As a high school junior in 2016, I knew I wanted to go to college and get a degree, but I had no idea where or what. Everyone at my artsy high school applied to be BFA acting majors at schools around the world, all of them exceptional. But those programs were too heavy-duty for what I wanted to do: write and perform comedy.
Do you even GO to college for that? Should you? Is it better to go to college-college and do comedy on the side? These were my burning questions at the time—and, as you watch this year’s seniors head toward their new schools, they may be yours, too.
For me, SPOILER, I finally decided that the structure and education that majoring in comedy would specifically provide would only benefit me and my comedy. My mom and I also decided we would get our degrees together (at different schools; we’re not that close). That’s how I decided to go to Emerson College, as a Comedic Arts major. (I’m now a rising senior.) But there are many ways, including and beyond majoring in comedy, to “major” in comedy in college. If comedy is your goal, here are three types of programs where you could thrive.
Comedic Arts Major, Emerson College:
The Comedic Arts Degree is a BFA, a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. As of 2021, the program is a few years old, so it is very much still working through its kinks. Your freshman year you’ll take classes like History/Evolution of Comedy, Improv 1, and a class that covers the basics of most forms of comedy. After your freshman year, you have more choice in your scheduling, with classes like Writing for Late Night TV, Physical Comedy, and Creating Characters.
- The obvious: your major is comedy! If you are a true comedy nerd and love living and breathing comedy, your curriculum will reflect that.
- There is a huge comedy scene on campus, varying from sketch and improv troupes, satire magazines, stand-up collectives and so many more.
- The professors care deeply about the craft and are extremely knowledgeable.
- The price of Emerson is absurd. Like most college these days, in fairness.
- Classes are constantly changing, meaning some exist for a semester and are never offered again, due to the program still figuring itself out.
- If you are interested primarily in comedy screenwriting and or filmmaking, I would advise looking into Emerson’s Film program as well, as I’ve found there are significantly more writing and film classes offered to film majors than there are comedy majors.
I personally don’t regret attending Emerson, and there are going to be kinks at every university. This program is Level 10 on the comedy nerd/career path scale. If that sounds like you, I would advise looking into the program and seeing if it’s for you.
Film/Screenwriting Majors, Most Schools:
These are the NYUs and USCs, which all cost as much as Emerson, but are not specifically comedy majors. These are some of the strongest undergraduate film programs in the world, so you will be mixed in with people who are there to be the next Spielberg. But, if you go to comedy school, everyone wants to be the next Mulaney, so it’s a pick-your-battles situation.
- If you want to be in a writer’s room, or on a set, these schools will benefit you both in the curriculum but also in extracurriculars.
- You will write for genres beyond comedy, which can be really helpful in learning about yourself as a writer.
- There will be many student films to get involved in, as well as all the comedy troupes and collectives Emerson has.
- The cost, still! Unfair and unwarranted!
- Film majors are different per university. Some are very FILM-heavy, and if you’re just looking to write comedy TV, you probably don’t want to learn how to use an AriFlex.
- Your freshman year “essentials” will have more to do with the origins of film than comedy. If that’s your thing, these schools and programs are definitely for you.
But you don’t have to go to NYU or USC to major in comedy, film, or screenwriting. Consider:
Community College + Outside Comedy Schools:
I highly suggest looking into this route if you, like me, are stressed about the financials of college. This route offers just as good an education and spares you a lot of debt.
- THE COST!
- You can major in whatever you’d like, while many schools also now offer a “make-your-own-major” situation. There’s also schools like SUNY Purchase that have a great TV writing program and are much cheaper than Emerson and just as fantastic.
- Every college has an improv team, sketch team, stand up or satire scene—and if they don’t, you can always make one.
- On top of doing extracurriculars on campus, you can take classes at GOLD and other comedy theaters that offer training in whatever specifics you want. That way, you don’t have to pay for classes you don’t actually want to take (something that happens often at all colleges, but at least this time it’s not $100,000).
- Similar to majoring in film, your classes may not be as comedy focused as you may like.
I know college searching can be SO stressful—especially when you want to be in a career that doesn’t really have a “major.” But, I promise you comedy exists at all colleges, major or no major. You truly can’t go wrong with any of these choices. Make the choice best for you and don’t forget: you can find—and make—funny anywhere.