As artists and information communication experts, graphic designers create visual media for print and electronic platforms, including logos for websites and graphics for newspapers and magazines. They can work for design firms, advertising agencies, video game companies, publishers, and multinational corporations. Some professionals pursue self-guided careers as freelance designers and entrepreneurs.

The rapid global expansion of digital media and online business ventures creates plenty of professional opportunities for experienced designers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the number of jobs in the graphic design and related fields will grow through 2026, including a 10% increase in advertising and marketing positions and 15% increase in web development positions. An online graphic design master's degree prepares students for careers through design theory, skills training, and professional development. This guide provides important academic and financial information for prospective graphic design students.

What are the best graphic design programs of 2020? Here are our top 3:

Rank School Location
1 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
2 Quinnipiac University Hamden, CT
3 Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah, GA

What are the Best Online Master's in Graphic Design Programs?

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

An evangelical Christian institution that was founded in 1971, Liberty offers more than 400 online programs. Students complete Liberty's 60-credit master of fine arts in graphic design in two years, on average. This fully online program consists of eight-week courses, field experiences, and projects.

Enrolled students take 10 core courses, such as advanced typography and interactive design, as well as three art history and theory courses and three electives. This master's in graphic design requires field experiences, including a 180-hour professional internship and a 90-hour practicum. Students finish their degree by completing a research course and thesis or portfolio.

Liberty allows students to transfer in up to 30 credits. Applicants must submit an artist statement, portfolio, and transcripts. To be admitted in good standing, applicants must possess a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA.


Quinnipiac University

Hamden, CT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 77%

Quinnipiac offers more than 70 programs, including several online graduate-level pathways. The school's online master of science in interactive media and communications emphasizes user-centered design and cross-media communication. Students learn web design, user experience design, and social media analytics.

Requirements in this 30-credit master's program include a writing for interactive media course and a web-based capstone portfolio that graduates can show to prospective employers. Elective offerings include visual design, content strategy, visual storytelling, and data visualization. Students may also complete an independent study project or an internship.

Applicants must submit a resume, two recommendations, a 500-word personal statement, a 1,000-word writing sample, and official transcripts. Applicants must also turn in an online portfolio demonstrating their ability and experience as a creative professional.


Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah, GA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 68%

Established as a professional art college in 1978, SCAD now serves more than 14,000 students. SCAD's graduate offerings include a master of arts in graphic design and visual experience that students can complete through asynchronous online classes.

Required courses explore topics such as design research, ideation models, typographic voice, and visual analysis. Enrolled students may participate in a graduate internship or professional multi-disciplinary collaborative project. The degree requires at least 45 credits, although SCAD may assign additional courses depending on a learner's background (up to a total of 70 credits).

Applicants must submit a portfolio that includes a designed resume, 4-6 graphic design work samples, and a passion project. Additional application requirements include two recommendations, a resume, and a statement of purpose. SCAD may also require an interview or GRE scores from some applicants.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Graphic Design Program?

Students completing graphic design master's programs online take many of the same core classes, and most programs have similar practicum, capstone, and portfolio requirements. Programs standardize parts of their curricula to maintain academic and professional accreditation. However, programs have many differences, particularly in advanced coursework; students should research specific requirements to choose the program that best fits their academic and professional goals.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Graphic Design

  • Art and design history: This course provides a historical and contemporary overview of visual design and its functions, with emphasis on media in modern culture. Students complete research and writing assignments. Future educators and creative directors benefit the most from these topics.
  • Integrated design media: This class emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they relate to the evolution of print, social media, and interactive visual experiences. Students gain compositional and technical skills that prepare them to creatively adapt to challenges within the design cycle. This course is crucial for professionals in advertising and product development.
  • Design theory and criticism: Students analyze contemporary print and graphic design theories and the resulting practical changes. The course emphasizes correlational research techniques; students conduct studies to address current challenges in the design field. As a fundamental course in graphic design master's degree online programs, this class benefits all future professionals, particularly those who aspire to management positions.
  • Typographic communication: Students learn to effectively use typography as a means of visual expression and to develop their own unique styles. Topics include clear communication practices, historical references, and current trends and styles, such as letterform anatomy and proportional system layout. This course is crucial for any graphic design artist or animator.
  • User-centered strategy: Students analyze the emotional and psychological responses users have to the function and content of digital systems. Learners develop and assess their own user-centered service. Though this course is useful for all web-based artists and developers, it is required for user-experience and interaction designers.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's in Graphic Design?

Most online graphic design master's degree programs take two years to complete and require at least 30 credits. However, completion time depends on the program's structure and content. Most remote coursework is asynchronous, but some distance programs require live online classes. Some online programs are cohort-based to facilitate collaboration and communication among students and faculty. Students in cohort programs take one class at a time and progress through course requirements with a small group of peers. While this learning style may benefit working and part-time students, cohort programs typically take longer to complete.

