10 Essential Things to Know Before Enrolling in Fashion School

Are you passionate about fashion and considering attending fashion school?

Learn about what fashion school is, the different types available, the requirements for admission, and what factors to consider before choosing a school.

Discover the benefits of attending fashion school, including industry connections and potential career paths such as fashion designer, stylist, buyer, merchandiser, and marketer.

If you’re ready to turn your love for fashion into a successful career, keep reading to learn more!

Key Takeaways:

  • Fashion school offers specialized education in the fashion industry and prepares students for various career paths.
  • Consider factors such as reputation, curriculum, and location before choosing a fashion school.
  • Attending fashion school can provide valuable industry connections, hands-on experience, and exposure to current trends and technologies.
  • What Is Fashion School?

    Fashion school, sometimes referred to as fashion college, is a tertiary education institution that teaches students the skills and knowledge needed to build a professional career in the field of design, retail, or fashion merchandising. It is one of the best places to have a career in fashion. These traditional in-person institutions require attendance on a standardized academic calendar where students attend structured courses and, in many cases, purchase textbooks and pay tuition fees.

    Non-traditional programs are also available to fit many schedules and price points, virtually, in classrooms and most often online. This includes accredited courses and eLearning as provided by London College of Fashion which is part of the University of the Arts London. There are several types of fashion schools based on the fashion career one wishes to pursue:

    1. Fashion Design Schools which offer degrees and certificates in fashion design. They focus on the unique design of clothing, accessories, and shoes.
    2. Merchandising Schools which offer degrees and certificates in fashion merchandising, business, and finance.
    3. Accessory Design Schools, for those wishing to design accessories such as shoes, sunglasses, scarves, belts, or bags.
    4. Stylist Schools which offer degrees and certificates in fashion styling. Stylists schedule product photoshoots and campaigns with influencers.

    What Are the Different Types of Fashion Schools?

    The different types of fashion schools are community colleges, specialized and dedicated fashion schools, technical schools, art schools, universities, online courses, vocational schools, and for-profit schools. The location of these different types of programs varies, with students able to attend in-person programs in almost any city in the world, while online courses allow students to attend global programs without relocation.

    The biggest differentiator between the types of fashion schools is the depth of education. Vocational schools and community colleges often offer programs that can be started and completed more quickly, whereas universities and dedicated fashion schools offer deeper, more comprehensive education in a wide range of areas.

    Traditional Fashion Schools

    Traditional fashion schools are institutions providing associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Traditional fashion schools are accredited, which means they are formally recognized by a government or other official organization. Accreditation is a process of validation in which colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning are evaluated. Students should choose traditional fashion schools that are regionally accredited by the U.S. Department of Education‘s Office of Postsecondary Education or other comparable non-U.S. government agencies to ensure that the program they are interested in is legitimate. Additionally, admissions officers are less likely to accept degrees and credits from schools that have only specialized or national accreditation.

    Online Fashion Schools

    Online fashion schools are schools teaching fashion classes virtually without any in-person requirements or events. They offer students in-depth backgrounds in the technical and creative aspects of design, as well as advanced e-commerce and branding education. Compared to conventional learning options, online classes are more inexpensive, more adaptable, more technology-centered and for the time being, more safe.

    These are some of the best schools for fashion that are their degrees exclusively online which include Bachelor’s and Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) in professional fashion design training:

    • Academy of Art University
    • LIM College
    • Full Sail University

    Specialized Fashion Schools

    Specialized schools allow students to more narrowly tailor their curriculum to a specific interest such as design, merchandising, or marketing. These schools tend to be smaller and have the ability to personalize education experience in a way that larger, non-specialized counterparts may not offer. The International School of Fashion and Style Design’s (ISO) six-month online Foundation programs is an example of a comprehensive curriculum specialized in studio skills, project designing, and extensive theoretical knowledge within the areas of design, styling, marketing, fashion art, and visual communication. The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) has programs where all of the course work is dedicated entirely to product development, marketing, design, or general fashion industry. Some vocational schools and junior colleges are specialized fashion schools.

    What Are the Requirements for Fashion School?

