Perhaps not the best fit for all, but the perfect path for some, screenwriting and film training programs can offer a structured curriculum, mentorship, and guidance under the watchful eye of seasoned faculty.
Embarking on a training program is a tremendous investment, both in terms of time and resources, and the program you choose — be it a BA, BFA, MFA, Certificate, or Ph.D. — should be a personal match for your goals, learning style, and values. For most, that means a dedication to developing the individual in an equitable and inclusive environment, which is why this list features programs chosen for their dedication to pursuing a variance of viewpoints, including ethnic, racial, and gender identity as well as academic rigor and notable diverse alumni.
While this list is not exhaustive, it’s a great jumping-off point for anyone who wants to develop their craft within the structure of a conservatory or MFA program.
Best for: Playwrights/Screenwriters, Multidisciplinary Writers
Boasting a seventy-year history with a well-known Creative Writing MFA program, Ohio has sprouted a creative writing haven in the American heartland. Ohio University is one of the first universities in the country to offer a Creative Writing Ph.D., with many alumni slotted into tenure-track jobs and high-profile writing rooms.
Alumni have gone on to write for AMC, Netflix, SYFY, PBS, and Marvel Studios, with work featured on stage and screen from New York City to the U.K., and most recently in Disney’s RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON. Making the jump from a creative or playwriting discipline to the screen may not seem organic, but screenwriting greats like Aaron Sorkin note:
“For me, there isn’t that much difference. The difference is that with a play you can’t direct the audience’s attention with a camera, you have to do it with language.” (Playbill, 2016)
Best for: Multi-Hyphenates
Located in one of upstate New York’s most walkable areas, known for its proximity to Onondaga Lake and #3 on Money Inc’s “Best Places to Live In Upstate New York,” Syracuse showcases a vibrant campus life and noteworthy film training program.
While Syracuse doesn’t offer a screenwriting degree, it does house a multidisciplinary film training program with faculty who have premiered films at Sundance, Shanghai International Film Festival, Black Maria Film Festival, Lisbon International Film Festival, and Interfilm Berlin.
Syracuse is great for the screenwriter/producer/director/actor/auteur, as the program takes a holistic industry approach with an eye towards independence and originality. Syracuse has a robust Diversity and Inclusion Program: and the city itself ranks #1 in Onondaga County for diversity.
Best for: Comedy Nerds
Despite its Ivy league auspices, Harvard University has been responsible for the fomenting of America’s silliest genius minds, hailing from on-campus hilarity at the Harvard Lampoon and breathing life into such comedies as THE OFFICE, PARKS AND RECREATION, BEST IN SHOW, and THE CONAN O’BRIEN SHOW, just to name just a few. Harvard has guided writers from THE SIMPSONS to GOOD WILL HUNTING, game-changers in drama and comedy alike, to success on screens big, small, and streaming.
With a history dating back to 1636, unparalleled name recognition, and a president dedicated to addressing systemic issues and racial animus in the broader global community, Harvard has a proven history of fostering screenwriters who have made a mark on the industry and is positioning itself to continue that legacy by meeting the needs of the future.
Best for: Cinephiles, Purists, Networkers, and California Dreamers
Notable Alumni: Literally too many to name. View the full list here.
The University of Southern California is practically synonymous with the industry writ large, and its rigor and largess go far beyond simple proximity.
USC is an interdisciplinary training program that connects creators that rank among the film pantheon (names such as Lucas and Spielberg), and faculty that have worked on CRAZY RICH ASIANS and MAD MEN to the next generation of world-class filmmakers and writers for film and television. USC promises:
”…classes across seven divisions that cover the breadth of film, television, and interactive media. They are exposed to the latest technological advances and storytelling techniques of the industry and have opportunities to meet and network with some of its most successful practitioners.” — USC School of Cinematic Arts Overview
Additionally, the school provides a unique opportunity based on its location: being in the heart of Los Angeles, USC helps to offset the phenomena known as “location bias” which can often disenfranchise qualified talent outside sunny California. Attending USC not only creates an opportunity to learn from industry leaders but also to connect with like-minded creators and producers who can help introduce you to the next step in your career.
Best for: Classicists, Game-Changers
For those who’d like to follow in Scorsese’s footsteps, literally and figuratively, a trip to New York to continue education is essential. Not only is NYC the most diverse city in the nation, but NYU has also been a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion for students from a wide range of backgrounds.
NYU offers classes that dissect the nuts and bolts of technical screenwriting, as well as provides courses that boost students’ professional EQ, working towards a comprehensive understanding of writing, developing, and selling a script.
What’s more, NYU’s proximity to the Tisch School of the Arts, Columbia, Juilliard, and Yale promises a casual view of the next Katherine Hahn or Anthony Mackie in their latest on-stage assignment, a nice bonus for writers who value the classics and love to create actor-centric screenplays.
Find Your Future Alma Mater
It’s important to research your future program to ascertain that its location, curriculum, and faculty are a match for your goals, so don’t be afraid to reach out to admissions as a prospective student, or utilize services such as Grad School Match or Niche. Your future school may not be on this list at all, with illustrious programs being offered nationwide at amazing campuses like Drexel, Chapman, Loyola Marymount, AFI, and Emerson, just to name a few.
Whichever path you choose, whether pursuing a degree or jumping right into the industry, know that developing auxiliary skills in addition to your assignments (time-management, networking, seeking out mentors, and crafting a sustainable work-life balance) is essential — what’s more essential is practicing your craft:
“Screenwriting is like any other muscle. You have to train it. And the other thing about writing is: you’re not going to get worse by writing more — you’re only going to get better.” – John Zinman
We’re looking for college students who are ready to take the next step in their screenwriting career! Enter the WeScreenplay College Screenwriting Competition now!
Joshua Noble is a Puerto Rican writer, actor, and producer based in Los Angeles, California. In addition to his career in TV and film, he is a founding producer of The American Playbook, a series of conversations and new works highlighting historically underrepresented voices, and currently serves as Director of the National Actors’ Retreat. Joshua received his MFA from the Yale School of Drama.