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Grad Program: Fashion/Apparel Design

Basic Information

If you’ve ever dreamed of a career in fashion, a graduate or professional program in fashion design will help bring your head down out of the clouds and land you on the runway. A fashion-design student studies elements like color, fabric choice, and silhouette (are skinny pants right for this season?). Additionally, you’ll gain technical proficiency in computer-aided design and garment construction, patternmaking, draping and sewing. You should carefully consider your career goals when evaluating M.F.A. programs, which will either take a creative or technical approach -– do you want to be a designer or production manager? Or do fashion merchandising or fashion illustration appeal to you? Make sure that the school’s curriculum will meet your future plans.

Classes are extremely hands-on and have students sketching, sewing, and drafting from day one. You can expect to create original garments and present them in a public exhibition or a runway show. Most institutions encourage students to supplement their education with an internship, which is helpful -– maybe even essential –- in making connections and landing a first job. School location, facilities, and alumni connections should also be factors to consider when researching programs.

Degree Information

M.F.A. and M.A. programs in fashion design are extremely rare; four-year bachelor’s programs are much more common. There are also many certificate and associate’s programs that provide students (with or without a bachelor’s degree) with enough basic technical and/or design training to make a career change. These one- or two-year programs are excellent options for someone without prior fashion experience who wants to break into the industry. Students can opt for a vocational school, which focus more on technical skills and prepare students for careers in the mass market (think everyday clothing at the mall), or an art school, which offers more creative classes and prepares students for careers in the higher-end market (think Paris and the runway). Most graduate, undergraduate, and technical programs require a senior thesis or project, which generally means the creation and presentation of a collection in a runway show; some also require a professional internship.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Are you interested in designing outrageous, creative garments or things more appropriate for everyday wear? Does the program emphasize creativity and experimentation or technical and business skills?
  • Does the school have industry connections? A good reputation within the national and international fashion industry?
  • Do students present their work in a publicly-attended runway show? What percentage of students get to participate?
  • What are the experience and connections of the faculty? How does their work fit into your areas of interest?
  • Are you willing to relocate to a major city for school and/or a job? (New York City equals better fashion connections than Salt Lake City, for example.)
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