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 Online Graphic Design Program?
|Los Altos Hills, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 56%||
The online graphic design associate degree at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, prepares graduates to use the latest technology in print, digital, and interactive design fields. Courses explore web design and user experience, print production, digital photography, and typography. Electives offer experience in areas of illustration, animation, game design, garment printing, and virtual reality.
Foothill offers all required courses through the Canvas online learning platform. However, many classes rotate every two years. Students should work with their academic adviser to develop a degree plan or apply for course substitutions.
The 90-unit degree requires 50 units in graphic arts and interactive design. These core design courses combine into an embedded graphics arts certificate program. In these studio courses, students use industry-standard software to develop and edit graphics, design projects, and develop campaigns. A career exploration course helps students evaluate possible career options and prepare for interviews.
The general education curriculum prepares students to transfer to a four-year college with junior standing. The school maintains articulation agreements with others located throughout the region. Foothill offers open admission with a focus on basic skills, equitable education opportunities, service leadership, and sustainable practices.
The school serves about 15,000 students each year through its two campus locations and its online courses. Free online modules allow students to test drive the platform and evaluate their readiness for online learning. These courses also provide tips for college success. The online help desk provides tech support and password retrieval, while the library offers remote search access. Online students can use on-campus services as well, including career services and the counseling center.
Surry Community College
|Dobson, NC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 31%||
Surry Community College's associate in graphic design online program gives learners a strong foundation in design and communication theory, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Graduates leave the program ready to tackle the jobs of today, and their skills allow them to adapt to changing technologies and applications of the future.
The two-year, 72-credit applied associate degree focuses on career-specific skills in writing, design, and multimedia production. Students take 53 credits in areas of digital media design and web design. Learners can explore programming for the internet, optimizing user experience, and developing mobile applications with an eye on design and functionality.
Coursework includes online lectures, discussions, and projects that showcase a student's design skills. In the systems project course, enrollees take responsibility for defining, testing, presenting, and implementing digital media projects. The professional practice unit allows students to develop their professional portfolios and resumes in preparation for entering their career fields.
Located in Dobson, North Carolina, SCC focuses on developing skilled practitioners for the workforce and instilling a desire for lifelong learning. The school participates in veterans' education programs and offers open admissions.
SCC features eight online degrees and six online certificates through the Moodle learning platform. All students complete an online orientation to ensure they understand the tools and resources available before beginning their classes, while advisers help to plan learners' degree paths. The academic support department offers online tutoring, and the school provides comprehensive student support, including counseling and career services.
Cuyahoga Community College District
|Cleveland, OH||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 15%||
Print and multimedia applications are the focus of the online graphic design associate degree at Cuyahoga Community College. The curriculum develops problem-solving, critical thinking, and team skills with a foundation in illustration. Students also learn about business theories in branding and marketing.
Students must complete a general education core, which prepares graduates choose to pursue four-year degrees. Courses examine typography, digital photography, illustration, and color. Students also learn to work with vendors, manage workflow processes, and communicate effectively with clients. The capstone course helps learners develop their brands and prepare professional portfolios. The course also helps prepare students for interviews and presenting their work to clients. Learners receive a certificate of proficiency in graphic design.
Students can complete 75% of the degree requirements through Tri-C's online course offerings. Most remaining courses take place on the Cleveland campus, which features a state-of-the-art graphic design lab. Students can use one of the 89 iMac stations and access industry-standard software such as the Adobe Creative Cloud. Additional equipment includes scanners, large-format printers, photography equipment, and a video production studio.
Online students at Tri-C receive full access to the school's library and research resources. Students communicate with faculty members, classmates, and advisers through Blackboard. Smarthinking offers help with classes and writing assignments. Students receive a free copy of Microsoft Office 365 Pro as well.
Columbus State Community College
|Columbus, OH||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 21%||
Columbus State Community College offers more online course and degree options than any other education provider in Ohio. The 65-credit, two-year online graphic design associate degree prepares graduates for entry-level jobs in the visual communications field.
