5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Fashion School

If you have decided to pursue a career in fashion (after having read my 5 Things To Consider Before Pursuing a Career in Fashion) then you’ll want to make sure you choose the right school. Here are a few things to consider, when choosing a fashion course.

fashion jobs, fashion schools, career, design, St Martins

A page from the portfolio of London College of Fashion graduate Hannah Li.

1. The school’s reputation. The reputation of the school counts for a lot. We often hear the same names again and again (St Martins, Parsons, etc…) so if you can, try and go to one of the reputable schools. This will be a major help when looking for jobs, doors were automatically opened for me when I mentioned my MA from Central Saint Martins. If you can’t go to a super well-known school, then look into the reputation your school has locally. Try and speak to students who went there, ask professionals in the field whether they’ve hired people from there. DO NOT trust the school’s “sales team” to provide you with this information, search it out on your own. This is a big decision, don’t be lazy. Does the school have a reputation for well-trained, educated, employable graduates?

fashion jobs, fashion schools, career, design, St Martins

A page from the portfolio of London College of Fashion graduate Eloise Hautcoeur.

2. The course, and what you will be learning. What course are you applying for? Will it teach you to become what you want to be? Is there flexibility in case you change your mind about your career path (which is quite likely.) Many schools will offer courses that have several career options (ex. management and marketing for fashion could lead to jobs in marketing, PR, buying, merchandising, retail management, and more) which are better than super specific courses (BA in fashion styling, for example.) How are the classes structured? Will you be doing a lot of lectures? Long essays? Exams? Sewing? Is this ok for you? In my opinion, very few fashion subjects should be assessed using exams, so be weary of a school that places a lot of emphasis on midterm and final exams. Also, I’ve known some schools to force their students to take ridiculous courses like human resources or accounting. Sure, these subjects are helpful to know, and a four hour course in the subject would not hurt. But if you are doing 50 hours in a subject completely unrelated to fashion, ask yourself whether it will be a waste of your time and money.

fashion jobs, fashion schools, career, design, St Martins

A page from the portfolio of London College of Fashion graduate Nicole Short.

3. Location, location, location. If you want to stay local, then studying local is not a bad idea. If you plan on moving to Paris and making it big, then it will be slightly more difficult for you if you study in a small town. The best fashion schools are almost always in major fashion capitals, and it is best to study in a fashion capital because you have better access to the industry. I studied in Paris and London, and therefore had been to major fashion shows before I graduated, had internship opportunities in the big companies, and could see all the incredible designer clothing in the amazing retail spaces. This is important. If you decide to study in a city that is not a fashion capital, then be aware that it will be more challenging if you want to make it big outside of that city. Another important element of location is the building of the school. What do the classrooms look like? Are you near lots of stores or libraries that you can visit if you need supplies or inspiration? I taught at a school that was a huge grey building with nothing on the walls, and some of the classrooms had no windows. It may have well been a school teaching accounting, as there was nothing inspiring about the building. I didn’t stay there long. On that note, the old Charing Cross Road campus of St Martins was a building that was falling apart, and that didn’t stop them from producing some of the best fashion graduates. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

4. Instructors. Who are the instructors teaching at your school? Get names, and Google them. Ask previous students whether the teachers were knowledgeable, well-versed in their subject, and good at sharing their knowledge. Not all good teachers will have experience working for famous brands, some may just have excellent skills and be really good at teaching, but it won’t hurt to have a few instructors that worked for some of the big names. Ask for profiles on the instructors and investigate the people you’ll be dealing with on a day to day basis.

fashion jobs, fashion schools, career, design, St Martins

A page from the portfolio of London College of Fashion graduate Nikita Karizma

5. The graduates. What do the graduate portfolios look like? Is the work inspiring, well-presented, and professional? Does it look like the type of work you’d like to create? What are the graduates from the school doing? Again, don’t trust the school to give you this information, investigate it yourself. Linkedin profiles will usually list people’s education and their current jobs. Are the ones who graduated from your school in good positions now? Look to the local professionals you admire, and find out what school they went to.

