Which fashion school is best?

Follows is an article on how to select a fashion school from one of our regular visitors (email me if you’d like to submit a topic of your own). Melissa Brown has some insights that one would do well to consider before signing on the dotted line; particularly when it involves for-profit fashion schools. Thanks Melissa

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I’m writing about my pattern making education and the discontents I have with it in the hopes that I can save someone else from the difficulties I have run into. I attended a for-profit (also known as a proprietary) school to get my training and I think the fact they were a for-profit/proprietary school is at the crux of the overall problem.

What I got was not what I worked and paid for: I got an education on the state of education at a for-profit/proprietary school. Part of this was my own fault for not doing more research on the school before I gave them my money but some was due to misinformation given to me by the school and my instructors. I also had a feeling something was off but I couldn’t articulate it, so I decided it was just nerves over going into debt to go back to school.


First, a little background to put my opinions in context:

I come from a family with a high regard for education. You can hardly pass the potatoes at a family gathering without bumping into a teacher. In my immediate family both my parents are teachers, two of my sisters are teachers, I am married to a teacher and I have been paid to teach and tutor.

While I was working my way through college the first time I worked on an assembly line as a machine operator in an apparel factory. I enjoyed my work. Life choices led me away from the industry for a long while, and then a few years ago I found myself both needing to and able to make a major career change. My interest in sewing and textiles had led over time to an interest in apparel engineering and pattern making, so after doing some research I decided I wanted to become a production pattern maker.

And, lest you think I’m a student who didn’t take advantage of what the school offered me, you should know I graduated with honors and tutored other students while I was there. (To qualify as a paid tutor for a particular class, a student had to have passed that class with an “A”.)

It is important to remember in the process of choosing to pursue a formal education, and choosing a school to do it at, that education is one of the most expensive things you will ever purchase. It falls somewhere between the cost of a house and a car and deserves at least the thought, investigation and time you would put into those purchases. You are a consumer at a school as much as when you are on a car lot. (Did you know that the people you talk to about admissions at for-profit schools have enrollment quotas to meet and some get paid on commission? These people can lose their jobs if they don’t fill their quotas, so you can assume they are very interested in getting you enrolled. Keep this in mind when you talk to them. I think of them as car salesmen in disguise.) The school will call you a “student” instead of a “customer” and ask for your “tuition” instead of your “money” but the bottom line is they don’t survive without customers paying them for their services. And they know this.

Look, schools don’t want students to consider that they are consumers even though they are (especially the schools that are proprietary and run for profit) because it makes things difficult for them. As a student at a school it is reasonable for you to have the same expectations as a consumer at a retail store: to shop for the best deal for your money, to ask questions, and to be treated with respect and dignity. You have the responsibility to stand up for yourself and expect people to do what you are paying them to do and take them to task when they don’t. Schools work for students (Well, technically they work for your student aid money. It has become quite a scandal how many “schools” have sprung up to take advantage of student aid money. The U.S. Congress is even taking note. Check it out on the Internet.) Without you paying them, they can’t exist, so you have the same leverage as any other customer if you’ll exercise it: the power to walk away and deprive them of your money, if they aren’t selling what you want to buy. (If you have problems with them after you’ve paid them money, you need to know you are in an odd situation as a student-consumer. I’ll discuss this later.)

Do not be confused by the fact that after you graduate your student aid payments will be going to a business entity other than the school. You are participating in two separate contracts when you sign for student loans: You sign a contract with a lender agreeing to pay them back for the tuition money you are borrowing. You sign another contract with the school in which you agree that you will pay tuition in return for them teaching you what is stated in their catalog. Sometimes the contract with the school or lender tells the lender to send the loan money directly to the school. If you don’t agree to this, don’t sign the papers. Go shopping for another lender or school.

