Parsons has approximately 3,100 undergraduates and more than 400 graduate students enrolled. The School also offers continuing education courses and certificate programs, as well as weekend and summer pre-college programs for high school students.
Parsons has academic exchanges with a number of institutions around the world, including affiliated schools in Paris and the Dominican Republic.
There are 30 full-time faculty members and more than 675 adjunct faculty members, many of whom are successful working artists and designers in New York City. Faculty members and visiting critics include architect Brian Lewis and artist Brian Tolle.
Frank Alvah Parsons joined the faculty in 1904. He became an administrator in 1907, and worked to broaden the curriculum, opening the first programs in interior design, graphic design, and advertising in the United States. In 1909, the school was renamed the New York School of Fine and Applied Art to reflect these offerings. Parsons became sole director in 1911, a position which he maintained to his death in 1930.
William Odom, who established the school's Paris Ateliers in 1921, succeeded Parsons as president. In honor of Parsons, who was important in steering the school's development and in shaping visual-arts education through his theories about linking art and industry, the institution became Parsons School of Design in 1941.
In 1970, the school was incorporated into The New School for Social Research. In 2005, when the parent institution was renamed The New School, Parsons School of Design was renamed Parsons The New School for Design.
The school offered courses in Costume Design as early as 1904. Frank Alvah Parsons enlarged upon these courses to create a full professional department in 1907. Over the next four decades, as the department’s philosophy and focus matured, its name was changed several times as follows: Costume or Clothes Design (1918), Costume Design and Costume Illustration (1921), Costume Design (1922), Costume Design and Costume Illustration (1923), Costume Design and Costume Construction (1925), Costume Design and Construction (1927), Costume Design, Construction and Illustration (1928), Costume Design and Illustration (1937). In 1954, the department was divided to form the Fashion Design Department and the Fashion Illustration Department. The Fashion Design Department continues to this day.
In the early 20th century, the school’s fashion curriculum focused on the creation of sketches, which could be sold to manufacturers. Then, in 1915, the students not only sketched but began working with fabric and producing finished garments. In its current incarnation, the Fashion Design Department places an emphasis on understanding the entirety of the design process from the initial concept to the final product and its marketing. The curriculum seeks to educate students on the fundamentals of good design, as well as to develop essential skills specific to fashion design, such as model drawing and pattern drafting, which are applied to real-life design problems. Students also research the historical purposes and implementations of fashion design, study business practices, and investigate the commercial impact on the profession.
Historically, as is the case with other departments at Parsons, the faculty has largely been made up of instructors who have been practicing professionals in the field. This arrangement has given students the opportunity to learn from accomplished and successful designers, and has opened a wide range of prospective contacts for internships and employment. Also, it has allowed the students to remain current with practices and trends in professional fashion design.
In 1919, to supplement the core group of instructors, the department initiated a program to invite stellar designers to critique student work. By 1954, juniors and seniors were working under the close supervision of special visiting critics to design and create garments. The department’s curriculum was revised in 2001, such that the critic mentorship program was confined to the junior year, while seniors worked independently to produce a thesis collection which exhibited their own individual style.