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.

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%

Best States for Graphic Designers

Graphic design provides a good fit for independent, creative professionals interested in either working for themselves or working remotely. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculates that graphic designers make a solid median annual salary of $48,700, with 20% of them maintaining self-employment. While the BLS also projects the graphic design profession to grow at a slower-than-average rate over the next decade, the freedom, flexibility, and creativity inherent to the job often compensate for graphic design professionals.

The following page provides a ranked list of the best states for graphic designers. As you might expect, coastal cities with larger populations generally provide hubs for the creative class, making the states that house them the best fits for graphic designers. Nevertheless, some of the top regions for professional graphic designers might surprise you, as certain smaller areas can provide a greater concentration of job opportunities for creatives. Read on for a deeper dive into the procedure we used to create this list.


We used the following criteria to create our ranked list of the best states for graphic designers:

  • Employment Opportunities for Graphic Designers: States with a greater number of graphic design jobs received higher rankings in our list.
  • Salary Potential for Graphic Designers: States with higher mean annual wages earned elevated spots in our rankings.
  • Strong Graphic Design College Programs: States with strong or highly ranked college graphic design programs received a bump in our list.
  • Resources for Self-Employed Graphic Designers: States with cities that house organizations that could help the 20% of graphic designers who work for themselves, (e.g., an entrepreneur center or a graphic design group) received a higher spot in our rankings.
Rank School Location Description Toggle


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California employs more graphic designers (29,750) than any other state in the nation. The Golden State achieves this volume through several hubs, including Los Angeles (10,960 jobs, the second-most out of any city) and San Francisco (3,460 jobs, seventh-most). Other cities provide density (3.98 out of every 1,000 employees in San Rafael are graphic designers) and high salaries (San Jose is the highest-paying metropolitan area in the country for graphic designers with an annual mean wage of nearly $77,000). California as a whole also qualifies as the third-highest paying state for graphic designers, with a statewide mean annual wage of $59,210.

The Golden State also houses top-ranked graphic design programs at Santa Clara's California Institute of the Arts, Orange's Chapman University, Los Angeles's Otis College of Art and Design, the Bay Area's California College of the Arts, and Pasadena's ArtCenter College of Design.


New York

The Empire State derives much of its success in graphic design from New York City. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, NYC employs the most graphic designers of any major metropolitan area (18,690, nearly twice the number of designers in second place Los Angeles). New York City also ranks as the seventh-most concentrated city for graphic designers, with 2.84 out of every 1,000 employees working in the field.

Additionally, New York state boasts the second-highest mean annual wage for graphic designers, at nearly $63,000. The state also maintains the highest concentration of designers, with 2.36 out of every 1,000 employees statewide plying their trade in the graphic design industry. New York houses more acclaimed graphic design programs than any other state, including Rochester Institute of Technology, School of Visual Arts, Parsons School of Design at The New School, Fashion Institute of Technology, the Pratt Institute, the University at Buffalo, CUNY Queens College, SUNY New Paltz, and SUNY Fredonia.


District of Columbia

Though Washington, D.C., does not earn a place among housing the most of nation's graphic design jobs, the nation's capital makes up for that deficiency in terms of concentration (2.35 out of every 1,000 professionals work in the graphic design field) and annual mean wage (nearly $70,000, good for highest in the nation and $7,000 higher than New York, the closest competitor). Additionally, when factoring Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia into the D.C. metropolitan area, the capital sits at fifth on the list of cities with the most graphic design jobs (4,790) and sixth for highest-paying metropolitan areas (over $67,000). Additionally, the nearby Silver Spring-Frederick-Rockville metropolitan area sits ninth on the same list (nearly $64,000).

While Washington, D.C., does not house any elite graphic design programs, it does boast proximity to strong programs at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond) and Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore).



The Sunshine State offers plenty of opportunity for graphic designers, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that Florida offers 12,500 different positions in the field, making Florida the state with the third-most graphic design jobs in the country. Florida offers a middle-of-the-pack annual mean wage at nearly $46,000.

