Earning an Online Web Design Degree

Program, Career & Salary Information

The following guide helps prospective students learn about online web design degrees and covers web design program curricula. It also considers popular careers and earning potential for professionals bachelor's degrees in web design. Successful web design students are typically artistic, creative individuals with an eye for visual design in digital media. Many use their degree training and credentials to sharpen their design skills and stand out on the competitive job market. A web design degree prepares students for careers in advertising, public relations, publishing, or other specialized design jobs.

Overview of Web Design Degrees

Web design refers to the visual aesthetics and design of web pages on the internet. Web designers create the layout and look of these pages. They work with various fonts, colors, and images to create visuals that fit the content on the page and their clients' desires. An online web design degree differs slightly from a degree in web development. The latter focuses on coding and interface development, which makes a website function correctly, and web developers tend to think analytically. Where web designers focus on aesthetics and visual appeal, web developers are more interested in how a website functions.

Most undergraduate online web design degrees take four years to complete. Programs vary in focus, and can be a bachelor of science, bachelor of arts, or bachelor of fine arts. Educational requirements for jobs in the web design field vary by position, but many companies prefer employees with bachelor's degrees. Web design professionals also enjoy a strong job outlook, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting 15% job growth in web design jobs between 2016 and 2026.

Application Process

Compiling a complete and competitive application for an undergraduate online web design degree requires several steps and planning. Most applicants must submit letters of recommendation from previous teachers, advisers, or other individuals who can speak to the prospective student's potential for success in academics and a future career. Ask your references to write your recommendation letters at least six months before the application deadline to ensure they have enough time to write letters.

Students should also plan ahead when acquiring official transcripts for their applications. High school students with no college experience should give themselves at least one month to obtain official copies of their high school transcripts. Applicants with college experience should start placing transcript requests at least three months before their application deadline. High school transcripts are usually free, but official college transcripts may cost $5-15 per copy. Transcript fees add to the application fees, which typically range from $50-100 per school.

Most online web design program applications require an essay or personal statement. Make sure to follow each school's individual essay guidelines, and avoid reusing application materials in their entirety. While you may reuse portions of your essays for multiple applications, work to tailor each piece to its respective program.

What Will I Learn?

Students pursuing an online web design degree learn the essential tools to create effective, modern websites. Web design students learn to be effective self-starters and work in creative, client-facing teams. Learners in these programs create aesthetically pleasing visuals and explore effective communication of design-driven ideas. They also learn to listen to clients' preferences and desires and work within budgets and deadlines. Additionally, web design students learn the languages of digital design, including typography, HTML and CSS, 2-D design, and ad layout.

Most undergraduate online web design degrees require 120 credits for graduation. These credits include roughly 30-35 major-specific, professional credits; 55-60 general education credits; and 25-27 credits for electives. Depending on your online program's course offerings and format, students can finish a web design degree in four years or less.

Web Media Essentials

This course covers critical tools for designers and programmers, including HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript. Courses in web media help designers become more independent and comfortable creating interactive components on websites. Web Media Essentials also covers audio and video topics, making this a useful, well-rounded course for all web design majors.

Javascript and Client-Side Scripting

This course covers basic scripting strategies for building interactive media using Javascript. Students learn to analyze web users' actions and make changes to interactive components of their design and layout accordingly. The course also covers important Javascript topics such as code placement, parameters, events and event handlers, and basic objects.

Business Writing

Web design students need to develop effective skills for both business and technical contexts. Students in this course learn about print and web formats common to business environments, and practice professional approaches to formatting, writing, and editing in the business world.

Web Animation

Students explore 2D animation processes commonly used on websites and in video games. Learners create hand drawings and use scripted techniques to convert them to digital animated frames. Most animation courses teach students to use multiple software applications, create audio to accompany their work, and develop the best practices for effective user interaction.


As one of the most popular open-source content management systems, professionals use WordPress widely across the web design field. In this introductory course, students learn the essential tools to build and manage websites, install their work on a server, and use themes and plugins to enhance content.

Photoshop Graphics

This course explores the popular Photoshop software and helps students use its wide variety of photo editing tools. Degree-seekers learn to manipulate images using composite imaging, masking, and color correction. Upon completing the course, students can create appropriate photo content for use in web and print formats, make filters to alter content, and use all of Photoshop's editing features.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Web Design?

Online web design degree curricula include a diverse set of classes. A well-designed, accredited bachelor's program equips students with the skills to succeed in their careers. In the modern web design field, design-based skills alone may not suffice to build your desired career. The following sections address both hard and soft skills that play critical roles in most web design positions. They also explore some popular careers for web design majors, graduates' earning potential, and the necessary core skills for various positions.