Another thing you need to know is that the federal government keeps track of the failure to repay loans rate at every school that receives federally sponsored financial aid. If the rate gets too high, the school no longer qualifies to receive the money. This has put some for-profit school out of business. Financial aid is bread and butter to for-profit schools now because so few people pay as they go through school anymore. (Congress is getting interested in looking into schools that scam people into taking out financial aid loans and don’t educate them. Read this and this for further information. This is a national scandal that few people talk about and we’re all going to pay for it, through our taxes literally and in other ways as a culture and society.) You will find for-profit schools will generally go to great lengths to make sure you understand you must pay your loans because their future income depends on it. (One of the “formalities” I had to go through to graduate was to attend a student loan “seminar” and sign a bunch of papers that essentially said my school had informed and explained in excruciating detail to me that I had to pay back my loans. I don’t know if that would protect them in court from losing federal funds but I’m sure they were covering their backsides.)

People tend to forget about their consumer role when they get into a classroom because they’ve been trained by their early educational experiences that they are not to cause a ruckus in school, not to question the teacher’s authority, not to question why things are the way they are or done the way they are. We have all been socialized on purpose by grade school teachers to understand certain behavior is appropriate in the classroom, and some behavior is not because it is part of the teacher’s job to teach us behavioral standards and because the teachers’ other work is only possible when students are controlled. College level and vocational instructors take advantage of this early training just like any other teacher does. It is a rare teacher who will come right out and say to students “Hey! To get what you’re paying for you need to fight your early training and be active in educating yourself! You need to think and question and evaluate and be articulate with yourself and me, if you want an education. If you don’t put effort into it, you’re wasting your money and you’re not taking responsibility. Education is like your life, you get what you put into it!”

A good formal education (sometimes referred to as a liberal arts degree program) should teach you more than something about the subject matter you have chosen to study. It ought to teach you important skills you will use in all areas of your life: how to think, how you learn, how to articulate your thoughts, and how to communicate effectively. It will also help you acquire some knowledge of yourself and who you are. Ideally, you should graduate with some skills to earn a living, an idea of how little you know and the confidence that you have the skills to learn what you need to know, when you need to know it. An excellent education, at any level, teaches you that you aren’t going to learn unless you ask questions and it will help you acquire the skills to figure out if you’re asking the right questions, ask them, and then pursue their answers.

Formal education is just the beginning, not the end of a person’s education.

In general, the difference to me between a vocational education and a liberal arts education is that a vocational education is much more limited in scope: it is teaching you skills and knowledge to earn your living with but not necessarily the skills that can enhance your life at every level.

My beef with my alma mater is that they presented themselves as providing a liberal arts education as well as vocational training and they did a bad job at both. Some of the problems I ran into were: skills that were not taught, skills taught not being up to professional standards, important information not being presented to students (such as what the professional standards are), the way the staff was managed and then there were lacks in intellectual rigor, professionalism and knowledge among the apparel design department faculty.

Don’t get me wrong: I wanted a vocational education from them. I already had a liberal arts degree, so I didn’t expect that from them. However, I did expect they would uphold certain standards of education because of the fact they grant liberal arts degrees. I thought that to grant bachelor degrees they had to meet certain standards. They do but I was wrong about which ones.

To be more specific, I’m going to tell you what happened to me the term I graduated: The head of my department made a mistake in advising me of the standards necessary for my senior project that could have caused me to stay in school for at least two more terms and cost me between $1500.00 and $2300.00 more in tuition. She admitted the problem in the fifth week of the term I was to graduate. I complained in writing to the president of the school and met with the Dean of Education and the Academic Dean. I presented evidence that I had followed the instructions I had been given and my department head had made the mistake, not me. I considered the mistake to be a major one but the Academic Dean told me “These things happen.” My response was not sympathetic.

I contacted the commission that had accredited the school and told them what had occurred. They were very sympathetic about my situation, and agreed that the school had behaved badly but the only thing they could do would be to accept a written copy of my complaint. There was no way for them to discipline the school or warn other students about the problems at the school. Well, I thought that’s what an accreditation institution did but I was wrong. I was informed that they are there to make sure a school meets minimum requirements in providing education and what happened to me did not violate that standard! They suggested that my only real recourse would be to take legal action and unless I was prepared to spend quite a bit of time and money pursuing legal action, I might as well just get on with my life.

