Apparel Design Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in an apparel design program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Apparel Design Associate's and Bachelor's Degree Programs at a Glance

Apparel design associate's and bachelor's degree programs can prepare you for an entry-level career in apparel design or manufacturing. These programs teach the skills you need for a successful career in the field, through courses in illustration, fashion design and textiles.

An associate's or bachelor's degree in apparel design is not necessary for most positions in the field, such as fashion designer, costume designer or patternmaker, but it can help you stand out amongst the competition. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of fashion designers is expected to remain the same over the 2010-2020 decade, but talented individuals who have completed formal training and have strong portfolios should have the best job prospects.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People who want to learn the basic skills needed to enter the apparel design field People who want to master apparel design
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) -Fashion designer ($65,000)*
-Costume designer ($24,000-$70,000 - 10th to 90th percentile)**
-Patternmaker ($43,000)***
Career paths for a bachelor's degree are similar to those of an associate's
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability No Some courses might be available online

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (August 2012 figures), *** (August 2012 figures).

Associate's Degree in Apparel Design

Apparel design associate's degree programs teach you the basic skills needed for a career in apparel design. Upon graduation, you might be prepared for an entry-level career in the ready-to-wear apparel industry or as an assistant designer or patternmaker. Some programs focus more on the technical aspects of the field, such as patternmaking and apparel construction, so you may want to verify that a program's curriculum will help you meet your career goals before enrolling. These programs are often designed to help you transfer to a 4-year degree program.

Pros and Cons


  • Can take only 2 years to complete
  • Teaches a wide variety of skills (textiles, fashion illustration, industry practices)
  • May qualify you for an entry-level position in the apparel design industry


  • No job growth in the fashion design field (0% growth expected from 2010-2020)*
  • Major decline in the apparel manufacturing field (58% job decline from 2010-2020)*
  • Most jobs for fashion designers are concentrated in Los Angeles and New York so relocating may be necessary

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Apparel design associate's degree programs typically take 2 years to complete, and they mostly consist of apparel design-related subjects. These programs cover subjects related to both the production and design aspects of the apparel industry. Some programs may require you to complete an internship and create a resume or portfolio.

Here are some examples of courses you might take at the associate's level:

  • History of fashion
  • Apparel manufacturing
  • Fashion illustration
  • Textiles
  • Patternmaking
  • Draping
  • Apparel construction

Online Course Info

Due to the hands-on nature of the subject, online associate's degree programs in apparel design are not typically available. However, many schools offer related online programs, such as fashion merchandising or marketing. You may want to check with your program to see if it offers any individual apparel design courses in an online format.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

While obtaining your associate's degree, you may want to spend extra time on your design skills. A strong portfolio highlighting your best designs is very important to obtain work in this competitive industry. You may also want to consider completing extra internships independently, even if one is required by your program. The BLS notes that industry experience can help improve an individual's job prospects, so acquiring as much experience as possible can help you stand out from the competition.

Bachelor's Degree in Apparel Design

Apparel design bachelor's degree programs typically cover more in-depth apparel design and industry-related subjects than do associate's degree programs. Bachelor's degree programs might focus on marketing, fashion forecasting, mastery of apparel design and consumer behavior. They can prepare you for a position in fashion and apparel design, production or management. Some positions you may qualify for after graduation include apparel designer, technical designer, patternmaker and costume designer.

Pros and Cons


  • Covers a wide range of advanced apparel design subjects
  • May provide you with internship opportunities
  • You may have the opportunity to create a professional portfolio


  • Can take up to 8 years to complete with part-time study
  • A bachelor's degree may not be necessary for a job in the apparel design field
  • Experience and skill may be more desirable to employers than education

Courses and Requirements

Apparel design bachelor's degree programs generally take 4 years to complete if you are a full-time student. They typically cover advanced core courses in apparel design, illustration and textiles. You may also take various courses on industry practices, technology and marketing. In addition to coursework, you might be required to prepare a portfolio and complete an internship.

Here are some examples of courses you might take at the bachelor's level:

  • Fashion forecasting
  • Apparel design studio
  • Consumer behavior
  • Ethics
  • Fashion line development

Online Course Info

As with associate's degree programs, fully online bachelor's programs in apparel design are difficult to find. Technical classes, such as sewing and patternmaking, need to be taught in person. If you only want to complete part of your program online, you may want to contact your advisor to see if your school offers any individual courses in an online format.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

To stand out with this degree, you will need to compile a professional portfolio and complete an internship, even if they are not required by your program. You may also want to keep an eye on the latest fashion trends and stay up-to-date with changes in the fashion industry. Computer skills are important, so you'll want to familiarize yourself with computer-aided design programs and graphics editing software. You may consider taking elective courses in these subjects.

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