Nevertheless, Florida primarily derives its strength in graphic design from its distinguished university programs. Several of Florida's flagship universities, including the University of Florida, the University of Miami, and Florida State University, frequently stand in the top 15 (or even the top five) on various graphic design program lists. Each program offers both bachelor and master of fine arts options in graphic design. UF's program stands out, focusing on providing opportunities for students to collaborate and sending graduates to positions in places like Walt Disney Studios.



One of the country's largest states, Texas also offers plenty of opportunity to graphic designers. The Lone Star State currently sits at fourth on the Bureau of Labor Statistics list of the states with the most graphic design jobs (over 12,000). Texas also provides graphic designers with a respectable annual wage (more than $48,000) and two high-employment metropolises in Houston (3,210 jobs, ninth place out of all major cities) and Dallas (3,190 jobs, 10th).

The Lone Star State houses three particularly strong graphic design schools: the University of Texas at El Paso, Texas A&M University-Commerce, and Texas Christian University. Dallas and Austin also operate entrepreneur centers that can provide resources to graphic designers who want to strike out on their own.



According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois currently houses over 9,600 graphic design jobs, good for fifth-most out of all 50 states. With an annual mean wage of more than $53,000 for graphic designers, the Land of Lincoln sits in second place among the top five states with the most graphic design jobs.

Illinois owes much of the credit for its strong graphic design scene to the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights metropolitan area, which provides nearly 7,000 graphic design jobs, third-most out of all major cities. The state also houses strong graphic design programs at Dominican University in River Forest and the University of Illinois. The state's flagship university, U of I, offers both bachelor and master of fine arts programs in graphic design.



Massachusetts earns its elevated place on this list thanks to the quality of life and educational opportunities that it offers to graphic designers. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bay State maintains the fifth-highest mean annual wage for graphic designers, at more than $58,000. Furthermore, the Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford area is the second-highest paying out of all of the nation's metropolitan areas, offering an annual mean wage of nearly $76,000.

Massachusetts maintains a reputation for strong higher education, and the graphic design field is no exception. Boston University and Massachusetts College of Art and Design consistently earn their places among the top graphic design schools. Massachusetts also boasts proximity to elite programs in other states, such as Rhode Island School of Design, which operates a little over an hour from Boston in Providence.



Maryland offers both quality of life and highly concentrated areas that offer plenty of opportunity to graphic designers. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maryland provides graphic designers with the fourth-highest mean annual wage (nearly $59,000) out of all 50 states. Furthermore, Maryland benefits from proximity to Washington D.C., as the D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria area (sixth) and the Silver Spring-Frederick-Rockville area (ninth) both land in the top 10 highest-paying metropolitan areas for graphic designers. Washington D.C. also houses the fifth-most graphic design jobs (4,790) out of all cities.

Maryland offers strong educational programs to aspiring graphic designers, as Maryland Institute College of Art consistently earns a spot among the top graphic design schools. The Baltimore-based MICA offers both bachelor and master of fine arts programs in graphic design.



Pennsylvania earns a spot in the top 10 best states for graphic designers thanks to the state's college programs. The University of Pennsylvania often earns a spot near the top of the best graphic design schools, with Carnegie Mellon University following in the top five or 10 and Pennsylvania State University somewhere near the top 25. As such, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the locations of Carnegie Mellon and Penn, respectively, provide hubs for professional graphic designers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Philadelphia offers the eighth-highest mean annual wage for graphic designers out of all metropolitan areas (over $65,000).

The three aforementioned PA schools offer master's degrees in graphic design. Penn State and Carnegie Mellon provide undergraduate programs in design, and Carnegie Mellon also offers a Ph.D. in design.



Though often unable to match the sheer volume of job opportunities when compared to more populous states, Utah offers both a high concentration of graphic design jobs and a high quality of life to professionals in the field. According to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Beehive State is the third-most concentrated state in the nation for its available graphic design jobs, with 2.11 out of every 1,000 employees across the state working in graphic design.

