Fashion School: Just Go Already, Courtney!

Courtney listens to other people too much, and herself not enough. There you go — that’s the one-sentence summary of today’s post for all you ADHD types out there.

Read on if you want the details on Courtney’s situation, which is both cautionary and inspirational. She dearly loves fashion design, but reasons NOT to pursue it keep popping up here and there. Time to slash ’em all, I say, and get on with what she’s wanted to do most of her life.

Judge Josh,

I have been wanting to write you for weeks but I have a hard time admitting I need help-so right off the bat you know its bad. I’ve always known I was supposed to go to college, graduate with a bachelors etc etc. I’ve also always known that I love fashion and want to be paid to work in fashion.

Can you make this happen, Courtney? Please. Please do this.

Sounds ok so far.

I grew up in a really, really little town and went to a really, really highschool. I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer after a couple years in 4-H.

Most of the fashion designers I know today were initially prompted to go into the profession by their involvement in 4H. (I’m kidding — never heard of that before, but inspiration does indeed come from all over!)

I wanted to move to NYC or LA, go to school, then be showing my stuff at Bryant Park (me and every other 18 year old fashionista right?)

Right! I mean… I have no idea, but I believe you! 🙂

I got so much crap in high school because not only was I fashionable but I was smart and was told not to waste my time on an art degree (yes they have a point but way to be a real snatch)

Well, don’t assume they have a point. Just because you’re smart in a variety of areas doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time and your brain by pursuing something you enjoy. Fashion is an evergreen business — everyone will always be wearing clothes, and someone has to design them all. It might as well be you.

Valedictorian of my class in fact and I left school with about $12,000 in scholarships from all the local ones I had won.

That’s outstanding.

I went to NYC with my mom to look at schools and after a family emergency and picking up on my mom’s hints that she didn’t want me to move away (I’m an only child) I switched gears to LA. After being awarded $11,000 from the school in LA I chickened out and ended up going to an art institute in Oregon. Bad idea. I hated it and it was amazingly expensive for a crap education.

Yikes. I’m sorry to hear that. But you’re still young…

After leaving with only having to pay $2,000 out of pocket I moved home for the summer determined to go to the big city for real. I applied to FIT in NYC but was waitlisted then denied because I applied too late.

Meh…one rejection is no big deal. Apply again next time if you really want to go there. I got rejected by the journalism master’s program at University of Missouri, but I applied again next year and got in. Persist!

Then while searching for colleges online I discovered a community college in Orange County that seemed perfect. It had fashion design, it also had other courses I was interested in and it was close enough to LA that I could get internships.

That also sounds like a good option, if you’re not up for waiting around another year for FIT in L.A.

Well now I’m down here looking for apartments and I’m getting everyone’s opinion as to what I should do. First my mom was all for the community college then transfer to a 4 year plan but after my aunt gave her opinion, my mother thinks I should go to a better, more well known, 4 year school.

First of all, make sure you understand that you’re the boss of your own life, not Mom or Aunt Martha or whomever. You can hear them out, but unless either one of them has especially valuable knowledge or experience, then you certainly shouldn’t feel obligated to follow their advice.

You also aren’t obligated to stay nearby just because you’re an only child and your mom will miss you. That happens to all parents, and they deal with it. She’ll be sad, but believe me, she’s seen this day coming since shortly after you started crawling across the carpet as a baby.

As for your aunt’s advice to go to a “well-known” four-year school: In the absence of any specifics, I completely disagree. You’ll save tons of money the first two years at community college, plus they have the programs you like and can get you internships.

If you take full advantage of those, you trump any perceived (and likely imaginary) advantage of attending a “well-known” school. Like most artistic and creative fields, fashion designers will care much more about what you can produce, not where you learned to produce it.

Now I don’t know where to go, where to live, or what to major in ( I was thinking of switching to French or journalism)

Why? You like fashion, you’re now well-positioned to study it, you’ve been wanting to do it all your life, and remember, you already ditched it once and regretted it. (And as an aside from that, believe me, these are not good times for journalists. AVOID, AVOID, AVOID. 🙂 )

My goal was to graduate college without having to take out a loan/no debt but I’m starting to think that combined with the places I want to live, how I want to live in the future and what I want to do I may just have to suck it up and take out loans or something. I need your help Judge Josh, I can hardly tell up from down at this point.