Don’t forget to consider the vibe of the school. This is hard to measure, but you should have a good feeling about the place. I’ve taught on both end of the spectrum, from top schools in London to small schools in Vancouver, and I can say that the atmosphere of the institution counts for a lot. When you are doing your research, don’t let the pushy sales people convince you to register, if you aren’t feeling right about it. Those people are on commission and don’t give a toss whether you have a good experience or not. This is a big decision to make, and you need to feel good about it.

Lastly, keep in mind that no matter what school you are at, it is what you make of it that counts. I just got an email from an ex-student of mine who attended one of the poorer schools I’ve worked at. She was writing to thank me for encouraging her, as she had just got her dream job with a major luxury brand. She was an excellent student all the way through, so I wasn’t surprised to hear of her success. If you are talented, a hard worker, and very motivated, you still stand a good chance of making it in the industry, despite what school you attend.

Further reading:
A lifelong Debt
5 Things to Do to Prepare for a Career in Fashion
5 Things To Consider Before Pursuing a Career in Fashion

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  • Beth

    Hi Alex, I know you mentioned staying away from American schools in London and Paris, but what is your opinion on Parsons Paris? I’m looking to do a foundation course, and deciding between CSM’s Fashion Folio preparation and PP’s fashion summer course. 

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

     If it is a summer course, DEFINITELY go to CSM. And for longer courses, if Parsons Paris is actually the SAME company as Parsons New York, and you can transfer, etc.. then it might be ok. But why go to an American school in Paris? Go to a French school in Paris!

  • Jas_092

    hello Alex! good insight how is Marangoni for non european people?…what jobs and all

  • Jas_092

    yeah and one more thing Alex! you r the only one who can help i am non european and i am concerned what joba would i get after masters from Marangoni?…one graduate emoted its non condusive for non euporeans can you suggest what could be my options …. 

  • laura_v

    Hi Alex!
    You mentioned that you got your MA at CSM. I would like to apply for an MA at CSM , and would like any advice you might have to give when applying. Is it harder for students who didn’t get their BA at CSM? Also, what are your thoughts on London College of Fashion?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    LCF is an excellent school, definitely apply, although it is nearly as hard to get in to as CSM. And I am not sure if it is easier to get on the MA if you did the BA at CSM, I think in my course one third or half were from CSM, but I would presume yes, simply because the style of teaching is the same, and BA students will have a portfolio better equipped to meet the expectations of the MA course director as it is similar styles of teaching.

  • Yoshimi

    Hi,

    I’m planning to apply for either an MA in Retail or Strategic Marketing at LCF. I’m non European and the fees are very high. I’m putting in my entire life’s savings for this course in hopes to propel a change in career. Is LCF worth it? What are job prospects like post graduation?

    Thanks

  • Yoshimo

    I forgot to add, I’m in my mid-thirties :(. Would that negatively impact me at all – in securing a job after my MA? Thanks

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    LCF is an excellent school for this, probably the best of the fashion schools, however I am pretty sure many people who go into these types of roles probably come from an MBA background, or similar. I know that most LVMH people come from the top MBA schools (ex. HEC, LBS, ivy league.)

    I am in my early thirties and I would be hesitant to spend my entire life savings on an education, but I suppose I am in a very different position to you, as I’ve finished my education. Your age probably won’t make a big difference, but you’ll be less likely to want to do a year of unpaid internships afterwards, and that’s sort of what is expected.

    I don’t know what job prospects are like post-graduation, ask the school, and try and find out who has done the course and what they are doing now. Remember that these days, guarantees of jobs are becoming less and less likely, even with professionals like doctors and lawyers. It will be up to you to take initiative and make things happen for yourself.

  • yoshimi

    Thanks a ton for you reply. Your blog is great!

  • julio

    Hi! thanks for all the great advice! Would it be possible to exchange emails? I have some questions about CSM! Thanks!

    Julio

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Feel free to fill out the Ask Alexandra form, but note that I am on maternity leave until February.

