These Are the Top 25 Film Schools in the United States
This story first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The film industry may be battered, but plenty of students still want in. This past year, for example, applications at Loyola Marymount tripled, even as undergraduate tuitions rose, approaching — and in a few cases exceeding — $50,000 per year at the top schools. The competition for students is just as fierce, with film programs boasting about who has the latest tech (USC opened its own IMAX theater), the most access to big names (Syracuse has Aaron Sorkin) and the starriest alumni (University of Texas at Austin claimed bragging rights to Matthew McConaughey). For its fourth annual ranking, THR conducted its widest-ever survey: More than 2,300 ballots were submitted from the guilds, Film Independent, the American Cinematheque and the schools themselves. Their responses, weighed with the help of educational insiders, resulted in a less Hollywood-centric list: NYU rose a few notches; the AFI slipped; and Cal State Northridge and San Francisco State made the cut for the first time.
1. University of Southern California
When USC School of Cinematic Arts production design professor Alex McDowell unveiled the Leviathan project at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, it appeared as if a real whale was floating over viewers' heads. Think of USC SCA as the uncatchable Moby Dick of film schools. Says one envious educator, "It is the patriarch: passionate, perennial, always turning out the best films." It also pulls in the most millions from supporters like George Lucas. In June, it opened the Michelle and Kevin Douglas IMAX Theatre and Immersive Lab, donated by IMAX's largest shareholders, with a screening room and research lab capable of streaming events from all over the globe in real time. And if you want to see the next generation of Hollywood winners, just glance around campus. "I always tell new students, 'Look to your right and your left, because you're going to be working with these people for the rest of your lives,' " says USC SCA dean Elizabeth M. Daley, who notes that hers is the first major school to offer a minor in comedy. From James Gray's The Immigrant to Godzilla (edited by alum Bob Ducsay) to the Marvel empire, over which alum Kevin Feige presides, USC grads make entertainment happen.
► Tuition $47,562 undergraduate; $74,976 to $88,608 graduate (program cost)
► Notable Alumni Judd Apatow, Stacey Sher, Ron Howard
Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige with Captain America: The Winter Soldier screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus at USC.
2. New York University
"NYU's Tisch School of the Arts is an incubator for the next generation," says a high-ranking rival, "despite turmoil in top-level administration." NYU president John Sexton will step down when his contract is up in 2016, following a faculty vote of no confidence after his administration was criticized for its ambitious expansion plans and lucrative executive perks. But that hasn't impacted the film school. Says one Tisch source, "We've only had two deans in 45 years!" Alums received 10 Oscar noms this past season, more than any other school. Alumna Margaret Brown scored the documentary The Great Invisible, which won the grand jury award at SXSW. "We start people in production from the get-go," says undergrad film/TV chair Joe Pichirallo, who helped set up Fox Searchlight and was an executive vp at Focus. "Our alumni are as diverse as Todd Phillips, Vince Gilligan and the makers of Martha Marcy May Marlene. We emphasize TV, because if you want to do risky bold drama, it's on cable. Otherwise, you do Transformers 98."
► Tuition $48,272 undergraduate; $50,186 graduate
► Notable Alumni Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Joel Coen
3. University of California, Los Angeles
UCLA's Westwood-based film school is all about cross-pollinating disciplines, consisting of two main tracks, its Department of Theater and its Department of Film, Television and Digital Media. Yet several important rivals and other industry sources view UCLA's biggest distinction as its screenwriting finesse. "They can never keep up with the other L.A. film schools, except in screenwriting," claims one. "UCLA TFT does have an extremely strong screenwriting program," responds FTVDM chair William McDonald. "It's the only institution in the world that integrates theater, film, television, digital media, animation and research within a single professional school." Dean Teri Schwartz adds, "A UCLA TFT education produces remarkable alumni as special as writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour and her 2014 Sundance hit A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night to Fast and Furious writer-director Justin Lin." Schwartz also can boast of having a moving image archive second only to the Library of Congress. FTVDM accepts just .75 percent of applicants, the number of which is projected to double in 2015 (with no extra spots).
