If you are interested in communicating ideas through images and creative text, you may want to consider a career in graphic design. From advertisements in magazine pages to eye-catching television commercials, graphic designers employ artistry and technical skills to create memorable multimedia content. To become a graphic designer, a good place to start is earning an online graphic design associate degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), careers in graphic design will remain steady through 2024, but employment of graphic designers in computer systems design is expected to grow 21% in that same period. Read on to learn more about earning an associate degree that can propel you into the creative and dynamic field of graphic design.

What are the best graphic design programs of 2020? Here are our top 5:

Rank School Location
1 Foothill College Los Altos Hills, CA
2 Surry Community College Dobson, NC
3 Hagerstown Community College Hagerstown, MD
4 Gateway Technical College Kenosha, WI
5 Columbus State Community College Columbus, OH

What Are The Best Online Graphic Design Program?

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Foothill College

Los Altos Hills, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 63%

Foothill offers over 165 certificates and degrees, including an online associate of arts in graphic and interactive design that prepares graduates for entry-level positions in web development and digital publishing. Distance learners can complete the program entirely online or take some classes at Foothill's campus in Los Altos Hills, California.

Requiring 90 quarter credits, this associate in graphic design program covers topics like 2D foundations, typography, and user experience design. Students use elective credits to pursue specialized topics, choosing from options like mobile application design and cartoon/comic illustration. They may also take an advanced game art and design course.

Foothill does not require applicants to have a minimum GPA or submit ACT or SAT scores. However, all prospective students need to meet prerequisite assessment requirements.


Surry Community College

Dobson, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 30%

Based in Dobson, North Carolina, SCC serves more than 3,000 students, many of whom enroll in online courses. SCC's academic catalog includes an online associate degree in digital media technology/graphic design. After completing this 72-credit program, graduates are prepared to work as web developers, graphic artists, and animation specialists.

Program coursework covers graphic design tools and quantitative literacy. Students also delve into web programming and database administration. During their final semester, learners prepare for careers by exploring professional practice and emerging technologies in the design and IT fields. SCC powers distance education with the Moodle platform

To enroll in this online associate in graphic design program, applicants complete a residency determination form and an online application. The college offers a variety of financial aid opportunities, including Finish Line Grants for working professionals and returning students.


Hagerstown Community College

Hagerstown, MD Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 32%

Founded in 1946 as Maryland's first two-year school, HCC now serves over 4,000 students annually. Programs include an online associate of arts and science with a graphic design concentration. Using a hybrid delivery method, the program allows students to complete general education courses online before taking major courses on campus.

The curriculum consists of courses like technical writing, digital imaging, and computer illustration with Adobe. While earning their online associate degree in graphic design, students also develop skills in typography and digital layout. Learners work with an advisor to choose 2-3 electives, with options like figure drawing and 2D animation.

HCC maintains an open-door admission policy that does not require a minimum GPA or standardized test scores. Applicants submit an online application and official school transcripts before meeting with an enrollment counselor, who helps them access financial aid and sign up for classes.


Gateway Technical College

Kenosha, WI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 28%

Located in Racine, Wisconsin, Gateway serves about 7,000 students through more than 70 career-training and academic programs each year. The college offers an online associate in graphic communications that requires 61 credits.

Program coursework includes advanced design concepts, digital photography, and technical reporting. Learners can gain hands-on experience by participating in a district-wide design show sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. They may also pursue internships with local tech companies and even study abroad. Students can complete the program entirely online or complete some on-campus coursework.

Applicants must submit an online application and high school transcripts. They must also sit for placement testing.


Columbus State Community College

Columbus, OH Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 23%

CSCC offers an online associate of applied science in digital design and graphics that emphasizes technical competencies. Learners gain the skills needed to pursue entry-level careers or take advantage of one of the college's many transfer opportunities.

CSCC's associate in graphic design curriculum covers topics like digital photography, interactive media fundamentals, and website creation. Students also examine storyboarding techniques and branding strategies. They master a variety of Adobe programs, including InDesign, Muse, and Illustrator.

CSCC provides a free online application process. Prospective students can fulfill placement testing requirements by submitting ACT or SAT scores or taking an institutional entrance exam. The college powers distance education with the Blackboard platform.

What Will I Learn in an Online Graphic Design Program?