Yeah, well, don’t worry too much about having to take out loans, although I admire your innate notion to avoid them. Almost everyone has to take out some kinds of loans in order to make it through school, and you probably will, too — even without the one-year diversion in Portland.

To loan or not to loan is not the primary question for you right now, though. Judging by your email, you’re at a pretty important crossroads right now, seems to me. You have to figure out whether to pursue something you love or not, and you’re going to have to learn to filter out a lot of “noise” in the form of bad advice in order to do so.

My bias is pretty obvious, I think — I’d like to see you do the fashion thing. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? Or, better yet — is the worst possible fashion-related outcome worse than the worst possible French outcome, or journalism outcome? Let’s weigh it. Every decision you make in life usually boils down to a comparison of the worst and best possible outcomes, and the likelihood of them actually happening.

WORST POSSIBLE FASHION SCENARIO: You love, or at least very much like, what you’re studying and doing, and since you’re at a community college the first couple of years, you do it fairly cheaply. You transfer out, continue to do well at a four-year school, and then you get a low-paying job in fashion.

That’s the most realistic worst-case, I think. You’re a valedictorian so I don’t much entertain the possibility that you’ll flunk out, and because you’ve been into fashion for so long, I also don’t entertain the possibility that you’ll quit liking it. So that’s it: doing something you love and ending up in a low-paying job. That’s the most realistic worst-case scenario.

WORST-CASE FRENCH/JOURNALISM SCENARIO: You go to school and find that, you know, “French is getting really boring” or “Wow, journalism jobs are so hard to find nowadays that it makes we want to cry tears of blood, and most of the entry-level jobs that ARE out there pay considerably less than a first-grade teacher makes.” (That last part is absolutely true, btw.)

And so you rack up student loan debt for a degree in a field you don’t enjoy — and you get the double-whammy aftershock of regretting having abandoned your first love, fashion.

Not much of a decision to be made there, IMHO. Install Skype and a webcam on your laptop so you can regularly chat with Mom and she can see you’re not letting the gaunt models of high fashion rub off on you by starving yourself down to 85 pounds. Get a place in OC and find a roommates (or two, it’s expensive) and dive in.

There’s comparatively little risk here. It’s community college — pay for a semester and see how it goes. If you sign an apartment lease and you hate everything so badly that you must must must leave, then break the lease and head home. Done. No big deal.

I hope this was hopeful. I could ramble on for another 1,500 words, probably, but I think you get the point. I’ll let the commenters take it from here. PLEASE come back to the site and let us all know what you decide to do!

24 thoughts on “Fashion School: Just Go Already, Courtney!”

  1. from one arts student to another: do. what. you. love. im a film major and im goin to a kinda sorta not really well known school (basically only nj locals know of it but its a great school) and im terrified that ill be broke and jobless and lose all my creative drive after graduation. i spent a year at a well known (read: EXPENSIVE AS HELL) school and all i got out of it was 10,000 in loan debt and a wonderful boyfriend/friends (boyfriend=awesome but you can meet guys anywhere, debt = painful). took a year off paid some money i owed and transferred. still gonna be in debt but hey im broke i needed em. but whats gonna get me a job after graduation? my portfolio/internship work. not the name of my school. and if you’re as smart as you sound im sure youll be a talented, creative, innovative, badass [insert fashion related job here]. maybe we’ll work together someday!

  2. DO FASHION. That’s what you love. You have no idea what is to do something you don’t like EVERYDAY, knowing you could have had fun at work EVERYDAY. It is very simple. Fashion is your thing, do it!

  3. Courtney,
    Go to that community college, hang on to your dream, and head right for it. And as a mother of children that have left home, I did not want mine to go either, no mom does, but, we get over it! YOU follow YOUR dream, not anyone elses ideas and dreams for you about what you should do or be.

