Our 2017 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, New York, New York (top 1% of schools considered)
Founded in 1896, The New School/Parsons is home to more than 10,000 students enrolled in 138 degree programs, diploma programs and majors, and more than 50 minors across five colleges. New School colleges include the Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, College of Performing Arts, Schools of Public Engagement, The New School for Social Research, and Parsons School of Design.
Options for aspiring fashion designers include a Certificate, and 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 Textiles or 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. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (top 3% of schools considered)
Pratt Institute was founded in 1887. The school is home to 4,600 students enrolled in 48 degree programs and a variety of Certificate and Minor programs across five schools. They include 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.
3. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (top 4% of schools considered)
Founded in 1978, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is home to nearly 13,000 students enrolled in 40 majors and 60-plus minors. 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 Fashion Program highlights include participation in the Annual SCAD Fashion Show, and internships and study opportunities at local, national, and international fashion companies.
4. Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (top 5% of schools considered)
Founded in 1865, Cornell University was is home to nearly 22,000 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, and Fashion Design Management. A Dual Degree is also available. The Dual 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.
5. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island (top 6% of schools considered)
Founded in 1877, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD or “RIZ-dee”) offers degrees in 19 majors to nearly 2,500 students from across the U.S. and 57 other countries. 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 highlighted 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.
6. Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (top 8% of schools considered)
Established in 1891, Drexel University 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.
7. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (top 9% of schools considered)
Founded in 1918, Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) is home to nearly 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 options in Sustainability or Costume Design.
The Costume Design Emphasis focuses on “new directions in character development for film, television, live performance, concept art, and video,” according to OTIS. The Sustainability Minor 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 display their designs. The Annual Scholarship and Benefit Fashion Show and the Nieman Marcus window in Beverly Hills are just a few options.
8. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (top 10% of schools considered)
Founded in 1866, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is home to nearly 3,600 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 display 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)
Established in 1929, Academy of Art University had a 2016 fall enrollment of 7,959 students. The school 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. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (top 15% of schools considered)
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) is home to nearly 2,000 students enrolled in more than 30 degree programs. Options 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.
11. Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles, California (top 15% of schools considered)
Founded in 1969, Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) is home to 5,300 students enrolled in 26 creative majors leading to an AA, BA or BS in the areas of fashion, graphics, interior design or entertainment. Degree programs for aspiring fashion designers include a BA in Design, a BS in Apparel Technical Design, and AA degrees in Fashion Design, Fashion Knitwear Design, Jewelry Design, Merchandise Product Development, and Textile Design. Associate of Arts Advanced Study Programs (ADV) programs include Advanced Fashion Design, Film and TV Costume Design, Footwear Design, International Manufacturing & Product Development, Menswear, and Textile Production and Development.
In addition to a variety of program offerings, FIDM fashion students have the opportunity to participate in the internship program as well as annual study tours that will take them to fashion capitals such as New York, Paris, London, Rome, Milan, and more. Students may also participate in the annual DEBUT Runway Show, which is streamed online and televised.
Note that FIDM consists of four campuses with locations in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Irvine, California. The school has 300 faculty members, as well as an advisory board that includes “industry giants” such as Fred Segal, Diane von Furstenberg, Tim Gunn (of Project Runway, Filmed at FIDM), and Emanuel Ungaro.
12. Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri (top 20% of schools considered)
Founded in 1833, Stephens College is the second oldest women’s college in the country. The school is home to 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 the following programs for aspiring fashion designers: a BA in Apparel Studies and a BFA in Fashion Design & Product Development.
Both programs highlight 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.
13. Philadelphia University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (top 20% of schools considered)
Philadelphia University (PhilaU) was founded in 1884 as the Philadelphia Textile School. The school is home to 3,200 students enrolled in more than 60 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.”
14. Baylor University, Waco, Texas (top 20% of schools considered)
Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas, Baylor University is home to around 16,000 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.
15. Columbus College of Art & Design, Columbus, Ohio (top 20% of schools considered)
Established in 1879, Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) is one of the oldest private art and design colleges in the U.S. The school is home to more than 1,300 students enrolled in 35 majors, minors and concentrations including a BFA and a Minor in Fashion Design. Fashion 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.
16. Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York (top 25% of schools considered)
Founded in 1929, Marist College is home to more than 6,500 students enrolled in over 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.
17. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (top 25% of schools considered)
With more than 10,000 students, Columbia College Chicago is the largest private, nonprofit arts and media college in the nation. Founded in 1890, Columbia is also one of the oldest colleges of its kind in the region. The school offers more than 100 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 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.
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.
18. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York (top 25% of schools considered)
Chartered in 1870, Syracuse University (SU) is home to nearly 22,000 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. Beverly Hills Design Institute, Beverly Hills, California (top 25% of schools considered)
Beverly Hills Design Institute (BHDI) is the only French Haute Couture academy in the U.S. The school is also the only institution in the U.S. that offers AA and BS degrees in Pattern Design and 1/3 of its curriculum in TRENDS. This part of the curriculum is designed to help students learn how to recognize trends, know their cycles, and predict them. In addition to Pattern Design, BHDI offers AA and BA degrees in Fashion Design. The school also lists a BA in Pattern Design on its website.
Per BHDI, Fashion Design and Pattern Design are taught separately (like in Europe) “to fulfill the fashion industry’s demand for highly specialized professionals.” Both programs end with a fashion show and a Gala.
20. St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota (top 25% of schools considered)
Founded in 1905, St. Catherine University (St. Kate’s) is home to approximately 4,786 students enrolled in around 120 programs across two campuses—St. Paul and Minneapolis. The University houses several schools and 100 academic departments. The School of Business and Professional Studies offers a BA or BS in Fashion Merchandising with a required Business Minor, and a BA or BS in Apparel Design. Programs are offered as a major and a second degree.
Program highlights include required courses in art, business and communications, 10- to 21-day study abroad experiences in London, Paris, Florence, India or other locations, and the opportunity to present a collection at St. Kate’s Annual Katwalk Fashion Show.