Best Documentary Film Schools: 5 Amazing Options

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The United States is full of excellent film and video schools, but finding a program that’s specific to documentary making can be a challenge. If documentary filmmaking is the goal, you’ll need to make sure you’ve picked the right film school.

On this page, we’ll run through some of the best options out there in 2021. We’ll start with the New York Film Academy, then continue to some places you may not have seen before. Don’t worry, though, every school on this list is well worth considering.

Best Documentary Film Schools

Whether you’re looking for documentary masters programs, media studies training, or a good cinematography course, finding the right school is everything. Documentary film and video can be a tough nut to crack, so it’s important to find somewhere with the resources and staff to support you.

Check out our recommendations below.

1. New York Film Academy

New York Film Academy Website – Here

The New York Film Academy is an excellent choice for those interested in documentary filmmaking. Their documentary filmmaking school offers the training, experiences, and resources you’ll need to improve your career prospects and boost your skills.

Expect excellent teaching and plenty of opportunities to practice what you’ve learned in the real world. You’ll be making that world-changing documentary before you know it!

new york film academy facade

New York Film Academy Admissions

Documentary filmmaking can be a competitive subject to study depending on the school you choose. This documentary film school offers rolling admissions, meaning you can apply year after year.

There’s no specific GPA requirements, but applicants are expected to have a good grasp of the English language and show a genuine interest in exploring the art form, in your case documentary filmmaking.

New York Film Academy Tuition

The specific tuition you should expect to pay will be determined by your chosen course. The masters program in documentary filmmaking will run you almost $15,000 per semester plus a $1500 equipment fee.

New York Film Academy Notable Alumni

Not only will you be studying in New York City, you’ll also be studying at a school with a ton of notable alumni. Past documentary studies students at this film school include Elaine Minionis, Todd Leatherman, and Laura Snow, all have whom have produced fantastic work and collaborated with countless names in the industry.

2. Maine Media Workshops and College

Documentary Filmmaking PageHere

Interested in documentary filmmaking? Want a film school with a ton of different options? This college probably has a program for you. From 4-week intensives to longer in-depth explorations, this school should have everything you need to master the art of the documentary film.

Maine Media Workshops and College Admissions

Getting into film school can be tough. Knowing as much as possible about each location’s admission requirements can help a great deal. For this option, the requirements are very flexible for their intensive and weeks-long workshops.

Generally, students just need to demonstrate an interest and some aptitude in the chosen topic. For their masters program and more in-depth documentary filmmaking courses, some form of bachelor’s degree and a formal application process is required.

Maine Media Workshops and College Tuition

This one is tricky to pin down thanks to the broad variety of different programs available. Intensive courses cost roughly a few thousand dollars. Those opting for the masters program should be prepared for over $50,000 plus other fees.

Maine Media Workshops and College Alumni

The Maine Media alumni network is made up of over 35,000 graduates and working professionals. It’s designed to support graduates for many years after leaving the college. With the right connections, your documentary career could be off to the best possible start.

3. Stanford University

Documentary Filmmaking PageHere

The Art and History department of Stanford University offers an exceptional documentary filmmaking course. Students learn everything they’ll need to pursue rewarding careers as documentary makers. You’ll be exploring both historical and critical frameworks to broaden your horizons.

Stanford University Admissions

For the documentary filmmaking masters, the following is expected of applicants:

  • A statement of purpose
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts from post secondary institutions attended
  • A bachelor’s degree from a US university or globally accredited institution

Stanford University Documentary Filmmaking Tuition

The good news is that Stanford University has a reasonably generous scholarship scheme. The final amount you pay is determined by you and your family’s financial situation. On average, an academic year at Stanford costs around $75,000-$80,000 for students.

Stanford University Alumni

As a much larger institution than say the NYFA, Stanford has a formidable alumni network in the tens of thousands. It’s easy for graduates to stay plugged into this resource and use it throughout their working careers.