  4. Courtney, definitely don’t let your Mom or Aunt hold you back from pursuing fashion! It definitely sounds like it’s the one thing you keep coming back to, so go for it. After taking a couple design classes in high school I really explored the fashion design route. Also, I used to live in Orange County and it’s definitely the place to be for a fashionista like yourself. I think a great school for you would be FIDM, they have 4 locations within California, two being Los Angeles and Orange County. I’ve visited both campuses and they are beautiful! They do have a higher tuition fee than FIT, $10,000 more to be exact, so it might be worth it to go to a CC in Orange County and transfer after you’ve done your general ed. I’ve talked to their advisers and gotten numerous presentations from FIDM reps. and I always got the vibe that they are a university that cares about their students and wants you to be successful in the real world(unlike NYU as we know from the post a few days ago).

    So my advice to you is this: Start off at a cc that has fashion design courses in Orange County and take care of your general ed for 1 or 2 years(while saving money!) until you know where you want to transfer to. Visit and meet with advisers at many different fashion schools that interest you(such as SCAD, RISD, even the Art Institute) and find the one you really want to go to. Once you’ve chosen a school, look at the major map and required courses on that school’s website and make sure that your cc courses will transfer there. Meet as many of those requirements as you can, it will really help you to graduate faster and save money. Then just keep your grades up, keep your chin up, and really enjoy doing what you love! Good luck!

    Oh, and one last thing to tell your aunt: if you major in fashion merchandising or any other fashion degree that is business-based, you can use that later on as a business degree if your love for fashion fizzles out later on. So no, her 4-yr. university wont be necessary.

  5. Definitely go for it! You’re fortunate to have such a strong, clear passion – I myself am in sort of a mid-college crisis because I don’t love my field of study as much as I did when I graduated high school. Cling to that passion, and never let it go! And good luck!

  6. My advice is to continue with FIT. Its honestly one of the most top-notch schools for fashion. Its relatively an inexpensive education for amazing professors (though the administration is terrible, but like i said, professors are amazing). Even though you got denied, you can take up to 18 credits non matriculated (not accepted yet). I did this when I got denied, and made A’s, and then got accepted the following semester. There’s even a decent amount of online classes you can take.
    The FIT professors and career services are also EXTREMELY helpful with getting internships and jobs. They’re always bringing in industry professionals in for lectures, which are always interested in networking with FIT students. Its really worth it.

    Hope this helps.

  7. I think you’ve tried to appease other people enough (going to art school and that other college). How did that turn out for you? We all love our mom and want to make our aunts happy, but really, what can they do for you when you’re stuck at a job you hate after 4 years of schooling you hated? Or even worse, can’t get a decent job in a field you hate anyways? Mom and auntie want the best for you, but I think they and you know you know what’s best for you. Besides, tell Mom three years is really not that bad if you can afford to swing by winter break and the summer. So good luck and go rock the fashion world! You can’t afford not to

  8. Also, my advice in continuation if you do really want to go to FIT is to NOT stay at home and go to community college. Most of the credits will not transfer in as it is a technical institute. They only take liberal arts, not major related classes, and they must fit the curriculum (available online on FIT’s website) specifically. So only take credits that fit the curriculum if you want to go there, and you will still most likely have to get a second associates degree before continuing on to the bachelors program. I wish I had known this as I had 65 credits and they took 24 of them, but now that I am there I am so happy!

  9. The first thing you’ve got to do is cut the cord. If your mom can’t stand being away from you now, watch out. This often seems to stem from some sort of disbelief that you can fend for or take care of yourself. When you get married she may turn into one of those jealous mothers who drives your husband crazy because he can’t have 5 minutes home alone with you without her showing up or calling. Even worse, when you have children, you really won’t be able to get rid of her because she will feel like she has to be there to mother your babies.

    I can’t think of a better way to get this going than going away to college. You’re still in a somewhat controlled environment with help from lots of people just a call away. It’s not like you’re going off to the big city with nothing but your summer job money in your pocket, hoping to make it big! When you get there, find a nice hotel nearby for mom, and let her know about it so she doesn’t feel invited to crash at your place and stick her nose into everything. Her feelings are well placed, but there comes a time you have to let go as a parent & let them fend for themselves. That also means letting you make the decision that’s right for you about what school to go to.