Additionally, the Provo-Orem metropolitan area ranks as the fourth-most concentrated metropolitan area of graphic designers in all 50 states, as 3.32 out of 1,000 employees are graphic designers. Provo-Orem also earned the distinction of number one small-to-medium-sized metropolitan area for entrepreneurs, making it a haven for graphic designers looking to work for themselves.



The Land of 10,000 Lakes earns a spot among the best states for graphic designers thanks to its well-rounded graphic design scene, which includes highly concentrated areas and an elite graphic design college. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Minnesota offers the fourth-highest concentration of graphic design jobs out of all 50 states, as 2.03 out of every thousand employed Minnesotans work in graphic design.

Moreover, Minnesota contains metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas with a high volume or concentration of graphic designers. The Twin Cities employ the sixth-most graphic designers (more than 4,300) out of all U.S. cities. The Mankato and Fargo metropolitan areas both rank in the top 10 most concentrated metropolitan areas for graphic designers. The northwest Minnesota non-metropolitan area tops all of the country's non-metropolitan areas for employment numbers. Finally, the University of Minnesota offers both graduate and undergraduate graphic design programs that frequently earn high rankings.



Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Beaver State currently maintains the fifth-highest concentration of graphic designers out of all 50 states, as 1.97 out of every thousand employed Oregonians work in the field. That level of concentration, combined with the presence of a creative hub in Portland and proximity to Seattle, earns Oregon a place among the best states for graphic designers.

Oregon also benefits from the plentiful resources it offers to entrepreneurs and graphic designers. The Portland State Center for Entrepreneurship and the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network provide guidance and resources to graphic designers who want to strike out on their own and work for themselves. Oregon also maintains a healthy mean annual wage of nearly $53,000 for all of its graphic designers, a figure that ranks just outside of the salaries in the top 10 highest-paying states.



Georgia earns a spot on the list of the best states for graphic designers by providing a high number of available jobs and highly concentrated areas for professionals in the field. The Peach State derives much of its success in graphic design from Atlanta. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metropolitan area employs the fourth-most graphic designers (nearly 4,900) out of all major U.S. cities. Furthermore, organizations like Startup Atlanta and the Urban League of Greater Atlanta's Entrepreneurship Center provide resources to self-employed graphic designers.

Nevertheless, Georgia's strength in graphic design extends beyond Atlanta. The north Georgia area pays the second-highest annual mean wage (over $53,000) of all U.S. non-metropolitan sectors. Additionally, the Georgia Centers of Innovation assist graphic designers who work for themselves throughout the state.



The Evergreen State garners a spot on our list thanks to its high mean annual wage and Seattle's standing as a creative hub for professionals in the graphic design field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graphic designers in Washington take home an average salary of nearly $56,000 each year, a figure that places Washington in the top 10 highest-paying states for designers. Furthermore, Seattle provides plenty of opportunities to graphic designers. The Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metropolitan area contains the eighth-most graphic design jobs (over 3,300) of all U.S. cities.

Although Washington does not boast any elite graphic design programs, the state makes up for it with plentiful resources for self-employed graphic designers. Seattle contains many different entrepreneurship-related organizations, including Seattle University's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, the University of Washington's Arthur W. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, Startup Seattle, and the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship.


New Jersey

The Garden State earns a top 15 place on the list of the best states for graphic designers thanks to its proximity to New York City. Most figures that evaluate the Big Apple's suitability for graphic designers measure the entire New York metropolitan area, which includes Jersey City. Designers can live in Jersey City and easily commute to New York for work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to all other U.S. cities, the New York-Jersey City-White Plains metropolitan area sits first in graphic design jobs (18,690), seventh in annual mean wage (over $66,000), and eighth in concentration (2.84 out of every 1,000 professionals work in graphic design).

