If you want a career in fashion, the job outlook is good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that fashion designers earn a median salary of around $67,400, well over the national average for all other occupations. Even better, graduates with a bachelor’s in fashion can pursue a variety of careers outside the design field. For example, the BLS also projects an extraordinary 22% increase in employment for fashion designers working in the retail trade industry.
Fashion students learn about the history of fashion, business skills, visual merchandising, and how to use computer-assisted design programs.
With a fashion merchandising bachelor’s degree, you can become a buyer for a clothing retail company, an art director for a fashion magazine, an in-house stylist for a high-end designer, a visual merchandiser, or even a costume designer for films.
While enrolled, students learn how to forecast fashion trends and understand business skills. They study the creative elements of fashion, as well as the practical decision-making skills needed to select the correct textiles to achieve a desired look and meet a particular price point. This guide offers advice on how to choose the fashion merchandising bachelor’s degree that best suits you.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Fashion?
While you might already possess an interest in fashion or a knack for sketching clothing designs, a fashion merchandising bachelor’s degree can equip you with the necessary skills to land a job in the fashion industry. Fashion students learn about the history of fashion, business skills, visual merchandising, and how to use computer-assisted design programs. Students also study consumer psychology, merchandising, and the techniques and materials involved in constructing clothing.
Both high school seniors looking to enter college for the first time and working professionals with years of experience may opt to earn fashion merchandising bachelor’s degrees. Different types of degrees work better for people at different stages of life. A first-time freshman may prefer the traditional four-year, on campus college experience, complete with living in dorms and studying with groups of peers in the library. Students with families or working professionals may prefer to pursue an online degree. Distance learning programs often allow students to study part time and at their own pace, which allows them to easily balance their time and responsibilities. Online programs also more commonly offer accelerated learning formats.
Either way, pursuing a degree can help you gain a competitive edge in the industry. For instance, your professors might introduce you to their connections at clothing retail companies. Bachelor’s in fashion programs often require students to complete internships or gain other professional experience before graduation. In addition, possessing a bachelor’s degree in fashion design gives you an advantage over your uneducated competitors in the job search.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor’s in Fashion?
While fashion remains a fundamentally creative industry, many jobs in fashion also demand strict business skills. For instance, a manager at a clothing retail stores must understand concepts like profitability and sales. Purchasing buyers must make informed business decisions when choosing products for retail companies. Professionals working in fashion must also possess solid communication skills. For example, fashion journalists and editors must communicate clearly while meeting deadlines. Many fashion industry careers also require workers to master looking weeks, months, and even years ahead to stay on top of fashion trends.
- Fashion Designer
When you walk into any clothing store, you look at products conceived from the creative minds of fashion designers. These designers sketch garments, outfits, accessories, and footwear. They typically draw the designs by hand first and then use computer-aided design tools to help digitize the designs and turn the clothing into a physical object. This career requires a strong understanding of fabrics and other materials.
Median Annual Salary: $67,420
Projected Growth Rate: 3%
- Art Director
Art directors oversee the visual style of magazines and other publications, including fashion magazines, which serve as a huge part of the fashion industry. Art directors consider which photographs and other design elements to include when putting together a publication. Employers expect art directors to hold at least a bachelor’s degree and some professional experience.
Median Annual Salary: $92,500
Projected Growth Rate: 5%
- Fashion Editor
Fashion editors manage either entire publications or a specific section of a publication within the fashion magazine industry. This means they must keep up to date with fashion trends, oftentimes influencing the latest styles before they become popular. They assign, edit, and revise stories. Editors need a bachelor’s degree and often work in other roles in the fashion industry or as reporters before they become editors.
Median Annual Salary: $58,770
Projected Growth Rate: -1%
- Sales Manager
Sales managers usually work in retail and run day-to-day and long-term operations at stores. The position requires business and customer service skills. The job also involves visual merchandising, meaning arranging products thoughtfully and artfully in the store to compel customers to buy them.
Median Annual Salary: $121,060
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
- Purchasing Manager and Buyer
Buyers and purchasing managers obtain products for companies and specific markets. In the fashion industry, this means choosing clothing and accessories that the retailer then sells to consumers. These professionals must understand fashion forecasts and how high-end runway clothing translates to the typical consumer. Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree.
