Our 2017 list of the Top 25 Private Game Design School Programs in the US. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California (top 1% of schools considered)
Established in 1880, University of Southern California (USC) is home to 44,000 students enrolled in over 500 degree programs across 18 colleges and schools. Program options for aspiring game designers are available through Viterbi School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, Interactive Media & Games Division. Dornsife programs are offered in in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts.
Viterbi School of Engineering offerings include a BS in Computer Science – CSCI (Games), an MS in Computer Science (Game Development), and a PhD in Computer Science with a Game Design and Development or Virtual Reality research area. A Minor in Computer Science and a Progressive Degree Program (PDP) are also available.
The Progressive Degree Program allows exceptional undergraduate students to “start graduate-level classes during their senior year and request a reduction in the units required for the Master’s degree.” This “allows students to earn the MS in Computer Science with one or two additional semesters of study.” The PDP is available for the MS in Computer Science (Game Development).
The Interactive Media & Games Division offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment, an intensive three-year MFA in Interactive Media and an MFA in Interactive Media (Games and Health), and an MA in Media Arts, Games and Health. The Division’s extensive list of minors in 2-D Art for Games, 3-D Art for Games, Game Animation, Game Audio, Game Design, Game Entrepreneurism, Game Studies, Game User Research, Video Game Design and Management, and Video Game Programming.
In addition to a wide variety of program options for aspiring game designers, USC is home to the GamePipe Laboratory. Sponsored by Intel, Sony, and other technology companies, the Lab produces a "Demo Day," which allows students to showcase their work. The semiannual event attracts game industry reps, reporters, faculty, students, and hundreds of spectators from across the country.
2. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York (top 2% of schools considered)
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Options include BS and MS degrees in Game Design and Development, and a BS in New Media Interactive Development. These programs are offered through the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences (GCCIS). A BFA in 3D Digital Design is also available through the RIT School of Design.
The Game Design and Development program focuses on the design of game interaction and game development, as well as game programming and cooperative education (co-op). Cooperative education is a full-time paid work experience, which provides students the opportunity to learn on the job in real-world industry settings.
Students in the BS in New Media Interactive Development program can explore casual games, physical computing, production, web, mobile, and more. All GCCIS students have the opportunity to minor in Game Design or Game Design and Development or enroll in a double major.
The 3D Digital Design program offers a curriculum in visual design for games, virtual worlds, and more. Note that all GCCIS and School of Design programs offer the opportunity for co-ops and internships, as well as access to the new RIT MAGIC (Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity) Center’s MAGIC Spell Studios. The Center and Studios are a university-wide state-of-the-art education, research and production studio focused on exploring innovative interactive digital media.
The Studio includes a movie theatre, computer gaming labs, innovation suite, collaborative partner suite, AR/VR/MR lab, a research computing facility, and a soundstage.
3. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (top 3% of schools considered)
Founded in 1900, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is home nearly 14,000 students and more than 100 centers and institutes. CMU students have access 100-plus programs across seven colleges and schools. In collaboration with the School of Computer Science-Computer Science Department, the College of Fine Arts-Integrative Design, Arts and Technology Network (IDeATe) offers a Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts (BCSA) with a Concentration in Game Design. IDeATe Collaborative Studios include Game Engine Programming offered by the Robotics Institute, Research Issues in Game Development offered by the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at CMU, and Programming for Game Designers—also offered by the ETC. An IDeATe Minor is also available.
Head over to CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) and you will find another game design option. Founded in 1998, ETC offers a Master of Entertainment Technology (MET) that is jointly conferred by CMU’s School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts. MET is currently considered a terminal degree.
4. New York University Tisch School of the Arts, New York, New York (top 4% of schools considered)
Founded in 1965, Tisch School of the Arts (Tisch, TSOA) is part of New York University (NYU). The school is home to more than 3,000 students enrolled in dozens of programs in the areas of acting, dance, design, performance, film, animation, writing for musical theatre, stage, screen & television, preservation, recorded music, photography, interactive media, games, and public policy. Tisch also houses the NYU Game Center, Department of Game Design.