  10. I’m a fashion major too! And I went through a similar struggle to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to do it. I’ve always done well academically so my mom wasn’t too excited about me doing fashion as a career at first, but I found a happy-medium to please us both. I go to a public 4 year institution and I am a fashion merchandising major. I love my school, and I love my major and the classes I’m taking even more. It’s possible to get everything you’re looking for but the thing that helped me most prioritizing what I wanted most which was to be a fashion major (I first started out as a business marketing student only to learn that I hate business classes). Along the way, I’ve learned that you don’t have to go to a super expensive art institute to get a great education in a creative field. Once I found a school that was where I wanted and allowed me to major in fashion, everything else fell in to place. I hope everything works out as great for you as it has for me! =)

  11. I want to be a fashion designer too I say go to the school and make that money I know I will when I finish paying sanford brown college back

  12. Kalem Richardson

    I believe Courtney should follow her passion. Here’s the thing: you should always do what will make you happy, despite how much money you make doing it. I’ve always liked drawing and doing things that help the environment–like conservation, or anything that could eventually heal our planet. So, naturally, paralegal studies couldn’t keep my interest for long, so I’m engaged in environmental studies now. I don’t care how much money I’m gonna make, just as long as my happiness has been reached, and that I can still support myself financially. If an abundance of money in your future is meant to be, then it’s meant to be. But, don’t regret not following your passion later like you did before. That’s not good actually. Besides, you’ll be good at your job if it’s something you love anyway. You may have a low-paying job at first, but if you stick with it, love it, and be content, one day, it’ll pay off. What matters at the end of the day is that you’ve found your passion. As for Courtney’s loans, being a valedictorian, schools should grant her good money to do well in school, so she could pay them off. I don’t know. But if that’s not so, then with the right financial investments, she can do it that way.

  13. Hello from a fellow designer type,

    I’ve known since I was 12 that I wanted to be a costume designer (think movies and theater). For me there wasn’t much choice for school, there were only 2 in Canada that offered a program that was what I wanted; one was a 2 year diploma program 750 miles from home, the other was 3000miles from home and a 4 year BA. Neither were cheap and I had only $2500 in scholarships. Needless to say I didn’t want to spend another 4 years being a student, and chose the 2 year program (Which I’ve only completed 1 year of and just might not go back)

    The biggest thing I have to say is choose what YOU want- not what your mom or aunt or bob next door wants. In the end it’s your education and your life. While your mom will miss you, she’ll get over your being away, and showing her that your happy and loving where your at will make it far easier for her to cope.

    P.S.- Skype is a Godsend. My family and I Skyped 5 days a week for the first few months, and then they’re need to see me dwindled off as time went by. Besides, these days anyone is only ever an airplane ride away.

    Here’s to making the choice that’s best for you, and to a great future!

  14. Miss Courtney, your situation is indeed quite intricate…but I would advise you to follow your desire to take up fashion. AT LEAST, YOU HAVE A CLEAR PASSION (unlike me and others who either don’t know what they want to do or have multiple interests and want to try something like 3 different majors). “Nothing is difficult to one who is diligent”

  15. You should go for it. It’s your life, you have to live it, no one else. There’s no reason at all for you not to follow your dreams of becoming a Fashion designer. I want to be a Mangaka (A comic artist that draws in a Japanese comic art style). Because I am not Japanese I already get a lot of people yelling at me for wanting to become one. I also get the yelling from the other people who tell me comics and manga aren’t real art, and all that stuff. Still, I’ve managed to stick by it and I’m enrolled at a Art School. Before that I was in a private college that had great professors, but hardly any art. I was stuck taking a ton of math, english, the usual and it was driving me nuts. I wish I had started at the art college myself instead of freaking out. Had I done so from the very beginning, I’d have already graduated, instead I’m completely behind at the age of 21. Still, I feel like I’ve made the right choice in following my passion of becoming a mangaka even if everyone else is against me. Sure, I may end up living in a cardboard box (so many people have yelled this at me), but at least I had fun getting there and stayed true to my dreams.

    So stick with it, it’ll work out. And think about it this way with your mother being sad with you running off to college. You plan to move out and get your own house someday right? Well, she’s going to be sad too then, but you’re going to do it, because you won’t be living with her your entire life. It’s just one more stepping stone. It’ll be okay so do it!