Median Annual Salary: $66,610
Projected Growth Rate: -3%
How to Choose a Bachelor's Program in Fashion
When pursuing your fashion merchandising bachelor’s degree, you invest multiple years of your life and a substantive amount of money into your education and career. You should not take this decision lightly. When choosing a program, you first need to research each program thoroughly to make sure you find schools that fit your career goals.
Cost remains one of the most important factors when choosing a program for many prospective students. Examine your own finances and evaluate what you can afford. Remember that the published tuition rates may not accurately reflect the amount you will actually pay. Scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options may make tuition more affordable. Consider whether you feel willing to take out loans, but remember that you must repay those loans after graduation. Also contemplate how long you want to stay in school. Although the typical bachelor’s degree lasts four years, you may also complete your program more quickly at schools with accelerated options. If you opt to enroll in courses part time, prepare to stay in school for longer than the typical four years.
Read through each program’s curriculum to see what classes each school offers. If you hope to focus in a specific area, such as visual merchandising or costume design, check to see whether your prospective program offers that concentration. Some schools maintain partnerships with certain companies that make internships easy to find. Other schools require students to complete a practicum or other work experience before graduation. Finally, think about whether you want to enroll in an online program or traditional on-campus program.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor’s Programs in Fashion
When researching fashion merchandising bachelor’s degrees, make sure to look for accredited programs. Accreditation serves as sort of a verification system for colleges, universities, and particular programs within them. Independent accreditation agencies verify that institutions of higher education meet certain quality standards. They evaluate the universities to ensure students receive a quality education. If you graduate from an accredited school, you hold a better a chance of securing a good job, qualifying for certifications, and getting into graduate school.
When doing your research, look for bachelor’s in fashion programs that hold specialized accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Some fashion merchandising or product development programs may alternatively hold accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. While these agencies accredit programs that fall within one subject area, the schools you consider should also hold accreditation from regional or national accreditation agencies.
Bachelor's in Fashion Program Admissions
The process of applying to bachelor’s in fashion programs may seem difficult and time-consuming. Understanding how the admissions process works, however, may make it less stressful. Admissions departments take applications seriously, which means you should devote ample time to each application you submit.
Some students overextend themselves by applying to too many colleges. Their essays become sloppy, typos and mistakes appear in the application forms, and applicants ultimately submit several unpolish applications instead of a few meticulous ones. Plus, if you’re applying to on-campus programs, you should visit each school in person if possible. You might not find time to visit all of your prospective schools if you apply to too many.
That said, you should choose one safety school, one dream school, and a few in between. If you apply to 3-7 schools, it becomes easier to find the time to fill out each application thoroughly.
- Minimum GPA: The minimum GPA requirement differs for every school. Some admissions departments require freshman students to hold a minimum 2.0 GPA, while others expect a 3.0 GPA. Transfer students must typically show a GPA of at least 2.75, though this requirement can vary as well.
- Application: The basic application requires students to fill out basic autobiographical information, educational background details, and past extracurricular and work experience. The application itself may not take up much of your time, but remember that writing essays and gathering additional materials may require months to complete.
- Transcripts: If you apply to programs directly from high school, ask your counselor about how to acquire and send off transcripts. If you aim to transfer or apply after acquiring your associate degree, you may need to pay a fee to each college you previously attended to get a copies of your undergraduate transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: Very often, admissions departments require a few letters of recommendation. Ask previous teachers who know you well and can attest to your work ethic and academic and personal achievements. Make sure to give your references at least a month to write the letters.
- Test Scores: Some schools do not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores, but most do. Most schools do not outline a minimum ACT or SAT score that students must meet in order to apply. Check with your preferred schools to find out what ACT or SAT score they expect to see.
- Application Fee: Although most schools require an application fee — usually around $50 — some schools waive the fee for applicants with financial need or military experience.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's Program in Fashion?
