Our 2014 list of the Top 75 Game Design/Development School Programs in the US. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
The University of Southern California (USC) is home to USC Games. Created by the School of Cinematic Arts’ (SCA) Interactive Media & Games Division in collaboration with the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, USC Games offers several renowned graduate level game design programs and several undergraduate programs. Options include an MFA in Interactive Media, an MS in Computer Science with a Specialization in Game Development, a BA in Interactive Entertainment, and a BS in Computer Science (Games).
USC Games students have access to a large collection of labs and studio spaces such as the Game Innovation Lab, Gamepipe Laboratory, Kinect Development Lab, the SCA Motion Capture State, the Stereoscopic Lab, and more. The program is growing and now features a new Interactive Media Building within SCA and coursework from several other divisions and schools throughout USC including the John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts (HenchDADA), the Division of Writing for Screen & Television, the Division of Critical Studies, the Roski School of Fine Arts, and USC Annenberg's School for Communication & Journalism.
USC also offers Minors in Computer Science, Video Game Programming, Video Game Design and Management, and Innovation: The Digital Entrepreneur.
Established in 1880, USC is home to 40,000 students enrolled in more than 200 programs across more than a dozen colleges and schools. The school consists of two campuses—the 229-acre University Park Campus and the 79-acre Health Sciences Campus. The University Park Campus is located just south of Downtown Los Angeles and it houses the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School, and most of USC’s professional schools and programs.
2. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) houses the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences—home of the School of Interactive Games & Media (IGM), Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity (MAGIC). The School of IGM-MAGIC features state-of-the-art production facilities, an annual Global Game Jam, on-campus game development weekends, and a large collection of programs for aspiring game designers.
Undergraduate offerings include a BS in Game Design and Development, a BS in New Media Interactive Development, and a BS in New Media Design (formerly New Media Design and Imaging). Graduate offerings include an MS in Game Design and Development. Academic Minors include Game Design and 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, and BFAs in Illustration and New Media Design. All programs offer internship opportunities—both paid and unpaid.
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) was established in 1885 as the Mechanics Institute. Mechanical Drawing was the first class offered by the school, which began with 400 students. By 1903 the Institute had established five academic departments—mostly in the arts including the Departments of Fine Arts, Industrial Arts, Mechanic Arts and Sciences, Domestic Science and Art, and Manual Training. Enrollment jumped to 3,000 students and by 1944, the Institute had adopted the name Rochester Institute of Technology.
Today, RIT is home to 9 colleges, 18,292 students, 3,781 faculty and staff, and more than 200 programs. The School, which sits on 1,300 acres in suburban Rochester—the 3rd largest city in NY State, also has campuses in Dubai and Eastern Europe.
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers 40 majors and more than 60 minors. Included in these programs are so many degrees for game designers, you’ll lose count. Offerings include a BA, BFA, MA, MFA, and a Minor in Interactive Design & Game Development, a Minor and MFA in Themed Entertainment Design, a BFA, MA, MFA, and Minor in Motion Media Design, and an Interactive Design Certificate. SCAD also offers a BFA, MA, MFA, and a Minor in Visual Effects, a BA, BFA, MA, MFA, and Minor in Illustration, and an MA in Illustration Design.
Established in 1978, SCAD has campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, and Hong Kong and a student body consisting of more than 11,000 students from all 50 states and 100 countries. 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. All Minors are offered at all SCAD campuses.
SCAD students have access to ultramodern Mac and PC labs with Adobe Creative Suite, Maya, Motion Builder, Dragonframe, Houdini, NUKE, Massive, and more. Atlanta students also have access to a real-world studio environment, in-house theater, and green screen lab at the SCAD Digital Media Center. Further, all students have the opportunity to earn degree credit while studying abroad in exciting places such as Australia, China, Dubai, France, Italy, Japan, and London. In addition, opportunities for SCAD students continue well after graduation. Around 91 percent of alumni respondents reported being employed, pursuing further education or both within 9 months of graduation.
