Home Industry 11 Best Schools for Screenwriting in America [For 2023]

11 Best Schools for Screenwriting in America [For 2023]

by Natasha Ferguson
Best Screenwriting Schools in America

Congratulations, you have decided to pursue a career in screenwriting! But like many industries, screenwriting is a competitive one. It can be beneficial to have a formal education in the craft to stand out from the crowd.

So, we have collated the top eleven best schools for screenwriting in America to help you separate the wealth of programs and opportunities available to you. You do not necessarily need to be located in Los Angeles anymore to secure a great screenwriting degree and experience. In fact, you may be able to stay right where you are and study from the comfort of your own home!

Most of the colleges that made this list offer Master of Fine Arts degrees, so you may need to study a Bachelor of Fine Arts first in a relevant subject such as Creative Writing or Film before making the leap. However, do keep an eye on our list; as you will see, more programs are appearing for undergraduates.

If you are still weighing up whether a film degree is right for you, check out our previous post: Is a Film Degree Really Worth It? (For Working in Film)

It is time to spotlight some of the best screenwriting degree programs out there:

1. University of Southern California

Based in LA, the University of Southern California is a popular choice amongst aspiring screenwriters, its screenwriting program is one of the most renowned in the world.

Programs Offered

USC offers students both a Bachelors’s and Masters’s degree, both named Writing for Screen and Television. The BFA is a total study time of four years whilst the MFA is two years.

Both programs are extremely competitive with only around 3% of applications being successful.

Alumni

Some big names in the screenwriting world have graced the halls of USC, including Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice), Chris Terrio (Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, Justice League, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice), David Goyer (The Dark Knight, Terminator: Dark Fate, The Sandman) and Bryan Fuller (Star Trek: Discovery, Heroes, American Gods).

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

  • Cinematic Communication
  • Story: Character, Conflict and Catharsis
  • Writing the Screenplay
  • Advanced Screenwriting: The Relationship Screenplay
  • Senior Thesis
  • Foundations of Comedy
  • Writing the Original Dramatic Series Pilot

Check out their site here.

2. University of California, LA

Another Los Angeles-based university; UCLA is again a common choice for budding screenwriters. With this popularity comes a low acceptance rate of 4% for their MFA in Screenwriting.

Alumni

Some recognizable names include David Koepp (The Mummy, Angels & Demons, War of the Worlds), Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Dune, The Insider), Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Dark, The Walker) and David S. Ward (Sleepless in Seattle, The Sting, Flyboys).

Modules Offered

Include but not limited to:

  • Introduction to Film and Television Writing
  • Viewing and Reading Media
  • Cinema and Media Studies

Film Track

  • Advanced Screenwriting Workshop
  • Adaptation for Screen
  • Advanced Screenwriting Workshop (Rewrite)

Television Track

  • One-Hour Drama Pilot Workshops
  • Half-Hour Comedy Pilot Workshops

Find out more here.

3. Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Chapman University

Situated in California, Dodge College offers a four-year BFA in Writing for Film and Television and a two-year MFA in Screenwriting. Dodge College prepares its students to “create characters and worlds that resonate with audiences, craft stories alongside other writers and use their skills and connections to break into the film and television industries.”

Dodge College’s MFA prides itself on preparing its students for the “business of the business” and the practicalities of working as a screenwriter in the film and television industries. Usually, this is where many writers struggle, so this may be an excellent option if you are keen to learn more about the business-side of screenwriting.

Alumni

The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things, Hidden, Vessel) and Ben York Jones (Like Crazy, Ashes in the Snow, Newness) all attended Dodge College.

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

BFA

  • Writing for Film and TV
  • Introduction to Visual Storytelling
  • Short Film Analysis
  • History of Film to 1960
  • Pitching and Coverage
  • Writing from Research
  • Industry Insiders
  • Writing for Video Games
  • Agents and Managers

MFA

  • Writing for Evolving Platforms
  • Screenwriting Intensive
  • Film Script Analysis
  • Production Workshop
  • Feature Screenwriting
  • Research for Screenwriters
  • Independent Internship
  • Thesis in Screenwriting

Discover Chapman here.

