The Best Graphic Design Colleges 2021

Explore the best graphic design degree program for you. College Choice lists the top-ranked bachelor's in graphic design programs.

The Best Graphic Design Colleges 2021

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Graphic design is the process of creating artistic communications that share a message. A bachelor's degree in graphic design teaches students the imaging and typography skills that shape creative messaging. Graphic design colleges teach students to visually communicate ideas and product messaging.

A bachelor's in graphic design suits creative people interested in digital and print design, imparting the necessary skills for a career in graphic design. According to PayScale, the average salary for graphic designers was $46,290 as of May 2021. Designers earn an average salary increase of 35% over their careers.

Concentrations | Tuition | FAQs | Top Graphic Design Programs

What Is Graphic Design?

Graphic design originated with cave drawings in the early Ice Age and written language developed by the Sumerians. With the creation of paper, the ability to communicate messages through imaging and typography expanded. Today, graphic designers build on this history with modern technologies and refined creativity.

With the rise of digital communications in the 21st century, contemporary graphic design has further expanded. Digital designs use computer software applications, animation, and interactive typography to communicate ideas and sell products. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, over 281,000 graphic designers worked in the U.S. as of May 2019.

Graphic designers can seek employment in a variety of career fields. For example, these professionals may work for corporations as web designers, marketing directors, and UX/UI designers; in publishing industries as book illustrators or letterpress printers; or freelance as product developers and packaging designers.

Why Get a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design?

A bachelor's degree in graphic design is the most common educational foundation for entry-level graphic designers. Through this degree, students develop skills in design layout, photo editing, and narrative imaging. The skills earned from a graphic design degree program enhance employment qualifications and broaden career options.

Graphic design students develop design portfolios to support their career pursuits. A portfolio should demonstrate an artist's skills and creative abilities. This may help prospective graphic designers stand out against their competition.

  • Skill Acquisition: Graphic design bachelor's students build proficiency in foundational graphic design skills. Graduates can apply these skills in various industry careers.
  • Building a Portfolio: Aspiring graphic designers can compile creative projects and skill highlights to showcase their abilities to prospective employers. With faculty support, students learn to display their skills and creative designs.
  • Job Opportunities: A bachelor's in graphic design can help graduates break into multiple industries. Aspiring designers may access career opportunities in artistic fields and in print, digital, and sustainable design.

What to Expect From a Graphic Design Major

Bachelor's in graphic design programs develop students' creative abilities, problem-solving skills, and design thinking. Graphic design programs support the evolution of each student's artistic process through research and hands-on experience. Most graphic design bachelor's programs are four-year degrees with credit requirements ranging from 79-184 credits.

Graphic design programs may offer foundational coursework in design and artistic expression, elective classes covering specific aspects of graphic design, and practicums or internship opportunities. Tuition costs vary depending on the type of institution selected. Costs can range from $25,000 to over $75,000 for a bachelor's degree in graphic design.

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Admission Requirements

Most bachelor's programs require applicants to hold a high school diploma or equivalent. Some schools also require a minimum 2.5 GPA for admission. Check with the admissions office for school specifications. Admission requirements may include a personal statement or essay.

High school graphic design coursework can increase your chance of acceptance to some bachelor's in graphic design programs. Sufficient Advanced Placement test scores may allow learners to skip certain college courses, depending on the school. Additionally, some schools require an artistic portfolio for admission consideration.

Learn more about the application process

Concentration Options

A bachelor's in graphic design offers an opportunity to study all avenues of the graphic design industry. Elective courses and specializations allow learners to customize their curriculums. Concentrations, also called specializations, offer more intensive learning in specific areas of graphic design.

Potential concentrations include web design, sustainable design, and editorial design. Print design concentrations and digital design specializations offer distinct learning paths for students. Aspiring magazine designers, for example, may concentrate in editorial design, which offers classes in typography and print design.

Selecting a concentration can improve employment opportunities in a specialized sector of the graphic design field. Students can showcase their depth of expertise in an area of study in their graphic design portfolios. Portfolios highlight to prospective employers a learner's design skills and creative abilities.

Popular Graphic Design Courses

A bachelor's in graphic design program includes core and elective classes. Some graphic design programs require an internship or field study course, giving students hands-on experience in the graphic design industry.

Core courses in graphic design introduce foundational graphic design concepts. Core classes focus on art and design histories, drawing, typography, and graphic design basics. Electives allow students to choose from a wide array of graphic design topics. Some schools require that students wait until the second year of study before enrolling in elective courses.

Design History and Theory
Students study prehistoric art and developments in artistic expression over time, learning concepts that are used in graphic design today. This foundational course covers the evolution of communication through words and images. Students learn how theoretical design concepts apply to modern problems.
Package Design
Students create three-dimensional designs for commercial use, learning the connection between materials, imaging, and structure. The course focuses on creating and marketing a product for distribution. Some schools reserve courses such as package design for students in their third or fourth years of study.
Studio Practicum/Internship
Many graphic design schools offer students an opportunity to hone their skills in real-life scenarios. Whether interning at a professional organization or designing in a campus studio, students problem-solve design issues and gain valuable experience while showcasing their graphic design skills.

How Much Will a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design Cost?

A bachelor's degree in graphic design can cost between $25,040-$77,280. Expenses include tuition costs for each class and school fees. Campus housing and cafeteria use often warrant additional fees. Tuition rates often differ for in-state and out-of-state students.

Tuition costs vary based on an institution's distinction, location, and designation as a private or public establishment. Tuition may not include costs for design materials or equipment. Some online graphic design programs charge lower tuition rates.