► Tuition $14,966 to $15,131 undergraduate ($37,844 to $38,009 out-of-state); $15,582 to $25,196 graduate ($30,684 to $37,441 out-of-state)
► Notable Alumni Alexander Payne, Tim Robbins, Beth Behrs (2 Broke Girls)
4. American Film Institute
"Every single thing about AFI was perfect," says David Lynch ('70). Would he give up everything to be a beginning filmmaker there? "In a heartbeat," he says. Maintaining perfection can be a challenge, though. "It's no secret that for a few years AFI fell down a bit, and its alums were unhappy," says a top U.S. film educator. "But president-CEO Bob Gazzale has really turned it around, and the new dean, Jan Schuette from the German Film and Television Academy, along with other faculty changes, really move AFI forward." AFI's 140 Fellows, as its students are known, get face-time with visitors such as Jane Fonda and Steve McQueen and make at least four highly personal films while at the school. Says Schuette, "AFI is more open to finding your voice than other schools." Eighty-one percent of its grads are working in the industry. AFI alums accounted for 28 Emmy noms this year. One incoming Fellow likened the whole experience to snagging "a four-picture deal."
► Tuition $42,591 first year; $51,809 second year
► Notable Alumni Darren Aronofsky, Terrence Malick, Paul Schrader, cinematographer Janusz Kaminiski, South Park producer Anne Garefino
Darren Aronofsky speaks with AFI Fellows at the school.
5. California Institute of the Arts
Walt Disney was forever dreaming up visions of the future, and just before he died in 1966, he greenlighted one that fulfilled his wildest dreams: CalArts School of Film/Video. It launched in Valencia, Calif., in 1970, opening its doors for teenage innovators like Tim Burton and John Lasseter, who were among the school's first students. Cut to the present: Frozen, directed by CalArts grad Chris Buck (along with Jennifer Lee) has grossed $1.3 billion worldwide to become the top-grossing animated film to date. And it nabbed the best animated feature film Oscar, the eighth film by CalArts alumni to do so. James Mangold, another alum, proved he was no slouch as his film The Wolverine took $415 million worldwide. "In recent years, we've received more major awards and recognition at festivals and in museums than ever before," says dean Steve Anker. Looking toward the future, newer grads such as Skyler Page, Pendleton Ward, J.G. Quintel and Peter Browngardt are at work at the Cartoon Network, while Alex Hirsch produces Disney Channel's Gravity Falls. Visiting teachers include Brad Bird, Agnes Varda and, this fall, James Franco.
► Tuition $41,700
► Notable Alumni Andrew Stanton, Burton, Lasseter
6. Columbia University
Columbia University School of the Arts' graduate film program may be 3,000 miles away from Hollywood in New York City, but it is reshaping the industry — especially where women filmmakers are concerned. It launched the career of Jennifer Lee, writer and co-director of Frozen, the biggest-grossing film ever directed by a woman. In fact, Columbia alumnae are behind 2013's three top-grossing films directed by women — Frozen, Kimberly Peirce's Carrie and Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said. "Columbia hasn't been populating Hollywood's executive suites and below-the-line production rank-and-file like NYU or USC," says a source at another top film school. "But its sphere of influence is perhaps more powerful than ever now that a cohort of powerful female filmmakers is changing the landscape of the business." Columbia's male alumni are pulling their weight as well, with X-Men's Simon Kinberg steering a studio franchise and Greg Mottola continuing as a showrunner of HBO's The Newsroom. For four years straight, Columbia thesis films have won Student Academy Awards, including 2014's gold medal for Keola Racela's Above the Sea. "Numerous students have been signed by agents, optioned screenplays and landed staff positions at Participant, CAA, MGM, Sony Classics, Bad Robot and elsewhere," says film program chair Ira Deutchman. Columbia also recently beefed up its TV writing curriculum with the addition of Frank Pugliese (Copper) to full-time faculty, and it is addressing new media with the creation of the Digital Storytelling Lab, spearheaded by Deutchman and adjunct professor Lance Weiler.