4. Columbia University

Columbia offers a two-year dual MFA in Screenwriting & Directing which gives students an insight into how the two disciplines work together. So, if you are looking to be a writer/director, this could just be the program for you!

Alumni

Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker, Detroit), Simon Kinburg (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Sherlock Holmes), Christina Lazaridi (Nobody’s Watching, Roza of Smyrna, Coming Up Roses) and James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line, Girl, Interrupted) all attended Columbia.

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

  • Directing
  • Elements of Dramatic Narrative
  • Screenwriting I & II
  • Role of the Producer
  • Screenwriting III & IV, Fundamentals of Editing
  • Script Revision
  • Business of Television
  • Story Structure
  • Intro to Cinematography
  • Advanced Feature Writing
  •  Advanced Pilot Writing
  • Advanced Screenplay Revision

You may notice that Columbia also covers modules on the film industry, covering the roles of Directors and Producers alongside Screenwriters. This can provide valuable context on how the screenwriter works within the industry and the collaborative nature of the film industry.

Keen to find out more about Columbia University’s program? Click here!

5. American Film Institute

Offers a two-year MFA in Screenwriting which sets students up to develop their writing skills as well as attend workshops to meet and collaborate with other writers.

Alumni

American Film Institute has nurtured some extraordinary talent including Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, Charlotte’s Web, In Her Shoes), Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files, The Man in the High Castle, Devils) and Jacqueline Hoyt (CSI, The Good Wife, The Defenders).

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

  • Introduction to Cycle Production
  • Narrative Workshop & Analysis
  • Writing the Adaptation
  • Writing the TV Pilot
  • Directing for Screenwriters
  • Running the Show: Writing for TV Week-to-Week
  • History of Dramatic Writing

If you are a lucky member of an AFI cohort, you will work towards a degree portfolio of three feature scripts, two TV spec scripts and one original pilot.

Is the American Film Institute where you will be studying? Find out by clicking this link.

6. Boston University

Situated in Massachusetts, Boston University’s two-year MFA in Screenwriting gives students a writer’s room experience, collaborating and learning from their peers. Across the two-year degree, students work towards a seven-script portfolio which consists of two feature-length screenplays, two shorts, a spec hour-long TV script, a spec half-hour TV comedy, and an original TV pilot complete with a series bible.

Alumni

Boston has seen some successful writers pass through its MFA. Corinne N. Brinkerhoff (American Gothic, Jane the Virgin, Elementary), Scott Rosenberg (Venom, October Road, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle/The Next Level) and Allan Folsom (Desperate Intruder, Hart to Hart, Untamed Frontier) are just a few!

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

  • Writing Television Situation Comedy Scripts
  • Script to Film
  • Screenwriting I & II
  • Writing Episodic Drama for Television
  • Genre for Screenwriters
  • Script Analysis
  • Screen Adaptation
  • Writing the TV Pilot

With its unique structure, the Boston Screenwriting MFA bases its last semester in LA where students focus on the Rewrite and Career trajectories. What an opportunity to see and experience the heart of America’s film industry!

Does this sound like your kind of degree program? Discover more here.

7. Emerson College

Emerson College has the most unique residency split of any degree program on our list. Their two-year MFA in Screenwriting combines online coursework with a one-week residency for students at the start of each semester.

During their time on the MFA, students work towards a portfolio which includes short scripts, feature scripts, a television spec, an original television script, and a pilot or feature script alongside critical essays so students can reflect deeply on their work.

Alumni

Jay Leno (The Tonight Show, Family Comedy Hour, Jay Leno and the American Dream), Henry Winkler (MacGyver, So Weird, Dead Man’s Gun) and Denis Leary (Sex & Drugs and Rock & Roll, Sirens, Rescue Me) were all educated at Emerson College.

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

  • Writing for Short-Form Media
  • Film Genres
  • The Writer’s Room
  • Writing Series Television
  • Writers in Development
  • Feature Film Writing
  • Television Genres
  • Thesis

Residencies:

  • Storytelling & Writing Short Script
  • Series Television Writing.
  • Long-Form Writing
  • The Business of Screenwriting.

