The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) defines graphic design as “the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content.” The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects a job growth rate of 4% for the industry, which is 3% below the national average of 7%, but graphic design still offers challenging new vistas worth exploring. Digital graphic design provides many opportunities, whether you’re a budding graphic artist or a seasoned design veteran.
The BLS projects a job growth rate of 4% for the graphic design industry.
Many schools now offer both online and on-campus graphic design degrees. Schools are also adding new areas of emphasis to give students more options. These and other developments make earning a bachelor’s degree in graphic design a truly exciting opportunity. Use this guide to learn more about graphic design programs and the career opportunities they provide.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Graphic Design?
The field of graphic design attracts creative individuals with a keen visual sense and the desire to communicate using words and images. Many on-campus bachelor’s in graphic design programs attract students fresh out of high school, while online graphic design programs tend to draw more nontraditional adult students. Each type of learning experience comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. Take the time to weigh one against the other to find out which education setting best suits your learning style.
No matter which medium you choose to specialize in as a graphic designer — digital, film, or print — you must be adept at using computers and graphics software. Choose a graphic design program that provides extensive training and hands-on experience with both longstanding and cutting-edge technology. Although the graphic design field is broad, there are basic principles every graphic designer must master, such as typography, visual composition, and the use of design elements like color and texture. Look for a graphic design program that will develop both your creative writing skills and appreciation for art and visual design. Since many graphic artists are freelancers, it’s common for programs to include basic business courses in their curriculum.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design?
Median salaries for popular graphic design jobs range from $48,700 (graphic designer) to $92,500 (art director). You can choose to work for a large corporation as an industrial designer or for the creative industry as a multimedia artist. With a projected job growth of 15% for web developers, a skilled professional in this field will not have difficulty finding work after completing a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. The industry has room for many types of creative professionals.
- Graphic Designer
A graphic designer communicates ideas through visual concepts. They develop and execute communications material such as advertisements, brochures, and magazines. A bachelor’s degree qualifies graphic designers to work in places such as public relations and advertising agencies, publishing houses, or digital media companies.
Median Annual Salary: $48,700
Projected Growth Rate: 4%
- Industrial Designer
Industrial designers develop new product concepts in various industries. They design a range of products that consumers use each day, including cars, home appliances, office furniture, and even toys. Industrial designers combine their knowledge of art, business, and engineering to help manufacturers develop products that are attractive, affordable, and useful.
Median Annual Salary: $65,970
Projected Growth Rate: 4%
- Web Developer
Web developers design websites. They make sure the site’s creative and technical aspects are optimized to give users a straightforward browsing experience. Web developers with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design can also create content for the sites they design.
Median Annual Salary: $67,990
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
- Multimedia Artist and Animator
A multimedia artist needs solid creative and technical skills to create visual effects and animation for various media, such as film, television, and video games. A bachelor’s degree in graphic design prepares multimedia animators to work as part of a creative team or as solo artists.
Median Annual Salary: $70,530
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Art Director
Art directors can work for print media, movie and television studios, video game companies, and design services firms. They create a project’s underlying design and direct its implementation by overseeing the development of supporting artwork and layouts. A bachelor’s degree in graphic design prepares students for the creative discipline needed for this job.
Median Annual Salary: $92,500
Projected Growth Rate: 5%
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Graphic Design Program
The graphic design degree you choose to pursue is important to your future career. It typically takes four years of full-time enrollment to complete an on-campus bachelor’s degree in graphic design. This is true for most online programs as well. Part-time enrollment will extend the program’s length. You can expect to pay between $220 and $550 per credit for an accredited graphic design program. Your residency status, and whether you are enrolling in a four-year public university or a private nonprofit college, will impact the cost of your program. Keep in mind that there are added costs when pursuing an on-campus degree, such as room and board, commuting, and parking.
Nontraditional students, especially those with graphic design experience, may receive college credit for their professional experience. Ask your prospective school if this is a possibility since it can reduce the length and cost of your graphic design degree. As a rule, online and on-campus programs offer the same curriculum. Some graphic design programs can be completed entirely online, while others have on-campus requirements. Many professional students opt to pursue online graphic design degrees because they are more flexible and often more affordable than on-campus programs. Most schools require students to complete a practicum or internship period in addition to a thesis or a special project before they can graduate from the program. Graphic design specializations include digital illustration, interface animation, and icon or logo design.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor’s in Graphic Design Programs
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) as the main accrediting body for the field of art and design education. NASAD accredits undergraduate and graduate programs related to art and design. Accreditation is a self-review process that institutions or programs voluntarily undertake to show that they meet the educational standards set by the accrediting body. NASAD accreditation is the most prestigious and sought-after recognition for this field.
