Ballpark Estimate: $5,000 to $32,000+ per year
Imagine turning your passion for dressing well and following all of the latest style trends into a career with serious earning potential. With a degree in fashion design, you can get a great job designing, selecting or merchandising clothes and if you are one of the lucky few who make a name for themselves, your income can indeed be substantial. But keep in mind that the fashion industry is also very competitive, so if you are serious about pursuing this option, you want will to get as much education and experience as you can to position yourself for success in this fast-paced and exciting world.
What a Degree Brings
There are a wide range of fashion design schools and programs available in the United States, but remember that the hubs of the fashion industry are really in New York and Los Angeles, so attending schools in these areas can be particularly valuable. Most schools, whether located right in the heart of the fashion field or in a more remote location, offer two and/or four-year degrees and provide a very good training ground for aspiring designers.
Some of the benefits of you can expect to get from a fashion school include learning new fashion design software and programs, gaining an in depth understanding how to construct a garment and determining how to select the right fabrics and design elements to turn your ideas into concrete items. You can also make key contacts within the fashion industry, which just may be the ticket you need to launch your career after your formal education ends.
Of course while becoming a fashion designer takes a great deal of passion and creativity, you also need to have sharp business skills and know-how, so learning some of the basics of marketing, book keeping and managing employees can be key traits that will take you far in the work world as well.
Find the Right Fit for Your Needs
You’ve probably heard about fashion designers who made a name for themselves without wasting any time in the classroom. Real talent, coupled with the right connections and some good luck, can of course lead to success. But for every success story out there that you can find, there are many aspiring and talented designers who never got a start in the field because they didn’t have the training and education necessary that most potential employees seek. That’s why getting a degree in fashion design can be essential.
If you are anxious to get right out in the field and start working, a two-year or associate’s degree program may be a good fit for you. This will give you a solid overview of the field and will provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to start off with bang. Expect an associate’s program to focus mainly on fashion-focused classes that relate to what you will need to know when you start working. This is a good choice if you can’t see yourself spending a long time in school but know you need some formal training to be competitive in the marketplace.
A four-year, or bachelor’s degree, goes an extra step to provide you with a more general education. For this option, in addition to courses focused on art and fashion, you will also need to take core classes in the basics, including such topics as psychology, health, religion, math and science. Requirements vary by school, but the overall goal is to give you some core knowledge that will be helpful when you enter the workforce, no matter what you plan to do.
Some schools encourage their students to participate in internships and other work experience as part of their education. This is usually a good way to learn hands-on and start paying your dues. But whether you have a two or four-year degree, and even with some work experience thrown in, it is important to be prepared to start out in the field in an entry level capacity. Most people need to pay their dues before bigger doors open up for them.
A High-Paced Career
Of course the dream is to hit it big. Imagine being one of the lucky few to have their own runway shows at fashion week. But not everyone with a fashion design degree will be able to design their own line, let alone arrange for such a prestigious public viewing. Such incredible opportunities are few and far between.
That’s why many fashion designers work for wholesalers and corporate offices. Some also work in manufacturing jobs, although the breadth of this area is declining as more companies get their goods produced in other countries, where costs can be considerably less.
Further, not everyone with a fashion degree even aspires to actually work in design. There are many other, related, positions that can be equally as rewarding and still work off the same basic knowledge and background. For instance, stylists, illustrators, merchandisers, buyers, wardrobe specialists and fashion journalists are very respectable jobs and people in these careers need to have an understanding of the design process and can benefit from a solid education the field. So don’t feel you need to use your degree in only one way. Be open to whatever possibilities exist and capitalize on those that best fit your interests and your strengths.
Fashion Design Schools
You can find fashion design programs offered at a variety of community colleges, traditional colleges, career schools and even art schools. There are also schools that are strictly focused on the fashion field. No matter where you decide to receive your education, be sure that the school is accredited by the right organizations to ensure that it meets industry standards and is well-respected in the field. Look for approval from one of the main accreditation organizations, such as the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Beyond credentials and reputation, some of the other types of things to think about when selecting a school is where it is located (it makes sense to pick a school in the area where you hope to eventually live and work), what facilities it offers, how long the degree takes to earn and what the tuition will be. For an added edge, select a school with strong faculty members who are currently working in the field and will provide up-to-date industry information as well as can serve as key contacts to help you get your foot in the door. Finally, ask any schools you are considering what their job placement rates are and what areas there students currently work in, so you can make sure the experience you get in the classroom will translate well in the real world.
What It Costs
With so many options out there, you may wonder what the costs are to get a degree in fashion design. Here are a few of the top schools in the art and design field along with some tuition estimates.
Two of the top schools in New York City come highly recommended. Parsons The New School for Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) are well-respected institutions in the industry. Both schools offer associates and bachelor’s programs, as well as individual classes and certificate programs. Parsons is located in the vibrant Greenwich Village neighborhood, with lots of exciting, artistic and ethnically-diverse influences. Its exceptional staff and innovative approach to learning make it a leader in the field. FIT is situated near the Chelsea Garment District and has close connections to the field, so students can immerse themselves in the fashion world throughout the educational experience. In addition, FIT encourages students to do a semester or more abroad to learn from important fashion and cultural influences.
Parsons is a private school and prices its tuition accordingly. In contrast, FIT, which is part of the State University of New York, has an arrangement with the city and state that helps make its tuitions affordable for a broader range of students.
The annual cost for undergraduate tuition for Parsons for the 2008 academic year is $32,640. This is steep compared with FIT’s more subsidized costs, which for the 2008-2009 academic school year is $4,957 for in-state students and $11,530 for those from out-of-state.
Room and board for both of these New York-based design schools are comparable, coming in the $10,000 to $12,000 range (FIT is a little less, while Parsons is a little more.) Students can also expect to incur additional school fees, books and other expenses associated with living in a big city and partaking in a range of activities. And costs aside, both schools have an excellent reputation for what they provide.
If you want to be on the West Coast to get your education, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) offers several associates’ degree programs through their range of California-based campuses, which are located in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County.
A professional Associate’s degree from FIDM that takes 15 months to complete is $31,490 for tuition, including books and fees, with room and board costs additional. (There are also several shorter duration, and slightly less expensive, associate’s degree options available at FIDM).
If being in the heart of it all isn’t your priority, consider a smaller city, such as Providence, Rhode Island, to serve as your home base. The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is a very competitive option. While the pace in Rhode Island will be a bit quieter than New York and Los Angeles, students will still be part of a vibrant, artistic and ethnically-diverse city that isn’t far from Boston. The school features bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.
The undergraduate tuition at RISD for the 2008 academic school year is $31,430, plus $9,360 for room and board. (Fees, books and other living costs are additional.)
A few other good design colleges worth mentioning include The Massachusetts College of Art, which costs b for in-state students and $19,200 out of-state, and the California College of Arts, which is $26,100 for annual tuition costs. Both schools charge an additional price for room, board and fees.
Prepare for a Rewarding Career
If your dream of becoming a fashion designer is strong, while you shop around for schools there are also some simple things you can do to prepare. First, begin compiling an art portfolio with your design sketches. Many design schools will require you to have that as part of the admissions process. It is also a good idea to get some retail experience so you can begin to learn about customer service, marketing and fashion trends and visual presentations. Finally, start becoming more aware of color, design and texture in your own wardrobe and in a range of stores and other settings. Stay current with the latest fashion magazines, fashion websites and online chats to get a feel for what’s “in” and what’s on the style horizon. These steps will help prepare you for a career in the high-fashion world and to be ready for all of the excitement that surely lies ahead.