just a thought – choosing a fashion school

Many readers or googlers at Final Fashion are interested in my experiences at fashion school.  Maybe you are a fashion student or applying to become one.  A frequent question I get in emails and comments is: how to pick a fashion school?

First off, I always have to comment on what an incredible privilege it is to be able to go to fashion school at all – never mind the luxury of being able to choose which one!  It seems like once they’re in, a lot of fashion students forget that, I don’t know why.

Fashion school is only a good choice for you if:

  • You can not picture yourself doing anything else.
  • You love creating things with your hands.
  • You have more ideas than you know what to do with.
  • You are competitive.
  • You are dedicated to putting the hours in.

You will be spending the next few years immersing yourself in the subject of your choice, in an environment where making mistakes, getting advice, and trying new things with relatively few limitations is encouraged.  Don’t waste that precious time complaining, OK?  Get on with it or get out.

So lets say you are made for fashion school.  Which one is right for you?  Fashion is a moneymaking program and courses at reasonable rates are offered at most colleges – and of course there are the prestige schools – Parsons in New York and Central Saint Martins in London which will likely cost you more per year than the salary you are going to get straight out of school.

Here is the thing: no one in fashion looks at your GPA unless you are going ahead to grad school or looking to work as a professor or something.  Your portfolio, your work experience and who you know are always more important than whether you got a C in that elective or whatever.  My advice is look at your choices for fashion school taking this into mind.

The prestige schools of course look grand on a resume.  Besides that, students at those schools get a lot of opportunities to share their work with the best in the biz.  If you have the financial means to go to these schools, by all means do it.  That said students of CSM and Parsons that I have met often seem less satisfied than students at the second-tier schools.  I don’t know if it is because they have such high expectations or what, but the sense I get is that the value-for-money equation doesn’t match up unless money is no object.

My pick, if I could go to any fashion school in the world, would be FIT in New York City.  It is still pricey, but relative to Parsons it is a steal.  Plus, it is a whole school dedicated to fashion – the library, the bookstore, the archives, the faculty, the location – all very impressive!

In Canada, I went to Ryerson University in Toronto.  It is a four year program and probably the most expensive in Canada.  I really enjoyed my time there and do not regret it, but in retrospect I might be better off financially now if I took the two year program at George Brown.  I would caution the prospective student to avoid “campus” schools in suburbs or small cities – you won’t learn much being surrounded by people very similar to you living in an artificial environment that could be anywhere.  “Campus Life” seems pretty sterile to me.  In my opinion, major city schools are way better – if the goal is to become part of the fashion community, live as close to the action as possible.

If you can afford to take a two, three or four year program, absolutely go for it.  Growing up around a group of people for that much time is an experience unlike anything else.  But if you can only afford to take a few courses, that can be every bit as valuable in terms of learning.  Concentrate on selecting the courses that build your portfolio and spend whatever time you can interning or working within the industry.

To sum up: pick a school or a course you can afford, pick one that is well integrated with an established fashion community, and spend your time there concentrating on building your portfolio and your contacts.  Everything else I give you permission not to worry about.

Hope that answers your questions – bearing in mind that these are all just my opinions.  If you have a fashion school experience or a question I didn’t answer here, please comment.

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10 thoughts on “just a thought – choosing a fashion school”

  1. I have read your thoughts on a city college vs. suburb college. But program-wise, what are you thoughts on the Humber Fashion Arts program versus the George Brown Fashion Mgmt program?

  2. having attended parsons as a fashion design student, i have to agree with the recommendation of FIT over parsons and the big city recommendation as well. FIT will absolutely give you more bang for your buck in the long run. parsons is a great school, but very expensive. they do have other programs, but yes, they are an institution dedicated to fashion. i’m happy to say they are now my neighbors here in chelsea! i can walk up to their campus in just about 3 blocks.

  3. someday may be I want to continues my study at fashion design school because I think it can make someone has more skills about design, cutting and sewing….. so, if you are young don’t be wary to do that

  4. Great post! Wish I got some advice like this from my high school guidance counselors way back when!

    I went to a “suburb” college where I majored in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design. It was a good program, albeit very broad for someone who, like me, was leaning towards Fashion Design. I guess it was a good transition for me since I was coming from a high school in the ‘burbs that was very grade-oriented…but job hunting in the burbs and finally settling in NYC for two years (and taking evening classes at FIT), I realize that the best environment for fashion students would have to be the city. Cities and Fashion go hand in hand — they both move at the same fast pace…and inspiration and resources abound.

