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Columbia College Chicago
Program FAQ

Program FAQ

­What is the application deadline?

The application deadline is in January of each calendar year for admittance the following Fall semester. Please contact the Admissions Director for the specific date.

I have a bachelor’s degree in music, but not in composition. Should I apply for the program?

Yes. Your BA in Music should give you the foundation in theory, analysis and musical construction that you will need to progress through the program. Your work samples, letters of recommendation and interview, however, will determine your acceptance.

I have an undergraduate degree in sound, not music. Could I be a candidate for the program?

If your undergraduate degree is from an accredited college or university and your cumulative earned grade point average is 3.0, you could be considered for the program if your work samples show good compositional instincts and sound musicianship.

What are the computer requirements for this program?

Incoming students are required to have a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro computer with no less than 8GB RAM, in order to work with the computer programs taught in the MFA program.

I am a self-taught musician with my own studio, but do not have an undergraduate degree. Should I apply for the program?

Columbia’s graduate programs require an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university, and an earned cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better (on a 4-point scale). However, we recognize that many of the finest screen composers are self-taught musicians. If your degree is in a field related to screen composition, such as drama, film, or television, you may be considered, subject to the terms above.

Does Columbia offer a certificate program in Music Composition for the Screen?

No. Columbia’s MFA in Music Composition for the Screen is designed for full-time students to be able to complete the program in two years. It is an intense, thorough education in the art of composing and producing music for film, television and new media. You’ll be honed and ready to enter the industry with a professional portfolio by the time you complete the program. A certificate program can’t do that.

I want to apply for the Music Composition for the Screen MFA program. What do I do first?

You may download all necessary application materials by visiting the Graduate Admissions web page. You may also contact the Graduate Admissions Office for an online application or for any other questions at 312-369-7260, or via e-mail at gradstudy@colum.edu.

Can I be enrolled part-time?  

At this time, the graduate program in Music Composition for the Screen accepts only full-time students who are able to complete studies within the delineated two-year period. Average class load per semester is twelve credit hours, amounting to nine to ten classroom hours per week plus necessary lab time. Classes are scheduled in three-day blocks with the aim of freeing up four-day weekends for part-time work, performance and writing assignments.  

When do classes meet?  

Almost all classes meet on weekdays between the hours of 9:30 and 6. There are periodic exceptions for special weekend workshops or evening master classes, but in general, we try to keep those times free for writing. Occasionally, a class may need to be scheduled in the evening due to instructor conflicts or space issues.  

How is the program structured?  

Music Composition for the Screen is a two-year, 54 credit program leading to the creation of a thesis film score and the earning of an MFA degree, the terminal degree in this field. Studies are completed in four sequenced and rigorous semesters in Chicago with the final five weeks taking place during summer in Los Angeles, at the conclusion of which some graduates opt to remain in L.A. and launch their careers. The program accepts a limited number of applicants each year, and these students progress through the course sequence as a cohort, sharing experiences and assignments.  There are currently no elective offerings in the program, but students are not restricted from taking additional coursework or private lessons if they so desire. Extracurricular writing, performing, and research are strongly encouraged.

What kind of background does a successful applicant typically have?

The masters program strives to reflect the profession in its diversity and range of backgrounds, but the typical applicant has a bachelor’s degree in music composition or performance, or in a related field such as film, theater, or audio engineering. Applicants must demonstrate a proficiency in music theory and harmony equivalent to two years of undergraduate study, and may be asked to undergo remedial work with a graduate assistant if their skills are not up to par.  Instrumental virtuosity is not expected, but minimal keyboard proficiency is essential.  The key criterion, however, is demonstration through work samples of a strong, authorial voice, innate musicality, and a passion for visual music.  

Are there any special scholarship opportunities available?  

Five Follett scholarships are awarded to the top applicants during the selection process.  They cover approximately 75% of tuition.

What facilities are available to your students?  

The masters program maintains a fully staffed and equipped, professional grade composers lab to which all MFA candidates have access during building hours when classes are not being held. The MFA lab has digital audio workstations outfitted with iMac computers, running Apple Logic, ProTools LE, and Vienna Symphonic Library, and Sibelius notation software,.

Who are some noteworthy alumni?  

The program has only been in operation since Fall 2006, but already its graduates are making themselves known in the film and television music community. Beth Caucci (MFA 2008) and Victor Chaga (MFA 2010) work as composer’s assistants to John Powell; John Fee (MFA 2008) is a composer’s assistant to Jeff Danna; Elon Arbiture (MFA 2009) scores “The Legend Of Neil” for Comedy Central and Joseph Cooper scores “DigiVangelist” for Reelz Network and Christopher Coppola; Duncan Blickenstaff (MFA 2009) assists Mychael Danna; Victor Hernandez Stumpfhauser orchestrates and copies for Javier Navarrete; Alexa Ramirez (MFA 2010) is an assistant for Danny Elfman.

What do I need to prepare for the MFA's Committee on Admissions?

  • A work sample is required. Applicants must submit a CD of their own original music, composed within the last 3 years. The emphasis should be on orchestral music with a dramatic or programmatic style (MIDI acceptable). Please include a score for each recording on the CD.
  • For those who reach the final stage of the admissions process, an interview will be required. Those selected for the interview will be contacted directly by the Admissions Department.  During the interview, the student will meet with the program director.
  • Basic proficiency on at least one musical instrument and a working familiarity with the piano keyboard.

How long will it take before I know if I am admitted to the MFA Music Composition for the Screen program?

In most cases, within about six weeks, you will receive written formal notice from the Graduate Office of the Committee's admission decision.

Why does the MFA Music Composition for the Screen program end in LA?

Music Composition for the Screen culminates its program in Los Angeles for very specific reasons, the most obvious being that it is the heart of the industry that graduates will be entering.  Columbia College Chicago owns facilities on the CBS lot in Studio City, where students will complete their thesis/practicum projects. Each student will compose and arrange a score for a professional orchestra, and conduct that orchestra in real time to a film. This semester also includes an Internship/Apprenticeship in LA and numerous visits by industry professionals ranging from composers, agents, performance society representatives (ASCAP & BMI), editors, producers, and directors. This is your opportunity to make industry contacts and show your work. The entire semester is engineered to be your segue into the business.

Is the semester in LA included in the tuition? 

Tuition for courses in LA includes the cost of credit hours for coursework, charged at the same cost per credit hour as preceding semesters. Unlike with undergraduate tuition, graduate summer credits are not charged at a different rate. Students are responsible for their own lodging, transportation and meals while in LA, and should be prepared to cover the costs of these expenses.

For current graduate tuition and fees, visit the Student Financial Services Tuition and Fees web page, and scroll to the Graduate Tuition section.

How much extra will the semester in LA cost?

Actual costs will vary, depending on the student’s choice of transportation, lodging, meals and other living expenses. A general approximation based on current tuition costs is:

  • Tuition for 6 credit hours is $4,710
  • Estimated room, per diem, air fare, etc: $2,000-2,300
  • Estimated total: $6,710-$7,010

Is there an alternative to taking the Program’s last semester in LA?


Where can I apply for financial aid for the MFA Music Composition for the Screen program?

Information on graduate scholarships and financial aid is included in the “Financing Graduate Education” booklet, which is available from the Graduate Admissions Office (312-369-7260) or on the Graduate Admissions web page (follow the download links). You may also visit the Student Financial Services web page for details about tuition, graduate budgets and completing the FAFSA.