While researching fashion merchandising bachelor’s degrees, keep in mind that many details may vary based on the program. Some programs may take a broad approach, offering a general fashion degree, while others many offer concentration options so that students can specialize in a particular subfield of the industry, such as costume design. Prospective students should carefully consider their career plans and which type of program would best suit their professional goals. Below, you will find a general overview of what to expect from your degree.
|Fashion Styling||The fashion styling concentration prepares students to work as professionals who put together outfits for personal clients, magazines, retail companies, and other entities. This concentration builds students’ presentation skills and knowledge of aesthetic and style trends. It also helps students begin to create a portfolio that they can later use in the job search.||Personal Stylist; Editorial Stylist; Retail Stylist; Fashion Editor|
|Fashion Design||The fashion design concentration teaches students how to transform a two-dimensional fashion sketch into a fully formed three-dimensional garment or outfit. Oftentimes, this concentration requires students to complete an internship or professional work experience. Some schools further divide fashion design concentrations into focuses, such as textile design, knitwear design, or footwear and accessory design.||Fashion Designer|
|Product Development||A specialization in product development walks students through the entire process of creating a garment or accessory, from conception to selling. Students learn about how companies use trend forecasts to construct a product. They also study the sourcing, production, and marketing of a product. Many programs require students to complete coursework on the latest software used to create and sell products.||Purchasing Manager; Purchasing Buyer; Product Manager; Product Designer|
|Merchandising||Students who focus on merchandising learn how to use their skills to create presentations, photoshoots, or ad campaigns that convince consumers to buy their companies’ products. Covering concepts like branding and advertising, coursework in this concentration also includes hands-on practice creating displays in physical stores and virtual displays for online stores.||Visual Merchandiser; Store Planner; Store Manager; Merchandising Analyst|
|Costume Design||Students who choose to concentrate in costume design learn how to put together outfits for plays and film productions. The concentration emphasizes the history of fashion, so that costume designs for stories set in the past appear historically accurate. Students may also learn about complementary styling using stage and film makeup.||Costume Designer|
Courses in a Bachelor’s in Fashion Program
Each school offers a different selection of coursework in their bachelor’s in fashion programs. The courses you will take also depend on your concentration or what part of the industry you decide to pursue. Below, you will find a brief selection of courses you can encounter in most fashion degree programs.
- Fashion Illustration
Fashion designers must sketch out their outfits in great detail. This course trains students to draw the basic proportions of the human body and many different types of clothing. Illustrations that students make in this course may serve as a basis for students’ portfolios as they begin the job search.
- History of Fashion and Costume
In order to fully understand and appreciate fashion today, students must study the history of fashion. Students learn how fashion has evolved over the centuries and molded the industry into its current form. Students examine how silhouettes, shapes, and fabrics have changed in different countries and cultures.
- Trend Analysis and Product Development
Companies develop products that fit their target market to generate profit. This course takes a look at how companies use business strategies and forecasts to make these decisions in the fashion industry. In addition, the course explores how the fashion industry analyzes and determines style trends for the coming years.
- Textile Science
No matter what part of the fashion industry students end up working in, they must possess a thorough understanding of textiles. Courses in textile science cover fibers, fabrics, dyes, yarns, and weaves. Students study the materials that make up the textiles, and which textiles work best for which purposes.
- Merchandise Buying
This course delves into the business of merchandise at the retail level. Students learn about the basics of producing and providing clothing and other goods in the fashion industry. They consider marketing trends and style forecasts, and they study how retail buyers use this knowledge to make profitable decisions.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s in Fashion?
Most fashion merchandising bachelor’s degrees require 120 credits, which full-time students typically complete in four years. Some programs require a few more credits, often due to required internships or capstone courses.
That said, many other factors can impact how long it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree in fashion design. Some programs allow students to take extra credits each semester, or to bring in credits from dual enrollment high school courses, which may allow them to graduate early. Some students enter programs with an associate degree, cutting the time it takes to get a bachelor’s in half.
Other students — especially those who work full time — may enroll in fashion degree programs part time. Unsurprisingly, students who take on fewer credits per semester usually find themselves in school for a greater length of time.
How Much Is a Bachelor’s in Fashion?
The cost for a fashion merchandising bachelor’s degree can vary substantially depending on several factors, including your state of residence and if you choose a public or private school. According to the College Board, in-state students attending a public school pay an average of approximately $9,400 in tuition and fees per year, while out-of-state students pay around $23,900 annually at public institutions. Meanwhile, private schools charge an average annual tuition rate of $32,400. To add to that, students must also pay for textbooks and course materials, such as sketch pads.
