In preparing our inaugural list of the top schools in the US for aspiring gaming professionals, we considered over 100 schools in the US that offered programs geared towards game design and/or development. Our goal with this list is to give students access to ample information so they can make informed decisions about the schools they choose to attend and the programs they pursue.
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, 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 geographic location of a school does matter in the gaming industry, perhaps more so than in other professions. Students who attend school in 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 gaming industry? Absolutely not. Does it mean that only schools in so called meccas are worth considering? Again, 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.
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California (top 5% of schools reviewed)
The University of Southern California (USC) opened in 1880 with just 53 students and 10 instructors. Today, the school is home to 40,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, and nearly 3,200 full-time faculty. In addition to large student body and faculty, the school has two sizable primary campuses located in the heart of Los Angeles including the 229-acre University Park campus and the 79-acre Health Sciences campus.
Ranked 24th in the 2013 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of Best National Universities, USC offers hundreds of academic programs from accounting and law to theater and game design. Students have their pick of majors, unique mini-majors, minors, progressive degrees, and graduate and pre-professional programs. The school offers some 300 graduate and pre-professional programs alone.
Aspiring game designers will be impressed with the number of outstanding game design and related programs USC offers. In fact, the Princeton Review has recognized USC as #1 in game design programs in North America for the past three years. The school offers game design and related programs through several competitive schools including the School of Cinematic Arts and the Viterbi School of Engineering.
The School of Cinematic Arts offers BA degrees in Interactive Entertainment, Animation & Digital Arts, and in Cinematic Arts with a track in Production. The School also offers a BFA in Cinematic Arts and Film & Television Production, as well as MFA degrees in Interactive Media, Animation & Digital Arts, and Film & Television Production. Minors in Animation & Digital Arts and Science Visualization are also on the menu.
undergraduate Minors in Video Game Design & Management, Video Game Programming, 3D Animation, Interactive Multimedia, Multimedia & Creative Technologies. The Multimedia & Creative Technologies option is available online.
2. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (top 5% of schools reviewed)
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has been regarded as the “birthplace of innovation” since its founding in 1900. The school, which began as Carnegie Technical Schools, followed by Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Tech) in 1912, is a world leader in robotics. In addition to 12,000 students and seven schools and colleges, CMU is home to award-winning talent in the areas of technology, art, and science. As a leader in the world of technology and art, it’s not surprising that Carnegie Mellon is home to several of the world’s top programs for aspiring game designers.
The School of Computer Science (SCS) and the College of Fine Arts (CFA) sponsor Carnegie Mellon’s game design programs. Offerings include a Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts (BCSA) and a Masters of Entertainment Technology (M.E.T.). The BCSA degree prepares students to enter popular fields such as game design, computer animation, and robotic art.
The M.E.T. program at the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center (ETC-Global), is a unique and "rare" two-year advanced program that combines fine art, technology, and entrepreneurship. Students connect with the Donald. H. Jones Entrepreneurial Center within the Tepper School of Business where they may take classes that can help them establish their own entertainment technology company. The Entertainment Technology Center has centers around the world, so students have a number of opportunities to study abroad.
3. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (top 5% of schools reviewed)
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) may be one of the nation’s youngest art and design schools, but this global college has quickly become a top-tier institution in the areas of game design, animation, fashion, and more. Established in 1978 as an independent, nonprofit art college, SCAD is located in the heart of one of the nation’s most intriguing cities—Savannah. It is home to more than 10,500 students and four bustling campuses including Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France.
Savannah College of Art and Design offers 40 majors and more than 60 minors. Game design students have several game design and related programs to choose from including a BA, BFA, MA, MFA, and a Minor in Interactive Design & Game Development, an Interactive Design Certificate, a Minor and MFA in Themed Entertainment Design, and a BFA, MA, MFA, and Minor in Motion Media Design. Related programs include a BFA, MA, MFA, and a Minor in Animation, and a BFA, MA, MFA, and a Minor in Visual Effects.
Other popular programs for aspiring game designers include the BA, BFA, MA, MFA, and Minor in Illustration, the MA in Illustration Design, the BFA, MA, MFA, and a Minor in Film & Television, and the MA and Minor in Cinema Studies. SCAD’s Interactive Design & Game Development BA is offered at the Atlanta and Savannah campuses, and online. The BFA is offered in Atlanta, Hong Kong, and online and the MA and MFA programs are offered in Savannah, Hong Kong, and online. Minors are offered at all SCAD campuses.
4. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York (top 5% of schools reviewed)
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) is one of the World’s Top Schools for Game Design by Princeton Review (2013). The school’s "game design and development programs rank fourth at both the undergraduate and graduate levels." This is the 3rd year in a row that RIT programs have ranked in the Top 10.
RIT’s game design and development programs are offered through the School of Interactive Games & Media (IGM) within the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. The School recently added the Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity (MAGIC), which is dedicated to the study of digital and creative media. Other highlights include state-of-the-art production facilities, an annual Global Game Jam, and on-campus game development weekends.
The School of IGM offers a BSc in Game Design & Development and New Media Interactive Development. The School also offers an MSc in Game Design & Development and two Academic Minors including Game Design & Development (GAMEDD-MN) and Game Design (GAMED-MN). Related program offerings include a BFA in 3D Digital Design, a BFA and MFA in Film & Animation, BFA degrees in Illustration and New Media Design, a BS in New Media Interactive Development, and an Advanced Certificate in Web Development (formerly Interactive Multimedia Development). All programs offer internship opportunities—both paid and unpaid.
Founded in 1829, Rochester Institute of Technology is one of the Top 10 Regional Universities in the North according to U.S. News & World Report. The school’s graduate studies in Multimedia/Visual Communications ranks #12 in the nation among universities offering graduate-level studies in fine arts (MFA) and RIT’s School of Design was ranked 11th among “The World’s 25 Best Design Schools” in 2012.
RIT offers some 200+ programs across nine colleges. The 1,300-acre campus, which is home to a student body of nearly 18,000 graduates and undergraduates, is located in suburban Rochester—the third largest city in the State of New York. Additional campuses in Eastern Europe and Dubai present unique study abroad opportunities for aspiring game designers, animators, filmmakers, and other artists.
5. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York (top 5% of schools reviewed)
The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HAAS) offers 26 distinct programs throughout five departments. Among the programs offered are Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (BS), Electronic Arts (BS), and Electronic Media, Arts, & Communication (BS). The School also offers MFA and PhD programs in Electronic Arts, and Certificates in Graphics and Communication Design.
Students may also consider the Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication (EMAC) program. The EMAC program offers specific concentrations for aspiring game designers including Digital Storytelling, Interaction Design, Marketing Communication & Design (includes interactive media study), and Sound Design (includes study in sound design for computer games, films, and animation). The EMAC program also offers a competitive Minor in Game Design Studies.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) was established in 1824 as the Rensselaer School. In 1833, the school became Rensselaer Institute and in 1861, Rensselaer Institute became Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Throughout the school’s nearly 200-year history, the mission has remained the same—to educate leaders of tomorrow for technologically based careers. True to its mission, RPI offers more than 100 degree programs in the areas of technology and engineering to nearly 7,000 students.
6. Parsons The New School for Design, New York, New York (top 5% of schools reviewed)
Founded in 1896, Parsons The New School for Design is a premiere design school that has campuses in New York City and Paris. Established in 1921, the Paris location was the nation’s first overseas art and design campus. Parsons also launched the nation’s first Advertising and Graphic Design program back in 1904. Today, the school offers more than 40 undergraduate and advanced degree programs to 5,000 students, across five schools.
The School of Art, Media, and Technology (AMT) is home to several top programs for future game designers and developers. AMT offers a BFA and MFA in Design & Technology with a Game Design focus, and BFA degrees in Illustration and Communication Design with an Interactive core. Just a few Design & Technology program highlights include the Visiting Artists Series, paid summer internships at some of New York’s top design and technology firms, and Study Abroad opportunities at the Paris campus. Students may study for a semester or a year or they may take seasonal courses in Paris.
7. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (top 10% of schools reviewed)
Established in 1890 as Columbia School of Oratory, Columbia College Chicago’s main purpose is to “educate students for creative occupations in diverse fields of the arts and media.” The school, which is home to more than 12,000 students, is located in Chicago’s bustling South Loop neighborhood near renowned art museums, the Magnificent Mile, historic skyscrapers, and other nationally ranked colleges. A member of the art community for more than 120 years, Columbia College Chicago is recognized as a “pioneer in arts and media education.” The school’s game design and development program certainly lives up Columbia’s reputation.
Columbia College of Chicago is home to one of the region’s most diverse game design programs. In addition, the school offers one of the largest collections of related programs under one roof. Columbia offers a BA in Game Design and a BA/BS in Game Programming with concentrations in Game Development, Game Art, and Game Sound Design. The school also offers a BA/BFA in Interactive Arts and Media (IAM), BFA degrees in Computer Animation and Traditional Animation, and a Minor in Motion Graphics.
