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When you think of “entertainment” in the United States, you think of Hollywood. There’s no doubt that California is home of the entertainment industry, with Los Angeles serving as its heart and soul. Because of that, it is no wonder that some of the best Master of Fines Arts in Screenwriting programs can be found in the Golden State, attracting applicants from around the globe.

An MFA in Screenwriting will help you hone your craft, teach you how to create compelling characters, and instruct you in how to tell intriguing stories. An MFA will also expand your network, exposing you to not only your peers, but industry professionals through lectures, networking events, and internship opportunities.

Here are 10 of the top MFA in Screenwriting schools in California.

USC School of Cinematic Arts

USC School of Cinematic Arts

For more than 90 years, the University of Southern California has trained the next generation of prolific filmmakers. As the nation's first institution of higher learning to offer a bachelor's degree in film, the School of Cinematic Arts remains at the forefront of emerging filmmaking trends...

University of Southern California – School of Cinematic Arts
Los Angeles
  • 2 years, Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Screen & Television
  • Tuition: $47,520/year
Arguably the best film school in the country – or the world, depending on who you ask – the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television is considered the ‘holy grail’ of MFA in Screenwriting programs by many. The program receives hundreds of applicants a year for a mere 32 spots and is designed to teach students how to create the kinds of scripts that excite directors, producers, agents, and managers.

Curriculum at USC is structured to allow students to build a foundation while also specializing in film or television with further specialization available in either comedy or drama. Writing is taught in small workshop style classes with a focus on the visual tools of storytelling and developing stories from its characters.

USC is notoriously one of the most competitive schools in the country. Faculty members are current working industry professions with extensive backgrounds and success in film and television. With an alumni list that reads more like a ‘who’s who’ list of Hollywood – Shonda Rhimes is an alumnus – USC offers an extensive network, exposing students to mentorship and internship opportunities as well as state-of-the-art facilities. To top it off, USC frequently brings in industry leaders for workshops and lectures and offers students exclusive screening opportunities.

The application for USC’s MFA in screenwriting includes USC’s graduate application and transcript requirements as well as a supplemental application comprised of an autobiographical character sketch, two creative challenges, a ‘most challenging moment’ personal essay, writing sample, curriculum vitae, creative portfolio, and three letters of recommendation, one of which must be from a professor or faculty member. The due date is typically November 15 for the next year’s fall cohort. Unlike many MFA programs, there is no interview component at USC.

If you’re curious on what the admissions committee is looking for, read an interview with an SCA admissions committee member about how to get into USC here. Learn more about the MFA in Screenwriting requirements for admission here.

AFI Conservatory

AFI Conservatory

First established in 1967, the American Film Institute is world renowned for producing pioneers and trailblazers in the film industry. As a not-for-profit, private graduate film school, the AFI Conservatory teaches multimodal pedagogy in hands-on courses led by industry experts. Film students...

American Film Institute
Los Angeles
  • 2 years, Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $63,575 first year, $65,800 second year
The AFI Conservatory is a paradise for the serious filmmaker, particularly those interested in independent film. Screenwriting fellows at AFI create six full-length works over two years, including three features, an original TV pilot, and two specs for current series. Screenwriting fellows work closely with fellows from other disciplines to bring their visions to life during three cycle films which they will produce during their first year. In the second year, fellows begin to specialize in the area of their choice.

AFI’s program emphasizes a hands-on approach and exposes the writer to every aspect of creating a film or television show. AFI faculty is comprised of working professionals that provide one-on-one mentorship opportunities throughout the two-year program. AFI accepts 28 Fellows each year for their screenwriting MFA and offers an extensive network of support following graduation from the program.

The application process includes an AFI application, narrative statement, resume, two letters of recommendation, and transcripts as well as discipline supporting material. For screenwriting, that material includes 20 pages max of a screenplay in which the applicant is the only writer and a scene for AFI’s prompt. AFI’s admission process includes an interview with faculty.

Read more about AFI’s admission requirements here.

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT)

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT)

UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television teaches film from a theoretical and technical perspective. In 2021, TheWrap ranked UCLA TFT no. 8 in its annual list of the top 50 film schools. And in 2022, U.S. News & World Report named UCLA the no. 1 public university for the sixth consecutive year...

UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
Los Angeles
  • 2 years, Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $17,486 for California residents, $32,598 for non-California residents
UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television MFA in Screenwriting program is another highly competitive program in Los Angeles. The program encourages students to concentrate on writing a well-structured story driven by vivid, compelling characters. The elements of a script are explored through an intensive workshop process which students report as being a highlight of the program. All students take the same foundational courses during the first quarter. After first quarter, the curriculum is highly customizable. Students are able to choose to focus on feature or television writing with the opportunity to take courses in both if they desire. Students report taking anywhere from the minimum 12 credit hours each quarter to upwards of 30+, depending on course offerings, schedules, and availability.

UCLA’s MFA in Screenwriting application is typically one of the first applications due each application cycle. In addition to submitting UCLA’s graduate division application, applicants must submit a statement of purpose, creative portfolio, either a feature-length screenplay, the first 60 pages of a feature-length screenplay in progress, one drama pilot and corresponding series bible, or two half-hour comedy/dramedy scripts, transcripts, an optional creative sample, and three letters of recommendation. UCLA’s admission process also includes a round of interviews.

Learn more about UCLA’s screenwriting MFA requirements here.

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Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television
Los Angeles
  • 3 years, Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $31,776/year
Loyola Marymount’s School of Film and Television is a Top 10 program on the rise and offers two MFA options for the aspiring screenwriter, Writing for the Screen and Writing and Producing for Television. Both programs are three years as opposed to two like most MFA programs.

The Writing for the Screen program begins with the fundamental elements of storytelling and production, then progresses through creating a portfolio of work that includes three feature-length screenplays, one episodic teleplay, and at least one original pilot for television. The Writing and Producing for Television program prepares students for a career in television as writers and showrunners with the first two years of coursework focused on the development of spec scripts, pilots, and long-form teleplays written and workshopped in a writers’ room environment.

LMU prides itself on its third year of study which sets it apart from other programs and is dedicated to professional development with an emphasis on the rewrite. It also focuses on portfolio reviews and pitch rehearsals, and includes regular lectures and workshops with industry professionals. The program cumulates in a Pitch Fest for students.

Both programs require LMU’s graduate application and transcripts (which must be physically mailed to the school), a personal statement, a video recording (done within the application portal – not as a separate file to be uploaded), two letters of recommendation, and creative samples, including a 3-5 page screenplay based on one of LMU’s provided prompts, a feature-length screenplay or teleplay, and either another feature-length screenplay or teleplay or a short story of one-act play. LMU recommends applicants submit the short story or a one-act play option for their second sample and the program requires an interview. In recent years, LMU’s acceptance notices have gone out in late spring, compared to other programs that notify students in late March and early April.

LMU opened its new SFTV state-of-the-art Playa Vista campus near the school’s main Westchester campus in 2018, providing students with a space to focus on their craft and collaborate with students from other disciplines. The school also provides graduate students 18 months of one-on-one industry mentorship following graduation. Learn more about LMU’s admission requirements here.

Chapman University - Dodge College of Film and Media Arts

Chapman University - Dodge College of Film and Media Arts

Rising to number 4 on The Hollywood Reporter's annual rankings of the top 25 American film schools in 2022, Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University offers top-notch filmmaking courses in an intimate learning environment. Notable alumni include the Duffer brothers...

Chapman University’s Dodge College
Orange County
  • 2 Years, Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $23,464/semester
Located in Orange County south of Los Angeles, Chapman University’s Dodge College also offers two MFA program options for writers, Screenwriting and Television Writing and Producing.

The MFA in Screenwriting program is designed to help students develop their unique storytelling voice by exploring story structure and character development. Students learn to write for film, television, and the internet. The MFA in Television Writing and Producing helps students build the skills needed to pursue a career as a television writer/producer. The program actively prepares students for the role of showrunner while both programs emphasis the “business of the business.”

Both programs require a Statement of Purpose, resume, two letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a creative portfolio list. The Screenwriting program requires a transformational moment essay, a narrative scene based on a Chapman prompt, and a screenplay while the Television Writing and Producing program requires a description of a television episode about the applicant’s family, detailing the storyline and setting. Read more about Chapman’s application requirements here and here.

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Pepperdine’s Sever College
  • 2 Years, Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $36,263
Pepperdine offers a two-year MFA in Writing for Screen and Television. The program prepares students to work as screenwriters as well as become “cultural leaders in the entertainment industry” through their values-centric approach. Students in the Pepperdine program prepare a Master’s Thesis portfolio that includes a vocational statement about their approach to screenwriting and a thesis project with either a screenwriting or television emphasis.