In the end, I negotiated some extra time to complete my Senior Project to the actual standards required and was allowed to graduate with my class as planned. This probably would not have been possible if I hadn’t been an honors student. My academic record gave me leverage.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I could have done to have saved myself from the situation I found myself in with regards to my formal education and here’s what I offer in the way of advice to anyone looking for a formal education in pattern making or any subject area related to the apparel industry:

(Please keep in mind that I did most of these things and even with my inside knowledge of how education as a business and profession functions, I got fooled.)

Outside of the school:

I would want to talk to people working or retired from the apparel manufacturing business as well as graduates of the school. (These are busy people helping me out, so I would offer to take them to lunch or otherwise pay them for their time. Think of it as an investment in your education because it is. Compare $100.00 in lunch tabs for inside info to $30,000.00 in student aid debt for tuition and you can see what a nice return you’re getting for your money and effort.)

Keep in mind retired people have nothing to lose by telling you what they think about any aspect of the industry, including schools.

People still working in the local industry may look on teaching at schools as their fallback position, if they need a job someday. I’d ask if they know any of the staff at the school you are interested in. If they know any of the faculty at the school, you might ask if they used to work with the person, are friends with them, or just know them by reputation. The closer they are to someone working at the school, the more skeptical I would be about their opinion.

Graduates can probably offer the best inside info about a school. Don’t just talk to recent graduates. Try to find someone who has been out of school and working in industry for five years or more. Ask were they were happy with what they learned and did they think their education was adequate to prepare them for their work? Would they recommend the school? What were the best things about their education and the worst? What do they wish they’d been taught in school instead of on the job? What other advice would they offer you about preparing for a pattern making career in a factory? Was there anything relating to being a patternmaker you should have asked about that you didn’t? And ask graduates to refer you to other graduates you could talk to who have worked in your chosen field.

At the school:

The biggest problem I ran into was that my definition of “apparel industry” and the school’s did not match and I didn’t know the extent of the difference until I was so far into getting my degree that I felt I had to finish it. The school’s definition of “apparel industry” was all-inclusive: anyone who had worked in any aspect of the apparel industry was referred to as having “industry experience”. All of my instructors, for example, had “industry experience.” Some had worked for big apparel manufacturing concerns but most had either been teaching for a long while (and had no practical experience in large-scale manufacturing or production), or had owned their own small business. Of the small business owners, I eventually found out most had done everything themselves and only rarely had any of them had employee(s) or hired out work, even to a sewing contractor.

Get a copy of the school’s catalog and read all of it. Read it like a contract because, according to the accreditation people I spoke to, it will be treated as such if you are involved in legal action regarding the school. The catalog is what they are telling you in writing they will provide for your student aid money. Pay attention to whether your credits will be transferable to other schools. If they aren’t and you decide on a career change (whether in college or later in life) this problem will cost you a lot of money because you may have to repeat classes to get a degree at another school. (Also, keep in mind that if a state college or university won’t accept your school’s credits, it says something significant about what the state thinks of your school. State, non-profit schools are supervised closely by state boards of higher education and state legisislators, read: budget makers. They answer to taxpayers directly. The accreditation people don’t.)

Be sure to pay particular attention to the information in the catalog about the faculty. My school had two teachers who were graduates of the school. While this may not seem problematic to you, consider that part of the reason faculties are gathered together is to share qualified professional information amongst themselves in an informal educational way inside a formal educational environment. Teachers are life-long learners like anyone else. If there is a deficiency in the education offered by a school, alumni teachers will pass that on, probably without being aware of it if they haven’t been members of a faculty outside their alma mater and been exposed to different ideas and ways of doing things. They may also pass on information without questioning it out of respect to their former teachers or because they now have a peer relationship with the teacher and don’t want to rock the boat on their way to tenure.