Nevertheless, New Jersey also excels beyond New York City. Trenton ranks as the fifth-highest paying city in the nation, providing a more than $68,000 annual mean wage to designers. Additionally, with a statewide annual mean wage of nearly $58,000 for designers, New Jersey earns a place among the six highest-paying states for professionals in the industry.


Rhode Island

Rhode Island owes its spot among the best states for graphic designers to one of the most elite and renowned design schools: Rhode Island School of Design. RISD offers both bachelor and master of fine arts programs in graphic design. Given the school's influence, RISD's undergraduate programs boast plenty of connections for internships for upperclassmen, giving them a jump on their careers upon graduation. The program maintains significant admission requirements, including a portfolio of up to 20 drawings and designs.

Beyond RISD, Rhode Island boasts a convenient northeastern location that provides proximity to other elite programs and major cities, such as Boston. Several organizations in Rhode Island can help graphic designers to strike out on their own. Little Rhody maintains an under-the-radar startup culture that can help professionals who want to claim ownership of a design company. With a mean annual wage of more than $53,000 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), Rhode Island also earns a spot among the 10 highest-paying states for designers.


North Carolina

The Tar Heel State receives its spot among the top 25 best states for graphic designers thanks to a pair of strong graphic design schools. Raleigh's North Carolina State University and Boone's Appalachian State University typically feature near the top of graphic design program rankings. Both schools offer undergraduate programs in graphic design, while NC State also features a master of fine arts program.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina's designers earn an annual mean wage of around $49,000. The Tar Heel State also houses several organizations that can help graphic designers become self-employed entrepreneurs, including NC IDEA, the NC Council for Economic Development, and the Carolina Small Business Development Fund. Moreover, the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill Triangle Area recently earned recognition as a growing hotspot for entrepreneurship.



Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iowa sits in the middle of the pack for its annual mean wage (around $45,000) and employment opportunities (around 2,300) for graphic designers. As such, the Hawkeye State stands out as a top 25 graphic design state for education-related reasons. Based in Ames, Iowa State University houses one of the nation's strongest undergraduate graphic design programs. The program only admits 76 students each year, ensuring plenty of close interaction between student and faculty in addition to workshopping and feedback.

Aside from Iowa State's program, the state also provides self-employed graphic designers with plenty of resources for support. The University of Iowa operates the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, which runs workshops, provides consulting, and offers other resources. Additionally, the Iowa Entrepreneur television series spotlights successful entrepreneurs throughout the Hawkeye State, providing self-employed designers with inspiration and tips.



Colorado grabs a place among the best states for graphic designers primarily thanks to a few highly concentrated design areas and an elite design-related program at the University of Denver. The Centennial State houses creative cities such as Denver and Boulder. According to figures gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Boulder is the second-most concentrated city for professional designers, as 3.45 out of every thousand employed Boulder citizens work in the field. Additionally, southwest Colorado is the highest-paying non-metropolitan area in the nation for graphic designers, providing an annual mean wage of nearly $5,700, $3,000 higher than its closest competitor.

Colorado also boasts a strong design program at the University of Denver. Though the program awards a studio art degree in name, students benefit from a great deal of freedom in shaping their coursework, allowing them to focus on graphic design if they wish.


New Hampshire

At first glance, New Hampshire does not seem like a state that would earn a place among the best states for graphic design. Given the Granite State's smaller population and lack of major urban centers, the state does not provide as many graphic design positions as other, more populous states.

Nevertheless, New Hampshire does provide a high concentration of relatively high-paying design positions in certain areas. According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the northern New Hampshire area maintains the highest concentration of design jobs out of all U.S. non-metropolitan areas, as 2.14 of every thousand employees work in the field. Furthermore, west central New Hampshire claims fourth place out of all U.S. non-metropolitan areas for its annual mean wage (nearly $50,000). Based on this data, New Hampshire provides a strong fit for designers who do not want to live in the hustle and bustle of a city, offering a unique quality among the states on this list.



