Online Master's Programs in Visual Communications

If you're thinking about pursuing a master's in visual communication online, you likely already possess a bachelor's degree in a related subject and, after working in the field, feel ready to progress to the next professional level. You probably also realize the salary potential that comes from obtaining more education.

The following guide provides details on common courses, available specializations, degree requirements, career opportunities, and financing options for a master's in visual communications.

What to Know About Online Master's in Visual Communications Coursework

Individuals who complete a master's in visual communications online are prepared for creative career paths in book design, publication, illustration, and motion graphics design, among other areas. Regardless of their intended path, learners become proficient in design software, typography and design choices, and the creation of sustainable designs.

Topics covered in this degree translate well to distance learning since they rely heavily on digital design tools and software. Students listen to lectures, interact with their teachers and peers, complete readings, and undertake assignments all within the learning management system.

Most master's in visual communications online programs require 45-60 credits and take 2-3 years to complete on a full-time basis; part-time degree seekers may need 3-5 years to graduate.

What Common Courses Are Offered in a Master's in Visual Communications Program?

When considering master's in visual communications online degrees, students should remember that every school offers a unique curriculum. Courses highlighted below give learners a sense of what to expect, but do look at individual departments to learn more.

Scientific Illustration
Preparing those who want to create illustrations for medical journals, science textbooks, and science-focused programming, this course helps students build skills in drawing from life, modeling, creating to scale, ink techniques, and watercolor. Students study natural history collections to gain perspective.
Advanced Typography
Students in this class learn about the impact typography has on language and image. Emphasis is placed on communicating emotions and feelings through fonts and text. In addition to studying existing typography, learners discover how to design their own.
3-D Modeling
This class introduces degree seekers to three-dimensional visual communication, such as modeling, using light and texture in moving images, setting keyframes, and rendering final images. Special focus is given to 3-D modeling for video games, television shows, and movies.
User Interface Design
For individuals who want to work in web-based visual communications, this course teaches students how to create intuitive and visually appealing interfaces that are functional and efficient. Students pay close attention to creating UI designs in areas of e-commerce and education that can be used on computers as well as other digital devices.
Package Design
This course gives students the skills and tools needed to create simple and advanced package designs that can be used for a variety of products and services. Learners consider questions around package construction, sustainable materials, turnaround time, cost per item, and catering to diverse clientele.

What Specializations Are Available in a Master's in Visual Communications Program?

Given the spectrum of jobs available in the field, many master's of visual communication programs allow students to specialize their knowledge in a subdiscipline. Here are a few common specializations:

  • User Experience Design: This specialization gives learners the skills needed to create digital spaces, such as web pages, apps, and other software, with the human interaction experience in mind. Learners gain skills in common programming languages and study visual communications tools that result in visually appealing and easily usable designs.
  • Digital Storytelling: Students in this specialization learn about the tools and competencies needed to tell stories over different types of digital media, such as film, television, and online spaces. Learners cover topics in oral and visual communications, scriptwriting, and narrative creation.
  • Social and Interactive Media: This specialization helps students develop skills in areas of branding, managing content, creating data-driven visual communications, customizing social and interactive media for client needs, working with vendors, and using various types of media, such as video, audio, and photography, to convey messages.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

As part of graduation requirements, most master's in visual communications programs require learners to take part in a culminating project.

Departments focused on graduating learners who want to use their skills in professional roles typically mandate a capstone project, which require students to synthesize what they learned during the degree into a comprehensive project or portfolio. Programs focused on outfitting learners who want to use their skills in research or academic areas typically mandate a thesis, which requires students to research and write a lengthy essay that answers a unique question and furthers the field.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Visual Communications Program?

One of the most important steps prospective learners can take is to ensure the program they select maintains proper accreditation. Accreditation divides into two types: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation exists in national and regional forms. Employers and other institutions consider regional accreditation the more rigorous of the two based on the additional steps and higher standards a school must meet to qualify.

While institutional accreditation looks at the school as a whole, programmatic accreditation determines whether a specific degree or department provides the curriculum, faculty credentials, career preparedness, and support services needed to launch a student into the professional world after graduating.

Students seeking a master's in visual communications should look for programs accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. The organization provides a searchable database for locating prospective schools.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Visual Communications Degree

Graduates with master's in visual communications degrees may want to work in artistic roles, while others may want to explore the intersection of digital technologies and design. Please note that a master's in visual communications does not guarantee eligibility for the roles discussed below; some may require additional certification and/or licensure.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

These professionals work in businesses to create compelling marketing and advertising plans that catch the eye of current and future customers. They design print and digital media, work with web designers to create visually appealing and effective websites, ascertain the effectiveness of their strategies, negotiate contracts, oversee budgets, and manage other staff in the department.

