The 10 Best Animation Schools in the US

Going to school to study animation is a great way to hone technical skills while exploring creative desires. 

Having a Bachelor of Arts or Masters of Fine Arts in animation sets graduates apart from others in this highly competitive field, increases earning potential, and proves one’s artistic and technical expertise. 

The animation industry includes a broad range of careers, from creating children’s television shows, developing video games, designing immersive virtual reality experiences, and much more. 

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for special effects artists and animators is $77,000, over twice the average for all careers. 

While all other occupations are projected to grow an average of only 8% from 2020 to 2030, the job outlook for careers in animation is far better, with an expected growth of 16% in the same timeframe. 

In order to prepare to enter the professional animation industry, aspiring animators should attend a school that offers extensive, state-of-the-art technical facilities, a broad range of internship opportunities, and connections to a network of highly-skilled industry professionals.  

The methodology for this list is an aggregation of other ranking lists on animation schools. Essentially, we observe where each program ranks in other publications, then determine every school’s average ranking across all lists. 

Additionally, all of the source articles we used to determine this ranking are posted at the end of this article.

Here are the 10 best animation schools in the US.

10. University of California – Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television – Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television was ranked first in the country among public schools for its outstanding animation program, according to Animation Careers Review.

The school’s MFA Animation Program, commonly referred to as the UCLA Animation Workshop, is known as one of the best programs of its kind worldwide. 

Only about 12 students per year are admitted into the Workshop, making this program extremely competitive. 

Founded by William Shull, a former animator for Disney, the Workshop adheres to his basic “one person, one film” philosophy, enabling the individual creator to have total control over every aspect of the animated film they create. 

The program’s faculty includes accomplished animators like Chuck Sheetz, Emmy award-winning animation director for The Simpsons, and Doug Ward, former character layout artist and animation timer for King of the Hill.

9. Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)

Carnegie Mellon University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Carnegie Mellon’s Integrative Design, Arts and Technology Network, also known by the acronym IDeATe, synthesizes technical expertise and the creative arts to support research, education, and practical endeavors relating to the two interrelated fields. 

IDeATe offers undergraduate minor programs in eight areas: Game Design, Animation and Special Effects, Media Design, Sonic Arts, Design for Learning, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Intelligent Environments, and Physical Computing.

The Animation and Special Effects program, produced through collaboration with the Robotics Institute, allows students to study animation through both technology and art, forging connections between the technical skills and the creative element involved in this field. 

Students have access to state-of-the-art facilities across the many courses and collaborative projects. IDeATe’s multidisciplinary approach to animation studies allows students to learn how to create realistic computer animations and apply this knowledge to a number of different contexts.

8. Academy of Art University (San Francisco, CA)

Academy of Art University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Academy of Art University has been ranked #2 for best animation masters programs in the US, according to Animation Career Review’s 2021 list. 

The university claims to be the only animation and visual effects school that teaches its courses in a real studio production environment. Their facilities feature over 200 individual workstations, a state-of-the-art virtual lab, access to a green screen, and more.

The Remote Lab, or “rLAB,” at the School of Animation and Visual Effects allows students to access visual effects software from their own devices, creating infinite opportunities to carry out their studies without any need to purchase expensive, high-tech computers. 

Students at Studio X, the school’s animation studio, have contributed to notable films such as Fruitvale Station and Beasts of the Southern Wild. 

In 2015, Academy of Art alumna Alyce Tzue won numerous awards for her animated short film called “Soar,” including the Gold Medal Student Academy Award.

7. Pratt Institute (New York, NY)

Pratt Institute
Jonathan Bowen, Pratt Institute main building, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Pratt Institute was ranked #8 on the list of top animation schools in the US, according to Animation Career Review’s 2021 list.

Pratt’s Department of Digital Arts offers two different degree programs: the Digital Arts BFA and the Game Arts BFA. 

The Department emphasizes the importance of creating an empathetic, inquisitive, and socially responsible learning environment through small class sizes and one-on-one mentorship by knowledgeable faculty members.

Students pursuing the Digital Arts degree can choose an area of emphasis in either 2-D Animation, 3-D Animation and Motion Arts, or Interactive Arts.  

Home of the Digital Arts program, Myrtle Hall offers Pratt students access to nine state-of-the-art digital studios, an audio recording studio, multiple 2-D and 3-D printers, studios reserved for use by graduate students, a dedicated green screen facility, and more. 

6. School of Visual Arts (New York, NY)

School of Visual Arts
Beyond My Ken, SVA East 23rd, CC BY-SA 3.0

The School of Visual Arts promises to provide its animation students with an immersive, hands-on educational experience through their four-year Animation BFA program. Students in this program may choose to work with traditional, stop-motion, or digital animation. 