I would ask how many graduates are working specifically as production patternmakers and I would ask to speak with some of them. (People who are happy about their education like to talk up their school and they participate in alumni events. If the school says no one is available to talk to you, that tells you something about the school.)

I would find out what the dropout rate is and what the graduating rate is (this info is included in annual reports of for-profit schools but you want to hear the school’s answer and check it against what’s in the report). Then go read the school’s annual report. (It may be on-line or available through your local library.)

I would ask what background (in addition to formal education) the instructors have that makes them qualified to teach their subjects and I would rate factory experience and having patterned for others for pay higher than having patterned for their own businesses or their own family’s business. My reasoning is that in a factory someone gets feedback on their work from the other qualified workers around them and they learn from the other professionals. In a small business situation a person doesn’t get the same level of feedback and benefit of other peoples’ professional experience, at least not usually in a timely enough manner to save their business. (My faculty was strong on small business & home-based business experience and weak on factory experience.) I would check how many instructors have production sewing experience and how many of those have sewn on an assembly line or as a sample sewer. People who’ve earned their living in a factory have different experiences and skills with equipment and materials than someone who is a small business owner or custom clothier. Also, if they’re good, not many become teachers because their skills are in enough demand they can earn more money in a factory than as a teacher. If you want to work in a factory, in manufacturing and production, then you want your teachers to be knowledgeable and professionally experienced in this area. You are paying them to share the benefits of their experience with you. Shop, and then pay only for the right experience for your education.

I’d ask to see resumes or curriculum vitaes (teachers in higher ed. tend to have these instead of resumes because they list out things they’ve published) of the instructors, the department head and the academic dean. And I would check references. I’m not kidding. Treat this investigation of the school like your career depends on it because it does.

Read the syllabi of the classes you will be taking. Schools are required to keep these on file. They are usually available in the college’s library. Look for substantial and specific information about each class in its syllabus. Vague instructors write a vague syllabus. If they won’t show you their syllabi, that tells you something about the school.

I’d ask to talk to the instructors and see how easy it is to get them to answer questions about specifics such as pay in the industry and working conditions, how many years experience they had, what they felt their strengths were and what they did for continuing education, what their favorite texts were, etc. If it was hard to get them to talk to me, I’d see that as a major problem, not minor. Borrowing Kathleen Fasanella’s excellent phrasing, I’d look for “intellectual generosity” (in other words, the willingness to share their knowledge with others. You might think of this process as a job interview for teachers. If they don’t answer your questions before they get paid, what makes you think they will do so after you pay your tuition?) Most for-profit schools offer some kind of event to introduce faculty and potential students. Mine called it an “educational seminar” or some such, held one every term or so and charged a nominal fee ($5.00 or so) to potential students attending.

I’d ask questions about continuing education opportunities through the school especially relating to CAD and pattern making software and equipment because these are so prohibitively expensive for an individual to buy. And if they said they offered continuing education opportunities, I’d confirm it by asking for a calendar of classes and events or speaking with graduates who had attended or used these resources. I would want to sample any databases or online supports they offered to make sure they offered something of value to me and I would ask the graduates I talked to how useful alumni support offerings had been to them and their fellow students.

If I decided to attend the school, I’d take note, literally, of any excuses I was given regarding why things I’d been told were going to happen during my education did not happen. I’d hold the school and individuals responsible for not honoring their word and I would complain loudly and cogently to my fellow students and the administration about the situation. If the situation was not resolved quickly, I would seriously consider leaving the school at the end of the term and writing complaints to the organization that accredited the school, as well as the Better Business Bureau.

