My film school (application/selection) Odyssey


New Member
I just recently graduated from a high school in Maryland, and will be majoring in film at Syracuse University. The road I took to Syracuse was probably as complicated as it gets, as I had the impression I'd developed about film schools from books and discussion boards shaken up almost immediately when I started to look at them in a new light, as an applicant or accepted student. This is a pretty long an exhaustive post, and I wouldn't blame you for tuning out half way through, but I hope you get something out of it.

I wasn't a great student in high school. I did OK as a freshman (3.14), but collapsed sophomore year (2.28), and wound up applying to colleges with either a 2.78 or a 2.82. I got a 1910 on the SAT (640 verbal/520 math/760 writing). I had great EC's though, as I was the film critic on our award-winning paper (I was the only one asked to write for it as a sophomore), president of the film club, played JV and Varsity baseball, and did Model UN a couple years. Most importantly, though, I had done great, competitive programs over the past couple summers at SVA (screenwriting, 3 weeks), Chapman (Duke Talent Identification Program: Reel Expressions, 2 weeks), and Emerson (film prod., 5 weeks), and had some top-notch reccommendations. It is important to know that I am a real cineaste: my favorite filmmakers are Nicholas Ray, Godard, Fritz Lang and Abbas Kiarostami, and I am more interested in studies than production.

I applied to NYU (studies), Emerson (film major), CalArts (prod.), USC (studies), SVA (film major), Syracuse (film major - school of visual and performing arts), University of Tampa (film major), Suffolk (studies), UW-Milwaukee (film - college of visual and performing arts), Chapman (studies), UNC-Wilmington (film major), San Francisco State (film major), SCAD (film major), Columbia College Chicago (studies) and Colorado-Boulder (studies), getting into all but the first four.

The first major event in the application process was my unofficial interview at NYU, my dream school (they don't do interviews for film, or at least not film studies). It went unbelievably well, we talked film for what must have been two hours, and I left confident, but still knowing, of course, that they likely would not admit a student with a GPA under 3.0. Still, I kept hope alive, only to be rejected by my top two schools, NYU and Emerson, on the same day, December 15.

What followed was a seemingly endless tour of schools I'd gotten in to, none of which I was terribly excited about. I had gotten into Tampa and Milwaukee, but they were safeties, though Tampa has a budding program and Milwaukee is highly acclaimed, especially for it's independent approach to instruction and practice. I later got into UNC-Wilmington and SCAD, and my experience with those two was enlightening.

-- UNC-Wilmington is a great place for aspiring filmmakers, as the city is now the third most popular production spot in the country after LA and NYC. They have a great program that evenly blends studies and production, with two whole buildings devoted to the film department (a real rarity). One aspect of the program that did not appeal to me, though, was a film student's having to take a full year of courses in the college of arts & sciences before entering the major. I don't want to come off as someone who ONLY wants to do film and doesn't care to broaden his horizons, but I feel that I suffered long enough without it in HS and now I would at least like a little taste of my passion my first year in college. Overall, though, I still reccommend it highly based on that visit.

-- SCAD is a mixed bag. Before I sat in on a class, it really appealed to me. The city is unbelievable, with its stunning architecture, metropolis-like variety of nightlife, swooping willow trees, waterfront and thriving arts scene. The film school is only for certain tastes, though. They will provide you with the best equipment and some top-notch instruction, but I thought it might as well be a trade school, as they hardly stress film studies at all, the school's library is comprised almost wholly of artistic articles, and there isn't so much an academic feel to it as there is the desire to just make something cool.

Immediately after that visit I received a flurry of notifications: rejection from CalArts, acceptances from Suffolk, SF State, SVA, Columbia College and Colorado. Before I discuss my visit to to Colorado and experience with SVA in detail, here are my thoughts on Suffolk, SF State and CCC from having thoroughly researched them. I don't want this to sound bitter, but I really think I wouldn't have gone to CalArts anyways, seeing as its very animation-focused, and only has something like 900 students.

-- Suffolk's film program unfortunately lurks in Emerson's shadow (they're within shouting distance of one another in Boston), but the curriculum looked very enticing. I believe they only offer a film studies degree, and I liked that it was very academically focused. I never really considered it, though, because, like I noted above, I wasn't super psyched about being in Emerson's shadow for four years.
-- SF State is a program I had my eye on since sophomore year. consistenly ranked among the top 15 programs in the country, they have produced a littany of successful screenwriters (Steven Zallian) and directors (Joe Carnahan), despite the program's experimental focus. I was turned off by the sheer size of the school, but the film program, which has become more and more dynamic, now a major player in the narrative and documentary fields, really seems excellent.
--Columbia College has a lot to offer, but it still didn't feel like enough. I didn't really want to pursue film studies at a more technical school, and I think they admit something like 95% of applicants, which not only dilutes the quality of the program, it makes it even harder to stand out.