    I’d like to go back to school and really focus on fashion design — do you or any of your readers know of a good program for people who already have a bachelor’s? I guess it would be kind of weird to go back for an associate’s degree but the one at FIT has all the classes that I missed out on (draping, illustration).

  5. LushLe – Well I’ve never even been to the Humber campus so I can’t really speak with authority. I know that they now offer a degree in Fashion (before only Ryerson did in Canada), and that one of my favourite illustration teachers (Katherine Bosnitch) teaches there. So, perhaps a good deal? Try to find some alumni to ask maybe?

    Tricia – lucky! The exchibits Prof. Valerie Steele puts on are usually free to check out & of course visit the bookstore.

    edirtnati – certainly I would recommend going to school, if the student is prepared for it.

    Christine,
    I am not familiar with associate degree programs at all. Maybe another reader could contribute – I know Truc went on to take higher programs.

    Also, I got an email question from a reader who is applying for positions right out of school at some national chains and is being asked for her GPA. I guess I exaggerate when I say no one looks at your GPA (they do, and they did when I applied to the same chain). I just think that too many students put more weight on marks than experience and connections. Even for a job where they ask for the GPA, I bet the recruiter will give more weight to applications from people she knows or have great experiences and references.

  6. Thanks for posting about this topic! Right now, I’m attending a ‘suburban college’ taking Journalism and I’m not happy at all. I’m preparing to apply for the Fashion Communications course at Ryerson, and I’ve started working on the portfolio already because it’s a lot to do. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw how much the tuition is, plus the art supplies, AND the $500 kick-start program. Plus, I’d have to live on Residence, or rent an apartment if I get accepted. My friend had to tell me not to make money get in the way of achieving my dreams.

    I know you said not to worry, but I’m absolutely terrified about applying for fashion school! I fear rejection, plus my high school marks weren’t as fabulous as my college marks. I’ll probably document my process of applying to Ryerson on my blog so that readers can see me whine, cry, and laugh. Not necessarily in that order. 🙂

  7. I myself attend a degree program in fashion design and technology in Richmond, BC, which is about 10 mins from downtown Vancouver, the closest thing to a big city we have in western Canada, although by no means a fashion capital. I’ve always wanted to study fashion in a bigger city, so I will probably move after I graduate. Interesting to see your take on it, as I too looked at FIT as my top choice. I think Kwantlen’s program is quite good, the only quip I had was that it seemed so isolated from the city, which is exactly what you pointed out. But then again, there isn’t really anywhere in downtown Vancouver that could accommodate a university, and the fashion district in Vancouver is non-existent (companies are spread all over the city and the bigger corporations are actually located in the suburbs here). Your post is really urging me to make the big move to fully get the whole fashion experience!

  8. The problem I see with the George Brown 2 year design program is there isn’t a lot of time to develop creatively. Some people needed that little bit of extra time to find their own style, while there are also people, mostly mature students, who already have a vision of what they want to do and prefer to get the degree done asap. (if you enter the program in January, you can graduate April the following year, that’s how crazy it is). I know there are people who are disappointed over how little designing is done in the first year because the our whole schedule is filled up with construction classes and related homework.

    It’s rare, not impossible, for people to come straight from high school to know what type of work they want to do. If I were to pick a fashion design school back when I graduated from HS, I’d probably pick FIT or Ryerson over George Brown just because I know I’m not the type to figure things out so quickly (and I’d admit I still haven’t). So, there’s my 2 cent.

    One more quibble i have with the George Brown program is the bar to entry is a bit too low. They are people admitted to people who can’t draw or put a basic front and back skirt together which can make teaching a challenge when there’s such a wide range of experience. The latter isn’t so much a problem because there’s tons of hour spent on drafting and sewing to help student catch up. The school’s solution to the former problem is to get students to trace out figures from 9-head, which is pretty much the only drawing skills and knowledge of human anatomy you’ll get in 2 years’ time! (The FIT two-year associate degree FD program managed to incorporate a Life Drawing component, why George Brown can’t is a mystery)

  9. Hey how is the Humber fashion arts program it’s a two year diploma vs the fashion arts program at ryerson

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