Ucla Film School Essay

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How do you write the perfect personal essay for film school?  Admissions experts at Forster-Thomas have the answers.

By Justin Marshall

USC film school calls it a Personal Statement.  So does NYU Tisch.  To UCLA, FSU, and the University of Texas, it’s a Statement of Purpose.  It’s a Narrative statement at AFI, an Artist’s Statement at CalArts, and an Autobiographical Essay at Columbia University.  Whatever the name and regardless of length (anywhere from 500 words to six pages), the personal essay is one of the most common application documents MFA film programs request for admissions.  

What few realize is that it’s also the single most important item you’ll submit. Richard Walter, professor and co-chairman of UCLA’s MFA Screenwriting program, told me: “The single best way to get into our program is to give us a great statement of purpose—one that’s personal and well written.”

Surprised? Sure, filmmaking experience is an important element.  So are good grades in college. And if you have a strong reel, that absolutely increases your chances of getting in.  But the personal essay is king for three key reasons:

  1. It sheds light on how you think. OK, you have a good GPA and a killer music video under your belt. But do you have the life experience, maturity, and unique voice necessary to tell a career’s worth of amazing visual stories? Are you capable of working in a fundamentally collaborative process? Do you have the tenacity of spirit to survive the film industry? These are all crucial qualities, and the personal essay is the only opportunity you have to showcase them.
  2. It puts your reel into perspective. In the personal essay, you can explain the influences behind the films on your reel, what you were trying to say, and what you learned through the creative process. If we understand what you were going for, we will appreciate your films more.
  3. It tells the school if you’re the right fit for their program. USC wants Hollywood players. CalArts wants artists. NYU wants something in between. The personal essay allows you to explain which one you are—and why.

If you want a cheesy analogy, think of the personal statement like an online dating profile or a personals ad (don’t act like you’ve never read them). If you’re looking for true love, a couple of cute photos and a matching Zodiac sign aren’t going to cut it. You want to know that you’re compatible at the core, from musical tastes to hobbies/interests to political views. The personal essay does just that: it shows the school the person behind the images.  It allows you to communicate who you are and how you think.  It’s where sparks fly and true compatibility emerges. And at the end of the day, as good as your reel might be, the schools aren’t admitting a film to a program; they’re admitting a person to their program.  So use the personal essay to showcase who you are—the real you.

Now that you understand what the personal statement is and why it’s so important, read Part 2 of this blog, where I provide three do’s and don’ts for writing the personal essay.

Read more on our MFA Film School consulting process or request a free candidacy assessment.

--Justin Marshall



Note: The School of Theater, Film, and Television does NOT allow double majors.

The Film and Television B.A. provides a liberal arts education as well as coursework in film and television history, theory, and production. Film and television majors take courses in three distinct areas: cinema and media studies (history, theory, and aesthetics); production (film, television, digital, experimental, and animation); and film and television craft (writing, directing, photography, sound recording, and editing).

Freshmen and sophomores enroll each quarter in one or two courses designed as preparation for the major (primarily cinema and media studies), while also completing their general education, writing, literature and foreign language degree requirements. 

In their junior year, students explore and develop a range of craft skills covering all major aspects of film, television, and digital media production.  In their senior year, students concentrate in their choice of film production/directing (narrative and documentary), screenwriting, cinematography, animation, digital media, or editing/postproduction.  Students must complete a professional internship in their junior or senior year as part of the degree.

Our course offerings cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. Scholarly work in the areas of history, criticism and theory provide a conceptual underpinning for our world class professional training courses and an educational response to the opportunities that emerging technologies offer. Our scholarly explorations, in turn, are anchored and informed by the practice of the art.

Students have access to exceptional resources, including the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the largest university-based moving image collection in the world. The proximity of the world's entertainment center, in Los Angeles, gives students access to people accomplished in their fields, many of whom are supportive UCLA alumni. Working and highly placed professionals visit the campus regularly as instructors or come to work here as adjunct and visiting professors.

UCLA's Department of Film, Television and Digital Media empowers the creative innovators of tomorrow by training them in all aspects of the arts and crafts of the moving image, from the aesthetic to the technological. At the same time, the Department explores the best work of past masters of film and television in Cinema and Media Studies courses, and encourages students to aspire to similar accomplishments. We affirm the importance of storytelling as the form in which human beings give weight and meaning to the most important passage of their lives.