    Modern fashion school degree programs typically require the following admission requirements from both undergraduate and graduate students, although they vary widely by student and institute. It is highly recommended that via the specific school’s website, an applicant checks the admission requirements as well as answers to the most frequently asked questions.

    1. Resume and/or CV: Indicates your environment, creativity, and travel experiences.
    2. Transcripts and Diplomas: Required in original format (best if both translated and original versions available).
    3. Statement of Purpose (Personal Statement or SOP): States past experience in the industry, specific academic and personal qualities and achievements, what inspired the student to enter, as well as how the degree fits with future goals.
    4. Recommendation Letters: The number and the policies on the relationship of those writing you recommendations differ, but most institutions need at least two. At least one from a university professor is best. Almost every institution requires the letters to be on letterhead with original signature then sealed into an envelope with original signature.

    Academic Qualifications

    Before going to fashion school, here are the qualifications you need. Most fashion schools around the world will admit you with a completed high school education. This is typically enough to get you into a 2-3 year associate’s or bachelor’s degree program. Though some around the world require more (e.g., in the EU, a BTEC Higher National Diploma or Foundation Degree; in Germany, a Reifezeugnis (secondary school leaving certificate). If you don’t have these educational qualifications, don’t worry. There is actually no barrier to start learning from a high school level and to go into a professional course by incrementally completing various levels. For example, in India’s National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), they have a Post-Graduate Certificate Program in Design after the 10th grade. In the US, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers an intensive Art and Design Precollege Summer Program. The qualifications you will need might depend on the school and/or nation.


    Your portfolio is a collection of your best work which showcases your talents. A portfolio is used for entry to design school and to apply for the fashion jobs you want. Flichiano et al. (2020) note that having a strong portfolio is one of the seven most important qualifications for a designer. A cursory look at the top fashion schools shows that almost all of them assign it significant weight for their design programs.

    The Portfolio Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology considers a strong design portfolio a necessity for developing a career in the fashion industry. They write that you will need a range of different portfolios for different needs. You may apply to a college of design with a portfolio emphasizing your design process and fine arts skills.

    To attend graduate school for a marketing career, you will need to create a different kind of portfolio that emphasizes research, trending, user experience, or branding and that you will eventually need a portfolio for the hiring process. It is important that each different kind of portfolio you create is focused around identifiable moods and key concepts. They also note that using a disruptive color, fabric, or printing can help make your portfolio distinguishable. The School of Fashion at the Academy of Art University recommends the use of platforms like ISSUU, Wix, webflow, and cargocollective for creating your digital portfolio.

    Letters of Recommendation

    Letters of recommendation for fashion school are letters that attest to an individual’s abilities. These are usually provided by former employers, managers, co-workers, colleagues, professors, or any other higher authority. Letters of recommendation differ from references as they are prepared in advance of an individual’s candidacy.

    Fashion schools typically want to see two or three letters of recommendation, so applicants should try to get them from supervisors, teachers, industry professionals, or others with experience assessing their strengths and weaknesses who can comment on their fitness for advanced studies in fashion. Fashion schools have varying requirements regarding letters of recommendation, so it is important to check the specific requirements of the school where an individual is applying.

    What Should You Consider Before Choosing a Fashion School?

    These are relevant factors to consider when choosing a fashion school:

    1. Courses: Will the curriculum prepare you for your specific goals?
    2. Funding: Can you afford it or receive financial aid?
    3. Size: How large is the student body? How much interaction with faculty are you looking for?
    4. Reputation: How good is the school in your specific fashion discipline?
    5. Location: Can you handle the costs and additional challenges of studying abroad?
    6. Networking and job prospects: Does the school have many successful alumni?

    Reputation and Accreditation

    Fashion schools’ reputations, as well as their accreditation status, are two critical things to know before going to fashion school.

    Reputation: Opt for schools with established reputations. These are more likely to attract industry professionals as professors, have better facilities, and a stronger alumni network. Alumni networks are invaluable for those seeking jobs post-grad. The best way to research a reputation is by asking the school for statistics on placements, salary scales among alumni, a list of alumni companies, and professional profiles of some of their faculty. You can also request contact information for their alumni for a frank opinion of the school’s treatment of their students and preparedness for the workforce.

