Master’s in graphic design degrees prepare learners for a competitive job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for graphic designers to grow only 3% from 2020-2030. Graduates may also work as user experience designers or product developers. These and other jobs pay more than the U.S. median salary.
Applicants to master’s in graphic design programs usually submit a portfolio, personal statement, and resume. Some programs recommend recommendation letters. Classes vary by program but may cover topics like typographic voice and design research.
This page lists some of the best master’s in graphic design degrees. Read on to learn about costs, common classes, and how to become a graphic designer.
View Our Rankings List Here
Questions About Graphic Design
Q. Which degree is best for graphic design?
Many employers require at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. Prospective graphic designers with a bachelor’s in another field can apply to a master’s or graduate certificate program.
Q. What jobs can I get with a graphic design degree?
Graduates may work as industrial designers, multimedia artists, or web developers. Their specialization determines their career options.
Q. How long does a graphic design degree take?
Master’s in graphic design programs take 2-3 years to complete. Students with a background in the field can enter a two-year program. Learners switching careers need more time, as they take additional foundation classes.
Why Get a Degree in Graphic Design?
Master’s in graphic design degrees let students develop their skills and build professional portfolios. Degree-seekers network with peers and make connections at internships. Both may lead to a job after graduation.
Many online master’s in graphic design programs let students continue working while in school. Asynchronous programs let degree-seekers listen to lectures when convenient. Many students choose online learning to enroll in a top out-of-state program.
How Much Does a Graphic Design Degree Cost?
A master’s degree in the arts costs an average of $72,800, according to EducationData.org. This figure does not include fees, textbooks, and other education-related expenses. Learners can save money by enrolling in a public, in-state university. Prospective degree-seekers exploring the best master’s in graphic design degrees can compare schools’ tuition rates.
Learners can reduce their need for student loans by entering contests and applying for private scholarships. They can also apply to schools with institutional scholarships and grants. The federal government awards grants to degree-seekers with financial need. Learners qualify by submitting the FAFSA.
How Much Do Graphic Design Majors Make?
Graphic designers earn a median annual salary of $53,380, according to the BLS. Professionals can make more by working in the advertising or public relations field. Locations with the best-paying jobs include the District of Columbia, Washington, and Massachusetts. Workers there earn $70,180-$83,070.
Graphic designers may increase their salary potential with additional education. Options include enrolling in a degree or certificate program. Professionals can also earn an industry certification. Graphic design software companies award certifications to designers who pass an exam and meet other requirements.
Courses in Graphic Design
A two-year master’s in graphic design program offers a core curriculum and lets students select electives. Options may include typography, graphic design history, and film production. Degree-seekers complete a final-semester capstone project. They put what they produce in the capstone into their professional portfolio.
See below for three common classes in master’s in graphic design programs. Please note that offerings and graduate outcomes vary by school. Students should compare programs closely and consider their career goals before applying. Programs’ websites and schools’ admissions advisors can provide more information.
Research SeminarStudents in this first-year class start planning their final-semester research project. Degree-seekers examine historical and current graphic design examples. These and other exercises help learners identify their interests. Students also discuss their preferences with a professor. This class may include a lecture and laboratory component.
Advanced Graphic DesignMost programs require at least two advanced graphic design classes. The first class helps students master specific skills and learn new ones, such as typography fundamentals. Degree-seekers complete many small projects showing what they learned. Some of these examples go into learners’ professional portfolios. Students complete more complex projects in advanced graphic design II.
Combined StudioThis third-semester class requires many projects learners complete in groups or individually. Students experiment in different graphic design mediums. This helps them discover professional interests and potential careers. Degree-seekers create art in a virtual or on-campus lab.
How to Become a Graphic Designer
Aspiring graphic designers need at least a bachelor’s to enter the profession. A college education helps learners develop a portfolio. Many open positions require a portfolio. Prospective degree-seekers should consider schools with National Association of Schools of Art and Design accreditation.