Students who choose on-campus programs may pay additional costs, including residence fees, meal plans, technology fees, and parking pass fees. Students enrolled in online programs can avoid many of these costs, but they may be responsible for distance learning fees.
Although the cost of a degree may seem intimidating, students can research scholarships and financial aid options that can help them offset these costs. Students should check with their schools to see what sort of monetary help their program may offer. They can also research outside financial aid sources from companies or nonprofit organizations. Plus, students who hold veteran or active military status may receive specialized scholarships or tuition discounts.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor’s in Fashion Prepares For
- Certified Personal Shopper
Offered by the Fashion Stylist Institute, the personal shopper certification equips professionals with the knowledge to start their own personal shopping business. The certification course, which students finish in three months, goes over topics like how to measure clients, how to choose stores, and how to proportionally balance bodies of all shapes and sizes with clothing.
- Certified Fashion Stylist
The Fashion Stylist Institute also offers a certification for fashion styling. The certification course covers the history of styling, developing personal clients, facilitating body shape analysis, and color theory. The course lasts 12 weeks, and students work through it at their own pace.
- Certified Men's Image Consultant
The men’s image consultant certification course trains stylists to perform a 10-step consultation program to help men develop their own personal and flattering sense of style. Students can take up to 12 weeks to complete the course. Before they receive certification, they must finish one final exam, two final essays, and one niche market statement product.
- Master Sewing and Design Professional Certification
Administered by the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals (ASDP), this certification holds sewing professionals to high standards of workmanship. Evaluators judge students’ work in seven different areas, including fabric, fit, fashion illustration, and garment construction.
- Master Alteration Specialist Certification
The master alteration specialist certification from ASDP tests students on their knowledge fabrics, alteration techniques, and fit. Students must successfully pass five modules to earn their certification.
Resources for Fashion Students
ITAA’s professional development center enables job seekers to search for open positions in the industry. The center also lists workshops, study abroad opportunities, and various open calls for article submissions and contest entries.
Published quarterly, this peer-reviewed journal covers topics in textile science, merchandising, industry analysis, and the cultural and social aspect of dress. Example articles include the functional design of outfits, textile factories in the South, and the symbolism of wedding gowns.
USFIA publishes reports annually forecasting trends for the coming year. These reports cover textile sourcing and trade policy. Students may also look over past reports for comparative research purposes.
Hosted by the London College of Fashion, this research center promotes sustainable fashion, working with high-profile brands like H&M and Nike to improve their manufacturing practices. Founded in 2008, the organization funds and publishes research on environmentally friendly and ethical fashion.
This online publication provides news updates, articles, and investigative reports on industry topics. The site also offers fashion podcasts, videos, forums, and job listings.
Professional Organizations in Fashion
Students should consider joining professional organizations, even while they are still in school. Students and those already working in the field find these associations useful, as they provide opportunities to network and learn about current events in the industry. Many organizations provide continuing education courses, webinars, and workshops that help students and professionals hone their skills and stay up to date. These groups often produce publications that can prove useful for research. Professional groups also often run career portals, and some even offer scholarships.
Established in 1962, this professional organization includes over 500 American fashion designers. Board members include well-known names, such as Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, and Vera Wang. CFDA offers scholarship opportunities for students and hosts an online database of production facilities.
ITAA gives members access to its publications and discounted tickets to the association’s annual conference. The organization also hosts a professional development center for industry professionals seeking jobs or continuing education opportunities.
USFIA functions as a professional organization and a legislative advocacy group for the American fashion industry. Every year, the association publishes trend, trade, and sourcing reports for its members.
NRF includes members from several different industries within the large umbrella of retail trade, including merchandising. The group offers its members access to retail trade research and data, a career center, networking events, and webinars.
Dedicated to professionals who create, design, and sew garments, this association includes over 400 fashion students, business owners, and retirees. The association hosts an annual conference with workshops on sewing techniques and a members’ showcase runway show. The group also runs a foundation that provides scholarships to students.