Affordable Graphic Design Degrees

Scroll down to see the most affordable graphic design degrees, as well as info on the different types of graphic design degrees and graphic design program accreditation.

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School Rankings

1

University of Illinois at Chicago

UIC's School of Design offers a Bachelor of Design (BDes) program with two major areas of study - Graphic Design and Industrial Design. Students admitted to the Graphic Design program gain proficiency with digital technology through exposure to design practice, design culture and critical observation. There is also a two-year Master of Design (MDes) in Graphic Design program available. This is a globally oriented program delivered in Chicago and in Basel, Switzerland. Chicago-based students participate in the Basel School of Design summer workshops. Students are required to complete an independent master's research project and to stage a public exhibition of the same project.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 96.8

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

29,048 Students

2

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

The Department of Design, Housing & Apparel at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities is part of the College of Design. The department offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Graphic Design program that includes courses in the fundamental aspects of visual studies as well as in modern design methods and theory. Students admitted to the program are required to complete an internship program. The department also offers Master of Arts (MA), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Design programs that allow students to choose a Graphic Design Track. These graduate programs focus on design theory, process and methods as they relate to design practice and research.

CAG Score 96.6

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

50,678 Students

3

SUNY College at Oswego

The Art Department of SUNY Oswego offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Graphic Design that include specific attention in print media, web design, and multimedia design. Students have access to state-of-the-art computer work stations in a hands-on studio environment and can opt to specialize in a number of areas such as animation, book arts and illustration, three-dimensional modeling, or videography. Students pursuing the Bachelor of Arts (BA) program can also choose Graphic Design as their major. The BA program gives students greater opportunities for multiple or interdisciplinary studies in different programs across the campus. The SUNY Oswego Art Department is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 96.5

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

7,937 Students

4

Appalachian State University

The Department of Art at Appalachian State University offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, as well as a Bachelor of Science and a minor in graphic arts and imaging technology. The BFA curriculum includes 21 credits in studio art, 12 credits in art history/criticism and 24 credits in graphic design studios. The Bachelor of Science degree in Graphic Arts and Imaging Technology is offered in three concentrations: print production, packaging production and cross media production. The BS program curriculum includes 25 credits of core courses and 15 credits of concentration courses. The Department of Art offers several scholarships, including the Eva H Burress Memorial Scholarship and the Jaroslav and Jarmelia Kabatnik Memorial Scholarship.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 96.4

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

17,932 Students

5

Wayne State College

Wayne State College's Art and Design Department offers Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in graphic design that are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. The graphic design curriculum includes 15 credits of art core courses and 41 credits in the graphic design concentration. Graphic design concentration courses cover subjects such as introductory and intermediate graphic design, typography and animation, art history, web design, production and interactive media. Students are also required to complete a senior portfolio and an internship. Additionally, art students can participate in the Department's honors program.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 96.2

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

3,431 Students

6

State University of New York at New Paltz

Students seeking a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from SUNY New Paltz receive a cross-disciplinary education that includes elements taken from communication and media, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and fine arts. Classes are delivered in a hybrid studio/seminar format and include lectures, discussions, demonstrations, work periods, and critiques. The program also includes field trips to museums, lectures, and design studios. To enter the B.F.A. program, students must present a portfolio for review. Students who want to work an internship in graphic design may receive academic credit for the internship. Extracurricular activities of interest to graphic design students include the Design Society, which is a club for design students, and the Student Art Alliance.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 96.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

7,751 Students

7

Ferris State University

Ferris State University offers an Associate of Applied Science and a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design through its College of Business. The AAS in Graphic Design provides students with a foundation of knowledge in design and technology that prepares them for further study in a bachelor's program or work as a design assistant. Students are not required to submit a portfolio for admittance into the AAS program. The BS curriculum includes 11 major courses that teach students about communication design, visual communication. BS students prepare a print and digital portfolio as part of their major requirements and must pass a portfolio review their sophomore year.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 96.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

14,715 Students

8

Iowa State University

Iowa State University's Graphic Design Department offers a BFA in Graphic Design, an MA in Art and Design with concentrations in graphic design and environmental graphic design and an MFA in Graphic Design. The BFA requires one year of pre-professional core courses and three years of professional graphic design courses. Students can also choose between a summer internship or a study abroad experience. The MA in Art and Design with a concentration in graphic design requires 30 credits of coursework, while the concentration in environmental graphic design requires 34 credits. The 60 to 63-credit MFA in Graphic Design includes a teaching practicum, thesis and optional internship. Scholarships available to graphic design students include the Art and Design Excellence Scholarship and the ASI Design Scholarship.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 96.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

