I remember back when I was a high school junior, doing a preliminary search to find colleges I could apply to. My parents had only one criteria for me -- that I attend school at a top-tier, traditional four-year university, preferably one in the top 50 schools in the annual US News college rankings. Since I, too, wanted the prestige of attending such a college, I opted to follow this criteria. However, I also wanted to go to a place where I could be properly trained for a career in video games and digital media. After many hours of searching, I've identified some of the most prestigious colleges in America with strong game production programs.
Note that this guide is far from definitive -- it's just a collection of schools and programs I've found through my own research looking at top colleges. Also, this is meant to be for undergraduate programs. There are plenty of graduate level programs out there as well -- however, I am not qualified to talk about them at this time since I am not there yet.
Cornell University -- Offers a minor in-game design in its Computer Science department. The overall liberal arts education you can get here is absolutely incredible and carries the prestige that comes with its Ivy league association. It's a pretty fun school too, as far as Ivies go - I heard the local chapter of my fraternity (Pi Kappa Alpha) goes pretty hard.
University of Southern California -- Likely the strongest of the bunch -- the school offers a major in Interactive Entertainment in its prestigious School of Cinematic Arts division (which I was admitted to and was about to attend before financial concerns pushed me to NYU). It also offers several game-related minors as well. The school is ranked 23rd among national universities for its strong education by US News. And with its large-scale football games, crazy frat parties, and beautiful women, it is also is an incredibly fun place to go to college. There's simply nowhere better to enjoy a full college experience while studying game production from some of the best minds in the business. If my finances worked out and I was able to attend here, I absolutely would have.
Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) - Offers a major in Computational Media, which has plenty of game-specific courses and opportunities. Great school (especially in engineering) with big time athletics as well. Pretty high male to female ratio, though (if that matters to you).
New York University -- The school I proudly call home. NYU has a recently established Game Center, which has a large wealth of courses and opportunities for game development students. As of this year, it offers a minor in-game design. In addition, NYU has an esteemed School of Individualized Study (which I am a student of) where you can plan your own major with any courses at the university. Therefore, due to the large number of Game Center courses, it is super easy to craft a major around game design! I'll write more on the programs offered here in a future blog post. Also, going to school in New York City is an absolute blast -- after going here, I really couldn't have it any other way.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute -- Offers a major in Games & Simulation Arts and Sciences. Probably the weakest academically out of all the schools mentioned here, but still a high-powered school nevertheless (especially in math and science).
However, attending one of these universities for these programs are not necessarily the only way to best prepare yourself for a career in games -- with a little creativity and persistence, you can gain the proper training at any college. Most traditional schools have at least a club or organization that relates to game design and development -- joining it and being incredibly active is a great way to make some games and develop a portfolio. If your school doesn't have such an organization, start one! Also, most traditional schools offer courses in art, animation, computer science, business, and fiction/narrative; if you opt to take as many of these courses as you can, you are in a much better position to break in to the game industry. Finally, join your local International Game Developer's Association (IGDA) chapter with a student membership! This is something I am working on now; I'm trying to obtain membership into the NYC chapter. You can learn a lot from attending IGDA panels and lectures -- plus the networking opportunities are limitless.
A word of advice for any prospective undergrads -- don't buy into the idea of going to a video game "trade school," such as DigiPen Institute of Technology or Full Sail University. I got a chance to meet Brian (don't remember his last name, it's been a while), one of the university recruiters at EALA during a pre-college summer program at USC, and one of the key things he told me was that top-level companies would much prefer hiring graduates of traditional colleges and universities since they provide a much more well-rounded education. In fact, he even seemed to look down on video game trade schools. From what I could see, a recruiter at a top game studio would prefer to see a candidate who performed well at a traditional school over one who went to a video game "trade school."
Questions? Issues? Any more schools I missed out on? Post a comment and let me know!