To shorten degree completion time, choose a program that offers an individually paced structure, a generous transfer policy, and accelerated, year-round online courses. Additionally, look for programs that allow distance learners to complete internships and capstone experiences locally.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Graphic Design Prepares For

  • Adobe Certifications: Most graphic design positions do not require professional certification. However, Adobe's software is so prevalent in the design field that obtaining Adobe certification greatly improves career prospects. Adobe offers three certification categories: AEM Mobile, Analytics, and Campaign. Each exam costs $180.
  • CIW Web Design Certifications: As a vendor-neutral information technology organization, CIW provides certification tracks in a variety of industry- and platform-specific skills, including e-commerce, mobile app development, and social media strategies. Additionally, all graphic designers benefit from the general CIW web design professional and specialist certificates. Requirements vary by exam. CIW certification does not expire.

Accreditation for Online Master's in Graphic Design Degrees

Online graphic design master's degree programs should hold national and regional accreditation to ensure they confer degrees recognized by government authorities and employers. Six organizations in the U.S. grant regional accreditation, depending on the location of the institution. These organizations ensure that schools adhere to certain state-specific academic standards. Organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) award national accreditation to schools that standardize aspects of their institutional and curricular outcomes.

Generally, employers prioritize regional accreditation. However, students should look for programs with both types of accreditation. Additionally, online graphic design master's degree programs may hold accreditation from a field-specific organization, such as the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Colleges and universities gain national accreditation through accrediting bodies approved by the ED and CHEA. Both organizations ensure schools meet defined academic and professional standards. As a government organization, the ED enforces federal education guidelines by overseeing federal funding and other resources. CHEA is a private nonprofit with more than 3,000 member institutions. In addition to professionally supporting member institutions and advocating for their rights, CHEA monitors standardization across curricula. Students planning to attend graphic design master's programs online can find information about nationally accredited programs on the ED and CHEA websites.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Graphic Design Graduates

Master's in Graphic Design Salary

The table below details the median salaries of five occupations for graduates of master's in graphic design online programs. Professional experience significantly impacts salary; professionals typically earn more later in their careers. Because the field of graphic design is grounded in technology, graphic designers need to stay updated on new software through continuing education and new certifications.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Graphic Artist $45,026 $40,701 $48,694 $58,984
Industrial Designer $55,021 $50,677 $63,528 $79,188
Brand Manager $70,659 $59,220 $76,845 $87,402
User Experience (UX) Designer $72,448 $68,651 $81,456 $107,442
Creative Director $85,828 $55,677 $77,434 $103,495

Master's in Graphic Design Careers

Graphic designers are creative visual communicators who use artistic, technical, and business skills to create innovative content. Though graphic designers may function independently as freelancers and counselors, many professionals work as part of a design, marketing, or product development team. Below are some of the careers available to professionals with an online graphic design master's degree and professional training.

Graphic Designer

These artists create visual concepts that convey messages for individual clients or organizational brands. Graphic designers possess advanced computer and artistic skills and in-depth knowledge of marketing and advertising strategies. Graphic designers hold at least a bachelor's degree, and most pursue additional training to increase earning potential.

Median Annual Salary: $47,640

Projected Growth Rate: 4%

Art Director

These professionals work with teams to create design content such as logos, advertisements, product packaging, and displays. Art directors oversee the evolution of a visual style or brand. They typically possess significant field experience, certification or licensure, and an advanced degree. Additionally, they must understand financial tasks and other daily business operations.

Median Annual Salary: $89,820

Projected Growth Rate: 5%

Multimedia Artist

Using animation software, multimedia artists create 2D and 3D animations, models, and visual effects for video games, television, movies, and other types of media. Most multimedia artists develop a portfolio as freelancers before securing positions in design firms or production studios. These professionals hold at least an undergraduate degree and typically pursue additional training in a particular medium.

Median Annual Salary: $65,300

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Advertising Manager

These professionals lead teams to create marketing campaigns and other promotional projects that generate interest for a particular product or service. They work with clients and company directors to develop business strategies and pricing plans. Advertising managers need at least a master's degree and must possess years of work experience.

Median Annual Salary: $127,560

Projected Growth Rate: 10%

Web Developer

These visual communication experts design, create, and maintain websites for clients and companies. Web developers ensure websites are aesthetically appealing and function effectively. They also conduct performance, accessibility, and traffic analysis. Web developer positions require at least an associate degree, but most professionals eventually pursue graduate education.

Median Annual Salary: $66,130

Projected Growth Rate: 15%

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations are integral to both individual success and the growth of the graphic design field as a whole. After earning a master's in graphic design online, graduates have the theoretical knowledge and practiced skill set necessary for careers in the field. However, membership in a professional organization greatly improves job prospects and opportunities for career advancement. In exchange for an annual fee, members gain access to networking events, such as conferences and chapter meetings, and internship and job announcements. Additionally, organizations such as the Society of Illustrators provide scholarship opportunities for students and professionals.

Financing Your Online Master's in Graphic Design Program

According to the Center for Financial Inclusion, student loan debt in the U.S. increased 75% from 2004 to 2014 and continues to increase. Students should prioritize affordability when considering online graphic design master's degree programs. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply simultaneously for multiple grants and scholarships. Also look for awards from professional and community organizations, such as scholarships from the Graphic Design Degree Hub and the Graphic Communications Scholarship.


Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


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