The design student experience in Australia and the US

Published:  January 15, 2015

As a recent Semi-Precious graduate from Melbourne’s RMIT University and Parsons The New School of Design in New York, Celeste Watson shares what she learnt when picking up a scholarship and moving her design education to America.

Words by Celeste Watson



10478675_10152603865044400_5394759317393654802_nThe greatest difference between RMIT and Parsons is that RMIT is a public university and Parsons is private. What most concerns me with education stemming from the private sector is that colleges operate with profit in mind. This means more than simply staying afloat. A framework that is built on the pursuit of profit ultimately influences the attitudes of faculty and thus the construction of coursework.

Yes, commercial viability is important for students to comprehend when making the inevitable transition to industry, but in my opinion, lateral thinking and inquisitive portfolios are even more valuable. If the future of the design industry resides with the potential of its students, their ability to challenge conventions is paramount to our industry’s success. Money’s just a side note — if you care about your work enough, you’ll learn how to do it justice regardless of budget.

New York is a bustling city where tills are chiming 24/7 and each morning starts with the ring of the stock market’s bell. There’s a lot of money to be made in New York City and Parsons would love for its graduates to be living on Park Avenue in years to come, scheduling generous annual donations. Donna Karen (of DKNY) and Marc Jacobs (of Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs) are both esteemed alumni. Parsons – not dissimilar to New York – is all about image. It’s all about the name. Did you know that they shoot Project Runway there? Of course you did. Because Parsons is a business in a capitalist nation where college fees are unregulated.

Keep those cheques coming.


Marc Jacobs campaign


Donna Karen runway

The benefit we have as Australians is that our nation is young, forever changing and open to new ideas. Our current state of politics may not be the best example of this, but our universities are. Curriculum is constantly under scrutiny by people who care about its relevance to industry. The students that will enter the program I completed this year will exit with a more relevant degree than me, but I don’t mind. Like design, education should always continue to evolve.


RMIT University, School of Design

RMIT University, School of Design

The challenge that older institutions face is that they must evolve or get left behind by newer, fresher thinking institutions. I spoke about this one morning in the course coordinator’s office at Parsons. She acknowledged some of the faculty’s resistance to change. This is why the school has started bringing in young Yale MFA graduates to shake things up. This kind of evolution just takes longer in places that are entrenched in their own history.


Parsons New School for Design

Parsons The New School for Design


One Response

  1. Rebecca

    I also had the privilege of studying in Australia and the US. They were both very positive experiences, but there was a distinct difference from studying in the US compared to Australia. I learnt a lot at both design schools, but studying in New York at Shillington School had its added bonus of making it easier to network in such a complex city. Networking in the design industry is essential. First and foremost, it’s important to have the creative ability and skill set as a designer, but having a network of people in the industry is invaluable!

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