Top Playwriting MFA Programs

Last Updated on March 8, 2023 by

The Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University is more than a traditional three-year degree program. Similar to an intensive workshop/retreat or conference, it promotes inclusivity and collaboration, not exclusivity and competition. Students work with some of the most important names in new play development. Unlike other programs, The New Works Initiative provides opportunities for the production of student work at professional theatres. The combination of intense training and professional experience gives Hollins playwriting graduates an edge in the industry.
In 2018, the Playwright’s Lab received fourteen national awards and commendations from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival–including the Kennedy Center Gold Medallion, considered one of the highest honors in educational theatre.

Since you don’t necessarily need a MFA to sell a play or screenplay, you might be thinking, what’s the point of applying to a playwriting or screenwriting graduate program? Graduate administrators admit writers don’t come to their programs to get a degree; they come to develop as artists. Grad school provides you with the preparation, resources, and exposure to dramatically influence your success as a writer. And consider this: It isn’t every day that playwrights are given the chance produce their own work. Many grad schools offer this perk, even hiring a full-time director and acting troupe for each playwriting student enrolled. Film programs circulate their students’ screenplays among agents, managers, and production companies. Other schools employ alumni listservs to get the word out about exceptional students. What better graduation gift than to have your screenplay sent directly to Hollywood’s elite?

Stellar grades and impressive extra-curricular activities aren’t going to get you into an MFA program. The primary quality admissions offices look for in an applicant is writing ability. Often, there are minimum GPA and GRE score requirements, but demonstrating your talent through a strong writing sample can often trump weaknesses you might have in other areas. Competition is stiff; some playwriting programs accept as little as three applicants per year, while most screenwriting programs only take between twenty to forty students per year. Clear and creative writing is the way to distinguish yourself.

Playwriting and screenwriting are businesses where who you know is everything, and the best graduate programs immerse you in a network of peer support and industry contacts. Because of this, you should heavily weigh a school’s reputation when narrowing down your search for the perfect program. Focus on those schools with long-running programs and reputations for producing Hollywood and Broadway’s finest writers, and be sure to find out how many consecutive semesters the program has been running.

Degree Information

Because an MFA is the terminal degree in this field (no doctorates offered), this will be your last stop in an education in fine arts. Masters programs in screenwriting typically take two years to complete, while playwriting programs can require up to three years of study, depending on the school. A master’s thesis in the form of a play or screenplay is generally a requisite for graduation. Most grad programs require at least one full-length play or screenplay per each year enrolled, allowing you to build up a strong writing portfolio and collect criticism from people who really know what they’re talking about.

Best Universities offering graduate programs in Playwriting and Screenwriting

Master’s degree in Playwriting and Screenwriting is offered by 19 American universities. New York Film Academy had 13 international graduate students in its 19 program, which is one of the highest counts in the country. New York Film Academy had the most women graduates in this program.

Columbia University in the City of New York

Columbia University in the City of New York logo

Ranked as:  #4 in Best National University

Tuition:  $51,194 per year

Total Cost:  $102,388 *

State:  New York

Acceptance:  6.66%

The MFA playwriting program embraces diverse voices and aesthetics. There are many ways to write a great play, exemplified by our faculty, which includes Tony©, Pulitzer, and Obie Award winners such as Charles Mee, Lynn Nottage, and David Henry Hwang. This program seeks to help each student find their own unique and idiosyncratic voice, and help each play grow into the best version of itself.

The department take a practical approach to preparing graduates for careers as dramatists, by offering courses and experience in the full range of dramatic writing, including television, film, and musical theatre, under the guidance of instructors like Tony© Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori and iconic TV showrunner Matt Williams.

Because the department believe playwrights need to hear their work and see it staged, two years of reading and critiquing student work are supplemented by workshop productions. The third year includes professional development led by the concentration head, with each student receiving a full production of their thesis play, mentored by their favorite dramatist or other theatre professional.

This program is large enough to offer a wide range of courses, and small enough for each writer to gain the personal attention necessary to facilitate their all-important artistic growth.