A graphic designer’s typical day involves meeting with clients, using different software, and creating original art. They also select layouts and present different concepts to managers. Graphic designers use their clients’ feedback to improve their work. Many graphic designers work for themselves. Others work for specialized design services agencies or advertising firms.
Best Master’s in Graphic Design Degrees
Established in 1701, Yale is a private Ivy League research university based in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale is consistently ranked within the top three universities in the country, and within the Top 15 Universities Worldwide. The average class size at Yale is less than 20 students and the student teacher ratio is 6:1. Now, Yale offers a two-year M.F.A. program in Graphic Design.
Offered through Yale’s School of Art, students in this M.F.A. program will have to complete 42 credits to earn their degree. Required courses may include:
- Advanced Graphic Design: Series and Systems
- Typography: Expression, Structure, and Sequence
- Diving into the Wreck: Rethinking Critical Practices
All students in this program will also have to complete a “Thesis Book.” Each graduate student will have a designated work space in the design studio loft. Students also have access to bookbinding materials and workshops, and to printing and digital work spaces in the School of Art and the Digital Media Center for the Arts.
Prospective students should note that this is an extremely competitive program. In fact, each year, up to only ten students are admitted into this graphic design master’s program. If you apply, you should have substantial experience in visual studies and related professional experience as well.
Rhode Island School of Design
Located in Providence, RI, the Rhode Island School of Design was founded in 1877 and currently enrolls just under 2,500 students. RISD is not only home to one of the strangest (unofficial) college mascots, Scrotie, but it’s consistently ranked among the world’s best art schools. Check out RISD’s comprehensive M.F.A. in Graphic Design today.
Students in this program may choose between a two-year track or a three-year track. The two-year option is for those who already have an undergraduate degree in graphic design or another visual communication. The three-year option is for folks with degrees in liberal arts, the sciences, or fine arts. Students in the three-year track can expect courses like:
- Graduate Form
- Graduate Typography
- History of Graphic Design
No matter which track you choose, you will be expected to complete a thesis prior to earning your degree. Not only that, all graduate students in this program will participate in the RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, a large-scale public show held in the Rhode Island Convention Center.
The M.F.A. program at RISD is so highly praised, not only for its faculty and courses, but for its state-of-the-art facilities as well. Graduate students can take advantage of spaces in the large design studio on the 5th floor of RISD’s Center for Integrative Technologies. This center is also next to the school’s Fletcher Building, which offers graduate studio space for MFA candidates in five fine arts programs.
North Carolina State University
Founded in 1887, NC State is a land, sea, and space grant institution located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Home to mascots Mr. and Mrs. Wuf, as well as nearly 40,000 students, it is the largest four-year college in the state of North Carolina. Ranked among the Top 100 National Universities in America by U.S. News & World Report, NC State offers students more than 100 programs to major in. Now, you can earn a Master of Graphic Design at NC State.
This two-year master’s degree program is perfect for those who wish to dive deeper into a research-based practice of graphic design. Rather than traditional coursework, your graduate experience will include:
- 3-credit seminar each semester
- 9-credit studio each semester
- 3-credit elective
- Final project research course
Studio topics will vary by semester and often includes speakers and field trips. If you do not already have an undergraduate degree in graphic design, you will want to look into NC State’s three-year master’s program.
The Graphic Design program in NC State’s College of Design is ranked in the top 1 percent of considered schools in the U.S. Graduates of NC State have gone on to work for prestigious companies, including IDEO, IBM, Pentagram, and Nike.
California Institute of the Arts
Located in Valencia, CA, California Institute of the Arts is a private institution that is home to nearly 1,500 students. CalArts is a complex of six professional schools, and is a tight-knit community that fosters creativity and collaboration. Check out the school’s two and three-year MFA programs.
If you already have an undergraduate degree in graphic design, then you will be good to go for CalArts two-year MFA program. However, if you have no prior undergraduate experience, you will want to look into their three-year program. Depending on your chosen program, required courses may include:
- Visual Literacy
- Graphic Design Theory
- Historical Survey of Graphic Design
Students can choose from a variety of electives as well, including type design, web design, typography, motion graphics, design theory and design history. All graduate students must complete a thesis project and review in order to receive their degrees.
MFA students at the California Institute of the Arts can also opt to pursue a concentration in Integrated Media. An interschool degree (double major) is also possible for select third- and fourth-year undergraduates and graduate students. The school also offers various opportunities if you’re interested in studying abroad or interning as well.
Maryland Institute College of Art
Home to just under 1,700 students and located in Baltimore, MD, the Maryland Institute College of Art was founded in 1826. In fact, this college is one of the oldest art schools in the United States. If you’re interested in graphic design, look no further. MICA’s MA in Graphic Design is perfect for both experienced professionals as well as those with non-design backgrounds.
Led by a director who has a strong background in education and professional work, this program is comprehensive and hands-on. Rather than sit through lectures, students will work in the studio to create, design, and research across media. Graduates can expect to follow this curriculum:
- MAGD Studio 1
- MAGD Studio 2
- MAGD Workshop
- Type Intensive
- Transmedia Type Lab
- Design Theory & Practice
In the spring, all MAGD students work to create and exhibit a self-directed design project and a professional portfolio.
MICA has been ranked in the Top 10 of MFA programs in the Visual Arts, #3 in Graphic Design, #3 in Sculpture, and #4 in Painting/Drawing by U.S. News and World Report. Also, the Princeton Review has named MICA as one of the Best Colleges in the Northeast for the past eight years.
Located in the heart of Boston and founded in 1839, this private research university is home to over 32,000 students from more than 130 countries. With 17 schools and over 250 fields of study, BU is an excellent place to form connections and pursue design and research in this ever-changing modern world. In fact, the Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design program at BU is one of the nation’s best.
This two-year, 60-credit M.F.A. program includes both modernist and postmodernist design theory. Required courses may include:
- Graduate Graphic Design
- Graduate Typography
- Thesis Preparation
- Thesis Development
- History of Graphic Design
Graduate students will also get to take 16 credits worth of electives. All students must complete a thesis and present it in an exhibition in order to earn their degree.
Boston University has been ranked as having one of the Best Graduate Fine Arts Programs in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report. Students in BU’s graduate Graphic Design program will receive individual work areas within the spacious studio. The Graphic Design space also includes printing facilities, a seminar room, and two large classrooms with LCD projectors and critique walls.
Carnegie Mellon University
Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University is a private research university that was founded in 1900 by American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Home to mascot Scotty the Scottie Dog and nearly 14,000 students, Carnegie Mellon is a highly-ranked school among many subject areas. Check out CMU’s prestigious two-year Master of Design program below.
All students in this program will take part in stimulating seminars, studios, and design labs. Graduate students will also be required to complete a thesis prior to earning their degree. Required courses and studios may include:
- Seminar: Interaction & Service Design Concepts
- Studio: Research Based Design for Interactions
- Studio: Designing for Interactions
- Seminar: Transition Design
- Interaction Design Lab
Graduate students will also be able to choose from a range of exciting electives. If you’re a non-designer looking to dive into this new and creative world, Carnegie Mellon also offers a one-year Master of Arts in Design.
Carnegie Mellon was placed at #5 in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Graduate Graphic Design Programs ranking. Not only that, Carnegie Mellon was also ranked among the nation’s Most Innovative Schools, Best Value Schools, and Best Colleges for Veterans.
Savannah College of Art and Design
Home to mascot Art the Bee, SCAD is a private university with locations in Savannah, Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia, Hong Kong, and France. With over 10,500 students, SCAD is a hub of innovation and offers more than 40 majors and over 60 minors. Now, the school offers an M.F.A. in Graphic Design and Visual Experience.
