Reflections on Foundation

How can a design education prepare students to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world? Parsons’ first-year Foundation program immerses students in an exploration of art and design concepts, skills, and critical practices, training them to become flexible thinkers, strong makers, and life-long learners. The curriculum offers a survey of approaches to art and design that not only prepares students for the BFA programs at Parsons, but enables them to envision paths beyond the confines of a single discipline. (From the Parsons site, Foundation page)

Completed in 2D Studio 2

All incoming freshmen at Parsons going into most majors first go through Foundation year. (Exceptions are the direct entry programs:  Design and ManagementDesign and TechnologyEnvironmental StudiesPhotography, and Urban Design) This means that Foundation is a shared experience between all students at Parsons across disciplines and that this first year is an integral part of your university experience.

Structurally Foundation year consists of only a few different classes. Within the fall semester, your choose your times of class and professors but not the actual class subjects since everyone will take the same subjects. The spring semester there are some options within each category. Fall classes are Laboratory 1, 2D Integrated Studio 1, 3D Studio 1, Drawing Studio 1 plus Critical Reading and Writing and Perspectives in World Art and Design. Classes are 2 hours and 40 minutes or 5 hours and 40 minutes with breaks during class time.

There are a number of reasons why I chose a school that began with a foundation year as opposed to directly going into a chosen major. Foundation gives students a level start, equipping them equally in basic design sensibilities and technical skills. It also allows students to consider what major they want to go into before committing to it. Many incoming freshmen may think they know what they want to study and have their expectations completely changed after Foundation year.

Foundation is great also because students with different interests are all taking classes together. This first year allows for the establishment of friendships in majors other than what you’re interested in, so that in the next three years at Parsons, you continue to maintain relationships outside your major. My best friends now, while in my senior year, are the friends I made during my fall semester Foundation year.

Foundation year at Parsons is notoriously difficult, but I both appreciated the difficulty and enjoyed the challenge. When I first arrived it was intimidating because I was uncertain regarding the quality of my work in relation to my peers and I was worried about what kind of assignments I would have. Luckily, all the Foundation year professors are very friendly and really watch out for their students, so even though the work is challenging and takes a lot of time and effort, there’s a school community that’s supportive. Also, a Foundation student never feels alone! Foundation students bond over the year because of common assignments, professors and experiences. I personally never felt that the work I was doing was pointless. After high school, I was happy to be spending so much time doing art.

Completed in Drawing Studio 1

Assignments that I did during my Foundation year are probably slightly different from the assignments that are assigned now considering how my first year was four years ago. Still, I’m sure there are many similarities.

For my drawing class we did still life and figure drawings in different kinds of medium but mostly graphite and charcoal. The opportunity to have live models to help us practice figure drawing was great. We also went on field trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History to draw on site. We drew a room of the Met and any dinosaur skeleton of our choice at the AMNH.

In 2D Integrated Studio I learned the basics of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. The instruction I received in computer software then was a great start for me before going into Communication Design. Besides digital work, we also painted many of our designs to help us improve in color theory and composition. My instructor would have us create work on the computer and replicate it by hand with paint or we would in other ways combine both digital and traditional work.

3D Studio was the most difficult Foundation class for me since I had never spent that much time with wood, wire and plaster before. It turned out to be a lot of fun learning about tactile materials and developing a sense of how to use them and create interesting sculptures and consider formal appearances of 3D objects.

It’s normal for incoming freshmen at Parsons to be anxious about Foundation year and be unsure of what it’ll be like. Feel free to ask me questions or comment below!

Completed in Drawing Studio 2 - Foundation Spring


  1. Inye Nosegbe

    ahh, this post has helped me so much! i guess my main worry about foundation year is the drawing classes, because i’m slightly unsure if my still-life drawing skills are up to par. thank you again!

    • Charis

      Happy to be of help, Inye! Don’t be too anxious, your teachers will not expect you to already know everything. Plus, drawing classes are 6 hours once a week so you’ll have plenty of time to practice and work on your skills.

  2. Olesya

    Hi, I’m still a sophomore in high school but I would love to go to Parsons! Are there academic classes as well as art classes? Can architecture students also take foundation year?