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Columbia University in the City of New York admission requirements for graduate programs in Fine, Visual, Applied and Performing Arts

  • GRE Required: No
  • Research assistantships: 1081
  • Teaching assistantships: 1757
  • Financial Aid:

ADD TO COMPARE

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College logo

Ranked as:  #11 in Best National University

Tuition:  $58,120 per year

Total Cost:  $116,240 *

State:  New Hampshire

Acceptance:  9.22%

Students interested in playwriting have the opportunity to develop their voice through workshops and staged readings via the department YourSpace and Studio Lab production programs, as well as through the annual Frost Dodd Student Play Festival each summer.

A staged reading performance of 2017 Frost Playwriting Competition winner Craters written by Elise Wien ’17. Summer 2017 Photo Rob Strong.

A staged reading performance of 2017 Frost Playwriting Competition winner Everything Falls Apart written by Jordyn Fitch ’20. Summer 2017 Photo Rob Strong.

A performance of 2017 Dodd Playwriting Contest winner If It Isn’t You written by Tess McGuinness ’18. Summer 2017 Photo Rob Strong.

Student playwrights are strongly encouraged to submit their one-act plays to the Frost and Dodd Student Playwriting Competition, which culminates each summer with the Frost Dodd Student Play Festival. The festival showcases the work of three student playwrights: two Frost contest play submissions are selected to be produced as staged readings, while the winning Dodd contest play is mounted as a fully-produced production. Performances take place in July, in the Bentley Theater winners also receive a cash prize.

Beyond the Frost Dodd Student Play Festival, students looking for a performance platform to develop original written work via a staged reading or performance workshop may submit an application to any of our student production tracks: YourSpace, PlaySpace, or fully-produced Student Production Slot.

Academically, the department offers a number of courses in playwriting, including Playwriting I II and Dramatic Storytelling, which focuses on both play and screenwriting.

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Playwriting – Program details

Dartmouth College admission requirements for graduate programs in Fine, Visual, Applied and Performing Arts

  • GRE Required: Yes
  • Research assistantships: 273
  • Teaching assistantships: 345
  • Financial Aid:

ADD TO COMPARE

Brown University

Brown University logo

Ranked as:  #16 in Best National University

Tuition:  $60,363 per year

Total Cost:  $120,726 *

State:  Rhode Island

Acceptance:  7.67%

The Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting is a three–year program. Students take a strong hand in designing their own course of study. This program is for the students who are committed to the development of their craft; the deep interrogation of the forms and purposes of their art, and of the place of art in the larger world; and a leaning into faithful transformation of society through theatrical action.

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MFA in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies: Playwriting – Program details

Brown University admission requirements for graduate programs in Fine, Visual, Applied and Performing Arts

  • GRE Required: Yes
  • Research assistantships: 507
  • Teaching assistantships: 483
  • Financial Aid:

University of California-Los Angeles

University of California-Los Angeles logo

Ranked as:  #23 in Best National University

Tuition:  $28,131 per year

Total Cost:  $56,262 *

State:  California

Acceptance:  14.33%

The Screenwriting program, a two-year master of fine arts degree in film and television, seeks to identify and nurture the most exciting, innovative, diverse and distinct screenwriting voices in a supportive, safe environment that enables students to explore and experiment with form and subject matter. We challenge our students to succeed through risking failure, to engage with other art forms in order to better understand the art of screenwriting, to cultivate a curiosity in global art, to develop critical thinking skills to aid in the analysis of their scripts, and to provide an ethical foundation in building a career path.

Students build their thesis portfolio by concentrating either on feature film or television writing, though students are encouraged to, and often do take, workshops in both concentrations.

The Screenwriting program has the following time-to-degree requirement: A minimum of six quarters maximum of seven quarters. The minimum total units required to graduate is 72 units (18 courses). Maintenance of a B average GPA.

430 INTRODUCTION TO FILM TELEVISION WRITING is required for aLL M.F.A. screenwriting students and must be taken in the Fall Quarter of the student’s first year. Students must take a minimum of two graduate-level Cinema Media Studies courses.

