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Top 20 Private Fashion Design Schools and Colleges in the US – 2016
Our 2016 list of the Top 20 Private Fashion Design School Programs in the US.
For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. The New School - Parsons School of Design, New York, New York (top 1% of schools considered)
The New School was founded in New York City in 1919 in the heart of Greenwich Village. The School houses five colleges including Parsons School of Design, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, College of Performing Arts, Schools of Public Engagement, and The New School for Research. The New School is home to more than 10,000 degree-seeking students enrolled in 138-plus degree, diploma programs, and majors, and more than 50 minors.
Options for aspiring fashion designers include AAS and BFA degrees in Fashion Design, an AAS in Fashion Marketing, a BFA Integrated Studies, an MA in Fashion Studies and an MFA in Fashion Design and Society. AAS students study Accessories Design, Drawing, Fashion, Materials and Fabrication, Sustainable Design, and Textiles. BFA students will also study Accessories Design, Drawing, Fashion, and Sustainable Design as well as Fashion History, Theory, and Criticism; Materials and Fabrication, and Textiles. BFA Fashion students also have the opportunity to complete the program at Parsons Paris.
BFA in Integrated Studies students can study everything from Fashion and Textiles to Urban Design. MA in Fashion Studies students can study everything from Branding, Fashion and Textiles to Materials and Fabrication. The MFA in Fashion Design and Society highlights Fashion, Fashion History, Materials and Fabrication, Physical Computing/Wearable Technology, Sustainable Design, Textiles, Design Research, and more. All programs offer the opportunity to study at Parsons Paris, participation in the Annual Fashion Show, and the opportunity to work with 560—the Parsons School of Design magazine.
Notable program alumni include Anna Sui, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Isaac Mizrahi, Mark Badgley and James Mischka, Narciso Rodriguez, and many others.
2. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (top 2% of schools considered)
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was founded in 1978. The school is home to more than 12,000 enrolled in 40 areas of study and 70-plus minors and certificate programs. With campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, and Hong Kong, SCAD offers a variety of programs for aspiring fashion designers. Offerings include BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in Accessory Design, Fashion, Fibers, and Jewelry. The Fashion BFA, MA and MFA are offered at both the Savannah and Atlanta campuses, and the BFA is also offered at SCAD’s Hong Kong campus.
Students may also earn their MA in Fashion online. According to the school, “SCAD is the first art and design university to receive the Instructional Technology Council’s award for Outstanding Distance Education Program and the rank of Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Teaching and Learning from the Sloan Consortium.” Other highlights include participation in the Annual SCAD Fashion Show, and internships and study opportunities at local, national, and international fashion companies.
3. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (top 5% of schools considered)
Founded in 1887, Pratt Institute is home to 4,600 students enrolled in 48 degree programs and a variety of Certificate and Minor programs across five schools including the School of Architecture, the School of Art, the School of Design, the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the School of Information and Library Sciences. Pratt Institute also houses and The Center for Continuing and Professional Studies. Programs for aspiring fashion designers are offered through the School of Design and the School of Art - Department of Fine Art.
The School of Design offers a BFA in Fashion Design and the School of Art offers a BFA in Fine Art with an Emphasis in Jewelry. Specialized BFA/Jewelry classes include History of Jewelry, Stone Setting, Wax Working and Casting, Raising and Forging, Chasing and Repoussé, Color on Metal, Design and Rendering, and CAD. Fashion Design students have the opportunity to participate in “annual design competitions sponsored by the CFDA and YMA FSF and competitions sponsored by companies such as Cotton Incorporated and Supima Cotton.”
Other program highlights include participation in the annual Pratt Institute Fashion Show, access to coveted internship opportunities with major designers such as Rag & Bone, Ralph Lauren, and Donna Karan, and study abroad and international exchange programs in mora than a dozen locations including London, Milan, Florence, Copenhagen, and Tokyo.
4. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island (top 5% of schools considered)
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD or “RIZ-dee”) was founded in 1877. The school is home to 2,481 enrolled in 19 majors leading to a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Fashion programs are offered through several departments and divisions. The Department of Apparel Design offers a BFA in Apparel Design, the Textiles Department offers both BFA and MFA degrees in Textiles, and The Fine Arts Division offers BFA and MFA degrees in Textiles and Jewelry + Metalsmithing.
