Online Master's Programs in Web Design

Earning an online master's in web design can lead to more job opportunities and greater salary potential for anyone hoping to advance in their careers -- or switch career paths altogether. Web developers earn a median salary of $69,400, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and computer programmers have median annual earnings of $84,280. Additionally, the BLS projects the number of web developer positions will increase 15% between 2016-2026, which is much faster than average.

Individuals interested in pursuing this degree can learn more by reading this guide. It covers what to expect from web design programs, potential careers, and how to find scholarships to fund your studies.

What to Know About Online Master's in Web Design Coursework

Online web design master's programs train students on how to create websites, mobile applications, and other web-based interactive programs. The curriculum usually focuses on the building blocks of websites, like programming languages. Distance learners study how to design a visually pleasing product. Courses also cover ease of use and navigability in website design. Some degrees also offer classes on developing websites for companies or brands. In these classes, students learn about how e-commerce and marketing play a role in website design.

Typically, web design master's programs require 36-48 credits. A degree usually takes two years to complete, although this depends on the school. Universities may offer shorter terms with accelerated classes, so students can finish their degrees in 18 or even 15 months. Students who begin the program with transfer credits or transferable skills can also speed up their degree completion times. Part-time students often take longer to graduate -- sometimes up to five years.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Web Design Program?

The curriculum requirements for a master's in web design vary by school. However, most schools offer a common set of courses that cover the fundamentals of web design, like programming, web optimization, and user experience (UX) design. Read more about popular web design classes in the list below.

Principles of Web Design and Construction
In this course, students learn foundational knowledge about how to create a website. They gain programming skills like HTML and CSS, and learn about server-side and scripting technologies; database connectivity; and content organization and layout. The course focuses on creating functional websites that are visually appealing and user-friendly.
Web Page Interface Design
The interface of a web page combines web navigation, scrolling, graphics, buttons, and menus. This course explores how to design a web page interface with these elements while upholding design principles such as clarity, integrity, stability, simplicity, and consistency.
Website Optimization
In this course, students learn about website optimization or and how to build a website to reach business goals. Course material teaches learners how to bring in web traffic through search engine optimization and marketing. Students also examine how to measure web click-throughs using various statistical tools.
Typography involves the design and visual appearance of text. Web designers must ensure that the website's typography matches the company, service, or organization's branding. Text should also be easy to read. This course teaches learners how to apply typography principles in graphic design and web projects.
User Experience Design
UX design involves constructing websites and applications to make functional and intuitive products for users. This means that consumers can navigate the product without any confusion while the product itself is aesthetically pleasing. Students learn about user journeys, customer experience maps, usability testing, and task maps.

What Elective Courses are Available in a Master's in Web Design Program?

Much like with core courses, elective courses vary based on the school and curriculum. Generally, elective courses focus on advanced programming and design concepts, but universities also branch out and offer niche classes. The list below discusses a few examples of potential elective courses for web design students.

  • Mobile Application Design: While website design does not strictly include mobile applications, designers can apply many of the same skills they learned for creating websites to applications. This course teaches both development and design skills and equips students to create their own apps.
  • Ethical Hacking: Many universities offer this course, which teaches students how to understand a website's vulnerabilities. By understanding how hackers could attack a website, professionals can construct safer and more secure site infrastructure. Web designers who take this course can boost their job qualifications by adding cybersecurity skills to their resumes.
  • Electronic Commerce: Electronic commerce, or e-commerce, is about running businesses online. Learners in this course study how to design a website with many of the unique features required by e-commerce companies and online entrepreneurs, like a checkout page where shoppers can pay for goods or services. E-commerce courses may cover business-to-customer companies or business-to-business companies.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

An online master's in web design usually requires a final capstone project during the student's last semester. The capstone project involves designing an entire website using all of the skills students learned during their degrees. They incorporate skills like online programming, navigable interfaces, aesthetically pleasing layouts and graphics, and accessible UX experiences.

Universities often partner with real companies so students can work with them as clients. This allows learners to practice their presentation, pitching, and customer service skills. Online students can use Skype or another virtual conferencing application to communicate with clients and make presentations.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Web Design Program?

Accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a master's in web design program. Most web design programs do not hold programmatic accreditation, so students should look for regional accreditation instead. However, schools emphasizing graphic design within the web design degree may have accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Students should also look out for factors like retention and graduation rates. A particularly low graduation rate is a red flag. Prospective students should also consider faculty members' qualifications; specifically, how many professors hold doctoral degrees? If the majority of people teaching your classes are also graduate students, that's another red flag.

Finally, delve into course content and requirements. For a topic like web design, many students value practical experience and course projects. If the classes only include lectures without allowing students to practice, you may not gain the skills you need to succeed professionally.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Web Design Degree

Web design graduates usually become web designers or front-end web developers. However, their advanced understanding of computer and website coding, along with other versatile abilities, can help prepare them for a variety of positions in both the information technology and art fields. The list below provides some examples of potential jobs along with nontraditional career options. Read on to learn about these jobs, their median salaries, and their projected job outlooks.