These courses are sometimes taught as a core course for M.A. students and may not be available that particular quarter for M.F.A. students.

Courses are sometimes taught as a core course for M.A. students and may not be available that particular quarter to M.F.A. students.

Students must take a minimum of one graduate-level FTVDM course outside of screenwriting. These may include classes offered by the Producers Program, Production Program or Animation Program.

As the Film, Television and Digital Media is undergoing a comprehensive curriculum review, we will not be accepting applications for Fall 2021. The department plans to resume Graduate Screenwriting admissions for students entering in Fall 2022.

Satisfy the University of California’s Graduate Admission Requirements.

Complete equivalent to a 4-year U.S. bachelor’s degree.

Indicate MFA, Film and Television, Screenwriting as the program.

Enter the Names and Emails of all recommenders into the UCLA Graduate Division Online Application.

Proof of Funding for Vis U.S. immigration law requires that international applicants, if admitted, show documented evidence that sufficient funds to cover all tuition, fees, transportation, and living expenses are available for the first year of their studies at UCLA. This must be proven before a Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS2019) for a visa can be issued.

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Screenwriting – Program details

University of California-Los Angeles admission requirements for graduate programs in Fine, Visual, Applied and Performing Arts

  • GRE Required: 
  • Research assistantships: 
  • Teaching assistantships: 
  • Financial Aid:

University of California-San Diego

University of California-San Diego logo

Ranked as:  #37 in Best National University

Tuition:  $28,631 per year

Total Cost:  $57,262 *

State:  California

Acceptance:  36.61%

The core of the playwriting curriculum is the Playwriting Seminar, a course that all MFA playwrights take together. Seminar topics vary each quarter, from readings of contemporary plays to focus on particular styles and artistic movements. The work of the seminar is a combination of reading and discussion of plays, writing exercises, and discussion of various aspects of professional life.

The Wagner New Play Festival has grown to be a nationally recognized showcase and incubator of important new voices. Plays that were first produced in the Wagner New Play Festival have gone on to be produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New Plays, the Round Underground, the Huntington Theatre, and Second Stage.

In the summer following the first year, playwrights spend two weeks at the O’Neill Theatre Conference as observers. In the summer after their second year, playwrights receive a travel stipend to travel anywhere in the world. Previous playwrights have used these stipends to travel to Egypt, Thailand, and Prague to research plays and have also traveled to London and Avignon to see theatre.

MFA playwriting alumni are represented in the top tiers of theatre, film, television, and academia. A striking feature of our program is the mentorship playwrights receive in creating a professional life that is uniquely suited to their individual goals. We strive to train writers not only in the craft of writing, but also in strategies for sustaining themselves as writers, artists, and thinkers over a lifetime.

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Playwriting MFA – Program details

GRE score required at University of California-San Diego master’s degree programs in Playwriting and Screenwriting

  • GRE Required: 
  • Research assistantships: 
  • Teaching assistantships: 
  • Financial Aid:

ADD TO COMPARE

Boston University

Boston University logo

Ranked as:  #42 in Best National University

Tuition:  $57,666 per year

Total Cost:  $115,332 *

State:  Massachusetts

Acceptance:  20.09%

The MFA in Playwriting is offered by the Graduate School of Arts Sciences (GRS) in close collaboration with the College of Fine Arts (CFA) School of Theatre.

As partners in the MFA in Playwriting, the Playwriting program and the School of Theatre (SOT) want to ensure that our playwriting graduates are equipped for both the academic and professional worlds of the theatre. To that end, the MFA in Playwriting combines a strong commitment to literary scholarship with invaluable, hands-on collaborations with other theatre artists.

Teaching fellowships in the English department are offered along with full tuition remissions and living stipends during the first two years of study.

Students graduating with an MFA in Playwriting should possess:.

Two playwriting workshops are taken in each of the first four semesters of study. Seven of these eight workshops are part of a fixed program, taken by all students in a given entering cohort:.

