The Top 5 M.F.A. Screenwriting Programs in the United States

Graduation cap

Screenwriting is an incredibly satisfying and challenging craft that takes years of mastery, skill, creativity, and most importantly dedication. However, if you have the time and dedication, you can eventually become a master storyteller. And the world needs more great storytellers. With over 500 scripted television series each year, screenwriters are an essential part of the film and television industry with more opportunities than ever before. Consequently, pursuing a graduate degree in screenwriting is an excellent way to gain the necessary skill and experience to become a successful screenwriter. It’s important to understand that while a degree will never guarantee you your first writing gig, it will provide you the opportunity to develop your voice and understand how best to tell your story. This article will discuss the top five graduate screenwriting programs in the United States. A degree from one of these top schools could mean the difference between getting the job and being passed over. 

5. University of Texas at Austin - Michener Center for Writers

The first graduate school on our list is the Michener Center for Writers which is a school within the University of Texas at Austin. While it may not be the most well known of the schools on this list, it is a highly competitive and highly respected M.F.A. program. It is a three-year program that focuses on the art and craft of screenwriting. Students participate in rigorous workshops and classes with the opportunity to declare a secondary emphasis in fiction, poetry, playwriting. What makes this program extra special is that the Michener Center for Writers offers a fully funded MFA in Screenwriting with an annual living stipend. Winning a coveted spot in this program will not only help you along your screenwriting journey it will also save you a hefty sum. 

4. Columbia University - School of the Arts

If you’ve been searching for the best Screenwriting MFA in the country, you’ve probably already come across Columbia University. Columbia is another highly recognized university that offers a graduate screenwriting program. Previously Columbia's School of the Arts only offered an MFA in Screenwriting/Directing, which was a three-year program that combines screenwriting workshops with film and television studies. However, recently Columbia has added an additional program, Writing for Film & Television. This program is said to build on their previous program's legacy of pushing students to master the art of story. The emphasis of the program is ensuring each student is capable of crafting a compelling character-driven narrative. Additionally, Columbia’s MFA program offers opportunities for students to network with industry professionals and participate in industry events. Columbia's School of the Arts has produced many successful screenwriters, including James Mangold, David O. Russell, and Kimberly Peirce.

Related: Best Screenwriting Software

3. New York University (NYU) - Tisch School of the Arts

New York University (NYU) is one of the top film schools in the United States and is recognized around the world for their excellence in art. NYU's Tisch School of the Arts offers a three-year MFA in Dramatic Writing that focuses on the art and craft of screenwriting, television writing, and playwriting. Students learn from experienced professionals and gain practical experience in writing, story development, and production. This program believes students can benefit from looking outside their primary emphasis of screenwriting and gain valuable insights from the discipline of playwriting. Which makes sense given the schools proximity to Broadway. Similarly to the previously mentioned program, Tisch also tauts various opportunities for students to network with industry professionals and participate in on-campus industry gatherings. NYU's Tisch School of the Arts has produced many successful screenwriters, including Charlie Kaufman, Tony Kushner, and Aaron Sorkin.

2. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Theater, Film, and Television 

Coming in at number two is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television offers a two-year MFA in Screenwriting. The program combines creative writing workshops with additional film and television studies. Students learn from experienced screenwriters, directors, and producers to gain practical experience in screenwriting, story development, and production. When applying to UCLA’s program you are given the choice between a “Feature Film” track or “Television” track. This choice allows you to focus your time on developing the specific skills required of each discipline and is reflected in your final portfolio. Another unique aspect of the program is its use of workshops to recreate real-world experiences such as a television writer’s room with each student taking their turn as showrunner. UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television has produced many successful screenwriters, including Francis Ford Coppola, Dustin Lance Black, and Alex Kurtzman.

1. University of Southern California (USC) - School of Cinematic Arts 

Finally, you can earn the best Screenwriting M.F.A. in the United States at the University of Southern California (USC). USC is considered the most prestigious film school in not only the United States but the world. USC's School of Cinematic Arts offers an MFA in Screenwriting, through the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television which is a two-year screenwriting program. Lucky attendees are instructed by experienced professionals, including highly renowned screenwriters. However, more important than the program’s instructors are the opportunities offered through the program that include networking with industry professionals, exclusive internships and access to key industry events. USC's School of Cinematic Arts has produced a long list of successful screenwriters, including Shane Black, Ryan Coogler, and Shonda Rhimes.

More: Your Screenplay Guy Coverage Services 

Back to blog