  • SoleBelief

    Great blog – I’m a male who recently finished B.A. in Communications, but now really want to pursue my dream of being a footwear designer specifically in athletic shoes (basketball, soccer, etc.) but not averse to casual/fashion shoes as well. What do you recommend for me in terms of which degree/school? I’ve been looking into FIT Accessories Design Program, and they also have a Performance Athletic Footwear certificate. I have a full-time job right in marketing, but have also been considering getting a retail job, possibly at a Niketown or similar, where they sell/specialize in footwear. Any thoughts? Would be much appreciated..

  • SoleBelief

    I live in Southern California just a FYI.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Retail experience is always a very good idea! Most companies will consider this a major asset when hiring. And sorry, I have no idea what schools are good for performance footwear… perhaps contact some companies you want to work for and ask them where they get their recruits?

  • SoleBelief

    Thanks for the quick reply! I will heed your advice and get on that, however I have researched some footwear designers for places I’d like to work and it’s been pretty sporadic where they have come from – for the most part they have come from fashion school (Parsons, Pratt, Pasadena..etc) or a good amount have an ID Degree. What are your thoughts (if any) on which degree to pursue in terms of trying to become a footwear designer (athletic or not) – go for an ID Degree or Fashion Design/similar?

  • http://www.facebook.com/noha.ata.7 Noha Ata

    Hi!
    I finished a B.A in Integrated Marketing Communications. After I graduated, I wanted to change my career path and study Fashion Design but my parents, who were worried I wasn’t sure what I wanted, were reluctant to pay for an expensive school so I went on to get a diploma in Fashion Design and Patternmaking at the Fashion and Design Center (jointly with the Instituto di Moda Burgo) which is in Cairo, Egypt. I formed a foundation there but do not feel I got everything I needed in terms of Design process and research as well as branding and how to start a business. I have been looking into different schools like CSM, LCF but do not know what sort of program I should be looking for. You said that it would be very hard to get accepted into an MA program at CSM and LCF if I do not hold a BA in Fashion, but I don’t know if I want to (or can afford) going into a BA program and studying for another 4 years. I would really appreciate some advice. Thank you!

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Send over a question to my Ask Alexandra advice column, but do read the guidelines! I don’t answer very specific questions. And also, I won;t be addressing any until March after my maternity leave.

  • http://www.facebook.com/umi.leung1 Umi Leung

    Hi:) May I ask if for women’s wear BA, CSM, LCF, Parsons, Marongoni, how would you rank this four schools? If I would study MA anyways, would it be less important on my decision on my BA now?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I don’t know much about Parsons and Marongoni but CSM and LCF are great.

  • Francis

    I agree with all, except the 1st item. The reputation of a school do not have anything about the quality of teaching and about you want to learn. Many well known fashion and art schools are fakes and do not teach anything useful. You will pay a lot of money and you do not know the basic technical skills. You must to search a school that give you the essential knowledge in order you can be truly autonomous. If you go to London, try to have your both feet on earth, because soemtimes things are not what they seem…

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    A very good point, and you are right that the reputation of the school does not always have a direct correlation with the quality of the teaching, however (and this is a big however) companies will judge you on the school you went to. Some of the so-called top schools might not always have the best courses or teaching, but they command a degree of respect on a CV.

  • perceptionconception

    Hi! I am currently attending LCF as an international student from America. I really wanted to go to CSM but was offered a place at LCF on their International Preparation for Fashion course. At the end of my course I am guaranteed a place on an undergraduate course at any UAL uni except CSM, to begin in the fall of 2014. I am a mature student (31) and really need to start my career (make some money!). it will take me 3 years plus the end of this year to finish a BA at LCF. I am considering doing the 3 term fashion folio course at CSM so I can fulfill my dream of going to CSM, BUT this will add on an additional year of study just to get into CSM. Is it worth it? LCF has a great reputation but so far it doesn’t feel like the right fit for me. In the grand scheme of things will it matter if I get my BA from LCF vs. CSM? Do you know if I might be able to transfer from LCF to CSM after a year?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I don’t know about transferring, but I agree that LCF has a great reputation. Some people want to get into CSM just because of the name, if it genuinely about the course, then you should keep trying, but if it is about the name on your resume, then go for LCF. It is a great school and there are lots of fantastic job opportunities afterwards.