Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. After coursework is completed, Screenwriting/Directing students may choose to shoot both thesis and non-thesis projects on film.
The Screenwriting & Directing concentration requires two years of coursework followed by one to two years to complete thesis projects. Degrees must be completed within a maximum of four years.
The Creative Producing and Writing for Film & Television concentrations are three-year programs.
There is no part-time study available.
No, many of our students have undergraduate degrees in areas completely unrelated to their graduate studies.
One way in which Columbia differs from other schools is the emphasis placed on story. In the School of the Arts Film Program, storytelling – whether in a screenplay, a director's storyboards, or a producer's log line – is seen as the basis of the entire art form. By concentrating on storytelling, we “future-proof” our students, because story remains essential regardless of changes in platforms and technology. Good storytelling can scale down to the size of a webisode, and scale up to the size of a studio blockbuster.
Another difference between Columbia and other top film schools is the importance placed on the "total filmmaker." All incoming students must take classes in writing, directing, and producing as well as history, theory, and criticism. We believe that the cross-pollination that occurs when students see the medium from a variety of perspectives is invaluable, eye-opening, and makes for better, more sophisticated filmmakers.
The Creative Producing concentration is the only such program founded on the principle that the best producers are fully versed in directing and screenwriting.
Similarly, the Writing for Film & Television concentration is unusual among graduate screenwriting programs in allowing students to hone their skills in directing and producing as well.
The School of the Arts Film MFA Program stresses collaboration at every level. Rather than foster an atmosphere of competition, the program supports filmmaking itself as the best model for collaboration, collegiality, and a supportive artistic environment. The capstone of the program’s first year is a collaborative effort, "the 5–10 minute film," which is a collaboration of first-year writer, director, and producer teams.
The success of the program in this regard is a proven fact. The creators of American Splendor, Boys Don't Cry, and Costa Brava, Lebanon are only a few of the writer/director teams that have emerged from the Columbia Film program. The makers of Joyland, Porno, and Kettle of Fish are examples of Columbia alumni director/producer teams.
We are looking for the best, most articulate expression of exactly who you are, communicated in each part of the application. Each part should be viewed as an opportunity to distinguish yourself, your talents, and your specific viewpoints.
In studio classes (directing, writing, etc.) there are no more than 12 students per class. In lecture courses, the number of students per class ranges from 30 to 70.
Students take Directing, Screenwriting, Directing Actors, Role of the Producer, Elements of Dramatic Narrative, Ethics and Inclusive Storytelling, Practical Production, Tech Arts, and Fundamentals of Directing.
In 2021, we received over 800 applications for the Film MFA Program. An average incoming class is 72 students.
During the first year of full-time study, Writing for Film & Television students take the same core classes as students in the Screenwriting & Directing and Creative Producing concentrations, including directing, screenwriting, producing, and history/theory/criticism. After the first year, Writing for Film & Television students can take some producing classes as electives, but cannot take directing classes.
During the first year of full-time study, Creative Producing students take the same core classes as students in the Screenwriting & Directing and Writing fFor Film & Television concentrations, including directing, screenwriting, producing, and history/theory/criticism. After the first year, Creative Producing students can take some screenwriting and television writing classes as electives, but cannot take directing classes.
Students in the program have entered with a wide variety of interests and backgrounds ranging from art history to film history to curatorial work to business. The program is designed to deepen knowledge and familiarity with contemporary issues in film history and theory, as well as new media theory. An academic background in some aspect of film and/or new media will undoubtedly benefit your application.
Every MFA student must take at least one course in Film & Media Studies (FMS) during the first two years of study. MFA students planning to apply for teaching assistantships should take two FMS courses. MFA students may continue to take any classes in Film & Media Studies as electives, space permitting.
During the first year of full-time study, Screenwriting & Directing students take the same core classes as students in the Writing fFor Film & Television and Creative Producing concentrations, including directing, screenwriting, producing, and history/theory/criticism. After the first year, Screenwriting & Directing students can take some producing classes as electives.
Students may not change Programs within the School of the Arts (i.e. Film to Visual Arts, Theatre to Writing) but are free to begin the application process anew, should they wish.
Within the Film Program, students may switch between Creative Producing, Writing for Film & Television, and Screenwriting & Directing only by formally reapplying with the general population, before the end of their first semester. If they are accepted to the new program, they may switch and retain their first-year credits; if not, they will remain on their original path. There is no guarantee of acceptance.
Screenwriting & Directing students who have fulfilled all the coursework requirements of another concentration may switch concentrations during Research Arts matriculation, if:
- there remains a minimum of a full semester prior to graduation in which to develop thesis work in their new concentration.
