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Online Fashion Design Schools and Colleges: How to Choose

Online college programs in fashion can center on the design or merchandising areas of the industry, with many programs offering a mix of classes in both. Purely online fashion design programs are less common because design courses often require hands-on work with materials and models.

There are several online undergraduate degree programs available in the field of fashion design, but they vary in the award level, degree subject and course formats. Here students can learn more about these considerations and explore a few of the program and school options.

How to Select an Online Fashion Design School

Potential students can choose among online fashion design schools based on what subjects and degree levels they offer as well as how much of their content is online. These programs may be found at 2-year and 4-year schools, both for-profit and not-for-profit.

Award Level

Online fashion design programs are available at the certificate, associate's and bachelor's degree levels. Programs traditionally take a year or less for a certificate, two years for an associate's degree and four years for a bachelor's; however, some schools may provide accelerated schedule options. Aspiring students should consider the time commitment as well as their own career goals when choosing a fashion degree. An associate's degree program may prepare students for entry-level jobs in the field, while a bachelor's degree program can include more expansive study in design and business, which can lead to more job opportunities.

Degree Subject

Many schools offer online degree programs in fashion design or fashion merchandising, with some schools offering both. Design programs are available most often at art schools and include study of illustration, form and style. Merchandising programs focus on business management, marketing and product evaluation. When choosing an online fashion school, students can examine course listings to find a program with the right mix of design and business classes for their needs.

Course Formats

College fashion programs may be offered in online or hybrid formats. Online programs consist entirely of classes that can be taken from home, while a hybrid program includes a mix of distance and in-person classes. Because fashion design involves working directly with textiles, sewing machinery and computer design software, certain courses may only be available on campus. In addition, some programs may offer internships with fashion companies that require attendance. Students should research and compare school offerings to ensure all course requirements can be met.

List of Online Fashion Design Programs

Online Certificate in Fashion Merchandising

This program provides basic training in retail management and operation. Classwork consists of online and textbook readings followed by exams and class discussion through online school forums. Students take classes in:

  • Display and visual merchandising
  • Business planning
  • Principles of marketing
  • Computer usage and applications

Online Associate of Applied Science in Fashion Marketing

Fashion marketing programs can be found entirely online. Because marketers need to have a solid understanding of their product, classes in design and fashion history are also included. Students take a core curriculum of business/marketing-related courses, including:

  • Advertising principles
  • Importing and exporting
  • Human relations
  • Retail buying

Online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion

Students in this program learn to plan, draw and design fashions using a variety of materials and styles. Depending on the school, students may be able to choose from concentrations in areas such as textiles or knitwear. Courses also cover the industry as a whole, with topics such as:

  • Fashion trends and design
  • Consumer demand
  • Business economics
  • Product development

Online Bachelor of Science in Apparel and Merchandising

An online bachelor's degree program in apparel and merchandising provides a blend of study in fashion design, production and the retail market. Participants in online design courses may need to purchase copies of design software, such as Adobe Illustrator. Courses cover:

  • Product analysis
  • Apparel importing and exporting
  • Clothing and pattern design
  • Textile fabrication

Schools With Online Programs in Fashion Design

The New School provides a fully online or hybrid certificate program in fashion business that requires six core courses and two electives. Students study topics including consumer behavior, fashion history and retail buying This program prepares students for a variety of careers in the industry.

Southern New Hampshire University has an online associate's degree program in fashion merchandising that prepares students for entry-level careers in the field. The program totals 60 credits and allows 24/7 access to courses. Students must complete a sophomore seminar and fashion merchandising internship. SNHU also offers an online bachelor's program in fashion merchandising that totals 120 credits and requires a marketing internship.

The Fashion Institute of Technology offers an online associate's degree in fashion business management and an online bachelor's degree in international trade and marketing. The associate's degree program can be completed in one year for students who already have 30 hours of college credit. The associate's program does require an internship and capstone course for hands-on experience.

Online certificates, associate's and bachelor's degree programs in various areas of fashion design are readily available, but students need to consider the award level, degree subject and course formats before choosing a program. Many programs have different specializations and/or additional internship and in-person requirements.

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