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.
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 for 2020
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.
University of Florida
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.
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.
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.
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.
Michigan State University
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.
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.
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.
North Carolina State University at Raleigh
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.
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.
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.
Located in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, Elizabethtown College is a private institution affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. The school enrolls about 1,700 students through a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs, including a bachelor of arts in graphic design.
Graphic design students learn to work with digital, print, and film media. Courses include fundamentals of color and design, designing for web and social design, typography and text design, and digital media convergence and design. In addition to coursework, students complete an internship to gain hands-on experience in the field. Graduates can work as creative directors, graphic designers, industrial designers, and multimedia artists.
Applicants must submit a writing sample, official high school transcripts, and SAT or ACT scores. Elizabethtown College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Pennsylvania State University
Penn State is a research institution that hosts nearly 100,000 graduate and undergraduate students across 24 campuses and an online division. Penn State’s Stuckeman School is one of the top graphic design schools in the country.
Students pursuing the bachelor’s in graphic design learn to solve complex problems with digital technology and electronic media. Courses include experience design process and methods, advanced typography, time and sequence, and programming. In addition to coursework, students must complete an internship. Learners can optionally study abroad in Florence, Italy.
Prospective students must submit transcripts, an essay, and a design portfolio containing 3-5 pieces of work. Penn State 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.
Southern Adventist University
Located in Collegedale, Tennessee, Southern is a private university affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The university uniquely operates a health food store, a radio station, and an Institute on Archaeology, which emphasizes the study of biblical archaeology.
Students can pursue a BFA in graphic design or BA in graphic design through the School of Visual Art and Design. These graphic design programs include courses such as illustration methods, advanced interactive media, interactive media, and advertising design. Students also take courses that connect visual arts with Christian Scripture.
Applicants need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.5 GPA and at least an 18 on the ACT or 960 on the SAT. Southern is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Located in Macon, Georgia, Mercer is a private institution that enrolls more than 8,000 students across 12 colleges and schools. The university maintains three campuses and several regional academic centers.
Mercer’s BA in graphic design includes studio-style classes that allow students to collaborate as they would in real-world work environments. Students can also take advantage of Mercer’s technology-enriched Mac lab to enhance their studies. Learners take courses such as advertising, typography, principles of marketing, and problems in criticism.
Mercer’s average freshman enters the school with a 3.94 GPA and an SAT score of 1280 or an ACT score of 27. Mercer is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Dakota Wesleyan University
Located in Mitchell, South Dakota, DWU is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Learners can pursue one of 40 undergraduate majors, including bachelor’s in digital media and design with a graphic design concentration.
Students gain the aesthetic, cultural, technological, and business skills they need to succeed as visual storytellers. The curriculum includes courses such as computer graphics, advanced digital imaging, desktop publishing, and photography. Students also complete an internship. Graphic design majors can gain hands-on experience through the university’s student-run creative agency.
Prospective students need a high school diploma or its equivalent with a minimum 2.0 GPA and a minimum score of 18 on the ACT or 860 on the SAT. DWU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Northern Iowa
Located in Cedar Falls, Iowa, UNI is a public research university that hosts more than 10,000 students each year. Students can pursue a BA in graphic design that comprises 120 credits and takes four years of full-time study to complete.
Learners take courses like two-dimensional concepts, three-dimensional concepts, drawing I and II, and survey of art history. Students can take advantage of UNI’s state-of-the-art lab to gain hands-on experience in the field. Graduates can pursue jobs as freelance designers, photographers, web designers, team leaders, and social media managers.
Applicants must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and submit transcripts and SAT or ACT scores. UNI is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Houston
UH is a public research institution located in Houston, Texas. The school is the third-largest university in the state, hosting around 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year. Students can choose from over 280 degrees across 14 academic colleges, including a BFA in graphic design.
Students gain the knowledge and skills needed to create culturally significant communication experiences. Graphic design majors complete studio art courses such as fundamentals of drawing; intermediate graphic design; and color, materials, and methods. They also complete a competitive portfolio review.
For assured admission, applicants must rank in the top 10% of their class or rank in the top 50% and meet minimum SAT or ACT score minimums. UH is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Appalachian State University
Based in Boone, North Carolina, Appalachian is part of the University of North Carolina System. The school enrolls nearly 20,000 students across over 220 graduate and undergraduate programs, including a BFA in graphic design.