Along with major-specific courses, graphic design associate degrees usually include general education courses in areas such as English, math, and liberal arts. While the curriculum will vary by program, many degrees include the following graphic design courses:

  • Typography: Required in almost every graphic design associate degree, this course teaches the fundamentals of typography, or the arrangement of type. This includes the study of technology, theory, and practice. Once students learn the basics of typography, they will often use it to solve a specific design problem.
  • Web Design: This course is required in many programs since graphic design graduates often work as web designers. Students will learn the fundamentals of HTML and CSS in order to design or customize user-friendly websites.
  • Digital Tools: This class is essential for graphic designers since they need to be highly proficient in software platforms like Adobe Creative Suite, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, and InDesign. The class may also teach more specialized skills in programs like Flash, which is used for animation.
  • History of Graphic Design: Sometimes taught as an art history course, the history of graphic design introduces students to the art of design, technical innovations, and important designers who have contributed to the field.
  • Portfolio: This course will teach students to assemble a resume and an accompanying portfolio of completed projects that can be used when applying for jobs or as preparation for a bachelor's degree. Most jobs related to graphic design, including web and multimedia design, require the submission of a portfolio.

What Can I Do With an Associate Degree in Graphic Design?

Graphic design associate degrees give you the technical know-how to be successful in a competitive job market. Some of the most popular jobs in the field right now are related to web design and the production of multimedia content. A graphic designer's combination of technical and artistic skills can also lead to careers in fine arts, animation, and advertising. Those employed at commercial firms will generally work in design teams in traditional offices outfitted with studio equipment. Designers working in these settings are usually salaried employees, but many designers are self-employed. According to BLS, in 2014 about half of all multimedia artists were self-employed, and one in seven web designers were self-employed. Self-employed individuals should be prepared to work from home, and should also be prepared to work nights and weekends if a client has a tight deadline.

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers are responsible for visually communicating ideas across a variety of multimedia platforms, and may design advertisements, magazines, and promotional materials. According to BLS, one in five graphic designers was self-employed in 2014.

Web Designer/Developer

Web designers are responsible for the look of a website, but also need to know the ins and outs of a website's architecture. Because of this, web designers should be proficient in both computer programming and graphic design.

Multimedia Artist

Working in fields such as motion media design, television, and video games, these artists create animations and visual effects. Multimedia artists need both technical and graphic design skills, and should have a strong portfolio of work.


Students with an online graphic design associate degree can transfer into bachelor's-level programs in graphic design, web design, animation, or visual communication. According to BLS, many job candidates for graphic design jobs have bachelor's degrees and will need to demonstrate their skills with a strong portfolio of work. Transferring into bachelor's degree programs will allow students to expand their portfolio while giving them a competitive edge once they hit the job market.

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design: The main difference between a bachelor of fine arts degree and a bachelor of arts is the ratio of courses. BFA degrees involve more major and art-related courses, while BA degrees include more liberal arts classes. Because credit requirements vary, not all associate degree courses transfer into a BFA as easily as a BA.
  • Bachelor of Arts in Animation: This degree is all about the art of motion, its history, and its practical applications. Students with an associate degree in graphic design generally have the art background and technical experience necessary to transfer into an animation program.
  • Bachelor of Science in Web Design/Development: Graphic designers transferring into web development programs will enhance their knowledge of web standards, advanced programming concepts, and applications. According to BLS, employment of web developers is expected to grow 27% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average.
  • Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communications: Visual communications is a general term used to describe how design impacts the presentation of information and ideas. Due to the overlap between graphic design and visual communication, students may find it easy to transfer credits from an online associate degree in graphic design.

Salary Outlook for Associate in Graphic Design Graduates

According to BLS, the median annual salary for graphic designers was $47,640 in May of 2016. However, salaries vary greatly, with the lowest 10% earning less than $27,950 and the highest 10% earning over $82,020. Salaries also vary based on industry, with graphic designers employed in computer systems design earning almost $17,000 more per year than those employed in printing and related services.

Employment and Mean Salary by Occupation

  Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Specialized Design Services 21.16 $54,620
Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services 4.6 $53,900
Printing and Related Support Activities 4.14 $41,520
Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers 4.39 $46,510
Computer Systems Design and Related Services 0.49 $58,300

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Financing Your Online Associate in Graphic Design Program

Online graphic design associate degree programs generally have a number of funding options available to students, including merit and need-based scholarships, loans, and federal financial aid. Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify for financial aid and federal work-study programs. The FAFSA may also be required by schools in order to be considered for need-based scholarships.


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