Student Academy Awards Eliminate Split Between US and International Categories (Exclusive)

New rules will have domestic and international student filmmakers compete head-to-head in all four categories

45th Student Academy Awards
45th Student Academy Awards/AMPAS

The Student Academy Awards is merging the domestic and international categories for its 49th annual competition this year, allowing students from film schools around the world to compete in the same four categories.

Coming at a time when films from outside the United States are frequently being nominated in Oscar categories like Best Picture and Best Director, the Academy’s move is designed to allow student filmmakers to compete on an equal footing regardless of their country of origin.  

The move reduces the number of Student Academy Award categories from seven (four for domestic schools, three for international) to four: Narrative, Animation, Documentary and Alternative/Experimental.

The rule restricting non-U.S. schools to a single entry per category has also been eliminated, giving international and domestic students the same access to the competition.

At the same time, qualifying rules have been tightened, restricting entries to films that are a student’s final graduation project  unless that film receives one of its school’s three waivers or is selected by three film festivals on the Academy’s qualifying list.  

The new rules will eliminate a split between domestic and international categories that has existed since the eighth Student Oscars in 1981, when a single “Foreign Student Film” category was created. In 2016, the international category was expanded into separate narrative, animation and documentary categories, though fewer awards were given out in those categories.

The move will give international schools more opportunities to compete in the awards, and will give domestic schools more competition. Since 2010, seven of the 12 Student Academy Award winners that went on to be nominated for Oscars have come from the international categories, even though more than twice as many domestic films qualified by winning Student Oscars in that time.

The changes were detailed in an email that was sent to participating schools by Shawn Guthrie, the Academy’s director of Student Academy Awards and grants.

Here is the text of that email:

Dear Faculty Members and School Representatives,

I hope this email finds you well.

I am reaching out in advance of the launch of the 49th annual Student Academy Awards in a few weeks to inform you of some rule changes coming to this year’s program that might affect some of your students.


In the interest of making the Student Academy Awards more equitable and inclusive, the program will no longer distinguish between domestic and international students when it comes to category designations and submission processes. The program will not have separate categories for international students.  All eligible submissions, regardless of location, will qualify for one of four categories: NarrativeAnimationDocumentary or Alternative/Experimental.


In addition, the submission requirements for the competition will apply equally across the board.  For instance, schools based outside the U.S. will no longer be limited to one submission per category.  All students from those schools with films that meet the eligibility requirements will be able to submit their films to the competition. 


We also have made changes to which films are eligible for the competition. All our previous eligibility requirements (such as films can’t be longer than 40 minutes and must be made as part of the student’s coursework to graduate) will remain the same.  However, in 2022, films must meet one of the following additional criteria to be eligible for submission:

  1. The film is a student’s final graduation project
  2. The film is selected through the school waiver process
  3. The film qualifies through the film festival qualifying process

CAPSTONE: Starting this year, the only films that are automatically eligible assuming they meet all other eligibility criteria are films that are a student’s final graduation project, e.g., capstone films for undergraduates and thesis films for graduate students. If a film is not a student’s final graduation project, then the film can gain eligibility by being selected through the school waiver process or the film festival qualifying process.

WAIVER: For the school waiver process, each eligible school has three waivers they can use to give eligibility to exceptional films that are not final graduation projects but meet all other eligibility requirements. Each school can determine which films will be given waivers. The school must then convey their waiver selections to the Student Academy Awards office for those films to be accepted into the competition. Each school should designate a point person for conveying the waiver selections so that there isn’t any confusion as to which films have been selected. Please use this link to designate your school’s waiver point person.

FILM FESTIVAL QUALIFYING: If a film isn’t selected for a waiver, it can still gain eligibility to the competition by being selected for competition at three of the festivals on our qualifying film festival list. Students trying to gain eligibility for their films through this process have two years from completion to do so, unlike students submitting through one of the other options, who only have one year of eligibility.

While we realize these changes will impact certain students who might otherwise have been able to submit their films with more ease, we believe they will make the Student Academy Awards a more equitable program and a truly global student film competition. Please let us know if you have any questions.