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Columbia U or AFI for Film Directing?

y0shek

New Member
Long time lurker on the site here! Hi!
I have the wonderful situation to have been accepted to both Columbia University Directing/Writing as well as AFI. I've had one short french-language film distributed that won several awards at smaller film festivals. Made a micro-micro budget feature a long time ago but it didn't do too well at the festivals.

Here are my considerations:

Cost:
  • Columbia is crazy expensive and it is 3 years. 60k a year just for tution, and probably another 40k a year for living (super cheaply). Luckily they gave me a scholarship of 20k per year off of tuition, which brings the total from 300k down to 240k... still crazy expensive, but they said they rarely give scholarships like this to anybody, so it makes me feel wanted. Spreading the cost over a long time period is better, because Columbia offers the option to teach undergraduates starting in the second year, where a substantial amount of that money can be paid off or forgiven during school, or so I am told.
  • AFI is also crazy expensive and it is 2 years. Since I was accepted off of the waitlist, there's no scholarship money for me. Apartment rental prices in that area are about the same as NYC, maybe a little cheaper, but having to pay health insurance for both years I'd probably go on Cobra and end up paying an extra 12k or so along with rent. All in all it will probably equal out and be about 200k, maybe a bit less. No internships, and definitely no time to moonlight here. Factoring in everything, I'd say the cost will probably be about the same.
Resources:
  • I expect Columbia will have more resources in general, being the third highest endowed university in the US at $10 billion from their alumni in every field, the likes of Barack Obama. It, along with Yale, are considered the best fine-art schools of the Ivy league, Columbia for performing and film arts, and Yale for painting and sculpture. I read on these forums it was pretty run down about five years ago, but that they've revamped the facilities, bought new cameras, equipment, etc. I don't actually know if the films are self-financed or if they get you in connection with investors. They have a big enough network to find media money in NYC.
  • AFI is small but it has connections. I've heard it is run down and the equipment is pretty funky for being in the top 3. I'm also a bit worried about having to fundraise for my projects. I know they give a few thousand dollars for each of the cycle projects, but I've heard some people come up short trying to get funding for their thesis and end up self-financing. They have a big enough network to help find money in LA, so this surprises me.
Network:
  • I expect Columbia to be weakest here, even though they have been killing it recently at film festivals. I read that Columbia was the most represented school in 2018 at Cannes and Sundance, and they won narrative film at the student Academy several times over the last five years, but I'm not so sure fesivals are the main proving grounds for getting future work in the industry anymore, now that everything is going towards streaming and the big players are the tech companies from my neck of the woods in Silicon Valley. I have heard the alumni network is really friendly.
  • This is where AFI will really excell. It's in the middle of LA, very well connected, and the name / alumni association gets you pretty far. The producing and cinematography departments seem to be where AFI really excels, but they definely have a longer list of Oscar winners than Columbia in all categories - including writing and directing - being so intimately tied to AFI Fest and the Oscars. (Several of their faculty are members of the academy.) I don't know how friendly the alumni network is.
Education:
  • Columbia is a big, old, prestigious school. They have amazing and distinguished faculty, all-around. Their English creative writing department is often cited as the very best in the English-speaking world. I feel like Columbia is probably one of the best "story" schools there is. I feel like the skills I would acquire here would be more applicable to life in general than just to filmmaking like say, pitching an idea or delivering a speech. I tend to think I would get an amazing education, but that I wouldn't get the industry experience here because the connections wouldn't be as big.
  • AFI is an apprenticeship to get your foot in the door. It didn't even give out accredited MFAs until pretty recently (90s). It is a fast-track into the industry and some of the grads go directly into directing or ADing big productions. The education would be master classes with very famous working directors, and learning how to navigate a set with industry titans hovering about (maybe?) I'm a little struck that AFI has such a hands-off approach and apparently you don't get tons of mentorship the first year - that comes more in the second year. I could see where this would be good and bad - good to have the freedom to experiment, bad if your films fall flat and nobody is around to help you. Also, there is the possibility of not being succesful enough or liked enough to do the second year. They thin the heard for the second year and I would hate to be stuck with about 100k in debt and no thesis to show for it. I'm a bit concerned about the high turnover in the faculty. The last dean was only there for a year or two and now there are two interim deans as they search for a replacement. The cinematography and producing departments have a stellar reputation, and if I was going for either of those disciplines I would pick AFI hands-down. Also, the head of Directing went to Columbia, and in our interview (without knowing I had another interview lined up for Columbia) he specifically spent about 5 minutes praising Columbia's program compared to USC and NYU.
I want to direct films. That's where I've had success up to this point and I feel pretty confident doing that. I also have an interest in writing, but I feel like I have a lot to learn there and I want to surround myself with classmates who know what they are doing there. I sort of feel like having a general storytelling education is really worth something from Columbia, but so is having a door straight into the industry at AFI.

The good and bad pieces tend to balance out for both schools pretty neatly for me, with a slight edge for Columbia, but I'm not sure I can weather the winters in NYC coming from balmy NoCal. Anybody have any thoughts about either of these schools and my chances in the industry, quality of my education coming from either? AFI wants me to decide by Monday whether or not to take their offer.

Please let me know if I got anything wrong about either school. It's been such a whirlwind of research and I could be very mistaken about anything I have written.

Thanks ahead of time
 
Long time lurker on the site here! Hi!
I have the wonderful situation to have been accepted to both Columbia University Directing/Writing as well as AFI. I've had one short french-language film distributed that won several awards at smaller film festivals. Made a micro-micro budget feature a long time ago but it didn't do too well at the festivals.

