Fashion Design Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Class Info

About this article
What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in fashion design? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and fashion design degrees.
View available schools

Study Fashion Design: Degrees at a Glance

If you have a creative eye for design and a love of all things fashion, an associate's or bachelor's degree program in fashion design can help you learn the skills you need to pursue a career in the fashion industry. However, keep in mind that fashion design is a highly competitive profession. Formal education may help you stand out, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected little or no overall growth in the number of fashion design jobs between 2010 and 2020.

The good news is that career prospects will vary depending on the area in which you'd like to work. The number of fashion design jobs in the apparel manufacturing industry is expected to decline by nearly 60%, but the BLS anticipated a 40% increase in jobs at specialized fashion design companies.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to learn the skills necessary for employment in the fashion industry Students who want a more in-depth introduction to fashion design than what's provided by the typical associate's degree program
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) Experience may be necessary for some of the following positions. An associate's degree is helpful, but usually not required:
- Fashion designer ($74,000)*
- Patternmaker ($45,000)*
You may qualify for the same careers as associate's degree holders, as well as the following jobs:
- Art director ($96,000 - additional experience is required)*
- Retail buyer ($57,000 - additional training in business may be required)*
- Fashion editor ($51,000 - formal training in communications or journalism may also be necessary)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credit hours
- Portfolio review
- Around 120 credit hours
- Internship
- Portfolio review
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED - Same as the requirement for the associate's degree
Online Availability Yes, but rarely Same as for associate's degree

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Associate's Degrees in Fashion Design

Associate's degree programs in fashion design intend to provide you with the creative, business and technical skills needed for entry-level careers in the fashion industry. Upon graduating, you'll know how to identify elements of fashion, draft patterns, construct garments and develop and appraise original designs. Such programs may also give you the opportunity to display your designs at campus-based fashion shows.

Although the focus of your degree program will be fashion, don't forget that you'll also need to complete general education requirements to earn your degree. You'll most likely need to complete courses in English, mathematics, business or accounting and the social sciences.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Formal education in fashion design can improve your career prospects in this field
  • Enrolling in a degree program can give you a good opportunity to build your design portfolio, which is important for getting a job as a fashion designer
  • You may have the chance to gain exposure by participating in school-sponsored fashion shows

Cons

  • Formal education is not required for most jobs in the fashion industry
  • The typical job placement rate for associate's degree in fashion design graduates varies from about 40% to 70%*
  • It will usually take 2 years to complete a full-time associate's degree program in fashion design

Source: *Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), 2004-2012.

Courses and Requirements

The coursework you complete for an associate's degree program in fashion design will be a combination of fashion- and business-oriented classes. They teach you how to use modern technology and computer software to draft and design patterns for garments. Some general courses you can expect to take in an associate's-level fashion design program include:

  • Drawing and design
  • Apparel design
  • Patternmaking
  • Fashion illustration

Some associate's degree programs also require you to put together a portfolio that is assessed for credit before your degree is awarded. Your portfolio will include a collection of original garment designs you've created, and you can also present it to potential employers at interviews.

Online Availability

Since fashion design is such a hands-on skill, online associate's degree programs are rare. However, if you do enroll in an online program, you'll participate in web-based discussions, learn through interactive multimedia presentations and even upload audio critiques of your own and others' work. You can also fax or email design ideas to your professor and receive feedback online; however, you might not get the same hands-on experiences as campus-based students, and it will be difficult for you to participate in campus-based activities, like fashion shows. While a distance learning program can be a good option for aspiring fashion designers who are too busy to attend on-campus classes or who don't live near a school that offers a suitable program, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of earning your fashion design degree online.

Stand Out With This Degree

Consider applying for internships outside of school to continue expanding on the skills you learn through your coursework. Internships will provide you with the opportunity to apply your skills in the real world and will give you the chance to learn tricks of the trade from professionals in the fashion industry. They may also allow you to build a network of contacts that will become valuable when you enter the job market.

Another way to stand out is to practice making your own clothing in addition to the garments you construct for class assignments. Make your own clothing to wear in day-to-day life or make garments for friends and family members. By doing so, you're taking advantage of the chance to put your work on display for the public for free - you never know who might notice one of your pieces and take an interest in your work!

Bachelor's Degrees in Fashion Design

Bachelor's degree programs in fashion design include many of the same courses as associate's degree programs, but they offer more in-depth training in patternmaking, garment construction and draping techniques. Because they're usually twice as long, you'll have more time to learn about the history and evolution of fashion, the principles of business and how to utilize technology for more efficient garment design and construction. As with the associate's degree, you'll also be required to take general education courses in math, English and the humanities.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A bachelor's degree program in fashion design will give you a deeper and broader introduction to fashion design than an associate's degree program
  • Some programs are affiliated with study abroad programs and design houses, so you may have the opportunity to study fashion design overseas or intern with a well-known designer or company
  • You may have the chance to take additional business, accounting and marketing courses, which can be invaluable if you want to become a self-employed designer

Cons

  • Earning a bachelor's degree is costly, and it normally takes 4 years
  • While earning a bachelor's degree can improve your career prospects, you'll still be entering a challenging job market in a competitive profession
  • A bachelor's degree isn't required for most fashion design jobs

Courses and Requirements

While pursuing your bachelor's degree in fashion design, you'll take a diverse set of courses to provide you with a comprehensive overview of how designs are developed and how the fashion industry works. You will be introduced to the concept of the fashion cycle and also study how psychology influences consumer behavior. In addition, you may take courses like these during your bachelor's degree program:

  • Fashion design evolution and history
  • Clothing construction
  • Fashion marketing
  • Textiles and draping

In addition to the required coursework, most bachelor's degree programs also require a portfolio review and an internship before a degree is granted. Your portfolio will contain samples of designs you have drawn and finished garments you have created throughout your time in the program.

Online Availability

In rare instances, bachelor's-level fashion design programs can be completed online. Such programs offer the benefit of flexible scheduling, but they do not provide face-to-face interaction with faculty mentors. Additionally, you may not have access to the same design equipment and practical experiences that would be available if you attended a campus-based program.

Stand Out With This Degree

If your program doesn't require an internship, completing one is still a good idea. In addition, you should participate in any campus-based fashion shows held by your program. If your school doesn't have a show, consider organizing your own. It's also a great idea to take advantage of opportunities to build your design portfolio. You could offer to design a wedding or prom dress for a friend or family member, or even contribute a design idea if one of your school's sports teams is adopting new uniforms.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AS in Fashion Merchandising
      • AS in Fashion Merchandising
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Fine Arts
      • A.S. General Studies - Fine Arts
  • Ventura, CA

    Ventura College

  • New York, NY

    The New School

  • Seattle, WA

    The Art Institute of Seattle

  • Philadelphia, PA

    The Art Institute of Philadelphia

  • New York, NY

    The Art Institute of New York City

  • Saratoga, CA

    West Valley College

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL

    The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale

Featured Schools

Southern New Hampshire University

  • AS in Fashion Merchandising

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • A.S. General Studies - Fine Arts

What is your highest level of education?

Ventura College

The New School

The Art Institute of Seattle

The Art Institute of Philadelphia

The Art Institute of New York City

West Valley College