Graphic designers create layouts and concepts for print and digital sources. They use special software programs to design illustrations and create images that communicate a client's message.
A bachelor's degree in graphic design meets the education requirement for most entry-level careers in graphic design. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graphic designers earn a median annual salary of over $52,000.
Online graphic design programs train students in design fundamentals, layout, typography, and design software. Learning online makes earning a graphic design degree more accessible to many students, including learners who work full time. An online program also helps prospective graphic design students identify the most affordable graphic design programs.
Our rankings introduce the best online graphic design programs for 2021. This article also covers common graphic design courses, the career and salary outlook for graphic design graduates, and scholarships for graphic design students.
Top 5 Graphic Design Schools and Colleges
|#1||University of Florida Gainesville, FL|
|#2||Brigham Young University Provo, UT|
|#3||North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC|
|#4||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL|
|#5||State University of New York at New Paltz New Paltz, NY|
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The graphic design field communicates messages in visual formats. Advertisements, product packaging, and websites all rely on graphic design to create their visual look.
Full-time enrollees typically need four years to earn a bachelor's degree in graphic design. Transfer students and those who choose an accelerated program may graduate sooner.
Many graphic design schools offer degrees at the associate, bachelor's, and master's level. Each degree provides specialized training in graphic design and design software.
Yes. Online graphic design programs educate students in a virtual format. In these programs, distance learners complete coursework requirements online.
Graphic design and fine art both work in visual mediums. However, graphic design professionals typically create visual communications for brands or companies, while fine art professionals express individual creativity.
Best Graphic Design Schools and Colleges 2021
What are the best graphic design programs for 2021? Our list ranks the top programs to help prospective graphic designers find the right fit for their interests and career goals. We draw on reliable data sources to provide practical guidance on the most affordable graphic design program and the best online graphic design degrees.
With a scenic, state-of-the-art campus in Gainesville, Florida, UF offers a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) and a master of fine arts (MFA) in graphic design to equip students with foundational and expert knowledge of visual design.
UF requires BFA in graphic design students to complete 120 credits of coursework emphasizing ceramics, art and technology, painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and creative photography. UF also offers an MFA in design and visual communications and a 15-credit graphic design certificate to provide students with 21st-century competence in the design culture.
The school allows students to transfer up to 60 credits from a state college as part of the credits required for a UF degree. Applicants must complete the UF application form, submit their student self-reported academic record, and pay a nonrefundable $30 application fee. The University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Located in Provo, Utah, BYU is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU offers a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in graphic design for students wanting to create design solutions and communications across multiple platforms.
Students of this BFA program must complete 73 credit hours of coursework to earn their degree. BYU's graphic design program provides students with a simulated professional studio experience and integrates courses on typography, motion, interactive design, branding, illustration, art, and history.
Interested applicants must first declare their pre-major intent, complete a prerequisite course, and submit an online portfolio. Upon admission to the pre-BFA status, students can apply to the graphic design BFA program after completing three foundational courses in design, media design, and typography. Brigham Young University-Provo is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
A public research university based in Raleigh, North Carolina, NC State's College of Design offers graphic design programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
NC State's bachelor of graphic design program requires students to take a six-credit core studio and a three-credit corequisite typography studio for three consecutive semesters in their sophomore and junior years. Students of the master of graphic design program must complete 48 credits of coursework, including a six-credit final project in their last semester.
Applicants to NC State's graphic design programs must fill out the common or coalition application forms and upload an online portfolio and a design essay to the wolfPAW platform. Portfolios must include at least 10 images and need not to be major-specific. North Carolina State University at Raleigh is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A state university based in Champaign, Illinois, Illinois offers a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design for students wanting to learn contemporary practices and research methods in graphic design.
Illinois' graphic design BFA program requires students to complete 122 credit hours within four academic years. The graphic design curriculum requires 13 core courses, including intensive lessons in typographic practice, advanced interaction design, type and image, and design methods. Competitive graduates of Illinois' graphic design BFA program now work in design studios, multinational advertising agencies, and startup consultancies.
Interested applicants must complete an application form and submit all transcripts of records, including ACT or SAT scores. Upon successful evaluation of academic records, applicants must submit a digital portfolio of their creative work that includes 10 JPEG images. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Located in New York City, New Paltz offers a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in graphic design that prepares students for an advanced career in professional design practice.
The graphic design curriculum at New Paltz integrates a cross-disciplinary practice with skills and concepts drawn from communication, media, psychology, sociology and anthropology, and fine arts. Students learn in a hybrid studio-and-seminar format, practicing independent and collaborative work.
