Best Online Graphic Design Programs

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Graphic designers are the creative minds behind visuals we see every day, from tee shirts and car decals to website layouts and online infographics. Online graphic design programs teach students the requisite knowledge and skills for pursuing a career in this dynamic, cutting-edge industry.

Most of today’s online programs are completely web-based, allowing students to access lectures online and submit assignments via email. This flexible format is especially helpful for full-time professionals, parents and other students with commitments preventing them from taking on-campus courses. Online graphic design courses expose students to artistic techniques and software platforms commonly used in the industry, such as drawing, drafting, 3D modeling and computer animation. Programs also help students compile and manage a professional portfolio. An online graphic design degree program does not normally require students to enroll in an internship or on-site practicum sessions.

Below, you’ll find our list of the country’s best online degree programs in the field of graphic design. These schools have been ranked according to their academic strengths, learning goals, positive student outcomes, course offerings and online classroom experience. If you’re interested in launching a career in graphic design, this comprehensive guide will be a useful resource in your search for the right online program.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description    
1

Savannah College of Art and Design

 5/565.04%Savannah, GA

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Online graphic design students at SCAD study the visual elements and design strategies behind the world’s leading brands. Offered as a B.A. or B.F.A., the program explores general artistic principles, as well as specific functions and outcomes of occupational design: product packaging, mobile technology and interface structure, user experience and the business side of marketing and content creation. Graduates leave with professional experience, a masterful portfolio and the opportunity to network with other budding graphic designers around the world, all from the comfort of their living rooms.

SCAD eLearning takes place on a quarter schedule, and students can choose to enroll during the Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall quarters. Throughout these 10-week courses, students will access study materials and classroom discussions using the Blackboard learning management system.
Available 24/7, students will log on and complete courses at their convenience. Due dates are covered in the course syllabi, and assignments, assessments and class discussions must be completed on time in order to receive credit for participation. Online students will have access to services such as software, tutorials, (Lynda.com), peer guidance and advisory support.

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2

California Baptist University

 4/555.38%Riverside, CA

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CBU’s Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design and Digital Media offers students a strong foundation in web, graphic and video design. This online curriculum has been refined to meet the needs of working adult students, and culminates with the development of a professional portfolio and the completion of several hands-on projects. From drawing and photography to design theory and workflow management, the courses in this undergraduate program prepare students for a successful career in graphic design.

The curriculum at CBU is based in Christian principles, making it rather unique in that students are encouraged to align their beliefs with their studies. Classes are taught from a biblically-focused perspective and place a strong emphasis on the ethical considerations of a career in graphic design and digital media.

This private institution records and archives each of its online classes, making learning convenient and flexible for students juggling multiple commitments. Using Blackboard, students view all of their coursework and collaborative tools. Additionally, distance students have access to software such as Office 365, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Flash, After Effects and Final Cut Pro. Tutorials are available for students unfamiliar with these applications. Interested applicants can learn more about this program by attending an Online & Professional Studies information session.

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3

Southern New Hampshire University

 4/5N/AManchester, NH

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SNHU’s BA in Graphic Design offers courses in seven terms throughout the year. Ideal for students of all aptitudes and skill levels, this overview of graphic design and media arts will build new aptitudes and refresh old ones. Learners who choose to concentrate on web design principles will receive detailed insight into creative digital design for web and mobile platforms, including desktop publishing, typography, digital photography and imaging, digital graphic design and color theory. Over the course of 120 credit hours, distance learners will become familiar with concepts such as brand identity, image editing, drawing and user experience.

Students will need up-to-date hardware and software for this tech-centric degree, including Microsoft Office, a DSLR camera with at least an 18-55mm lens (standard in many entry level kits) and a 1 terabyte external hard drive. SNHU provides a discounted subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud online, which is another mandatory piece of software.

The course management system, Blackboard, has a proven track record of providing an intuitive, easy-to-use interface: distance learners will be able to critique their classmates, share their own work and connect with their instructors 24/7 in a virtual classroom available anywhere there is an internet connection.

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4

Bellevue University

 2/529.41%Bellevue, NE

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The hybrid Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design offered at Bellevue University is a multidisciplinary degree where students study the broad scope of responsibilities and opportunities open to graphic designers. They learn to communicate and conceptualize solutions for a variety of media, as well as a range of audiences. The non-studio, knowledge-based curriculum and practical experience gained make this flexible learning environment ideal for working students.

Required coursework is offered partially online and partially on-campus. The degree culminates in a professional portfolio that showcases creative and polished student work.

This hybrid program requires the use of industry-standard software and hardware. For students unfamiliar with these applications, enrollment in the Graphic Design Applications course is recommended. Course content is accessed through the Cyber-Active online classrooms, powered by Blackboard.

