Graphic designers are the creative minds behind the visuals we see every day, from corporate logos and website layouts to the images found on T-shirts and car decals. Although employees in the field have traditionally worked by hand, most graphic designers now generate their visual concepts digitally. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), roughly 10% of graphic designers in the U.S. work for specialized design services. Other employers include advertising agencies, print studios, and publishing agencies.
Graphic design as an academic discipline is grounded in three expressive techniques: typography, photography, and illustration. Students learn different methods and strategies for combining these three art forms into memorable visual products, as well as editing and evaluating their work. A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for most careers in graphic design. Many of today’s undergraduates are choosing to earn their graphic design degree online, rather than in a classroom-based program. Online students complete the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts and enjoy the same professional opportunities upon graduation. Additionally, the distance format is ideal for students who must balance their coursework with part-time employment, childcare, or any other important commitments.
Read on to learn more about the material covered in a graphic design program and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with a bachelor’s degree in the field.
Choosing a Program
WILL AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN GRAPHIC DESIGN PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
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. Students also learn how to compile and manage a professional portfolio. Online graphic design programs are often delivered in an exclusively web-based format, and students are rarely required to enroll in on-site practicum courses.
WILL AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN GRAPHIC DESIGN WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?
Online bachelor’s in graphic design programs offer a flexible, cost-friendly alternative to traditional campus-based education. The asynchronous schedule allows students to access lectures and other course materials, submit assignments, take exams, and communicate with faculty members on their own schedule. Current technology also enables them to study away from their home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone or other Wi-Fi-compatible device.
WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY BACHELOR’S IN GRAPHIC DESIGN?
A bachelor’s in graphic design will qualify graduates for most entry-level positions at private design firms, advertising agencies, publishing houses, and other organizations that normally employ degree-holders in the field. Students who earn a degree concentration may also be eligible for specialized roles related to their area of study. Popular minors or degree specializations for graphic design majors include web design, computer-aided design (CAD), illustration, animation, and marketing/advertising.
WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN GRAPHIC DESIGN PROGRAMS?
Choosing a program is a very personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online bachelor’s in graphic design programs in the United States. If you are interested in pursuing an online bachelor’s in graphic design, be sure to take a look at these top colleges.
Accredited Online Graphic Design Programs
|Rank||School Name||Ranking Score||Relative Cost||Graduation Rate||Location||Description|
|1||Bellevue University||66.07||/5||31%||Bellevue, NE||
Bellevue University was founded in 1966 with the purpose of providing adult education and educational outreach. Today, the university serves more than 10,000 students each year and offers dozens of distance learning programs and certificates, including an online graphic design degree. The 127-credit bachelor's degree in graphic design covers both print and web design and teaches students the foundational elements of graphic arts so they can create effective visuals for a variety of audiences. Students develop strong problem solving and critical thinking skills that help them articulate design ideas across several different print and digital mediums. Online courses cover a variety of topics -- such as branding, typography, and website development -- and provide students with many opportunities to sharpen their design skills and add pieces to their portfolios. Students must also complete the nine-credit Kirkpatrick Signature Series, which reviews traditions of western civilization in the United States.
Bellevue provides students with access to industry-standard hardware and software, giving them hands-on experience with the tools companies use today. Students also learn about the theory and methods behind successful graphic design. Throughout the program, students will develop a professional portfolio through several graphic design projects. This program includes a few unique computer and equipment requirements to compensate for being offered online, including a color printer, digital camera, current version of Adobe Creative Suite software, and various crafting supplies as needed for each project.
Bellevue also provides online students with a variety of educational resources, including personal academic coaches and online tutoring support. All distance learners pay the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. Bellevue is a nonprofit university and is committed to career-oriented education. The university is a Military Friendly school that offers several programs to assist military members and veterans. This program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
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|2||Southern New Hampshire University||65.00||/5||59%||Manchester, NH||
Southern New Hampshire University's online graphic design degree is a great option for both transfer students and recent high school graduates. As one of the more flexible graphic design schools online, SNHU allows students to transfer up to 90 credits into its undergraduate program. The program emphasizes critical thinking skills and hands-on proficiency with industry-standard hardware and software. Graduates enter the workforce prepared to pursue careers as web designers, art directors, print designers, advertisers, and more.