    • Hi Olesya, it’s good that you’re starting early! About 1/3 of the BFA curriculum consists of liberal arts courses, which you can either take at Parsons or Eugene Lang College (the Liberal Arts school at The New School). Currently Architecture students take Foundation year, but the curriculum is shifting to a more open and individualized course of study. It’s expected to be implemented in Fall 2013, so keep at eye on our website over the summer.

  3. Students at HSHS Visual Arts take note. Your program is structured this way for a reason. Come see our work on facebook at HSHS Visual Arts.

  4. Alexis

    Hello! I’m in 8th grade and love fashion design and really would love to go to Parsons for it. I know it’s still a long way off, but I really want to start preparing and practicing drawing/painting/etc now. I have to admit that I’m not the best at drawing and am really happy that Parsons has a foundation year that prepares you for whatever major you decide to go into. I was wondering if most of the people are already good at drawing and foundation year just advances them more or if it’s also able to help people who really aren’t that great at it? I find that my trouble with my designs is I have so many ideas in my head but can never seem to convey them on paper.

    • Hi Alexis, you’re right. It definitely is a long way off! By the time you begin applying to colleges, Parsons will have switched to a more open curriculum with room for students to specialize earlier. You will need a competitive portfolio to apply, so try and take as many different art courses as you can. You can even take college level art courses at community college, too. Communicating your ideas through visuals is an important skill, so try to learn it now and be ahead of the game.

    • Charis

      As Victoria said, you do need a competitive portfolio to apply and you should definitely be able to showcase an ability to translate ideas into visuals in your application. However, just to reassure you, foundation year is for people of varying levels of skill—not everyone will be equally good at the same thing. Of course, to be a freshmen at Parsons means that admissions has already considered you qualified to continue learning more. No worries, you’ve still got quite a few years to improve and work on your drawing skills.

  5. Hiya! Thanks for this post, it’s incredibly helpful 🙂
    I’m a student from the UK and just got into Parsons for foundation and BFA in fine art…
    are there many international students? what degree did you do? x

    • Charis

      Hey Arta! You’re welcome and I’m happy to have been of help. I’m an international student too. Parsons has one of the highest percentages of international students in the country—around 30% of the school. I’m a BA/BFA student studying Communication Design at Parsons and Lit. Studies at Eugene Lang.

  6. Meher Goel

    This post was really helpful! Thanks a lot! I’m just a little unsure about drawing, since human figures is my weak point. Personally, what was your favorite class in foundation year? Thanks 🙂

    • Charis

      Hey Meher, you’re welcome! I’m glad it was helpful. Drawing is a six hour studio class once a week so you’ll get plenty of practice! But if you want to practice, ask a family member to help you out over the summer and strike a couple of simple poses for you to sketch. My favorite class foundation year was 2D studio 1 and then 2D studio 2 in the spring. I really enjoyed using Adobe software and trying to come up with interesting compositions. I also really liked my professor for that class and learned a lot about what makes design compelling.

  7. Hi there!
    I’ve been accepted for Fall 2013, but I’ve noticed that the photography course is no longer a direct entry program, but now a program that requires foundation. I have extremely weak drawing skills, how much will be expected from me upon entering the course?

    • Morgan Ersery

      Hi there! Congratulations on being admitted into Parsons. The first year is meant to build your skills in order to be a more successful and well rounded artist and designer as you enter your major Sophomore year. Though drawing and drafting will be involved, the first year is interdisciplinary and incorporates both 2D/3D explorations as well as research based seminars. For example, the first year Drawing/Imaging course utilizes adobe illustrator and photoshop, drawing, photography, and mixed media. You can learn more about the first year here:

      Hope that helps and best of luck to you!

  8. Alice

    Hey, im applying to parsons with little to no basics (figured out by myself how things work and still an amatuer) in any case, if i get accepted (got accepted to saic but parsons might be the whole different story) do you think i will survive the first year? Is everyone there very good at arts or some of them are struggling too? I just wonder if i will be the one who sturggle during the year and got left behind. Thanks 🙂
    Ps. Do you know many students who receive merit scholarship? The tuition is so expensive. I just want to know my chance of getting the scholarship. Like how many percent of students receive it?
    Ps2. Will the school teach fashion students basic sewing course? Im applying for fashion design but don’t have basic skills need to make a dress yet..

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