► Tuition MFA $53,484 first two years; $4,420 third year
► Notable Alumni Lisa Cholodenko, Frozen River director Courtney Hunt, Philadelphia writer Ron Nyswaner
7. Chapman University
How does one get to Hollywood? Start in Orange County: The 1,500 students at Chapman's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts nabbed 607 high-powered internships during the 2013-14 school year. "We have been very impressed by Chapman students' knowledge of the business and great work ethic," says Michelle Satter, director of the feature-film program at the Sundance Institute, which has taken on many Chapman interns and offered some permanent positions. "Dean Bob Bassett is a master fundraiser," says an envious educator at another top film school. Case in point: Chapman's $42 million, 76,000-square-foot Marion Knott Studios, open to students 24/7. "Chapman is worth the extra half-hour drive," says producer Michael Phillips (Taxi Driver, The Sting), who has taught at the school. "This fall, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs is going to have students create possible remakes of classic Hollywood films, only for a Latino audience," says Bassett. "That's a real-world strategy from someone who's been there." The school's Chapman Filmed Entertainment label plans to produce three movies within the next year using pros and students. The only problem: "Hollywood is raiding my faculty!" jokes Bassett, noting that marketing professors Dawn Taubin and Russell Schwartz joined DreamWorks Animation and Relativity, respectively, in 2013.
► Tuition $44,710 undergraduate; $35,960 to $42,840 graduate
► Notable Alumni Comedy Central development executive Adam Londy, 20th Century Fox executive director of global promotions Cynthia Pascoe
8. Loyola Marymount University
Perched on a bluff overlooking West L.A., Loyola Marymount School of Film and Television is muscling its way into Hollywood's mindshare. "We've been under a rock for a long time, but now we're getting noticed," says dean Stephen Ujlaki, an HBO producer who previously served as cinema chair at San Francisco State. Ujlaki appointed THR's Stephen Galloway LMU Cosgrove Family Distinguished Visiting Artist, and Galloway moderated a series of discussions with directors Alfonso Cuaron, William Friedkin, David O. Russell and Judd Apatow and Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, which are in talks to air on PBS. Ujlaki says his 12-to-1 student-teacher ratio — half that of some competing schools — is key to the success of students like Hayley Foster, whose thesis film, Yamashita, won a 2014 Student Academy Award for animation. More than 400 LMU-sters have fanned out to major studios, Sundance and other top employers. Says Ujlaki, "Alan Horn told our students, quoting John Lasseter, 'Quality is the best business plan.' We couldn't agree more."
► Tuition $40,680 undergrad; $1,086 per unit graduate
► Notable Alumni Francis Lawrence, Ninjago co-writers Dan and Kevin Hageman
9. Emerson College
Boston's Emerson College cemented its Hollywood outpost this year when it opened the $85 million, 107,000-square-foot Emerson Los Angeles building on Sunset Boulevard, a masterpiece by Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne that made the cover of Architectural Record. "I told the board, 'You have a choice: The other firms will build a fine, functional building; Thom will build you a work of art,' " says ELA founding director (and former Friends executive producer) Kevin Bright. The headquarters has allowed the school to double its LA student body to about 200 per semester (total Emerson enrollment is 3,662 undergraduates and 830 graduate students). "It's also for our more than 4,000 Southern California alumni," says Bright. "Alumni: You want to talk to students, use a boardroom, do a mix, make a sizzle reel? That's what this building is about." Says one rival, "It's a major gamble." Some students already feel like winners, supposedly waking up early to run the nearby Hollywood Bowl steps in triumph. "It's like a Rocky thing," jokes Bright.
► Tuition $36,650 undergraduate; $1,145 per credit graduate
► Notable Alumni Denis Leary, TV producer Max Mutchnick, Viacom Entertainment Group president Doug Herzog
Emerson College L.A.'s new building on Sunset Boulevard.
