Guide to Online Film Schools

Learn about how online film schools operate. Get an overview of the available programs, courses, and financial aid, as well as a guide to film school accreditation and film industry jobs. Schools offering Digital Cinematography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Online Film Degrees Overview

There are several types of film degrees offered online that have varying levels and concentrations. The most common concentrations are film studies, filmmaking/production, and screenwriting. These degrees are available at the certificate, associate's, bachelor's, and master's levels; however, program type and level will depend on the school. Additionally, different schools will have different availability for online learning; some schools will offer programs that are completely online while others offer a hybrid option, where some classes will be done online and others in person.

Film Studies

Film studies programs are typically designed to teach students how to appreciate, analyze, and critique historical and contemporary films alike. Students may study film theory, aesthetics, and analysis, learn how to write essays on culturally significant films, and develop their own voice for film criticism.

Filmmaking and Production

Filmmaking and production programs typically focus on how a film is produced from a creative and technical side. Students may learn directing techniques, such as how to direct actors on a screen, or they may learn about different types of production equipment, such as lighting, sound, and video cameras, and how they're used in a film's production.

Screenwriting

Screenwriting programs are commonly designed to teach students how to write compelling stories for a variety of mediums in the entertainment industry, such as films, tv, commercials, radio, journalism, and transmedia (web-based or multimedia). Students may also learn how to analyze, interpret, and critique films. Additionally, they may learn about ongoing issues in the film and media industry and how to discuss these issues in a professional manner. It can vary by school, but screenwriting students are usually required to complete a full-length screenplay before graduation.

Online film degree students will have the same graduation requirements as campus students. They are required to take the same number of classes, the same type of classes, and complete the same projects. Depending on the school, a gear package of basic equipment needed to complete projects, such as a camera and editing software, can be sent to the student. Other schools that have a hybrid learning format require online students to attend an in-person workshop or let them use the school's equipment for a fee.

Online learning typically works through a portal set up by the school. This is where students can interact with their classmates and professors, receive assignments and lectures, check progress and due dates, and turn in work.

Best Schools for Online Film Degrees

Below is a list of featured online schools that have been ranked for the value of their education, accessibility, flexibility, cost, and financial aid.

1. University of Massachusetts Amherst

Location In-State Tuition (2019-2020) Percent Receiving Financial Aid
Amherst, MA $16,389 91%

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has an online certificate in Film Studies. For those undergraduates who wish to enhance their education, Amherst has an open admissions and enrollment policy that is available to non-Amherst students. The program lets students work with acclaimed professors and award-winning filmmakers. Students can register for the courses right up until they begin, but the school does suggest you sign up as early as possible to ensure you have a spot.

2. Asbury University

Location In-state Tuition (2019-2020) Percent Receiving Financial Aid
Wilmore, KY $30,952 99%

Asbury University offers an online Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting and a Master of Fine Arts in Film/TV Production. The university features a faith-based curriculum and gives students the opportunity to learn from industry experts through guest lectures and receive feedback from their peers and faculty. Students can also gain hands-on experience through an apprenticeship. Online students additionally have the option to use the school's Miller Communication equipment and facilities to complete projects. If an MFA student has professional experience, they may be able to get up to 3 hours of course credit.

3. Santa Fe College

Location In-state Tuition (2019-202) Percent Receiving Financial Aid
Gainesville, FL $2,563 68%

Santa Fe College's Associate of Arts in Film Studies program is designed for eventual transfer to a bachelor's degree. While an associate's degree isn't awarded specifically, students have access to advisement tracks that can help them take the right courses that can lead them to their desired four-year college. The Film Studies track isn't offered exclusively online, however, students have the option to take individual courses either online or in a hybrid format.

4. National University

Location In-state Tuition (2019-2020) Percent Receiving Financial Aid (2017-2018)
La Jolla, CA $13,320 0%

National University has 3 programs available online; a Master of Arts in Film Studies, a Master of Fine Arts in Digital Cinema Production, and a Master of Fine Arts in Professional Screenwriting. The school has year-round enrollment, four-week classes, and tuition discounts for service members and their dependent family members. Students in the digital cinema production program are required to do a residency in Los Angeles to work alongside industry professionals.