Web Developer

These professionals construct websites. Developers typically work for clients and businesses who need a specific type of website. They may work as front-end or back-end developers. Often, web design graduates find jobs as front-end developers, meaning they establish the website's visual and aesthetic components. They use computer programming languages like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS to create the site's layout and graphics. Back-end developers focus more on a website's technical framework.

  • Median Salary: $69,430 per year
  • Currently Employed: 162,900
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +15%
Graphic Designer

Graphic designers create the visual content for companies, magazines, retail brands, and advertisements. Graphic designers may also use their skills to generate visuals for websites. These professionals develop their art through digital illustration and editing software while also designing a web page's layout, utilizing their skills in typography and programming. Clients frequently hire graphic designers to create websites that match their marketing and branding strategies.

  • Median Salary: $50,370 per year
  • Currently Employed: 266,300
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +4%
Computer Programmer

Professionals who work in the computer programming field can usually write in several programming languages, such as HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and C++. They use their knowledge to develop software or websites -- sometimes both. In addition to translating concepts into computer languages, computer programmers also fix mistakes in existing computer code. These professionals may also work on mobile applications. Computer programmers sometimes earn certifications to emphasize their areas of expertise to potential employers.

  • Median Salary: $84,280 per year
  • Currently Employed: 294,900
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: -7%
Software Developer

Software developers do not strictly build websites, but they do use many of the same principles and skills used by web designers to create computer programs. Software developers design and test software to meet client needs. Web design students who take courses like mobile application design and development can work in software developer roles. Although software developers may only need a bachelor's degree to find a job, some employers prefer candidates with master's degrees.

  • Median Salary: $105,590 per year
  • Currently Employed: 1,256,200
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +24%
Multimedia Artist

Although on the surface this career may not seem like an obvious choice for web designers, graduates who earn a master's in web design possess many of the competencies needed to succeed as artists. In fact, many multimedia artists use graphic design programs and computer programming languages to produce their artwork. Animators, for instance, might create a visual effect for a website with their coding abilities. Plus, employers often prefer hiring artists who have technical computer skills.

  • Median Salary: $72,520 per year
  • Currently Employed: 73,700
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +8%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

What's the Expected Job Growth for Web Design Careers?

Graduates who want to enter the web development field in the next decade will find a healthy job market. The BLS projects jobs for web developers will increase 15% between 2016-2026. With about 162,900 developer jobs in the U.S. already filled, this means the industry could see another 24,200 jobs come onto the scene before 2026.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Web Design

Professional organizations can provide useful services for web design students and recent graduates. These associations host annual conferences where students can learn from seasoned professionals and connect with potential employers. Additionally, members can often access career services or job boards -- a particularly useful feature for graduates on the job hunt. As an added bonus, many organizations give students a discounted membership rate.

International Web Association
IWA facilitates worldwide networking between professionals who work with the web. Web designers, developers, administrators, and specialists can find certification programs through IWA, and the organization keeps members up to date on industry news.

World Wide Web Consortium
Also known as W3C, this group allows both individuals and organizations to participate in industry research and partnerships. W3C also sets standards for web design and architecture, applications, and XML technology.

American Webmasters Association
Established in 2003, AWA offers programs for professional development and certification. Members can access discounts for services like web hosting and take advantage of networking opportunities through meetups and other events hosted by local and regional AWA chapters.

The Professional Association for Design
AIGA provides professional opportunities for people who work in design, including web design. Members can attend conferences, enter competitions, take advantage of student resources, and access an exclusive job board.

Association of Web Design Professionals
AWDP is a web design directory where businesses and other clients can find designers to create their websites. The group also boasts job listings and industry news updates for designers.

How to Pay for a Master's in Web Design Degree

Higher education can be costly, which may intimidate people pursuing a postsecondary or graduate degrees. Luckily, universities, the federal government, and other organizations provide several funding options. Prospective graduate students simply need to know where to look. Read more about four potential scholarship funding sources below.

Federal Financial Aid
All students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application determines eligibility for federal grants, loans, or work-study programs based on your income. Federal loans come with much lower interest rates than private loans. FAFSA is available for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Scholarships from Professional Associations
Professional organizations frequently give out scholarships to students who study a topic within the association's field. Generally, associations award scholarships based on merit and allow any candidate studying web design to apply. However, some associations limit applications to students of a certain demographic or learners pursuing a particular specialization within the web design field.
University-sponsored Scholarships
Students can also turn to scholarships from their universities or colleges. For scholarships specifically sponsored by a certain department, only students enrolled in programs from that department can apply. However, colleges often award university-wide, merit- or need-based scholarships. Graduate students can apply for these scholarships based on their undergraduate achievements.
Fellowships and Assistantships
Graduate programs usually offer graduate assistantship or fellowship programs. These programs allow master's and doctoral students to conduct research while studying and get paid for it. Some fellowship and assistantship programs cover tuition costs while others provide a modest living stipend. Sometimes these programs offer both, which means graduate students can support themselves just by studying.