35,714 Students

9

North Carolina State University at Raleigh

The Graphic Design Department at North Carolina State University grants bachelor's and master's degrees. At the undergraduate level, students learn about typography and take studio courses in a range of media, developing their skills through project-based assignments. They can take a paid internship to gain experience and study abroad at the NC State Prague Institute. Because the Graphic Design Department is part of the College of Design, they'll also interact with students majoring in architecture, industrial design, and architecture, which results in a creative cultural atmosphere. NC State has a two-year Master of Graphic Design for students with a relevant degree and experience and a three-year master's for those without a graphic design bachelor's.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 95.9

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

34,015 Students

10

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

UICU's School of Art + Design offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in graphic design. BFA students take a variety of courses such as typography and image making, contemporary practices, and the history of graphic design. Students choose an area of emphasis by choosing from an interdisciplinary selection of elective courses. They also have their own studio space and open access to modern facilities as well as production and output devises and equipment, such as laser cutters, 3-D printers, and computer labs. There is also an MFA in Graphic Design degree available. Minority and economically disadvantaged students can apply for the WorldStudio Foundation and AIGA - Scholarships in Art & Design. Award amounts range from $500 to $5,000.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 95.9

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

45,842 Students

11

University of Florida

The College of the Arts at the University of Florida has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Graphic Design program that is centered on a collaborative studio/classroom environment. The BFA program allows students to choose an area of emphasis: Art + Technology, Ceramics, Creative Photography, Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, and Sculpture. The curriculum focuses on concept development and application, professional development and the creation of a working portfolio. The college also offers a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Graphic Design degree. The program focuses on the academic study of graphic design and includes areas of design such as criticism, history, pedagogy and theory.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 95.9

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

50,645 Students

12

CUNY Queens College

The Department of Art at CUNY Queens College offers a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design with concentrations in communication design, interaction design, and animation and illustration. The BS in Graphic Design requires six credits of art history core courses, 33 credits of design core courses and 21 elective courses. Students in the program use industry-standard technology to study design as it relates to interactive, time-based, digital and traditional media. Admission into the major requires a portfolio review. The Department also offers minors in graphic design, digital graphics, animation and illustration, and digital moviemaking and imagemaking.

CAG Score 95.7

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

19,520 Students

13

Michigan State University

Through its Department of Art, Art History and Design, Michigan State University offers a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art with a concentration in graphic design, as well as a Master of Fine Arts with a concentration in graphic design. The B.F.A. in Studio Art is a professional degree program designed for students who intend to practice art or design as a career. The B.A. in Studio Art is a liberal arts degree program in which students complete less studio art courses and more humanities electives. Students who want to be admitted into the B.F.A. program must pass a portfolio review, which is not required for the B.A. program. Students in the M.F.A. program must complete a total of 60 credits, 30 of which must be in graphic design.

CAG Score 95.7

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

50,538 Students

14

Northwest Missouri State University

Graphic design majors at Northwest Missouri State University engage in experiential learning through classes, internships, and extracurricular activities. That experience pays off in the job market, with the department reporting a 93 percent placement rate within six months of graduation. Graphic art majors can work for the student-run, for-profit advertising agency called Big Shoe Graphics that does real work for real clients. At NMSU, tuition includes rental of a laptop and all textbooks, which the college estimates saves students more than $7,000 over four years. Graphic Art students can apply for several dedicated scholarships, such as the Donald and Dorothy Rice Scholarship, based on achievement and financial need, and the College of Arts and Sciences Study Abroad Scholarship.