One of the nation’s best graphic design colleges, Appalachian prepares future designers for professional practice in visual communication. Students take courses like motion graphics, typography, design methods, and motion graphics.
Learners can take advantage of Appalachian’s technologically enriched arts lab to gain hands-on experience. Students can also participate in Art Haus, a residential learning community where visual arts students live together during their freshman year.
Freshman applicants must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and submit SAT scores. Appalachian is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Arizona State University
One of the largest public universities in the U.S., ASU enrolls about 90,000 students each year. The school offers more than 750 graduate and undergraduate degrees, including a bachelor’s in graphic design.
One of the top graphic design programs in the country, the degree emphasizes strategic communication and includes courses such as technology for design, exhibit design, and motion graphics and interaction design. Students also complete an internship to gain hands-on experience in the field.
Applicants need a high school diploma with a minimum 3.0 GPA and a minimum score of 22 on the ACT or 1120 on the SAT. ASU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A private institution located in Berrien Springs, Michigan, Andrews is the flagship university of the Seventh-day Adventist school system, the second-largest Christian school system in the world. The university enrolls about 3,500 students and offers around 200 academic programs, including a BS in graphic design.
Learners take classes like color theory and use, digital vector graphics, the business of design, and beginning media writing. Students also complete an internship. One of the top graphic design schools in the country, Andrews provides learners with opportunities to apply their knowledge of design in real-world situations. The school also boasts small class sizes, faculty with industry experience, and study-abroad opportunities in Italy and India.
Applicants must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent with a minimum 2.75 GPA and submit a resume and self assessment. Andrews is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Ouachita Baptist University
A private, Baptist liberal arts college located in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, OBU offers about 65 academic programs across eight schools. The school’s Department of Visual Arts offers a bachelor’s in graphic design.
This program teaches students to think creatively, express themselves artistically, and grow spiritually. Courses include typography, art history, drawing, and history of graphic design. Students also complete an internship and a senior exhibition. Learners can take advantage of the university’s Mac lab, equipped for design majors, to enhance their learning. Graduates can work as graphic designers, web designers, and UX designers.
Applicants need a high school diploma or its equivalent with a minimum 2.75 GPA and at least a 20 on the ACT or 1030 on the SAT. OBU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A public research university, UNL is the oldest and largest member of the University of Nebraska system. The school serves about 26,000 students through diverse undergraduate and graduate programs, including a BFA in graphic design.
The program prepares students for careers in areas like branding, retail design, mobile app design, and sustainable design. The curriculum includes courses such as typography, life drawing, art history, and color and composition. Learners culminate the degree with a design capstone.
Applicants must hold a high school or GED diploma and submit ACT or SAT scores. UNL is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Marywood is a Catholic liberal arts university that hosts more than 2,800 students each year. The school offers two doctorates, 36 master’s degrees, and 60 bachelor’s degrees, including a BFA in graphic design.
The program prepares students for careers in areas like corporate identity, advertising, publishing, packaging, and web design. Students can specialize the degree through related minors in illustration, photography, communications, advertising, or business.
Major courses include motion graphics, art in the modern era, and conceptual design thinking. Students also participate in an internship and a senior exhibition. Learners gain access to Marywood’s computer labs, darkrooms, and photography studios to enhance their studies.
Applicants must submit high school transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and an essay. Marywood is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
A public research university based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Temple enrolls about 40,000 graduate, professional, and undergraduate students each year. The school maintains six additional campuses in Pennsylvania along with campuses in Italy and Japan.
The BFA in graphic and interactive design prepares learners for careers in print and digital design. This 126-credit program includes courses such as digital narratives, advertising design, and the business of design. Learners must submit a graphic design portfolio for review during their sophomore year. Students culminate the degree with a capstone project.
Applicants must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and submit SAT or ACT scores, transcripts, and an essay. The school prefers applicants with a minimum 3.0 high school GPA. Temple is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Established in 1840, Saint Mary’s is the oldest Catholic college in the state. The school enrolls about 1,000 students each year through diverse undergraduate and graduate programs, including a BA in graphic design.
Learners take courses like drawing foundations, identity and application, layout and typography, and digital illustration and design. They also complete an internship and a senior project. Graduates can pursue careers as art directors, creative designers, studio designers, and surface designers.
Applicants must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and submit official transcripts and SAT or ACT scores. Saint Mary’s is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
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.