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Advanced Fashion Degrees: Are They Worth It?

Written by FS StaffJanuary 16, 2016

Most creatives understand that it takes a heck of a lot more than talent to get noticed. This is especially true when you’re out there competing with thousands contenders for a coveted position at a top fashion company. While it’s true that some fashion designers have managed to defy the odds and become household names, these fashion icons are truly the exception. In today’s fashion industry formal training matters, with most fashion companies looking favorably upon applicants with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Yes, the higher you go when it comes to education, the better you stand to make. In fact, according to “Education Still Pays,” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this applies to every industry in the U.S. today—even the creative ones. The Bureau released a number of reports last year that charted median weekly earnings by educational attainment. Please note that figures differed slightly report-to-report, but certainly not enough to arrive at vastly different conclusions. One report released January 23, 2015, TED: Ted Economics Daily, Median Weekly Earnings by Educational Attainment showed that median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers age 25 and older with less than a high school diploma were $488.

The median for workers with a high school diploma only (no college) was $668 per week, for those with some college, but no degree the average was $727 per week, and for associate’s degree holders the median was $777 a week. For those with at least a bachelor’s degree the median was $1,193 per week. The average salary for master’s degree holders was $1,386 per week, around $1,623 for doctoral degree holders, and roughly $1,714 per week for professional degree holders.

Did You Know.... Academy of Art University’s School of Fashion offers BFA's in Fashion, Fashion Merchandising, Textile Design, Fashion Marketing, Fashion Styling, Costume Design, and Fashion Product Development. Learn more.

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So, according to the report, associate’s degree holders can expect to earn just over $100 more per week than those with a high school diploma, and bachelor’s degree holders can expect to earn around $400 more a week than associate’s degree holders do. Master’s degree holders make around $200 more a week than bachelor’s degree holders do, and doctoral degree holders earn nearly $250 more a week than master’s degree holders do. Those with a professional degree earn around $90 more and $328 more than doctoral degree and master’s degree holders do, respectively.

In the fashion industry, fashion designers can expect to earn a median salary of $64,030 per year. The lowest paid designers earn around $33,260 to $44,790 per year and the highest paid designers average $89,180-$129,380 per year. Note that fashion is a massive industry with possibly hundreds of specialty areas. This means there are literally thousands of positons to fill from fashion design, fibers, and textiles to merchandising and management. For leadership and highly technical positions, an advanced degree is almost a must.

Besides higher salaries, people with degrees enjoy significantly lower unemployment rates. The unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma is a staggering 11% and the rate for individual’s with a high school diploma is 7.5%. For those with some college to a doctoral degree, unemployment figures are as follows:

Some College, No Degree – 7%

Associate’s Degree – 5.4%

Bachelor’s Degree – 4%

Master’s Degree – 3.4%

Professional Degree – 2.3%

Doctoral Degree – 2.2%

Advanced Degrees in Fashion

So, we know that a bachelor’s degree is often the minimum requirement to land a respectable position in fashion. We also know that employers have raised the bar significantly over the years, and they now expect potential candidates to have more experience and higher education. The questions you might be asking now are, “what are the different types of advanced fashion degrees” and “where can I find them?” Well, thanks to the increased demand we’ve talked about, advanced fashion degrees are a common option at literally hundreds of traditional colleges and universities, art and design schools, and fashion institutes across U.S. and abroad. Even better is, most of the nation’s top design schools offer advanced degrees in many of the most in-demand areas of fashion. The following are just a few:

  • California State University-Los Angeles: MA Fashion and Textiles
  • California State University-Northridge: MS Apparel Design and Merchandising
  • Cornell University: MA, PhD Apparel Design, MS, PhD Fiber Science, MPS Design (in development)
  • Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT): MA Fashion and Textile Studies, MFA Illustration
  • Fontbonne University: MS Human Environmental Sciences, Concentration-Apparel Studies
  • Heriot Watt University (UK): PhD Textiles and Design
  • LIM College: Master of Professional Studies (MPS) Fashion Supply Chain Management, Fashion Photography, Fashion Merchandising & Retail Management, and Visual Merchandising
  • Louisiana State University: PhD Textile Science, Apparel Design, or Merchandising
  • Ohio University: MS Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising
  • Parsons The New School: MFA Fashion Design and Society
  • RMIT University (Australia): PhD Fashion & Textiles
  • San Francisco State University: MS Apparel Design & Merchandising
  • Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD): MA, MFA Fashion
  • The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC): MDes Fashion, Body and Garment
  • University of California-Davis Arts: MFA Fashion Design
  • University of Delaware: MS Fashion and Apparel Studies
  • University of Kentucky: MS Merchandising, Apparel & Textiles
  • University of Minnesota: MA, MS, PhD Design, Housing and Apparel
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln: MS Textiles, Merchandising & Design
  • University of North Texas: MFA Design, Concentration-Fashion Design
  • University of the Incarnate Word: MA Fashion Management, Major-Fashion Design

To review other fashion schools and their advanced degree offerings, take a look at our 2015 Fashion School Rankings or browse our fashion school directory.

"Earnings and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
"Education Still Pays: Career Outlook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sept. 2014. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
"Employment Rates and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment." National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences, May 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. 
"Fashion Designers." Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
"Graduate Programs in Textiles, Apparel and Related Fields." Graduate Programs. International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA), n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
"Median Weekly Earnings by Educational Attainment in 2014 : The Economics Daily: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics." TED: The Economics Daily. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 23 Jan. 215. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
"Top 50 Fashion Design Schools and Colleges in the US – 2015." Top 50 Fashion Design Schools and Colleges in the US – 2015. FashionSchools.Org, 2 June 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.