-- I then visited Boulder. It is a beautiful, exciting school with as much to offer as any school in the country, I'm sure of it. The film program is excellent, and I was happy with my decision to apply for studies over production, though the production latter really is quite good. The film facilities are housed in the brand new ATLAS building, which meant the screening rooms and production facilities were top-notch. The film professors are published scholars, and the legendary experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage tought there for over 20 years. Boulder was one of my final three.

When I was at Boulder, I received via e-mail my acceptance to Syracuse, which floored me. It was a huge reach, as you might expect for someone with my grades, especially since the film program in the college of visual and performing arts (VPA) aims for a class of about 25 film students, I'm told (when I visited a professor said there were 91 metriculating). When I got home, I got the most meaningful acceptance of all - Chapman, another collosal reach, though I was admitted on academic probation (nothing major, just achieve a 2.0 your first semester). This is where things got messy.

I had been reading some pretty awful things about Syracuse film, especially in this forum, but those rumors were easily dispelled when I visited. First, though, I went to Chapman, while on spring break.

I hold the two-week Duke at Chapman program as one of the greatest experiences of my life. As you have probably heard from reading these forums, or seeing for yourself, Chapman's facilities are second to none. They put many professional studios to shame. I heard that they turn away 4.0 students on the regular, so my great experience with the program (where I made my first film), coupled with my being a huge long shot, had me freaking. Turns out I was also in for one of the biggest dissappointments in my life. All of you prospective applicants who fawn over Chapman in this forum, please take note.

I met with a professor at Chapman who I had talked to before. I sat down with him. He asked what program I was in. I said film studies. He laughed, and told me, literally, that the program is a joke. According to him, the program cannot keep professors because they either are terrible, or leave after a short stint because they are over-qualified. He said the school does not care about the program, that they only have film studies so they can list in the catalogue and compete with other top film schools. I recently saw in a fbook group that Chapman just cancelled the graduate films studies degree; go figure.

But here are some other points that extend throughout the entire film school and the university. He said that Chapman students are incredibly superficial (it is in the middle of Orange County) when it comes to film, that they cannot STAND to watch black and white films, that the incredible technology at their disposal encourages them to think increasingly less artistically and instead go the Michael Bay route. He also said that the school is dead on weekends, as a large amount of students commute and there is very little social life at night.

In summation, if you're thinking about going to Chapman over NYU, USC, UCLA, what have you, I think you're out of your mind.

Devastated, I was forced to go to cross Chapman off my list, which left just Boulder, SVA, and Syracuse. Things were not looking good. Syracuse was the best school I got into, and I had been hearing awful things about it. So I had to visit.

Needless to say, all the hating on this forum and on college confidential seemed to be totally baseless. I loved it. True, their equipment is ancient compared to Chapman and USC, but I personally believe that a real film education is about studying the history of the medium, gathering as much knowledge as possible to craft great stories, and writing and reading often to enhance one's storytelling ability; if you can wield a camera and use Final Cut and Avid (taught at Syracuse), not having used a more expensive camera will have been inconsequential. The professors are great, Syracuse has its own international film festival, the program is fiercely artistic, it has a near perfect balance between studies and production, and, to top it off, my current favorite director, Kelly Reichard (who teaches at Bard and made "Wendy and Lucy" and "Old Joy"), was speaking to the VPA film students a couple days after I was to leave. That, combined with the school's ideal size (13,000 undergrad, almost perfectly in between liberal arts school and state school), amazing sports and social life had me narrowing my list to Cuse and SVA.

-- I had gone to SVA for 3 weeks after my sophomore year, and let me tell you, it's the hidden gem of the film school universe. Located in the epicenter of NYC, the School of Visual Arts boasts facilities that I can't imagine any east school school can best. Their professors are the most knowledgeable that I have encountered. They recently bought their own movie theater in Chelsea. They have an annual awards ceremony that's featured the likes of P.Diddy, Bryan Singer, Wes Craven, Arthur Penn and Kevin Kline, among others. It is a terrific school, which made my decision impossible. Posts that ask whether he or she should go to SVA or CCC, or something of the like, just make me angry. It should be up there with the very elite.

