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Ashley B.
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design
Academy of Art University, 2007

I started college disappointed.

I knew when I was applying to schools that entrance requirements were growing stiffer with every passing year. But, I was the child of supportive parents; I thought I’d succeed no matter what. I had above-average grades, above-average test scores, and I was an active participant in sports. I even worked a job every summer since I was 16 (at McDonald’s; I’ll euphemistically describe the experience as “character building”). I thought I was a strong candidate. Faced with attending my safety choice — a school I only grudgingly applied to — I found myself already disappointed about my first real step into independence.

Attitude, as the cliché states, is everything. I felt entitled to a better situation, and that colored my whole experience at the University of California - Riverside. Though I made substantive friendships and enjoyed the happiest year of my life as a freshman there, I wanted out.

I’d been led to believe that transferring within the University of California system was a breeze. With my eye on U.C. Irvine, frustration hit like a brick-filled truck for the second time. They told me it was such a rare occurrence it wasn’t worth pursuing, and I didn’t ask any more questions. Always ask more questions.

I decided I needed to change direction. I felt bored and unchallenged by my classes. I could have pushed myself to take more difficult courses, but I blamed the school instead. Plus, I was still undecided on a major; I thought I wanted to go into psychology. But grad school seemed expensive and, well, abstract. I chose to do something drastic instead. I quit my jobs in waitressing and retail, and applied to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

It was more of a leap in the dusk. As a teen, I obsessively watched fashion runway shows, admiring the dramatic silhouettes, the body-conscious tailoring, and the luscious fabrics as they hugged the not-quite curves of the models’ hanger-like bodies. Clearly, I had a calling. Fashion design, I decided, made sense.

San Francisco felt like an alternate universe after Riverside. It was chilly and overcast as opposed to arid and sweltering. It was packed with restaurants, culture, and nightlife as opposed to frat boys, meth heads, and cows. College life was an adjustment, too:  no central campus, classes were all either three or six hours long (art takes time and injudicious amounts of caffeine), and the dorms were single-sex (yes, in the most liberal city in America). I’d already spent a year in the co-ed dorms at Riverside, so I was miffed. But honestly, some of my best memories were breaking curfew to spend time with my guy friends in their dorm. Breaking an arbitrary rule is worth the consequences, sometimes.

The Academy was the most challenging educational experience of my life. People talk about art school as if it’s a cakewalk, the lazy way to a degree. I wasn’t writing essays or filling in multiple-choice bubbles, but I worked myself to shaking. I took both on-site and online classes, and each have their merits (but online is always easier, I promise). However, I never felt above the quality of education I was given, and I felt proud I earned, through blood, sweat, and tears, my BFA degree in fashion design.

So, imagine my disappointment when the economy collapsed. I worked part-time, I worked freelance, but the opportunities kept drying up. A health issue sent me back to my parents’ house. I spent a year out of the business (known as “career death”) and in recovery.

Now, I’m a writer. I write about fashion, beauty, and style. But, I’ve also branched out into travel, fitness, and the occasional zombie apocalypse piece. It was a bumpy ride, and I made a number of mistakes due to my entitlement, naiveté, and stubbornness. It's not the career I planned, but I finally learned to ask questions, loads of questions, and I couldn’t be happier with where I am and where I’m going.

I’m indescribably fortunate for another reason: I’m not in debt. I was lucky enough to have the financial resources to pay for college outright. I’m aware how few people have the luxury of that safety net.

In hindsight, I know my inability to ask questions held me back, and the best advice I can give, per my experience, is: Ask more questions.

EduTrek Comments

  • Always ask more questions of your advisers and professors, whether it’s about transferring schools or a class syllabus.  A little persistence and some investigation will get you a long way toward your goals.
  • Be aware of the career opportunities and the market for your field of study.  Ashley is now fortunate enough to be working in a career she enjoys, but it’s not what she set out to do with her degree.