Frequently Asked Questions
How does Columbia differ from other film schools?
One of the things that differentiates Columbia from 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. This isn't simply because so many of our famous graduates have been writers as well as directors; 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 program is the only such program that is founded on the principle that the best producers are fully versed in directing and screenwriting.
Another 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.
Can I shoot a project on film?
Yes. After coursework is completed, Screenwriting/Directing students may choose to shoot both thesis and non-thesis projects on film.
How long is the program? Can I study part-time?
The Screenwriting/Directing program 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 program is a three-year program.
There is no part-time study available.
Is the Film MFA Program collaborative or highly individualized?
The School of the Arts Film MFA Program stresses collaboration at every level. Rather than foster an atmosphere of intense competition, the program supports filmmaking itself as the best model for collaboration, collegiality, and a supportive artistic environment. Built into the program in the first year is a collaborative effort, "the 5–10 minute film," 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 Costa Brava, Lebanon, American Splendor, Boys Don't Cry, and Dare are only a few of the writer/director teams that have risen from our ranks, and the makers of Padre Nuestro, Messengers, Dear Lemon Lima and Kettle of Fish are examples of Columbia alumni director/producer teams.
What classes are offered the first year?
Students take Directing, Screenwriting, Directing the Actor, Role of the Producer, The Elements of Dramatic Narrative, and Fundamentals of Directing, among others.
What are you looking for in the application? What part matters most?
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.
How many students are there per class?
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 72.
Must I have studied film as an undergraduate?
No, many of our students have undergraduate degrees in areas completely unrelated to their graduate studies.
If I apply to the Creative Producing program, will I be able to take directing or screenwriting courses?
During the first year of full time study, Creative Producing students take the same core classes as students in the Screenwriting/Directing program, including directing, screenwriting, producing, and history/theory/criticism. After the first year Creative Producing students can take screenwriting and television writing classes as electives, but cannot take directing classes.
How many students apply and how many are admitted?
In a typical year, we receive approximately 600–700 applications for the Film MFA Program, and an average incoming class is 48 students in the Screenwriting/Directing program and 24 students in the Creative Producing program.
What are the requirements? Should I submit a film?
Please see the Admissions page here for the Creative Materials Requirements for applicants for the MFA.
Do I need to have an academic background in film studies?
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.
What equipment does the School of the Arts have (cameras, editing, etc.) and what sort of access will I have to it?
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.
If I am in the Screenwriting/Directing program, when do I need to declare a concentration (Screenwriting or Directing)?
At the end of the first year, Screenwriting/Directing students are asked to declare one concentration. However, students may change their concentration (provided they have completed the required course work) up until the middle of their second year, when they will be asked to confirm their concentration so that they may be assigned thesis advisors.
If I apply to the Screenwriting/Directing program, will I be able to take producing courses?
After the first year, Screenwriting/Directing students can take some producing classes as an elective if there is space available.
Can I switch between Programs/concentrations?
Students may not change Programs (i.e. Film to Visual Arts, Theatre to Writing) but must begin the application process anew.
Within the Film Program, students may not change between Creative Producing and Screenwriting/Directing. Screenwriting and 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 an advisor.
Can I hold a part-time job while I take classes?
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.
Is there financial aid available?
Columbia University School of the Arts and Columbia University Student Financial Services work carefully with students to arrange the financing of their degrees. Limited scholarships are available to Film & Media Studies MA students. 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.
How do I apply?
You apply using the online application, where you will provide your personal information and all supporting materials. Please see the Admissions and Financial Aid page for information.
Can I apply for spring admission?
The School of the Arts welcomes applications for the fall semester of each year only; no students are admitted for the spring semester.
Can I be enrolled in more than one program?
You may only enroll in one degree program at a time, even if you are accepted into more than one. The only exception to this is the joint JD/MFA Theatre Management and Producing Program.
Can I schedule an interview to discuss my candidacy?
All interviews are scheduled at the discretion of the committee; you will be contacted directly if an interview is requested.
Is there student housing available?
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.
When and how will I find out if I have been accepted to the MFA Program?
Please see the Application and Admissions Policies page for information on notification of admission.
How do I check the status of my application?
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.
Can I apply to more than one program?
Yes. Please see the Application to Two Programs section of the Application and Admissions Policies page.
What if my recommendations or transcripts are sent directly to the Admissions Office and not included in my primary online application?
Please see the Admissions page for all information on materials submission.
Can I speak with a faculty member or current student? Sit in on classes?
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.
Is there printed information for the programs offered by the School of the Arts?
Are campus visits and/or tours available?
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 Visual Arts Program offers tours of facilities during the academic year; please see this page for more information. No other programs offer departmental tours, however, Columbia University offers full campus tours daily. Please see the Visitor Information page for schedules. Virtual tours of School of the Arts facilities are available below.
My undergraduate degree is in something unrelated to what I want to study at the graduate level. Does that make a difference?
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.
How do the Admissions Committees view graduate work and/or professional experience?
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.
How do students pay for their degrees? Is there financial aid available? How do I apply for it?
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.
What is the current tuition?
Tuition for the current academic year is detailed here. Please note that this amount is likely to increase each year.
Does the School of the Arts provide portfolio or application material review?
The School of the Arts unfortunately does not provide portfolio or application material reviews.