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Which school is better for film: Northwestern or Barnard

yellowzebra

New Member
Hi everyone!

I'm an international high school rising senior who wants to become a director in the industry. I want to study film in college, and I want to attend a school that has internship opportunities with Hollywood industry professionals so that I will be able to network with them for my future career. However, I need full financial aid, so options like USC or NYU are not available for me. I researched film schools that meet 100% of demonstrated need. After my research, I decided that I will apply Early Decision to either Barnard College or Northwestern. But I don't know which one so I would be very happy if you helped. I listed their pros and cons below.

1. First of all, I think that Northwestern has a more focused film major. As an aspiring director, I really liked Northwestern's production courses. They have separate courses focused on editing, cinematography, preproduction, directing and etc. Whereas in Barnard (or Columbia), there are more general production "workshops". Those workshops contain editing, cinematography, preproduction and all but they are not separated. So I believe the production courses in Northwestern will teach me more about the production itself and I will definitely gain more practical experience with filmmaking.

2. Secondly, film courses are Barnard are writing-intensive and rooted in the theory of filmmaking, which is essential for a good director in my opinion. Furthermore, they also emphasize the act of "visual storytelling" and developing a "director's voice". I think that this is really important to be a unique director that has a personal vision, which is eventually what I want. I didn't see that in Northwestern's course descriptions and I am concerned about whether I will be able to develop myself in that area if I attend NU.

3. In Northwestern's website, they say that film majors participate in many internships in LA or NYC to network with industry professionals. They also have great alumni connections and are called "Purple Mafia" in Hollywood. I believe these opportunities are very important to have a job in the industry. On the other hand, I didn't see this kind of thing in Barnard. I couldn't see any descriptions of internships or alumni meetings in their website and I am scared that I might not be able to network via internships if I attend Barnard.

4. One drawback of NU in my opinion is its location. Barnard is in the middle of NYC, an active film industry. Being in NYC as a film student can open many doors for me, especially during the academic year. Many of the Hollywood films are shot in NYC, which are one of the many opportunities. Whereas Northwestern is near Chicago, another vibrant city but not necessarily industry connected as NYC. I don't think I will be able to get internships during the academic year. NYC has many opportunities but being in Evanston I feel like I will miss those connections.

5. I am also thinking about applying to graduate film schools such as USC, AFI, NYU, UCLA and Columbia. Do you think attending either Barnard or Northwestern will affect any of my applications to these graduate schools? I would be very happy if you also noted this.

6. One last note: I didn't apply to either Barnard to Northwestern yet. I want to apply one of them as Early Decision since I need full financial aid and most of the aid is given in Early rounds. But ED is binding, so if I get in I have to go. Which one is a better option for me do you think? I am stuck and I would be very happy if you helped!
 

bwright

New Member
Hi! I just graduated from Barnard as a film major in May, so obviously I am biased and I don't know anything about Northwestern's program, but I can let you know what Barnard was like.

To start, Barnard's film department is slim to non-existent. For all intents and purposes, you are a film major at Columbia, which I really enjoyed. I'm not talking shit about Barnard's program, in fact one of the film professors at Barnard was one of my all time favorites and I took 3 of his classes, but just know that you spend most of your time at Columbia and most of your recs are filled through Columbia's classes and Barnard doesn't really know wtf their film majors are up to ever.

RE production workshops, I screenwrite so those were the only workshops I was ever in, and they are amazing. I have friends who took production workshops at both Barnard and Columbia and enjoyed them, but they are definitely more of the whole package of the process rather than one specific facet. Columbia workshops tend to be taught by graduate students, which I loved (the grad students there are great - one who taught my screenwriting lab ended up winning a prize at Cannes for his short film), and the Barnard production courses are taught by a professor. I would say that you will definitely get opportunities to focus on more specialized things if you really want to - for example, I joined DKA and worked on film sets of friends where I got to do hands on work in different areas. I feel that at either school, though, you should take the opportunity to dabble in all of it while you can, bc I didn't and I wish I knew more about cinematography and editing.

RE classes in general, you're right. I loved the classes at Columbia and Barnard and they definitely did change the way I absorb movies but they are writing intensive. Also watching intensive, you watch films in class and discuss right there in the room (which I would assume most film schools do but idk for sure). I honestly liked almost every single professor I had while there, and personally tended towards film seminars (smaller classes) as I got more confident in my ability to analyze and discuss films. I'm not really that interested in directing but feel that I know a lot about it now just by studying under the guidance of these professors. Also, the professors at Columbia are top of their game (could be the same at NU, I literally have no idea). One of mine always interviewed people at 92Y, so I went to her interviews with people like Jane Fonda and Greta Gerwig for free while I was in her class. I really loved everything I learned there, so I would try and find a current student/alum of NU and ask them what the classes were like.

