Best Online Associate in Fashion Programs

The world of fashion is exciting, fast-paced, and always changing. Earning a fashion design degree can help you kickstart a fulfilling career in this dynamic industry. The majority of professionals who work in the fashion industry report a high level of satisfaction with their jobs. They also tend to take home generous salaries, making fashion an especially desirable field to get into.

There are many factors that should be considered when choosing an online fashion degree program. This guide helps lead you through the important steps of selecting the right program for you.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 Northwest Arkansas Community College 73.00 95% Bentonville, AR

Located in Manchester, Southern New Hampshire University has significantly expanded its distance learning presence in recent years. One of the beneficiaries of that expansion is the school’s excellent associate of science in fashion merchandising program. The program requires 60 credits, and students usually graduate within two years, or four semesters. Upon graduating with their fashion online associate degree, students begin careers in entry-level positions in buying, visual merchandising, vendor relations, and sales. SNHU graduates find positions in both retail and wholesale environments.

SNHU’s fashion curriculum includes courses in design, color theory, retailing, and marketing, and each student must complete an internship experience in the field. SNHU makes this fashion education affordable, and the tuition rate is identical for in- and out-of-state students. Additionally, SNHU is transfer-friendly, allowing students to transfer up to 45 credits toward their associate degree.

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2 The New School 67.50 84% New York, NY

Located in the heart of the fashion world in New York City, the New School’s Parsons School of Design is one of the biggest names in the industry. The school offers its associate of applied science in fashion marketing program online, so distance learners can learn the business without traveling to Manhattan to study. The 65-credit program usually takes students about two years to complete, and includes summer study abroad opportunities in major fashion cities in Europe. Coursework also includes studies in color theory, merchandising, and fashion industry profiles.

Transfer students may apply up to 31 credits toward their online fashion degree at the New School. Students who transfer all 31 credits are eligible to enroll in the fast-track version of the program, where students earn their degree within two semesters. To qualify for the entirely-online program, students must have earned 21 credits toward the liberal arts, critical reading, and writing distribution requirements.

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3 San Joaquin Delta College 57.50 35% Stockton, CA

Located in Stockton, California, San Joaquin Delta College offers two online fashion design degree programs: an associate of arts in apparel design and an associate of science in fashion merchandising. In the apparel design program, students design and produce original garments, taking courses in textiles, basic industry sewing, and fashion illustration. Students must earn 60 credits -- including 31 major credits -- for an associate degree. Students in fashion merchandising complete coursework in fashion history, trend forecasting, and fashion event production. They also need to complete 60 credits -- 32 of which must be from fashion courses.

SJDC’s fashion graduates are well-prepared to jump into careers in the fashion industry. While SJDC delivers courses in the fashion program online and asynchronously through Canvas, the school does not presently offer it entirely online. Students should check course schedules each semester to see which credits they can complete online.

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4 Genesee Community College 55.50 46% Batavia, NY

Genesee Community College offers an online associate of applied science degree in fashion business with four concentration options: fashion merchandising management, e-commerce, event planning, and fashion design. Half of each program is offered online, meaning that students complete a combination of asynchronous online coursework and in-person classes on campus in Batavia, New York. Graduates are qualified to immediately enter the industry, but the strongest element of Genesee’s online fashion degree is its transfer agreements. After earning an associate degree at Genesee, students can transfer to four-year programs at big-name industry schools like Fashion Institute of Technology, Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, and Laboratory Institute of Merchandising.

The curriculum consists of 64 credits, and students usually earn their degree after four semesters (or about two years). Each student completes four courses in their concentration, including computer graphics, customer relationship management, business, and apparel design and draping.

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5 Mesa Community College 46.50 41% Mesa, AZ

Mesa Community College students in the associate in applied science in fashion merchandising and design program are able to complete their degree online. Aspiring merchandisers at the Mesa, Arizona school must complete between 62 and 64 credits to graduate, which they usually accomplish in around two years, or four terms. Coursework in the program includes studies in clothing construction, retail buying, and fashion retail merchandising, in addition to an internship in fashion. Mesa’s graduates are immediately qualified for entry-level merchandising positions in the fashion industry. Potential job titles can include retail buyer, personal shopper, fashion designer, and tailor.

Students wishing to enroll in Mesa’s fashion program submit an online application and complete a placement test that informs general education requirements. As a part of the Maricopa Community Colleges system, Mesa encourages students -- including distance learners -- to apply for scholarships that make the price of tuition more affordable.

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Every fashion online degree program has its own requirements, course offerings, and program options. While this guide offers some examples of what you can expect to encounter while earning a fashion merchandising degree online, keep in mind that the program you select may have some differences.

Curriculum for an Online Associate in Fashion

As mentioned above, depending on the school you choose, the available courses and specific graduation requirements may vary. However, the sample curriculum listed below includes a few common courses that are typically completed while pursuing a fashion design degree.

