Guide to Online Fashion Degrees
Students interested in earning an online fashion degree will find numerous options at a range of schools, from large universities to smaller vocational schools. Most colleges offer degrees in fashion design and/or fashion merchandising, although a few offer additional degrees in specialized subjects, such as fashion styling, costume creation, and footwear and accessory design. In this highly competitive field, a degree just may be the asset that makes a graduate stand out as a qualified candidate for such occupations as fashion designer earning about $75,000 a year or buyer earning about $67,000 annually.
Following our list of online fashion degrees, we've provided information students can use to help decide which fashion degree program to choose. This includes details on degree levels, accreditation, common courses, and careers, plus the pros and cons of earning an online degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising.
Most Popular Accredited Online Schools for Fashion Bachelor's Degrees
|Rank||School||Annual Tuition||Recommend Rate|
|# 1||Southern New Hampshire University Online||$9,600||63% (420 reviews)|
|# 2||Liberty University||$11,700||57% (316 reviews)|
|# 3||Lindenwood University||$18,100||Add Review|
|# 4||Johnson & Wales University-Online||$13,365||0% (1 review)|
|# 5||Central Michigan University||$24,120||50% (4 reviews)|
|# 6||Fashion Institute of Technology||$16,490||Add Review|
|# 7||Academy of Art University||$23,412||29% (38 reviews)|
|# 8||The Art Institutes||$18,382||21% (14 reviews)|
|# 9||Berkeley College||$26,500||0% (1 review)|
|# 10||LIM College||$27,810||Add Review|
|# 11||Old Dominion University||$30,840||64% (11 reviews)|
|# 12||Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design||$19,670||0% (1 review)|
Overview of Online Fashion Degrees
There are many degree options available to those who wish to pursue a career in fashion. Our list of online fashion degrees highlights programs in fashion merchandising, fashion business, fashion design, and fashion marketing.
An associate degree typically takes two years of full-time study to complete and is designed to prepare graduates for entry-level positions in areas such as fashion design, marketing, and buying. Students can take their education to the next level by entering a four-year bachelor's program, which could help them be more competitive in the job market. Participating in a master's program — which takes an average of two additional years to complete — allows students to become even more skilled in their area of specialization and may qualify them for advanced leadership positions. Those who include business administration courses in their programs may be well-positioned to open their own business or start their own fashion line.
There are also certificate degree options available for those who don't want to commit to a full degree program. Earning a certificate gives graduates the basic skills to begin their careers. Generally these programs take one to two years to complete.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Fashion
The three most popular bachelor's-level fashion degrees — all of which are available as online programs — are fashion design, fashion merchandising, and a combination of design and merchandising. Many of these degrees are Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Arts degrees, although some marketing-oriented programs may culminate in a Bachelor of Science degree. Enrollees are typically required to complete 120-132 credit hours to graduate. Many full-time students fulfill these requirements in four years, but part-time students may need longer.
The three most popular bachelor's-level fashion degrees are fashion design, fashion merchandising, and a combination of design and merchandising.
Online fashion students engage in all of the same learning activities as their on-campus counterparts except that they interact with instructors and classmates through the school's online learning management system. For fashion design classes, online students use their own materials and sewing machines at home to develop their design skills and strengthen their understanding of how garments are constructed. To complete courses in fashion merchandising programs, online students again use their home computers to complete class projects and enhance their marketing skills. Courses are designed to help students develop creative thinking, problem-solving, and communication abilities.
Those applying for a bachelor's program in fashion design should be able to demonstrate a strong interest in fashion. Many schools ask to see a portfolio that highlights the applicant's creativity and talents in design. Also required in the application process is a high school diploma or GED, along with transcripts. Some schools may also ask for letters of recommendation, essays, and lists of extracurricular activities. Those who have attended college previously should submit their college transcripts as well.
The Importance of an Accredited Online Fashion Degree
Accreditation status is an important factor for students to consider before enrolling in any program. Being accredited indicates that the school or program is upholding high standards of quality. Enrollment in an accredited online program is often required for students to be eligible for federal financial aid, and it may also be required to transfer credits to another school or to apply for graduate school.
The National Association of Schools of Art & Design is the main accrediting body for individual fashion and art programs. NASAD has established accreditation standards that institutions must meet in order to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for students to excel both educationally and professionally within the fields of fashion and visual arts. By choosing an institution or program accredited by NASAD, online fashion students can be sure that their education will be respected by potential employers within the workforce.
Curriculum and Common Courses for a Fashion Degree
Prospective students who are drawn to the creative aspect of fashion may be more inclined to major in fashion design, while those who are attracted to the business side of the fashion industry may want to focus on a fashion merchandising degree. Of course, students who are interested in both — especially those who aspire to run their own fashion design businesses — may opt for a combined degree. In general, the courses in a fashion design program focus on the product design requirements and creation of clothing, footwear, and accessories. Students learn about construction methods, textiles and materials, color theory, and various aspects of the design business, from haute couture to mass production. As part of any online degree, fashion students can expect to be introduced to the top computer software programs used within the industry.
Prospective students who are drawn to the creative aspect of fashion may be inclined to major in fashion design, while those who are attracted to the business side may want to focus on a fashion merchandising degree.