RE internships, I wouldn't worry about it at either school. Both have strong alumni networks where you'll probably get as much out of it as you are willing to put in. I went to alum media events at Barnard and got linkedin connections and a lot of insight, and through DKA I went to a few speaker series where they bring back alum to talk about their professional journey. Also, in NYC, you will find an internship if you want one. It's kind of shitty to slog through a bunch of crap just to get an unpaid internship, but trust me people everywhere want to hire college kids for no money :) I worked for a film festival for a while but I'm from Austin and have worked remotely for a film company there for about a year and a half now. I had friends with internships at NBC, production companies in Brooklyn, HBO, etc. They're out there! I also haven't taken advantage of the alumni network but when I would go to the alum media events at Barnard, literally all of them said they managed to get jobs through the Barnard network.

To tack onto that RE location, NYC is very fun and full of opportunities but also really crowded and dirty and loud!! I loved it and even lived off campus eventually, but it will definitely be a different college experience than NU. I would consider the location differences on a personal level rather than worrying about what internships you could find at either place. Think about what environment you would like to live in for a few years.

RE grad schools, I would just sort of assume that NU and Columbia are on even playing field?? I haven't applied to grad school yet, but I think at the end of the day you would be applying from a college with an established film program and neither one is going to help you or hurt you.

RE #6 -- I'm sorry I can't tell you which one to apply to. I think you're already thinking about the important things, but as a graduate I would just say that you should really focus on which location you would rather be in (internships aside!!) and what the professors are like. I think hands on stuff you'll be able to specialize in at either school, so the rest of the time you'll want to know what your other classes are going to be like, both work wise and professor wise. I would suggest finding a NU student and trying to get the same lil run down from them. Good luck and if you have any more questions lmk!
 

yellowzebra

New Member
Hi! I just graduated from Barnard as a film major in May, so obviously I am biased and I don't know anything about Northwestern's program, but I can let you know what Barnard was like.

To start, Barnard's film department is slim to non-existent. For all intents and purposes, you are a film major at Columbia, which I really enjoyed. I'm not talking shit about Barnard's program, in fact one of the film professors at Barnard was one of my all time favorites and I took 3 of his classes, but just know that you spend most of your time at Columbia and most of your recs are filled through Columbia's classes and Barnard doesn't really know wtf their film majors are up to ever.

RE production workshops, I screenwrite so those were the only workshops I was ever in, and they are amazing. I have friends who took production workshops at both Barnard and Columbia and enjoyed them, but they are definitely more of the whole package of the process rather than one specific facet. Columbia workshops tend to be taught by graduate students, which I loved (the grad students there are great - one who taught my screenwriting lab ended up winning a prize at Cannes for his short film), and the Barnard production courses are taught by a professor. I would say that you will definitely get opportunities to focus on more specialized things if you really want to - for example, I joined DKA and worked on film sets of friends where I got to do hands on work in different areas. I feel that at either school, though, you should take the opportunity to dabble in all of it while you can, bc I didn't and I wish I knew more about cinematography and editing.

RE classes in general, you're right. I loved the classes at Columbia and Barnard and they definitely did change the way I absorb movies but they are writing intensive. Also watching intensive, you watch films in class and discuss right there in the room (which I would assume most film schools do but idk for sure). I honestly liked almost every single professor I had while there, and personally tended towards film seminars (smaller classes) as I got more confident in my ability to analyze and discuss films. I'm not really that interested in directing but feel that I know a lot about it now just by studying under the guidance of these professors. Also, the professors at Columbia are top of their game (could be the same at NU, I literally have no idea). One of mine always interviewed people at 92Y, so I went to her interviews with people like Jane Fonda and Greta Gerwig for free while I was in her class. I really loved everything I learned there, so I would try and find a current student/alum of NU and ask them what the classes were like.

RE internships, I wouldn't worry about it at either school. Both have strong alumni networks where you'll probably get as much out of it as you are willing to put in. I went to alum media events at Barnard and got linkedin connections and a lot of insight, and through DKA I went to a few speaker series where they bring back alum to talk about their professional journey. Also, in NYC, you will find an internship if you want one. It's kind of shitty to slog through a bunch of crap just to get an unpaid internship, but trust me people everywhere want to hire college kids for no money :) I worked for a film festival for a while but I'm from Austin and have worked remotely for a film company there for about a year and a half now. I had friends with internships at NBC, production companies in Brooklyn, HBO, etc. They're out there! I also haven't taken advantage of the alumni network but when I would go to the alum media events at Barnard, literally all of them said they managed to get jobs through the Barnard network.

