How to Get Into NFTS, the #1 International Film School: Exclusive Advice From the Admissions Department (Part 1)

This article is in the series How to Get Into NFTS, the #1 International Film School: Exclusive Advice From the Admissions Department
There is no other film school in the United Kingdom more notable than the National Film and Television School (NFTS), an institution renowned for producing high-profile industry players and Oscar winners since 1971.

Based in Beaconsfield, a short 25 minute train journey from central London, NFTS has an astounding post-graduation employment rate of over 90% and heads of department and tutors who rub shoulders with some of the best talent in Hollywood and beyond. With more than 30 MA programs, diploma courses, and certificate programs to choose from, student filmmakers of all backgrounds enjoy a highly individualized, goal-driven learning experience.

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Alexa Pellegrini for FilmSchool.org spoke with the NFTS Admissions team to explore how their film school achieved its status as one of the best in the UK, what students can expect from short workshops and other aspects of the admissions process, and more.

Ijeoma Akigwe is the Director of Marketing and External Communications. Her main focus is coordinating all elements of student recruitment, as well as assisting the Registry team. Akigwe has a key role in overseeing every area of NFTS, such as PR campaigns, organizing the graduate showcase and Masterclasses, and planning the graduation ceremony. Akigwe also runs a team that delivers student films to various festivals worldwide.

Mirinda Dawkins is the head of NFTS' Public Relations and Communications team and is assisted by Katie Elson. Elson oversees digital content coordination with a focus in developing videos and images that reflect the NFTS experience. They coordinate to manage their PR materials, marketing campaigns, and social media accounts.

Rachel Phelan is NFTS' Marketing Manager and organizes recruitment campaigns. This includes their paid advertising across social media, as well as Google Adwords and print ads.

Jen Warwick is the Assistant Manager of Registry. Warwick helps streamline the admissions process, oversee student registration, and provide services that support NFTS students and graduates.

Emily Gash is the Student Recruitment and Admissions Coordinator at NFTS. Her primary job is to fill up their MA and diploma courses. Gash is the first point of contact for new and prospective students; she also helps organize their open days and other student events.

Venetia Hawkes is NFTS’ Executive Producer of Masterclasses & Bridges to Industry. Previously, she worked at Right Angle, a script series and editing company that received a BAFTA, four Emmy Awards, and an Oscar Nomination. Hawkes has more than 20 years of experience supporting filmmakers in training.

Robert Bradbrook is the Head of NFTS Animation. Bradbrook is an award-winning independent filmmaker. Since 1994, he has produced animated scenes, title sequences, and visual effects and collaborated with BAFTA-nominated filmmakers. Bradbrook offers storytelling workshops at NFTS and colleges worldwide.

Shakil Mohammed is the Lead Tutor Certificate in Filmmaking. For the past 14 years, Mohammed has coordinated and managed curriculums for NFTS students. He draws from his experience as screenwriter, director, and co-writer on various award-winning films.

Note: this interview took approximately 2 hours and runs a total of 18 pages. [Part 2] is available to our Supporting Members, without whom in-depth articles and interviews like this one would not be possible as FilmSchool.org is 100% advertisement free. Supporting Members also enjoy access to private student clubs and forums, full access to our database that tracks upwards of 3,700 film school applications, and the full Acceptance Data statistics for each film program such as our admissions data for National Film and Television School (NFTS) - Directing Fiction, National Film and Television School (NFTS) - Screenwriting, National Film and Television School (NFTS) - Cinematography, and other MA programs with accepted GPAs and demographics of accepted applicants and much more...

What are three things that make NFTS the most exceptional film school in the UK?


Ijeoma Akigwe
It's hard to pinpoint only three things when in fact, there are quite a few. First, we regard our school as being one of the best schools in the world, not necessarily just in the United Kingdom. We've been voted Best Film School by highly established publications like The Observer and Variety and been selected as one of the Hollywood Reporter’s Top 15 International Schools List for over a decade.

I always give prospective students a presentation at the beginning of our open days where I talk about why they should come to NFTS. And I explain that we’re a small film school with only about 650 students in total. For each of our Master’s programs, we have 10 places, and that individualized attention equips our students to do everything within their particular pathway. We offer a very tailored experience.