The NYU Game Center, Department of Design offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Options include a Game Design BFA or MFA. A Minor in Game Design is also available. The BFA program is organized in three primary areas including Game Studies, Game Design, Game Development, and four production areas including Programming, Visual Design, Audio Design, and Game Business. Students may specialize in Game Programming, Visual or Audio Design, or Game Development.
The Game Center MFA is a two-year degree that includes classes in Game Design, Game Production, Game Studies, and Game History. Students will gain hands-on experience by taking studio courses and participating in play labs, and electives will allow students to “explore everything from Game Journalism to Games and Players (a class on the psychology and emotions of game play).”
Classes and events for all Game Center programs take place at the Media and Games Network (MAGNET) at the NYU Brooklyn campus. MAGNET also houses the Game Center Open Library, which is "the largest collection of games held by any university in the world."
5. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington (top 5% of schools considered)
DigiPen Institute of Technology was founded in 1988. The school is home to 1,084 students from across the U.S. and 45 countries. The school offers 10 programs leading to a BA, BFA, BS, MS, or MFA in the areas of Art, Design, and Computer Science. Offerings for aspiring game designers include a BA in Game Design, a BS in Computer Science and Game Design, a BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation (BS in RTIS), a five-year BS in RTIS/MS in Computer Science, and a Minor in Game Design.
Although the BS in RTIS offers “extensive training in mathematics and physics,” per Digipen, students in the program also “work both individually and collaboratively to learn the fundamentals of Game Design, Production, and Programming. Additionally, they write game design documents and technical design documents, learn how to schedule tools and techniques, and participate in the full production of several games.” The Game Design programs at Digipen Institute of Technology are offered through the Department of Game Software Design and Production.
6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts (top 10% of schools considered)
Founded 1861, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is home to 11,376 students enrolled in more than 100 programs across five schools including the School of Architecture and Planning, the School of Engineering, the School of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences (HASS), MIT Sloan School of Management, and the School of Science. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is also home to the MIT Game Lab, the MIT Education Arcade, and the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.
Together, the labs provide the opportunity to study, design, and develop games as a supplement to several degree programs. Simply put, students who are interested in games can create their own program is study. Students may choose the BS in Comparative Media Studies (CMS) with a Games and Interactive Media “Cluster” or an MS with a Specialization in Games.
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science offers an extensive graduate program in Computer Science, which allows students to “study and participate in active research of aspects in computer science that are vital in the creation of modern digital games, such as artificial intelligence, networking, and computer graphics.” A Minor in CMS is also available. These programs are available through the HASS Department of Comparative Media Studies/Writing.
7. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York (top 10% of schools considered)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is a collection of five schools offering more than 145 programs to a population of more than 7,000 students. The School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) offers a BS in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (BS GSAS). Students may choose a concentration or dual BS degree from the following options: Arts (Electronic Arts), Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer Science, Management/Entrepreneurship, Cognitive Science, or Writing for Games.
Established in 1824, RPI also offers several advanced degree programs for game designers. Graduate offerings include MFA and PhD degrees in Electronic Arts (EART). Offered through the Department of Arts, both degree programs allow students to explore everything from Gaming and Animation to Communication Technologies.
8. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois (top 10% of schools considered)
DePaul University (est. 1898) offers 300 programs of study across 10 colleges and schools and two campuses in Chicago. In keeping with the university’s commitment to diversity and access to education, 35% of total enrollments are students of color and 86% of students receive some type of financial aid.
The College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM), where the game programs are housed, is also home to programs such as animation, computer science, and sound design, offering cross-disciplinary courses and collaboration among students. CDM offers a BS in Game Design, a BS in Game Programming, an MFA in Game Design, an MS in Game Programming, and game-related concentrations in other degrees, including the BFA and MA in Animation and the BS and MS in Computer Science/Software Engineering. CDM has over 40 labs with roughly a dozen dedicated to gaming, including game development and research labs, a gameplay lab, playtest and usability labs, and, new in 2018, a Virtual and Augmented Reality Design Lab that supports multiplayer, room-scale VR and AR game dev on cutting-edge devices. DePaul University also offers a Game, Cinema and Animation Summer Academy for high school students, with tracks in game development and 3D modeling/animation for games.
9. Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (top 10% of schools considered)
Drexel University was established in 1891 and it is home to more than 24,000 students enrolled in over 200 degree programs across 15 colleges and schools. The College of Computing & Informatics offers several programs for aspiring game designers including a BS in Computer Science (BSCS) and a BA in Computer Science (BACS). Both programs offer a Concentration in Game Programming and Development (GMPD).
The Westphal College of Media Arts & Design also offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Programs include BS degrees in Game Art and Production or Game Design & Production, and MS and PhD degrees in Digital Media. The two-year MS program features comprehensive studies in Gaming and Digital Media History, Theory and Methods, 3D Modeling, Interactivity, and Animation.
A final option is for students interested in teaching. The School of Education offers a Graduate Certificate in Learning in Game Based Environments. All students have access to Drexel Game Design and the RePlay Lab. DGD and RePlay are collaborative efforts between the Digital Media program (in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design) and the Computer Science department (in the College of Computing and Informatics).
10. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida (top 10% of schools considered)
Established in 1931 by circus baron John Ringling, Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) opened with 111 course offerings and just 75 students. Today, RCAD is home to 1,300 degree-seeking students enrolled in 13 majors and five minors across several departments. Programs for game designers are part of the Computer Animation Department.
Options include a BFA in Game Art. Students in the program will study “the basics of game design mechanics, meaningful play, interactivity, and options for creating and refining game content.” The technical aspects of 3D animation software and game engines will also be explored and students have access to eight state-of-the-art computer labs in addition to three open labs. Per the school, “Game Art students are also experimenting with VR technology using the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.”
11. Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts (top 15% of schools considered)
Northeastern University was founded in 1898. The school is home to nearly 20,000 students enrolled in over 150 majors across seven colleges and schools. Programs for game designers are offered through the College of Arts, Media and Design (CAMD) and the College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS). CAMD has six programs for game designers including a BFA in Digital Art and Game Design, a BFA in Games, a BS in Computer Science and Game Development, an MS in Game Science and Design, a Graduate Certificate in Game Analytics, and a Minor in Game Design.
CCIS offers several programs for game designers including a BS in Computer Science and Design (formerly Computer Science and Interactive Media) and a BS in Computer Science and Game Development. These combined majors focus on “the specific skills needed to succeed in the highly competitive game industry.”
12. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (top 15% of schools considered)
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was established in 1978 and it is home to around 13,000 students from nearly 50 states and 115 countries. The school offers more than 40 majors and 70 minors and certificate programs across four campuses including Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France. SCAD’s School of Digital Media offers a number of programs for game designers.
Options include a BA, BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in Interactive Design and Game Development (IDGD). The BA is available at the Savannah, Atlanta, eLearning campuses. The BFA is offered in Savannah, Atlanta, and Hong Kong. SCAD’s MA and MFA in IDGD are available in Savannah, Hong Kong, and through eLearning. Minors in IDGD, Concept Art for Games, Design for 3-D Action Figures, and Illustration for Entertainment are available as well as a Graduate Certificate in Interactive Design.
13. Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida (top 15% of schools considered)
Full Sail University was established in 1979 in Dayton, Ohio as audio recording workshop. Today the school sits on a 210-acre campus in Winter Park Florida that consists of 880,000 square feet of media production facilities, 110+ studios and labs, and more than 60 classrooms. Located just a few miles from Orlando, Full Sail University is home to approximately 15,500 students from 50 states and 67countries.
The school offers 78 degree programs in the areas of Entertainment, Media, and the Arts, leading to a certificate or a degree at all levels. The Game School at Full Sail offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Undergraduate offerings include BS degrees in Game Art, Game Design, Game Development, Simulation & Visualization, and Mobile Development. Graduate degrees include an MS in Game Design or Mobile Gaming.
Fifty-three Full Sail graduates were credited on 21 nominated projects at The Game Awards 2015. Grads worked on nominated and winning projects in categories including Game of the Year, Best Narrative, Best Multiplayer, and Best Score/Soundtrack.