The Best Fashion Summer Programs for High School Students

If fashion is at the forefront of your mind, you’ve likely seen different reality television shows and dramas portraying the ins and outs of working for top-tier designers. 

Now that you’re in high school, you’re curious to see if the depictions are reflective of the real deal! Enrolling in a summer fashion design program for high school students is an excellent way to discover yourself.

Whether you’re interested in fashion design, accessory design, fashion merchandising, or fashion photography, attending a summer fashion program will more than likely expose you to different realms of the industry. 

Additionally, many summer programs invite guest speakers from fashion houses to spill the details on what it’s really like to land (and keep) a job. 

While some programs require previous sewing experience, others welcome beginners arriving with only ideas. 

Exciting activities include working with dyes, fabrics, alternative materials, and industry-standard machinery. Mentors are typically on standby to offer constructive criticism as you grow a concept from a vision board to a fashion show piece.

One of the most significant advantages of attending a fashion summer program is the likelihood that you’ll leave with a complete portfolio, which you can then submit to institutions during college admissions. 

The program leaders may additionally serve as valuable contacts for letters of recommendation. Finally, many of these programs even offer up to four hours of transferable college credit!

Now that we’ve caught your attention, let’s spotlight 10 of the best fashion summer programs for high school students in the United States. 

From coast to coast and top to bottom, the opportunities on this list are guaranteed to inspire you to take the next step in pursuing a collegiate path in fashion!

Parsons Design Explorations: Fashion Design (Virtual)

The New School Parsons School of Design
Beyond My Ken, Parsons David Schwartz Fashion Education Center 560 Seventh Avenue, CC BY-SA 4.0

Lauded as the top design school in the United States, Parsons at The New School offers a premiere virtual fashion design summer program. Course topics involve concept development, design ideation, experimental making, visual expression, and presentation design. 

Four days out of the week for four weeks, high school students meet online to engage with Parsons professors and peers from all over the world to collaborate on design projects and apply constructive criticism to their future designs. 

Asynchronous activities prompt participants to consider how social issues converge with the fashion industry, and many of these inquiries serve as the impetus for design inspirations. 

Students maintain an online design process journal over the program series, which they will use to create a final design presentation in one of the following formats: e-publication, lookbook, website, short film, or curated exhibit space.

Fashion Design Intensive at Idyllwild Arts (Idyllwild, CA)

Situated in an idyllic mountain town with ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, the aptly named Idyllwild Arts Fashion Design Intensive launches budding fashion designers with zero to extensive sewing experience in designing their own collections reflective of a unique personal aesthetic.

Daily activities involve putting together vision boards and color palettes, matching fabrics, creating thematic mini-collections, sketching designs from live models, and sewing original works of clothing. In the end, participants show off their hard work by putting together a fashion show!

Two two-week experiences are available for high school students ages 14-17. Expect a competitive admissions progress, as only 12 students are selected for each session. Admitted scholars will also embark upon field trips to design studios, fashion schools, major retail storefronts, and name-brand company headquarters like BCBG and Juicy Couture.

Rhode Island School of Design Pre-Collegiate Program in Fashion Design (Providence, RI)

Rhode Island School of Design
Beyond My Ken, 2021 RISD 20 Washington Place, CC BY-SA 4.0

Pronounced “RIZ-dee,” RISD offers a five-week-long fashion design summer intensive for high school juniors and seniors. 

On campus, participants spend their days in studio classes where they receive expert criticism on their diverse projects. 

Perhaps more so than others on this list, the RISD Pre-Collegiate Program is primarily focused on fostering critical thinking and preparing students for rigorous collegiate fashion design coursework.

RISD’s fashion design experience is also one of the oldest on the list, dating back to 1971. Nearly 550 students participate in the pre-collegiate summer programs each year, making it a great option for high school students who seek diversity over an intimate learning environment.

That said, it’s best to apply early, as space in each major (like fashion design) is determined on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Some of the most enlightening aspects of the fashion design major include designing fashion items out of unconventional materials, interrogating modern fashion industry trends and business practices, and strengthening awareness of the human form via creating a work from observation of a live nude model.

ArtsBridge Summer Fashion Program (Boston, MA)

The Boston ArtsBridge Summer Fashion Program primarily emphasizes technical skill development by curating a mini collection. Participants begin by arranging a mood board, illustrating their ideas, and searching for the best fabrics and colors to represent their visions. 

Simultaneously, students take part in patternmaking and draping demos with the goal of understanding 3D design development. 

This component will enable them to transform their designs into genuine fashion items! Additional projects include creating fashion figures, curating mix-and-match collections, and conveying a narrative through design.

One thing to note about this program is that scholars are responsible for bringing the supplies needed for each class. 

Some of the required materials include paper pads, pencils, water-based paints, black markers with tips of varying thicknesses, scissors, and pre-existing designs (if applicable). 

The one exception is a sewing machine – students can pay in advance for a supply kit that includes access to a machine, a ruler, sewing needles, thread, and other sewing-related supplies.

School of the Arts Institute of Chicago Early College Programs Summer Institute (Chicago, IL)

Often recognized as one of the emerging fashion capitals in the North American continent, Chicago is an excellent location to attend a high school summer fashion program. 

