Columbia University: How to Apply for 2024, Acceptance Rate, and What To Expect as a Columbia Film Student

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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 2023, The Hollywood Reporter also ranked the ivy league university no. 7 in its annual list of the top 25 American film schools. And in 2022, FilmSchool.org ranked Columbia University among the top 10 undergraduate film programs in the U.S. and runner-up for Best Screenwriting Program worldwide.

Film classes are taught by Academy Award winners, such as James Schamus (Moonrise Kingdom, The Pianist), and Academy Award nominees, such as Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger, 99 Homes).

FilmSchool.org's exclusive interview with the Columbia University Admissions and Industry Outreach offers an in-depth overview of how to apply, plus how to maximize networking opportunities for film students.

What is life like at Columbia University?


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. Beautiful greenery, such as the South Lawns and Morningside Park, are near the university's historic residence halls.

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 advanced film shoots. Additionally, the Digital Media Center assists graduate film students with their coursework.

For an inside look at Columbia University's graduate film programs, read FilmSchool.org's interview with Columbia MFA student Patrick Clement and check out our Current Film Student Ask Me Anything (AMA) threads. You can also send general questions for current Columbia University students to askastudent@columbia.edu.

Renowned Columbia University film program alumni


Columbia University alumni dominate the Emmys, the Peabody Awards, and other historic platforms for outstanding films. Here are a three noteworthy alumni from its BA and MFA and film degree 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 questions about Columbia University


1. What makes Columbia University exceptional?


Columbia University trains students to become total filmmakers by equally learning all aspects of film. Film students can pursue a variety of industry and academic careers. Instructors expose students to films in all genres and mediums to help them create projects with comprehensive perspectives. By the end of their programs, film students master storytelling from conception to production.

2. Is Columbia University test optional?


Yes. Columbia University does not require the SAT, ACT, or GRE.

3. What is the average GPA of Columbia University applicants?


There is no hard and fast minimum GPA requirement for Columbia's graduate and undergraduate film programs. However, you should aim for a competitive score: According to Campusreel.org, the average Columbia University student has a minimum GPA of 3.91.

FilmSchool.org's Application Database allows members to see the accepted GPAs of admitted Columbia applicants; scores vary from high to low. Review our Acceptance Statistics page for Columbia's Screenwriting & Directing (MFA) for more information. FilmSchool.org's Application Database allows you to sort applications according to GPA.

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


Yes. Applicants can apply to two or more MFA film programs per application cycle, but they must submit separate applications and pay two application fees.

5. How important is the Columbia University film portfolio?


Columbia University School of the Arts has a holistic admissions process. Each section 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. Construct your portfolio to demonstrate your passion for film, the talents you will bring to your program, and your artistic credo.

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.

FilmSchool.org's Acceptance Statistics pages for Screenwriting & Directing (MFA) and Creative Producing (MFA) also show the percentage of members who were admitted after an interview.

7. Do the MFA Film Programs emphasize collaboration?


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. Are film students allowed to work part-time?


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?


Columbia Housing offers undergraduate-exclusive residence halls where 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; freshmen are required to live on campus (excluding sororities). Eligible students may receive special housing accommodations.

Graduate applicants do not have guaranteed housing. If admitted, they can apply for dormitory-style rooms and apartment shares through the Columbia University Apartment Housing program.

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


Yes, if you attended Columbia University 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.

Editor's Note: This article has been revised to reflect 2024 application instructions. The Columbia University application for 2024 admission is now open to undergraduates (click here to apply). The graduate application for 2023 admission opens October 1, 2023.

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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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