10. University of Texas at Austin
The UT Austin Moody College of Communication's Department of Radio-Television-Film is the only non-California public university with a "Semester in L.A." program, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary as well as its 1,000th student in 2015. Back in Austin, UT has instituted a new 3D production program and, thanks to a $50 million 2013 gift from the Moody Foundation, the college now calls itself the Moody College of Communication. UT had an extra reason to break out the champagne this year: The best actor Oscar victory of alum Matthew McConaughey.
► Tuition $9,664 undergraduate ($34,216 out-of-state); $9,056 to $10,833 graduate ($17,048 to $20,598 out-of-state)
► Notable Alumni Robert Rodriguez, Matthew McConaughey
11. Syracuse University
"We're not isolated in an ivory tower of theory," says new Syracuse chancellor Kent Syverud. "Most students have immersion experiences outside Syracuse: We have boots on the ground in New York, D.C., Florence, Paris, Madrid, Dubai, Chile — and Hollywood." During "Sorkin Week," for example, film students as well as students from Syracuse's drama school (No. 13 on THR's Top 25 Drama Schools list) spend a week with The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin at SU Los Angeles. Syracuse also runs a program with FAMU film school in Prague and a summer program at Bologna's International Filmmaking Academy. Last year, students studied with Italy's Bernardo Bertolucci and Iran's Abbas Kiarostami, who was so impressed by the students that he came to this year's Syracuse International Film Festival and taught a two-week workshop. This summer, the school has lined up workshop mentors including Chinese filmmaker Diao Yi Nan, whose Black Coal, Thin Ice won the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear. And SU's 2013-14 Film Talks series included Mike Fantasia (location manager for several Steven Spielberg films as well as Godzilla), actor Peter Weller and horror auteurs Joe Lynch and Adam Green. "Honor and fame are getting confused in American culture, and it worries me," says Syverud, who's trying to fuse the two for students.
► Tuition $40,380 undergraduate; $24,138 graduate
► Notable Alumni producer-director Thom Oliphant, Korean filmmaker Yoon Jong-chan
12. Boston University
BU starts its students out with a solid liberal-arts background at its Massachusetts home campus and also sends 200 film pilgrims a year to Los Angeles to study in a high-rise across the street from SAG headquarters. The classroom is festooned with giant portraits of the cast of Mad Men (which boasts three BU alums, director Jennifer Getzinger and writer-producers Andre and Maria Jacquemetton). If that's not inspiration enough, students get advice from alums like HBO senior vp production Jay Roewe, who says students have participated in Joe Roth's Maleficent, Bonnie Arnold's How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Chiemi Karasawa's Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. "BU in L.A. has opened the students' eyes to the bright future of the industry," says alum Nina Tassler, chairman of CBS Entertainment. The future is brighter this year, thanks to Viacom chair Sumner Redstone, who founded BU's Redstone Film Festival and endowed a $2.5 million professorship in the study of narrative, and Candy Spelling, who created a million-dollar scholarship for the Film and Television Department. Students get real-world experience with programs like Media Ventures, in which grad students pitch media judges, including former OWN CEO Christina Norman and Ryan Seacrest president Eugene Young. And, adds BU L.A. film and television chair Paul Schneider, "This summer, courtesy of alum Hugo Shong, 15 students will travel to China to make documentaries with students from Beijing Normal University."
► Tuition $46,422
► Notable Alumni Roth, Arnold, Debbie Liebling
13. University of North Carolina School of the Arts
The 20-year-old school in Winston-Salem looks like a Hollywood studio backlot and has fielded a small studio's worth of talent: actors Mary-Louise Parker and Danny McBride, directors Jeff Nichols and David Gordon Green, writer Travis Beacham and Summer Shelton, Sundance's first Bingham Ray producing fellow. Mad Men's Matthew Weiner, who directed part of his debut feature Are You Here at the school, says that under dean Susan Ruskin, "UNCSA has become not only a state-of-the-art facility, but Susan's real strength is preparing students realistically for their future while filling them with inspiration." The faculty includes Peter Bogdanovich, cinematographer Tom Ackerman and sound designer Wade Wilson. Says Ruskin, "We are building a fully digital stage looking toward the future of storytelling where entertainment may exist in many different formats, but great storytelling will cut across all platforms."
