USC Cinematic Arts - Writing for Screen & Television (MFA)

Degrees Offered
2 Year M.F.A.
Concentrations
Animation & Digital Arts, Writing for Screen & Television, Screenwriting
Tuition Range
$20k to $30k
Alumni
5.00 star(s)
Campus
5.00 star(s)
Career Assistance
5.00 star(s)
Equipment
5.00 star(s)
Coursework
5.00 star(s)
Professors
5.00 star(s)
Financial Aid & Scholarships
3.00 star(s)
Pros
  • faculty faculty faculty
  • course flexibility
  • incredible TV alumni network
  • talented and motivated peers
  • industry internship accessibility
  • student diversity
Cons
  • not totally a con, but self care is important while in any intensive program
  • scholarship opportunities exist, but expect to have student loans
I completed USC's MFA screenwriting program in 2018. I'm beyond happy with the education and mentorship I received. Within two months of graduating, I landed my first industry job as a showrunner's assistant on a Netflix drama series. Most of my peers (a total of 32 in my year) are currently employed – a handful in development, a few with features or TV pilots optioned, multiple TV staff writers (yes: multiple, right out of the gate), and a good number of assistants in TV writers' rooms (for shows on Netflix, the CW, CBS, ABC, and more). This follows in the footsteps of the year above mine.

These friendships are what I value most from my time at USC – we're reading scripts and giving notes in writers' groups, we're meeting up frequently for drinks and events, and we're landing each other interviews, connections, and jobs. Working in LA is never easy, but goals feel so much more attainable when surrounded by talented people striving for the same thing. Having intelligent friends who are eager to vouch on your behalf is a further reassurance.

The classes themselves were challenging and rewarding. I pursued a TV thesis track, but I'd say my classmates were split nearly 50-50 between TV thesis and feature thesis. We were forced to write many pages very quickly, and doing so was a crash course on how to generate content and develop a routine. USC allows for some course flexibility – I took a few production classes and was accepted into a size-capped mock writers' room class. The class developed and wrote a four-episode web series, which was produced, filmed, and edited by a companion production department course. We were able to build a large set on one of USC's sound stages, too, so we obtained solid set experience.

Peers of mine took courses on gaming, podcasts, idea pitching, editing, film analysis, directing comedy, interactive media... choral music... so while many courses in the track are solidified for you (for good reason), there is ample room to still forge your own path through the program. The curriculum also includes a business class your second year (covers management, agencies, entertainment lawyers, contracts, IP, fellowship applications...). Frequent lectures by successful screenwriters and producers were also helpful, most of which were only available for MFA screenwriters to attend (i.e., plenty of face time to ask questions and pick brains). Professors also invited working writer-friends to visit classes throughout each semester (and, while at public events asking for contact info is a HUGE no-no, these individuals often wanted to pass along their email addresses to connect further).

While some drawbacks to the program can include cost (there are great scholarship opportunities, but many students ended up without significant aid... the up-side is that the program's only two years), I would choose this program again in a heartbeat. As with any program, your enjoyment of any given class is dependent on other students and on whether you vibe with a professor. Professor diversity is also important to me, so I was personally happy to have an LGBT-identifying professor my first semester. Strides have been taken in recent years to increase diversity among professors even further, I believe. My classmates were an incredibly diverse group, too, which was one of the program's highlights for me.

Final note: the amount of MFA alumni who are working in TV is actually insane. The TV program at USC is pretty innovative (spec courses, pilot courses, pilot re-write courses, structure courses), and everyone in my class who graduated in pursuit of a TV writing career felt very prepared. The program also gave us face-to-face access to successful alumni or other mentors through various end-of-program events (some of which aren't even publicized on USC's website).

I would say my fingers hurt after writing such a lengthy review, but THEY DON'T. Thanks, USC, for preparing me for this moment.
Reviewer
Alumni
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Septopus7
Septopus7
This review is so good, it's making me seriously jealous I likely won't attend! Thanks for being so through with your post, though!
panda
panda
Thank you! Working in TV is grad school 2.0 for me. Just always keep up the pursuit.
F
faeya
I am elated for you (obv!) but i need help and advice panda-chan!! I'm thinking of applying for mfa screenwriting later on so can i hit you up in the dms for some light convo? or an email is fine too!!
Pros
  • esteemed faculty
  • talented cohort
  • successful mentors
  • guest lecturers
Cons
  • easy to question your skills when compared to successful cohort (big fish, big pond)
  • not much flexibility with the 2-yr program (for writer/dir/producers)
  • compartmentalized
It's tough to rate the pros and cons, since I'm still early in Writing program.

I will say that the benefits of being in LA, in a prestigious program, with working professionals as professors and mentors far outweigh any anxiety about tuition or eventually making it as a working writer (tongue-in-cheek).

I was personally apprehensive about being at a private school in the land of the "super-fake", where everyone's scheming to exploit you (I'm from the Midwest). I originally favored the NY schools because I wanted to be a "pure writer" and focus on developing my "voice", but USC SCA provides that by vouching for you and your talents.

And luckily, the screen/tv writing program isn't cutthroat... but our guest visitors and lecturers never hesitate to remind us that the industry can be a tough nut to crack. And the cohorts bring a wide array of talent and experience. A lot of lessons that would take years to learn alone in the industry are expedited through the decades worth of experience shared.

Plus, let's be honest: It's USC film school. Even though there are other GREAT programs out there to choose from, The Industry is out here and there's a lot of Trojans making big moves. It's highly encouraging to know that many alumni are finding success in various facets. From being staffed within years of graduation, to linking up with other students to develop pilots, web series, and short films.

Yet, with only one semester to "judge/review", it seems like each program is compartmentalized. We spend a lot of time writing, while the other depts. focus on their projects. The writing program is only 2 years, while the production program is a 3yr MFA and they admit in the spring for their program too. There's probably more chances to collaborate later on, but there's also value in distinguishing yourself first and working on your individual craft.

All in all, I feel like I'm in the best program to help prepare me for a long career in film/tv. Even the cons are valid for specific reasons. There's no perfect program out there, but USC definitely makes sure to challenge you, while also preparing you for a long career. I'm much more confident in this program, LA, and producing good content.

(feel free to ask more specific questions if this is still too vague)
Reviewer
Current Student
Last edited by a moderator:
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