Click this link to find out more about this distinctive degree program.

8. University of North Carolina

The University of North Carolina is one of the only universities on our list that offers both a BFA and an MFA in Screenwriting. Students in the four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts work towards a completed script of choice, followed by a polished outline for another. Onto two-year Master of Fine Arts, students will complete the degree program with a portfolio of three to four finished scripts.

The BFA is a very different animal from other programs available across America; across years one and two, students work on the fundamentals of writing, producing, and directing and put together a portfolio. After the first two years, this portfolio is reviewed by the university to determine each student’s place on the screenwriting program. It could be decided that your skill set is better suited to another discipline.

Alumni

Many talented writers have been through the University of North Carolina’s doors including Travis Beacham (Pacific Rim, Carnival Row, Electric Dreams), Brett Haley (All Together Now, And Then I Go, The Hero) and Jeff Nichols (Long Way Back Home, Loving, Midnight Special)

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

BFA

  • Fundamentals of writing, directing, producing (after which a portfolio review of your work will be required to determine your place on the screenwriting program, or another discipline deemed best suited to your skill set)

After the portfolio review, you will move on to:

  • Working with classic genres to hone screenwriting skills and exploring styles and formats.
  • Adaptation to the Screen
  • Career strategies
  • Action plans

The final year of the BFA program is a very practical one, designed to prepare students in navigating the film industry.

MFA

  • Fundamentals of Cinematic Storytelling
  • Cinema Studies
  • Advanced Cinematic Storytelling
  • Portfolio Development
  • Electives from across the film school

Is the University of North Carolina your first choice? Find out here.

9. New York University

Situated in Manhattan, soak up the bright lights and culture of the Big Apple with New York University’s degree programs. Just like our previous selection, the university offers either a four-year BFA or a two-year MFA in Dramatic Writing.

Alumni

New York University has been a popular choice for screenwriters over the years. Donald Glover (Atlanta, Guava Island, Funny as Hell), Kenneth Lonergan (Gangs of New York, Manchester by the Sea, Howards End) John Fusco (The Wind and the Reckoning, The Highwayman, Marco Polo) all certainly have had successful careers since graduating!

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

BFA

  • Craft I
  • Forms of Drama
  • Expository Writing
  • Playwriting I
  • Screenwriting I
  • Film Survey
  • Episodic Writing
  • TV Survey
  • Shakespeare for Writers
  • Fundamentals of Filmmaking
  • Advanced Writing Workshop
  • Professional Colloquium

MFA

  • Introductory Writing classes in playwriting, screenwriting, and episodic writing as well as text analysis, production, and training classes.
  • Advanced writing classes toward a master’s thesis.

You will notice that New York University’s programs include all areas of dramatic writing, so if you are still figuring out which discipline you want to go down, whether it be playwriting, radio, or screenwriting (or all of them!), this could be a good choice for you!

Fill your boots with more information here.

10. Loyola Marymount University

It is your lucky day! Loyola Marymount University is another institution offering both a BFA and MFA. The four-year BFA in Screenwriting and three-year MFA in Writing for the Screen is certainly sound choices for any budding screenwriter.

Alumni

Alumni such as Brian Helgeland (Legend, 42, Robin Hood), Francis Lawrence (Gotham, Slumberland, The Hunger Games Franchise), Glen Morgan (The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Final Destination 1 and 2) and Winifred Hervey (Half & Half, In the House, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) all secured their writing education from Loyola Marymount.

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

BFA

  • Storytelling for the Screen
  • Beginning Screenwriting
  • Write Movie, Change World
  • Feature Screenplay
  • Writing the Comedy TV Series Spec
  • Developing & Writing Short Film
  • Directing for Screenwriters
  • The TV Writers Room

MFA

  • Production Fundamentals for Screenwriters
  • Elements of Feature Screenwriting
  • Advanced Motion Picture Script Analysis
  • Writing the Feature Screenplay
  • Writing the Drama TV Spec Series
  • Rewriting the Feature Screenplay
  • Advanced Feature Screenwriting, The Business of Entertainment
  • Rewriting the Advanced Screenplay
  • Thesis Screenplay Project
  • Feature Film and Television Portfolio Workshop

You may notice that just like some of the other selections in our list of degree programs, Loyola Marymount emphasizes getting to know the workings of the film industry in its modules. Additionally, the university focuses on the rewriting of scripts and their students honing their skills to the best they can be.