When I toured the school, I would ask many questions about the facilities and machines we would be trained on. I would ask for demonstrations on all the machines and if told a machine was not working, or was always breaking down, or had been in disrepair for some time, I would want to know why. I would ask if the spare machine was in good repair. I would expect a spare. If they brushed off my questions or the answers were not reasonable, I’d assume that’s how they deal with any questions from students. (And being who I am now, I’d ask them if they deal with all questions from students in such a disrespectful manner.)

I would also take very seriously any indication that the administration does not consider the education of the students, and student complaints about that education, a high priority. I would expect a reasonable and prompt response from the administration to any complaint made by a student about things within the school’s power to control. If my questions were not answered or otherwise treated disrespectfully, I wouldn’t attend the school. Likewise, if my gut was telling me something was off but I couldn’t put my finger on it, I’d trust my gut instinct over what my research had turned up, and look at another school.

By Melissa Brown

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22 comments

  1. Jess says:

    This was a great article! I’m interested to know if you learned certain things in the class and then in the real world you learned that it was wrong and what were some of those things?

  2. Kathleen says:

    good grief!
    This post wasn’t up more than a few hours when I got a call from a website wanting me to accept advertising for their fashion school referral service!

    And you’d better believe that all the schools they recommend are for profits. I’m sure their biggest client is the school discussed in Melissa’s article. Seems to be the case judging from their site.

    For example, I looked through the database of NY schools and they didn’t mention or link to either Parsons, Pratt or FIT. In Texas, they didn’t list my school or the one that Mr Sims teaches at (he posts here sometimes).

  3. Tammy says:

    Indeed, a good piece of work. Journalism school may be an afterthought?. I have always thought that schools that include a healthy co-op
    as part of the curriculum is always a good bet for many reasons. It detracts from the “what industry experience do you have” question you encounter upon graduation to lending an inside view to the “real” industry you may eventually end up working within. It can also reinforce any doubt you may have about entering the profession you are studying for. And the final reason may be
    many, many,valuable things can be learned in the field, that can’t be taught in the classroom. I have a colleague that boldly states, “go get your BA, MA, MBA, PHD’s “.” When you start working for me, I will teach you the rest of the alphabet”.

  4. Jan says:

    The sad thing is that all higher education is becoming big business. See this article from The New York Review of Books to get an idea about this: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18401. I recently listened to a report on the graduate student strike at NYU on Democracy Now in which it was stated that three quarters of the classes were taught either by graduate students or adjunct faculty. I hear that it is the same at Harvard. So much for getting what you pay for.

  5. Melissa Brown says:

    Jess,

    Thank you for the compliment. I have Kathleen to thank for listening to me rant, then suggesting I write about my experience.Thank you, Kathleen.

    In response to your wondering: I’m sorry to say that I have used my education professionally only in part-time freelancing gigs since I graduated due to some stuff going on in my personal life. One of my frustrations with freelancing is I don’t get to rub shoulders with other professionals and learn from them. I’m currently looking for a full-time job that allows for shoulder rubbing. (Oh, dear, lol, that doesn’t sound quite right, but I think you know what I mean.)

    Tammy,

    Thank you for your compliment, too. I had to chuckle when I read your comments because journalism was actually my first major in college. Even though I decided it was not for me, I feel journalism has been very good to me. It encouraged me to work on improving my writing and my husband and I became friends working on the school paper together.

    Co-op education: my school required students to do a one term, one hundred hour minimum internship with an apparel industry business. I did mine with some independent business owners who had formed a co-op that specialized in bridal. The ladies were very generous with their time and talking with me as well as giving me real work (as opposed to busy work), but I left knowing in my heart this niche of the business was not for me. I belong in a factory. I’m glad of the experience at the co-op because it helped me better understand my strengths and interests.

    Re: your colleague – I’ve been looking forward to professional life precisely because I expect it to be a learning experience. I have never thought of formal education as an end, but always as a means. Thanks go to my family for that early bit of wisdom.

