Students in the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts can prepare for careers in nearly every aspect of filmmaking and the wider entertainment industry.
Located in Los Angeles, the school has been around since 1929, just two years after the first “talking” film debuted.
Its first faculty members included Hollywood legends like Douglas Fairbanks, Irving Thalberg, and Darryl Zanuck, and today’s professors are no less prestigious, having earned Oscars, Emmys, and other major entertainment industry awards.
They have helped the school earn top rankings from national and international organizations.
As it nears its centennial, USC’s cinema program consists of seven disciplines, such as animation, production, and screenwriting, but students take an interdisciplinary course of study to give them a well-rounded education.
They can pursue both undergraduate and graduate degrees, using the most state-of-the-art equipment and learning and hearing from industry leaders along the way.
Alumni of the program include film and television legends, and today, USC graduates can be found working in various aspects of the industry as well as the emerging field of interactive media.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at USC’s film school, including how to get admitted, what subjects students can pursue, and much more.
USC Film School Acceptance Rate
USC has just over 19,600 undergraduate students and an overall acceptance rate of 16%, but the film school’s rate is much lower, at just 3%.
The undergraduate program in the film school’s John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television, for instance, admits just 30 students each fall, while the two-year graduate program takes just 32 students per year.
By comparison, the film school at nearby UCLA admits just about 30 students total each year.
Students admitted to USC overall who provided their standardized test scores typically scored high on them.
The middle 50% SAT Scores was 1270 to 1490 out of 1600, while the middle 50% of ACT scores was 28 to 34 out of 36. While an applicant’s high school class rank is not deemed important, his or her GPA is.
The film school admissions committee says it wants to accept well-rounded students who are not only creative but also come from a “strong academic background.”
They consider personal qualities such as originality, determination, and cooperation. But the committee also places a lot of emphasis on the materials applicants submit, like writing samples, because they provide more information about the person’s abilities and goals.
USC Film School Tuition
For the 2020-21 school year, USC estimated that tuition (12 to 18 units) over two semesters would cost $59,260, plus another $15,500 for room and board.
Adding in other fees, students could expect to pay a total of $79,063 per year. New students should expect to pay an additional $450 fee for their first semester.
For the same academic year, graduate tuition cost $2,122 per unit plus is $2,463 in mandatory fees. The total amount graduate students could expect to pay in tuition and fees depends on their course of study.
For first-year grad students, this ranged from $36,415 for the Film & Television Production MFA to $53,391 for the Peter Stark Producing Program MFA. These amounts do not include room and board, which likely will add several thousand to the total cost of pursuing a degree.
USC does offer financial aid, which 2/3 of students use. For undergrads, the amount of aid is determined in part by how much a student’s family is expected to pay toward the cost of his or her education.
Available undergraduate aid is both need-based and non-need-based and can include scholarships and grants, which don’t need to be repaid; loans; and Federal Work-Study.
USC Film School Requirements
Applicants for the USC undergraduate cinematic arts program must fill out the USC Writing Supplement in addition to submitting the Common Application.
Like other universities, USC also requires prospective students to include their official high school transcripts, their grades for the fall semester of their senior year, and two letters of recommendation, one of which needs to come from a school counselor or teacher.
Candidates are not required to interview with the USC admissions office.
Applicants must send their supplemental materials to USC through the SlideRoom Application. The different divisions of the cinema school have their own additional requirements unique to their focus, such as personal statements, writing samples, or portfolios.
Students can apply to more than one program in the film school but will need to submit separate applications for each.
USC does not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores, and students who are applying to enter the program in the fall of 2022 or 2023 will need to let the school know if they will include their test results.
That way, USC will wait to review the student’s application until it has all of the materials. The school plans to make a decision by spring 2023 about whether it will continue to make the scores optional going forward.
USC Film School Notable Alumni
USC has produced some of the most prominent and successful filmmakers of the last several decades, including directors George Lucas, John Carpenter, and Ron Howard.
The school has more than 10,000 living alumni not only working in all aspects of film, from cinematography to acting to editing, but also in television and animation. Alumni have found jobs in related fields, too, including as agents, managers, and even scholars.
Other notable grads who moved on to careers in film include Robert Zemeckis of “Back to the Future” fame; “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig; and comedy director, writer, and producer Judd Apatow. On the other side of the lens, the list of actors and actresses who graduated from USC reads like a “who’s who” of Hollywood stars.
They include comedic talents like Will Ferrell and America Ferrera as well as television stars LeVar Burton, Anthony Edwards, and Tom Selleck. “Steel Magnolias” actress Daryl Hannah is an alumna, as are Timothy Olyphant and Forest Whitaker.
On the small screen, alumnus Ken Kwapis directed numerous episodes of hit shows such as “The Office” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” And Nahnatchka Khan has written and produced episodes of the new series “Young Rock” as well as past hits like “Fresh off the Boat.”
USC Film School Ranking
USC’s School of Cinematic Arts consistently lands at or near the top of lists of the best film schools in the country and around the world.
In its 2021 list of the Top 25 American Film Schools, the Hollywood Reporter placed USC at third, behind New York University and the American Film Institute.
In its description of the school, the publication cited USC’s recent wins at the Student Academy Awards and the new Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund and the Black Student Welcome Experience, both of which aim to help minority students.
Meanwhile, Hollywood news site The Wrap ranked USC first in its list of the Top 50 Film Schools of 2021, up from its second overall ranking in 2020.
And collegiate rankings website Niche also placed USC at the top of its list of the Best Colleges for Film and Photography in America, besting New York and Yale universities.
USC overall earned an A+ ranking from Niche, which also gave the university A+ grades in eight of 12 subcategories, including for academics, value, and student life.
Meanwhile, in 2021 we ranked USC the best film school in the entire world.
Should You Attend USC Film School?
Aspiring film students who want to learn their craft from industry veterans, using state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in a school located in the heart of the entertainment world, don’t need to look further than USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
For nearly 100 years, the school has educated thousands of people, many of whom have significantly impacted the film and television industry.
Students today benefit from workshop-style classes, guest speakers, and small class sizes, and they gain hands-on experience to hone their skills behind the camera, in editing bays, and with other modern equipment.
The interdisciplinary approach to education gives students experience in not only their chosen field, but also other aspects of the media world to give them a better understanding of how the different parts of the business relate to one another.
And the school’s proximity to Hollywood makes it possible for students to gain valuable experience and make promising connections through industry internships.
And thanks to a recently launched initiative, FIRST JOBS, recent USC grads get a leg up in starting their careers.
The program connects employers with alumni who earned their degrees to fill entry-level jobs within the last five years.
According to USC, over 800 graduates have found jobs through the endeavor. USC is ready and waiting to educate the next generation of the world’s leading filmmakers.