There are three main reasons why you should make sure your graphic design degree has NASAD accreditation. First, the Department of Education only channels its federal aid packages through accredited schools and programs. Second, it’s easier to transfer credits between accredited institutions and programs. And third, most employers know the value of accreditation. All things being equal, they will likely choose an applicant with an accredited graphic design degree over one without an accredited degree.
Bachelor's in Graphic Design Program Admissions
Each college or university follows its own application process, which is typically outlined on the school’s website. Most graphic design programs require applicants to submit a portfolio of work that shows their artistic talent or graphic design capabilities. High school graduates applying for freshman college admission are often permitted to submit self-directed work. If you know the medium you wish to concentrate your graphic design studies on, try to submit work that shows your ability to communicate in that medium. Alternately, you can collate a portfolio of your work in different graphic design arenas to highlight your versatility and creativity.
Remember that it costs money to apply to colleges and universities. Therefore, only apply to the schools that meet your criteria in terms of location, type of program offered, tuition, and concentration areas. Don’t forget to check the NASAD website to find out the accreditation status of your school or graphic design program.
- Minimum GPA: Undergraduate graphic design programs typically require a minimum GPA of 2.5. Some schools give an applicant’s portfolio more weight than GPA, so if you have a strong body of work but don’t meet the school’s GPA requirement, ask if you can submit an application anyway.
- Application: Although every school has its own application deadline, most fall sometime around January for regular decision applicants. Early decision or early action applicants typically have to apply by November. CommonApp is a college application tool that allows students to apply to several institutions at once.
- Transcripts: Colleges and universities require applicants to submit transcripts from every high school they attended. Fees for transcript remission vary. Make your request early and don’t forget to factor school breaks and holidays into your timeline.
- Letters of Recommendation: College recommendations should typically come from teachers and school counselors who know you well. Start asking for letters of recommendation around eight weeks before the application deadline, then send a gentle reminder after four weeks.
- Test Scores: Most schools ask for an applicant’s score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). An average SAT score is somewhere between 1050 and 1060. Some colleges prefer to use the American College Testing (ACT) scores for admission. The average ACT score is 21.
- Application Fee: According to U.S. News and World Report, the average college application fee for 2016 was $43, with some schools charging as much as $75. Schools sometimes waive application fees for students who fall below a certain income threshold.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Graphic Design Program?
Although graphic design is a specialized field, it is a multifaceted one. You can focus on creating designs for the digital market or for traditional media, such as print and television. You can design commercial packaging products, implement advertising campaigns, or develop interactive websites. Below are five popular graphic design concentration areas to explore.
Concentrations Offered for a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design
|Marketing and Advertising Design||This concentration explores traditional marketing and advertising media, such as print, television, billboards, and film. However, an increasing number of programs offering this concentration also expose students to digital marketing and advertising design, including social media banners and sales emails.||Layout artists (traditional and digital media); art director|
|Sustainable Design||Sustainable design explores the ecological, environmental, and social impact of design. Students in this concentration study ways to create designs with minimal negative environmental impact, such as eco-friendly packaging solutions and plastic-free alternatives.||Environmental advocate; product packaging designer|
|Illustration||Students in this graphic design concentration learn to create illustrations for traditional and digital media. Through freehand or by using digital imaging software ,such as Illustrator or Photoshop, students design images that can be standalone creations or used in print, film, or websites.||Book illustrator; digital artist for web pages|
|Web Design||Web design combines virtual designing skills with user interface design. Students learn to design and create websites at the same time by using software like Dreamweaver or working in a WordPress environment.||Website creator; online content creator|
|Game Design||This concentration focuses on the aesthetics, mechanics, and technology of game design. Students analyze the educational and entertainment components, as well as the methodology and rules of game design. Students also learn about story development and the role of improvisation in creating interactive digital games.||Video game developer|
Courses in a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design Program
The classes you take in a graphic design program are typically a mix of creative and technical courses. This is true for both online and on-campus degrees. Each school offers its own curriculum to meet the objectives of their graphic design program. However, there are certain fundamental design courses that most of them have in common.