  • Median Salary: $132,620
  • Currently Employed: 249,600
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +10%
Art Directors

Art directors work for magazines, newspapers, television/film production companies, design firms, and in freelance capacities to create plans for best representing concepts visually. They work with photographers, artists, graphic designers, and other creatives to develop design elements, manage the look and feel of projects, review in-process designs and make suggestions, and approval final designs. They also work with marketing teams to create a consistent branding style across products and communication mediums.

  • Median Salary: $92,780
  • Currently Employed: 90,300
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +5%
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

Whether working for a corporation or nonprofit, these creative individuals use their skills in design, visual communication, and media savvy to create winning campaigns that raise awareness and funding for organizations. They create tailored outreach campaigns, solidify and further define brands, oversee the design of advertising and promotional materials, and work with the marketing team to create visually persuasive campaigns.

  • Median Salary: $114,800
  • Currently Employed: 73,500
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +10%
Multimedia Artists and Illustrators

Professionals in these roles create two- and three-dimensional images used in advertising, marketing, and entertainment settings. Some may work with other animators to design characters or scenery for video games, movies, or television shows; others may create animations or illustrations that appear on websites, apps, or software programs. They often work with a team of artists and illustrators to carry out a greater vision and may be employed by a single company or in a freelance capacity.

  • Median Salary: $72,520
  • Currently Employed: 73,700
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +8%
Software Developers

Software developers with an interest in visual communications often gravitate towards roles focused on user interface (UI) experiences. In these positions, they work with other programmers and developers to ensure not only that consumers can easily navigate the front end of the app or software, but also that updates to these preserve the functionality of previous versions.

  • Median Salary: $105,590
  • Currently Employed: 1,256,200
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +24%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

What Is the Expected Job Growth for Visual Communications Careers?

In reviewing the jobs highlighted in the previous section, all signs point toward continued and sustained growth for those with master's in visual communications degrees. Reasons for this growth include the expansion of digital media platforms, the proliferation of personal apps and software, and the need for sustainable design and packaging. Individuals with skills in both visual communications and digital platforms stand to be the most in demand.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Visual Communications

Professional organizations devoted to the furthering of visual communications professionals offer many substantial benefits to members. Some of these include opportunities for networking with others in the field, access to annual conferences, continuing education programs, career services, job boards, and student resources.

American Institute of Graphic Arts
AIGA serves members by providing a monthly newsletter, 70+ regional chapters in the U.S., job postings, design competitions, awards, industry news, women's leadership programs, designer directory, and standard contracts.

Design History Society
This organization supports members interested in studying the history of design. The group is based in the United Kingdom but maintains an international membership base. Benefits of membership include access to conferences, events, awards, and publications.

Graphic Artists Guild
The Guild works to ensure members receive the advocacy and education needed to thrive. It offers workshops on legal rights behind design, national board meetings, and industry news.

International Society of Typographic Designers
Members of ISTD can take advantage of networking opportunities, blog posts, continuing education programs, student briefs, awards, student assessments, and committee work.

Society of Illustrators, Artists and Designers
SIAD offers annual competitions; new member events; a directory of illustrators, artists, and designers; international creative awards; intellectual property copyright registration services; and discounted insurance and training rates.

How to Pay for a Master's in Visual Communications Degree

Since most students cannot pay for their master's in visual communications out of pocket, they rely on funding sources to help avoid substantial student loan debt. Aside from grants and work-study funds provided by the federal government, other scholarships, grants, and fellowships do not require repayment.

Federal Financial Aid
The federal government provides millions of dollars in grants per year, but students hoping to take advantage of these must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year of enrollment. They must also fill out this form to qualify for federal student loans.
Scholarships from Professional Organizations
In an effort to progress the field of visual communications, several professional organizations offer student awards and scholarships for academic study. For example, Women Arts provides $5,000 awards to qualifying applicants. Some may also provide travel expenses for annual conferences.
Program Scholarships
In addition to institutional awards, many departments offer scholarships specifically to master's of visual communications learners. Students usually need to demonstrate financial need and/or academic excellence. An example, Kent State University's School of Visual Communication Design offers several departmental awards.
Several schools also provide assistantships and/or fellowships. These require enrolled learners to work as a teaching or research assistant in exchange for tuition support and a stipend. The Knight Fellowship at Ohio University, for example, covers all tuition and provides an annual $25,000 stipend.