California Game Design & Development Schools: Most Expensive to Least Expensive

California is home to more colleges and universities than any other state. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) reports that California is home to 454 Title IV degree-granting institutions. Title IV schools are eligible for federal financial aid programs, which makes them more accessible to students with financial need. To become a Title IV school, the institution must obtain accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, they must be in business for at least two years, they must sign a participation agreement with the Department, they must grant an associate’s degree or higher, and they must offer a program of at least 300 clock hours in length.

Besides meeting all of the requirements by the Department of Education, California’s Title IV schools offer some of the best art and design programs in the world—including game design & development. While some of these schools are expensive, most former students say it’s well worth it because a degree from a top school can help you stand out from the crowd. Fortunately, because these top schools are also Title IV, students will have access to a wide variety of financial aid programs to help meet the costs of attendance.

If you’re ready to shop and compare California game design and development schools, take a look at the most to least expensive schools below and what you can expect to pay. Keep in mind that resident tuition is typically lower than nonresident tuition and online offerings usually cost less.  

Most Expensive California Game Design & Development Schools

University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles – Tuition Cost: Undergraduates $48,347; Graduates $47,562 (flat rate 15 to 18 units per semester) for the 2014-2015 school year. 

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Art Center College of Design, Pasadena – Tuition Cost: Undergraduates $37,330; Graduates $39,452 for Spring and Summer 2015.

Ex’pression College for Digital Arts, Emeryville – Tuition Cost: Undergraduates $23,600 for 2015.  

Least Expensive California Game Design & Development Schools

Academy of Art University, San Francisco – Tuition Cost: Undergraduate Online & Onsite $835 per unit/$10,200 for 12 units/$20,400 for 24 units; Graduate $935 per unit/$11,220 for 12 units/$22,440 for 24 units for the 2014-2015 school year. 

University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), Santa Cruz – Tuition Cost: Undergraduate residents $13,398, nonresidents $22,878; Graduate residents $13,260, nonresidents $15,102 for 2014-2015 school year.

More California schools to consider with Game Design related programs:

California is home to the largest population of salaried artists and designers in the U.S. and the employment options are virtually endless. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California is home to 290,160 artists, designers, and entertainment professionals averaging $70,440 per year.

While game designers and developers are definitely artists, they are also software developers. The U.S. is home to more than 1 million software developers, averaging more than $90,060 to $99,000 per year. Software developers in the State of California average $119,970 to $124,070 per year. The state is home to around 189,110 software developers.

It is important to keep in mind that individual salaries for game designers and developers will vary depending on a variety of factors from industry and type of employer to experience, location and more. Fortunately, California has no shortage of game design and development companies, so whether you are entry-level or senior, the opportunities are limitless.

Head to the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale area or the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City metro area for the most opportunities. If you’re looking for the highest pay, look no further than the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area, which is part of northern California’s famous Silicon Valley.

Just a few major California gaming companies include:

  • Activision, Santa Monica
  • Electronic Arts/EA Games, Redwood City
  • Inc., Obsidian Entertainment, Santa Ana
  • Insomniac Games, Burbank
  • Legacy Interactive, Los Angeles
  • LucasArts, San Francisco
  • Mattel, El Segundo
  • NVIDIA Corporation, Santa Clara
  • PlayFirst, San Francisco
  • Sony Computer Entertainment America, San Mateo
  • THQ, Agoura Hills

A few others include Trion Studios in Redwood City, Gree Games in San Francisco, Red Tentacle Studios of San Diego, LeapFrog Enterprises in Emeryville, and Tango in Mountain View.

Awesome Animation Fact: There are many differences and many similarities between animation for film and animation for games. For example, the toolsets for the two similar, but according to Lionel Gallat, animation director for Despicable Me and The Lorax, a big difference between movies and games is that on movies usually you create ‘unique’ animations, which tend to be quite shot-specific, whereas in games you have to think in terms of ‘action units’; shorter animations that need to flow from/into each-other and be reusable. There is a lot of emphasis on the transitions.-Gamasutra





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