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.
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?
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.
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.
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.