We started publishing regional and national lists in 2012 in response to myriad emails from aspiring animators and game designers asking us what the best schools were in the US, a given State, or in a particular area of the country. In preparing this year’s list, we considered over 400 schools in the US that offered programs geared towards animation or game design. In the end, our goal is to give students access to ample information so they can make an informed decision about the school they choose to attend and the program they pursue. 

We included both animation and game design on the same list for two reasons:

  1. Though many differences exist, there is significant overlap in the training requirements for animation and game design.
  2. Many students who contact us with questions about studying animation or game design describe an interest in both genres.

The criteria we used in making this list consists, in no particular order, of the following: academic reputation, admission selectivity, depth and breadth of the program and faculty, value as it relates to tuition, and geographic location.  The last factor is worthy of further explanation. As we researched schools and spoke with working professionals in the industry, it became more and more evident that the location of a school really matters in the fields of animation and gaming, perhaps much more so than in many other professions. Students who attend school in animation and game design meccas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orlando, and to a slightly lesser extent New York City, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, and a few other cities have a distinct advantage over students in other parts of the country in terms of networking opportunities, internships, free-lance gigs, and career specific part-time work. Does that mean you must attend school in one of these cities to work in the animation or game design industry? Absolutely not. But schools located in these cities do offer real advantages that are less available elsewhere. So keep in mind that we are taking geographic advantages into account in our rankings.

Like any list, ours is not perfect and is open for debate. There is no single opinion that trumps all when it comes to which school is the “best”. Ultimately every student has different needs regarding the type and academic rigor of a program, campus culture, as well as cost, lifestyle, and career focus. Our hope is that this list is a starting point for students to discover the schools that are the best fit for them.

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1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
Want proof CalArts has earned its ranking as the #1 school in the US for Animation and Game Design? Look no further than the 2013 Academy Awards. Of the ten films nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short Films, four of them were made by CalArts alums.

CalArts was established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney and is home to 1,441 students with 27 percent enrolled in the School of Film/Video. It is the nation's first postsecondary institution to offer graduate and undergraduate degrees in both the visual and performing arts. CalArts currently offers a BFA and MFA in Experimental Animation and a BFA in Character Animation. Tuition for the 2012-2013 academic school year totaled $39,976.

3.2. University of California, Los Angeles, California
The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) was founded as the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1919. Although the school is home to 41,341 students, the school’s world famous Animation Workshop accepts just 12 new students each year. The Animation Workshop (MFA Animation Program) produced famous alumni such as Oscar-nominated filmmaker Shane Acker (9, Total Recall (2012), Lord of the Rings), David Silverman (The Simpsons Movie), and Gil Kenan (Monster House).

Before applying to the MFA program, students typically earn a BA in film and television at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. Here, they will explore all facets of digital media, film, and television, as well as a full year of animation studies, followed by an internship. For academic year 2012-2013, undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees for residents totaled $14,010.13 and $36,888.13 for non-residents. Graduate tuition and mandatory fees for residents totaled $14,809.19 and $29,911.19 for non-residents.

 2.3. University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles, California
Established in 1880 and situated in the heart of Los Angeles—the entertainment capital of the world, University of Southern California (USC) offers a BA and MFA in Animation & Digital Arts and a minor in 3D Animation, Video Game Design & Management, and Video Game Programming. In addition to being home to a bevy of big time alums such as Judd Apatow and John Carpenter, many Animation & Digital Arts graduates have gone on to work at sought after production studios such as Sony Pictures Imageworks, Pixar, Nickelodeon Studios, and Rhythm & Hues. 

Besides offering promising job prospects, USC School of Cinematic Arts students have the opportunity to study abroad in beautiful Florence, Italy. As of 2012, the school was home to 40,000 students and the tuition cost for all students was $43,722 per academic year. 

