Top School in San Francisco for Fashion Design Degrees

School and Ranking Information

Students interested in pursuing fashion design degrees have about six options in the San Francisco area. Fashion design programs train students how to design clothing and accessories. Some programs focus on couture or artistic design, while others apply fashion design to the retail market. Based on rankings, location and student opportunities, the following schools are among the best in the area. Of the three top schools with programs in fashion design in San Francisco, two of these schools received high rankings from U.S. News & World Report in 2013.

  • Winner: The California College of the Arts (CCA) is the winner because it's a top-ranking art and design institution with two San Francisco-area campuses offering a bachelor's degree program in fashion design. This rigorous Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program requires final-year students to create an entire fashion collection and compete to be selected for the school's annual fashion show.
  • Runner Up #1: San Francisco State University (SFSU) is a highly ranked regional university that offers a bachelor's degree program with an emphasis in apparel design.
  • Runner Up #2: The City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is the only school in the city of San Francisco with a 2-year degree program in fashion design.

School Comparison Chart

Category California College of the Arts San Francisco State University City College of San Francisco
Rankings 11th among the nation's graduate fine arts programs in 2012* 15th among top public universities in the Western region in 2013* N/A
Location(s) San Francisco and Oakland, CA (about 11 miles from San Francisco) San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA
School Type 4-year, private not-for-profit 4-year, public 2-year, public
Tuition & Fees (2012-2013) $38,798** $6,440 (in-state); $18,098 (out-of-state)** $1,238 (in-state); $6,270 (out-of-state)**
Fashion Design Degrees and Certificates Offered Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Certificate; associate's degree
Fashion Design Degrees and Certificates Awarded (All Levels) in 2011-2012 16** 49 (apparel and textiles)** 12 (associate's degree information N/A)**
Most Popular Fashion Design Programs in 2011-2012 Bachelor's in Fashion/Apparel Design (16 awarded)** Bachelor's in Apparel and Textiles (49 awarded)** Less-than-1-Year Certificate in Fashion/Apparel Design (9 awarded)**
Graduation Rate (in 150% of normal program time) 45% (2006 Entering Class)** 47% (2006 Entering Class)** 32% (2009 Entering Class)**
Noteworthy Final-year students design a full collection that may be featured in the annual juried fashion show Seniors collaborate with other departments on annual fashion show, which has benefited Goodwill Industries Annual fashion show features juried work by fashion design students

Sources: *U.S. News & World Report, **NCES College Navigator.

Winner: California College of the Arts

  • Named a world's best design school by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2013
  • Fashion design program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design
  • Fashion internships have been completed at local design firms, such as Levi Strauss and Athleta

CCA is a private art and design college with Bay-area campuses at the San Francisco location near the design district and on the school's historic college grounds in Oakland, CA. The institution has a distinct focus on sustainable design, and the San Francisco campus houses the New Materials Resource Center, where students can view collections designed with eco-friendly materials.

Students in the BFA program in fashion design are required to gain a foundational understanding of garment design techniques, such as sewing and patterning, and they're also expected to create innovative and unique works for senior thesis collections. Major course requirements include fashion illustration, design, sustainable fashion and business elements, as well as several studio courses and a portfolio review. Some electives could include knitwear, body movement design, garment structure and fashion textiles. Students can also pursue internships with local and international companies in the fashion industry.

Runner-Up #1: San Francisco State University

  • Ranked 50th among schools in the Western region in 2013 by U.S. News & World Report
  • Forbes placed the university 89th in the West in 2013

A Bachelor of Science degree program in apparel design and merchandising is offered at SFSU, through the university's consumer and family studies/dietetics department. Students must complete 22 credits of core requirements, which could include an overview of the fashion industry, textiles, historical costume and product development.

A 21-credit emphasis in apparel design is available, which has coursework in apparel construction, flat pattern apparel design, draping and clothing design issues. Elective courses could involve forecasting for apparel design, fashion illustration and sustainability. A 3-credit optional fashion study tour in New York City gives participants an opportunity to view retailers, museums and the garment district in one of the world's fashion capitals. Students can also complete a fashion merchandising emphasis.

Runner-Up #2: City College of San Francisco

  • Faculty includes experienced fashion industry professionals
  • Part-time internships may prepare graduates for jobs in assistant fashion design, fashion illustration, patternmaking and product development

CCSF is a public, 2-year school offering an Associate of Science (A.S.) in Fashion Design, as well as certificates in fashion merchandising, fashion design, image consulting, textiles and fashion styling. Those who complete the A.S. degree program automatically earn a fashion design certificate. CCSF has 12 sites, and this fashion design program is offered at the Downtown, Ocean, Evans and John Adams locations, all within the city limits of San Francisco.

The 51-credit fashion design program includes some required classes in apparel construction, textiles, draping, fashion illustration, pattern design and computer-assisted fashion design. Students also complete a professional portfolio and required internship during the final year.

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