Apparel Design students have the opportunity to participate in RISD's Annual Runway Show, which is judged by a panel of guest critics. COLLECTION 16 featured “a unified body of work” that showcased professional-level conceptual and technical capabilities from all 19 graduating students. In addition to participation in the Runway Show, students have the opportunity to study abroad in Rome or participate in the World: Exchange Program with partner schools in 26 countries, including the United States and Canada.
5. Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (top 10% of schools considered)
Drexel University was established in 1891 as Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry. It is home to 25,595 students enrolled in more than 200 degree programs across 15 colleges and schools. The Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design is home to the Department of Fashion, Product and Design & Merchandising. The Department offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Offerings include a BS and an MS in Fashion Design. Students may enhance their degree by opting for a Minor in Retail. Administered by the Design & Merchandising (D&M) program, the Minor “provides basic foundations in retail operations, buying and merchandise planning and e-commerce.” A BS in D&M is also on the menu.
Fashion design students also have access to “studios and specialized labs” at the school’s URBN Center, they have access to the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC), and students may enroll in the study abroad program which may take them places such as London (London College of Fashion), England, and Florence. In addition, students may submit their creations to national and international competitions each year, and upon completion of the program, they have the opportunity to show their final collections in the Department’s Annual Fashion Show.
6. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (top 10% of schools considered)
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was founded in 1918. The school is home to 1,100 students enrolled in more than a dozen art and design programs. Offerings for aspiring fashion designers include a BFA in Fashion Design with several options including Sustainability and Costume Design. The Costume Design Emphasis is optional and focuses on “new directions in character development for film, television, live performance, concept art, and video,” according to OTIS.
The Sustainability Minor, also optional, helps students “develop strategies and systems, as applicable to art and design, which can meet the needs of current generations without compromising those of future generations.” The Continuing Education Department offers a number of single courses for aspiring fashion designers as well. Offerings include Fashion Design, Textile/Surface Design, Jewelry Design, and Illustration.
OTIS Fashion students are mentored by major brands and designers such as Ruben & Isabel Toledo, A|X, Halston, Billabong, Nike, BCBG, Hurley, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Patagonia, and Johnny Was. Internship opportunities with major brands such as Tahari, GAP, Bob Mackie, Armani Exchange, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, and many others provide real world experience, while fashion show events and other prospects offer the opportunity for students to showcase their designs. The Annual Scholarship and Benefit Fashion Show and the Nieman Marcus window in Beverly Hills are just a few options.
7. Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (top 10% of schools considered)
Cornell University was founded in 1865. It is home to 21,904 students enrolled in 80 undergraduate majors, 90 minors, and 108 graduate fields of study across 14 colleges and schools and 100 academic departments. The College of Human Ecology, Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD) is home to a unique collection of fashion programs that combine “design, art, biology, chemistry, engineering and social science concepts and methods” with the long-term goal of “effecting change in design, in materials, in people's health and well-being, in manufacturing, in economic vitality, and in the environment.”
Undergraduate offerings include BS degrees in Fashion Design, Fiber Science, Fashion Design Management, and a Dual Degree. The Dual Degree Program allows students to earn a BFA and a BA from the College of Arts and Sciences, a BS from the College of Human Ecology or a BS from the College of Engineering. A Minor in Fiber Science is also on the menu. Graduate offerings include MA and PhD degrees in Apparel Design, MS and PhD degreed in Fiber Science, and an MPS in Human Ecology. The MPS program offers a Focus (graduate field) in Fiber Science and Apparel Design.
The Department of FSAD maintains the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, which features “more than 10,000 items of apparel dating from the eighteenth century to the present, as well as a substantial collection of ethnographic textiles and costume.” The Department is also home to the Cornell Institute of Fashion and Fiber Innovation (CIFFI), which was established to “advance knowledge and foster collaborations between academia and industry in the areas of fashion design, marketing and culture, fiber science, technology, and materials testing.”