Prerequisites for Online Film Programs

Online programs typically follow the same requirements as on-campus programs. Getting into an online film program can vary based on the program type and level. However, many programs, regardless of their discipline or level, require transcripts, letters of recommendation, a CV or resume, and a personal essay.

Online Film Certificate and Associate's Degree Programs

It can depend on the school, but some online film programs at the certificate and associate's levels have open enrollment policies and generally do not have any prerequisites. Usually, to participate in a certificate program, an individual must be an undergraduate student at that school, but some online schools will let undergraduate students from other schools enroll.

An associate degree program can require students to participate in placement testing in addition to requiring a high school diploma or equivalent.

Online Film Bachelor's Degree

Online bachelor's degree programs in film typically require:

  • Proof of a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essay

Online Film Master's Degrees

The prerequisites for master's programs can get a bit more specific. Applicants will need at least:

  • A bachelor's degree
  • Transcripts
  • Resume or CV
  • Letters of recommendation

The bachelor's degree does not always need to be in a field related to film, but it is best to check with the school/program you're applying to. Some programs require individuals with no related experience or education to take a minimum number of relevant courses to prepare them for the graduate curriculum. A minimum GPA is usually required as well, but the number can vary depending on the school. Some programs will require applicants to submit a portfolio of work that is related to the program they're applying for.

Typical Courses In An Online Film Program

Each type of film program (screenwriting, film study, and production/filmmaking) will have courses tailored towards that concentration. However, many programs have courses from all 3 concentrations available, either through electives or as part of the core requirements.

Screenwriting Courses

Screenwriting courses typically focus on the structure, formatting, and storytelling techniques used in film and television writing. Many screenwriting programs have workshops where students are given time to hone their craft and receive feedback.

  • Film Screenwriting - students study techniques for crafting feature-length screenplays and how to write visually for the screen.
  • Television Screenwriting - students study how TV shows are written and produced and they may come up with pitches, write a spec script, or write an original pilot.
  • Writing Dialogue - students study how to write believable, gripping dialogue in a way that intrigues audiences and pushes the story further.

Film Studies Courses

Film studies courses typically focus on the history, theory, and criticism of films.

  • Film Theory - students study the role of film in society, how it is consumed, how it reflects culture, and how it relates to other art.
  • Film History - students study historically significant films and how filmmakers approach historical films.
  • Intro to Film Studies - students are introduced to basic analysis and criticism, as well as structure, genre, and industry terms.

Production/Filmmaking Courses

Production courses typically focus on the creative, business, and technical aspects of filmmaking, from directing and editing to scene composure and media ethics. Depending on the program, these courses may have multiple parts or entire courses dedicated to one aspect, such as sound design. They may also be broken down into different genres, such as directing for documentaries.

  • Production - students study how a film is made from beginning to end, from the idea to the shooting script, casting, budgeting, and post-production editing.
  • Directing - students study directing techniques such as how to direct screen actors, how to execute an idea from start to finish, and how to work in location and studio settings.
  • Cinematography - students study the compositional aspects of creating a scene, from different lenses to color theory, lighting, and grip.

Length of Online Film Programs

Due to the accessibility of online platforms, programs that take place online can be completed in a different format than traditional campus classes.

Certificate: Certificate programs usually require at least 6-8 courses to complete, however, since they're commonly done in conjunction with an undergraduate degree, they may take a year or two.

Associate: Associate programs online typically take around 4 semesters to complete when students take12 credits per semester.

Bachelor's: Bachelor's programs can require around 62-120 credits. Some programs follow a traditional academic structure of 4 years while other online programs can last only 3 years.

Master's: Master's programs typically require around 42-45 credits. In a traditional setting, they can take 2 years to complete, but an online program may allow faster completion.

Each school has its own structure for degree completion. For example, some schools have classes that last only 4 weeks. So if you're wondering how long an online program will take, it is best to search the school you're applying to.