Because we're so highly specialized, another point of excellence is that we have high-quality visiting tutors and guests from the industry that prepare our students for success. We have fantastic, unparalleled links to major players in film. We find that for almost all of our students, job placement and work experience opportunities easily come to fruition.

As for number three, I would say our facilities and equipment are state of the art. Just recently, we installed a new LED wall to enable Virtual Production and launched a new course specifically within that area. We have a number of different studio spaces in the school, and one of them is 7,000 square feet. A lot of the student productions that we create there are extraordinary.

What is your open day event?


Emily Gash
An open day is an event where prospective students visit our Beaconsfield Campus, talk to our heads of departments, meet their course leaders, ask questions, take a tour, and see the facilities.

In 2022, we are officially holding in-person open day again with our first one taking place on Saturday 26 March. Details of how to register are here! And of course, international students are welcome if they can make it. We're hoping to hold three general open days during the rest of the year.

We're also holding separate in-person open days for our three most popular courses: Directing Fiction, Cinematography, and Screenwriting. Check out the NFTS website for dates and details of how to register here. We'll also hold virtual events via Zoom for each of these courses, so they're accessible to international students or anyone who can't come in person.

NFTS virtual open days involve a course overview from the course leaders, a funding and fees presentation, a virtual tour of the campus, and a Q and A section. We've been running them for two years and they're very popular with international students.

You have five different locations in the UK. Your HQ is in Beaconsfield, plus you have hubs in London’s Golden Square, Scotland, Leeds, and Wales. What are the unique benefits of attending NFTS at each of those locations?


Rachel Phelan
About 60-65% of NFTS students choose to live locally, with the majority living in Beaconsfield or High Wycombe. The other 35-40% of students live in London and commute. We do have quite a generous student discount with Chiltern Railways, who run the train line between London Marylebone and Beaconsfield.
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For our remaining hubs, we wanted to make all of our courses more accessible to students around the UK, especially with production booming everywhere. Just a few years ago, [the film industry] was quite London-centric; you'd have to live in the southeast UK to get opportunities.

Obviously, that's not the case anymore! All of our hubs provide various specialist training to help our students meet the growing needs of the film, television and video game industries within different regions.

We teach people starting out or already working. They might be looking for personal development or to learn about a particular area of industry.

But no matter where they attend and what their background is, they're all taught by the same high-level industry professionals. We offer a range from nine-month part-time diplomas programs to full-time Master’s programs, but all of them technically allow students to work whilst they're studying.


Can you outline the application process and common mistakes prospective students make?


Jen Warwick
Each year, we set deadlines for all of our courses. The first one is usually the first week of May. Candidates applying for a specific course will be aiming for their unique course deadline, and then we stagger taking applications throughout the rest of the year.

All applications are processed in the Registry department. Each course has a professional selection panel. That always includes the department head for each course, plus industry professionals and/or tutors that are coming in. It's typically three or four people in total. All applications and their supporting materials are read thoroughly, and then they create shortlists of candidates to interview. We get those shortlists and help arrange and schedule all of them.

Lately, our student interviews have been over Zoom due to the pandemic, but we usually hold them in person as an opportunity for the candidate to come to the NFTS and see the university and panel in person. They last for 45 minutes per candidate.

Once all of the interviews have taken place, what happens next depends on the specific course. They'll either go straight to sending interview outcomes of a successful offer, an unsuccessful offer, or reserve. For some courses, students receive an outcome to attend the next round, which is a selection workshop.

For some of our courses, there's a shortlist for candidates to attend a selection workshop — the shortest one is two days, and the longest one is staggered across two weeks.

After the selection workshops, we receive a final list of offers and reserves. The panel will provide us with a list of reserve candidates (i.e. if someone declines enrollment, their place is offered to a reserve candidate). Again, what happens completely depends upon the course. I recommend applicants see if their intended course requires a short workshop by checking the course web page. Across the board, applying is a three to six-month process.

The biggest mistake that stands out for us is usually in the supporting materials. Candidates need course-specific supporting materials, which are on the course pages of the NFTS website. But often, we find that candidates skip over these materials entirely. They also might submit materials that are irrelevant to their intended course. Just make sure to look at the directions before you apply and ask our info@nfts.co.uk line if you’re unsure!