Graduate students in this program at SCAD must complete at least 90 hours of study to earn their degree. Required courses may include:
- Integrated Design Media
- Ideation Models and Process
- Typographic Communication
- Design History and Context of Media
- Visual Design for Interactive Contexts
- Experience Design for Physical Spaces
This program is ideal for those who already have prior experience and knowledge of the graphic design field. The Savannah College of Art and Design also offers a 45-hour M.A. in Graphic Design for interested students.
The Savannah College of Art and Design is consistently ranked among the top art schools in the nation. In fact, it was ranked #1 in the U.S. in the 2017 Red Dot Design Rankings. SCAD was also named the Top Creative School in the world in 2017 for Motion Graphics by The Rookies.
Cranbrook Academy of Art
Bloomfield Hills, MI
Located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, the Cranbrook Academy of Art was founded in 1922 and is now home to just 150 graduate students and ten artists-in-residence. This tiny academy is continually ranked as the country’s top graduate-only program in architecture, design, and fine art. Rather than set curriculums, students lead a self-directed and relatively unscripted course of study. Learn more about Cranbrook’s 2D Design Department below.
The 2D Design Department at Cranbrook is led by an Artist-in-Residence, Elliott Earls. If accepted into this program, you will be mentored by Earls as you work to craft your course of study. Issues pursued in this department include:
- An exploration of the relationship between writing, criticism, and production
- Objects first: theory, language, and writing all in support of the object
- Work situated at the intersection of design and art
- The process of critique as a generative tool
- An interdisciplinary approach to design
Students in this program are sure to have an experience unlike any other program in the country, or even the world.
Student life at Cranbrook is built around the hallmark that life and work blend seamlessly together. Your art studies are not a separate entity at Cranbrook; your design studies are an integral part of your day-to-day. From dinners with visiting artists to late-night brainstorming sessions, you will be a part of close-knit community of creators, innovators, and go-getters.
Art Center College of Design
Located in Pasadena, CA, the ArtCenter College of Design is a private college that was founded in 1930 and is now home to nearly 2,100 students. ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degrees. The college also houses ten gallery and exhibition spaces for students to showcase their work. Now, current students can participate in the MFA Graduate Graphic Design program.
This two-year program is made up of four full semesters, a summer term for a studio-based independent study, and an internship. All graduate students must also complete a thesis. You will complete a total of 72 units which may include:
- Project Writing
- Graduate Studio
- Graduate Seminar
- Graduate Typography
- Design Research/Strategy
The ArtCenter College of Design also offers a three-year graphic design program for those who need additional design skills to earn their degree.
Students of the ArtCenter College of Design have a wide range of learning experiences. Transdisciplinary studios help students to focus on collaboration among faculty and peers from various majors. Studios abroad offer students a chance to create and experience the world outside of the more traditional classroom environment.
Otis College of Art and Design
Located in Los Angeles, CA, Otis College of Art and Design is a private art school that was founded in 1918. Home to mascot Otis Owl and nearly 1,100 full-time students, this college has enrolled folks from over 20 different countries. Otis offers just four Master of Fine Arts degrees including programs in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing.
The MFA in Graphic Design program is made up of four semesters. Required courses and seminars may include:
- Seminar Studio I
- Theory and Criticism
- Seminar Round Table
- Directed Study: Mentorship
- Contemporary Graphic Design Issues
All graduate students will have to complete a final studio project as well as several electives in order to earn their degree.
The Graphic Design program challenges students to research and develop projects that mix meaning with image-making and typographic form. Otis College of Art and Design was ranked third among Art and Design Colleges by the Wall Street Journal / Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE) College Rankings in 2017. The ranking compared over 1,000 colleges. Otis has also been named among the best value schools for art and design in the nation.
Virginia Commonwealth University
This public research university located in Richmond, Virginia was founded in 1968 and is now home to over 31,000 students. U.S. News & World Report has ranked VCU among the Top 100 Public Schools in the nation. Popular areas of study include Business, Biomedical Sciences, Psychology, and Visual/Performing Arts. In fact, the arts program at VCU is so well-received that the university also has a campus in Qatar that focuses on arts programs. Now, students can partake in the MFA Program in Design/Visual Communications.