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology is home to the famous MIT Game Lab. This unique program allows aspiring game designers to create their own program of study. Students may focus in Game Design and Game Studies through the Comparative Media Studies Department, Computer Science through the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department, or Psychological Games and Behavioral Change via the Department of Psychology. That’s the beauty of the MIT Game Lab Program—students can do whatever they want with games!
Other opportunities in games are offered through MIT Sloan School of Management. Students may focus in Business Practices if the plan is to create their own game company. Students may opt for the Minor in Media Studies, the MS in Comparative Media Studies, or the MS in Computer Science. According to MIT, “Comparative Media Studies offers students an opportunity for interdisciplinary study of film, television, game design, virtual worlds, digital artworks, civic media, interactive writing, and other communications media.”
In addition, “other graduate programs at MIT allow students to work with the MIT Game Lab to supplement their educational and research goals, including the MIT Media Lab and the Sloan MBA program.”
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was incorporated into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on April 10, 1861. It is home to 11,301 students enrolled in more than 100 programs, across 6 schools. The school, which sits on a 168-acre campus in beautiful Cambridge, is located less than 4 miles from bustling Downtown Boston.
5. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The School of Computer Science (SCS) and the College of Fine Arts (CFA) sponsor Carnegie Mellon University’s one-of-a-kind game design programs, starting with the Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts (BCSA). In addition to Game Design, the BCSA program prepares students to enter the popular fields of Game Design, Computer Animation, and even Robotic Art.
Other offerings include a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Electronic & Time-Based Media (BFA ETB) with a Focus in Game Arts, Computational and Interactive Art, Video and Performance, and Animation, and a BCSA with an Entertainment Technology 5th-Year option which leads to a Master of Entertainment Technology. The Master of Entertainment Technology program at the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center (ETC-Global) is a unique and "rare" 2-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 overseas.
Students may also opt for the “regular” BFA where all students study Interactive Media, Video, and more. A Minor in Computer Science as well as a double major and double degree options are also on the menu.
Founded in 1900 as “Carnegie Technical Schools,” Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is considered the birthplace of innovation and a world leader in robotics. Located just 5 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh, the school sits on a 143-acre campus and it is home to more than 12,400 students enrolled in 7 schools and colleges.
6. New York University Tisch School of the Arts, New York, New York
New York University Tisch School of the Arts was established in 1965. The school, which consists of three buildings situated in historic Greenwich Village, is home to more than 4,000 students enrolled in 5 divisions including the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, the Institute of Performing Arts, the Department of Art and Public Policy, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and Skirball Center for New Media—home of the NYU Game Center. Established in 2008, the NYU Game Center offers an intensive 2-year Master of Fine Arts (MFA) that "explores the design and development of games as a creative practice."
The program encompasses focused study in Programming, Visual Design, and of course, Game Design. NYU Games also offers a Minor in Game Design and the School offers opportunities for all students to Study Abroad in Florence, Italy, Paris, France, London, England, and Prague, Czech Republic.
Founded in 1831, New York University (NYU) is home to more than 50,000 students. It houses 14 schools, colleges, and divisions, and employs more than 16,000 staff members. The school occupies 5 major centers in Manhattan. The largest is the Washington Square Center (Greenwich Village) home of the Tisch School of the Arts.
NYU 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.
7. University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
The University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to the esteemed UCLA Game Lab which explores Game Aesthetics, Game Context, and Game Genres. This non-traditional game development program is housed within UCLA’s Design Media Arts Department (DMA) and it is supported by the School of Arts and Architecture and the School of Theater, Film, and Television. Degree offerings include a BA in Design Media Arts (BA DMA) and an MFA in Media Arts.
Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, UCLA is home to 42,163 students (Fall 2013) from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The campus sits on 419 acres just 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean and at the base of the Santa Monica mountains. The location is convenient to just about everything from game design, animation, and film studios to museums, theaters, and more.
8. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) offers more graduate programs for aspiring game designers than most other universities. The school even offers an intriguing PhD program for exceptional students. Offerings include a Master of Science (MS) in Engineering-Computer Graphics and Game Technology (CGGT), the Center for Human Modeling and Simulation PhD (HMS PhD), a BS in Engineering-Digital Media Design (DMD) offered in collaboration with UPenn's Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Design, and a Certificate in Time-Based and Interactive Media. UPenn is one of the few schools to offer an HMS PhD.
In addition to offering a number of advanced programs for game designers, UPenn has a number of famous alums to its credit 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. UPenn’s CGGT and DMD programs have also helped graduates land jobs at Activision, Blue Sky Entertainment, DreamWorks, Disney, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Pixar, Sony, and more.
UPenn was established in 1740, but it wasn’t organized until 1749 and it didn't open its doors until 1751 as the "Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania." Today, UPenn sits on 302-acre urban campus and it is home to 24,630 students enrolled in 4 undergraduate and 12 graduate and professional schools. The school, which is less than 10 minutes from Downtown Philadelphia—the city’s cultural center, and less than 2 hours from NYC, also houses the 600-acre New Bolton Center, and the 92-acre Morris Arboretum.
9. Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
Founded in 1885, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is home to more than 21,500 students enrolled in 100+ academic programs through 6 colleges including the Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, and Sciences, the Scheller College of Business, and Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts—home the School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC). The School of LMC offers a Bachelor of Science in Computational Media (BSCM), a BS in Science, Technology, and Culture, a 5-Year BS/MS in Science, Technology, and Culture with Media Studies/Digital Media, and a 5-Year BS/MS in Computational Media/Digital Media.
A collaborative effort by the College of Computing and the School of LMC, the BSCM program began with just one student in 2004 and now has more than 300 students. The program offers a Focus (or “Threads”) in Game Studies, Interaction Design and Experimental Media, Film, Performance Media, and Narrative. The program prepares students for careers in Game Design & Development, Digital Arts, Animation, Virtual and Augmented Reality, and Special Effects as well as graduate study in the areas of Digital Media Design, Computer Science, Film, Human-Computer Interaction, and more. Graduate offerings include an MS in Digital Media, an MS in Human-Computer Interaction (MS HCI), and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Digital Media.
Students have the opportunity to participate in Georgia Tech’s Study Abroad program which will take them to destinations such as Gorizia, Italy, Barcelona, Spain, Denmark Sweden, and the Copenhagen Institute of Technology (new!). Students also have access to a wide variety of internship opportunities—for credit and for pay. Students can find the best internships through the school’s popular internship database “IVAN,” and planning typically begins as early as the student’s sophomore year.
Many internships have led to employment at a variety of top studios and media firms. Georgia Tech graduates have accepted positions at Electronic Arts: EA Games, Google, Lucasfilm Animation, South Park Studios, PlayOn Sports, Technicolor, Turner Broadcasting, Universal Studios, Apple, CCP, Zynga, and Major League Baseball.
10. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida
Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) is so popular in the game design and development industry that more than 60 recruiters visit the school each year searching for fresh talent. Just a few frequent visitors include recruiters from Activision, Blizzard Entertainment, DreamWorks, Electronic Arts: EA Games, Epic Games, Industrial Light & Magic, Pixar Animation, Riot Games, Sony Pictures Animation, and Universal Studios.
Home to 1,364 students from 44 states and 53 foreign countries, RCAD offers 14 majors from Game Design to Printmaking to Animation. Top picks for aspiring game designers include the BFA in Game Art & Design, the BFA in Motion Design, the BFA in Graphic & Interactive Communication, and the BFA in Computer Animation. Other options include BFAs in Digital Filmmaking and Illustration—RCAD’s most popular BFA program, as well as a Minor in Business of Art & Design. This minor is popular among designers looking to open their own studio.
Established in 1931 by co-founder of the Ringling Bros. Circus—John Ringling, Ringling College of Art and Design sits on a 48-acre campus which includes an impressive collection of 90 buildings, workspaces, and studios. The school, which is a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD), is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA).