can choose from an Associate of Arts (AA), Bachelor of Arts (BA), or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). Graduate students can earn a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in film.

BFA and MFA programs focus more on performing, dramatic, and visual arts, with a strong emphasis on applied training and development. BA and MA programs lean toward the humanities and non-technical liberal arts subjects like social sciences, language, and literature.

Research schools and programs

Once you’ve chosen your area of study, take time to thoroughly research different schools and programs. A school’s website is an excellent place to start, as it will provide information about the program curriculum, faculty, learning formats, admission requirements, and more. Most schools also allow students to request more information through their website. Focus on finding programs that offer concentrations, as well as learning experiences like internships or study abroad, that coincide with your desired career path.

While you’re gathering information about the academic components of the programs, take note of these aspects as well:

  • Is the school accredited? Proper accreditation affects many aspects of a program, from the quality of education you’ll receive to your eligibility for financial aid to other programs you can apply for in the future. It also has a direct bearing on job opportunities after graduation. Be sure that any school you apply to is accredited by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Specific programs may also be accredited by industry-specific organizations and associations.
  • What is the cost of the program? Check the cost of tuition before spending a lot of time researching a program. If it’s more than you plan to spend for your degree, it’s probably not going to be a good fit. Stay within your budget, but remember that the least expensive program isn’t always the best.
  • What is the learning format? There are three types of online programs — asynchronous, synchronous, and a combination of both. Asynchronous means you’re not locked into any class schedule; you study when it’s convenient for you. For those who need to study on evenings and weekends or don’t have a consistent, steady schedule each week, this is the best option. A synchronous format requires students to be online for live classes and lectures at specific times. It’s a more structured way of studying, which is beneficial for some students, and it also helps students develop better relationships with one another and instructors. Some programs combine synchronous and asynchronous classes, requiring students to be online for certain live courses or lectures. Determine which format is best for you so you can focus on programs that meet your needs.
  • Where is the school located? Although the program itself is online, colleges and university campuses often offer on-campus services, events, and activities. These can include access to the school library, gyms or fitness centers, career fairs, student clubs and organizations, sporting events, and more. If you want to take advantage of any of these, proximity to the school is essential. Also, some programs are offered only in a hybrid format, with students required to attend some classes on campus, so the school’s location may be a key component when deciding on a program.

Prepare for tests and applications

Admissions requirements vary depending on the level of the degree. Associate and bachelor’s programs require high school transcripts with a minimum GPA set by the school, and applicants may have to provide SAT or ACT scores. Graduate programs require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university along with transcripts, a resume, a personal statement or essay, and one or more letters of recommendation. GRE scores may be required, and applicants may also be asked to show previous professional experience in the field. Schools may also ask students to submit a portfolio of recent work to demonstrate their artistic abilities.

Be sure to check all of the dates for submitting applications. Some schools offer rolling admissions, while others have specific deadlines.

Select your program

After researching various programs and schools, it’s time to narrow down your list. Eliminate the programs that won’t work for you based on cost, location, schedule, or other factors. From the ones that remain, consider the pros and cons of each and list them in order of preference. Apply to all on your list since you don’t know which schools will accept you and which won’t. If you received more than one acceptance letter, choose the one that’s highest on your list.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

During your research process, speak to a representative from the school’s financial aid office to learn more about available scholarships, grants, fellowships, and other financial resources. They can also assist you with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which schools use to determine eligibility for federal student aid like loans and work-study funding.

Some institutions provide financing or allow students to pay per credit hour as they go through the program, but check the final amount, as this may end up costing more. Lower tuition is often available for members of the military or their immediate family members. Beyond that, if you have time in your schedule, you can work a part-time job to help pay for your degree. Find out if your employer offers any kind of tuition assistance benefits.

Best 50 Accredited Online Film Degree Programs

Best Online Film Programs Badge

Arizona State University

Swarthmore College

UMass Amherst

University of Montana School of Visual and Media Arts

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How We Rank Schools

The most common degree students get in film or film studies is a bachelor’s degree, although certificate programs as well as associate’s and master’s degrees also exist in this field. Our list includes bachelor’s, associate’s, and certificate programs, which you can choose from based on your current education level and career goals. All of the programs on this list are offered online; some are available in person as well.

The schools on our list have either regional or national accreditation. If you are considering transferring credits or pursuing an advanced degree after your bachelor’s, attending a regionally accredited school is recommended. Degrees and credits from regionally accredited institutions are more widely accepted by other schools.

We reviewed the film programs on the basis of faculty, flexibility, coursework, cost, and reputation. Each school received an Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

What Can You Expect from an Online Film Degree Program?

A film degree program can focus on film theory, film history, pre-production, production, post-production, or certain technical aspects like editing, cinematography, sound, animation, illustration, or other related disciplines. Students learn how to use the latest technology and industry-standard software, and they are often placed in internships for real-world, hands-on experiences.

For distance learners, universities use an online learning management system (LMS) to deliver course material. Students log on to their own personal portal and have access to the course syllabus, class schedules, assignments, announcements, reading and audio-video material, grades, and more. They can also chat with and message other students as well as instructors via the LMS. Among the most popular LMS platforms are Blackboard, Canvas, D2L Brightspace, and Moodle, but some schools have their own system. After an applicant is officially enrolled, the necessary software and its instructions are provided.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online film program

  • Twentieth-century cinema. In this course, students learn about early films and filmmakers such as Thomas Edison, D. W. Griffith, and C.B. DeMille. The course examines the evolution of cinema through the silent era and the transition to sound, various genres, directors, filmmaking styles, and more. Both U.S. and international films and filmmakers are considered.
  • Cinematic storytelling. Students examine the many different roles involved in making a film, such as producer, director, art director, screenwriter, actor, music composer, editor, and studio executive. They also learn about themes, genres, and marketing to different audiences.
  • Screenwriting I. This course focuses on the basics of screenwriting, including structure, dialogue, character development, rising and falling action, conflict, and resolution. Students read and analyze famous screenplays, and they also write their own short scripts for class discussion and possibly even filming.
  • Creating a film. This course centers around preparing students to make their own films. They begin with an original narrative or documentary idea and then move through the process, including scripting, direction, and what technologies will be employed in making the film.

Online Film Degree Program Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online film degree program?

Most colleges and universities require that students apply online. If applying for a bachelor’s degree, applicants can fill out the Common Application, which allows them to apply to multiple institutions using a single application. Check deadlines and make sure all documentation is submitted on time. It is generally a good idea to speak with an admissions counselor before applying.

How much does an online film degree cost?

The cost for an online degree in film varies widely, and much of this depends on the degree level — undergraduate or graduate. An online master’s degree in film, for example, can cost between $15,000 and $20,000, while the tuition for an online bachelor’s in animation is $38,000-$78,000. Additional expenses for distance learners can include technology and software, books, and supplies. Public schools often have higher tuition rates for out-of-state residents, but this doesn’t always apply to online students.

How long does it take to earn an online film degree?

A bachelor’s degree requires about 120 credits, and most students complete it in four years. Full-time students can complete associate and master’s degrees in two years. Some schools offer accelerated programs that can be finished in less time.

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