Those interested in a film PhD will have to do some searching to find the programs available that are the most applicable to their focus. The truth is, the majority of people who seek a graduate degree in film, in either technical elements or as specialists of film as cultural product, do not progress to a doctorate. Most people will get a straight master’s degree, a technical one, or a master’s in fine arts (MFA), and there are plenty of standard colleges and professionals schools that offer these degrees. The doctorate is rarer and far fewer universities offer one, or if they do, it’s granted by a department unrelated to film such as history, English or even anthropology.
A select few programs with strong film departments that may have either a practical or theoretical bent may have a standard film PhD, but competition for these programs can be fierce. There are also a number of online degrees, which are becoming more common. These need to be thoroughly investigated for accreditation, since some of them do not possess it.
Given the relative shortage of film PhD programs and their diversity, it can be difficult to state specific requirements for them. Many of them don’t directly admit students who have completed an undergraduate degree. They may instead admit students who already have a master’s or they may admit students interested in graduate studies to a master’s program first. If the student successfully completes these studies, he or she may then gain admission to PhD studies.
Undergraduate and master’s degree major choices may be variable. At the master’s level, studies in film would be desired, but students might come from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds in the fine or liberal arts, in sociology, anthropology, technology, or in the humanities before taking up film studies. Courses taken on film at the undergraduate level would likely be welcomed, and schools usually also require strong scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), in addition to good grades, glowing letters of recommendation, and any experience that might suggest a student is a particularly good fit with a program.
Since many of film PhD studies don’t begin until after people have earned a master’s degree, programs may be slightly shorter than the tradition four to seven years. Students would likely take a couple of years of classes and then follow up with a dissertation. If the film studies are technical, a creative project, such as a film, might substitute for the dissertation. Those studying film appreciation and history would submit a more scholarly project instead. This work usually takes a couple of years to complete, and most students will still need at least four or five years to finish all requirements and earn a film PhD.