This 120-credit program covers the technical and theoretical aspects of graphic design, such as desktop publishing and digital imagery. The curriculum also includes courses on typography, basic design and color theory, digital graphic design, and more. Students must choose one of two concentrations: web design or 3D modeling and animation. Web design students master Adobe Creative Cloud software and run usability tests on several different platforms and interfaces, while 3D modeling and animation students focus on 3D sculpting with the Adobe Creative Suite and Autodesk's Maya and Mudbox.
Online students at SNHU have access to several helpful resources, including alumni networking events, academic support, web-based tutoring, and remote career advising. Online courses are offered asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework whenever they can and at their own pace. At SNHU, the courses are offered in six, eight-week terms each year. All online students at SNHU pay the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. In addition, the school gives active duty military and their spouses a 30% discount on tuition. These cheap tuition rates make the graphic design online degree at SNHU an affordable option for all students.
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|3||Independence University||63.57||/5||63%||Salt Lake City, UT||
Independence University was founded in 1891 in Salt Lake City, Utah, as a residential college. Today, Independence caters exclusively to distance learners, offering 15 online bachelor's degrees in a variety of academic disciplines. The curriculum for Independence's online bachelor's degree in graphic design teaches students how to use vital graphic design software such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. The technical skills learned throughout the program are paired with online classes that cover real-world business skills, such as internet commerce, to provide students with a well-rounded education.
This 36-month bachelor's of science in graphic arts program teaches students how to effectively communicate through digital media and prepares them for careers as graphic artists or web designers. Coursework covers a variety of topics, including typography, web design, digital animation, digital photography, and more. Independence also offers an online graphic design degree with an information design emphasis. The main difference between these two programs is that the general graphic arts degree focuses on the various techniques and concepts involved in graphic design (such as illustration, photography, and animation) while the information design degree emphasizes communication skills and tactics that are crucial in graphic design.
Students in this graphic design school online program are required to have up-to-date hardware and software, including Microsoft Office, a DSLR camera with at least an 18-55mm lens, and a one-terabyte external hard drive. Online courses are offered through the Blackboard learning management system, which allows students to collaborate with peers and connect with their instructors in a virtual classroom. All online students have access to student support and career services, both of which are designed specifically for distance learners.
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|4||Savannah College of Art and Design||62.86||/5||65%||Savannah, GA||
Savannah College of Art and Design has offered several web-based degrees for the past 12 years. This includes a 180-credit online degree in graphic design, which teaches students the fundamentals of creating interesting, attractive, and effective design work. The curriculum covers several topics, including user experience, mobile design, entrepreneurship, project packaging, and other related topics that students will leverage to succeed in the workplace.
Savannah offers two graphic design options: a bachelor's of fine arts in graphic design and a bachelor's of arts in visual communication with a concentration in graphic design. The bachelor's of fine arts includes a strong emphasis on studio work along with web design and typography courses, while the bachelor's of arts degree consists of more liberal arts courses and includes some graphic design classes like web production and typography. Throughout the program, students will complete several projects that they can add to their professional portfolios. These portfolios help students prove to employers that they have experience creating high-quality graphics, which makes them more attractive job candidates. Graduates enter the workforce prepared to pursue careers as brand designers, typeface designers, user experience designers, mobile app designers, and more. Those who want to continue their studies in graduate school can pursue an MA or an MFA in graphic design at Savannah College.
Online courses are offered in 10-week sessions and are delivered asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace. Savannah College of Art and Design charges all online students the same tuition rates, regardless of residency. This online graphic design degree is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
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|5||California Baptist University||59.29||/5||59%||Riverside, CA||
California Baptist is a private, nonprofit Christian university that was founded in 1950 in Riverside, California. This small school offers a concentrated online graphic design degree in design and digital media that is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. CBU is one of the only graphic design schools online that offers a 48-credit bachelor's degree. As a result, students commonly complete the program in just 16 months.
This program is perfect for those who want to advance their career in graphic design or those who want to integrate graphic design skills into their current position. CBU's graphic design curriculum helps students develop practical skills by training them on industry-standard software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Dreamweaver. Courses also cover the underlying theories and methods in the field, such as design history and color theory. While the curriculum provides a broad overview of graphic design applicable to a variety of careers, many of the courses in this graphic design online degree focus heavily on web design. In addition to classes like drawing, composition, and website production, students are required to take two additional courses mandated by the university: overview of the Bible and foundations of Christian thought.