Accreditation for Online Film Programs

To be accredited means that a school has been approved by an association and recognized for exceptional higher learning. When you're selecting a school, choosing one that has reputable accreditation matters.

Why Accreditation Matters

The two main types of accreditation are national and regional. Within those two types also lies institutional, when a college as a whole is accredited, and programmatic, when a specific program is accredited. No type of accreditation is better than the other, but they can mean different things for your future education and career.

Accreditation can affect financial aid, credit and degree transfers, job placement, and any licenses or certifications you may need. In most cases, credits from a regionally accredited school cannot be transferred to a nationally accredited school and vice versa.

How to Check for Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education has a database of accrediting organizations. Any school you're applying to should clearly state if they're accredited and what organization they are accredited by. Cross-check this list with the names of the organizations for the school(s) you're applying to.

Reputable Accreditation Agencies for Online Education

There are no designated film school accreditation agencies, but below is a list of accreditation agencies for online education that have been approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

This is not an exhaustive list, so it is best to do your own research when applying to any school.

Financial Aid for Online Film Students

Every student who is attending or will attend an accredited school is eligible to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application estimates need-based aid from a student's income and other factors. It can be used for federal loans, Pell grants (money you don't have to pay back), and work-study programs.

Scholarships for Online Film Students

Sometimes, loans, grants, and work-study aren't available or may not be a viable option for students. Luckily, there are plenty of scholarships you can apply to. Some require a simple sign-up, while others require applicants to submit an original project. A few of these scholarships include:

NATAS Scholarships

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awards numerous scholarships to high school seniors who are entering television-related bachelor's degrees. The deadline for the program is March 15th. Some of the $10,000 scholarships include:

  • The Randy Falco Scholarship for Hispanic or Latino students interested in a television career.
  • The Douglas W. Mummert Scholarship for a student with a commitment to community service who is interested in a television career.
  • The NATAS Trustees' Linda Giannecchini Scholarship gifted to any student pursuing a career in television.

The Charles and Lucille King Family Foundation

For college juniors and seniors studying television and film, this scholarship awards up to $3,500 per academic year. The deadline is April 15th.

The school you're applying to may also have their own scholarships. You can usually find this information in the tuition section.

Career Options With an Online Film Degree

There are several career opportunities for graduates of online film degrees. A few of them include directors, screenwriters, and producers.

Job Title Average Salary (2020)* Job Outlook (2018-2028)**
Directors $64,496 5% (for producers and directors)
Screenwriters $80,000 0% (little or no change) (for writers and authors)
Producers $68,490 5% (for producers and directors)

Sources: *PayScale.com; **Bureau of Labor Statistics

Directors

Directors work on films and TV shows to control the creative direction of a project. They are often in charge of directing the cast and crew to achieve their desired outcome of a film. They work with the actors on their character portrayals and they work with the crew to ensure the film's set, costumes, lighting, and continuity are in order. After a film is shot, they work with producers, music directors, and editors to edit the film in the style they envision. Directors may also work on stage productions.

Directors typically need at least a bachelor's degree in a film-related discipline and they usually start working entry-level jobs, such as assistants, in studios to gain experience. As they progress through the industry, they may start building a name for themselves and can eventually work on bigger projects.

Screenwriters

Screenwriters write scripts for television shows and films. They can come up with an original idea or they might adapt a story from a book. Besides writing, they conduct research in order to give their script more detail, or if the script is centered on a certain topic, they research information in order to get the facts straight for their story.

Screenwriters may have bachelor's degrees in English or related fields, but a film degree can also qualify them for this profession. Screenwriters often start out with entry-level jobs and work their way up or they can advance by continuing to hone their craft.

Producers

Producers work in film and television to oversee the financial and other business aspects. They can also do this for stage productions. They are in charge of hiring the director and crew, and can sometimes be involved in casting decisions. In addition to being in control of the budget, producers ensure the project is completed on time and must approve any major changes.

Similar to directors, producers usually need a bachelor's degree in a field related to film and start out with entry-level work. As their reputation grows, they can take on larger productions.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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