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 Online Master's in Graphic Design Programs?
|Syracuse, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 83%||
Located in Syracuse, New York, this private research university was founded in 1831 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, but has identified as nonsectarian since 1920. One of many programs offered at this institution is a master's in graphic design online. By completing this master of fine arts program, graduates will build a portfolio, enhance creative voice, and develop teaching abilities. Students may take classes in a fully remote setting or as a combination of online and on-campus courses at any Syracuse location.
The curriculum is designed to encourage students to explore the utilization and transformation of design and other forms of visual communication. Classwork includes experimentation with various materials and programs to uncover unusual uses for them. Most online coursework is offered through Syracuse's New York campus, but some distance classes are taught by faculty members in the school's locations in Paris, Los Angeles, and Florence. Students complete a total of 60 credits over the course of three years, though online students may be able to accelerate some classwork.
To apply for an online master's degree program in graphic design at the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) at Syracuse, you must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, include a portfolio submission, and college-level transcripts. No graduate programs admissions tests are required for admission to the VPA. Applications are accepted once per year for fall admittance.
|Birmingham, AL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 76%||
Originally founded in 1841 as Howard University, this Christian university became Samford in 1965. Samford is located in Homewood, Alabama. This institution offers a master of science in design studies (MSDS) through the Department of Interior Architecture. Classwork can be completed fully online or through a hybridized format.
The school's MSDS program gives students the chance to pursue studies in a specific area of design or translate their skills into a future in design education. Focusing on design research, critical analysis, and the creation of design solutions, graduates are able to demonstrate mastery of multiple research methods and effective design technologies, and generate creative design solutions.
Samford's MSDS is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation but is not accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. This program is not sufficient preparation for taking an architectural licensing examination. This online master's degree program in graphic design can be completed in 24 months. Classes are offered synchronously and through a cohort model. Cohorts begin during summer term. No on-campus time is required except a weekend orientation at the onset of your first year.
Applications must be submitted by posted deadlines the Spring prior to the onset of a new summer term. Candidates for this program must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Students seeking this MSDS must also have previous professional experience in this field.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 47%||
Liberty University is a private Christian institution with a main campus in Lynchburg, Virginia. This nonprofit university enrolls approximately 15,000 students at its brick-and-mortar location, but almost 94,000 students take classes through Liberty's online school. Consisting of 17 total colleges, Liberty offers a fully online master of fine arts in graphic design program. Classwork is 100% asynchronous and is designed to be completed in less than three years.
As careers in visual communication become increasingly more common and interactive, earning a master's in graphic design online will prove invaluable for students looking to advance their career in this field. Consisting of 60 total credit hours, this program includes classwork in 3D design, game design, digital photography, vector illustration, and design for publications and media. Students are also taught the framework for interactive designing and professional applications.
In addition to regular coursework, this program requires students to complete a 180-hour internship in the field of graphic design. Students complete their internship with vetted professionals working in any area of graphic design. It is also required that distance learners complete a 90-hour practicum, during which time students will complete his or her capstone assignment. Graduates often use this capstone as part of their professional portfolio.
To apply, students must have an undergraduate degree from another accredited institution. Applicants must submit transcripts from all previously attended institutions in addition to a portfolio showcasing his or her artistic ability. Transfer students are able to apply up to 30 credits from their previous school. Placement tests may be required for students without directly transferable classwork.
Maryland Institute College of Art
|Baltimore, MD||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 72%||
Located in Baltimore, the Maryland Institute College of Art is a private art and design college founded in 1826. One of the oldest institutions of design in the U.S., MICA is a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design and one of the top 40 art schools in the country. MICA offers a master of UX design degree that can be completed mostly online.
Students earning their master's in UX design at MICA will complete 30 credit hours of coursework. The curriculum includes classes in interface design, prototyping, project management, and principles of interface design. Classes encourage students to explore the computer science and user-experience aspects of design. Online schoolwork is offered through MICA's Canvas platform. Distance learners are able to access and complete coursework asynchronously, but for a weekly live class led by professors at the Baltimore campus. All classes can be completed from a distance but for the program's in-person residency. This residency can be completed with design professionals in any field. The resulting capstone project is added to a student's graduating portfolio. Most people are able to graduate within 15 months of part-time enrollment.