- Desktop Publishing
In a desktop publishing course, you learn to design pages for web and print publications. You gain mastery of various desktop publishing software and hands-on experience in the different production phases of publication. These courses typically incorporate elements of web design, digital imaging, and technical and business writing.
- Digital Photography
The skills you learn in digital photography classes help you qualify for work as a layout artist or photography editor for online media. A digital photography class usually covers topics such as camera basics, composition, color theory, post-production, and advanced staging techniques.
- Multimedia Animation
In a multimedia animation class, students study basic animation concepts, such as 2D and 3D design, motion graphics, post-production, and film and digital editing. The course develops a student’s visual storytelling skills and prepares them for jobs as film editors and digital animators.
A typography course exposes students to the history, evolution, and role of typography and typographic design in the field of graphic design. Students learn effective visual communication techniques by mastering typographic software, such as Adobe Illustrator. This course provides basic knowledge and training for work as a web page designer, print ad artist, and packaging designer.
- Web Graphics
A web graphics course teaches you how to manipulate and optimize images for the web and create effective presentations across different platforms and browsers. A web graphics class typically covers digital video production, image enhancement, photography, web design, and application programming.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design?
It typically takes four years for a full-time student to earn a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. Some classes have prerequisite courses that you must take before enrolling in them. If the prerequisite course is only offered once a year and you miss taking it, this can delay your graduation. However, you can enroll in a similar class at another school and transfer the credits later, but be sure to inquire about your current school’s transfer policy before enrolling in a class at another institution. Consider taking summer classes if you wish to earn your degree sooner. Some schools also allow students to load up on additional courses during the regular semester. However, check with your school first since not all schools or programs permit this. As with most four-year degrees, bachelor’s in graphic design programs are comprised of 120 semester credits, or about 40 courses.
How Much Is a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design?
There are several factors that affect the cost of graphic design programs, including residency status, the school’s reputation, and whether you attend an online or on-campus program. If you attend a public university in your home state, you are entitled to in-state tuition, which is often considerably lower than tuition at private institutions. Out-of-state students pay higher tuition than resident students. A school’s reputation also often affects the cost of their programs.
The Savannah College of Art and Design offers one of the most popular bachelor’s programs in graphic design; its 2018-2019 tuition is $36,630, which does not include room and board, materials, and school fees. The most affordable graphic design program is just under $26,000, making it almost 35% cheaper. Although you can often save on housing and transportation if you enroll in an online program, most schools charge the same cost per unit for their online and on-campus programs. Some schools require nonresident online students to pay out-of-state tuition and charge them a technology fee per unit as well. The cost of a graphic design degree program varies quite a bit, so do your research. Remember that the most affordable program may not always be the best choice for you in terms of meeting your education and career goals.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design Prepares For
- Adobe CS5
This certification teaches graphic designers how to enhance images and photos, determine graphic format and resolution, store photos for uploading, and use various visual editing tools and techniques. Earning this certification qualifies a graphic designer for work as a digital editor and web page developer.
- Autodesk 3ds Max
This is a computer graphics program often used for creating 3D animations, images, and models. Skills learned in the program are used for special effects in film, storyboard visualization, and video game development. Mastering this program prepares you for jobs such as digital animator and creative director.
- Certified Internet Webmaster
CorelDraw is a graphics vector editing tool designed to manipulate 2D images. There are three certification levels: Corel certified proficient user, Corel certified expert user, and Corel certified instructor. With a Corel certification, you may be qualified to work as a logo designer or a print ad illustrator.
Resources for Graphic Design Students
There is no shortage of high-quality free images that graphic designers can use, as long as you know where to find them. This cached site contains a list of 101 free image websites to begin your search.
Graphic design software can get very expensive, especially if you’re just beginning in the field. Hone your graphic design skills before investing in expensive software by downloading free design software online.
Whether you’re looking for a refresher course or simply curious to find out about an aspect of graphic design, taking a massive open online course (MOOC) can build your knowledge and skills.
Free graphic design tutorials abound online. Increase your design know-how by learning how various projects are completed, such as how to design a magazine cover or how to use texture and geometrical shapes in design.
This website focuses on the role of typography in graphic design. It also shares a calendar of graphic design workshops and interactive installations where students can find excellent networking opportunities.
Professional Organizations in Graphic Design
Joining a professional graphic design organization brings many benefits, such as networking opportunities, job leads, collaborations, and career advancement. As graphic design continues to evolve and expand, building a strong career network becomes more vital. This is true whether you are just starting out in the industry or a seasoned graphic design professional.