4. Berkley Graduate School of Journalism

Documentary Filmmaking PageHere

Documentary filmmaking can be a horrendously competitive career to get into. For this reason, it helps to choose a school that will give you an edge. For many, Berkley is the perfect option. With an incredible faculty, excellent equipment, and a career-focused master’s program, this one is worth considering

Berkley Graduate School of Journalism Admissions

If you have a relevant bachelor’s degree, letters of recommendation, and a well-written statement of purpose, you stand a great chance of being considered for this amazing documentary film course. Just remember that you may have to try for a couple years in a row.

Berkley Graduate School of Journalism Tuition

As with most US universities, final costs are subject to change and are influenced by your individual circumstances. Non-residents can expect costs of around $20,000 per semester. Residents enjoy a reduced fee of around $14,500.

Berkley Graduate School of Alumni

The reputation and track record of Berkley graduates far precedes them. There’s no golden ticket to a successful career in documentary filmmaking, but the alumni network of this college is unlikely to hinder your progress.

5. Duke University Center for Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary Filmmaking Page Here

This faculty at Duke University offers an MFA in the experimental and documentary arts. Students will leave with a deep understanding of the art form, its theory, and the practical skills required to produce high-quality work.

Duke University Admissions

Accomplished artists and students should consider this documentary masters course. You’ll need a relevant bachelor’s degree in something like filmmaking, theater, art, or art history. There’s also a formal applications process including letters of recommendation and statements of purpose.

Tuition at Duke University

If you’re considering this masters in documentary filmmaking, expect yearly costs of between $50,000 and $60,000. For low-income households and high-achieving students, a variety of scholarship and support programs are available.

It’s always worth checking these out if you’re unsure, they can save you tens of thousands of dollars if you’re eligible.

Documentary Masters Programs – Our Cheat Sheet

This section is just a brief overview of the masters programs in documentary filmmaking that we’ve discussed on this page. Scan it here to get a quick idea of what’s on offer.

New York Film Academy

  • Documentary Filmmaking Masters
  • Amazing reputation and staff
  • Plenty of notable documentary alumni
  • The New York film scene is very healthy

Maine Media College

  • General MFA with some relevant training for documentary filmmaking
  • Excellent resources and alumni network
  • Slightly more affordable tuition
  • Workshops and other courses also available

Stanford University

  • Great masters program for documentary film students
  • Prestigious university with a huge alumni network
  • Great balance of theory and practical skills
  • Wonderful campus

Berkley Graduate School of Journalism

  • Well-designed documentary film masters
  • Thorough applications process
  • Dedicated school for documentary filmmaking and related disciplines
  • Scholarship schemes are available

Duke University

  • Masters in documentary filmmaking and experimental arts
  • Holistic and critical frameworks related to the art form
  • Dedicated center within the university
  • Tuition is expensive but some support is available

How to Become a Documentary Filmmaker

Becoming a documentary filmmaking can be an obscure and competitive process. Everyone has their own unique journey to forging a career in this art form. Check out some of our brief tips below.

Get a Feel for Each School

Choosing a good school is essential in getting the training you need. New York Film Academy? Berkley? Somewhere else entirely? It will all come down to who you are and the type of work you’re hoping to make. Try to get a feel for as many school as possible before making your final applications.

The Love Comes First

A career in the arts and media can be incredibly challenging. It’s very important that you genuinely love the discipline and it brings you joy. Pursuing a documentary career for ‘fame’ or riches won’t get you very far. You need the passion to keep you going.

Persistence is Key

If you love what you do, you’ll want to keep doing it. To a certain extent, ‘making it’ as a filmmaker is a numbers game. You need to keep producing work and finding ways to connect with people. Don’t give up too quickly; Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Documentary Studies – Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve found our recommendations on this page helpful. Remember that not everyone gets in on their first year of applications. You may have to keep trying for a while before you’re accepted. With a little resilience and the right mindset, you could be looking at an exciting new career.

Good luck!