    Jan,

    your comment reminded me of the last conversation I had with my roommate about her college education at Michigan State (or was it U of Michigan?). Anyway, she was always talking up her school, bragging about its academic reputation, how hard it was to get in, how much it cost to attend, etc. and generally dissing my college by comparison. One day I was telling her how much I was enjoying my biology lab class at Portland State and I mentioned that I thought the teacher, who was a grad student, was just wonderful. T. said something like ‘Don’t you just hate dealing with grad student teachers? Oh, don’t get me started!” When I told her this was the only grad student teacher I had ever had and questioned why she would say what she said, she admitted a large number of her classes had been taught by grad students. I was stunned, she was embarrassed and we never spoke of it again.

    Kathleen,

    (Lol loudly and with more than a dollop of mischeviousness here in Oregon.) Did you refer them to my article?

    I can just imagine what you said to them. Lol, do you think they’ve learned the error of their ways? Or will they dare come back for more?

  6. deerskin says:

    Please don’t disparage adjuncts. I’ve been one forever and know that i am a decent teacher with lots of hands-on knowledge–most of it gain working in the industry i teach in. And grad student teaching assistants are often closer to the material than professors since they are studying it themselves. Many adjunct are also people who work in an industry and teach on the side–so they are probably more knowledgable about the real world application of knowledge than many full-time tenure track professors.
    The whole political economy of higher education in the US is a subject i could go on and on about as it seems to be based on a world view of scarcity.
    Long story short there’s a limited number of full time teaching positions, even more limited number of tenure track teaching positions. As a result many adjuncts have the creditials–Ph.D’s, MFA etc. that many full time permenant folks do. So if you need to complain about the value of the money you spend on education you need to look not at how many adjuncts–but why more of the adjuncts don’t have full time jobs with the school.

  7. Jan says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I have only respect for graduate students and adjunct faculty. Certainly, they are some of the best teachers around. Even people who have never managed to complete a graduate degree like me (PhD. in Greek at UVa and MA in English) are highly educated and capable. My complaint is with highly expensive private universities like Harvard and NYU that lure undergraduate students with their star faculty and then give them adjuncts and graduate students. At least at a public university the tuition isn’t outrageously expensive. From everything I’ve read, the best schools are the small liberal arts colleges, but many of them only give financial aid to students who can demonstrate need. That means the poor and very smart get a free education and the rich and smart have to be willing to pay. At $40,000.00 a year, it is too much.

  8. Melissa Brown says:

    I assure you I meant no disparagements of adjuncts. Modern education could not happen without these people. In fact, I think administrators who are in charge of budgets are shortchanging both staff and faculty by trying to get away with mostly part-time instructors,so they can reduce operating costs. Staff aren’t able to function as faculty properly when they aren’t on campus full-time and supported in doing research and able to mix with their colleagues. And then there are the stresses of not having health benefits and needing the income of a second job and then working a second job. Students don’t benefit from a lack of faculty office hours and those wonderful bits of educational synchronicity that happen when you wander by and ask someone what they’re working on.

    I do want people to understand that not all teachers are equal though. Regardless of credentials, some teachers have more to offer students than others. If students don’t ask the right questions of a school and the faculty they may not know they aren’t getting the education they think they are getting until it is too late (read: they are too far into debt) to be able to get the education they meant to get. The link Kathleen posted above, Quality and the For-profit University is a good explanation of what I mean when I say not all teachers and educations are equal. Please read it and let us know what you think.

  9. Brandy says:

    Hi – Very enlightening! Thanks for speaking out. I am a senior in high school and am very much interested in the Fashion field. Any advice to what would be a good school or should I just focus on what UNIVERSITIES offer this major?
    Thanks Bunches:
    Brandy

  10. Kate says:

    Great article Melissa, I found it really useful as it often seems to me that design students are not encouraged by their institutions to question the way they’re being taught or the service they’re recieving.

    Here in the UK higher education was more-or-less free of charge in the 1960s, yet students were frequently protesting and demonstrating (art students especially) in order to force changes in the education system.