In addition to access to the Textile Collection and CIFFI, FSAD students have the opportunity to compete for the Cornell Design Award and display their collections at the Cornell Fashion Collective Runway Show.
8. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (top 10% of schools considered)
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) was founded in 1866 and it is home to 3,590 students enrolled in more than 25 art and design programs across 40 academic departments. The Department of Fashion Design offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Options include a BFA in Studio with a Concentration in Fashion Design or Fiber and Material Studies or an Emphasis in Fashion. A Master of Design (MDes) and Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Fashion, Body and Garment are also on the menu.
Undergraduate SAIC Fashion students have the opportunity to participate in study tours of fashion capitals such as Antwerp, London, New York, and Paris as well as showcase their collections at the SAIC Fashion Show. The show is open to Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors.
The “intensive” two-year graduate program highlights the Fashion Design Studio. Taken each semester, the Studio “provides a place for an expansive investigation of fashion, body, and garment and for deeper individual investigation of fashion within the broader context of community, sustainability, technology, and the industry,” says SAIC. The program also encourages study in other areas such as Fiber and Material Studies, Writing, and Performance.
9. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California (top 15% of schools considered)
Academy of Art University was established in 1929. The school had a 2015 fall enrollment of 8,813 students and it offers dozens of programs in the areas of art and design. The School of Fashion at Academy of Art offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Undergraduate offerings include an AA in Fashion, a BFA in Fashion with an Emphasis in Fashion Design, Textile Design, or Knitwear Design, BFA degrees in Fashion Product Development and Costume Design, a Certificate in Fashion, and an Online Award of Completion in Fashion Design. Graduate offerings include MFA degrees in Fashion and Costume Design.
According to the Academy, fashion students have access to facilities that feature “the same leading-edge equipment and resources that top fashion houses enjoy.” Internship opportunities are also available as well as the opportunity to participate in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City and the Annual Graduation Fashion Show in San Francisco. According to the Academy, “the show has been heralded as the ‘Fashion Week of San Francisco’ by both local and national members of the fashion industry.
Graduates of the Academy of Art University have been hired at major companies such as Gap, Kate Spade, Levi Strauss & Co., Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, and many others.
10. Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York (top 15% of schools considered)
Marist College was founded in 1929 and it is home to 6,474 students enrolled in more than 140 degree programs and minors across seven schools. The School of Communication and the Arts offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Offerings include a BFA in Fashion Design and a BS in Fashion Merchandising with a Product Development Concentration. Fashion Design majors may also earn their degree in Florence, Italy or choose a Minor in Merchandising or Product Development
Fashion design students may participate in the School’s internship program, which offers the opportunity to work at companies such as Armani A/X, Betsey Johnson, Calvin Klein, Chanel, DKNY, Escada, MTV, Nordstrom, Polo and many others. Students may also participate in Marist in Manhattan (NYC Internship Experience), Fashion Inc. (club), Marist Fashion Magazine, and the Silver Needle Runway Show.
The School of Communication and the Arts encourages all students to complete two internships, which will give them a strong advantage when it comes to job opportunities. Fashion Program alumni have been hired by companies such as Ann Taylor, BCBG, Chanel, Donna Karan, GAP, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, MTV, Perry Ellis, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tahari, Tory Burch, and many more.
11. Baylor University, Waco, Texas (top 15% of schools considered)
Baylor University was chartered in 1845. It is home to 16,787 students enrolled in more than 250 degree programs across nine colleges and schools. The Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences houses the Department of Family & Consumer Sciences, which offers one program for aspiring fashion designers—a BS in Apparel Design & Product Development.
Program highlights include student membership in Fashion Group International (FGI), study abroad opportunities, access to the Parker Design & Technology Center, which “provides students with the latest state-of-the-art software, equipment, and technology,” and internship opportunities across the U.S. and overseas. Students have interned at Betsey Johnson - NY, Anna Sui - NY, Quick Silver – Los Angeles, XOXO and Rampage – Los Angeles, and Haggar - Dallas. Internships abroad have included Ann-Louise Roswald - London, UK, Amanda Wakeley - London, UK, Christopher & La Lou - Paris, France, and others.