As you know, I ultimately went with Syracuse. I was not sure that I wanted to live in NYC for four years in a school that makes it hard to meet people because it really only owns buidlings for classes and dorms, or pay $50,000/yr for a strictly film education. Syracuse had more to offer in terms of social life, sports (who doesnt want to go to the Carrier Dome for four years?), a more diverse education, and its the best film school within 250 miles, whereas SVA isn't the center of attention in New York. Also, my two best friends, one from MD and one from California, are going, and I'm rooming with my friend from home.

I suppose nothing extraordinary happened over the course of the seven months, but I think its pretty illustrative of what goes on in one's mind as they decide between these schools that are all so different. Choosing a film school is totally unlike choosing a school if you're just planning on studying arts & sciences, which my friends still can't comprehend, with the millions of extra factors you must weigh. Perhaps this could be helpful because many students applying to film schools do not have a flawless GPA, like myself, but can still scour the market and exercise every option, as I did. I hope this was helpful.


Well-Known Member
He said that Chapman students are incredibly superficial (it is in the middle of Orange County) when it comes to film, that they cannot STAND to watch black and white films, that the incredible technology at their disposal encourages them to think increasingly less artistically and instead go the Michael Bay route.

Well, i´ve got a little problem with this post. i dont go to chapman, i dont really care one way or another about chapman, but the wording of this little paragraph in particular bothers me.

generalizing all chapman students or X or Y is ridiculous, and its location (in orange county!!) is a total straw man, seeing as being in orange county has nothing to do with being stupid or superficial, unless you are trying to play on stereotypes, which is pretty silly.

regarding black and white films ... matthew lessner (chapman alum) had a black and white short, By Modern Measure, play in the Sundance short film program in 2008. So.

also, Michael Bay has made about $150 million from the transformers movies. so, while mindless and stupid, the Michael Bay route is also pretty darn lucrative.


Well-Known Member
This is really long and I didn't read it because I didn't see a question, so I went to where this part was.

But I would be very suspect of any professor that badmouths his own institution, students, and faculty.

I'm not sure what to think. I'd hate to think of my professors speaking of me/my program in this way, and I have a hard time believing this professor did so.

ALL THE person's opinion shouldn't have turned the program into "DEVASTATION." Students shouldn't just take one person's word for it, on this forum or in person.

Do your own research, people.


New Member
I promise you, the professor did in fact say that, thats his personality, hes very funny and very frank, and I knew him personally prior to the meeting


Well-Known Member
No one is doubting the validity of your story. They are doubting your judgment in basing your entire reason for dismissing a school on the opinion of a single person.


Staff member
After reading a large amount of your post, it feels like that professor has some serious hate of Chapman for matters unknown. I am entering Chapman as an editing fellow and met up with some students who have spent a year there already. I heard nothing but the best from these guys and ESPECIALLy nothing about having no tolerance to watching black and white films. There are always professors that aren't that good and some that are amazing, but in the end, don't base you decision based on one person.


Well-Known Member
I doubt this happened, I can't help it. What professor would do that?

Also, if it did happen, then I wouldn't trust that professor, because this is some of the most unprofessiorial and unprofessional behavior I've seen.

No matter what, I would need more than just this guy's tirade to devastate my dream.


New Member
Excellent, generous post. I had no plan to join this site, but wanted to say thanks. Best wishes to you in your studies. I'm sure the info you posted will help others in their search/process.

color soup

Well-Known Member
I think its important to remember that you are just getting your bachelors in film; not to undermine the credentials, but i dont think that your first four years are as crucial as graduate school. Obviously, this will piss a loto of people off because education is a case-by-case basis, but I would not place as much signficance on a level of education where you can switch your major every day if you would like.


Staff member
sadly enough that is extremely true for most cases. Only a rare few "majors" require your bachelor to match their masters program of choice.

As seen in many of the applicants to the film school as well as many other school, these applicants range from bachelors in film all the way to criminal justice. I look at undergrad as a system that taught me different things, but not really the things that will guarantee how my education will go.
personally, go easy on this OP's post. I feel some good info and some biased ones. So take more time and spend more research on different schools from more than 1 person.


Personally, it sounds like the OP is trying to make him/herself feel better about his/her choices by coming up with reasons why the other schools are lacking. And that's perfectly okay. I understand, I spent the two weeks after choosing schools justifying my decision as well. Just realize, anyone who is reading this for advice, that self-justifying people are not exactly unbiased and this is probably *not* a good source for fair and balanced film school info. It's in your best interest to do more research but especially visit the schools and talk to the professors yourself to make your own decision.

selena hill

New Member
This is interesting! I've made a few campus visits and selecting an appropriate college is often an overwhelming task. Apparently, scientists from the University of California, LA, found in a recent study of freshman students that price is a huge factor in university selection. It should be. Tuition is going up along with debt loads and unemployment for recent grads.
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