    Now we pay such excessive fees here and students have largely stopped asking questions and voicing their concerns. Perhaps this is because higher education is no longer seen as something everyone has a given right to, and a say in, but has become a product or service that we tentitively buy into in the hope that it will improve our future career prospects.

    After investing so much money we feel committed to take what we are given, because to go against that would be a huge financial risk.

    I’m not so well informed about the system in the US, but found your post really informative and interesting. I’ve been writing about fashion education myself at Fashionably Schooled and will try and reference this article soon.

    Thanks!

  11. Sarah says:

    I am a 26-year-old City Planner who is currently planning on returning to school full-time to study Fashion Design. As I am currently living and working in London, England, I have been exposed to some great fashion schools through short courses such as Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion. I would love to attend these schools, but either would cost 10,000 pounds per year! Factoring in the exchange rate and the cost of living in London…well…few Canadians could afford it.

    In terms of Fashion Design schools in Ontario (where I am a permanent resident), which are considered best? I will definitely be applying to Ryerson University as it has a degree program, is well known in Canada and has produced talented designers. Yet, I wish the program was not quite so long! Are other schools in Ontario as good? I’ve heard that Seneca, George Brown, Sheridan and the International Academy of Design also offer programs. I understand that these schools produce designers with strong technical abilities. What are the negative points to attending these schools? Based on what I have read, I think I may not apply to for-profit schools such as the International Academy of Design.

    If anyone out there has attended school in Ontario for Fashion Design please let me know what you thought of your program. Any comments would help tremendously!

    Thanks!

  12. Marisa says:

    This is a great artcle. I currently attend FIT and it’s a great school if you go into the right major. I took patternmaking and now I will be graduating from production management.

    I really advise aspiring designers to go to school for production management rather than fashion design. You will learn patternamaking and the manufacturing/business end of the industry.

    I did an internship where I discovered the designer wasn’t too happy that I knew about patterns, so she stuck me doing cleaning and organizing. I tell you, it’s kinda fun coming out of school and knowing more than the designer who’s been working for years.

  13. Frank says:

    Need help! I am 17 years old, this coming fall I plan to learn in this field. Search engines arent any help, who are the good schools in America for fashion?

  14. simych says:

    I went to fashion high school many years ago and of all the schools i’ve been exposed to i would say FIT – great buy, and Parsons – excellent school! Good luck.

  15. christine says:

    HELP

    i’m currently attending highschool, and have grown up with many expectations. seeing that i have family members who are alumni from schools like harvard, stanford, berkeley, and my older sister(currently awaiting college acceptance letters) has gotten early acceptances into half of the UC’s.

    i however want to be in fashion merchandising, and i’d much rather prefer a two year degree

    i was wondering if FIDM is really as good as it sounds. is there a big a difference between two year and four year degrees? which type of degree should i get?

  16. Penny says:

    Check out the Community Colleges in your area. Community colleges offer some of the best training you can get, not only in the fashion industry, but graphic arts, multi media, the arts, and just about any other area of interest you can conjure up. I went thru a 2 year apparel design program at Seattle Central Community College which covered everything from design, patternmaking, grading, garment construction, tailoring, history of fashion… they even had an on site millinery program, which I regret that I never took! The courses were all taught by seasoned industry professionals that were extremely knowledgeable and gifted teachers in their own right. I had no intentions of ever going into this business as a career and only wanted to learn how to make my own patterns, but after a couple of courses, I was totally hooked. I applied for and received a government grant that totally paid for my 2 years of school. In addition the government matched the pay I received from managing a costume shop at a near by regional theater as my work study job, which turned out to be just a valuable of an education as my schooling. I have since returned to community colleges twice to pick up additional skills in computer graphics and mulit media. It’s difficult to learn these, (mainly illustrator and Photoshop), on the job and community colleges have excellent programs in both of these areas. The community college system in California is excellent, and at $30.00 a credit hr. very affordable. You don’t need to go into debt to get an education, and community colleges make sense more now than ever. I highly recommend the community college system to anyone interested in pursuing a career in fashion!