CAG Score 95.5

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

6,593 Students

15

Weber State University

Weber State is one of just four Utah colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art & Design. Its Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, which is embedded within the Department of Visual Art & Design, is a 120-credit degree culminating in a capstone. Work from that final project is showcased within the Shaw Gallery on campus, and all students can vie for selection in the Annual Student Art Exhibition. The department awards 12 annual scholarships, including the Richards Scholarship in Art & Design for first-generation students who are overcoming major personal or financial barriers to attend college.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 95.4

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

25,955 Students

16

University of Northern Iowa

The University of Northern Iowa's Department of Art offers a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design. The B.A. program requires 48 major credits, including a foundations sequence, studio sequence, art history sequence and five concentration courses. Concentration courses include two required introductory courses in graphic design and three electives in subjects such as identity system design, digital image design, typography, publication design, web and interactive design, motion graphics and book structures. Students can also choose to take a course in portfolio preparation. Graphic design students are eligible for scholarships through the Department of Art, which provides awards up to $6,000.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 95.4

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

11,981 Students

17

Lyndon State College

Lyndon State College has two degree programs in graphic design, a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Arts. The programs share many courses, but BFA students are required to take some art history classes and have more requirements for their capstone. Students in either program can work an off-campus internship under the guidance of a professional graphic designer who acts as a mentor. The BFA program is eligible for New England Board of Higher Educational tuition discounts of about $6,500 per academic year for students from Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. The school grants the Lynda Morgan Visual Arts Scholarship each year to a graphic design student with good grades.

CAG Score 95.3

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,266 Students

18

Northeast Community College

Northeast Community College offers an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Applied Science in Graphic Design. The A.A.S. is 62-credit professional degree program that prepares students for job opportunities in graphic design after graduation. The A.A. is a 60-credit degree program designed for students who want to transfer to a four-year institution. Students in both programs take coursework in typography, drawing logic, design, digital photography, graphic arts and web page development. Students in the A.A.S. program also complete coursework in layout, digital prepress, package design and marketing. Additionally, A.A.S. students complete an internship and a graphic design capstone. Students in the A.A. program complete 25 credits of graphic design courses, with the remaining program credits dedicated to general education requirements.

CAG Score 95.3

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

5,051 Students

19

California State University-Fresno

The College of Arts and Humanities at the California State University Fresno offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Graphic Design degree through the Department of Art and Design. Students admitted to the program can choose from the following areas of emphasis: Graphic Design, Illustration, and Interactive Multimedia Design. The BFA in Graphic Design curriculum exposes students to the practice, principles, and theories of design and includes coursework in computer graphics, illustration, motion graphics, and typography. The department also offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Art that allows students to choose graphic design as their main area of study. This program focuses on the concept of design as information organization and the integration of technology into visual communication.

CAG Score 95.2

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

24,136 Students

20

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design offered at Cal Poly Pomona helps students to develop an understanding of design history and theory from different perspectives. Students are trained to keep up with changing technology and are given the opportunity to examine a wide range of visual communication problems and circumstances. The curriculum includes courses in lettering and typography, design and color theory, digital image design, technical illustration, graphic media and production, and web design. Students receive hands-on training in the use of a variety of graphic communication tools, including (but not limited to) drawing, photography, offset printing, and interactive media. Upper division Graphic Design majors may be considered for the merit-based Dian Divelbess Endowed Scholarship ($500).

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 95.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

23,717 Students

21

Longwood University

Longwood University's program leading to a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic and Animation Design focuses on real-world assignments to give students useable job skills. The studio/classrooms are equipped with the same design and animation software that professionals in the industry use, and many students work a related internship. One recent graduate had a paid internship at Nike for a summer, grabbing a position nearly 25,000 students applied for. Students also get to rub elbows with animators from around the world at Longwood's animated film festival. Graphic arts students are eligible for six Art Department scholarships, with all freshmen and sophomores eligible for a scholarship based on portfolio submission.

CAG Score 94.9

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

5,087 Students

22

SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill

SUNY Cobleskill has two graphic design technology degrees, Associate in Arts and Bachelor of Science. Students who earn the AA can easily move into the bachelor's program if they choose. Bachelor's candidates pursue a web design track or a video track, and all students get a foundation in designing for print. On campus, students use industry-standard hardware and software and facilities such as two Mac labs and specialized printers. They can augment their classroom training with on-campus or off-campus internships. Seniors complete a yearlong design project that is exhibited in the campus art gallery. Graphic design students are eligible for the Derwin and Annie R. Bennett Scholarship, with preference given to students in the Educational Opportunity Program.