While all media technologies are means to creative ends, not ends in themselves, we believe it is essential for our students to be actively engaged in the digital and telecommunications revolution that is transforming all areas of contemporary culture. Currently, the School can boast of more than a dozen innovative initiatives that range across every program including computer assisted theater design, special effects for film and television, digital library research and archival restoration, the design of interactive texts and instructional software, computer animation and video gaming, interactive television, and the development of web based media arts.

To earn the bachelor of arts degree in Film and Television, undergraduates must complete all University and School of Theater, Film and Television course requirements (about 16 courses, 76 units), in addition to any courses required by the Department of FTVDM for the major and preparation for the major.


Undergraduates in the School of Theater, Film and Television enroll in 12-19 units per quarter – up to 22 units with department approval.   A University of California bachelor of arts degree is at least 180 units, including all approved transfer and AP credits.  Film and Television, B.A. preparation for the major and major requirements in combination equal about 27 courses and 104 units. 

Film and Television, B.A. is a 4-year degree.  Transfer students will complete preparatory courses Film and Television 6A, 10A, 15, 33, 51, 52 and 84A during their junior and senior years.  Transfer students are expected to graduate within 6 quarters (2 years) and must complete all preparation for the major courses before graduation, except for freshman symposium courses (FILM TV 1A, 1B, 1C) which are waived for transfers.  On arrival at UCLA, transfer students may petition to use non-UCLA college courses toward preparation for the major course requirements where appropriate.

FRESHMAN YEAR  (7 prep courses, 24-25 units)

  • FILM TV 1A, 1B, 1C – Freshman Symposium
  • FILM TV 4 – The Art and Technique of Filmmaking
  • FILM TV 6A – History of American Motion Picture
  • FILM TV 10A – American Television History
  • One Theater course

SOPHOMORE YEAR (4 prep courses, 17 units)

  • FILM TV 33 – Introductory Screenwriting
  • FILM TV 51 – Digital Media Studies
  • FILM TV 52 – Cinematography
  • FILM TV 84A – Overview of Contemporary Film Industry

JUNIOR YEAR (8 major courses, 34-35 units)

  • FILM TV 101A – Junior Symposium
  • FILM TV 106B (or 106C) – History of European Motion Picture (or African, Asian and Latin American)
  • One cinema and media studies elective course
  • FILM TV 134 – Intermediate Screenwriting
  • FILM TV 154 – Film Editing
  • FILM TV 155 – Introduction to Digital Media and Tools
  • FILM TV 163 – Directing Cameras
  • FILM TV 185 – Intermediate Undergraduate Film Production (Optional)

SENIOR YEAR (8-12 major courses, 29-36 units)

  • FILM TV 102A, 102B, 102C – Senior Symposium
  • Senior concentration (20 units) in one of these areas:
    • film production/directing (narrative or documentary)
    • screenwriting
    • animation
    • cinema and media studies
    • digital media
  • FILM TV 194 and 195 – internship

The department admits new students only once each year for the Fall Quarter.

Please select how you will be applying to Film and Television BA Program:

  • Click Here, for Freshman admission as a high school student.
  • Click Here, for Transfer admission from another college or university.
  • Click Here, for Change of Major admission as a current UCLA students.

** Please be sure to select the correct type of application as materials and deadlines may differ.

For more information on requirements and applying to UCLA as an International Student, visit http://www.admission.ucla.edu/prospect/intl.htm.


For U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents interested in receiving financial aid in the 2018-2019 year, note that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) deadline for UCLA is March 2, 2018. Applicants must complete the FAFSA by this date if they want to be eligible for all awards, work-study, and scholarships that UCLA offers. If applying after March 2, please check with the Financial Aid Office for available funding opportunities. www.financialaid.ucla.edu


For non-U.S. Citizens or non-Permanent Residents who are approved to pay in-state tuition because they graduated from a high school in California; they will need to complete the California DREAM application by the March 2, 2018 deadline. The DREAM application can be accessed at https://dream.csac.ca.gov. If applying after March 2, please check with the Financial Aid Office for available funding opportunities. www.financialaid.ucla.edu

Please visit the FAQ page for answers to additional for additional information, call, or call 310-206-8441, or email filmundergrad@tft.ucla.edu.

** Please do not contact the department to check on your application, as we cannot update you on your application status or materials.


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