During admissions, all CBU students are paired with an academic advisor who supports them with all distance learning needs, including course registration and tutoring assistance. California Baptist University offers a variety of grants, scholarships, veteran's benefits, loans, and financing plans to lower the cost of college for their students. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent with a minimum GPA of 2.0 to be considered. CBU notes that they prefer students who have completed previous college coursework (up to 24 transferable credit) on top of a high school diploma.
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What Else Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor’s in Graphic Design Program?
When searching for the right online graphic design degree, it’s important for students to remember that each school or program is unique. Classes, credit requirements, accreditation, cost, and instruction method can all vary depending on the program.
CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN GRAPHIC DESIGN
|Concentration||Description||Careers This Concentration Prepares For|
|Web Design||One of the most popular concentrations within online graphic design degree programs, web design pairs art courses with coding, user interface, web design theory, and multimedia art. Many industries employ web designers or use them as consultants.||web designer, multimedia reporter, digital art director, online publisher, software designer|
|Graphic Design||The general graphic design specialization can help students focus on many areas at once. The concentration emphasizes drawing and design work. Students learn about web design, multimedia art, industry softwares, and information design.||Art director, multimedia reporter, illustrator, copy editor, marketing and advertising, graphic designer|
|Design and Publishing||Students who focus on publishing can learn about the business side of design. Students take courses on the publishing business, web publishing options, media, and entrepreneurship.||Publisher, digital publisher, illustrator, copy editor, graphic designer|
CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN GRAPHIC DESIGN
With online graphic design degrees divided among bachelor of fine arts, bachelor of arts, and bachelor of science designations, there are inherent curricula differences. Despite these variances, many programs share these core classes:
- Digital and Web Graphic Design: From Photoshop basics to high-end web coding, classes on graphic design for the digital age are a must. Students can choose one or many digital design courses based on whether they want to pursue online publishing or a more analog career.
- Graphic and Interface Design: Often taught in introductory and then advanced forms, courses on graphic design and interface design are degree staples. Students learn theory and technique and follow modern innovations.
- Drawing: Drawing courses are at the core of any graphic design program. Online degrees at art schools often feature multiple drawing classes while traditional colleges may only feature one or two. These classes hone student’s core abilities.
- Color Theory: Color theory is a foundational class. It’s particularly important in marketing and web design. Students learn how colors affect human behavior and other theories.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN GRAPHIC DESIGN?
Earning a graphic design degree online typically takes about four years. Depending on whether the graphic design online degree is a BFA, BA, or BS, there may be various course and general education requirements that will impact completion time. Programs usually require between 120 and 180 credits to graduate.
Completion time for graphic design schools online can also be impacted depending on if a student is enrolled full-time or part-time, if the program is offered in an accelerated format, and whether the school gives some form of transfer or experiential credit. Most graphic design programs use an individual pacing model, where students decide their own speed, versus a cohort learning model where students follow a set group pace.
Accreditation for Online Graphic Design Degrees
With online graphic design degrees, it’s important to know whether or not a program is accredited and what that means. Online programs or schools are accredited when they meet a certain set of criteria set by the government, industry groups, and peer institutions that prove the value of the education and worth of the degree. There may be some small art institutes and schools that do not meet these criteria and therefore carry less weight with employers and peers.
Schools are either accredited nationally or regionally. Online and distance learning institutions are often accredited nationally by approved organizations. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a nongovernmental agency run by leaders of peer higher education institutions that analyzes and accredits colleges and universities. Traditional brick and mortar schools and many of their online programs are accredited by regional agencies that are recognized by the Department of Education and the CHEA. The Department of Education does not accredit schools but acts in an oversight role and recognizes legitimate agencies. This allows for agencies to act privately but with public approval and oversight.
Some programs are accredited separately than the rest of the school. For example, law programs are accredited by the American Bar Association. Graphic design does not have a comparable accrediting group. Learn more about which schools are accredited on the Department of Education’s website and the CHEA’s.
Employment Outlook for Graphic Design Graduates
According to a 2014 survey by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), the job outlook for graphic design majors has steadily improved in recent years. In 2009-10, bachelor’s-holding graphic designers with work experience had a 7.5% unemployment rate, while inexperienced bachelor’s graduates faced an unemployment rate of 11.8%. Two years later, both of these figures had fallen, to 6.8% and 9.9% respectively.
