We’ve done the analysis and found the Best Online Colleges for Graphic Design in the 2018-19 school year. Dive into details on Graphic Design degree programs, tuition and fees, related career outlooks, employable skills and much more.
Nov 17, 2017 | By OnlineColleges Editors
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Look almost anywhere in the world and you can see the touch of a graphic designer. Think of the logo for your favorite brand of gum: a graphic designer created that logo so it could be easily remembered. Flip through any magazine: a graphic designer put together those images and painstakingly adjusted the location of the text around it for maximum effect. Pop in your favorite movie: right from the opening credits you're seeing the labor of the graphic designer in action. When it comes to making a visible impact on the world around you, graphic design might be one of the most influential careers there is.
Best Online Colleges for Graphic Design in 2018-19
Several schools all across the U.S. offer online graphic design degree programs for their students to pursue, and knowing which programs have the most to offer can be a great asset in helping you choose. Using data collected from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and analyzed with our proprietary methodology, we present our list of the top ten best online colleges for graphic design.
Founded in 1929, Academy of Art University trains students in a wide range of artistic fields. Online graphic design degree programs take many forms at the San Francisco school:
Award of Completion (A.O.C.)
Associate of Arts (A.A.)
Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
As a B.F.A., the online bachelor's degree program in graphic design at Academy of Art University focuses on the creative side of the field. The study plan contains classes in 3-D design, motion graphics, semiotics and visual systems.
The A.A. program aims to provide a firm foundation in graphic design that can serve equally as a stepping stone to professional work or a bachelor's program. The A.O.C. program consists of just three courses and must be taken completely online.
National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
This Florida-based school is home to the first fully online bachelor's degree in graphic design on our list. Courses in the four-year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in graphic design from Full Sail University are designed to give students a broad understanding of the field. Here are a few subjects listed on the online study plan:
History of visual communications
Popular culture in media
Logos and symbols
Psychology of play
Full Sail University also features advanced-degree online programs for students who want to take their education beyond the bachelor's. Graphic design graduates aiming for a master's degree can transition into Full Sail's online Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in media design.
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
The online Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design and web design degree program offered by the Miami International University of Art and Design focuses its core coursework on digital illustration, image manipulation, web page scripting and more. Students can also choose to concentrate their studies on either graphic design or web design, giving them some flexibility in how they want to approach the subject.
This nonprofit university is part of a bigger system of 31 schools. Students interested in the Art Institute's distance learning, including the graphic design program mentioned above, can try out online demos and online course samples on the school's website. Online learners also have access to student services, technical support, the online library and various student organizations.
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
Independence University posted the highest graduation rate among the best online colleges for graphic design. NCES numbers show that more than 71 percent of students carried through from enrollment to graduation in 2014. Online graphic design degrees also make up a fairly large portion of the degrees awarded at the Utah school; only two other schools on our list had a larger percentage of design graduates than IU.
The coursework for Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in graphic arts at Independence University includes both general and specific subject matter:
The school's online bachelor's degree in graphic design consists of a similar mix of courses. Students earning online graphic design degrees at the bachelor's level may choose to enhance their visual storytelling skills with an emphasis in information design.
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
The online division of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh offers numerous online programs, and graphic design is one of their most successful. Design students made up more than 31 percent of graduates in 2015 — a higher percentage of total degrees awarded than all but one of the best online colleges for graphic design.
Study plans for online graphic design degrees at the Art Institute include courses like these:
Web page scripting
Business of graphic design
Students in both the associate and bachelor's programs in graphic design also take classes in product packaging, posters, illustration and interactive media. The bachelor's degree program typically takes 12 quarters, or about four years of full-time study, to complete. The associate degree can be earned in roughly half that time with a full-time study plan.
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
420 Boulevard of the Allies Pittsburgh, PA 15219-1301
This school, based in Tempe, Arizona, puts a lot of energy into its graphic design students. Sessions College awarded the highest proportion of graphic design degrees in 2015 — 65.4 percent — according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Students at Sessions also graduated at the third-highest rate among all schools on our list.
The program at Sessions offers a good mix of visual art knowledge and tech skills. Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are covered in separate classes. Visual art courses include color theory, image composition and print production.
In addition to its graphic design associate degree program, the school also offers a degree program in advertising design for graphics students who want to focus their training on the advertising industry.
Students interested in taking online coursework to help develop their graphic and digital design skills may want to enroll in the online graphic design certificate program available through The New School, located in Greenwich Village, New York City. This institution offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in numerous creative disciplines.
The New School's online certificate program in graphic and digital design can be completed either entirely through the Internet or in a hybrid format. Completion of at least six to eight courses is required, depending on the classes selected. Topics covered in the program's curriculum include graphic design history and digital imaging with Photoshop.
A private, nonprofit school, Southern New Hampshire University offers a variety of online degree programs, among them an online Bachelor of Arts in graphic design & media arts. This program includes core courses in graphic design; general education courses to develop writing, communication, analysis and problem-solving skills; and multiple options for electives.
SNHU's online graphic design program allows students to complete a general track of study or to pick a concentration. Web design is offered as one area of concentration; 3D modeling and animation is the other. Students also may be able to transfer in prior college credit or to earn credit hours for work or life experience.
*NOTE: Digital Media Arts College has merged with Lynn University since this list was made. Please contact Lynn University to learn whether the merged school can still fulfill your educational needs.