The program also offers the opportunity to participate in the Annual Baylor Fashion Show, which takes place at the end of spring semester each year. Field experiences are on the menu as well and may include trips to Dallas Market, Studios of Apparel Designers, Apparel Manufacturing Firms, and FGI Dallas Career Day, which is held at the Apparel Mart.
12. Philadelphia University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (top 15% of schools considered)
Founded in 1884, Philadelphia University (PhilaU) began as the Philadelphia Textile School. Today, the school is home to 3,200 students enrolled in 60-plus areas of study through the College of Architecture and the Built Environment, the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, and the College of Science, Health and the Liberal Arts.
The Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce houses two schools—the School of Design and Engineering and the School of Business. The School of Design and Engineering offers a number of undergraduate and advanced degree programs for aspiring fashion designers. Offerings include BS degrees in Fashion Design, Textile Design, and Textile Materials Technology, MS degrees in Global Fashion Enterprise, Textile Design, and Textile Engineering, and a PhD in Textile Engineering and Sciences.
Program highlights include internships with companies such as Vogue, Betsey Johnson, Tommy Hilfiger, Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch, and study abroad opportunities in London, Rome, Hong Kong, Seoul, Melbourne, Dominican Republic, Scotland, New Zealand, and Denmark. Students also have access to PhilaU’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection as well as “specialized space for individual programs including, engineering labs, fashion design studios, textile studios with state-of-the-art machinery, and industrial design studios.” The Textile and Costume Collection features “museum-quality garments, accessories, and textiles as sources of design inspiration for the modern-day design and product-development process.”
13. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (top 20% of schools considered)
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) is home to 1,968 students enrolled in 35 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Programs for aspiring fashion designers include BFA degrees in Fashion Design, Jewelry/Metals Arts, and Textiles. Program highlights include CCA’s internship program, which offers the opportunity to work at San Francisco Bay Area companies such as Levi Strauss & Co, Athleta, and TEA Collection, the opportunity to participate in the Annual Fashion Show, and unique study abroad opportunities in places such as London, Paris, Berlin, and Italy.
Many CCA graduates have found success in the world of design. Some have started their own businesses, while others have landed positions with major companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, Athleta, Forever 21, John Varvatos, Michael Kors, GUESS, Kate Spade, and many others.
14. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (top 20% of schools considered)
Columbia College is the largest private, nonprofit arts and media college in the nation. Founded in 1890, the school is home to more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students, enrolled in 100-plus academic majors or programs across three schools including Fine and Performing Arts, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Media Arts. The School of Fine and Performing Arts, Department of Fashion Studies, offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers including BA and BFA degrees in Fashion Design, and a BFA and Minor in Fashion Business.
Those on the entrepreneurial path may choose a double major in Fashion and Fashion Business, or a Fashion Major and Fashion Business Minor. Other program highlights include a Semester in LA, internship opportunities and access to the school’s Fashion Lab, the Fashion Study Collection (FSC), and the Fashion Study Collection Research Center (workspace and archive). Students also have the opportunity to display their creations in the Fashion Studies Exhibition Windows on campus.
15. Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri (top 20% of schools considered)
Founded in 1833, Stephens College is the second oldest women’s college in the country. It has a population of around 800 students enrolled in more than 25 programs across four schools including the Schools of Design, Health Sciences, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Performing Arts. The School of Design offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers including a BA in Apparel Studies and a BFA in Fashion Design & Product Development.
Program highlights include study trips to international fashion capitals, the opportunity to intern at companies such as Escada, Cosmopolitan, Baby Phat, and WWD, and participation in The Collections Annual Fashion Show (est. 1944). Past jurors have included supermodel Karlie Kloss and alumna Brianne Ratliff ’03 from Armani Exchange. In addition, students have access to the School of Design Historic Costume Museum and Research Library, which consists of more than 13,000 pieces and designer garments. Bill Blass, Chanel, Oscar de la Renta, and Valentino are just a few.