► Tuition $8,363 undergraduate ($23,847 out-of-state); $9,889 graduate ($22,696 out-of-state)
► Notable Alumni Actors Will Patton, Paul Schneider, Tom Hulce and Dane DeHaan
A theater on UNC's School of the Arts backlot.
14. Northwestern University
Northwestern, which ranked No. 8 on THR's Top 25 Drama Schools list, is renowned for a long line of acting alums from Charlton Heston to Zach Braff (who has returned to teach workshops). But its School of Communication also emphasizes writing. "Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus studied acting but also learned dramatic writing, improv and sketch comedy," says dean Barbara O'Keefe. The school's Mee-Ow improv group has proved a training ground for such Saturday Night Live players as Louis-Dreyfus and Seth Meyers. Although one adjunct teacher complains, "They're producing film lovers, not filmmakers," O'Keefe notes, "Northwestern is especially successful at nurturing writers and producers." John Logan studied acting and became a screenplay Oscar nominee for Gladiator, The Aviator and Hugo and recently created Showtime's Penny Dreadful. Northwestern is moving into nonfiction with the creation of an MFA program in documentary filmmaking.
► Tuition $46,836 undergraduate; $36,900 MFA
► Notable Alumni Anna Gunn, Warren Beatty, producer Ken Kamins (the Hobbit films)
15. Wesleyan University
The private university in Middletown, Conn., may lack the vast soundstages at more production-oriented schools. But it was just awarded a $2 million challenge grant by the Mellon Foundation and plans to raise another $4 million over four years to unite its Department of Film Studies (run by renowned scholar Jeanine Basinger), Center for Film Studies, extensive Cinema Archives and student-run Film Series into a new College of Film and the Moving Image. Graduates swarm the industry. Says Basinger, "You want to hire a Wes grad, work for a Wes grad, go on a date with a Wes grad, and stay on the right side of a Wes grad! Why? Have you heard of the Wesleyan Mafia?"
► Tuition $61,228 to $63,036
► Notable Alumni Matthew Weiner, Joss Whedon, Michael Bay, Benh Zeitlin, Akiva Goldsman, Dana Delaney, Toby Emmerich
16. Stanford University
"Film isn't the first thing you think of when mentioning Stanford," says the dean of another top film school, "but they won both gold and silver this year in the documentary category at the Student Academy Awards." In fact, students from the MFA documentary program, located in Stanford, Calif., have won 11 Student Academy Awards during the past 14 years, as well as Emmy and Oscar honors and exposure on HBO and PBS. The program is elite, even by Stanford standards. "Eight students a year start out making movies the old-school way, on 16 mm," says the program's new director, Jamie Meltzer. Second-year thesis films are shot digitally. Meltzer says the program's association with Stanford's Art & Art History Department "encourages students to see their work not only in a social context but also in the context of artistic expression." Visiting giants of the form, such as Frederick Wiseman and Les Blank, have given master classes. In 2015, the program will move to the new McMurtry Building in the $227 million Stanford Arts District.
► Tuition $42,690
► Notable Alumni Documentarians Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
17. DePaul University
DePaul's School of Cinema and Interactive Media, headquartered in Chicago's Loop, "is a very sexy film school," says Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh, who starts teaching there this fall. Says actor alum David Dastmalchian (Prisoners), "It has that perfect blend of edgy, indie-spirited faculty who know the craft and industry and the facilities and partnerships of a large studio laboratory." USC-turned-DePaul professor Brad Riddell calls his new colleagues Kristyn Jo Benedyk and Matt Irvine "the Bonnie and Clyde of film education," seizing Chicago's rich resources for students, who get to work with pros at Cinespace Film Studios and on shows like Chicago Fire. Recent visitors have included Paula Wagner and Andy and Lana Wachowski. Adjuncts are paid a relatively high $5,000 to $10,000 per class. "Teaching at DePaul is like hitting the gold vein," says one teacher, "not just because it pays more, but it's the place where everything is going down."
