For the aspiring filmmaker film school is a joy. Not only does it serve to give you the rudimentary skill set you will need, but also it serves to mold your passion and give you the momentum once leaving school, to produce work that is fresh and new. There are several schools in this country that have outstanding reputations.
Of course California is going to produce more film schools than you can shake a stick at, with New York a close second, but there are plenty of film school opportunities in other parts of the country. I will discuss some of the heavies first as they are the "Pie in the Sky" for many aspiring filmmakers. The premiere school to go to would of course be the AFI conservatory. Founded in 1967, they provide 6 areas of course study: Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design, and Screenwriting. AFI is particularly devoted to traditional narrative film.
California Institute for the Arts (Cal Arts), was created in 1961 by Disney in 1961, with an emphasis on animation. San Francisco State University has a film program, also created in the 60's amid the political expansiveness of that time and their course work is heavily influenced buy experimental film. Then there is always UCLA Film School and USC as well.
In New York you have Columbia University School of the Arts and NYU. Both have heavy rosters of Directors and Film writers that have come up in the ranks at these schools. I think of Spike Lee when I think of NYU.
These are the most famous of them all, the 'A' list, and to get into these schools is practically a miracle from god, but if you do, you just scored Willy's Golden Ticket. If you find yourself to be one of the many that are outside the golden gates looking at all the happy film students, do not despair. There are plenty of other film schools around the country that have great programs where you can get the skills and training you need.
There are some things that you must consider when picking a school off of the 'B' list. How much is the education going to cost? That is the bottom line, because if you get loans to get into school, you better be able to make those loan payments 6 months after graduation. To that end the next consideration is what kind of internships do they offer. See if you can have a conversation with the senior students in the film program so that you have an idea of what is in store for you once you leave school. Who else has graduated from this school that is noteworthy?
Film School is that wonderful island in the middle of an otherwise uphill battle. The equipment loan programs in themselves are worth the price of admission. Here you will have the opportunity to use cameras, recording, and editing equipment along with edit bays and sound studios. There will be a pool of actors and crew to draw from as you each help crew for each other. For this one brief time you have the benefit of all this. Once on the other side, however, you are on your own.
The Pacific Northwest has several film schools. University of Washington has an excellent film school. The Evergreen State University is notorious for their liberal/alternative education. Some take issue with the fact that there are no grades. Instead there is an evaluation system in place where the student and teacher write evaluations of themselves, the teacher, and the program. Greeners, as they are called, pride themselves in critical thinking and their program, MediaWorks, has provided the film community with radical, cutting edge filmmakers.
Whatever school you decide to attend, enjoy it while it lasts. It will be the one place you can experiment and have the support you need to get your projects done. Plan on sleeping very little and learn to love pizza and Top Ramen.