CAG Score 94.9

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

2,441 Students

23

Minnesota State University Moorhead

Graphic design majors at Minnesota State University Moorhead work with current industry technology and learn up-to-date industry practices from faculty who are engaged in the industry. Students also get hands-on experience through off-campus internships, and many program alumni serve as mentors for current students. This accredited program concentrates on design-related coursework that prepares students for jobs, reflected by the 100 percent job placement rate. Upper classmen can reserve personal studio space, and all students have access to specialized equipment such as printers that handle vinyl signs, heat transfer, and large-format graphics. Graphic design majors are eligible for three endowed scholarships, one need-based, one talent based, and one based on extracurricular activities.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 94.9

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

5,844 Students

24

University of Wisconsin-Stout

UW-Stout's Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and Interactive Media features two concentrations: Communication Design and Interaction Design. Either one pairs well with the school's Master of Fine Arts in Design, which uses a blended delivery to appeal to working students. Several Stout University Foundation scholarships are earmarked for undergrads in the BFA program. The Group Leaf Graphic Arts Scholarship, for instance, goes to upperclassman Graphic Design majors with a 3.0 GPA or higher, while the Larsen Family Art Scholarship is for first-generation students with financial need.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 94.7

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

9,554 Students

25

West Texas A & M University

The Department of Art, Theatre, and Dance at West Texas A&M University offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. Graduates go on to successful careers as graphic designers in corporations, as freelancers, in non-profit organizations, and more. In addition to core classes and art foundation classes, graphic design majors will take 15 hours of graphic design classes, six hours of a B.F.A. senior project, nine hours of art history, nine hours of computer art, and nine hours of art electives.

CAG Score 94.7

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

9,489 Students

26

San Jose State University

The Design Department at San Jose State University offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design degree. Students are required to submit a portfolio for review in order to be admitted to the program. Once admitted, portfolio reviews are conducted at the end of each semester to determine a student's continuance in the program. The curriculum includes courses that cover a wide variety of topics such as visual communication and process, introduction, intermediate, and advanced graphic design, visual literacy, exhibition design and information graphics, and user interface and interaction design. All students must complete a professional internship in order to graduate from the program. The department also offers a minor in graphic design for non-design majors enrolled at the university.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 94.7

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

32,773 Students

27

University of Houston

The University of Houston offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. Courses taken in this program will provide students with a comprehensive understanding of graphic design through a diverse curriculum, including course work in design theory, methods, practice, and history. The graphic design program at UH has a low student-to-faculty ratio, which ensures a lot of personalized and individual attention for each student. Students in the program will work with design and community leaders in social gatherings, interdisciplinary project collaboration, and lectures. Students will take courses in art history, fundamentals (photography, drawing, computer tools in the arts, etc.), and the major concentration of graphic design.

CAG Score 94.4

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

42,704 Students

28

John Wood Community College

John Wood Community College offers a two-year Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in graphic design. Students accepted to the program learn about current design trends and how to create effective print and multimedia visual communications. The program provides extensive technical training using industry-based software and equipment and involves students in all aspects of the design process. The curriculum includes courses that cover a wide range of relevant topics such as desktop information management, graphic/photo manipulation, drawing fundamentals, design and color, and computerized illustration. Students who complete the AAS in Graphic Design program can take advantage of an agreement that JWCC has in place with the University of Northern Iowa, which facilitates the transfer of the degree to a four-year program.

CAG Score 94.2

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

2,016 Students

29

University of Central Oklahoma

The University of Central Oklahoma offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, and it is the largest graphic design program between North Texas and Kansas City. The design programs at UCO boast high hiring rates among graduates, particularly in the Oklahoma City metro area, Tulsa, Kansas City, Dallas, and other major markets. The Department of Design is the largest department within the College of Fine Arts and Design, and it has strong relationships with design firm throughout Oklahoma. There is an online portfolio from current OCU graphic design students that potential students can take a look at by visiting the website.

CAG Score 94.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

16,910 Students

30

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design degree through the Gwen Frostic School of Art. Students must submit a portfolio of their work for review during the spring semester of their freshman year in order to be considered for admission to the BFA program. The curriculum covers topics such as visual aesthetics, black and white as well as color photography, the history of art, design applications, and graphic form. Students accepted to the program study the theory, history, and practice of graphic design and learn to craft innovative solutions to a variety of modern design challenges. The university has established partnerships with a number of local and regional companies to provide internship opportunities for graphic arts majors.

Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation

CAG Score 94.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

23,529 Students

Graduates of graphic design programs create websites and advertisements. They format magazines, books and newspapers. They even help develop video entertainments, digital animation and mobile apps. In short, graphic designers have one of the most creative jobs in the corporate world.

That being said, it’s not a high paying profession. According to the BLS, the median pay was $44,150 per year in 2012. A slower than average job outlook (7%) is predicted for 2012-2022. However, employment of graphic designers in computer systems design is projected to grow 35% over same period. Experts predict strong competition for these positions.

To give you a leg up on the competition, we’ve put together this guide on affordable graphic design degrees. Discover why your portfolio is key to your employment prospects, learn about career opportunities and get the skinny on accreditation and certification.

Note: If you’re interested in becoming a professional artist, check out the info on BFAs and MFAs in Affordable Fine Arts Degrees.

Types of Graphic Design Degrees

Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design

An associate’s degree in graphic design is a 2 year undergraduate program that gives students a strong foundation in the profession. Associate’s programs are offered by technical schools, community colleges, universities and more. A high school diploma or the equivalent is required to apply.

One thing to check – if you are considering using this as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree, make sure your credits will be transferable to your chosen 4-year program.

Degree Options

  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Graphic Design: Often aimed at students who wish to go straight into the workforce upon graduation.
  • Associate of Fine Arts (AFA) in Graphic Design: Combines studio courses in art and design with liberal arts courses.
  • Associate of Arts (AA) in Graphic Design: Curriculum includes humanities courses.
  • Associate of Science (AS) in Graphic Design: Curriculum includes science and math courses.

The AFA, AS and AA are common choices for students who are working towards a bachelor’s degree. You’ll also find plenty of career-based degree programs that focus on a particular skillset (e.g. web design, interactive design, etc.)

Sample Coursework

In addition to general education courses, the curriculum will typically tackle the theory and practice of design. Sample courses might include color theory, illustration and computer graphics.

Your job prospects will live and die on the quality of your professional portfolio, so be sure the school is going to help you create one. In addition, look for courses that cover technical skills and industry tools, such as Adobe Creative Suite.

Career Opportunities

It can be tough to get a conventional entry-level job with an associate’s qualification, but you may be able to find work as a graphic design assistant or freelance designer. If you have outstanding portfolio examples, there’s nothing to stop you from offering your services as an independent contractor.

Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design

A bachelor’s degree in graphic design is a 4 year undergraduate program that provides comprehensive training in all aspects of graphic design and art. A high school diploma or the equivalent is required to apply. Depending on the program, you may also be asked to submit a high school art portfolio.

This is the baseline qualification for most jobs in the field. To improve your chances of employment, look for programs with internships/job training and great faculty currently working in the field.

Degree Options

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Graphic Design: Combines studio courses in art and design with liberal arts courses.
  • Bachelor of Arts (AA) in Graphic Design: Curriculum includes humanities courses.
  • Bachelor of Science (AS) in Graphic Design: Curriculum includes science and math courses.

You don’t have to have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design to become a graphic designer. Some graduates choose to pursue a related field (e.g. IT) that incorporates core courses on technology, art and design.

Sample Coursework

Your curriculum will depend on the type of degree you’re pursuing. A BFA will often include more studio work than a traditional BA or BS. However, almost all programs will tackle courses such as:

  • Drawing
  • Illustration
  • Color theory
  • Photography
  • Web design
  • Print design
  • 3D design
  • Commercial graphics production
  • Art history/theory
  • Typography

In addition to the standard curriculum, consider taking classes in business, marketing, writing and other useful skills. And be sure your program tackles popular software (e.g. Adobe Creative Suite) and computer programming languages.

Above all, concentrate on creating quality examples for your professional portfolio. You can garner these through classroom tasks, internships and volunteer work. Most students also use their senior year to work on a final portfolio project.

Career Opportunities

A great portfolio and a bachelor’s degree in graphic design will qualify you for entry-level positions in advertising agencies, design studios, web development groups and publishing firms. Or you may decide to start your own business. As we said in our introduction, the digital realm is where the demand will likely be in the future.

It is possible to go down the self-education route, but we don’t recommend it. A bachelor’s degree will reassure employers you know your stuff, increase your starting pay and make you eligible for more jobs. You may not get past the first round of applications without it.

