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. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. 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
1

Savannah College of Art and Design

 5/565.04%Savannah, GA

campus_savannah_college_of_art_and_design

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

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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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

   
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.