Connecticut earns a place on the list of the best states for graphic designers thanks to strength in annual mean wages for designers and an elite design school. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among all 50 states, the Constitution State offers one of the highest annual mean wages to designers at around $58,000. Connecticut also houses high-paying places in the form of the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk metropolitan area (10th highest-paying city for designers in the nation) and its non-metropolitan area (third highest paying among all U.S. non-metropolitan areas).

Connecticut also offers a strong master of fine arts in graphic design program at a university that needs no introduction: Yale. The program takes two years, with students who enroll in a preliminary year program receiving guaranteed admission. Each cohort consists of a maximum of 10 students, ensuring plenty of individualized attention.



In many cases, graphic designers work in urban, creative hubs such as New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. The Badger State scored a spot among the top 25 best states thanks to the opportunities that it provides to graphic designers to work outside of that traditional city environment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin houses two of the top five non-metropolitan areas with the highest number of graphic design positions: south central Wisconsin (third) and northeastern Wisconsin (fifth). Furthermore, south central Wisconsin ranks fifth among the highest-paying non-metropolitan areas in the nation for graphic designers, providing a mean annual wage of nearly $48,000.

The Badger State also offers several different resources for graphic designers who want to strike out on their own. Some helpful Wisconsin-based organizations include Capital Entrepreneurs, the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Madison Area Technical College Center for Entrepreneurship.



Virginia receives its spot in the top 25 best states for graphic designers thanks to a high median annual wage, proximity to the nation's capital, and a strong college program. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia-based designers earn an annual mean wage of nearly $57,000, placing Virginia among the 10 highest-paying states for graphic designers. Virginia also benefits from proximity to Washington D.C., which offers the fifth-most design jobs out of any U.S. city, provides the sixth-highest annual mean wage out of all U.S. cities to designers, and houses elite design schools such as American University.

Virginia's strongest design college is Richmond's Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU offers design-related bachelor of fine arts (BFA) and master of fine arts programs. The BFA in graphic design at VCU differentiates itself from its peers by focusing on social and cultural awareness and ethics.



Ohio squeaks into the top 25 best states for graphic designers thanks to some high-employment non-metropolitan areas and resources for self-employed designers in the state's largest cities. Ohio houses some of the most fertile non-metropolitan areas for graphic designers in the nation. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that the Buckeye State contains two of the five non-metropolitan areas with the most graphic design jobs: west northwestern Ohio (second) and north northeastern Ohio (fourth).

For designers who prefer urban areas and remote work, cities such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus all provide resources that can help designers strike out on their own. These organizations include StartupCincy, the Cleveland State Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center (Columbus). The annual mean wage for graphic designers in Ohio currently sits at nearly $47,000.


North Dakota

Though perhaps a surprise inclusion on this list, North Dakota squeaks into the top 25 best states for graphic designers primarily thanks to the Fargo metropolitan area. According to data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Fargo is the 10th-most concentrated metropolitan area in the nation for graphic designers, as 2.57 out of every thousand employed citizens work in the graphic design field. As such, North Dakota provides a great fit for designers looking for a more remote location, a bit of snow, or untamed wilderness.

While the annual mean wage of $41,000 for graphic designers in North Dakota does not seem like much at first glance, it goes a long way when adjusted for the Roughrider State's low cost of living. Furthermore, a set of entrepreneur centers throughout the state assist designers who want to work for themselves or work remotely, giving them the tools to find clients beyond North Dakota's borders.

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.

Admission Materials

  • 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

Concentration Description Careers
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

With a CIW designation, employers know you are experienced in designing and developing websites and familiar with advanced technologies, such as plug-ins, CSS, and JavaScript. By getting this certification, you gain the knowledge and skills you need to work as a web designer.


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.


As the scripting language of the internet, JavaScript is used on millions of webpages for tasks such as enhancing design, creating cookies, and detecting browsers. JavaScript mastery lets you design and develop more engaging and interactive web pages as a web developer.

Resources for Graphic Design Students

Free Images

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 Software

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.

MOOC -- Graphic Design

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.