► Tuition $33,390 undergraduate; $18,840 graduate
► Notable Alumni Producer Amanda Pflieger (Animals)
18. Rhode Island School of Design
RISD's Film/Animation/Video Department is artsy enough to call movies "time-based media" yet pop enough to produce alum Seth MacFarlane. To help students find their voice, the Providence-based school offers instruction in media ranging from hand-drawn and digital animation to live-action filmmaking and what it calls "open-media forms." "The availability of cheap technology doesn't make us all filmmakers," says department head Dennis Hlynsky. "We develop the artist as a whole, knowing that our graduates need the flexibility to adapt — the future is a moving image, and it's up to them to decide what it will look like."
► Tuition $44,284
► Notable Alumni Animation artist Caleb Wood
19. Florida State University
If you don't believe THR, which repeatedly has recognized FSU, located in Tallahassee, then believe the Television Academy, which recently awarded it five College Television Awards, more than went to any other school. Fellow educators hail its low student-teacher ratio, its graduates' job success and its new digital arts and animation program, whose first class graduates in 2015. Its faculty members have made 400 films, and its students have earned 2,000 awards.
► Tuition $7,544 undergraduate ($25,959 out-of-state); $21,569 graduate ($49,982 out-of-state)
► Notable Alumni Alan Ball, producer Stephen Broussard (Iron Man 3), actress Kelsey Scott (12 Years a Slave)
20. Columbia College Chicago
Cinema Art + Science at Columbia College Chicago claims to be the largest U.S. film school, with about 1,800 BA, BFA and MFA students. That tally increases the odds its graduates will surface in Hollywood. "The more you admit, the more likely you will wind up with famous alumni," says an educator at a prestigious smaller program. Indeed, CCC has produced a parade of talent including HBO Films president Len Amato and FilmEngine president Navid McIlhargey. About 200 students a year are admitted into the undergraduate Advanced Practicum program, which has turned out director Collin Schiffli and the rest of the team behind South by Southwest special jury award winner Animals. CCC also offers a semester in L.A. at Raleigh Studios, where students work alongside industry types. "But you never know if your crew, whom you rely on constantly, are smart, hardworking film lovers or total wackos," warns an adjunct teacher. That, too, might be ideal training for a Hollywood career.
► Tuition $22,884 undergraduate; $1,077 per credit MFA
► Notable Alumni TV and film producer Robert Teitel, director George Tillman Jr., documentary producer Diane Weyermann
21. Savannah College of Art and Design
Forbes called SCAD one of America's best schools for entrepreneurs; perhaps because students take cues from founders Richard Rowan and Paula Wallace. Since the institution's founding in 1978 in the picturesque Georgia city, they have created a 2 million-square-foot cultural behemoth, with more than 60 buildings (including a 60,000-square-foot Digital Media Center) used by more than 10,000 students. "They have great facilities," says one rival educator. The school also has spun off satellite campuses in Atlanta, Hong Kong and Lacoste, France. A SCAD study estimates spending by the school, students and visitors contributes $368 million annually to the city's economy. SCAD alums Nickson Fong and Steve LaVietes won Sci-Tech Awards from the Academy in 2012 for their work in computer graphics; another 24 SCADsters worked on Life of Pi, and SCAD grad Jason Brown, a grandson of James Brown, worked on the music legend's biopic Get on Up. SCAD also sponsors the 16-year-old Savannah Film Festival, which attracts such guests as Alexander Payne, Jeremy Irons and Alec Baldwin. Its Atlanta program has added an MA and MFA in film and TV.