CAS EN 509 Playwriting 2: Writing Sexualities (fall 2, 4 cr).

CAS EN 510 Playwriting 1: Writing of Short Plays (fall 1, 4 cr).

GRS EN 705 Seminar: Writing of Plays 1 (fall 2, 4 cr).

GRS EN 706 Seminar: Writing of Plays 2 (spring 2, 4 cr).

Courses may be selected from offerings in the departments of (among others) English, Classical Studies, World Languages Literatures, Romance Studies, Film Television, and or within the School of Theatre.

Four (4) credits of creative process coursework in play production (most specifically in design and collaboration).

CFA TH 653 (fall 1, 2 cr): Design Master Class for Graduate Students.

These credits may be earned through classroom work or through a mentored teaching assistantship in the School of Theatre.

GRS EN 995 Directed Study in Playwriting (spring 2, 4 cr).

GRS EN 996 Directed Study in Play Production (fall or spring 3, 2 cr).

All students pursuing an MFA in Playwriting are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in a foreign language prior to completion of the degree.

Note that this information may change at any time. Read the full terms of use.

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University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science – Program details

Boston University GRE score and admission requirements for graduate programs in Fine, Visual, Applied and Performing Arts

  • GRE Required: 
  • Research assistantships: 
  • Teaching assistantships: 
  • Financial Aid:

ADD TO COMPARE

The University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin logo

Ranked as:  #53 in Best National University

Tuition:  $22,886 per year

Total Cost:  $45,772 *

State:  Texas

Acceptance:  31.95%

Broad curriculum. Our curriculum covers both television and feature film writing as well as classes in production, film and television history and media studies.

The Master in Fine Arts (M.F.A.) program in Screenwriting is a two-year (including one summer), 45-hour program designed for creative individuals with a strong commitment to storytelling for the screen. The program provides a foundation of narrative skills that enables writers to succeed in both film and television, in either the Hollywood or independent arenas. Only seven students are admitted each year, a number that optimizes the workshop environment and makes it possible to provide maximum guidance. Students graduate with polished feature film screenplays, original TV pilots, TV spec scripts, and the tools to be a working professional screenwriter.

Upon entering the program, students are introduced to the principles of writing for the screen, focusing on characterization, story development and narrative structure. Students leave the program with three original feature-length screenplays that have undergone significant revision. Students also do extensive work in television, writing specs of existing TV shows as well as original pilots. Degree requirements include a written report describing and analyzing the creative development of the thesis script.

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Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting – Program details

The University of Texas at Austin GRE score,GPA for masters degree in Fine, Visual, Applied and Performing Arts

  • GRE Required: 
  • Research assistantships: 
  • Teaching assistantships: 
  • Financial Aid:

ADD TO COMPARE

Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University logo

Ranked as:  #54 in Best National University

Tuition:  $36,320 per year

Total Cost:  $72,640 *

State:  California

Acceptance:  41.85%

The MFA degree in Screenwriting will be awarded upon satisfactory completion of classes and approval of a Master Thesis portfolio which will contain:.

The approval of the Thesis Project Committee is necessary for the awarding of the degree.

The MFA degree requires that students do an internship and take a corollary class (2 units). Our MFAers have done internships with the following:.

Graduate students tell us they feel stress and anxiety. Hiking Malibu.

DIFF celebrates the best in graduate student short films.

All Pepperdine graduate students are invited to submit one short film during the open window in March. Selections will be judged by a panel of Hollywood pros. The evening will convene with winners announced and an after party.

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Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting – Program details

Pepperdine University GRE score and admission requirements for graduate programs in Fine, Visual, Applied and Performing Arts

  • GRE Required: 
  • Research assistantships: 
  • Teaching assistantships: 
  • Financial Aid:

ADD TO COMPARE

Rutgers University-New Brunswick

logo

Ranked as:  #70 in Best National University

Tuition:  $32,132 per year

Total Cost:  $64,264 *

State:  New Jersey

Acceptance:  66.93%

The program offers a BFA degree in theater with concentrations in acting, design, and production and an MFA in theater degree with concentrations in acting, design, production, and playwriting.