The curriculum includes general education courses that prepare students for continued education. Learners also undergo hands-on training in digital design and related tools. Students study color management and typography, digital storytelling, branding, and interactive media. The department also provides tutoring sessions on industry software such as Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop.
The associate program includes embedded industry certifications in Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop, Digital Design, and Digital Painting. In the capstone course, each student creates cohesive ad campaigns and completes a professional portfolio that showcases their best work.
Students need regular and reliable access to a computer capable of running the Adobe Creative Suite of programs to complete online coursework. Instructors make assignments, deliver lectures, and facilitate class discussions through Blackboard. This learning management system allows students to check in and work on tasks as their schedule allows, rather than logging on at specific times during the week.
CSCC welcomes AP transfer credit or early post-secondary college experiences. Transfer agreements ensure graduates can continue their degrees at four-year colleges, with nine partner schools offering guaranteed acceptance and seamless course transfer.
CSCC strives to offer an affordable, accessible choice for higher education. The open admission policy welcomes all students, though ACT and SAT scores can help with placement in general education courses. More than 75% of students graduate with no college debt.
Lone Star College System
|Woodlands, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 12%||
The Lone Star College System offers a partially online graphic design associate degree, with on-campus options at the CyFair, North Harris and Kingwood campuses in the Houston, Texas, area. The program includes an embedded certification in graphic design, with all credits applied to the degree.
Online courses, including general education requirements, use asynchronous scheduling. On-campus classes make use of the school's computer facilities to incorporate hands-on projects and student collaboration throughout the program. The curriculum ensures students receive a foundation in theories of typography, visual organization, and production technology. Students then learn to interpret client specifications to create a variety of visual materials, including packaging, logos, print ads, and digital media presentations.
The school hosts extracurricular and enrichment activities such as the Nonprofit Design-a-Thon, It's a Wrap media festival, annual student art show, and mock portfolio shows. During the capstone experience, students develop a professional portfolio or take part in a cooperative learning experience in a commercial art business. Students may apply for internship opportunities with the in-house graphics department at LSC.
Faculty members hold appropriate academic credentials and professional experience in the graphic design industry. The Texas Skills Standards Board has certified that the curriculum meets industry-defined skill standards.
The school offers open enrollment to students in Houston and around the world. Online students enjoy the support and guidance of a personal academic adviser, plus access to all student services. These services include the library, career services, and community leadership opportunities.
St Charles Community College
|Cottleville, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 19%||
St. Charles Community College designed its online associate degree in graphic design to transfer seamlessly to a four-year institution. The program, which offers about half of degree requirements online, emphasizes studio art and design courses. General education credits prepare students to continue toward a bachelor's degree in art and graphics production.
The degree requires a minimum of 62 credits, with many students graduating in two years. Students gain proficiency in using Macintosh computers in the Mac Basics course. Students also learn to use digital scanners, video equipment, and printers. The digital art studio course builds on that knowledge by giving learners experience using industry-standard software. Drawing, two-dimensional, and three-dimensional design courses introduce students to visual aesthetics and design theory. The capstone portfolio design and professional practices course helps students prepare to apply for work in the graphic design field. Learners create a resume, curate work samples into a portfolio, and practice interviewing techniques.
Students can complete approximately half of their courses online. The remainder of the classes take place on the Cottleville, Missouri, campus. Students enjoy access to a well-equipped graphics computer lab. Online courses follow a flexible, asynchronous format and use the Canvas learning platform. Online tutors can assist students in math, science, and writing. The tutoring department also offers workshops and training.
Students planning to transfer to a four-year college need to check with their transfer institution for any special requirements, such as foreign language or science courses. The school provides a professional academic advising team that works with learners to create a degree plan. SCC's website also features a transfer planning section.
Gateway Technical College
|Kenosha, WI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 31%||
Gateway Technical College combines design training with strategic business planning for its online graphic design associate degree. Students completing the 60-credit, two-year curriculum learn how to use the latest technologies, design tools, and methods for marketing their products ethically and legally.
