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FIDM: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising

FIDM balcony

The balcony off the library on the top floor of the building.


I knew nothing of FIDM before going on the Counselor Tour in San Francisco; once I knew we were going, I looked it up online. Because it is so specialized, a proprietary institution, and primarily a two-year college, I probably would have skipped the visit if I on my own, but I’m glad I saw it.

FIDM has four campuses: the primary campus in Los Angeles hosts about 4,000 students. The San Francisco campus has the next highest number of students, usually around 1,000. The Orange County and San Diego campuses have 300-500 students each. Students do not need to stay at the campus at which they begin; enrollment is flexible between all of them, and almost all majors are offered at all the campuses. LA is the only campus with dorms; it is also the most popular for majors such as Costume Design because of the access to the entertainment industry.

The San Francisco campus occupies floors 5 through 8 of a building downtown. A security officer in the lobby was checking Student IDs and checked all of the counselors off of a list of expected visitors before allowing us to proceed up the elevator. On each of the floors (except the top floor which is taken up by the library), the walls are covered with displays from students to showcase work from all the majors from fashion design to interior design.

Even during the summer, students were in classes, in the library, and in and out of the building. Because they’re on the quarter system, this is not unusual; in fact, they even encourage first year students to start in July rather than wait until October. If they go straight through, they can complete their degree in 18 months. Most of the degrees are AAs, but they do offer one BA in Business Management for students who want to add to their credentials; this is only open to students who completed an AA at FIDM (even if they leave to work for awhile, they are welcome to come back later for the BA). There is an advanced certificate program in 4 areas offered on a competitive basis. 10-15 students are selected for each of the 4 areas from all the FIDM students across the 4 campuses. Regardless of major, students get a great deal of hands-on experience both at the school and in internships. Job placement rate is high; the alum network is strong, and the school hosts several job fairs a year. However, graduation rate is only about 59%. A large portion of this, however, stems from students deciding that they really don’t want to be in the program and that the major they selected wasn’t for them. They are addressing this through changing their application and admission procedures.

The application and interview process is extensive. They are committed to admitting people who really want to be there and understand the specific nature of their degrees. For out-of-state students, they should apply directly to the campus they want to attend; there are virtual tours online to help students see what is offered at each location. The students then complete a phone or skype interview that takes up to 1.5-2 hours to determine if they should even apply to the school. They also complete a career survey to help them focus on the major. Because the majors are specialized, they need to declare a major coming in. (They can change majors, but they’ll most likely spend additional quarters at the school to finish.) Once students move into the application phase, they need to submit the application, transcript (students tend to be very strong in art and humanities), 3 recommendations, 2 essays, and a portfolio – however, if they don’t have a pre-created portfolio, they can complete one specifically for FIDM. They call this the “Entrance Portfolio Project” and prompts are given in the application. Acceptance rate is about 65%.

The admissions people were up-front about this being a proprietary institution. One of the big differences between this and some other for-profits is that this is accredited for academics and for the design programs. Classes can be transferred, although if a student decides to go to a more traditional college or university, it might be harder to transfer the design classes. However, students do have distribution requirements such as history, English, and science – but much of it can be geared more towards the students’ majors such as “History of fashion in the US” or “The science of textiles.” Another difference with FIDM is that it is privately held and not on the stock market, so business decisions are not made with shareholders in mind.

(c) 2012

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