Past SVA students have worked on animation projects for several notable non-profit organizations and public service entities, including UNESCO, UNICEF, and Ted-ED. 

Located in Manhattan, the school offers students proximity to many eminent institutions, future employers, and a network of successful alumni. 

The school also has strong professional connections to alumni-owned Plymptoons, Titmouse, and Augenblick studios, in addition to many independent animators who live and work in the city. 

These relationships offer students internship and part-time employment opportunities. 

5. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)

University of Southern California
EEJCC, Gwynn Wilson Student Union, University of Southern California, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Southern California’s John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts offers animation students many different options to explore. 

These include 2-D and 3-D character animation, stop motion, documentary animation, projection mapping, interactive installations, and motion graphics.

Degree programs include both a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Masters in Fine Arts, in addition to minors in 3-D animation, animation and digital arts, and science visualization.

USC also encourages animation students to take advantage of opportunities to work on interdisciplinary collaboration projects with students from the School of Cinematic Arts, the Thornton School of Music, the Kaufman School of Dance, and any of the school’s many other programs. 

The university offers both BFA and MFA programs in animation. Students may choose an area of concentration in character design, computer animation, experimental animation, interactive animation, visualizing science, among many other options.

4. Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI)

RISD - Design Center
John Phelan, The Design Center, RISD, Providence RI, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Rhode Island School of Design was one of the first art schools in the US, established in 1877. 

The school offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film/Animation/Video, where students can choose to concentrate in animation, live action, or both. 

RISD’s Film/Animation/Video program allows students to access state-of-the-art facilities including digital editing and sound mixing rooms, CGI workstations with a broad range of professional production and editing software, and production studio spaces equipped for video, film, and puppet animation projects. 

The school aims to provide its students with not only the technical skills they need to create successful animated works, but also the analytical, practical, and aesthetic knowledge and awareness that new animators need in order to solve whatever problems may arise in the production studio environment.  

Senior RISD students have the opportunity to screen thesis project films at the popular annual Graduate Thesis Exhibition

3. California Institute of the Arts (Valencia, CA)

The California Institute of the Arts offers aspiring animation students a handful of degree program options. The Institute was founded by Walt Disney himself, along with his brother Roy and several others.

The School of Film/Video has BFA Programs in Character Animation and Experimental Animation, as well as a three year MFA Experimental Animation Program

The character animation program, then called the Disney animation program, was originally created in the now-famous classroom A113. CalArts alumni have since incorporated sneaky references to this classroom into many films, including in Disney and Pixar films. 

CalArts alumni include Tim Burton, director of Edward Scissorhands and many other well-known films, and  Chris Buck, Academy Award winning animation writer-director for Frozen.

Every spring, the School of Film/Video hosts the Bijou Festival, during which selected student works are presented during public screenings. The Festival is often attended by professional producers, animators, directors, and others in the field. 

2. Savannah College of Art & Design (Savannah, GA)

Savannah College of Art and Design
Jud McCranie, Slotin Building, Savannah, GA, US, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Savannah College of Art & Design offers BFA, MA, and MFA programs in animation. The school came in third on Animation Career Review’s 2021 list of top animation schools in the country.

SCAD alumni are frequently recruited or hired by big names in the animation industry, like Pixar, Dreamworks, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney, and Lucasfilm Animation. 

The program’s faculty includes John Webber, who has contributed to the animation of famous characters such as Lilo from Lilo and Stitch and Mushu from Mulan.  

In addition to their well-connected faculty and alumni network, SCAD offers animation students access to a number of cutting-edge resources. 

The SCAD Digital Media Center in Atlanta is a 60,000 square foot facility housing an in-house theater, a real, professional-quality studio environment, and green screen lab. 

Similar state-of-the-art equipment and technology is available to students at SCAD’s Savannah and Lacoste locations.  

1. Ringling College of Art and Design (Sarasota, FL)

The Ringling College of Art and Design offers eleven BFA programs and two BA programs. These include Motion Design, Virtual Reality Development, Game Art, Computer Animation, and Illustration

The school’s Computer Animation program was deemed the best animation program in the US by Animation Career Review.

Ringling students have won 16 Academy Awards, mostly recently in 2020 for the animated short film Mime Your Manners.  

During Industry Critiques, the school brings in world-renowned visiting artists to offer their professional insights to students, allowing them to think outside of the classroom. 

Ringling also offers students many internship opportunities in collaboration with the Center for Career Services. Participating in real-world projects with industry professionals is a requirement for all Ringling students as part of their experiential education initiative, INDEX.   

Here are the source articles that we used to determine our aggregate ranking:

Animation Career Review 

College Rank

World Scholarship Forum

The Art Career Project 

Best Value Schools 

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