Located in Boca Raton, Florida, the Digital Media Arts College offers both online and campus-based degree programs to help students build their technical and creative skills. These programs range from the undergraduate to graduate level and include an online Master of Science degree in web design and technology. Students in this program are required to create a website portfolio and complete a capstone project, but they may have the opportunity to accelerate their program by transferring in college credit or earning credit hours for work experience.
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Coming in at No. 10 is Bellevue University, a Nebraska school with an online bachelor's degree in graphic design. The four-year program takes a multidisciplinary approach and aims to train students in both the conceptual and the practical elements of the profession.
Here are a few of the subjects studied in the online program:
The degree plan contains 42 credits of graphic design courses, 36 general education credits, nine signature course credits and 40 elective credits. Non-degree students can take advantage of a 15-credit certificate program that covers introductory concepts in the field.
Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
1000 Galvin Rd S Bellevue, NE 68005-3098
Why Pursue an Online Graphic Design Degree?
The graphic design field is made up of a combination of talent and technology, and students learn about both when they enroll in online colleges for graphic design. This page explores the courses that students may take in order to prepare for the field, as well as the skills they can develop during their time in the program.
What Online Graphic Design Courses Can I Take?
Graphic design degree programs offer a comprehensive curriculum that includes diverse topics. The following are examples of some of the courses that may be found in a graphic design program.
Typography: This topic addresses the use of fonts in graphic design. The course may cover subjects such as the history of type; the ways fonts can be used to create a mood or specific message; and how color and fonts are married to tell a visual story.
Portfolio development: In order to stand out in the competitive market, it's important for students to learn how to create and manage a portfolio that will get employers' attention and help them land a job. A course in portfolio management might cover areas such as the use of sequencing in a portfolio, how to choose the right pieces of work and creating brand identity.
Design history: Students who are interested in gaining a comprehensive understanding of the graphic design industry can take courses in this subject. Design history classes may cover trends such as art nouvea, bauhaus and constructivism.
Web design: This course may include information on graphic design theories and strategies, aesthetics, website optimization and the different programs used for web design, such as Adobe Photoshop and Flash.
Color theory: One of the building blocks of a graphic designer's aesthetic is the use of color. Students who take a color theory class might learn about different principles and theories, how colors are organized with wheels and spheres, and the use of color in two- and three-dimensional images.
What Skills Are Necessary to Become a Graphic Designer?
Students who earn online graphic design degrees are variety to a combination of technological and communication skills that can prove useful in the industry. The following are a few examples of these skills.
Project management: Graphic designers must be able to juggle different elements of a project and ensure it is completed on time. In addition, they may work on multiple projects at the same time, so they need the ability to manage each project from start to finish while making sure each project meets the clients' specifications.
Interpersonal: Graphic designers must be able to nurture relationships with their clients, as well as colleagues. The ability to effectively communicate with others is necessary to build and maintain such connections.
Computer: Professionals in the graphic design field are required to be proficient in a number of programs, such as Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Visio and Apple Final Cut Pro.
Artistic: Although the technological skills that graphic design programs teach are important, there is still a huge aesthetic element to the work. Professionals must harness their artistic eye in order to create designs that clients and consumers find appealing and interesting.
Graphic Design Career Opportunities
Graphic design is holding steady as a career, with little to no change (good or bad) predicted by the BLS all the way through 2024. If you're considering a job in this consistent field, one of the following might be right up your alley:
Projected Job Openings
Projected Job Growth
Art directors combine their passion for art with leadership skills to oversee the visual imagery used in magazines, newspapers, product packaging and television or movie productions. They work with artists and other professionals to create the perfect concept for a variety of business and artistic purposes, then determine the best ways to bring that idea to life.
As leaders in their field, art directors are charged with communicating with clients, coordinating design activities among different departments, approving budget details and timelines, and delivering a final product for each client's approval. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most art directors need previous work experience to go along with a bachelor's degree in art or design.
Multimedia Artists and Animators
Projected Job Openings
Projected Job Growth
Multimedia artists and animators use their artistic skills and talents to create powerful and meaningful art used for business purposes and in the entertainment world. Depending on their specialty, they may create two- or three-dimensional models, animation or visual effects used in television, movies, video games and other media. Most often, these professionals rely on computer software programs to assist with their designs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that a little more than half of multimedia artists and animators were self-employed in 2014. The other half worked mostly in motion picture and video industries and in professional, scientific, and technical services. Those interested in multimedia artists and animator careers should consider completing some freelance or personal projects to buff up their portfolio; an impressive portfolio alongside a bachelor's degree in art or computer graphics makes for a major advantage in this field.
Projected Job Openings
Projected Job Growth
Graphic designers use their design skills to create unique concepts meant to portray a specific message. The artistic creations built by graphic designers are often used in advertisements, brochures, magazines and presentations. Most graphic designers use computer software to create digital illustrations, then photo-editing software and layout software to perfect their designs. These specialists have created many of the world's most recognizable logos and advertising campaigns, and they've done it all with creative thinking and their own technical skill.
In addition to a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related field, individuals interested in graphic design careers would be well advised to work on creating a professional portfolio that demonstrates their creativity and skill.
Graphic design may not be the creative endeavor for everyone. If reading this page made you think it might not be for you, then you might want to consider one of these other programs instead:
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Online Graphic Design - Associate Degree, Penn Foster College, Accessed June 2017, https://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/web-and-graphic-design/graphic-design-associate-degree
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