Here are my considerations:

Cost:
  • Columbia is crazy expensive and it is 3 years. 60k a year just for tution, and probably another 40k a year for living (super cheaply). Luckily they gave me a scholarship of 20k per year off of tuition, which brings the total from 300k down to 240k... still crazy expensive, but they said they rarely give scholarships like this to anybody, so it makes me feel wanted. Spreading the cost over a long time period is better, because Columbia offers the option to teach undergraduates starting in the second year, where a substantial amount of that money can be paid off or forgiven during school, or so I am told.
  • AFI is also crazy expensive and it is 2 years. Since I was accepted off of the waitlist, there's no scholarship money for me. Apartment rental prices in that area are about the same as NYC, maybe a little cheaper, but having to pay health insurance for both years I'd probably go on Cobra and end up paying an extra 12k or so along with rent. All in all it will probably equal out and be about 200k, maybe a bit less. No internships, and definitely no time to moonlight here. Factoring in everything, I'd say the cost will probably be about the same.
Resources:
  • I expect Columbia will have more resources in general, being the third highest endowed university in the US at $10 billion from their alumni in every field, the likes of Barack Obama. It, along with Yale, are considered the best fine-art schools of the Ivy league, Columbia for performing and film arts, and Yale for painting and sculpture. I read on these forums it was pretty run down about five years ago, but that they've revamped the facilities, bought new cameras, equipment, etc. I don't actually know if the films are self-financed or if they get you in connection with investors. They have a big enough network to find media money in NYC.
  • AFI is small but it has connections. I've heard it is run down and the equipment is pretty funky for being in the top 3. I'm also a bit worried about having to fundraise for my projects. I know they give a few thousand dollars for each of the cycle projects, but I've heard some people come up short trying to get funding for their thesis and end up self-financing. They have a big enough network to help find money in LA, so this surprises me.
Network:
  • I expect Columbia to be weakest here, even though they have been killing it recently at film festivals. I read that Columbia was the most represented school in 2018 at Cannes and Sundance, and they won narrative film at the student Academy several times over the last five years, but I'm not so sure fesivals are the main proving grounds for getting future work in the industry anymore, now that everything is going towards streaming and the big players are the tech companies from my neck of the woods in Silicon Valley. I have heard the alumni network is really friendly.
  • This is where AFI will really excell. It's in the middle of LA, very well connected, and the name / alumni association gets you pretty far. The producing and cinematography departments seem to be where AFI really excels, but they definely have a longer list of Oscar winners than Columbia in all categories - including writing and directing - being so intimately tied to AFI Fest and the Oscars. (Several of their faculty are members of the academy.) I don't know how friendly the alumni network is.
Education:
  • Columbia is a big, old, prestigious school. They have amazing and distinguished faculty, all-around. Their English creative writing department is often cited as the very best in the English-speaking world. I feel like Columbia is probably one of the best "story" schools there is. I feel like the skills I would acquire here would be more applicable to life in general than just to filmmaking like say, pitching an idea or delivering a speech. I tend to think I would get an amazing education, but that I wouldn't get the industry experience here because the connections wouldn't be as big.
  • AFI is an apprenticeship to get your foot in the door. It didn't even give out accredited MFAs until pretty recently (90s). It is a fast-track into the industry and some of the grads go directly into directing or ADing big productions. The education would be master classes with very famous working directors, and learning how to navigate a set with industry titans hovering about (maybe?) I'm a little struck that AFI has such a hands-off approach and apparently you don't get tons of mentorship the first year - that comes more in the second year. I could see where this would be good and bad - good to have the freedom to experiment, bad if your films fall flat and nobody is around to help you. Also, there is the possibility of not being succesful enough or liked enough to do the second year. They thin the heard for the second year and I would hate to be stuck with about 100k in debt and no thesis to show for it. I'm a bit concerned about the high turnover in the faculty. The last dean was only there for a year or two and now there are two interim deans as they search for a replacement. The cinematography and producing departments have a stellar reputation, and if I was going for either of those disciplines I would pick AFI hands-down. Also, the head of Directing went to Columbia, and in our interview (without knowing I had another interview lined up for Columbia) he specifically spent about 5 minutes praising Columbia's program compared to USC and NYU.
I want to direct films. That's where I've had success up to this point and I feel pretty confident doing that. I also have an interest in writing, but I feel like I have a lot to learn there and I want to surround myself with classmates who know what they are doing there. I sort of feel like having a general storytelling education is really worth something from Columbia, but so is having a door straight into the industry at AFI.

The good and bad pieces tend to balance out for both schools pretty neatly for me, with a slight edge for Columbia, but I'm not sure I can weather the winters in NYC coming from balmy NoCal. Anybody have any thoughts about either of these schools and my chances in the industry, quality of my education coming from either? AFI wants me to decide by Monday whether or not to take their offer.

Please let me know if I got anything wrong about either school. It's been such a whirlwind of research and I could be very mistaken about anything I have written.

Thanks ahead of time
First of all congratulations on being accepted to two of the most competitive schools! They are both amazing schools and I'm sure either of them will open many doors for you.
I would just like to point out a small error in Columbia's tuition. On the third year, there are no classes and you spend time working on your thesis. I don't know the exact amount, but the tuitions are supposed to decrease dramatically from the first two years.
 

y0shek

New Member
Hi filmschool0,
Thanks so much for the congratulations! I didn't know that about the third year, so that really puts things into perspective and makes Columbia even stronger. Thank you!
Josh
 

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