16. Columbus College of Art & Design, Columbus, Ohio (top 20% of schools considered)
Columbus College of Art & Design was established in 1879. It is home to more than 1,300 students enrolled in 35 majors, minors, and concentrations. Programs for aspiring fashion designers include a BFA and a Minor in Fashion Design. Program highlights include internship opportunities at companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Justice, and Victoria’s Secret (all headquartered in Ohio), participation in the Annual CCAD Senior Fashion Show, and study abroad opportunities in Chile, China, England, and Italy.
CCAD fashion students also have the opportunity to study in a New York studio for one term through CCAD’s New York Studio Residency Program. Graduates of the program have landed positions at major companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor Loft, BCBG, J. Crew, Polo Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, and White House Black Market.
17. Woodbury University, Burbank, California (top 25% of schools considered)
Woodbury University was founded in 1884. The school, which two locations—Burbank and San Diego, is home to more than 1,500 students enrolled a variety of programs across three schools and one college including the School of Architecture, the School of business, the School of Media Culture & Design, and the College of Liberal Arts. The School of Media, Culture & Design offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers including a BFA in Fashion Design with a new Costume Design Track. Besides Costume Design, fashion students may explore other design categories such as Shoes or Children’s Wear or earn a second degree such as the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Fashion Marketing. The BBA is offered through the School of Business.
According to the School of Media Culture & Design, the Fashion Design program focuses on “classic illustration methods, cutting-edge design, and world-class construction techniques.” The Costume Design Track “encompasses stage and screen with a concentrated emphasis on character development, period construction, digital and manual sketching, as well as an on-set production lab.” Both programs feature internship opportunities with major fashion companies, participation in the Woodbury Runway Show and Costume Runway, and a range of creative workshops.
18. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York (top 25% of schools considered)
Syracuse University (SU) was chartered in 1870. The school is home to approximately 21,789 students enrolled in more than 400 programs across 13 colleges and schools. The College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), Department of Design offers one program for aspiring fashion designers—a BFA in Fashion Design.
Program highlights include study abroad opportunities in London at London College of Fashion, Florence, and Strasbourg, France and visiting designers and retail experts. Past guests have included major designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Tommy Hilfiger, Russell Simmons, and Mary McFadden. Students also have access to the Sue Ann Genet Costume Collection, and they have the opportunity to participate in the Annual Fashion Show.
19. Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (top 25% of schools considered)
Founded in 1848, Moore College of Art & Design is the first and only visual arts college for women in the U.S. The school is home to 440 students enrolled in 10 majors leading to a BFA. Moore also offers five graduate programs, certificate programs, and 17 tracks leading to one of 11 minors to complement the major courses of study. Offerings for aspiring fashion designers include a BFA and a Minor in Fashion Design, and a Certificate in Fashion Studies with two tracks including Apparel Construction and Technical Design.
Program highlights include opportunities to work several shows during NYC Fashion Week, both paid and unpaid internships at major companies such as Ana Sui, Diane Von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, Halston, Marc Jacobs, Nordstrom, Rag & Bone, and Zac Posen, and participation in the Annual Fashion Show. Students may also participate in the “Fashion Critic Program,” which gives students the opportunity to work with a designer from the fashion industry. This ensures that the students’ creations are “professional and marketable.”
Graduates of the Fashion Program at Moore College of Art have worked for major designers and companies such as Adrienne Vittadini, Anne Klein Studio, Badgley Mischka, Fila, Jones New York, Liz Claiborne, Sean John, Tommy Hilfiger, Urban Outfitters, and many others.
20. University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas (top 25% of schools considered)
University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) was established in 1881 by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Home to nearly 10,000 students, UIW is the largest Catholic university in Texas and the fourth-largest private university in the state. The school houses nine colleges and schools that offer 100 undergraduate and graduate majors.
The School of Media and Design, Juren Sullivan Center for Fashion Management offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Options include BFA and MA degrees in Fashion Design and a BA in Fashion Management with a Concentration in Product Development. The BFA program allows students to minor in Business Administration and the MA program offers a Thesis Track or Collection Track.
Fashion program highlights include internship opportunities in San Antonio and the surrounding areas, study abroad experiences at sister schools such as London College of Fashion, Tainan Fashion School in Taiwan, and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and participation in the annual fashion show—The Cutting Edge (est. 1980).