Best Graphic Design Degrees

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Graphic designers use visual concepts and creative art to promote ideas and attract consumers.

Graphic design plays a major role in digital and analog communications. This creative field encompasses the many ways creators arrange visual elements, graphics, and text to communicate ideas. Successful graphic designers combine technical and artistic skills to produce unique, visually appealing media that conveys specific messages, values, or themes. In crafting layouts, graphic designers must also consider how viewers will interact with their content, particularly in interactive and digital formats.

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Top 10 Best Graphic Design Degrees

Rank School Location
1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
2 Harding University Searcy, AR
3 Judson University Elgin, IL
4 Mercyhurst University Erie, PA
5 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
6 Messiah College Mechanicsburg, PA
7 Maryville University Saint Louis, MO
8 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC
9 Bethel University Saint Paul, MN
10 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) counted slightly more than 291,000 graphic design jobs in 2018. With the rise of the internet and digital media, the BLS projects 3% employment growth for graphic designers from 2018-2028. Typical earnings for these professionals exceed national averages for all professions, making the field an appealing career path for creative-minded people.

Read on to explore the best graphic design schools and learn how to earn a graphic design degree.

What Are the Top Graphic Design Degrees?

When researching the best graphic design schools, prospective students should consider the institution’s reputation, program graduation rates, post-graduation employment rates, and faculty quality. Learners should also ensure that their desired schools possess accreditation, which acts as a guaranteed endorsement of a school or program’s academic quality.

The best graphic design schools are nationally or regionally accredited. National accreditation usually applies to vocational and for-profit schools, while regional accreditation typically extends to public, state-run institutions and schools focused on traditional academics. Both accreditation types are valid, but most students, employers, and graduate schools prefer regionally accredited institutions.

Programmatic accreditation, a third, less common type of endorsement, applies only to a specific and particular program or degree path, not to the entire school. The National Association of Schools of Art & Design acts as a prominent programmatic accreditor of graphic design degrees.

Best Bachelor’s in Graphic Design Degree Programs

Students researching top graphic design schools can review school rankings to learn more about entry requirements, admission standards, program structures, and curricula. Rankings can also help learners find a degree or school that best fits their needs, expectations, and learning preferences.

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. University of Florida
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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.

  6. Messiah College
    Location

    Mechanicsburg, PA

    An evangelical Christian college in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Messiah enrolls more than 3,000 students each year. The school offers over 150 undergraduate and graduate programs, including a graphic design bachelor's degree.

    Students learn how to use industry-standard technology and tools while gaining creative problem-solving skills. The program includes courses such as motion design, digital illustration, global indigenous design, and advanced typography and design. In addition to coursework, students complete an internship. Graduates can work as art directors, advertisers, motion designers, and packaging designers.

    Applicants must submit high school transcripts and SAT, ACT, or CLT scores. Messiah does not require a minimum score, but the average SAT score for entering freshmen is 1200 on the math and critical reading sections.

    Messiah is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The graphic design program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

  7. Maryville University
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    A private, Roman Catholic university located near St. Louis, Missouri, Maryville serves about 6,500 graduate and undergraduate students each year. The institution maintains six colleges and schools, which offer more than 90 degrees, including a BFA in graphic design.

    Students take courses such as publication design, environmental graphic design, packaging design, and book design and craft. They also complete a 150-hour internship to gain hands-on experience in the field. Students culminate the degree with a one-year capstone project, which they present before a panel of professional designers.

    Applicants need a high school diploma with a college prep curriculum and a minimum 2.5 GPA. Maryville is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  8. North Carolina State University at Raleigh
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    NC State is a public research university that enrolls more than 35,000 students through over 270 academic programs, including a bachelor's in graphic design program.

    Learners take courses such as design, context, and experience; typographic language, writing, and reading; and online and mobile interaction design systems. Students can also participate in an optional study abroad program in Prague. The school encourages applicants to name a second major in addition to graphic design.

    Prospective students must submit 10 portfolio images and a design essay through Slideroom. NC State is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The graphic design program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

  9. Bethel University
    Location

    Saint Paul, MN

    Located in Arden Hills, Minnesota, Bethel is a private, evangelical Christian university affiliated with Converge, formerly the Baptist General Conference. The school enrolls more than 6,500 students through diverse undergraduate and graduate programs, including a bachelor's degree in graphic design.

