fashion design college

These Are the Absolute Best Fashion Design Colleges in the U.S.

10 min read

In an industry as vibrant and dynamic as fashion, education serves as the cornerstone for nurturing creativity, innovation, and technical prowess. The best fashion design programs in the United States share a common goal: to equip aspiring designers with the tools, knowledge, and connections necessary to make their mark in the fashion world. In this article, we explore a few of these prestigious programs, highlighting their unique features, from comprehensive curriculums that blend artistry with practicality, to unparalleled access to industry internships, global study opportunities, and cutting-edge facilities. Join us as we explore what sets these institutions apart and offer guidance for applicants eager to embark on their journey in fashion design, ensuring they’re not just prepared for the industry as it exists today, but are also equipped to shape its future. Read on to learn more!

Making the Right Choice: What to Look for in a Fashion School

So you want to be a fashion designer or pursue a career in fashion journalism? Let’s talk about what to consider before picking a program. When exploring fashion design schools, prospective students should consider several key factors to ensure the program aligns with their educational and career goals. Evaluating these factors can help prospective students choose a fashion design school that not only meets their educational needs but also supports their career aspirations in the fashion industry. Here’s what to bear in mind while weighing different options for your fashion education.

Curriculum and Specializations

Look for a curriculum that covers the breadth of fashion design, including drawing, sewing, pattern-making, and textile science. Some schools offer specializations in areas like menswear, womenswear, children’s wear, sportswear, or costume design, which can be beneficial if you have a specific interest.

Students should also focus on programs that offer a well-rounded education that touches on fashion business management (including fashion marketing and fashion merchandising) and fashion technology. These programs will best prepare fashion design students for the real world.

Faculty Experience

Faculty with industry experience can provide invaluable insights, mentorship, and connections. Research the instructors’ backgrounds to ensure they have relevant experience and achievements in fashion design.

For example, SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) boasts faculty who have worked with renowned brands and publications such as Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harper’s Bazaar, Women’s Wear Daily, and Vogue Italy​​. This connection to the industry provides students with invaluable insights into the fashion world, preparing them for successful careers.

Facilities and Resources

High-quality facilities like sewing labs, design studios, and computer labs equipped with the latest fashion design software are crucial for developing your skills. Also, access to a fashion library and materials for experimentation can enhance learning.

Industry Connections

Schools with strong ties to the fashion industry can offer networking opportunities, guest lectures from industry professionals, and collaborations with fashion brands. These connections are crucial for internships and job placements after graduation.

Internship and Job Placement Programs

Internships provide practical experience and insights into the fashion industry. Future fashion designers should look for schools that have a strong track record of placing students in internships and jobs at reputable companies.

Alumni Success in the Global Fashion Industry

Investigate the success of the school’s alumni. Schools often share success stories of graduates who have launched their own brands or hold significant positions in the industry, indicating the quality and impact of the education provided.

Extracurricular Opportunities

Opportunities to participate in fashion shows, exhibitions, competitions, and study abroad programs can provide real-world experience and exposure.

Sustainability and Ethics

With growing concerns about the fashion industry’s environmental impact, some schools emphasize sustainable design and ethical practices. If this is important to you, look for programs that incorporate these values into their curriculum.

Location

The location can impact your networking opportunities and exposure to the fashion industry. Fashion capitals like New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and London host numerous fashion events and headquarters of major fashion brands.

Cost and Financial Aid

Finally, consider the tuition costs and availability of scholarships, grants, and financial aid. A fashion design program can be expensive, so it’s important to understand the financial commitment and return on investment.

These Are the Best Fashion Schools in North America

Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York, NY

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York offers a broad range of undergraduate programs, including Associate in Applied Science (AAS), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees. Students can choose from specialties such as Fashion Design, with options in Children’s Wear, Intimate Apparel, Knitwear, Special Occasion, and Sportswear, alongside programs in Advertising & Digital Design, Animation, Interactive Media & Game Design, and more. FIT provides a dynamic environment that melds creative exploration with practical experience, offering students opportunities for internships and participation in industry events. The college boasts state-of-the-art facilities and resources like the Museum at FIT, which not only enriches the student experience but also serves as a bridge to the industry.

Notable alumni from FIT include Michael Kors, a globally recognized fashion designer and the chief creative officer of his brand; Nina García, the editor-in-chief of Elle and a judge on Project Runway; and Leslie Blodgett, the founder of bareMinerals. These alumni highlight the institute’s strong industry connections and its role in shaping leaders in various sectors of the creative economy.

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Programs Offered & Focus

FIT offers a wide array of programs, including AAS, BFA, and BS degrees in various fields of fashion, business, design, and art. The focus is on blending industry-driven skills with creative exploration, emphasizing practical experiences through internships and projects.

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Georgia

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is renowned for its comprehensive approach to fashion education, offering degrees in fashion, fashion marketing and management, and luxury and fashion management, among others. The college emphasizes a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical application, providing students with the tools to succeed in the competitive fashion industry. SCAD’s programs are designed to foster creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation, preparing students for a wide range of careers within the fashion sector.

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Famous SCAD alumni have made significant impacts across various creative fields, though specific names in fashion design highlight the college’s contribution to the industry’s evolving landscape. SCAD’s alumni network and industry partnerships offer current students invaluable opportunities for internships, mentorship, and career advancement.

Programs Offered & Focus

SCAD provides comprehensive programs in fashion design, fashion marketing, and luxury and fashion management. The curriculum is designed to encourage creativity, innovation, and business acumen, with opportunities for students to engage in real-world projects and internships.

