Pros and Cons of the Parsons First Year Program

A great art teacher once told me that any legitimate art school will have a strong first year program. She is right, but what she never told me about were the ups and downs of a foundation year. Here, I weigh in on what I believe you can gain from, and what you will have to suffer through in your freshman year.


Getting a taste of literally everything. Most of you know that the intention behind most art school foundation years is for students to expose themselves to all areas of art and design. That is definitely true for Parsons. However, in my experience the first year was also an opportunity to understand the type of people who will be entering certain majors. If you are surrounded by personalities that you cannot understand or that cause discomfort, chances are you will not be very happy with the path you have taken. As designers, it is important that we surround ourselves with artists who inspire us, rather than belittle us. Use the first year to suss out the atmosphere in which you will learn the most.

Connecting with different kinds of artists. At Parsons and also in life, collaboration is everything. Another benefactor to the first year program is that you will build a rolodex of people you can work with in the future. Photographers are constantly searching for models and make-up artists. Design and Management students have started companies with Fashion and Product Design majors. The connections you make here are the ones you keep for the rest of your career.

Expanding your general knowledge. Someone once told me that the more original and creative you are, the more indispensable you become. No one is born with an innovative mind, it becomes that way by knowing more. One thing you will hear a lot of complaints about in the first year is the fact that you have to take history courses (if you are a BBA student, this is substituted with mathemetics courses). Yes, it might seem boring at times, but knowing artistic references is vital no matter what your career. Designers take cues from the past for almost every project they undertake. Take advantage of the course so that you shine when explaining your inspiration.

Coming out of your comfort zone. Anyone with a comfort zone would probably admit that it is really not that comforting at times. In your first year, you are going to realize that your talent goes way beyond what you have been good at your entire life. The professors give you a confidence that causes many people to change their majors. Illustrators have become fashion designers, graphic designers turn into architects, the list goes on. Do not let fear stop you from growth.

Having a diverse college squad. Art school would become so boring if we could only hang out with the people in our majors. Do not get me wrong, it is important to spend time with your peers, but getting to know students from other majors, and even other schools is essential to your education. You have to know what is going on with other types of art so that it can inform your work. Some of my best friends go to The New School for Drama and their perspective on art and design helps me make crucial decisions all the time. The first year program gives you a troop of fascinating people to consult and confide in at your best and worst moments.


There are a lot of group projects. Last week I wrote about teamwork and how it is absolutely necessary for learning. That is true, but we all know that too much group work can become overwhelming, especially in college. Sometimes your teammates will have impossibly high expectations for the result, or worse, frustrating low standards. It is important to remember that your best is all you can do, and it is your best that got you into Parsons. Try to think of group projects as a test. If you can learn to deal with multiple egos, you are set for life.

You will feel like you are wasting time. By the time you reach second semester, you are going to begin asking yourself, “why am I even doing this?” Foundation year may improve your skill set, but it will make you cynical at the same time. Many people have come to Parsons, and many people have left because they let the first year convince them that their life long goals were not worth it. Almost every design school in the world has a first year program, so it is illogical to abandon your school because it may be too stressful. The most valuable lesson I have learned as a student is that good things come to those who wait. A challenge should never be a reason to give up.

Sometimes you will not know what is going on. If you are not familiar with basic drawing techniques, or with the Adobe suite, it is okay. Not everyone who comes to Parsons is a great painter, or an expert graphic designer. However, if you can learn the general uses of such things, your career will be all the more fulfilling. In the art and design industry, workers are involved in every aspect of a company. So, even if your not the art director of a brand, understanding the person who does have that job will make communication a lot more sufficient.

The supplies can get expensive. Coming to art school is cool because you seldom have to buy those overpriced text books. Coming to art school is not cool because the money you save from not buying books goes right back into buying art supplies. How much you have to spend is different depending on the classes you take. I recommend buying the first year kit because it gives you the basic essentials at a discounted price. As artists and designers, I am sure most of you already know that creativity comes at a high cost. However, if you are resourceful enough, you may not have to pay as much as you think.

It is easy to stick out as a first year student. If there is one thing I know about myself, it is that I am always over prepared with school supplies. Back to school shopping is my favorite time of year and I will probably still be doing it when I am in my 40s. Anyway, the downside to this is that it is sort of like walking around with a sign on your back that says, “I’m a freshman.” Toting around the enormous portfolio, projects, and maybe a backpack can turn you into an art school cliche. But sticking out isn’t always a bad thing. Carry yourself proudly and confidently, and let the haters say what they want.

About Jeffrey Roy Jr.

My name is Jeffrey and I am a Strategic Design and Management student at Parsons School of Design. When I am not posting on Twitter or Instagram, you can often find me perusing the newsstand at Barnes & Noble.

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