    Accreditation: Researching a fashion school’s reputation is important, but you must also be sure it is accredited. This means the school and its curriculum are up-to-date. Fashion schools, like all colleges and universities, can be regional, national, or professional. In general, it is recommended to attend schools that are regionally accredited. WAL or World Accreditation of Learning and Distant Education awards accreditation for online fashion schools and programs.

    Curriculum and Specializations

    The areas you can enroll in and specializations within each study area are called disciplines. There are three main categories of disciplines in which you can study at a fashion school. They are as follows, including some variations:

    • Fashion Marketing
      • Buying and Merchandise Management
      • Brand Management
      • Contemporary and Future Strategies
      • Retail Management
      • Product Development and Merchandising
      • Social and Cause Marketing
      • Promotions
      • Public Relations and Publicity
      • Omni-channel Distribution
    • Fashion Management
      • Finance and Investments
      • Global Strategies and Borderless Markets
      • Leadership, Quantum Leadership
      • Human Resources
      • Technology, Analytics, Artificial Intelligence
      • Sustainability
      • Managing Change, Risk and Uncertainty
      • Supply Chain Economics
    • Fashion Design and Arts
      • Design and Color Theory
      • Design Techniques
      • Fashion Illustration
      • Embroidery and Textiles
      • Pattern Making and Design Cutting
      • Fashion Communication (physical-digital, personalized)
      • Trend Forecasting and Inspiration
      • Fashion Photography and Media
      • Fashion Ethics and Legal Aspects
      • Collection Presentation

    Disciplines can change and individual institution programs understandably have variations. In choosing your specific training, research the options between schools, departments, programs or courses and the emergence of new disciplines as the industry changes. Your choice should always be based on career goals and personal inclination. Be sure to ask many questions.

    Location and Cost

    Experts at the U.S. Bureau of Labor indicate that an education in fashion typically lasts 2-4 years, with some schools offering shorter and longer programs. Two-year programs offer associate’s degrees while four-year programs offer bachelor’s degrees. These diplomas cost USD 20,000 to 50,000 per year depending on the school’s reputation according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Fashion schools in the UK and Italy usually have a duration of 3 years according to Graduateland and a cost of GBP 9,000 to 14,000 annually according to study portals.

    What Are the Benefits of Attending Fashion School?

    The top benefit of attending fashion school is that you can increase hourly pay by 5x in the first job at the top employers in fashion, according to The State of Fashion 2021 report by McKinsey and the Business of Fashion (BOF). The four categories in which major fashion education providers support individuals in a direct or indirect way are:

    1. Career support: schools provide career support as part of the program and alumni networks help graduates make contacts quickly.
    2. Career advancement: advanced roles in fashion require this specialized education, and the higher salary that comes with these roles constitute a direct benefit.
    3. Community: networking opportunities within and after studying at these schools, which education providers nurture through partnerships and collaborations. The luxury group Vera Wang partners with LIM College in New York.
    4. Knowledge and Skills: focused coursework, access to resources and experienced practitioner instructors, academic environment that provokes thinking, which all initially provide skills and knowledge that collectively contribute to the overall outcome of advancing their career in the fashion industry.

    Industry Connections and Networking Opportunities

    The requirements of successive generation fashion industry professionals have expanded beyond expertise in garment construction and textile design to include knowledge of graphic design software, supply chain management, merchandising, and social media. Interacting with fellow students at and instructors from fashion schools who have insight, knowledge, or resources create hundred-fold opportunities for career advancement. There may also be opportunities for students to network with industry leaders either in a classroom setting or at on-campus events hosted by the school.

    Hands-on Experience and Skills Development

    Hands-on experience and skill development are essential components of fashion design programs. From day one, students participate in coursework and projects designed to accelerate the development of important technical skills involved in clothing design, pattern-making, industrial sewing, and production.

    Hands-on experience comes in two primary forms while studying at fashion school. The first is direct exposure to industry demands and responsibilities through internships, fieldwork opportunities and lab courses. In the classroom, students apply these components to projects and concepts learned as part of their coursework. During these experiential learning opportunities, students showcase their communication abilities and demonstrate their potential as top designer recruits.

    Experience at fashion school also means training on industry equipment. Some coursework requires manual planning and patterning, while modern industry practices for meeting deadlines rely on digital tools such as design software, electronic pattern making, and automatic cutting and sewing machines.

