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Top School in Chicago for a Film & Cinematography Degree

The Chicago area has a handful of schools with programs in film and cinematography. Find the best program for you by reading about schools' rankings, program offerings, and tuition info.

School and Ranking Information

Students seeking a film and cinematography program in Chicago can choose from six schools within a 15-mile radius of the downtown area. Based on rankings and number of degrees in film awarded, the best three Chicago schools offering film and cinematography programs are: Columbia College - Chicago, University of Chicago (UChicago), and Northwestern University (NU). All three schools have graduate fine arts programs ranked by U.S. News & World Report. The top two schools - Columbia and UChicago - are tied at #53 for their fine arts programs.

  • Winner: Columbia College - Chicago is the top choice because it awarded by far the most degrees in the field in 2011-2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It offers bachelor's and master's degrees.
  • Runner-Up #1: University of Chicago is tied for fourth among national universities. It offers bachelor's and doctoral programs.
  • Runner-Up #2: Northwestern University is ranked 62nd among graduate fine arts programs. It is furthest away from downtown Chicago. It offers master's and doctoral programs.

School Comparison Chart

Category Columbia College-Chicago University of Chicago Northwestern University
Ranking(s) 53rd among graduate fine arts programs (2012)* 53rd among graduate fine arts programs (2012)*,
4th among national universities (2013)*
62nd among graduate fine arts programs (2012)*,
12th among national universities (2013)*
Location Chicago, IL Chicago, IL Evanston, IL (about 12 miles from downtown Chicago)
School Type 4-year, private not-for-profit 4-year, private not-for-profit 4-year, private not-for-profit
Tuition & Fees (2012-2013) $21,730 (undergraduate), $19,490 (graduate)** $45,609 (undergraduate), $46,830 (graduate)** $43,779 (undergraduate), $43,692 (graduate)**
Film and Cinematography Degree Levels Offered Bachelor's and master's degrees** Bachelor's and doctoral degrees** Master's and doctoral degrees**
Film and Cinematography Degrees (all levels) Awarded in 2011-2012 428** 15** 4**
Most Popular Film and Cinematography Program in 2011-2012 Bachelor's degree in Cinematography and Film/Video Production (418 awarded)** Bachelor's and doctoral degrees in Film/Cinema/Video Studies (7 awarded at each level)** Doctoral degree in Film/Cinema/Video Studies (3 awarded)**
Undergraduate Graduation Rate (in 150% of normal degree time) for 2006 Entering Class 41%** 92%** 93%**
Noteworthy The Film & Video Department annually hosts 'The Big Screen', a film festival of student work*** Cultural cinema courses teach about media themes in places like Latin America, Russia, South Asia, and America*** The Annie May Swift Hall, which houses the Department of Radio/Television/Film and a film library, has housed the School of Communication since 1895***

Sources: *U.S. News & World Report, **NCES College Navigator, ***Schools' websites

Winner: Columbia College - Chicago

  • Columbia is the largest private, not-for-profit arts and media college in the country, according to the school
  • Around 200 film courses are offered
  • Students have access to media production facilities, film studios and screening areas
  • The Film & Video Department has a Portfolio Center and an Internship Program

Students in the film and video BA program take core courses in image production, screenwriting, sound, and animation. Majors are required to complete a film project before the end of their first year. A cinematography concentration is offered, allowing skill enhancement in color correction, lighting, special effects, editing, and image communication.

There are two MFA programs in film and video. The cinema directing program includes courses in character and dramatic directing, editing theory, and ideation, while the creative producing degree teaches narrative development, line producing, and post-production. Both programs require a thesis.

Runner-Up #1: University of Chicago

  • The Film Studies Center holds film collections, screenings, and lectures; it also functions as a research hub for the Cinema and Media Studies Department
  • The Mass Culture Workshop provides discussions about contemporary interdisciplinary film research
  • Students participate in the Chicago Film Seminar

Since the Cinema and Media Studies Department was created in 1995, its graduates have earned numerous academic positions, awards, and fellowships. UChicago's Bachelor of Arts degree program in cinema and media requires courses in film analysis and cinema sequencing. A senior colloquium and a research paper are also graduation requirements. Graduates enter the film and media industry market with skills and knowledge that allow adaptation to the changing work environment.

Cinema and media PhD students focus on the critical analysis of film, examining cinema through cultural, political, socioeconomic, historical, transnational, and artistic lenses. The curriculum requires courses in research methodology and film theory. Additionally, students must demonstrate competence in two foreign languages (one of which must be German or French) to consequently allow for immersion in foreign film culture. Comprehensive exams are another graduation requirement.

Runner-Up #2: Northwestern University

  • NU offers production/postproduction facilities, a digital media studio and a black-box studio
  • The School of Communication offers career services and resources, including internships, career advising, guest panels and alumni networking
  • MFA students receive a $5,000 grant to carry out their projects
  • MFA students are invited to join the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance, which helps graduates get their careers started
  • PhD students have networking opportunities at the Center for Screen Cultures and the Chicago Film Seminar

Through its Department of Radio/Television/Film, NU offers several relevant programs. Students completing the undergraduate program in radio, television, and film attain skills focused on media analysis and production. Job opportunities for graduates range from directing and screenwriting to production, post-production, and entertainment management. Minor offerings in film and in sound design are also available.

Students in the 2-year MFA program in screen and stage writing can learn how to write content for short plays, television episodes, romantic comedies, horror films, thrillers, and more. A feature thesis and internship are core requirements. They also learn about character development, screen culture and business skills for media writers.

There is also a PhD program in screen culture, an interdisciplinary degree program that offers focused study regarding theory and analysis of film, television, and digital media. Courses include global media, film criticism, television culture, and media text analysis. Students who begin the program with just a bachelor's degree can also complete it as a joint MA/PhD degree.


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