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At Columbia University School of the Arts, film is approached as storytelling in motion. Filmmakers learn future-forward visual and narrative filmmaking techniques while mastering the technicalities and business aspects of the industry. In 2022, FilmSchool.org ranked Columbia University among the top 10 best undergraduate film programs in America, and runner-up for Best Screenwriting Program in its list of top film schools worldwide. In 2021, The Hollywood Reporter also ranked the ivy league university no. 5 in its annual list of the top 25 American film schools.

Hands-on courses in small cohorts are taught by award-winning faculty, such as Academy Award winner James Schamus (Moonrise Kingdom, The Pianist) and Academy Award nominee Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger, 99 Homes).

What is life like at Columbia University School of the Arts?


From the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Manhattan’s timeless Quad Theater, Columbia University film students have a wealth of inspiration within a short walk, bus trip, or train ride. The university is located on the upper west side of Manhattan at 116th and Broadway; historic residence halls are surrounded by stretches of beautiful greenery, like the South Lawns.

The Digital Media Center assists MFA Film Program students with projects and coursework, along with the Production Team. Undergraduate and graduate students shoot on high-quality cameras that range from lightweight to heavier equipment suitable for long-distance shoots. Film students report using a variety of light packages and shooting on cameras such as the Canon C200, Panasonic AU-EVA1, and Sony FS5. ARRI cameras are available for higher-level films.

See our interview with Columbia MFA student Patrick Clement for even more insight as well as our Current Film Student AMA threads.

Gain Exposure for Your Films Through the Columbia University School of the Arts Film Festival (and Other Student Film Awards)


Film MFA Program students have numerous opportunities to win awards. Student filmmakers are frequently recognized at the DGA Student Film Awards, the Aspen Shortfest, and the Student Academy Awards.

Columbia University School of the Arts also has its own awards ceremony: Columbia University Film Festival (CUFF), an eight-day celebration of Film Program MFA thesis projects. CUFF has returned to in-person screenings (as of 2022) and occurs in spring. Take a look at its impressive list of named awards and past winners.

Columbia University Film Program Alumni


Columbia University School of the Arts graduates dominate the Emmys, the Peabody Awards, and other historic platforms for outstanding films. Here are a few noteworthy graduates from the MFA and BA programs:

Writer-director-producer Kathryn Bigelow (MFA, ‘79) became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker.

Writer-director-producer Lisa Cholodenko (MFA, ‘97) wrote and directed Olive Kitteridge and nabbed the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series. Most recently, she directed the Hulu limited series The Girl from Plainville starring Elle Fanning.

Writer-director-producer Anna Winger (BA, ‘93) created the Netflix limited series Unorthodox. In 2021, Winger entered a partnership with the streaming service.

10 Commonly Asked Question about Columbia University School of the Arts


1. What makes Columbia University different from other film schools?


According to the Office of Admissions, Columbia University trains students to become “total filmmakers.” By equally learning all aspects of film, students in its BA and MFA programs can pursue a variety of careers, from teaching at the university level to working on a TV or film set. Columbia University introduces students to film in all genres and forms to create filmmakers with a comprehensive perspective about storytelling from conception to production.

2. Are test scores required for acceptance?


No. Columbia University School of the Arts is test-optional for undergraduate and graduate applicants.

3. What is the average GPA of a Columbia University applicant?


There is no hard and fast minimum GPA requirement for its BA and MFA film programs, but you should aim for a competitive score. According to Campusreel.org, the average Columbia University student has a minimum GPA of 3.91.

However, our Application Database allows FilmSchool.org members to see the accepted GPAs of admitted Columbia applicants; their GPAs are sometimes much lower. See our Acceptance Statistics page for Columbia's Screenwriting/Directing (MFA) for more detailed information. Additionally, our Application Database allows you to sort applications by GPA.

4. Can I apply to more than one MFA film program?


Yes. Graduate applicants can apply to two or more programs, but must submit separate applications and pay the applicable number of application fees.

5. How important is the portfolio?


Columbia University School of the Arts has a holistic admissions process. Each part of the application is positioned as an opportunity to tell the admissions committee what makes you the best fit for the BA or MFA program. Each part of your application should reflect your passion for film, the unique talents you can bring to your program, and your creative credo.

FilmSchool.org's interview with Columbia MFA graduate Patrick Clement offers valuable advice for your portfolio and application. The Application Database allows you to see past applications to Columbia's film program. Forum threads for past Columbia applications throughout the years are also an excellent resource.

6. Do all applicants receive an interview?


The Office of Undergraduate Admissions interviews undergraduate applicants according to how many volunteers are available; interviews are not required for acceptance. The Office of Graduate Admissions requires an interview for acceptance; only a select number of graduate applicants receive interviews.

Our acceptance statistics pages for Screenwriting/Directing (M.F.A.) and Creative Producing (M.F.A.) will also show you the percentage of applicants who were admitted after an interview.

7. Are the MFA film programs collaborative?


Yes. Both the MFA Creative Producing and Screenwriting/Directing cohorts work closely together to create short films. The 8-12 minute film at the end of year 2 allows Creative Producing students to actualize Directing students’ best works.

The 8-12 minute film project also helped create film crews for major motion pictures like Boys Don’t Cry, American Splendor, and Monsoon Wedding.

8. Is working part-time allowed?


New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., and students should plan accordingly to finance their degrees. Part-time jobs on or off campus are permitted, but the Office of Admissions advises students to account for a heavy course load. Classes run Monday to Friday and often last over 8 hours.

9. Is student housing available for BA and MFA students?


Columbia Housing offers undergraduate-exclusive residence halls where BA film students have a safe, inclusive space to study and form lifelong friendships. The program guarantees housing to all students (except visiting students) who apply to live on campus and study full-time for up to four years. First-year students are required to live on campus. Eligible students can also receive special accommodations.

MFA students do not have guaranteed housing, but can apply through the Columbia University Apartment Housing program only after being admitted. Dormitory-style rooms and apartment shares are limited.

10. If I withdraw from my program, can I reapply?


Yes, but only if you attended within the past five years. Request the paper application to reapply by contacting soaadmissions@columbia.edu. For more information, read “Readmission for Former Students” on the official Columbia University website.

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Alexa P.
Alexa Pellegrini (she/her) is a freelance copywriter, editor, poet, and essayist. Keep up with her latest musings on Twitter.

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