With over 350 possible fashion design schools in the United States, aspiring fashion designers and merchandisers want to make sure they’re choosing the best of the best.
At the least, fashion design schools in the top tier will offer hands-on, immersive experiences that give students an authentic idea of what it is like to live, breathe, and work in the fashion industry.
What does this look like? For some, it means granting access to tens of thousands of iconic fashion pieces curated from the past several centuries. For others, it looks like a guaranteed study-abroad or study-away excursion where networking and collaborative opportunities await.
Most of the best fashion design schools highlight globally-recognized names and brands where students can hone their skills and make connections.
Careers in fashion show lucrative promise in the decade ahead – predictions indicate that the global fashion market will increase from a compound annual growth rate of 5.3% from 2020 to 2025 and reach $211.9million by 2030.
In an industry meant to evolve, it is important for fashion design schools to not only stay up to speed with trends and emerging technologies, but also to serve as the forces that innovate those new developments.
Read ahead to learn more about our picks for the 10 of the best fashion design schools in the United States – from obvious hubs like New York City and Los Angeles to lesser-known cities like Corvallis, Oregon and Newton, Massachusetts, these programs offer a world of opportunity to budding fashionistas.
Lasell University School of Fashion (Newton, MA)
During their course of study, students complete a minimum of one internship with brands like Coach, Marc Jacobs, and Tommy Hilfiger. They also have the unique opportunity to participate in the Paris Immersion Program, where they fly to Paris, work as interns for Men’s Fashion Week, and take courses with fashion industry experts.
The Lasell Fashion Collection, which is at the disposal of students, houses 3000+ items spanning over 200 years of fashion history.
Lasell students can expect to receive an abundance of support through programs like the School of Fashion Starter Network, made up of professors, alumni, fashion industry professionals willing to support current students.
Unlike other fashion schools, first-year students are permitted to showcase their designs in the annual fashion show (compared to schools that only host senior showcases). The fashion show is wholly student-led.
Lasell has an acceptance rate of 84%, which is promising for interested students. To apply, applicants submit a Common App or Lasell Online Application, high school transcript, 250-word minimum personal essay, and letter of recommendation. SAT/ACT scores are optional.
Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (Los Angeles, CA)
Founded in 1969 by Tonian Hohberg, FIDM offers over 20 majors and degree programs in specialties like apparel technical design, beauty business management, digital marketing, and a Master’s in Business Administration.
The school has been named part of the Top 10 Graphic Design Schools by College Magazine and one of the Top 10 Sustainable Fashion Schools in the World by the University Network.
With such high accolades, it is not surprising that FIDM is one of the more selective schools on the list, with an acceptance rate of 38%.
FIDM’s teaching model is an integration of Classroom Partner Projects and FIDM SuperLabs™, where students create solutions for real brands and develop their personal portfolios.
Some of their industry collaborators include Victoria’s Secret, Converse, Pixar, Levi’s, Disney, Nike, and Pacific Sunwear.
Angelica Villegas, another FIDM alumna, has served as the Senior Art Director at Lady Gaga’s Haus Laboratories. Several competitors and winners featured on Project Runway got their start at FIDM.
Application requirements include official transcripts, a letter of recommendation, a two-page admission essay, and a portfolio (which has different requirements based on the program the applicant is applying to study).
Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA)
Founded in 1978, SCAD is the only school in the world to offer an MFA in accessory design and the first in the U.S. to offer an MA in that discipline.
Fashion students have collaborated with world-recognized brands like Draper James, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, and more.
The jewelry program is also one of the best and largest in the U.S., and students have worked with Fossil, Zales, and The Limited to innovate new designs.
Part of the impetus behind SCAD’s excellent industry networking is SCADPro, the school’s in-house design studio that connects current students with business leaders and industry professionals.
Through opportunities to collaborate with globally-recognized brands, students move on to achieve success in the fashion industry.
SCAD regularly appears atop national rankings lists. Recently, the school was named Red Dot Design’s top U.S. university for the fourth year in a row, #1 in Forbes’ Best Colleges Shaping the Future of Fashion, and #1 in Art & Object’s Best Art Schools ranking.
Current students and alumni frequently receive accolades from the American Advertising Awards, European Product Design Awards, and others.