  • Basic Design: This entry-level course introduces students to the fundamental concepts of fashion design. Covered topics may include artistic elements (e.g., line, space, and color), how to select textiles, balancing color and texture, and how all of these elements impact the layouts of fashion advertisements.
  • Fashion Merchandising: This course covers the basics of how fashion is advertised, planned, and marketed. These topics are discussed with respect to different areas, including in catalogs, in physical retail store spaces, and on the internet. Students also learn how retailers plan their merchandising strategies and how these plans ultimately affect financial growth.
  • Textiles and Color Theory: This class covers important topics in fashion design. Students learn about fabric recognition, analyzing fibers, and various types of weaves. Color theory teaches distance learners to utilize color in their textile selections and how to conduct a detailed investigation of man-made materials.

How Long Does it Take to get an Online Associate in Fashion?

A number of factors affect how long it takes to earn your fashion merchandising degree online. Variables like the number of required credit hours, term length, and whether a program is cohort-based or individually paced impact how long it takes to finish your degree.

Associate degree programs generally consist of about 60 credit hours, making up about half of what is required for a bachelor’s degree. Depending on how quickly you get through these required credits, your program can take between 12 and 24 months. Enrolling part-time also impacts your graduation timeline, as you will be finishing degree requirements slower than a full-time student. Programs that allow you to take classes at your convenience also differ significantly from cohort-based programs, which require students to progress through the program at the same set pace as their peers.

Accreditation is a very important factor to consider when researching different fashion online degree programs. Accreditation is the process schools go through to prove that their academic programs meet certain standards set by different accrediting agencies and organizations. These organizations can award national or regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is more common and typically considered to be more prestigious. Credits earned from regionally-accredited schools are generally easier to transfer to other institutions.

Some programs may also have field-specific accreditation you can look for. For example, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design often accredits fashion programs. This organization accredits programs in fashion, film, art, and other kinds of design. Their website offers a searchable database that includes all of the schools and programs in the United States they have accredited. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation is another important accreditation agency to look for when researching schools.

Educational Paths for Fashion Associate Degree Graduates

Although earning an associate fashion online degree is a great way to start your education, you may want to consider eventually transferring your earned credits to a bachelor’s degree program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many potential careers in the fashion industry require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. Earning a bachelor’s degree can also significantly increase your earning potential; PayScale reports higher median salaries for individuals with more education and experience. The list below outlines a few different bachelor’s programs you might consider pursuing after earning your associate degree.

Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Fashion Design: Fine arts degree programs emphasize the artistic side of fashion. This degree is meant for students who want to design their own clothing, shoes, and accessories.

Bachelor’s of Arts in Fashion Merchandising: BA in fashion merchandising programs emphasize the financial and retail aspects of fashion. This type of degree program prepares students to work as fashion buyers, marketers, and advertising specialists.

Bachelor’s of Science in Fashion Business Management: A BS in fashion business management is similar to a BA in merchandising; however, since it is a sciences degree, it emphasizes finance and technology. This type of program prepares students to work in online marketing or online catalog creation and maintenance.

Career Paths for Fashion Graduates

While many graduates of associate degree programs go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in fashion, some enter the workforce directly. People in this field often describe their careers as fast-paced and stressful; thus, these professionals tend to have good time management and multitasking skills. There are a number of career options for individuals with an associate degree in fashion. A few of these are described below.

Retail Sales Workers

It can be beneficial for retail workers to have fashion-related knowledge, especially those working specifically for high-fashion retailers. Some of these employees work in upscale stores and help customers select and try on clothing. They may also be responsible for creating and setting up storefront and in-store displays.

Photographers

Individuals with a background in fashion may be interested in pursuing a career in photography. Knowledge related to color balance and theory is especially useful when composing photographs. These professionals sometimes work as fashion photographers, taking pictures for advertisements or catalogs.

Models

People with an interest in fashion may also enjoy going on the other side of the camera and working as a fashion model. These individuals may travel a lot and are commonly employed on a contract, freelance basis.

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Retail Sales Workers $22,900 2%
Photographers $34,070 -8%
Models $21,870 -1%
Customer Service Representatives $32,300 5%
Cashiers $20,180 -1%

Associate in Fashion Salary

In addition to your employer and experience level, your geographic location can have a large impact on your earning potential. When it comes to jobs in fashion design, certain states have higher average salaries than others. The table below features data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and shows which states pay the highest wages in this field.

Highest Mean Salary for Fashion Design by State

State Annual Median Wage
Massachusetts $88,390
Georgia $85,230
New York $83,980
Connecticut $77,330
California $76,370

Source: BLS

Financing your fashion merchandising degree can seem overwhelming, but you have many funding options to choose from. Your first step towards finding financial aid should be to fill out and submit the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The FAFSA tells you which types of aid you qualify for, including federal grants, scholarships, and student loans. Some fashion programs also participate in federal work-study programs to help students fund their degree; this could let you work in the field of fashion and gain experience while you take classes.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.