How many students are in each MA program cohort?
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Emily Gash
Every MA program cohort has 10 students. But the exceptions to this are Games Design and our Visual Effects courses, which can take up to 16 students; Marketing, Distribution, Sales, and Exhibition can take up to 14 students; and Film Studies, Programming, and Curation can take up to 12 students.

Mirinda Dawkins
It’s also worth noting that we've only recently increased our cap on MA courses from eight to 10 students, so we opened up to accommodate even more new talent.

Ijeoma Akigwe
That's right. It's only our second year of accepting more than eight students. That also means we're investing even more into building cutting-edge facilities. For example, each Composing student has a suite that they work in, and we have to literally build them from scratch. Editing and Production students also have their suites.

Are applicants required to submit a portfolio?


Jen Warwick
The only NFTS course that asks for a hard-copy portfolio of work is the Production Design MA.

The Screenwriting MA requests a 20-page script or an excerpt of a single script to be submitted, Directing Fiction asks for a piece of self-directed fiction content, and Cinematography for a piece of work the applicant has been a DoP on. This can be one film or a showreel of films, but each piece must have a title at the beginning and end credits to show their role in the crew.

Essentially, all required materials are different for each course. You can go to nfts.co.uk/courses to find out the requirements of each one.

How many international students applied to NFTS in the 2020-2021 cycle?


Jen Warwick
We received around 350 applications from international students. Typically, NFTS takes around 36 international students for our MA programs.

Did your application rates increase during the COVID-19 pandemic?


Jen Warwick
For our 2020 intake, we recorded an increase in applications for some courses. But for this year, our rates have gone back to normal.

Tell us about your collaboration with the British Film Institute (BFI) and the average amount of funds a student can receive from the National Lottery. Are students allowed to use those funds for tuition and/or other costs of attendance?


Jen Warwick
There's no average amount of funding from the BFI. The way our funding works is that successful UK applicants are invited to apply for financial aid. Their applications go to a professional panel. They look at a lot of criteria, including ethnicity and socio-economic background. And they're all means-tested.

Awards can range anywhere between £1,000 pounds to up to around £10,000 pounds per year. Scholarships and other external funds are typically just for tuition fees. However, we have a few donors that are happy to have their funds to go towards maintenance costs, such as housing accommodations and travel.

Are students who receive the Toledo scholarship also eligible to receive funds from the National Lottery?


Jen Warwick
When students’ financial aid applications are reviewed, we always try to match them with specific donors, if we can. Usually, we won't limit them to one donor, but it just depends on the amount of financial support they need. For the past few years, we've had students who have received the Toledo scholarship and additional funding on top of that.

What is the average cost of attendance for your MA programs and diploma programs?


Jen Warwick
Most of our MA’s cost about the same. For our diploma courses, tuition fees vary.

Expenses also depend upon nationality — we have our home fees and our overseas fees. So, that's one side of it. And then on top of that, you have your maintenance costs to consider as well. We give students guidelines to set aside about £10,000 pounds per year for maintenance and living costs, such as rent, bills, food shopping and other miscellaneous expenses.

Are film equipment and supporting materials factored into the tuition?


Emily Gash
Yes. All production costs and equipment are included in the course fees, including the use of school facilities. But students are expected to bring their laptops.

Do international students receive equal access to scholarships and other funding?


Jen Warwick
Generally speaking, our financial aid is for qualifying UK-based students. That's a requirement for a lot of our donors — they want to support British talent.

But we do have some bursaries and scholarships from donors willing to support EU and international students. We also work with the Postgraduate loan via the UK government and the US Federal Loan via Federal Student Aid (FSA).

Can students defer acceptance for any reason?


Jen Warwick
In general, we don't offer deferrals for our MA programs or our diploma programs. But if potential students ask for a deferral, it's discussed with the head of a department and the registrar. In very special circumstances, occasionally we allow for a deferral.

International students are treated the same way as UK and EU-based students when it comes to deferral decisions.

Are students allowed to work and study at the same time?


Emily Gash
Some students in full-time courses do have part-time jobs, although we typically advise against that. But for students who take part-time courses or programs, all of our courses are designed so that they can work and study simultaneously.

