Study Visual Merchandising: Online Degree, Major & Certificate Program Info

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What will you learn in a visual merchandising program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a certificate bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Visual Merchandising Certificate and Bachelor's: Degrees at a Glance

Visual merchandising is a creative field related to interior design. Professionals in this field are aesthetically trained to create displays of various products, such as artwork or retail merchandise. This can involve creating a display design plan, building display props and arranging objects. Positions in visual merchandising are available in a wide range of settings, including department stores, museums and art galleries. Note that a certificate or degree in visual merchandising will generally not qualify you for a career in interior design; professionals who specialize in interior design typically hold at least bachelor's degrees in the discipline and, in some cases, licensure.

Certificate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in merchandising or display design careers People interested in upper-level or management merchandising positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate 10th to 90th percentile salaries) -Display designer ($43,000-$83,000)*
-Visual merchandise manager ($31,000-$82,000)*
Visual merchandiser ($24,000-$61,000 with 1-4 years of experience)*
-Visual merchandising assistant ($31,000-$44,000 with 1-4 years of experience)*

-Career paths for the bachelor's are similar to those of the certificate, although bachelor's-holders may have greater advancement opportunities.
-Exhibit designer ($33,000-$71,000)*
-Visual merchandising director ($45,000-$134,000)*
Time to Completion One year Four years
Common Graduation Requirements -Around 9-12 courses
-Practical component, such as an internship or experience course
-About 40 undergraduate courses
-Practical component, such as an internship or field experience
Prerequisites None None
Online Availability Yes Similar programs are available

Source: *Payscale.com (January 2013 figures).

Certificate in Visual Merchandising

Certificate programs in visual merchandising are available through 2-year community colleges and vocational schools. Such programs prepare you for entry into the visual merchandising and display design fields. These programs generally take two semesters to complete and do not include general education courses; however, many schools allow you to apply the credits you've earned in your certificate program to an associate's degree program in visual merchandising, which would require you to fulfill general education requirements.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Only takes one year to complete
  • Curriculum tends to offer a hands-on learning component
  • Opportunity to use certificate credits to earn an associate's degree

Cons

  • May not qualify you for positions in museums or art galleries
  • Highly focused field of study may lead to a narrow range of career choices
  • Relatively low salary potential

Courses and Requirements

In a certificate program in visual merchandising, you'll focus on the practical aspects of design and its application in fields including retail, marketing and fashion. You might take courses in topics such as display planning, retail management, interior design fundamentals, marketing communications, fashion show production and trade show design. These programs may allow you to gain practical experience in the merchandising field through either a work experience course or an internship opportunity.

Online Degree Options

While available, online certificate programs in visual merchandising are rare. Select colleges and universities allow you to earn this certificate completely online or in hybrid format. Alternatively, if you're determined to earn your education online, you might choose to pursue a related certificate program in visual merchandising assistance or fashion merchandising, which are more readily available in distance-learning format.

Stand Out with This Degree

While earning your certificate degree in visual management, it may be beneficial to complete courses relevant to the technology used in this field. Visual merchandisers and similar professionals may, for example, use computer-aided design software, spreadsheets and graphics software.

Bachelor's in Visual Merchandising

Bachelor's degree programs in visual merchandising are available, but rare; however, many 4-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in general merchandising, which include studies specifically in visual merchandising. Compared to certificate programs, these bachelor's programs tend to focus more on marketing and retail merchandising than on fashion merchandising, and curricula tend to include research components.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can prepare you for advanced, higher-paying positions in visual merchandising
  • Allows for practical training through experience requirements
  • Broader scope of studies include general education, electives and major coursework

Cons

  • Bachelor's programs specific to visual merchandising are uncommon
  • Specialized major may not apply to a wide range of careers
  • Many visual merchandising positions do not require a 4-year degree

Courses and Requirements

During your studies in a bachelor's degree program in visual or general merchandising, you can expect to focus on the practical and theoretical aspects of display design. Course topics generally include visual merchandising, textiles, management concepts, marketing, accounting and finance, merchandise buying and retailing. Many of these programs also allow you to gain hands-on experience, either through a field experience or an internship. Additionally, select programs require you to complete capstone projects and attend seminars.

Online Degree Options

Degree programs in visual merchandising are generally not available online, although some colleges and universities may allow you to complete some of your general education or major coursework in distance-learning format. Alternatively, you might pursue one of the more commonly available online bachelor's programs in general merchandising or retail merchandising.

Stand Out

A degree in visual or general merchandising can prepare you for careers in a wide range of settings; however, if you know what environment you want to work in, you may benefit from taking coursework specific to that setting. For example, if you know you want to work with fashion retail, you can gear your electives toward the fashion side of the industry.

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