  17. Bo Breda says:

    Dear Kathleen,
    Thank you for your website which has become a go-to site for my entire faculty.
    The only thing I would like to say in response to Melissa’s very complete and well-reasoned article is that it, in my opinion, unfairly points the finger at for-profit schools in general, as if they are all badly run and do not provide a good education. There are many for-profit schools and they run the gamut from excellent to extremely poor. I am the academic director of the fashion design program at a for-profit school and am very proud of what we accomplish. I have two degrees, one in Linguistics and one in Fiber Arts plus 20 years of experience as a designer in the New York City garment center. My faculty are all experienced professionals, most of whom are currently still working part time in the industry as designers, technical patternmakers, costume specialists, and owners of clothing businesses. Our liberal arts department is excellent and run by a sociologist who demands rigor from his teachers. Our fashion labs are state of the art with current industrial equipment for sewing and pressing tasks, as well as having a complete Gerber facility plus the Adobe Creative Suite and Nedgraphics programs for textiles. Unlike many of the for-profit schools, we also have a full textile component with looms, knitting machines, and screen printing classes. Our annual fashion show is run by professionals and is held in a beautiful, high profile venue, so that our students get to experience that part of the industry, too.
    My point is only that painting with a broad brush may give your readers the wrong idea. In fact, after teaching at schools in every section of the U.S., I can say that the real problem, from what I see in terms of getting a complete and useful education, lies with many of the state schools which claim to have fashion design programs. The graduates from these schools are often prepared only to teach in the same type of school, not to work in the garment industry.
    Anyway, thanks for giving all of us a place to air our views. I love your site. Keep up the good work.

  18. Barb Taylorr says:

    Selecting the “right” school can be very stressful. Location, finances, personel contact with the industry to know where the best teachers work… it can all feel like insurmountable hurdles if you are not in an ideal situation. However, there is a lot you CAN control that will get you very far along the path you seek. So along with taking advantage of all the great information Melissa & others have offered here when choosing a school, I would also like to suggest the following:

    1. Have a great attitude; Learn all you can from the teachers and classes available to you. Take an proactive approach to question, explore, and think beyond the assigments and lectures. Sometimes the thing a teacher is best able to teach you will not neccesarily be what you expected to learn from them. Keep your mind open & look for their strengths.
    2. Always remember that there is more than one way to do things. Try to find as many different people and opportunities to learn from that you can.
    3. Don’t expect your education to be handed out like a paint by number project with a garunteed job waiting after you complete your program. This is a field where mentors and work experience will weigh far more than any degree. Classes may get your foot in the door, but always look for work in your field along the way. Opportunities will increase as you become more skilled. Make friends and enjoy the journey, continuing to learn long after school is over.

  19. anne says:

    I teach at a university that stresses a professional education with liberal arts underpinning. All of our faculty full time and adjunct alike are or have been active in the apparel industry (do we wish we had more full time faculty ? sure). We are not preparing students to get PHD’s and teach about something they’ve never practiced; if someone chooses that path it’s their decision..

    We emphasize an apparel industry approach to design and technical classes. The importance of meeting deadlines, professional attitude and hard work all all stressed. Internships are not part of the required curriculum (wish they were) but you better believe that we are constantly nagging students about the importance of having at least one, ideally two. We also emphasize the importance of some sort of study abroad experience; whether it its a semester of summer trip. I would agree with Barb’s three points especially number three. Our most successful students are those that take advantage of every learning opportunity, workshops, lecture, etcetera.

    We are very free with our out of class time and always willing to mentor those who seek help.
    Gone are the days where you could just graduate and expect to get a lot of on the job training. You must show your employer what you have to offer them; it’s a two way street.

    By the way, this is the best job I’ve ever had other than being a parent. It is a privilege to see the development that happens in four years and be a part of it.

    Happy New Year

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