Both of these unemployment rates are significantly higher than the national unemployment rate for all occupations (5.0%). It’s important to note, however, that job placement rates for graphic designers are on par with the rates from other professional fields in media arts. The following table compares the unemployment rates of employees with different art-oriented bachelor’s degrees.
|Undergraduate Degree Field||Unemployment Rate for Bachelor’s Degree-Holders With No Work Experience||Unemployment Rate for Bachelor’s Degree-Holders With Some Work Experience|
|Commercial Art and Graphic Design||9.9%||6.8%|
|Drama and Theater Arts||7.5%||8.3%|
|Film, Video and Photographic Arts||9.1%||7.8%|
Earning a Living
Graphic designers with a bachelor’s degree enjoy higher earning potential than their colleagues with less education. Using data from the 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report, the table below compares salary expectations for associate and bachelor’s degree-holding graphic designers at two key career benchmarks.
|Degree||Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)|
|Associate Degree in Graphic Design||$32,500||$48,400|
|Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design||$40,000||$65,000|
As the table indicates, graphic designers with a bachelor’s degree outearn associate-holders in their field by 23.1% at the entry-level mark and 34.3% at mid-career. The next table explores earnings for different graphic design professionals throughout their careers.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)||Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)|
|Graphic Artist/ Designer||$38,355||$43,353||$47,890||$53,279|
|Web Designer and Developer||$46,435||$55,621||$62,179||$73,044|
|Multimedia Artist or Animator||$45,299||$55,882||$59,993||$77,000|
The average career salary growth for the five careers listed on the table is 56.9%. Of all five careers listed, illustrators enjoyed the highest growth at 72.3%, followed closely by multimedia artists and animators at 70.0%.
Career and Further Education Opportunities
Students who graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design will leave school qualified for dozens of jobs in the industry, although your eligibility for specific positions will depend on a variety of factors, such as your job title and where you live. Below, we covered four of the most common career paths for graphic design graduates.
Graphic Designers: Graphic designers generate the visuals and interactive materials found in web and print media. Most graphic designers are well-versed in multiple artistic platforms ― such as illustration, animation, and 3D modeling ― and can use a range of tools and software-based programs.
Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Managers: These managers oversee the various visual and media elements of advertising campaigns, promotions, and other programs designed to inspire public interest in products, individuals, organizations, and events. They offer input on color schemes, fonts, and graphics used in banners, billboards, and other marketing materials, along with email campaigns, surveys, and other platforms used to reach out to consumers.
Multimedia Artists and Animators: These professionals conceive and produce animated design projects used in advertising, entertainment, and education. They draw from a range of tools, from sketchpads and 3D models to software programs and web-based design platforms.
Web Developers: Web developers generate the technical and multimedia components of websites, apps, and online games. Some specialize in ‘back-end’ programming components, while others produce ‘front end’ visual graphics and interactive software. They also work to improve site functionality and create a positive experience for web users.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary||Projected Growth Rate (2014-24)|
|Graphic Designers||$46,900||1% (3,600 jobs)|
|Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Managers||$124,850||9% (19,700 jobs)|
|Multimedia Artists and Animators||$63,970||6% (3,900 jobs)|
|Web Developers||$64,970||27% (39,500 jobs)|
Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to graphic design is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for graphic designers. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.
- The American Institute of Graphic Arts: Considered the oldest and largest professional organization for commercial designers, the AIGA represents more than 25,000 members in 70 chapters throughout the United States. Member benefits include discounts on professional development courses, invitations to networking events, and a complimentary newsletter subscription.
- Association of Registered Graphic Designers: This Toronto-based organization strives to promote education, mentoring, and advocacy among the graphic design community. Students receive full membership for a discounted rate of $63.90 per year.
- Graphic Artists Guild: Founded in 1967, this New York-based association of web designers, graphic artists, and illustrators features five regional U.S. chapters. Members receive resources for successful networking, freelancing opportunities, and discounts on continuing education courses.
Financing Your Online Bachelor's in Graphic Design Program
Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.
Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
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, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
- Best Online Graphic Design Programs of 2016
Rank School Location 1 Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah, GA 2 California Baptist University Riverside, CA 3 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH 4 Bellevue University Bellevue, NE 5 California College San Diego San Diego, CA
- 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