    According to their website, the Parsons School of Design utilizes the Gerber Technology CAD system for training pattern-making. the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning operates a knitting lab where students get experience operation digitally controlled knitting machines. Such experiences will not only expand students’ expertise, but also prepare them for professional industry demands. After graduating from job fashion courses, on-the-job training will provide additional practice in working in a professional setting.

    Exposure to Latest Trends and Technologies

    Courses at fashion design schools expose students to the latest trends and technologies to meet the wants and needs of today’s fashion industries. From new trends in the industry to current social and environmental concerns, students are exposed to the big ideas that are driving the latest advances in fashion.

    The content of all of the best fashion schools is based on cutting-edge research (find a source), and students apply that research by creating designs at the forefront of future fashion trends.

    What Are the Possible Career Paths After Attending Fashion School?

    The possible career paths after attending fashion school are numerous and cross many industries. The following are some of the most prominent including projected salary estimates from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and requirements from 10X Careers for careers after majoring in fashion design.

    1. Fashion Designer. Median salary USD 73,790 per year. Career requires completion of a 4-year degree from a fashion institution, and a portfolio.
    2. Fashion Illustrator. Requires a 4-year associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary data for multi-media artists and animators has a median salary of USD 79,230 per year.
    3. Colorist. Requires a 4-year degree in fashion. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary data for fashion designers has a median salary of USD 73,790 per year.
    4. Production Assistant. Entry-level assistants with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately USD 43,640 to start.
    5. Patternmaker. Fashion degrees can be an asset in this role as one must understand the development stage. Industrial engineers, technologists, technicians have a median warehouse of USD 84,310 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    6. Personal Stylist. Requirements are dependent on area of expertise. The following shows the average salary according to Salary.com: USD 40K for Menswear Fashion Stylist, USD 7.7K for Wardrobe Fashion Stylists, and USD 9K for Photo Fashion Stylists.
    7. Cosmetologist. Median salary USD 34,370 per year. Requires completion of 1,000 to 2,000 hours of cosmetology training.
    8. Makeup Artist. Median salary is USD 75,730-$84,000 per year or USD 20-$100 per hour. Makeup artists have no formal training requirements and can complete certificate programs offered by beauty schools or specialize by completing programs offered by makeup academies.

    Since fashion degrees also consist of other non-design-related courses, fashion school attendees have a much wider applicable job field to choose from. The following are popular career paths in this expanded field (data and requirements not applicable):

    1. Fashion Historian
    2. Textile Recycling Specialist
    3. Fashion Sustainable Supply Chain Coordinator
    4. Fashion Production Manager
    5. Fashion Influencer
    6. Freelance Photographer/Videographer

    A career application of fashion education should go hand-in-hand with career counseling. The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York has such a service called the Fashion Career Center. Launched in 2008, the service is designed to assist students in identifying internships and jobs in the fashion industry according to their interests and expertise.

    Fashion Designer

    Fashion designers are in charge of creating clothing items, accessories, or footwear. Designers brainstorm new ideas for clothing and accessories, as well as concepts for fashion collections. They make sketches and fabricate prototypes. Moreover, designers assist at all stages of the manufacturing procedure to guarantee that their items comply with a quality standard. Fashion designers start as entry-level Fashion Coordinators or Merchandise Managers, Marketing or Sales Managers, or Retail Managers. They require at least a Bachelor’s degree in fashion design or a related discipline. This allows students to cultivate their creative, technical, and business abilities. Courses are beneficial but most things can only be learned with experience.

    The median yearly salary for fashion designers in the United States was $73,790 as of May 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Clothing, Accessories, and General Merchandise Stores, as well as the General Merchandise, Apparel, and Furnishings Representatives and Brokers sectors, are among the biggest employers of fashion designers. For secure a fashion designer job in 2021, one must have knowledge of software such as CAD designer software, design studio software, Alvanon design software, graphic or drawing software, and computer-aided design software for Unix platform.