Parsons School of Design at The New School, New York, NY

Parsons School of Design offers a range of programs in fashion design, emphasizing sustainability, innovation, and inclusivity. Its Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Fashion Design prepares students for the complexities of the fashion industry, integrating design practice with critical theory. The program fosters a global perspective, offering study abroad options and access to internships with leading fashion houses. Parsons’ curriculum is designed to develop creative leaders who are conscious of social and environmental responsibilities in the fashion world.

The school’s alumni, including Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, and Anna Sui, are testament to its prestigious reputation and influential role in the fashion industry. These individuals have become iconic figures, shaping contemporary fashion with their innovative designs and visionary leadership.

Programs Offered & Focus

Parsons offers BFA and MFA in Fashion Design, focusing on sustainable design practices, innovation, and critical thinking. The programs encourage a global perspective, offering students study abroad options and access to internships with leading fashion brands.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence, RI

RISD offers a rigorous Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program in Apparel Design that emphasizes technical skills, creative expression, and critical thinking. The program prepares students for the multifaceted nature of the fashion industry, encouraging exploration across various media and techniques. RISD’s approach to fashion education combines traditional craftsmanship with innovative technologies, preparing graduates to contribute to the industry in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Prominent RISD alumni, such as Nicole Miller and Marcia Patmos, illustrate the school’s ability to nurture talent that significantly impacts the fashion world. Their successes underscore RISD’s commitment to excellence in design education and its emphasis on fostering individual creativity within a collaborative environment.

Programs Offered & Focus

RISD’s Apparel Design program leads to a BFA and emphasizes technical skills, creative expression, and critical thinking in fashion design. The curriculum includes internships and collaborative projects to prepare students for the fashion industry.

Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA

Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design offers a comprehensive fashion design program that balances creative expression with industry knowledge. The Bachelor of Science (BS) in Fashion Design program emphasizes hands-on learning through studio courses, internships, and participation in national and international competitions. Drexel’s program is unique for its six-month co-op experience, allowing students to work full-time in the fashion industry, gaining invaluable real-world experience.

Drexel alumni have gone on to achieve remarkable success in various sectors of the fashion industry, leveraging the practical skills and professional networks developed during their time at the university. Their accomplishments reflect Drexel’s commitment to providing a career-focused education that prepares students for the challenges and opportunities of the fashion world.

Programs Offered & Focus

The BS in Fashion Design at Drexel focuses on hands-on learning, with opportunities for internships, co-op experiences, and participation in international competitions. The program blends creative design with an understanding of the business aspects of fashion.

Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, CA

Otis College of Art and Design offers a distinct fashion design program that integrates design theory with practical skills in a collaborative studio environment. The program encourages students to explore their creative visions while understanding the technical and business aspects of the fashion industry. Otis places a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation, preparing students to become leaders in creating environmentally and socially responsible fashion.

Programs Offered & Focus

Otis offers a BFA in Fashion Design that integrates design theory with practical skills. The program is known for its emphasis on sustainability and innovation in fashion design.

Marist College in New York, NY

Marist College offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Fashion Design that equips students to create apparel for various markets, incorporating creative, technical, and cost considerations. The program fosters skills in design, textiles, draping, flat pattern making, garment construction, and computer-aided design. A unique feature of the curriculum is the senior year project where students design and execute an apparel collection to be showcased at the school’s annual Silver Needle Runway Show, reflecting the program’s blend of creative artistry and practical industry engagement​​.

The Marist Fashion Program is distinguished by its strong liberal arts foundation, with a student-centered curriculum that addresses the dynamic nature of the fashion industry. It aims to develop students’ creative, technical, business, and entrepreneurial skills, emphasizing digital proficiency, innovation, sustainability, and community engagement, preparing them to thrive in their chosen fashion-related fields​​.

Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio

CCAD offers a comprehensive fashion design program that encourages students to explore their creative potential while grounding them in practical skills necessary for the industry. Students have opportunities to engage in collaborative projects, internships, and showcase their work in professional settings, preparing them for a variety of careers in fashion.

California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA

CalArts provides an innovative environment where students can explore the intersections of art, design, and technology. The institute’s approach to education emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration, critical thinking, and hands-on learning, enabling students to push the boundaries of traditional fashion design.

CalArts’ reputation for fostering creative talent speaks to a curriculum that likely encourages experimentation and personal expression, supported by state-of-the-art facilities and opportunities to engage with the industry through internships and projects.

Final Thoughts on Selecting the Right Fashion Design School

The best fashion design schools share several key qualities and characteristics that contribute to their prestige and effectiveness in preparing students for the competitive world of fashion. Firstly, they offer a comprehensive curriculum that balances creative expression with practical skills in design, sewing, pattern making, and digital technologies.

These programs also emphasize hands-on learning through studio work, workshops, and collaboration projects, allowing both domestic and international students to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios. Another hallmark is their strong industry connections, offering ample opportunities for internships, networking, and exposure to fashion events, which are crucial for career development. Additionally, these schools foster a global perspective, often providing study abroad programs in fashion capitals and encouraging an understanding of diverse cultures and market dynamics.

Faculty with notable industry experience and achievements guide students, offering insights into the latest trends and innovations. Cutting-edge facilities equipped with the latest fashion design software and technology further enhance the learning experience. Importantly, a supportive environment that values creativity, diversity, and sustainability is a common trait among the top schools, aligning with the evolving values of the fashion industry.

If you’re aspiring to make a mark in the fashion world, applying to a top fashion design school can be a transformative step in your career. Embrace the challenges and opportunities these programs offer, and let your creativity, dedication, and unique vision guide you. Remember, the path to success in fashion is as much about your passion and perseverance as it is about the skills and knowledge you acquire. Be bold, be innovative, and let your designs tell the story of who you are and what you envision for the future of fashion—just like our recent podcast guest Elaine Turner.