To apply, students should have a background in an area of design, i.e. gaming, graphic/visual, industrial, and interactive design. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Professionals looking to advance their career opportunities in design are encouraged to apply.
Ball State University
|Muncie, IN||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 62%||
This public institution located in Muncie, Indiana has two satellite campuses and a host of online degrees, including a master's in emerging media design and development. Students looking to advance their career in design but not ready to commit to a master's degree may enroll in BSU's graduate certificate program.
This mostly online hybrid program was created for professionals working in the field looking to specialize or further their careers in design. The curriculum is focused primarily in three key areas of design: human-computer interaction, storytelling across multiple platforms, and design-centered thinking. Students are taught how to strategize, develop, and launch graphic design solutions, and how to test the effectiveness of various designs across multiple audiences.
Students considering this master's in graphic design online frequently come with a creative background, usually holding an undergraduate degree in journalism, English, photography, theater, videography, or graphic design. BSU's interdisciplinary approach to teaching allows individuals from many backgrounds to boost their existing abilities in design thinking, research, cross-platform storytelling, and project management.
This course consists of 36 total credits. Of these, 18 are devoted to book-learning courses, and the other 18 are focused on applied research and creative projects. Classes include usability and evaluation of research methods, theories and frameworks in human computer interaction, and nonlinear and interactive storytelling.
To apply, you must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university with a graduating GPA of at least 3.0. This program also requires applicants to submit a portfolio of design work.
Savannah College of Art and Design
|Savannah, GA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 65%||
The Savannah College of Art and Design is a nonprofit, private institution accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Primarily located in Savannah, Georgia, SCAD also has campuses in Atlanta, Georgia, Hong Kong, and in Lacoste, France. Founded in 1978, this college of art and design offers an online master of arts in graphic design. Students can concentrate their degree in illustration, interactive design and game development, interior design, or design management.
Graphic design students at SCAD are taught the fundamentals of design and the intricacies of product packaging, mobile technology and interfaces, entrepreneurship, user experience, and interface design. The curriculum for this graphic design master's degree online includes classes in ideation models and processes, methods of contextual research, and visual analysis of static content.
Classes are offered completely online and all coursework is available asynchronously at any time of day. Distance learners also have the opportunity to attend live classes via internet streaming. The program consists of 45 total credit hours of study, but individuals looking to concentrate their degree may complete 50-70 credits. Most people graduate in 2-3 years.
To apply, you must have an undergraduate degree from another accredited institution. An undergraduate degree in a creative field, such as design, English, journalism, theater, fine arts, and any area of design is encouraged. Applicants do not have to submit test scores or meet a minimum GPA requirement, but instead must submit an art portfolio for review by the office of admissions. SCAD offers multiple scholarship opportunities to students of graphic design. Distance learners have access to additional scholarship opportunities awarded only to online students.
|Hamden, CT||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 75%||
Located in Hamden, Connecticut, this private, nonsectarian university was established in 1929 and currently enrolls approximately 10,000 students. This institution grants undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees to students attending classes on campus and through the school's online learning platform. Quinnipiac offers a fully online master's in graphic design with the option to concentrate your degree through elective coursework.
This online master of science in interactive media and communications aims to equip students with critical thinking skills and the ability to leverage media assets in creative ways. Graduates with this master's degree will enter the workforce as digital storytellers. The curriculum includes courses in digital media, web design, web development, digital audio, UX/UI, and social media. Common elective classes include: motion across media, audio and video design, principles of user experience design, and social media practices and techniques.
Consisting of 30 required credits of coursework, most students graduate in 1-2 years. As many online students are often employed while completing their studies, Quinnipiac allows learners to enroll part time. Students also have the option to participate in an accelerated program to graduate in as little as one year. Studies culminate in a final capstone project. This project becomes a part of a graduate's final portfolio. Many students go on to submit this portfolio to potential employers.