Pepperdine’s application process requires the school’s standard graduate application, three letters of recommendation, a script sample of at least 25 pages, a personal statement, an essay discussion goals as a graduate student, and a statement of purpose and intent for writing as a vocation as well as a resume. Read more about Pepperdine’s MFA program admission requirements here.

Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) - Department of Cinema and Television Arts

Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) - Department of Cinema and Television Arts

The Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and Television Arts includes a variety of courses in critical studies, management, production and writing that examines many aspects of film and television. Cal State Fullerton’s MFA in Screenwriting is designed for those “seeking professionally oriented education...

Cal State University, Fullerton
  • 2 years, Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $15, 457/year
Cal State Fullerton’s MFA in Screenwriting is designed for those “seeking professionally oriented education and training in writing for film, television, and interactive media.” The two-year program results in two screenwriting thesis projects. Prospective students can get a preview of curriculum here.

Cal State Fullerton’s application process includes submitting the school’s graduate application and transcripts along with an essay outlining why the program is right for the applicant, two creative writing samples that best showcase the applicant as a writer, and three recommendation letters. The school is open to a variety of writing samples, including scripts, short stories, plays, and other works that showcase the applicant’s talent.

There is both an early and late deadline for Cal State Fullerton’s MFA in Screenwriting, with March 1st as the early deadline and June 1st as the late deadline for that year’s fall cohort. Read more about Cal State University – Fullerton’s admission requirements here.

Stephens College

Stephens College

A low-residency MFA in TV and Screenwriting with the mission of getting more women writing for TV and film.

Stephens College
Los Angeles + Online
  • 2 years, Master of Fina Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $20,390/year
Stephens College is a unique hybrid MFA in TV and Screenwriting that focuses on bringing more female writers into mainstream Hollywood. Students take courses online and come to Hollywood four times for 10-day workshops at Jim Henson Studios during the two-year program. Between workshops, students work one-on-one in a virtual environment with a minimum of four different mentors during the course of the program.

During the first year, students write a feature, a one-hour spec drama, and an original one-hour pilot. In the second year, students focus on writing a second screenplay and completing a thesis project. Throughout the program, students take History of Screenwriting courses and submit a profile of a screenwriter at the end of each semester.

Applying to the Stephens College MFA in Screenwriting program includes submitting an application for admission and transcripts as well as a resume, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a creative writing sample not exceeding 20 pages. Stephens College also offers the Jan Marino Scholarship specifically to women 45 and older, furthering their mission to bring women into Hollywood. Learn more about Stephens College’s MFA program admission requirements here.

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Cal State University, Northridge
  • 2 years, Masters of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $8,500/year
The Cal State University, Northridge MFA in Screenwriting program is an intensive course of study designed for both students seeking careers in screenwriting as well as those looking to teach screenwriting in a collegiate setting. Prospective students can gain further insight into the course curriculum here.

The CSUN MFA application requires an admission application and transcripts as well as a statement of intent explaining why you want to attend CSUN and how the program will aide you as a screenwriter, three letters of recommendation, one of which must be from an undergraduate professor, a work sample in script form (a full-length script is preferred and spec scripts will not be accepted), and an original three-to-four page scene based on a CSUN prompt. Read more about CSUN’s application requirements here.

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New York Film Academy
Los Angeles
  • 2 years, Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Tuition: $15,701/semester
Don’t let the Big Apple name fool you. The New York Film Academy Los Angeles campus offers an MFA in Screenwriting program that recognizes the role writers play in developing film and television shows. The program is designed in a way that prepares students to write to meet deadlines, mimicking the way they will work in a writers’ room. Students also study filmmaking, acting, and editing to ensure they leave the program as well-rounded screenwriters with a full understanding of the craft.

The NYFA MFA in Screenwriting application requires an application for admission, transcripts, creative portfolio, narrative statement, and a letter of recommendation. Learn more about NYFA’s admission requirements here and see full course descriptions here.

Want to know more about these and other MFA programs? Visit’s Film School Rankings and Reviews for reviews on programs by both current students and alumni.

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About author
Sarah is a first-year MFA student in LMU's Writing and Producing for Television program. When she's not developing pilots, she's drinking coffee or whiskey, playing with her dog, cheering on the Tennessee Vols, or doing all the above at the beach.


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