  16. From one only child to another, your mom will be sad to see you go if you are 10 minutes away or 10 hours. I go to school just 20 minutes from my house and see my mom every other weekend plus Sundays and Wednesdays at church (I have a residency requirement on my scholarship), and she still gets all teary eyed that her baby isn’t at home anymore. My parents divorced when I was four, and I would spend one year with one and then one year with the other (except for high school which I spent with mom because the school was better), and I can tell you it’s not always about the amount of time you spend together, it’s the quality of it.

    Go to the school you want to go to (usually the cheaper one FOLLOW THE MONEY!!!) and study what you have always wanted to study. Just make sure you call your mom regularly, Skype, and visit home whenever possible while still having a social life. When you are home, make it good quality time with your mom. Go out to eat or just curl-up on the couch and watch a movie, and TALK about everything going on at school and in your life so she feels a part of it. You can even invite her to come stay with you for a day or two.

    It sounds like your mom loves you a lot and wants the best for you (which she thinks is keeping you close so you don’t get hurt), and that means once you show her you can go out on your own and make it, she’ll be much happier and more willing to let you spread your wings.

  17. Hi Courtney! You can either do 2 things… Start at the OC community college and reapply to FIT next year (they admire persistence!). FIT has unparalleled opportunities in terms of internships, which is one of the things that can really help you get a job. You should know, as someone mentioned before, that they’ll give you a really hard time about transferring your credits. You’ll be able to get one or two in, but whatever doesn’t transfer will just give you an advantage over the classes you need to take over. (or just get your liberal arts out of the way and take just one or two fashion courses!).

    Another thing worth noting is that FIT is a state school. That said, tuition is about 1/5th of the cost when you live in state. So another (perhaps more controversial) option is to move to New York now, get a job at a retail store, (it never hurts to learn the business side, even if you are interested in design), or even a waitressing job if you have to. You’ll need some seed money to cover your initial costs while you find a job, but you’ll save big time at the time of enrollment. While you are there, definitely try to take a class or two at FIT. They allow you to take credit classes even if you are not an enrolled student. It will give you a chance to meet some professors who might give you a recommendation to help your application.

    I was accepted into a masters program at FIT even though they had a strict requirement of 3 years of industry experience (I only had one). But I got accepted mostly because of a recommendation I got from one of the professors there (together with great GRE scores). So its possible!

    Also, I know their design program is their most competitive one. I’m not sure if you could start in another program and then transfer to design within FIT? This way is easier or harder depending on the school, not sure what the case is here. Ask around!

    Also, I think FIT accepts applications for the spring. Look into that option…

    Good luck!

  18. I just want to note how incredibly fortunate you are to know what you want and to have known it for so long that you can be certain. That is amazing at your age! You really don’t have a choice to make; you’ve been deciding this your whole life…just follow your dreams now.

  19. I say go for it and stop listening to mom and aunt. I always knew what I wanted to do an let family talk me out of it and spent 2 yrs working towards a degree of zip interest to me. I was miserable. Thankfully due to a family crisis I had to drop out of college.

    At the time I figured it would be leaving college for a couple years and it turned into a couple decades. So now I am back in college at 40+. I am pursuing a degree that will get me a job doing my second choice career until I can save up enough to do my first passion.

    While I love my family, and am glad I have been able to help. I also have missed out on opportunities–starting my business in my passion, qualifying for the Olympics, travel, etc… I have been living a life that is not something I would wish on anyone. My pay is actually lower then if I had pursued my passion by about $10,000. I am in debt, both personal and student loans. So my daily stress is awful.

    If I had it to do over again I would go after my passion and not look back. (HIndsight is truely 20/20) I would have been debt free in 3 years, and been on my way in my chosen career. I would have done some traveling aboard–part of the job. I could have accomplished a lot in the time I have been derailed. The only upside to my long way around trip is I have learned I am toughter then I thought I was, and I absolutely want to follow my passion.

    So go for it. Your mom and aunt will come around. Even if they don’t you can only do so much for someone else’s happiness. You can not make they feel more secure with your choice by being willing to abandon it on a whim. If you are sure this is what you want stick to your guns, and show them how important it is to you. Thank them for their imput and tell them you apreciate their concern. Then let them know this is what you need to do and you hope they will be there cheering you on instead of talking you down. Once you gain some success–internship that is hard to get, first job, etc..–they will come around.