The ACBSP-accredited program includes instruction in design concepts, publishing, prepress, web design, and computer illustration. An elective business internship provides hands-on, real-world learning opportunities. All students complete the applied exit strategies course, which ensures enrollees leave the school prepared to enter the workforce. As part of the course, students develop professional portfolios and resumes, practice their interview skills, and prepare for the annual student design competition.
Faculty members share their industry experience with students, and the curriculum undergoes regular reviews to ensure it meets industry needs. An advisory committee of graphic design professionals helps guide curriculum decisions. The school provides computer labs outfitted with graphic design software, large-format printers, photography equipment, 3D printers, and projection equipment.
Gateway provides industry-focused education that remains accessible, flexible, and affordable for its students. The Kenosha, Wisconsin, school serves more than 21,000 students from its nine campus locations and online programs. The school offers college credit for work or military training and experience and accepts college transfer credits. Graduates can continue their education at a four-year college. Many graphic design students transfer to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design or the University of Wisconsin at Parkside with junior standing, thanks to transfer agreements.
Hagerstown Community College
|Hagerstown, MD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 37%||
The online graphic design associate degree programs at Hagerstown Community College provide hands-on instruction with a career-focused curriculum. While the school offers the general education curriculum and many design courses online, students must complete some of their design and art courses at the Hagerstown, Maryland campus.
Students choose either an AA degree with a graphic design concentration or an AAS degree in graphic design. Both provide foundations in design, computer graphics, drawing, and web design. The AA degree, however, aligns with transfer agreements to four-year colleges. Students planning to continue their education beyond HCC should choose this route. Learners interested in immediately entering the workforce may prefer the AAS degree, which requires fewer general education courses and puts greater emphasis on design, digital imaging, and illustration.
Students can complete the computer graphics, typography, and web design courses and general education curriculum online. Other courses require the tools and equipment offered in the school's graphic design studio. Throughout the program, students work on projects to include in their final portfolios.
HCC offers more than 100 programs of study in career preparation, industry training, and university transfer, with 6,000 credit-seeking students each term. Another 7,000 students seek continuing education through non-credit programs. Students can earn credit for their industry certifications, military training, life experiences, or challenge exams. The school also welcomes early college students, with early admission for qualified high school students.
Community College of Vermont
|Montpelier, VT||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 21%||
The Community College of Vermont offers multiple focus areas within its online graphic design associate degree programs, including digital media production and media communication. The open-admission school, headquartered in Montpelier, also prepares students to transfer to a four-year college with a defined general education curriculum and transfer agreements throughout the state. All CCV graduates enjoy guaranteed transfer admission to any school within the Vermont State College System.
The design and media studies degree provides aspiring graphic artists with a foundation in visual storytelling and design thinking while incorporating new media and interactive elements. Elective courses allow students to study animation software, social media, internet marketing, and website development. The core courses use industry-standard software to develop traditional and digital products.
The portfolio and project development class brings all the coursework together into real-world projects. Students collaborate with businesses to design marketing campaigns and supporting materials. They also curate samples of their best work to include in their professional digital portfolios. Faculty members possess academic expertise, and many also work in the design industry to provide relevant, up-to-date instruction.
The CCV Center for Online Learning offers more than 800 courses each semester. While most follow traditional semester timelines, the school has increased accelerated, seven-week course options. The Moodle learning platform provides flexible, asynchronous class access with technical assistance available by phone, email, or online. Online students can receive writing assistance and tutoring online. The library offers online search and access to a variety of resources, including ebooks, newspapers, and journals.
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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- Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Programs of 2018
Ranking School Location 1 Foothill College Los Altos Hills, CA 2 The New School New York, NY 3 Gateway Technical College Kenosha, WI 4 San Bernardino Valley College San Bernardino, CA 5 Community College of Vermont Winooski, VT
- Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Programs of 2017
Rank School Location 1 Foothill College Los Altos Hills, CA 2 The New School New York, NY 3 Gateway Technical College Kenosha, WI 4 San Bernardino Valley College San Bernardino, CA 5 Community College of Vermont Winooski, VT