Financing your bachelor's in graphic design degree begins with submitting the FAFSA application. This form determines your eligibility for loans and other postsecondary financing options. Scholarships and grants can reduce out-of-pocket expenses without the repayment plans required for loans.

Choosing the Right Graphic Design College

Selecting the right school requires careful consideration. Many factors contribute to choosing a suitable graphic design program.

  • Class Size: Consider a school's average class size and your comfort with large or small classes. Some schools offer small group instruction opportunities, which may suit your learning style.
  • Tuition Cost: Out-of-pocket expenses may impact your graphic design school choice. Review all tuition costs and fees, including expenses for books, transportation, and design supplies.
  • Concentrations: Concentration opportunities provide access to specialized learning paths. Access to specific electives may determine your ability to concentrate in a graphic design field.
  • Accreditation: The National Association of Schools of Art and Design reviews institutions based on national standards for art and design related disciplines. Your bachelor's in graphic design should come from a school with NASAD accreditation for heightened credibility.

Should You Get Your Degree Online?

Bachelor's degree programs in graphic design align strongly with online education. Graphic designers in the 21st century work primarily on computers. Online education connects computer-based learning with computer-based skill development.

Online learning allows students to take courses without visiting campus. This suits many learners who do not desire or are unable to move near a college campus. Online education also provides increased flexibility for students who need to work during their studies.

Online graphic design degrees accommodate a variety of student needs, including accelerated programming options. In these intensive programs, classes take place over shorter time frames than a typical semester.

Frequently Asked Questions

What majors go well with graphic design?

A graphic design major is a great way to build the skills to enter the design field. Other relevant majors for graphic design include web development, industrial design, and digital arts.

Is a degree in graphic design worth it?

Yes. Earning a degree in graphic design provides learners with skills and credibility. Most entry-level graphic designers hold at least a bachelor's degree, making this credential quite valuable.

How long are graphic design majors?

Most bachelor's degrees in graphic design take four years to complete. Learners can complete graphic design degrees in less than four years if the school authorizes an accelerated program.

What jobs can you get with a degree in graphic design?

A degree in graphic design can lead to a variety of job prospects. Print and digital media jobs for graphic designers include marketing specialists and creative directors. Nontraditional graphic design jobs include art directors, product developers, teachers, and web designers.

Should I go to college for graphic design?

Going to college for graphic design is a worthwhile choice for learners interested in joining the design field. A graphic design degree provides valuable skill acquisition and industry credibility.

2021's Best Graphic Design Schools

  1. University of Florida

    Gainesville, FL

    The third-largest university in the state, UF enrolls more than 56,000 students through a variety of on-campus and online programs. One of the best graphic design schools in the country, UF offers a bachelor's degree in graphic design/design and visual communications.

    The 120-credit degree gives students the technology, design, and creative thinking skills needed to succeed in a visual arts career. Learners take courses such as visual methods and processes; painting: investigations in color; and image, form, and meaning. Students must submit a portfolio before enrolling in upper-level courses.

    Applicants must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and submit transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, and letters of reference. UF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  2. Harding University

    Searcy, AR

    A private, Christian university affiliated with the Churches of Christ, Harding is the largest private university in the state, hosting nearly 6,000 students each year. The school offers a bachelor's in graphic design program that offers knowledge and skills in areas like color theory, typography, photography, and illustration.

    Students take courses on topics like visual aesthetics and the biblical perspective, design software and production, history of graphic design, and bookbinding and letterpress. Students also complete an internship during the summer between their junior and senior years.

    One of the region's top graphic design programs, Harding maintains a chapter of American Institute of Graphic Arts, a professional design association. Graduates can work in advertising agencies, design studios, nonprofits, and churches.

    Prospective students must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and submit transcripts and ACT, SAT, or CLT scores. Harding is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  3. Judson University

    Elgin, IL

    Judson is an evangelical, Christian liberal arts university that hosts about 1,300 students each year. The school offers more than 60 undergraduate programs, including a BFA in graphic design.

    Learners take courses on topics like typography, web design, art history, and photography. Students also complete an internship after their second year. Graduates can pursue careers as game designers, art teachers, digital strategists, UX designers, and curatorial assistants. Students can participate in Judson's chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts to access networking and professional development opportunities.

    Freshman applicants need a high school diploma or its equivalent with a minimum 2.5 GPA and a minimum score of 21 on the ACT. Judson is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  4. Mercyhurst University

    Erie, PA

    Located in Erie, Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst is a Catholic liberal arts college founded in 1926. The school enrolls about 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students across five campuses. Students pursuing the BA in graphic design can take advantage of the university's state-of-the-art graphics lab, iMac computers, GoPro cameras, Adobe editing software, and 3D printer.

    Graphic design students take courses such as basic computer design, typographic foundations, and digital imagery. The program takes about four years of full-time study to complete, and students need a minimum 2.5 GPA to graduate. Graduates have worked for companies such as Wegmans, Dick's Sporting Goods, and NASCAR.

    Applicants must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and submit official transcripts. Mercyhurst is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  5. Michigan State University

    East Lansing, MI

    A public research university in East Lansing, MSU serves about 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The university offers over 200 programs across 17 schools and colleges.

    Students can earn a bachelor's in graphic design that includes general education, elective, and major coursework. Learners complete graphic design courses on topics like two-dimensional art, three-dimensional art, electronic art, intermedia, and photography. Students must also complete an experiential education requirement, such as an internship, creative project, service-community experience, or study abroad program.

    Applicants must submit high school transcripts or proof of a GED diploma, an essay, and official ACT or SAT scores. MSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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