One-of-a-Kind Programs

If you're already passionate about what you want to do for a living, you might want to consider applying to schools that offer one-of-a-kind or specialty programs in that field. For example, Medill at Northwestern University has long been a top choice journalism school for undergraduates and graduates alike. Another example is UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, which attracts aspiring filmmakers.

You may already be aware of the top programs in your chosen field. If not, all you need to do is ask people in that profession where they went to school -- or better yet, where they wish they had gone to school.

There are unique undergraduate degree programs, like the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising (LIM), and graduate programs like the famous Actors Studio Drama School Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Pace University. Both of these schools are located in New York City, allowing students access to real-world experience in their chosen fields.

"LIM is the only college dedicated exclusively to providing students with an education in the business of fashion, granting bachelor's degrees in fashion merchandising, visual merchandising, marketing and management, and associate's degrees in fashion merchandising," says Elizabeth S. Marcuse, president of LIM.

"Our students have one thing in common -- a passion for fashion," Marcuse says. "The student who will do best here understands that fashion is a fast-paced, intense business that requires dedication and hard work. Students who are not afraid to jump in and take advantage of the doors that are opened for them will find a personalized, supportive environment that will help them succeed."

Whatever the field, access to industry professionals, insiders and real-world experiences is, perhaps, the biggest benefit to enrolling in one-of-a-kind programs. Unfortunately, it also means that the competition to get in to specialized programs can be tough.

The popularity of Bravo's long-running series, Inside the Actors Studio has no doubt generated additional interest in the Actors Studio Drama School (MFA program) at Pace University. However, serious theater students are influenced more by the reputation of the Actors Studio than by the television show.

As the only MFA theater program officially sanctioned by the prestigious Actors Studio, actors, directors and playwrights from across the globe vie for up to 60 new spots each year, but the number of students admitted depends on the quality and potential of applicants.

"The entire curriculum has been designed and supervised by the leadership of the Actors Studio through its Curriculum Advisory Committee, including the presidents, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino," says Andreas Manolikakis, chair of the Actors Studio Drama School (MFA program) at Pace University.

Over the course of three years, MFA students -- actors, directors and playwrights -- train side-by-side as actors. They participate in intensive workshops led by award-winning actors, including Burstyn. And they participate in the Craft Seminars, on which the Bravo television series is based. Each third-year student is featured in a major way at some point in the school's professionally-produced and designed Spring Repertory Season.

LIM, which will enroll approximately 1,300 students this fall, combines academics with experiential learning. In the undergraduate program, students must complete a core curriculum, including 35 credits of liberal arts coursework.

"Roughly one-quarter of each of our bachelor's degrees is devoted to core business courses. Half of the curriculum for our bachelor's degrees in marketing and management are business courses," Marcuse says.

"All students must complete internships during three of their four years at LIM," Marcuse says. As freshmen, they work in retail for five weeks. Sophomores spend five weeks working in either retail management or a corporate setting. "During the spring of their senior year, students work full-time in a fashion industry internship related to their specific career goals."

Specialty programs like these offer students beneficial -- and often unique -- experiences and networking opportunities. Plus, the benefits typically continue after graduation.

"More than 90 percent of our graduates find jobs in their field within six months of graduation," Marcuse says.

"After graduation, all students have the privilege, for one year, of the status of working finalist at the Actors Studio itself, which means they bypass the usual preliminary audition and are eligible to attend sessions and take a final audition for studio membership," Manolikakis says.

"The students who successfully pass their final auditions will become lifetime members of the Actors Studio. "All directing and playwriting students are invited, for at least one year, to be part of the Playwrights/Directors Workshop of the Actors Studio, a unit specially created for the continuation of the training of our directing and playwriting graduates," Manolikakis says.

Before applying to a one-of-a-kind program, remember that the programs tend to be very intensive. Manolikakis suggests that anyone interested in the MFA program carefully study the detailed curriculum posted on the website at

As an undergraduate program, LIM combines academics with practical experience so students emerge with a resume as well as a degree. LIM also offers summer and Saturday classes for high school students who think they might be interested in the fashion business.

"These programs provide you with a feel for what the business of fashion is all about and can help you decide whether LIM is the right college for you," she says.

There are probably undergraduate or graduate programs available somewhere in the country that are specially tailored to your chosen field. These types of learning experiences can provide you with opportunities you may not find elsewhere. Still, the programs can be difficult to get into and require dedication and hard work for students to thrive. One-of-a-kind programs are purposefully challenging, so don't apply unless you're fully committed to a career in that particular field.