    Good Luck:)

  20. When I read this, I thought of myself. I will be a college freshman in the fall, but before I decided what school to go to I was feeling the same way as you are. I graduated as valedictorian of my high school, did not want to take out loans for college, and I was unsure if I wanted to major in fashion merchandising, being that so many people told me that I should put my brains to better use. I will be majoring in fashion merchandising in the fall with a double major in communications. I chose a liberal arts school so that I could have options in case I felt I wanted to change from fashion. As far as loans, they were the last resort but I needed them. What makes them less scary is the flexible repayment plans. I think that going to the community college is a good idea. As long as you work hard to gain knowledge and experience, you should be successful in this field. Don’t be afraid to take chances. And seize the day!

  21. Hi everyone!
    Courtney here. I can’t thank you enough for all the encouraging comments and advice you have given to me, and I think I have decided what I will do. I forgot to mention that I also have a b/f to take into account. (he’s very supportive of what I want to do, but I don’t want to ditch him if I don’t have to) and he is excited about going wherever I want to go. My goal after the CC in OC was to go to London and finish up. Basically, I’ve always wanted to go to London. It has the best fashion school in the world, most of the greats have come from the school, and I just love British accents. 🙂 So I think I am going to see if my scholarships will allow me to take a term off ( I can’t get accepted to the school this last minute) and work until the new term in January. Then I want to go. I want to accomplish what I have been dreaming about forever! What do you guys think?!!

  22. I think that Courtney should follow her dream! If it does not work out she can go in a different direction, but if she does not try, she will regret it forever!

    I am very talented at designing and making outfits so decided that even though i did work experiance in the industry and was firmly told by the workers not to do it and do to study business instead i still decided to apply for fashion! (WRONG DECISION). i started the fashion course at university and was expected to be in drafting, sewing an cutting 10-4 everyday with only a half hour break as if they were preparing us to work in sweat shops. plus the work load is so not worth a fashion degree. there were many ppl from the previous year startin over due to the workload and not passing. som1 even mentioned to me that i shud b prepared to b stayin up at nights finishing work.

    Its as if the true fashion victims are not people who dont dress fashionable, but the young girls who believe that they will be successful in the industry thru studying fashion at college or university…the reality is far from that.

    After putting the fact that i got an A* in business at A level and an A in media as well as 2 other a levels at high passes with the fact that the fashion course was very demanding and seemed not to b worth it, i decided that wot i really want to do as a job is marketing. I had to act quickly and transfer to a business course, many kept tellin me that there are no spaces but i had 2 fight my way thru n not take no for an answer coz i just knew that i wud end up failing the fashion course and not gainin enuff credits 2 transfer. luckily i was able to do it and im loving it, dad was so happy with my decision that he bought me most of my books lol. usually wen parents discourage you from goin into certain things its not becuase they want to run ur life, its because they know how hard it is out there so they want you 2 b in the best position possible. think about all those ppl who are sewing in sweat shops and working in the industry! theyd think ur mad to waste ur time and money learning how to sew and just 2 end up where they are! in my opinion i think that they disguise sewing degrees by just using the title of fashion design to entice ppl. ITS TRUE!
    A few weeks later i went to the student centre only 2 find a girl dropping out of uni coz she dont like the fashion course and obvi its too late 2 transfer. many others did this aswell.

    Its also true that you dont need to study fashion at uni or college to b in it…doin it at a level or gcse is gd enough…even if you wanna do marketing related to fashion..go get a general business or marketing degree seriously. even one of my options in business studies now is marketing for the creative industries!

    MY ADVICE…DONT STUDY FASHION. even tho its gd to follow your dreams and what you love…when you graduate and are looking for jobs and working in the industry and c your friends working in good well respected high end high payed jobs, you will actually end up wanting to kill the person or people who told you that! sorry its the truth.

    1. To the above:
      I’d have more respect for your opinion if you could use the correct grammar and spelling. I already know its an intense workload. I’m not lazy.

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