Other related programs include BA degrees in Film and Video and in Mobile Media Programming, a BFA in Illustration BFA, and MFA degrees in Film and Video-Cinema Directing and Film and Video-Creative Producing. Many graduates of Columbia’s game design and related programs are employed at companies such as Jellyvision, Dreamation, RedEye Studios, Liquid Generation, and WMS Industries. Current students have access to unique internship opportunities at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Mayor’s office, and interactive firms such as Rise Interactive.
8. New York University Tisch School of the Arts, New York, New York (top 10% of schools reviewed)
New York University Tisch School of the Arts has been in existence since 1965. Home to more than 4,000 students, the Tisch School comprises three buildings located in the heart of historic Greenwich Village. The school also has a campus in Asia (The School of the Arts Asia), which is NYU’s first degree-granting campus outside of NYC. Tisch Asia offers Animation and Digital Arts, International Media Producing, and Dramatic Writing programs as well as a graduate Film program.
The New York campus is home to the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, the Institute of Performing Arts, the Skirball Center for New Media, the famous Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and the Department of Art & Public Policy. The Skirball Center for New Media houses the NYU Game Center. Established in 2008, the NYU Game Center offers a 2-year Master of Fine Arts that " explores the design and development of games as a creative practice." The program focuses on creating games and includes criticism, game design, programming, and visual design.
The Tisch School offers several additional related programs covering film, animation, and digital arts. Offered through the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television, the BA in Film & Television features an Animation Core. The School of the Arts Asia offers an MFA in Animation & Digital Arts.
9. Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (top 10% of schools reviewed)
Cornell University is a private university and the land-grant institution of New York State. Established in 1865, this Ivy League institution ranks number 15 in the nation among National Universities by U.S. News & World Report and number 51 overall, number 43 in Private Colleges, and number 26 in Research Universities by Forbes. The school is home to 14,000 undergraduate students and 7,000+ graduate students from around the U.S. and 120 countries.
With more than 10 schools along with programs in Washington, D.C. and New York City, Cornell University has more than 4,000 course offerings. The school also offers more than 80 formal major fields, 70 minors, and dozens of graduate and professional degrees throughout dozens of departments. The Computing and Information Science Department is home of the Game Design Initiative at Cornell University (GDIAC).
The Game Design Initiative is "an interdisciplinary collaboration of students and faculty dedicated to the academic study of game design." The program is the first game design program established at an Ivy League institution. Although the program only offers a minor, it "is a highly-regarded program for technical areas such as software development, technical game design, game analytics, and project management." The minor program is open to all students, regardless of major.
Cornell University has a related program that may be of interest to aspiring game designers. The Cornell University Department of Performing Arts, Schwartz Center of Performing Arts offers a BA in Performing & Media Arts with a Film & Media Production Course Sequence or a Design Sequence. The Film program is often taken in combination with the Game Design Initiative program.
10. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (top 10% of schools reviewed)
Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1749, the University of Pennsylvania began as The Academy of Philadelphia. By 1751, the Academy was open for business and by 1765, the school had established the nation's first medical school and the first teaching hospital. The school went on to found the country's first law school as well and in 1972, it became The University of Pennsylvania. Today, the school is known as "UPenn" or just “Penn,” and it is home to nearly 25,000 students, enrolled in four undergraduate schools and 12 graduate and professional schools.
The University of Pennsylvania consists of several campuses and facilities including the 302-acre west Philadelphia main campus, the 600-acre New Bolton Center, and the 92-acre Morris Arboretum. The main campus is home to the Center for Human Modeling and Simulation (HMS), Department of Computer & Information Science. Here, students may enroll in the Master of Science in Engineering in Computer Graphics and Game Technology (CGGT) or the Digital Media Design (DMD) program. The DMD program leads to a BS in Engineering. The Penn School of Design (PennDesign) also offers a Certificate in Time-Based and Interactive Media.
In addition to producing famous alums such as Nick Foster of PDI/DreamWorks ("Shrek") and Cary Philips of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) (both winners of Academy Awards for Technical Achievement), the CGGT and DMD programs have help graduates land jobs at some of the world’s top companies and studios. Just a few include Activision, Blue Sky Entertainment, Dreamworks, Disney, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Pixar, and Sony.