Alumna Heather Doram was even chosen to be the national costume designer for Antigua & Barbuda!
Oregon State University (Corvallis, OR)
Oregon State U’s apparel design program concentrates on the market- and consumer-driven design, preparing students for careers in the outdoor and sports industries; it is offered through the College of Business and promises literacy in the fashion business, design, production, and marketing.
There is also a lower-division pre-design program that requires specific courses to be completed within the first and second years of college.
Admission is competitive and limited to the number of students the faculty can serve; the apparel design program generally requires a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5 in OSU classes and pre-design classes.
In the first and second years, students take courses like Computer-Aided Design, Color Innovation, and Introduction to Entrepreneurship.
In the third and fourth years, they may take courses like Managing Individual and Team Performance, Consumer Behavior, and Technical Sportswear Sizing and Fit.
Oregon State University has partnered with Browzwear, a leader in design software, so students have access to advanced 3D design tools used by leading sports and outdoor apparel brands.
There are several fashion-dedicated clubs, like the International Interior Design Association, National Retail Federation, Supply Chain Club, and Three-Dimensional Printing and Fabrication Club.
Needless to say, students in the apparel design program have ample opportunities for support and professional development!
Otis College of Art and Design (Los Angeles, CA)
Established in 1918 by LA Times founder Harrison Gray, Otis, it is now considered one of the most ethnically diverse private schools of art and design in the U.S.; in 2015, the school ranked #6 among national universities for Value of Education by the Economist.
Otis’ fashion design program is considered one of the best in the U.S. – students dedicate their first two years to developing creative and critical thinking skills in the Foundation Studio, Creative Action courses, and liberal arts and science classes.
Foundation courses include life drawing, writing in the digital age, and connections through color and design. Creative Action courses prompt students to generate innovative solutions for social and environmental issues in their community.
The Liberal Arts and Science program is designed around five themes: creativity, diversity, identity, sustainability, and social responsibility — students may take classes like the history of toys, textile science, and juvenile ergonomics.
Application requirements for Otis College of Art & Design include an online application, portfolio, 500-word personal statement, official transcripts, and proof of English proficiency. Applicants have the option to submit SAT/ACT scores, which are not required for admission.
Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design (Philadelphia, PA)
Originally conceived in 1891, the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design was named after alumna Antoinette Passo Westphal, following one of the largest private donations in the history of the university.
Only a few years later, the college received another largest public philanthropic gift recorded at $25 million in 2009, which is being used to add new buildings for design programs in the college.
Westphal includes almost 20 undergraduate programs of study in focuses like design & merchandising, fashion design, and interior design. Its fashion design major curriculum is studio-based and boutique-style.
Students are immersed in hands-on, creative experiences where they have the opportunity to design apparel for industry leaders.
In the 3rd year, students receive commercial studio/atelier training combined with classroom instruction through the school’s co-op program; students complete a six-month experience collaborating with major designers and brands in fashion-focused cities worldwide. The four-year experience culminates with the Drexel Fashion Show.
At the URBN Center, where fashion design classes are housed, students have 24/7 access to the studio and other high-tech equipment like laser cutters, 3D printers, trend forecasting software, virtual garment simulation, and automated knitwear machines.
The URBN Center is also home to over 17,000 fashion and accessory items from the last several hundred years, as part of the Richard & Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection.
Fashionista.com ranked Drexel’s fashion program 8th in the US and 16th in the world; additionally, they ranked Drexel’s design and merchandising program as 3rd in the US. CEOWorld Magazine ranked them as the #3 fashion school in the world, while Business of Fashion ranked them best overall, best in global experience, and best in learning experience.
A Drexel design student was the first American to win the International Competition for Young Fashion Designers in Paris.
Alumni have also competed in Philadelphia Fashion Week and various seasons of Bravo TV’s Project Runway.
Pratt Institute (New York, NY)
Founded in 1887, the Pratt Institute offers a BFA in Fashion Design.
Learning outcomes stipulate that students develop proficiency in a wide range of skills, including fluency in 2D and 3D construction processes, analysis of materials for sustainability, and construction of an authentic collection.