New Paltz allows up to 12 transfer credits, equivalent to first-year foundation courses. Credits for other studio courses are determined by portfolio evaluation. Prospective BFA students must submit a portfolio of their creative works and complete an interview. The State University of New York at New Paltz is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Career and Salary Outlook for Graphic Design
Graphic designers benefit from a strong career and salary outlook. The median salary for graphic designers exceeds $52,000 per year, with the highest-paid graphic designers earning over $89,000 annually. While the BLS projects a slight decline in graphic design jobs between 2019 and 2029, the field will still employ a projected 270,000 employees by 2029.
Graphic designers perform many duties, including selecting text and images, working with art directors to bring concepts to life, and creating layouts in Adobe InDesign or Illustrator. Some graphic designers specialize in areas like product packaging or publishing. They often work in advertising, media, and public relations.
A graphic design degree also prepares graduates for careers as web designers, UX/UI designers, or multimedia artists. In these fields, graphic design graduates apply their creative and technical training to create the visual look of websites, design 3D animations, and build user-friendly platforms.
Graphic designers also advance their career by moving into art director positions. Art directors create visual concepts and oversee teams of graphic designers. The median annual salary for art directors exceeds $94,000.
|Lowest 10%||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10%|
|Less than $30,810||$52,110||More than $89,210|
Accreditation for Graphic Design
Prospective graphic design students should always choose an accredited school. Accredited institutions follow the best practices for educating students and granting degrees. Students at accredited schools also qualify for federal financial aid programs.
Applicants should look for regional accreditation when researching a graphic design college or graphic design university. The National Association of Schools of Art & Design grants accreditation to graphic design schools. Learn more about why accreditation matters in our accreditation guide.
Courses in a Graphic Design Program
Graphic design programs train students to create visually engaging material that communicates a message. At a graphic design school or a graphic design college, undergraduates take courses in typography, print design, digital design, and packaging design. Many programs also offer specializations like web design or UX/UI design.
Most bachelor's programs in graphic design also include general education requirements to strengthen communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Depending on the program, graphic design majors may complete an internship or senior project to strengthen their career-ready skills.
This section includes a sample curriculum for a graphic design program. While the course requirements and descriptions vary by school, most programs include these classes.
Introductory courses examine the field of graphic design and the role of visual communications in different industries. Students learn about advertising, web design, print design, and other fields that rely on design training. The course also introduces learners to key software programs such as Photoshop and InDesign.\n
Typography represents a core part of visual communication. In typography courses, students examine the history of type, text-based communication, and selecting typographic elements. Learners may also design their own typeface and evaluate typographic designs based on their readability and user experience. The course prepares print and web graphic designers to incorporate text in their designs.\n
Graphic design students learn to design visual content for websites. The course introduces programming languages like HTML and CSS. Learners strengthen their technical skills while creating prototypes and using software programs to create websites. Topics such as user-focused design, web design testing, and design critiquing strengthen the skills necessary for careers in web design.\n
User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design examines the contact between consumers and products. Learners study how to identify user needs and apply data to improve user experience. The course also covers content strategies, design concepts, and usability metrics. Students may create a final project that applies their UX/UI design knowledge.\n
In packaging design courses, graphic design majors learn to create commercial packaging. The course covers the development of a concept, layout and prototyping, and form choices that consider user experience. Students also consider sustainability and brand messaging in package design. These skills prepare graduates for careers in advertising and marketing.\n
Scholarships for Graphic Design
Graphic design students may qualify for multiple scholarships to fund their degree. Professional associations, private foundations, and private companies all support future graphic designers through scholarships. In addition to the following scholarships, graphic design majors should research opportunities based on their specific field, career goals, and state. Colleges and universities also award scholarships to students.
Who Can Apply: PGSF offers multiple scholarships for full-time and part-time students. Applicants must major in printing or graphics and must submit official transcripts showing a minimum 3.0 GPA and two recommendation referrals. Students at technical schools also qualify.
Who Can Apply: The Iowa Newspaper Association awards a scholarship for students studying graphic design, photojournalism, or a related field. Applicants must attend a college or university in Iowa, Illinois, or Wisconsin. The scholarship amount varies depending on the fund's growth.
Who Can Apply: Dolphin Galleries sponsors this annual award for students in good academic standing. Applicants must pursue or plan to pursue an arts-related degree at an accredited college or university. Applicants must submit a digital portfolio featuring five of their best pieces that relate to the expression of culture in the modern age. They must also include a 100-word description of each piece.