Our 2016 list of the Top 50 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)
University of Southern California (USC) was established in 1880 and it is home to 43,000 students enrolled in more than 500 graduate and undergraduate programs, and over 150 minors across 18 colleges and schools. Program offerings for aspiring game designers are offered through several colleges and schools including the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences - Interactive Media & Games Division (in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts) and the Viterbi School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science.
The Interactive Media & Games Division offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment, an intensive three-year MFA in Interactive Media, and Minors in Game Design and Game Entrepreneurism. According to USC, the MFA program “draws on the strengths of the School of Cinematic Arts, including Game Design, Animation, Sound Production, Screenwriting, Producing and Critical Studies, bringing these resources together in a vibrant community of innovative digital media practice.”
USC Viterbi game design programs include a BS in Computer Science – CSCI (Games), an MS in Computer Science (Game Development), and a PhD in Computer Science (Game Design and Development or Virtual Reality). 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). All programs are offered through USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science.
In addition to a wide variety of program offerings for aspiring game designers, USC is home to the GamePipe Laboratory. The Laboratory is sponsored by Intel, Sony, and other technology companies and it 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. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington (top 2% of schools considered)
Founded in 1988, DigiPen Institute of Technology is home to around 1,071 students from across the U.S. and 45 countries. The school offers 10 graduate and undergraduate programs 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.
According to DigiPen, although the BS in RTIS offers “extensive training in mathematics and physics,” 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.
3. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (top 2% of schools considered)
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) was founded in 1900. It is home nearly 13,650 students enrolled in more than 100 programs across seven colleges and schools. The College of Fine Arts-Integrative Design, Arts and Technology Network (IDeATe), in collaboration with the School of Computer Science-Computer Science Department, 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.
A Minor in IDeATe and a Master of Entertainment Technology (MET) degree are also available. The MET is “jointly conferred by the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts.”
4. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York (top 5% of schools considered)
Founded in 1885 as Mechanics Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) opened with just 400 students and the school’s first class was mechanical drawing. Today, RIT is home to 18,606 students majoring in everything from 3D Digital Design to Web and Mobile Computing. The B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences (GCCIS) offers several programs for aspiring game designers including BS and MS degrees in Game Design and Development.
The Game Design and Development program emphasizes game programming and cooperative education (co-op). These full-time paid work experiences provide students with an opportunity to learn on the job in real-world industry settings. Students also have the opportunity to minor in either Game Design or Game Design and Development.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts (top 5% of schools considered)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was founded 1861 and it is home to 11,331 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 offer the opportunity to study, design, and develop games as a supplement to several degree programs. Offerings for aspiring game designers include a BS in Comparative Media Studies (CMS) with a Games and Interactive Media “Cluster,” an MS with a Specialization in Games, and a Minor in CMS. These programs are available through the HASS Department of Comparative Media Studies/Writing.
6. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah (top 5% of schools considered)
Founded in 1850, the University of Utah (The U) is home to more than 31,000 students from across the U.S. and around the world. The school offers nearly 100 undergraduate programs and more than 90 graduate programs. The school houses 17 colleges and schools, and close to 100 departments. The College of Engineering and the College of Fine Arts offer the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Master Games Studio (EAE:MGS). Tracks include Arts, Engineering, Technical Arts, and Production. According to the Studio, “all students in each of the tracks have a series of common classes including Game Design, Rapid Prototyping, Pre-Production, and Final Project.” In addition, students will “develop and enhance a professional game portfolio” and they will have the opportunity to complete an internship in the game industry.
The David Eccles School of Business and the Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program also offer a dual degree program “designed to take advantage of the complementary elements in the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) and the Masters of Entertainment Arts & Engineering.” The MBA/MEAE, which aims to bridge the ‘suits’ vs. the ‘dev’ divide, takes three years to complete.
Other viable offerings include a BA in Film and Media Arts and a BS in Computer Science. Both programs offer an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE). The BA is available through the School of Computing and Department of Film and Media Arts, and the BS is available through the School of Computing.
7. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (top 5% of schools considered)
Founded in 1978, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is home to more than 12,000 students enrolled in 40-plus majors and more than 60 minors. The school has campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France, which offer a variety of degree programs for aspiring game designers. SCAD’s School of Digital Media offers a BA (Savannah, Atlanta, eLearning), BFA (Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong), MA (Savannah, Hong Kong, eLearning), and MFA (Savannah, Hong Kong, eLearning) in Interactive Design and Game Development. A Minor in Interactive Design and Game Development is also available as well as a Certificate in Interactive Design.
8. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida (top 5% of schools considered)
Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) was established in 1931 by circus baron John Ringling. The school opened with just 75 students enrolled in 111 courses. Today, RCAD sits on a 35-acre campus that houses 1,300 degree-seeking students enrolled in 13 majors. Programs for aspiring game designers include a BFA in Game Art & Design. Students in the program will study “the basics of game design mechanics, meaningful play, interactivity, and options for creating and refining game content.”
Graduates of the Game Art & Design program have landed jobs at Riot Games, Epic Games, Blizzard Entertainment, Gunfire Games, Evertoon, Naughty Dog, S2 Games, and many others.
9. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York (top 10% of schools considered)
Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is a collection of five schools offering more than 145 programs to a population of 7,113 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.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute also offers several advanced degree programs for aspiring 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 areas of interest ranging from Gaming and Animation to Communication Technologies.
10. Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia (top 10% of schools considered)
Georgia Institute of Technology (GeorgiaTech) was founded in 1885 and opened for classes October 8, 1888. When it opened, the school had just 129 students enrolled in the BS in Mechanical Engineering program. Today, GeorgiaTech is home to more than 25,000 students enrolled in more than 80 degree programs and more than 50 minors through six colleges and more than 25 schools.
The College of Computing is home to [email protected]—an “institute-wide initiative designed to advance the game community through interdisciplinary research, funding opportunities, tech transfer and expansion of industry collaborations.” The College also offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Options include a BS in Computational Media (BSCM) with a Game Studies Focus (also supported by the School of Literature Communication and Culture within the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts), MS degrees in Digital Media and Digital Media – HCI, and a PhD in Digital Media. All College of Computing students will have access to resources offered by the GVU Center at Georgia Tech and the Institute for People and Technology.