The Pratt Institute was recently named the 6th best school for design in the world by Business Insider, and its halls have been graced by world-renowned fashion icons and industry experts.
Notable alumni include fashion photographer Barbra Walz, fashion designer Betsey Johnson, and Jeremy Scott, who is the creative director of Moschino and has designed clothing for countless celebrities, such as Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, and Madonna.
In addition to submitting the Common App, first-year applicants are expected to share official transcripts, an essay, English proficiency exam results, an optional letter of recommendation, an optional set of SAT/ACT test scores, and a visual portfolio showcasing 12-20 examples of their best work.
The portfolio can include assignments, self-directed projects, or sketches. Applicants must also submit 3-5 drawings from observation as part of their 12-20 required pieces.
The New School Parsons School of Design (New York, NY)
Located in Greenwich Village and founded in 1896 by William Merrit Chase, Parsons was the first higher learning institution to offer programs in fashion design, interior design, graphic design, and advertising.
Each student completes a thesis project that will be showcased to industry leaders and other graduate students at the end of their fourth year.
The first-year curriculum is the base for all pathways, with students taking classes in sustainable systems, time, and drawing/imaging.
In the second year, students might progress to visual communication, creative technical studio work, and introduction to fashion studies.
In the 3rd year, students take a variety of electives and advanced level courses before focusing on their thesis in their senior year.
To apply, candidates submit an application, required essay and optional essay, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts, their portfolio, and the Parsons Challenge.
The portfolio is 8-12 uploads or slides that showcase work in fashion design, while the Parsons Challenge inspires students to create a new work inspired by a piece currently in their portfolio, along with a 500-word essay describing the creative process.
Parsons truly is one of the best fashion schools in the world, ranked 1st in the QS World University Rankings for Art & Design.
Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, NY)
The Fashion Institute of Technology (referred to as FIT) was established in 1944 as part of the State University of New York (SUNY). Students can obtain a BFA degree in concentrations like sportswear, intimate apparel, or knitwear, and all completers participate in an internship.
A student’s curriculum is totally dependent on their concentration; a BFA Knitwear student, for example, might take a course as specific as stretch fundamentals in their third and fourth years. Seniors have the opportunity to showcase their works in the annual FIT Future of Fashion show.
Students can expect to immerse themselves in a wide range of topics, and experiment with a vast collection of materials.
The Museum at FIT features collections of textiles, accessories, and clothing — over 50,000 garments and accessories from the 18th century to the present, including items from Balenciaga, Dior, and Chanel.
FIT has almost as many accolades as it does garments! They were recently voted best fashion school in the world by CEOWorld Magazine, best Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising and Best Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Merchandising by Study.com, and #1 on Best Value Schools’ list of Best Fashion Design Schools.
Applicants are expected to submit a competitive portfolio of three projects: 4-9 photographs of a sewing project, 4-8 images of fashion design artwork, and 3-6 images of sportswear coordinates in which the applicant designs a jacket, top, pant, and skirt item.
Kent State University School of Fashion (Kent, OH)
Ranked #1 Fashion Design school in the midwest, #6 fashion school in the USA, #5 Fashion Graduate Program in the USA, and one of the top 25 fashion schools in the world, it’s pretty evident that Kent State’s School of Fashion has much to offer to aspiring designers.
In fact, 100% of students participate in at least one internship during their program duration, and 100% participate in a study-away excursion in places like Florence, Paris, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The school can proudly boast that; over 5,000 of its alumni actively work in the global fashion industry.;
Outside of work-based opportunities, Kent State also offers top-notch facilities and innovative fashion laboratories.
The Kent State University Museum houses one of the largest fashion- and design-centric collections in the U.S., and the Fashion Library contains 4,000+ books and 40 magazine subscriptions related to all things fashion, design, sustainability, and entrepreneurship.
The TechStyleLAB is one of the school’s most attractive assets. Essentially, it serves as a hub for students to explore and use digital fabrication tools like textile printers, laser cutters, embroidery machines, and even virtual reality.
Aspiring students should plan to submit proof of a minimum GPA of 3.0, and a minimum ACT composite score of 21 or a new SAT score of 1,060.
Before students can participate in their study-away excursion, they’ll need to maintain a 2.5 minimum GPA – well worth the effort!