Certificate in Graphic Design

A certificate in graphic design is a non-degree program that may take anywhere from a few months to a year to complete. Academic certificates typically fall into two categories (see below) and are often offered online.

You may wish to earn a certificate in order to explore a new career, develop your portfolio, strengthen an area of graphic design, improve your job prospects or earn course credits for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. If you’re interested in the last goal, be sure your credits will be transferable to your preferred degree program.

Certificate Options

  • Undergraduate Certificate: Available to holders of a high school diploma. Like the associate’s degree, these certificates are often an introduction to graphic design concepts and tools.
  • Graduate/Post-Baccalaureate Certificate: Available to graduates with bachelor’s degree. These certificates may help working professionals explore the graphic design field or improve their existing capabilities.

Sample Coursework

Certificates vary widely in their focus. There are introductory certificates designed for students with no art training and professional certificates that focus on specific areas (e.g. Certificate in the Business of Design). Some programs will have prerequisites for skills (e.g. Adobe Creative, basics in web design, etc.). Check the program website for curriculum details.

Career Opportunities

Talk with your mentors and peers about your career goals. Although a certificate does not have the same reputation as a degree, it might make you eligible for leadership positions or expand your career options. Someone with a BS in IT, for example, may find that a certificate can help him/her break into the design world.

Master’s Degree in Graphic Design

A master’s degree in graphic is a 1-3 year graduate program that focuses on research and advanced skills in graphic design. A bachelor’s degree is required to apply. Most schools will expect to see your undergraduate or professional portfolio as part of your application.

Not all master’s programs are the same:

  • An entry-level master’s is intended for those who hold a bachelor’s degree but don’t have a graphic design background.
  • A more advanced master’s is targeted towards those who already hold a bachelor’s in graphic design or fine arts.

Degree Options

  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Graphic Design – A professional degree focused on studio work, although it often includes liberal arts courses.
  • Master of Arts (MA) in Graphic Design – Structured like a traditional liberal arts degree, but incorporating aspects of studio work.

Check with each program to see how much studio work is involved.

Sample Coursework

Classes in a master’s program tend to delve deep into design theory and practice. For example, along with advanced courses in interactive design, branding, illustration and art theory, you might tackle important issues affecting your work (e.g. sustainability).

Most schools offer concentrations (e.g. branding, digital design, etc.) and insist that students complete a capstone project or thesis. Throughout this process, you will be refining and adding work to your portfolio.

Career Opportunities

Graduates with a master’s degree in graphic design run their own design companies, work as art/creative directors or chief designers and/or teach graphic design at the university level. An MFA is still considered a terminal degree in the art world (i.e. the highest qualification needed), although DFA proponents are growing.

Important Accreditations

Regional Accreditation

Whichever choice you make, we recommend attending a school with regional accreditation. This is a “seal of approval” granted to non-profit and public institutions by one of six regional accrediting bodies (e.g. New England Association of Schools and Colleges).

You can learn more about the difference between national accreditation, regional accreditation and diploma mills in Accreditation: Understanding the Difference Between Real Schools and Diploma Mills.

Benefits of Regional Accreditation

A degree with regional accreditation will make it much easier for you to:

  • Transfer credits (many regionally accredited institutions will not accept course credits from nationally accredited schools)
  • Apply for student loans, scholarships, tuition reimbursement and funding opportunities
  • Be accepted to regionally accredited graduate schools
  • Look good in the eyes of headhunters and recruiters

Regional accreditation only applies to the institution. For graphic design programs, you can also look for program accreditation from NASAD.

NASAD

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) establishes national standards for undergraduate programs, graduate degrees and related credentials for schools of art and design. It has approximately 323 accredited institutional members.

There are plenty of good graphic design programs that aren’t NASAD-accredited. However, the NASAD symbol will tell you that the program meets a certain number of quality standards.

Search for NASAD-Accredited Institutional Members

Voluntary Certification

IT Certification

Unlike architecture, where certifications run rampant, you won’t find design certification programs from associations like AIGA or the Graphic Artists Guild.

But if you’re looking for IT certification in hardware/software programs, you’ll be spoiled for choice. For example, some graphic designers choose to become an Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) or pursue CIW Web Design Certifications.

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