Best Online Graphic Design Programs

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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.

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.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1Bellevue University66.073/531%Bellevue, NE

State-of-the-art technology and a skills-to-performance education have been staples at Bellevue University since the school first opened its doors in 1966. Today, students no longer need to visit campus to get an education, as Bellevue offers dozens of programs and certificates online, including an online graphic design degree. Accredited by the The Higher Learning Commission, the bachelor's degree in graphic design covers both print and web design. Students have access to industry standard hardware and software, and learn the theory and methods behind optimal graphic design. Graduates develop a portfolio to show employers and build non-graphic design skills necessary for modern employment. The 127-credit BA program also provides online students with a variety of resources, including personal academic coaches. The nonprofit university is committed to career-oriented education and has programs to assist military members and veterans.

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2Southern New Hampshire University65.004/559%Manchester, NH

Southern New Hampshire's graphic design online degree is a great option for transfer students and recent high school graduates alike. A transfer-friendly college, SNHU allows students to transfer up to 90 credits into its bachelor's degree in graphic design. SNHU offers two BA programs in graphic design: one in web design and another in 3D modeling and animation. Students take a number of courses in the technical and theoretical aspects of graphic design, along with communications courses. Graduates often pursue careers as web designers, art directors, print designers, advertisers, and more. All online students have access to several helpful resources, including alumni networking events, academic support, career advising, 24/7 online learning, and flexible nine-week terms all year long.

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3Independence University63.574/563%Salt Lake City, UT

Independence University began in 1891 as a residential college, and has since embraced distance education. Today, Independence only caters to online learners, and students known they're the primary focus for all faculty members and administrators. Student support and career services are designed specifically for distance learners.

The curriculum in Independence's online bachelor's degree in graphic design introduces students to industry softwares, such as Adobe Illustrator, and real-world business skills, such as internet commerce. The 36-month BS program teaches students how to effectively communicate through digital media and to prepare for a career as a graphic artist or web designer. Independence also offers a graphic design program with an information design focus.
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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4Savannah College of Art and Design62.855/565%Savannah, GA

At Savannah, graphic design courses cover the fundamentals of creating interesting, attractive, and effective graphic design. The curriculum also covers user experience, mobile design, entrepreneurship, project packaging, and everything else students need to succeed in the field. There are two graphic design options for online SCAD students: a bachelor's of fine arts in graphic design and a bachelor of arts in visual communication with a concentration in graphic design. The BFA includes a strong emphasis on studio work, such as drawing, along with the typical web design and digital graphic learning. The BA includes some art and art history components, but also features a more well-rounded liberal arts course load. Savannah has been accredited since 1983 by the SACSCOC.

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5California Baptist University59.284/559%Riverside, CA

California Baptist is a private, nonprofit, Christian university based in Riverside, California. CBU offers a concentrated online bachelor's degree in graphic design and digital media for students looking to earn their degree quickly. The 48-credit online program takes an average of 16 months to complete. CBU's graphic design curriculum helps students develop practical skills, teaching students the software and design skills needed for professional success. Courses also cover the underlying theories and methods in the field, such as design history or color theory. Although designed for general graphic design, CBU's curriculum focuses heavily on web design. Applicants to CBU's online graphic design degree must have 24 transferable credits or a high school degree. During the application process, students are introduced to their academic advisors: these professionals can help distance learners with everything from registration to tutoring help.

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6Stevens-Henager College54.284/558%Murray, UT

Started in 1891 as a business college, Stevens-Henager is one of the oldest higher education providers in Utah. Based in Ogden, the school is a member of the regional Center for Excellence in Higher Education. Stevens-Henager's online graphic design degree program is taught in combination with Independence University. The program emphasizes web and digital design, and helps students develop their print design and illustration skills as well. The program is taught both online and on campus, and works to train students for a variety of professional opportunities. Stevens-Henager's graduates have gone on to pursue careers as graphic designers, production artists, art directors, multimedia editors, web designers and more.

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7California College San Diego51.074/532%San Diego, CA

California College San Diego is a private college associated with several other regional schools through the Center for Excellence in Higher Education. In addition to the school's associate, bachelor's, and master's degree programs, CCSD offers a number of online degrees, often in conjunction with other Center for Excellence in Higher Education schools. Online graphic design degree programs at CCSD are career-focused and designed to help students develop professionally. As part of their tuition, CCSD's graphic design students get a Mac laptop preloaded with Adobe software. Students also learn about the business side of the field, and take classes in eCommerce and web design. Most students are able to graduate in 30-36 months.

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Timeline
4 to 5 years
Program Costs
$30,000 to $60,000 for full tuition
Popular Minors and Dual Areas of Study
Graphic Arts, Fine Arts, Animation, Illustration, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Information Design, Web Design, Software Engineering, Marketing and Advertising, General Business
Accreditation
There is no programmatic accreditation for this major at the undergraduate level. Students should defer to the regional/national accreditation of their four-year college or university.

Job Placement

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.

Source:’From Hard Times to Better Times’ by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW)

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%
Fine Arts 10.2% 6.5%
Drama and Theater Arts 7.5% 8.3%
Music 8.9% 4.4%
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

Source:’2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

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
Marketing Manager $52,282 $64,098 $73,157 $76,225
Multimedia Artist or Animator $45,299 $55,882 $59,993 $77,000
Illustrator $38,109 $49,120 $52,219 $65,655

Source: PayScale

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)

Professional Organizations

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.

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.

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 you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

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 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, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

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.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

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.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

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