Top School in Chicago for Fashion Design Programs

Students interested in studying fashion design in Chicago, IL, have only a few schools to choose from. Read about the top local schools' degree programs, tuition and ranking info to find the right one for you.

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School and Ranking Information

Those interested in an education program in fashion design have roughly five schools with fashion and apparel programs to choose from in the Chicago area. Based on U.S. News & World Report rankings, design facilities and program options the top three schools are:

  • Winner: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago earns the top spot for having the second best fine arts graduate school in the nation in 2012. SAIC has master's degree and post-baccalaureate certificate programs in fashion design, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program with electives in fashion design.
  • Runner-Up #1: Columbia College also has a nationally ranked graduate fine arts programs, and it offers bachelor's programs in fashion design.
  • Runner-Up #2: Dominican University, which is located just west of Chicago, was ranked 16th among regional universities in the Midwest. It has a bachelor's degree program in apparel design with multiple concentration options.

School Comparison Chart

Category School of the Art Institute of Chicago Columbia College Chicago Dominican University
Ranking(s) 2nd among fine arts graduate programs in 2012, nationwide* 53rd among fine arts graduate programs in 2012, nationwide* 16th among regional universities in the Midwest in 2013*
Location Chicago, IL Chicago, IL River Forest, IL (about 10 miles from downtown Chicago)
School Type Four-year, private not-for-profit Four-year, private not-for-profit Four-year, private not-for-profit
Tuition & Fees (2012-2013) $39,020 (undergrad); $41,360 (graduate)** $21,730 (undergrad)** $27,730 (undergrad)**
Fashion Design Program Levels Offered Bachelor's and master's degrees; post-baccalaureate certificate Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Fashion Design Degrees and Certificates Awarded (All Levels) in 2011-2012 12 (graduate only; bachelor's degree information not available)** 66** 8**
Most Popular Fashion Design Programs in 2011-2012 Bachelor's in Fashion/Apparel Design (6 awarded), Postgraduate Certificate in Fashion/Apparel Design (6 awarded)** Bachelor's in Fashion/Apparel Design (66 awarded)** Bachelor's in Fashion/Apparel Design (8 awarded)**
Graduation Rate (in 150% of normal program time) for 2006 Entering Class 54%** 41%** 66%**
Noteworthy Fashion Resource Center includes collection of innovative garments and accessories from the 20th and 21st centuries Fashion Study Collection at the school houses 6,000 items of fashion for research purposes Apparel students participate in a departmental fashion show each year

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

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Winner: School of the Art Institute of Chicago

  • Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design
  • One of the oldest art and design schools in the nation
  • Located on The Art Institute of Chicago museum campus in downtown Chicago
  • Fashion design students participate in various runway shows and exhibitions

Students at SAIC can earn a BFA degree in studio while concentrating in fashion design through electives that teach about historical, costume and contemporary design, as well as skills in draping, pattern-making, drawing and garment construction. Undergrads may participate in internships in New York City, Paris, London and Antwerp. The two-year Master of Design program in fashion, body and garment combines design studios with self-directed research and technical labs. Students can complete electives in film, writing, sculpture, performance or new media, as well as a final project each year.

The 30-credit post-baccalaureate certificate program in fashion, body and garment is designed for students with a bachelor's degree in another field who need the training and experience to build a portfolio for entrance to a fashion design master's degree program. This certificate program takes three semesters to complete and includes advanced coursework generally offered in an undergrad fashion design program.

Runner-Up #1: Columbia College Chicago

  • Fashion design facilities include construction studios, a CAD computer lab and industry equipment, such as dress forms, sewing machines and cutting tables
  • A five-week semester of study in Los Angeles is available to those interested in costume design
  • Graduating seniors exhibit designs in a departmental fashion show

The Fashion Studies Department at Columbia College Chicago offers both BFA and B.A. degree programs in fashion design. Both programs allow students to apply artistic concepts to the actual business of the fashion industry through courses like merchandise management and marketing.

The BFA program is heavy in fashion coursework, with 72 credits in fashion design that include courses in menswear design, millinery, fashion show production and fashion workshop. BFA program participants must complete a senior thesis, an internship and a portfolio. Within the B.A. program, students learn to understand design concepts, solve creative problems and develop a body of work through 42 credits of study in fashion.

Runner-Up #2: Dominican University

  • Ranked seventh for educational value among schools in the Midwest in 2013 by U.S. News & World Report
  • Private, Catholic university with a liberal arts emphasis
  • Apparel design students are encouraged to study abroad in Paris and Milan
  • Concentration options are available in dress and textile studies, fashion development and surface design

Dominican University offers a B.A. degree program in apparel design with coursework in pattern design and draping, fashion history, apparel structure and textiles. All students must complete an internship in apparel design and create a portfolio of work. The dress and textile studies concentration highlights historical, cultural and costume design, while the track in fashion development focuses on product development in fashion. The surface design emphasis teaches students about fashion craftsmanship, cultural art and textiles.

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