Fashion marketing students typically start with a broad overview of the entire merchandising process, followed by coursework that provides a deeper dive into marketing, merchandising, retail management, and various forms of distribution. Both paths typically culminate in a graduate portfolio of projects that can be presented when interviewing for jobs. Most schools also require fashion students to gain real-world experience by completing one or more internships in the field.
The following are some of the more common core courses found in fashion design and merchandising programs. Most programs offer additional electives such as knitwear, children's clothing, and e-commerce that allow students to customize their degrees to fit their career goals and interests.
- Apparel Illustration: Aspiring fashion designers should know how to convey their design concepts through sketches and visuals, so in this course, students learn to perform this skill by hand as well as by computer using computer-aided design (CAD) programs. Through observation and close study, students also become familiar with human anatomy and industry-standard body proportions to present their designs.
- Apparel Design and Construction: This course is designed to cover the process for creating and producing garments and other fashion products from beginning to end. Students learn to incorporate the latest design trends into their own creations. They also learn how to choose and source textiles and other materials needed for their designs, consider supply chain and sustainability issues, and plan for the manufacturing of their products.
- Fashion Buying, Merchandising, and Display: All fashion students are required to take this broad overview course that covers many aspects of fashion merchandising, including how clothing manufacturers and retailers form partnerships to strategically develop brands and promote on-trend products to consumers. Additional topics may feature global fashion, entrepreneurship, and consumer behavior.
- Fashion Marketing and Promotion: A more focused course on fashion marketing explores media campaigns and other promotional strategies such as fashion shows and product launches used by both wholesale and retail operations. Students also learn about pricing and distribution and explore the market research methods used to identify fashion trends and target markets. Case studies of popular fashion brands are often used to draw insights about effective marketing methods.
- History of Fashion: From the empire waistlines of early 1800s dresses to the peplummed jackets of the 1940s, a survey of fashion trends introduces students to a wide range of key terms and concepts that are still relevant today. Fashion design students learn about the types of garments worn through the centuries, how they were developed and gained popularity, and how modern designers often resurrect and revitalize past styles.
- Social Media Fashion Marketing: Most modern fashion brands use social media to promote their products through Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms. This course teaches students how to build brand awareness through social media campaigns, how to establish metrics for measuring the success of their marketing efforts, and how to develop social media marketing strategies for their brands.
Careers with a Fashion Degree
There are a variety of fashion career options within the industry for aspiring professionals. This industry is highly competitive, however, and insiders say that knowledge and experience are essential to building a successful career in this business, either as a designer or as a fashion merchandiser. Earning an online associate or bachelor's degree may be the first step toward finding the perfect career in fashion, which may involve one of the following occupations.
Fashion buyers, an essential role in the chain of people involved in fashion product development, work closely with designers, wholesalers, and manufacturers to determine which fashion products their store will carry each season. Responsibilities include keeping up with current fashion trends, attending trade shows and fashion shows to seek out the latest in design and fabrics, negotiating prices and deals with suppliers, making sure that stock is delivered on time, and monitoring the best selling items within the store to ensure availability for customers. Professionals sometimes hold an associate or bachelor's degree, and the BLS notes that the median annual salary for all buyers is $66,690.
Is an Online Fashion Degree Worth It?
In the business of fashion, a degree is not always necessary, but it is definitely worth considering. An associate or bachelor's degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising is intended to give you a solid foundation of knowledge and basic skill level on which to build your career. Before deciding whether a fashion degree is right for you, you may want to weigh the following pros and cons.
- A degree in fashion can lead to a variety of career paths. Those with fashion design skills can become clothing or accessory designers, textile designers, and pattern makers. Some of the possibilities for students interested in merchandising include marketing specialists, account managers, retail buyers, retail store managers, and visual merchandisers.
- Earning an online degree may boost your employment potential. The fashion industry has experienced a great deal of turbulence in recent years, and the BLS is predicting a declining job outlook for several occupations related to fashion. Competition for jobs in the fashion industry will most likely intensify, so having a degree may make graduates more attractive to employers.
- Online degree programs in fashion give students more school choices. By opting to enroll in an online learning program, students can choose from a wider selection of fashion degree programs that best fit their goals and budgets without having to relocate.
- Graduates may need to live in a fashion hub. In the U.S., the fashion industry is still concentrated in New York City, although Los Angeles has become a close second in recent years. Ambitious graduates may feel compelled to live in one of these high-cost cities to break into the fashion business.
- Online fashion students have to provide their own tools. In on-campus programs, fashion students usually have access to computer labs and sewing rooms where they can work on class assignments, often alongside other students in their programs. To engage in online courses, students must provide their own sewing machines and materials in addition to their computers.
- Online students may need to put more effort into networking. Success in the fashion industry relies heavily on professional connections. Online students may need to work harder at building relationships with peers and mentors through online discussion boards and other virtual forms of communication.
Deciding whether to pursue a degree in fashion — and whether to do so online — may take some introspection and careful consideration of your personal circumstances, such as your financial situation and family commitments. Prospective students must decide for themselves if the benefits they hope to receive are worth the investment of time and materials spent studying fashion in college.