The MFA degree in theater features a concentrations in:.

Programs – Program details

GRE score required at Rutgers University-New Brunswick master’s degree programs in Playwriting and Screenwriting

  • GRE Required: 
  • Research assistantships: 
  • Teaching assistantships: 
  • Financial Aid:

ADD TO COMPARE

DePaul University

DePaul University logo

Ranked as:  #121 in Best National University

Tuition:  $19,760 per year

Total Cost:  $39,520 *

State:  Illinois

Acceptance:  70.24%

The Master of Fine Arts is a highly selective two-year program designed to cultivate the writer voice through a demanding curriculum focused on the craft of screenwriting that culminates in a comprehensive film and television portfolio of original work. Available electives in writing for video games, adaptation, web series, and sketch comedy allow students to diversify their portfolio in an area of interest. Additionally, writers are educated on the business side of the entertainment industry and are guided through the process of moving from student to professional writer.

All of the MFA Screenwriting courses are offered in the evenings to allow working professionals to be able to attend graduate school full-time while still maintaining their current careers. The curriculum is designed to be completed in twenty-one months, but it can also be done at a slower pace for those who are interested in participating part-time. MFA students have opportunities to defray the cost of earning their degrees, through employment within the school itself, Graduate Assistantships that offer course credit and a stipend.

Complete a minimum of 68 graduate credit hours in the designated degree program.

Complete all graduate courses and requirements listed in the designated degree program.

Earn a grade of C or better in all graduate courses of the designated degree program.

Students cannot count credit earned towards a previously awarded master or MFA degree toward the completion of this MFA program.

No Introductory course may be substituted for any other course at any level.

OR DC 498 Writing for Film Thesis Development.

OR DC 508 Writing for TV Thesis I.

OR DC 509 Writing for TV Thesis II.

Students may apply to participate in the Los Angeles Quarter Program for the spring of their second year they will spend twelve weeks in Hollywood doing industry internships, living with their fellow DePaul classmates, and having twice-weekly classes on an industry lot where they will have intimate question and answer sessions with industry professionals in all aspects of the film, TV, and videogame world.

Students in the MFA in Screenwriting program must complete a MFA Thesis project which consists of either a feature length screenplay or an original television pilot plus a show bible and outlines for six future episodes.

MFA Thesis Timeline: Year One Students will enroll in DC 497 Writing for TV Thesis Development or DC 498 Writing for Film Thesis Development in which they will begin to develop their thesis project.

Writers will get notes from their committee at the start of the winter quarter. The final draft of the thesis script will be sent to the committee on the last day of final exams for the winter quarter. If a student passes, they must then complete their coursework in order to graduate. The re-defense will take place no later than Friday of week 10 of the spring quarter. The rewritten script is due by the last day of final exams for Summer I. The defense will take place before the end of the Summer II session.

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MFA-in-Screenwriting – Program details

DePaul University GRE score,GPA for masters degree in Fine, Visual, Applied and Performing Arts

  • GRE Required: 
  • Research assistantships: 
  • Teaching assistantships: 
  • Financial Aid:

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Does the school have a job-placement program?
  • Who holds faculty positions?
  • What industry contacts does the school have?
  • What production resources will be available to you at this school?
  • What percentage of alumni work in their field?

Career Overview

Graduates may opt for teaching positions while continuing to perfect scripts. Playwrights can choose to take up residency at a particular playhouse or theater or freelance and sell their plays to the highest bidder. After becoming established in the entertainment industry, screenwriters may be commissioned by studios to write scripts for proposed movies.

Career/Licensing Requirements

Besides experience and connections, there are no specific licensing requirements for a career in playwriting or screenwriting.

Salary Information

To start, expect to rely on a second job while you shop scripts to directors and studios. Screenplays can fetch a variety of offers. Television writers also earn a range of salaries. Depending on the success of the show, a writer can earn from $2,500 to $17,000 per episode.


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