- the student demonstrates a compelling reason to change concentration. NOTE: If a student has already participated in a thesis class or completed work that would already qualify them for graduation, the request to change concentration will most likely be denied.
- the student obtains the consent and signature on a Change of Concentration form, of: (1) their current advisor (2) the Head of the Concentration they are leaving and (3) the Head of the Concentration they wish to enter into.
If the concentration change is permitted, the student will be assigned a new advisor.
During the first year, students shoot all work on digital video. Columbia provides cameras, tripods, sound kits, lighting kits, etc. A digital media lab is available for students to edit twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In the second year, Screenwriting & Directing students will continue to use this equipment, though they may elect to shoot their thesis projects on film. Students in the Creative Producing and Writing for Film & Television concentrations do not direct after the first year.
At the end of the first year, Screenwriting & Directing students are asked to declare one focus for their remaining work in the program. However, students may change their preference (provided they have completed the required course work) up until the middle of their second year, when they will be asked to confirm their preference so that they may be assigned thesis advisors.
The first two years of coursework are very intensive so you will need to plan carefully and organize your time well in order to be able to work while you study. Schedules are assigned to students and they should prepare for a Monday-to-Friday, full-time commitment with classes that begin at 10 am and, some nights, may run until 9 pm.
Columbia University School of the Arts and Columbia University Student Financial Services work carefully with students to arrange the financing of their degrees. Film & Media Studies MA students are ineligible for need-based institutional aid from the School of the Arts. In rare cases, Film & Media Studies MA students may be compensated for teaching assistant and/or research assistant positions. Please see Financing Your Degree for information and important financial aid application procedures and deadlines.
The School of the Arts welcomes applications for the fall semester of each year only; no students are admitted for the spring semester.
All interviews are scheduled at the discretion of the committee; you will be contacted directly if an interview is requested.
Columbia University Apartment Housing consists of a limited number of apartment shares, dormitory-style rooms and a very limited number of one-bedroom, studio and family units for which priority is given to couples and families. This housing is primarily located within walking distance of the campus in the Morningside Heights neighborhood.
Applications for Columbia University Apartment Housing are made only after a student has been admitted, and are handled by the University Apartment Housing (UAH) Office. Please see the Housing page for more information.
You can check the status of your application and supporting documents, including letters of recommendation, by going to the Status page in the online application. You will be able to view all documents processed thus far. This page will be updated periodically. Application materials that are not submitted through the online application system make take up to two weeks to be updated on your application checklist.
If you are interested in meeting with a faculty member from the program to which you are applying, please speak to the Admissions Office. However, please note that due to the volume of applicants, faculty members may not be able to meet with prospective students. We are happy to arrange for you to speak with a current student who can give you insight into the School of the Arts program in which you're interested, campus life and living in New York City. Please email [email protected] or call 212-854-2134 to schedule an appointment.
Unfortunately, it is not possible for prospective students to sit in on classes.
Columbia University offers full campus tours daily. Please see the Visitor Information page for schedules.
School of the Arts admissions representatives are happy to meet with prospective students to discuss programs and admissions policies and procedures. Please email [email protected] or call 212-854-2134 to schedule an appointment.
The School of the Arts receives applications from students with a wide variety of undergraduate backgrounds. Applicants do not need to have a comprehensive academic background or extensive professional experience in their field, but they must demonstrate familiarity with major issues and artists.
While the School of the Arts does not require applicants to have an advanced degree or professional work experience, applicants who do are certainly considered positively in the review process, and such achievements may enhance their candidacy for admission.
Columbia University School of the Arts and Columbia University Student Financial Services work carefully with students to arrange the financing of their degrees. Loan packages, fellowships, scholarships and other options are available for eligible students. Please see Financing Your Degree for information and important financial aid application procedures and deadlines.
The School of the Arts unfortunately does not provide portfolio or application material reviews.
The Film MFA Program offers a robust suite of Digital Storytelling courses, beginning in the second year. In addition, Film is home to the world-renowned Digital Storytelling Lab, which designs stories for the 21st Century, building on a diverse range of creative and research practices originating in fields from the arts, humanities, and technology.
Students own their own work; Columbia does not take a copyright or ownership position on any film developed or produced by students. There are other graduate film programs which fund student work entirely, and retain the copyright in exchange for that. By contrast, Columbia does not fund student work (except by helping students to access production grants and finishing funds), and does not retain copyright. Nor does Columbia have any copyright or ownership over scripts or treatments written in the program.