6.4. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida
Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) has a number of accomplishments to brag about. In 2012, ImagineFX named RCAD the #1 Digital Arts college in the world and according to an RCAD press release, RCAD alumni worked on at least 19 of the top 25 highest-grossing motion pictures released in 2011, including Academy Award winners Rango and Hugo. In 2012, Ringling College graduate and Moonbot Studios co-founder Brandon Oldenburg received an Academy Award for Best Animated Short for TheFantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Established in 1931 with only 111 courses and 75 students, RCAD is now home to more than 1,300 students and 14 BFA programs including Computer Animation, Game Art & Design, Motion Design, Filmmaking, and Illustration, to name a few. The cost to attend Ringling College of Art and Design was $36,950 for the 2012-2013 academic year. This includes tuition and mandatory fees. 

RISD Logo5. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island
In 1877, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) “was founded and nurtured by women” more than 40 years before women had the right to vote. This private co-educational four-year art school has a large Film/Animation/Video Department (FAV) that offers a BFA in Film/Animation/Video. RISD is home to 2,386 students and tuition is $41,022 per academic school year (2012-2013).

5.6. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was founded in 1978. It is a private nonprofit institution with campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, and Hong Kong. SCAD offers a BA in Graphic Design, Illustration, and Interactive Design and Game Development, and a BFA in Animation, Film and Television, Graphic Design, Illustration, Interactive Design and Game Development, Motion Media Design, and Visual Effects. SCAD is home to 10,500 students and tuition is $32,550 per academic year.

CCOA Logo7. California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) offers 21 undergraduate and 11 graduate programs including “most popular majors” such as BFA in Animation, Graphic Design, and Illustration. The school also offers a MFA in Graphic Design and Painting/Drawing and it is ranked the top art and design school by salary potential in the United States (by PayScale) and its one of the top 10 West Coast schools by salary potential. With two campuses in San Francisco and Oakland, the school is home to around 1,917 students and tuition for the 2011-2012 academic school year was $36,960.

Columbia College of Chicago Logo8. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
 Founded in 1890, Columbia College is one of the top arts and media schools in the nation. Columbia’s School of Media Arts’ Film & Video Department offers a BA degree with a focus in Animation in addition to BFA degrees in both Traditional & Computer Animation. The Department of Interactive Arts and Media offers both BA and BFA degrees, a BA/BS in Game Programming, and a Major in Game Design with concentrations in Game Art, Game Development, or Game Sound Design. With it’s convenient downtown Chicago campus, Columbia is home to around 12,000 commuters and campus-dwellers. Tuition for the 2011-2012 academic year was $20,094.

9. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York
Located on a 25-acre campus in Brooklyn, Pratt Institute is a liberal arts and sciences college that offers a BFA in Digital Arts, 2D Animation, and 3D Animation and Motion Arts. The school also offers an MFA in Digital Animation and Motion Art and Interactive Arts. Founded in 1887 and ranked Top Multi-disciplinary Art & Design School for Media Buzz (Global Language Monitor), Pratt Institute is home to just over 3,000 students.  Undergraduate tuition is $39,282.00 (2012-2013 school year) and graduate tuition is $1,402 per credit hour.

10.10. Parsons The New School for Design, New York, New York
Parsons The New School for Design is made up of a collection of five schools offering 27 programs. The School of Art, Media, and Technology, School of Fashion, School of Art and Design History and Theory, School of Design Strategies, and the School of Constructed Environments are home to more than 5,000 students from all walks of life. Parson’s more than 125 full-time and 1,000 part-time faculty are mostly working New York artists and designers. Founded in 1896 and considered a “pioneer art and design education,” Parsons offers a plethora of programs for aspiring artist and designers. Just a few include a BFA in Art, Media and Technology, a BFA in Design Technology, and a BFA in Illustration. In the AMT program, students can study Game Design, Graphic/Communication Design, Illustration and Graphic Novels, Interface Design, Mobile Media, or Web Design. In the DT program, students can study Animation and Motion Graphics, Computer Graphics, Game Design, Graphic/Communication Design, Interface Design, Mobile Media, New Genres, Physical Computing/Wearable Technology, and Web Design.  Illustration students may study Animation and Motion Graphics, Drawing, or Illustration. Parsons also offers an MFA in Design Technology and an AAS in Graphic Design. Tuition is $39,280 per year (2012-2013).