At the SAIC, early college program participants can earn one credit hour for attending a one-week session, two credit hours for attending a two-week session, and four credit hours for attending a four-week session!

By the end of their fashion design experience, participants will have generated a diverse portfolio to use for the competitive college admissions process. 

How amazing would that be to enter your senior year of high school with a complete portfolio and four credit hours under your belt?! Better yet – if you apply to attend the SAIC after completing the program, the portfolio requirement is waived entirely!

Classes meet for seven hours daily, and there are two-hour workshops and field trips on Tuesday and Thursday nights. These evening activities include photo studio lighting tutorials, 3D printing and laser construction, and opportunities to build and stretch canvasses. While the 150 high school students (ages 15-18) participating in each session don’t receive grades, they can expect highly detailed constructive criticism.

Marist Summer Pre-College Fashion Design (Poughkeepsie, NY)

Marist College
Antony-22, Marist College 2019m, CC BY-SA 4.0

Future fashionistas, have you heard of Marist College? If not, tune in – Marist was recently named by Forbes as one of the best colleges shaping the future of fashion. Attending one of two two-week sessions might put you in the perfect location for learning alongside the next fashion industry revolutionaries. Maybe you’re one of them!

The Marist Summer Pre-College Fashion Design Program comprises several hands-on courses. In Apparel Design I: Developing Your Portfolio, scholars create a personal collection of fashion sketches and actual garments to use in the college admissions process. 

Particular focus goes toward figure drawing techniques, shaping silhouettes, and understanding presentation approaches.

Yes, this is one program where high school sophomores and juniors can earn three college credits. Encouraging and experienced faculty directors support participants throughout their design journeys and have both attended and taught classes at some of the best fashion schools in the country.

Columbus College of Art & Design Pre-College: Fashion Design (Columbus, OH)

Chicago isn’t the only midwest city with exceptional pre-collegiate fashion programming for high school students! 

At Columbus College, one of the oldest art and design schools in the U.S., a select group of high school students spend three weeks dedicated to an area of study, such as fashion design.

Participants have access to exciting technology like Silver Reed knitting machines, Juki industrial sewing machines, a dye lab, and a fabric resource room housing thousands of samples. 

On some days, they might engage in fabric dyeing, while other days will be devoted to garment construction, all while keeping a pulse on current fashion industry trends.

There will also be field trips to Columbus area institutions like the Franklinton Arts District, Otherworld immersive art experience, and Scioto Mile riverwalk – it’s important to balance hard work with opportunities for play and exploration!

Savannah College of Art & Design Rising Star Program (Savannah, GA, and Atlanta, GA)

Savannah College of Art and Design
Michael Rivera, Savannah College of Art and Design, Poetter Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Easily recognized as one of the best fashion design schools in the South, SCAD enrolls Rising Star scholars in two five-quarter credit courses that can apply to future SCAD or other collegiate transcripts. Accepted students can choose to attend classes in either Savannah or Atlanta, depending on their goals. 

In Atlanta, participants can sign up for two courses: Introduction to Fashion Design and Fabrication, Construction, and Materials. 

The former immerses beginners in basic fashion design study, storyboard compilation, design innovation, and 2D/3D development. The latter is more hands-on, encouraging students to strengthen their skills in using various garment fabrication tools.

Four different courses take place in Savannah. Students learn fundamental sewing techniques in Fashion Technology or consider design elements and body concerns in Fashion Aesthetics and Style. 

Many participants may enjoy enrolling in Sewing Technology for Accessory Design, where they’ll gain proficiency in decorative ornamentation.

Banson NYC Summer Camps (New York City, NY, and Virtual)

Easily one of the best program offerings on our list, Banson NYC offers both virtual and in-person fashion camps in New York City – one of the “Big Four” fashion cities in the world (in addition to Paris, London, and Milan). 

Programs cover core fashion fundamentals and highlight different career experiences in merchandising, media, buying, blogging, and public relations. 

Regardless of the format in which participants attend, all students will create a sustainable design project and take part in mock interviews to prepare for fashion school admissions. 

Banson does an excellent job of connecting scholars with diverse members of the fashion industry, who are all too eager to impart advice on how they secured jobs and internships at top fashion houses.

The in-person fashion camp lasts five days, and the virtual option takes up approximately 20 hours. Applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and only 20 candidates are accepted for each program.

Westcoast Connection Fashion Experience in LA (Los Angeles, CA)

Of course, we couldn’t highlight a program in New York City without detailing a fantastic alternative in Los Angeles! 

While not a member of the “Big Four,” LA is the Big Apple’s biggest contender for fashion capital of the United States – and often ahead of its East Coast counterpart – when it comes to starting new trends.

The three-week-long Fashion Experience in LA is open to high school students of all grade levels. 

Participants collaborate in merchandising teams to market unique concepts, style photoshoots alongside professional models and photographers, and visit some of the trendiest areas of Beverly Hills to gain inspiration for their mood boards and design concepts. 

In one unique course – An Insider’s View of Fashion Branding – students glean exclusive marketing tips from fashion industry experts who have worked in some of the world’s top brands. Another class – The Business of Fashion Merchandising and Trend Forecasting – positions scholars to become professionals in anticipating and setting the next hottest fashion trends.

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