    Students take courses such as printmaking, typography, creative practices, and interactive design. They also participate in a senior art design exhibition. One of the best graphic design schools in the country, Bethel enrolls more than 175 students in art and design classes each semester. Graduates can work in fields like corporate communication, medical illustration, branding, and architectural design.

    Admission requires a high school diploma with a minimum 2.5 GPA and a minimum composite score of 21 on the ACT or 920 on the SAT. Bethel is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  10. Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    A private, nonsectarian research university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel enrolls about 25,000 students through 70 undergraduate and 100 graduate programs. Drexel's Westphal College of Media Arts & Design is one of the top graphic design colleges in the country.

    Students pursuing the bachelor's in graphic design complete 42 credits of visual studies courses and 76 credits of graphic design courses along with electives and general education classes. Courses include history of modern design, typography, visual communication, and book design. The program concludes with a portfolio, practice, and capstone.

    Applicants need three years of high school math and one lab science course. They must also submit transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Most admitted students score 25-30 on the ACT. Drexel is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Why Are More Students Choosing College Online?

Online graphic design programs offer flexibility and convenience that traditional on-campus programs cannot match. Students can complete coursework from anywhere and at any time, making it much easier to balance school with work and family commitments. Online graphic design programs also offer cost savings since learners do not incur room-and-board expenses or commuting costs. Some schools even offer lower tuition rates to online learners.

Online learning grants students access to a wider variety of programs and schools since they can study from home rather than attending “brick-and-mortar” classes. Degree-seekers can also proceed through online courses at their own pace. Because schools and employers make no distinction between traditional and online degrees, learners enjoy all of the benefits and advantages of studying online without worrying about how employers perceive their credentials.

These factors continue to drive impressive satisfaction rates among students in online programs. Online learners self-report the highest levels of satisfaction among any student demographic, with 72% saying they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their educational experience during the 2016-2019 survey period. Only 54% of students in four-year private schools and 58% of students in four-year public colleges reported being “satisfied” or “very satisfied” during this time period.

What Are the Requirements for a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design?

All graphic design colleges maintain their own admission standards. However, some near-universal principles apply. To enroll as a graphic design major at an accredited four-year college, students need a high school diploma or its equivalent. Many programs also impose performance standards such as minimum cumulative GPAs. Applicants often must submit transcripts detailing their grades and academic performance history.

The top graphic design schools feature courses that help learners establish and improve their command of visual communication and artistic expression. While admission committees may not demand existing proficiency with a particular medium or technology, they often want to see evidence of students’ creative skills. Thus, portfolio submissions often accompany academic requirements. You may need to show several examples of your best work to help admission officials gauge your ability.

Elements such as standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and personal statements round out the list of commonly requested application materials.

What Can I Do With a Graphic Design Degree?

Graduates of graphic design programs enjoy a variety of career options that include both creative and technical paths. Beyond using your degree to pursue graphic designer positions, you can also pair your training with programming abilities to become a web developer. Strong page layout and computer software skills will also serve you well if you choose to become a desktop publisher of digital or print materials.

Some of the higher-paying alternate career paths include technical writing, multimedia art and animation, and art direction. Technical writers draw on strong written communication skills to prepare instructions, guides, manuals, and other publications that combine images with text. Multimedia artists and animators work in various capacities in the media and entertainment industries, while art directors work in film, television, advertising, product packaging, and print media to create consistent, visually appealing looks for specific campaigns or productions.

How Much Money Will I Make With a Degree in Graphic Design?

According to the BLS, graphic designers earned an median annual salary of $50,370 as of 2018, which is more than the nationwide median pay for all professions. Graphic design graduates can accelerate their earning potential in a variety of ways. For instance, combining your design degree with a strong knowledge of markup and style sheet languages such as HTML and CSS make you more appealing to employers. You can also enhance your earning potential by completing an advanced degree in graphic design or a related field, which qualifies you for jobs with potential growth pathways into management.

Web development represents a particularly appealing alternate career option, as the BLS projects a 13% growth in demand for web developers between 2018-2028. Given that web developers earn an average of almost 38% more than graphic designers, this path looks promising to salary-minded job-seekers.

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