Once enrolled, students use discussion boards and live chat, as well as access resources like the digital library and writing lab to help them better engage in assignments. Because all material is recorded ahead of time, students can watch and rewatch tutorials, review chat messages and even participate in real-time lectures, just as if they were attending an on-campus course.

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5

California College San Diego

 3/5N/ASan Diego, CA

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The online graphic design degree program is offered through Independence University, an affiliate of CCSD. There are three online BS degrees available to students: graphic arts, web design and development, and graphic arts with an information design concentration. Graduates are prepared for entry- to mid-level work at design firms or advertising agencies. They may also find work as freelance graphic or web designers.

Online courses are flexible and delivered asynchronously. Students complete projects using several design-based programs, including Adobe, Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. Online learners complete the program in 30 to 36 months. Program costs cover tuition, books and supplies, a new laptop, and postgraduate refresher courses. Online students have access to career and tutoring services. Active duty military members and their spouses, as well as veterans, receive tuition discounts.

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Employment Outlook for Graphic Design Graduates

Management roles in graphic design often require an advanced degree, but many entry-level positions are available to graduates with associate or bachelor’s level credentials. Students can further increase their job security with specialization tracks in certain areas of graphic design, such as advertising or web design. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graphic designers in 2014 earned a median annual salary of $45,900; there are roughly 261,000 jobs in the graphic design industry, and this number is expected to remain the same through 2024.

Additional career paths for graphic designers with online degrees include the following roles:

Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Managers – These specialists focus on visual elements of print and online advertising. They offer input on the colors, creative fonts and graphics used in banners, billboards and other forms of advertising, as well as strategies for reaching out to consumers.

Multimedia Artists and Animators – These professionals conceive and produce animated design projects using a range of tools, from sketchpads and 3D modeling to software platforms and web-based design programs.

Web Developers – These developers conceive all of the visual, technical and interactive components of websites and online apps. They also explore ways to improve site functionality and create a memorable, user-friendly experience for site visitors.

The following table shows the median annual salaries for each of the four positions listed above, as well as projected growth rates for that career path over the next eight years:

PositionMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate
Graphic Designers$45,9001%
Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Managers$123,4509%
Multimedia Artists and Animators$63,6306%
Web Developers$63,49027%

Opportunities for graduates of graphic design programs will depend on the individual’s degree level and specialization track. A high-quality online graphic design degree program equips prospective designers with the knowledge and skills needed to launch their career. And thanks to the widespread popularity of online programs, earning a degree in graphic design has never been easier or more convenient.

Graphic Design Organizations

Many colleges and universities host clubs and organizations dedicated to aspiring graphic designers. Additionally, graphic designers can use professional organizations in order to build their network and learn about continuing education opportunities. Here are some of the largest organizations available to today’s professional graphic designers:

The American Institute of Graphic Arts – The AIGA is the oldest and largest membership organization for designers of all types. They boast over 25,000 members in 70 chapters around the United States. The AIGA offers professional development opportunities and advocates on behalf of design professionals.

Society for Experiential Graphic Design – The SEGD is a global, multidisciplinary organization for experience designers, including graphic artists, information designers, exhibit designers and brand strategists.

Association of Registered Graphic Designers – The RGD is a Toronto-based community of graphic artists that promotes lifelong learning, knowledge sharing, advocacy and mentoring. The association currently offers student memberships.

Graphic Artists Guild – Founded in 1967, this is a New York-based union of Web designers, graphic artists and illustrators. They offer a range of resources for networking, effective freelancing, and skill improvement to members only.

College Art Association – The CAA is devoted to scholarship, history, teaching and practice. This professional organization serves artists of all backgrounds, and also offers a discounted student membership.

Financing Your Online Degree

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, the need for financial aid is still a reality for most students. But rest assured, loans aren’t your only option. Explore our collection of financial aid resources or dig into one of the following guides to read more about financing your education.

An Overview of Financial Aid

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options savvy students can use to reduce the total costs of their education.

Understanding the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first and most crucial step for any student seeking financial aid. Follow our step-by-step guide for answers to frequently asked questions.

Financial Aid for Online College Students

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place and funding opportunities for online students.

Scholarships for Single Parents

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for single parents looking for a more secure financial future for their children. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships for these hard-working parents.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Active Military

Millions in education benefits are available for veterans and active members of the military. Unfortunately, much of this goes unused. Find out if you’re entitled to help with college and start planning for your future.

Best Online Graphic Design Programs of 2015
Rank Name Location
1 Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah, GA
2 California Baptist University Riverside, CA
3 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH
4 Burlington College Burlington, VT
5 Bellevue University Bellevue, NE
6 California College San Diego San Diego, CA