► Tuition $33,795 undergraduate; $34,605 graduate
► Notable Alumni Fong, LaVietes
22. California State University, Northridge
The Department of Cinema and Television Arts at CSUN is no longer Hollywood's best-kept secret. CSUN-ites write, direct, shoot, edit and produce TV shows and films as well as hold down executive positions — like Intuition Productions' Keri Selig, and Screen Gems' Glenn Gainor. And pros such as Robert Townsend, James Burrows, Darren Star and Robin Swicord have spoken at the school. Director and alumnus Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality) has served as artist-in-residence and continues to advise all senior project film directors. The school has its own film series, CSUN Cinematheque, and holds classes on nearby studio lots. "Our undergrads create productions that compete successfully with graduate-level work done by students at the well-known film schools," says Jon Stahl, chair of the CTVA department. "One of my former comedy writing students emailed to let me know that, after working for a few years as a writers room assistant, she's just been asked by the EP of a new NBC show to write an episode." The school offers BAs in film production, TV production, multimedia production, screenwriting, electronic media management, media theory and criticism; the first class of screenwriting MFAs just matriculated. "We've been offering a screenwriting MA for years, and now we're offering a terminal degree at the Cal State price point," says Stahl. "We often refer to ourselves as 'the people's film school.' "
► Tuition $6,542 undergraduate; $7,786 graduate (in-state)
► Notable Alumni Screenwriter Dale Launer, Joan Chen, directors Paul Hunter and Darren Grant
23. San Francisco State University
SFSU grads have scored Oscar noms 15 years in a row, so it's high time THR's voters caught on to the school's achievements. "Of the many noteworthy aspects of our storied history is the breadth of fields in which our alumni have been successful," says Daniel Bernardi, ex-chair of cinema and interim dean of the College of Liberal & Creative Arts. Grads include Oscar-winning sound designer Christopher Boyes, Tony- and SAG-nominated actor Delroy Lindo, Oscar-winning documentarian Steven Okazaki, Sundance prize-winning director Jay Rosenblatt and indie filmmaker Lisanne Skyler. SFSU lecturer Jesse Moss won prizes at Sundance and the SF Film Festival for his doc The Overnighters; new professor Cheryl Dunye's Black Is Blue won best short film at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.
► Tuition $6,468 undergraduate ($18,372 out-of-state); $7,734 to $19,368 graduate
► Notable Alumni Steve Zaillian, Up producer Jonas Rivera
24. Ringling College of Art and Design
Most of the 1,200 students at Ringling in Sarasota, Fla., study illustration, computer design or game design. They are sought by as many as 70 recruiters a year from Disney to Yahoo, helping them live up to the school's motto, "Shattering the myth of the starving artist." Says spokeswoman Christine Lange: "We're working on a graphic novel project with Luke Wilson, a web series with Dylan McDermott, brand-identity work with Anna Paquin's and Stephen Moyer's production company CASM and exploratory graphic translation of a script with Richard Dreyfuss. And we have two large projects with American Zoetrope and Roman Coppola." Werner Herzog calls Ringling's "the best digital effects program in the country."
► Tuition $35,490
► Notable Alumni Writer-director Jason Letkiewicz
25. Colorado Film School
More than 64 percent of graduates from the Denver school work in the movie industry, including a dozen students and alumni who worked on Kevin Connolly's upcoming feature Dear Eleanor. "Our Women in Film School initiative brought in producers Annie Marter and Ruth Vitale to mentor students," says CFS founding director Frederic Lahey. "Our new proprietary software, TheiaSys — an immersive, game-based virtual economy that simulates the film industry — rolls out this fall." The Directors Guild of Nigeria hired the school to train "Nollywood" helmers, and Colorado's Toyota dealers and Saatchi & Saatchi have sponsored student shows and hired students to shoot B-roll for ads. Guest teachers have included Spike Lee and cinematographer Mauro Fiore.
► Tuition $3,800 in-state; $5,400 residents of Western states; $15,000 nonresident
► Notable Alumni Postproduction technician Aaron Kroger (The Avengers)