To tack onto that RE location, NYC is very fun and full of opportunities but also really crowded and dirty and loud!! I loved it and even lived off campus eventually, but it will definitely be a different college experience than NU. I would consider the location differences on a personal level rather than worrying about what internships you could find at either place. Think about what environment you would like to live in for a few years.

RE grad schools, I would just sort of assume that NU and Columbia are on even playing field?? I haven't applied to grad school yet, but I think at the end of the day you would be applying from a college with an established film program and neither one is going to help you or hurt you.

RE #6 -- I'm sorry I can't tell you which one to apply to. I think you're already thinking about the important things, but as a graduate I would just say that you should really focus on which location you would rather be in (internships aside!!) and what the professors are like. I think hands on stuff you'll be able to specialize in at either school, so the rest of the time you'll want to know what your other classes are going to be like, both work wise and professor wise. I would suggest finding a NU student and trying to get the same lil run down from them. Good luck and if you have any more questions lmk!

Hi! Thank you sooo much for your response it helped so much! I am currently considering applying to Barnard and I would love to talk to you about it even more, about admissions and community in there. Do you have an Instagram? Maybe we can talk through there!
 
I went to Northwestern undergrad for film (or RTVF as it is called there), so while I cannot speak about Barnard, I can talk about NU.

RTVF at NU is entirely what you make of it. You can spend 3-4 years there learning a lot, making the most of your time, or you can slack through it and learn nothing. This applies to those production classes you mention in your point #1. If you only do the bare minimum, you will only come out of them with a basic skillset, probably not enough to stand out. But if you work hard and try to learn the most from them, they can be pretty rewarding. NU's film faculty is surprisingly robust. RTVF had at least one studio veteran and currently has very accomplished filmmakers in the Chicago indie scene. RTVF students should aim to find these professors and make connections with them.

But to make the most out of your time here, those classes are not enough. They only teach you skills of cinematography or color grading or whatever. You only get to be a part of maybe a 1-minute scene. To truly make their own work for their portfolio, students apply for grants. These grants are highly competitive. Being an RTVF student does not guarantee you a grant during your 4 years. You can end your time at NU without a film with a "writer/director" credit to you. So I guess NU is not a school that is focused towards "developing a director's voice" or curating auteurs. But if you are skilled enough, even if you don't get selected for writing/directing a grant film, you'll very likely be selected to crew on one, in above-the-line positions. Below-the-line positions are not competitive; you can crew on as many as you want. (NU students love to overwork themselves.) If you meet a close group of friends, you can also just gang up and make stuff outside of the grant "studio system". Note: there are select classes that operate like grants, with application processes, most notably Advanced Directing, colloquially known as Senior Directing (because only seniors get to take it), and Directing the Sitcom.

You can learn a lot about film theory at NU. NU has cinema studies professors who are very accomplished in academia. Ironically, many of them are not in the RTVF department. They are scattered across the school in humanities departments like English, Asian Languages and Cultures, Comparative Literature, etc. But these classes are amazing and arguably even more worth it than RTVF production classes. (Structuring your degree like this is possible because it is undergrad and your major, whether it's RTVF or not, only takes up half of your required credits to graduate.) That is my personal advice to anyone who is trying to pursue film at an undergrad level: to truly develop your voice, don't limit yourself to film. Take classes in other fields and learn about other things so you can cultivate your unique, individual personality and taste.

The "purple mafia" thing, to my experience at least, is kind of bullshit. NU will feature Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus on every alumni page. But Colbert and JLD are not the people who will hire you. And for the positions of people who will actually hire you in the industry, I don't know whether or not NU has many alumni in them. There are some opportunities that we hear of. NU has an okay internship/job network. It definitely does not compare to the most prestigious schools'. But students don't rely on the school to help them get jobs anyway. And some students do end up with pretty high-profile internships. Again, your undergrad experience is what you make of it. And this is all just coming from my own undergrad experience. I do think there are many NU alums hidden in the industry who I haven't heard about/met yet.

Being in Chicagoland did not affect my experience that much, because it is unlikely for students to work during the school year anyway, and many students fly to LA or NYC during the summer for internships. You can be equally competitive for those big studio internships in LA/NYC. It's true that you will miss out on LA or NYC fall and winter internships. And being closer to the industry will help, though I cannot speak to how much it will.

I am going from NU to graduate film school. Since both Barnard/Columbia and NU are such famous, reputable schools (Barnard arguably more so in liberal arts), both will look good on your CV. Having an okay to great GPA will help. One of the most important parts of applying to those schools is the short film you submit. I don't know if Barnard will provide you with opportunities to make that film or not. I applied to grad school with a grant film I made at NU.

Please feel free to ask me about more stuff!
 
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