The graduate program in design at VCU focuses on the philosophical, communicative, and aesthetic relationships of visual problem solving. Curriculum requirements may include:
- Visual Communications Seminar
- Visual Communications Workshop
- Research Methods in Visual Communications
- Research Documentation and Exhibition Design
- Directed Thesis Research in Visual Communications
All graduate students must complete a total of 60 credit hours to earn their degree. Prospective students should note that 36 undergraduate credit hours in studio art, including a minimum of 20 credit hours in visual communications or a related field, is required for admission into this program.
Whether you’re cheering on the VCU Rams or partaking in one of the hundreds of student organizations, there is never a dull moment at this university. With students performing over a million community service hours in a year and VCU student entrepreneurs earning more than $1 million in revenue, grants and investments (also in just a year!), this campus is full of driven and passionate individuals.
California College of the Arts
Founded in 1907, the California College of the Arts is an art, design, architecture, and writing school located in Oakland, CA. With just under 2,000 full-time students enrolled, this college offers just 22 undergraduate and 12 graduate programs. Check out the school’s prestigious MFA in Design program.
The unique thing about this program is that the school combines three concentrations: graphic design, industrial design, and interaction design. This collaborative environment allows students to connect, create, and innovate. The two-year curriculum includes:
- Mixed Reality Experiences
- Conceptual Cartography
- Business of Design
- Design Research
All graduate students will complete a thesis prior to graduation as well. This MFA program is best suited for those who already have a background in graphic design. However, if you don’t have a related degree or professional experience, you can opt for the college’s three-year MFA program. The three-year program includes a foundation year that focuses on prototyping, design process, tools, and technology.
California College of the Arts was ranked one of the 25 Best Design Schools in the world by Business Insider. It was also ranked as having one of the best MFA programs in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
Academy of Art University
San Francisco, CA
The Academy of Art University was founded by fine art painter Richard S. Stephens in 1929. The Academy now offers two bachelor’s degrees, three master’s degrees, one associate’s degree, and several certificate programs. The student body represents over 112 countries, and all folks pay the same tuition rate, including U.S. permanent residents and international students. Now, students can earn an MA in Graphic Design & Digital Media.
This program requires graduate students to complete 36 units to earn their degree. Required courses may include:
- Type Forms
- Visual Literacy
- Visual Thinking
- Principles of UX
- Making Ideas Visible
- The Nature of Identity
- History of Graphic Design
Prospective students may also wish to look into the Academy’s 63-unit Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design degree. Graduates pursuing an MFA must successfully complete a final thesis project.
The Academy of Art University holds over 70 student and alumni art shows and gallery exhibitions in San Francisco each year. The Academy is also the first art university that has been invited to showcase student work at New York Fashion Week biannually. Notable alumni include actresses Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag, and 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice.
University of Illinois at Chicago
This public research university located in Chicago, Illinois is home to mascot Sparky D. Dragon and just over 29,000 students. Founded in 1965, there are now more than 200 student clubs and organizations, including fraternities and sororities, for students to get involved in. Check out the university’s two-year Master of Design in Graphic Design.
Offered through the university’s College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts, this Master’s of Design program is unlike any other. What makes this program so unique is its international component. All Chicago-based students will participate in the Basel School of Design summer workshops located in Basel, Switzerland! Other degree requirements may include:
- Combined Studio
- Research Seminar I
- Documentation Studio
- Advanced Graphic Design
- Master’s Research Project + Exhibition
All students must complete a minimum of at least 64 semester hours, including at least 16 hours of graduate-level electives.
U.S. News and World Report has ranked the University of Illinois at Chicago among the Top Public Schools and Best Value Schools in the nation. It was also ranked within the Top 50 Best Graduate Fine Arts Programs in the country.