Be sure that you know the cost of your course ahead of time, as well as the rent and other bills, and then budget accordingly. We have our Wellbeing team on hand to help and our regular financial aid officers, too.

International students can work depending on their visa allowance. During term-time, a student visa will usually allow up to 20 hours of work per week. They should always tell prospective employers that they’re studying on a visa and checks should be carried out.


Do NFTS alumni collaborate with current students and staff?


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Ijeoma Akigwe

We love having NFTS alumni come back to visit. For example, we have our Springboard Week, which is our equivalent to Freshers Week, with a week-long list of events where alumni come and talk to prospective students. And as I mentioned before, we offer a host of Masterclasses which some of our alumni return to host.

If there's a film that's about to come out or a new release, we also invite any alumni that are involved to come back. Sometimes, it's the director or the producer. And then also we have various other events throughout the year.

As Emily mentioned, we do course-specific open days. And virtually or face-to-face, we have alumni come along. For our Composing open day we had Segun Akinola, one of our Composing MA graduates return. He is the composer for the Doctor Who series. We also featured Laurie Nunn, who created Sex Education, and Roger Deakins, one of our older alumni who most recently won an Oscar for 1917. The list goes on and on.

Mirinda Dawkins
And as part of our 50th-anniversary celebration last year, the British Film Institute (BFI) hosted a month-long celebratory season featuring some of our most notable alumni including Nick Broomfield, Joanna Hogg, Shola Amoo and Clio Barnard.

Each of the filmmakers screened a film they made while studying at the NFTS, showed one of their seminal films, all followed by an insightful Q and A. Tickets were pre-sold and it was extremely popular. It was lovely to celebrate over five decades of our filmmakers achievements and the impact they’ve made on the cultural landscape.

How does the NFTS graduate showcase connects students to the film industry?


Ijeoma Akigwe
We hold our graduate showcase once every year. Last year it was in May, but this year it's the last week in February.

Typically, we get roughly between 600-700 people who attend over four days, and a lot of people from the film industry visit. We split our graduate showcase into genres — one day, it's fiction, the next day, it's animation, and the next day, it's documentary, and so on. We feature student films from our diploma courses, too.

As Katie mentioned, film industry professionals come to us and find our students before they even graduate. They come to our graduate showcase, see our films, and then there's a reception where they can directly talk to our students. And that has produced some amazing opportunities.

The graduate showcase is sponsored by BBC Studios. In previous years, it was sponsored by Netflix. Reed Hastings — when he was in the UK — made sure that he could attend our graduation showcase and did a special talk. As soon as their films are ready, the industry is waiting to see what NFTS students are capable of creating.

Can you tell us more about your Virtual Production course?


Mirinda Dawkins
NFTS is always trying to innovate our curriculum and the course will provide students with the core skills needed to build and progress a career in Virtual Production. Due to the pandemic, the demand for skills within virtual production accelerated across the world. It's a six-month blended learning course in partnership with WarnerMedia. Our very first cohort of 15 students started at the beginning of February 2022.


Thank you for reading! The interview continues exclusively for our Supporting Members here:


How to Get Into NFTS, the #1 International Film School: Exclusive Advice From the Admissions Department (Part 2)

How to Get Into NFTS, the #1 International Film School: Exclusive Advice From the Admissions Department (Part 2)

Exclusively for our Supporting Members, this is the second part of our 2 hour interview with the NFTS Admissions team. FilmSchool.org is 100% advertisement free so without our Supporting Members, in-depth articles and interviews like this one would not be possible. Supporting Members also...

To access the final installment (7 pages long) and learn about the key differences between NFTS’ MA and diploma programs, which MA programs receive the highest number of applications, and how the notorious short workshops for the application process work, click here to become a Supporting Member.

FilmSchool.org is 100% advertisement free and Supporting Memberships make articles and interviews like this one possible. Supporting Members also enjoy FULL access to the application database (GPAs, test scores, portfolios...), our full Acceptance Data statistics, private student clubs and forums, and other perks.
Next article in the series 'How to Get Into NFTS, the #1 International Film School: Exclusive Advice From the Admissions Department': How to Get Into NFTS, the #1 International Film School: Exclusive Advice From the Admissions Department (Part 2)
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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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