Discover more about the undergraduate program at Loyola Marymount here. If it is the graduate program you’re looking for, click here.

11. Pepperdine University

Another Los Angeles-based university, Pepperdine is the final entry on our list, but is by no means our last choice!

Their two-year MFA in Screen and Television Writing allows students to create a Thesis Portfolio (two full-length screenplays or two TV pilots and two 30-minute teleplays or any combination of three works). Students also have the opportunity for an industry internship. Hands-on experience is the perfect addition to traditional classroom education and helps you get to grips with the film business and how screenwriters fit into it.

Alumni

DJ Caruso (xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Redeeming Love, Standing Up), Blaine Chiapetta (A Big Fat Family Christmas, Most Likely to Murder, Deadly Assistant) and Chad Creasey (NCIS, Castle, Mistresses) all graduated from Pepperdine.

Modules Offered

Included but not limited to:

  • Writing for Screen and Television
  • The Storyteller as Cultural Leader
  • Topics in Writing for the Market
  • Writing Comedy
  • Writing Film Genres
  • Writing Adaptation

Take a look at Pepperdine’s program here.

How Do I Decide Which Program and University is Right for Me?

So, there we have it!

Eleven fantastic universities with even more programs on offer for aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers.

But the burning question is definitely “how do I choose which one is right for me?”. You will need to do your own research into which faculty and program are going to be right for you and your individual goals within the industries.

You may wish to focus solely on the fundamentals and theory of screenwriting, honing the craft. Ultimately you want to be the best writer possible. All of the degree programs we have discussed are going to help you do that, no matter their content.

Or, you are seriously considering screenwriting as a career and so need to have an awareness of the film and television industry as a business. Selling screenplays and collaborating with a larger cohort of filmmakers can be daunting, but an introduction to these matters in a less pressured, academic space can prove extremely useful when you are beginning to forge your career.

Screenwriting degrees can also open the doors for internship opportunities that you may not have access to otherwise. Of course, you can find and apply to internships outside of degree programs. We have done some of the research for you. Check out our Top 5 Screenwriting Internships for Aspiring Writers!

Another consideration is where you want to be located whilst completing your degree. Are you keen to work from where you are or are you happy to relocate if you are not local to your university of choice?

If you are not looking to relocate, Emerson College’s low-residency degree program may be the right one for you. Be aware that all of the work is completed online with only a little face-to-face contact with your tutors and peers. If you crave and work well in a collaborative environment, this may not work for you.

Weigh up your priorities in order and make your decision based on practicalities as well as your goals. Take a tour of your top choices: can you see yourself living and working here? Get a vibe for your surroundings; if your gut is saying “no way!” then it is probably right.

We hesitate to mention money, but finances are a huge factor in students making a decision on the university. None of the options available are cheap and it is a huge investment for anyone to make. Check out the funding resources open to you and carefully consider the costs involved with each of your top choice universities.

If you do decide that university is not the path you want to go down, never fear! There are several other options available to you including screenwriting books, online resources and shorter courses that can teach you the fundamentals.

There are hundreds of successful filmmakers out there who did not go to film schools, such as Christopher Nolan, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson, and look at the fantastic careers they have had! So, your screenwriting journey is in no way over before you have started.

The beauty of the film industry is that there are many paths and possibilities on offer, and a degree program is just one of them. Keen to get a head start? Make sure to keep up to date with our Celtx blog site where we regularly post writing tips and industry know-how.

Good luck with your university applications! Go forth and write!

Author

  • Natasha Ferguson

    Natasha is a UK-based freelance screenwriter and script editor with a love for sci-fi. In 2022 she recently placed in the Screenwriters' Network Short Film Screenplay Competition and the Golden Short Film Festivals. When not at her desk, you'll find her at the theater, or walking around the English countryside (even in the notorious British weather)

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