Core Skills

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17% of professionals in the web design and web development fields are self-employed workers, meaning most web designers must possess a diverse set of skills to sustain their careers. Most of these skills are essential for designers who work as employees for design firms, advertising agencies, and marketing companies, as well.

Workers in design-driven fields should possess a creative drive and an eye for aesthetically pleasing design, plus skills in the latest design software. For many professionals, this software includes Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch. Designers working with websites and digital media should also have a working knowledge of coding in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. An understanding of user experience, often referred to as UX, and user-first designing is also a plus.

The soft skills required for a successful career in web design — especially for self-employed workers managing client relationships — include time management, communication, client management, and social media skills. Many designers juggle multiple roles to keep their businesses moving forward. Graphic designers, multimedia artists, and marketing managers alike benefit from excellent people and customer service skills. Companies seeking exponential growth and contractors looking to grow their clientele may also work to achieve a strong social media presence and client satisfaction.

Career Profiles

Graphic Designer

Annual Median Salary: $43,077

Graphic designers create visual elements such as illustrations and logos for digital and print media. Some of these designers meet face-to-face with clients to determine how to best meet their needs. Designers who work at firms or agencies typically report to art directors and work with a design team.

Industrial Designer

Annual Median Salary: $55,397

These designers develop concepts for various products, such as vehicles and appliances. They use a combination of engineering and artful design to develop new and interesting projects. In addition to using computer software to develop models and proofs, industrial engineers often work directly with clients.

Marketing Manager

Annual Median Salary: $63,550

These managers estimate the demand for products and services in a given field. Marketing managers may work for various types of organizations, but typically focus on maximizing profits and market share and satisfying customers. They often work with new, cutting-edge products.

Multimedia Artist

Annual Median Salary: $50,644

These creative designers often work in specialized mediums for specific types of clients. Some multimedia artists may create animation for movies and video games. Others may produce special visual effects for feature films or television shows. In any case, these artists must take a client's vision and turn it into a realistic, usable design.

Web Developer

Annual Median Salary: $58,448

These professionals write the code to build websites using programming languages such as HTML or XML. They often work as part of creative design or programming teams, using a combination of graphics, audio, and video to satisfy client needs. Some developers work in the back-end construction of a website to create the site's basic framework. Others work as front-end developers, integrating graphics, applications, images, and other content to alter a site's layout.

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Web Design?

An undergraduate online web design degree equips learners with most of the training they need to succeed in the field, qualifying graduates for everything from entry-level jobs to mid-level positions. A strong design portfolio also strengthens candidates' competition for open positions; however, students interested in pursuing leadership or management roles at design firms or advertising agencies may benefit from an advanced degree. Even so, professionals with only a bachelor's can still advance to leadership and management positions in web design. Some individuals prefer to demonstrate advanced credentials, which may give them a leg-up upon entering the job market. Others take on lower-level positions or start their own businesses to grow their skill sets and portfolios, and choose to apply for higher-level jobs at a later time.

Accreditation for Web Design Bachelor's Programs

When considering online web design degrees, make sure each prospective school holds regional or national accreditation. Accredited schools meet institutional standards established by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation also verifies that the credentials earned at a particular institution are worth your time and money, and may actually advance your career.

Colleges and universities may hold programmatic accreditation in addition to institution-wide national or regional accreditation. For online web design degrees, programmatic accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) verifies that a program meets high standards of excellence. However, many web design programs do not hold programmatic accreditation. Regional accreditation is the gold standard, indicating that a college or university offers a quality education. Six regional accrediting bodies, including the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), host websites with search engines to help prospective students locate accredited colleges and universities.

Web Design Professional Organizations

Membership-based professional organizations offer useful resources for web designers at any stage of their careers, from undergraduate students to seasoned professionals. Most organizations offer online resources such as job boards, email newsletters, full-text online articles and books, and membership directories. These groups usually host annual meetings, at which members convene to present new research, demonstrate new products and software, and to expand their professional network.

The American Institute of Graphic Arts
AIGA offers various membership benefits, including an active job board. Members receive a discount when posting employment opportunities, plus reduced rates on health insurance; computer hardware, software, and accessories; and printing services. Members also access professional development courses and an international conference.

Graphic Artists Guild
This organization offers career development resources, webinars, and career coaching. Members receive discounts on computer software, workshops and classes, travel, and art supplies. The Graphic Artists Guild boasts an extensive artist network that lends itself to creative collaborations and professional networking. Members can take part in online discussions or participate in monthly board meetings to actively contribute to the guild's efforts in supporting artists and designers.

Interaction Design Association
Established in 2005, the IDA boasts over 100,000 members around the world. The IDA offers annual international conferences, along with regional conferences. The association offers special opportunities for students to get involved, including a student design competition. Members can take advantage of their online resources, as well, which include an active job board, an events calendar, discussion boards, and video tutorials.