    Fashion Stylist

    A fashion stylist is a professional who selects clothing and accessories to suit the personality and aesthetic of the client for appearances at events, in print, or in photograph and film productions. An increasing number of fashion schools offer training in fashion stylist positions as they gain in popularity. The courses cover everything from body shapes, color theory, editorial projects, and the psychological elements of dressing others. According to the BLS, fashion stylists can earn a median salary of $69,006 per year.

    Fashion Buyer

    Fashion buyers are responsible for selecting and purchasing the clothing that goes on the shelves in shops and department stores. This job consists of researching fashion trends in order to select the appropriate items for sale. They must stay within a budget, negotiate prices and quantities with suppliers, and ensure their stocks reflect consumer desires. Therefore, this profession requires knowledge of the target customer and of sales and marketing strategy.

    Fashion buyer salaries vary but wages start at a low hourly rate and can go up to a high hourly rate of over $100. Overtime pay is typically half the hourly rate, so this is a position in which long hours can make a big difference in your paycheck. Education requirements for a career in fashion buying are usually a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising or fashion management.

    Fashion Merchandiser

    In the world of fashion design, there is a missing link between designers and customers. Fashion merchandisers bridge the gap by translating consumer trends into styles designers can produce, and helping designers match their products to demand. Analyzing buying patterns and working with designers on prototypes are the main tasks of a fashion merchandiser. People with a keen eye for style and colors who enjoy fashion and business socialization are the best candidates for a job in fashion merchandising.

    Fashion Marketer

    Fashion marketing is the process of promoting fashion products, increasing brand awareness, and driving sales using traditional and digital marketing strategies tailored to the fashion industry.

    For those who enjoy fashion and consumer marketing but do not have (or wish to develop) the specialized skills of a designer or the visual creativity of a fashion illustrator or photographer, a career as a fashion marketer is worth considering. Fashion marketing encompasses the design, production, merchandising, marketing, and distribution of apparel and accessories.

    Examples of a day in the life of a fashion marketer are researching consumer materials to develop new branding campaigns, working with producers to develop new products and calculate their costs in the production process, or helping create brand vision and messaging for a collection’s merchandising.

    Fashion marketers generally work for apparel and accessory manufacturers, retail stores, or advertising or marketing agencies that focus on the fashion industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of marketing managers was $141,490 as of May 2020.

    Fashion marketers must understand principles of design, making, social psychology of consumer purchasing behavior, the fashion industry value chain, marketing principles, and computer applications for digital marketing. A background in marketing and management are often good to bring to this field if they center around retail management or fashion merchandising.

    Fashion marketing is often a blend of various fields of study, encompassing formal education, experience working in the fashion industry, and having a good understanding of the role of computers in marketing and e-commerce.

    To get a job as a fashion marketer, there are several potential job titles you can look for in job search engines. Some of these include Fashion Brand Manager, Brand Strategist, Fashion Merchandising Director, Product Development Specialist, Fashion Ad Director, and Digital Marketer.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What to Know Before Going to Fashion School

    1. What is the first step to take before enrolling in fashion school?

    Before enrolling in fashion school, it is important to research and understand the curriculum and programs offered by different schools. This will help you determine which school aligns with your goals and interests.

    2. What are some essential skills to possess before going to fashion school?

    Some essential skills to have before attending fashion school include a strong sense of creativity, visual communication, and problem-solving abilities. Additionally, having knowledge and experience in basic sewing and pattern-making can be beneficial.

    3. How important is networking in the fashion industry?

    Networking is crucial in the fashion industry as it allows you to build connections with professionals and potential employers. It can also provide valuable opportunities for internships, collaborations, and job opportunities.

    4. What should I look for in a fashion school?

    When searching for a fashion school, consider factors such as the reputation and accreditation of the school, the qualifications and experience of the faculty, the resources and facilities available, and the success and achievements of alumni.

    5. Is it necessary to have a degree from a fashion school to succeed in the industry?

    No, a degree from a fashion school is not necessary for success in the industry. However, it can provide valuable knowledge, skills, and connections that can help jumpstart your career and give you a competitive edge.

    6. How can I prepare for the workload and intensity of fashion school?

    To prepare for the workload and intensity of fashion school, it is important to have strong time management and organizational skills. You can also familiarize yourself with the fashion industry and its trends, as well as practice your design and sewing skills before starting school.

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