To apply, individuals must have an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution. Applications are accepted prior to fall and spring semesters. While it is not required, Quinnipiac encourages applicants to have a bachelor's degree in a field related to graphic design or communications.
Pittsburg State University
|Pittsburg, KS||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 47%||
This public university, founded in 1903, is located in Pittsburg, Kansas and currently enrolls approximately 7,500 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students. PSU is also a member of the Kansas Board of Regents and is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. This university offers an online master's in graphic design through its Department of Technology and Workforce Learning.
Within this program, students can concentrate their degree in one of nine emphasis areas, including graphic design, motion design, audio and video design, and social media. All students are encouraged to participate in an internship at a graphic design agency or in another related field. Experience gained through these internships may apply this professional experience to a student's capstone project.
Distance learners at PSU are able to complete their degree mostly asynchronously, though some courses may require students to tune into live-streamed lectures. In-state and out-of-state students enrolled in an online program at PSU pay the same tuition.
Applicants to this online master's degree must have an undergraduate degree from another accredited institution with a minimum GPA of 2.8. Students not ready to pursue an online master in graphic design may instead enroll in a two-year associate degree or a certification program at PSU.
Kent State University at Kent
|Kent, OH||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 58%||
Kent State University is a public research research university located in Kent, Ohio with several regional campuses in northeast Ohio and in Florence, Italy. Founded in 1910, KSU was originally a vocational and teacher training school. Since then, the school has grown into a university with almost 40,000 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students. This university offers an online master of science in user experience design.
This online degree in graphic design is focused on the human-centered aspects of graphic and interactive design. Students are taught the fundamentals and intricacies of UX design and learn to address the informational, emotional, psychological, and structural aspects of user interfaces. As this field continues to evolve, the curriculum is subject to change as new technologies are created and implemented. The current curriculum includes classes such as researching the user experience, information architecture, and user experience design principles and contexts.
Consisting of 36 total credits, most students graduate in 2-3 years. Each term is seven weeks in length and most students choose to enroll in two classes per semester. This distance learning program is designed to be taken by working professionals and allows students to complete most coursework at any time. Some classes may require students to tune into a live-streamed lecture, but all assignments may be completed independently. Distance learners may also opt to enroll part time.
To apply, you must have an undergraduate degree from another accredited institution. KSU does not require applicants to have earned a minimum undergraduate GPA or to submit standardized test scores.
|Radford, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 55%||
Located in Radford, Virginia, Radford University is one of the state's eight public, doctorate-granting institutions. Radford also offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in more than 100 areas of study. The master of fine arts and graphic design online program at Radford is available on-campus, online, or as a hybrid of the two.
The school's online MFA program teaches students to solve complex problems and tackle multifaceted issues in design. The curriculum is focused on design thinking, history, research, management, and implementation. Sample coursework includes classes such as international art history, design theory and research, readings in design theory, and instructional design and evaluation. Consisting of 60 total credit hours, the program has start dates offered throughout the year.
Distance learners are able to complete their degree asynchronously without any on-campus time required. All course materials, including streamed lectures, classroom notes, study materials, and assignments are available 24/7 through Radford's online learning platform. Online students are able to enroll part time to complete the program in as many as four years. Students also have the option to accelerate their program and graduate in under two years.
To apply, students must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Radford requires applicants to have earned a minimum of 3.0 in undergraduate study. Students are also required to submit GMAT/GRE/TOEFL/IELTS/or MAT scores from within the last five years.
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)|
|User Experience (UX) Designer||$72,448||$68,651||$81,456||$107,442|
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 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.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
- Best Online Master's in Graphic Design Programs of 2018
Ranking School Location 1 Syracuse University Syracuse, NY 2 Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah, GA 3 Quinnipiac University Hamden, CT 4 Maryland Institute College of Art Baltimore, MD 5 Samford University Birmingham, AL 6 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA 7 Ball State University Muncie, IN 8 Kent State University at Kent Kent, OH 9 Radford University Radford, VA