The fashion industry captures great interest from the public. Just look at television shows like America's Top Model and Project Runway for confirmation of that, or catch a clip of models gliding down a runway almost anywhere else on TV. So naturally, that interest cultivates potential fashion design, fashion merchandising, and fashion marketing students. But how do students differentiate one fashion school from another?
Many students will turn to program rankings to help make the best school decision. But for all practical purposes, isolated rankings of fashion programs don't really exist.
You as the sleuth and student will have to dig deep to find fashion program rankings, which can be deciphered through the departmental rankings of design, media, business, marketing, and even culture programs. A little cross-referencing will be necessary -- you'll have to first find which schools and departments offer fashion programs, and then see how those programs or departments rank. While directly comparing fashion schools through rankings is not an option, in most cases the fashion program will be as strong as the academic department it is part of.
But be wary: generally, school and program rankings are determined subjectively by former students, limited categories of incomplete data, or reputation judgments from teachers and professors at other schools. Those who publish rankings either send out mailings that ask school faculty to grade a list of schools on a scale from one to five, or the publishers gather data such as graduate employment rates, starting salaries, school financial resources, student test scores, etc., and weight those results to come up with a ranking scale.
Rankings can tell you how fashion schools are viewed in the academic community, and give you an overall idea of the success of graduates and school reputation, which is very important in the fashion world. The status of the fashion school you go to may weigh heavily down the road with an employer or client, so that element of rankings should certainly not be ignored.
But even when you compare multiple rankings (keeping in mind the criteria that was used to formulate them), that comparison should only be the beginning of a thorough college search. The best college decision will be determined by the factors that are the most important to you, such as cost, location, family alma-mater, and program emphases, among others-features that rankings scales usually don't (or can't possibly) consider. So don't lean too heavily on what rankings tell you. Other factors determine great fashion schools.
Fashion program accreditation, for example, is a universal indicator of quality, according to Penny Collins, chair of the Department of Fashion Design at Woodbury University.
"Academic programs offering an accredited four-year degree hold more weight than rankings," she said. "Accreditation is focused more on the quality of academics and the rigor of instruction at a school."
Furthermore, a school becoming accredited is no simple task, but requires a long span of dedicated work from faculty seeking it.
"There are very difficult procedures programs have to go through to become accredited with The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). It takes years of meticulous preparation for a site visit, and a thorough report has to be generated," Collins said.
Only after these steps have been accomplished can an accreditation commission judge the institution in question based on its educational quality and integrity as an institution. So a student looking at an accredited fashion program can rest assured that it offers a quality education. Once a potential student has a list of accredited schools to look into, other qualities of a fashion institution should be regarded.
Simon Ungless, director of graduate fashion at the Academy of Art University, said that his school doesn't take rankings into account when determining how to best direct their fashion program.
"We don't talk about rankings a lot. Our mission is trying to provide great education that leads into a good job for our graduates," he said. "We don't compare ourselves to other schools using rankings."
There are a number of special features, such as job placement, internship programs, and other introductions to the industry that can separate a school from others in its field. This is especially true with regards to fashion education, where the extra lengths a fashion institution will go to for its students or graduates can make a career happen.
"We hold fashion shows because they can launch the careers of young designers," said Ungless. "Also, the fashion industry is based in New York, so we have a multitude of connections with the fashion capitol."
The fashion world is, of course, dynamic and ever-evolving, and a fashion program should take steps to keep its fingers on the pulse of the industry. If a fashion school doesn't dedicate itself to being up to speed, the consequences will fall on its graduates.
"There are a lot of people teaching that are no longer active in the industry, but in our field, you have to be a professional designer, not a professional academic to be effective," said Ungless. "Look at the product; try to see students' work. So many of the portfolios I've seen come from schools that shouldn't be operating. Students should not go to schools that don't have impressive results from students."
Because the fashion industry is worldwide and trends can originate anywhere, the fashion school you choose should also keep up-to-date with developments in cities around the world. Schools also need to have the technology at their disposal to stay cutting edge in a tech-based business world.
"How up-to-date are the facilities?" said Ungless. "Does the school use modern computer programs? Technology change is inherent in the industry, so students need to find out how the school has addressed that."
As a fashion student, you should dedicate a lot of time toward finding the perfect school and program for what you want to learn and where you wish to go in your career. Fashion school rankings are usually a positive step towards making that decision, but only a small step. The majority of the decision should hinge on the unique attributes of fashion programs that indicate their strength and, more than anything else, the special considerations that you bring to the table.
"Students should go and meet with the faculty at a school to find out who they are, what their successes have been, and where their alumni are working," said Ungless. "Attending fashion school is a big time commitment and financial investment, and students deserve to get the most of it."
After you've seen the rankings and made your own, request more information from the accredited fashion schools listed on FashionSchools, and get started on your application -- and your career.