Best Online Master’s in Graphic Design Programs of 2021

portrait of Michelle Kelley
by Michelle Kelley
Published on January 26, 2021

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Graphic designers use typography, illustration, and other visual elements to inform, communicate, and persuade. Unlike bachelor's in graphic design programs, which introduce students to foundational concepts and provide basic training in the field, master's in graphic design programs offer in-depth instruction and opportunities for students to focus their skills.

Master's in graphic design programs typically include 45-60 credits of coursework and take students two years to complete. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of graduate tuition across disciplines was $12,171 at public schools and $27,776 at private nonprofit institutions during the 2018-2019 academic year. However, the cost of attending a top online program in graphic design can range $33,900-$115,000 total.

Graduates of master's in graphic design programs can pursue careers in various fields, including graphic design, advertising and marketing, art direction, and postsecondary education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the graphic design field will grow 3% between 2020 and 2030. According to PayScale, graduates with MAs or MFAs in graphic design earn an average annual salary of $69,000 per year.

Keep reading to learn more about earning an online graphic design degree, the best programs, and career options for graduates.

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

Students who pursue their master's in graphic design are typically intellectually curious, self-motivated, and creative. Many aspiring graphic designers can earn their master's degrees within two years. However, some schools offer three-year programs for students who did not major in graphic design in college.

Most master's in graphic design programs focus on practical skills training and award students MFA degrees. However, some schools offer MA and MS degrees in graphic design. Universities also sometimes offer master of design (MDes), design master of business administration (DMBA), and dual MDes/MBA programs.

If you're preparing for graduate school in graphic design, it's important to consider which degree will help you achieve your goals. Although curricula vary, MDes programs typically include classes on design theory and practice. In contrast, DMBA and MDes/MBA programs feature design, logistics, and business administration courses, while MA and MS graphic design programs offer more general training.

Some master's in graphic design programs focus on writing and research. These programs are usually best for students who aspire to teach graphic design at the college level or pursue doctorates in graphic design.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Graphic Design Program?

Publication Design

Publication design concerns the use of typography, artwork, and layouts in books, newspapers, online magazines, and more. In courses on publication design, students study principles of visual storytelling and apply what they learn to their own bodies of creative work.

Interactive Design

Interactive design typically focuses on user interfaces, exploring ways to improve the functionality of websites and applications. In interactive design courses, students study advanced visual theories and interactive technologies. They then apply what they learn to create interactive environments.

History of Graphic Design

History of graphic design courses usually cover the development of visual communication from prehistoric cave paintings to today's digital media. Students consider the impact of technological change on graphic communication and create final projects integrating historical and contemporary design elements.

Contemporary Graphic Design Issues

Through the immersive study of contemporary graphic design, students discover new tools and techniques to use in their work. They also gain a richer understanding of graphic design by studying international developments in the field.

Design Management and Strategy

In courses on design management and strategy, students learn how to effectively manage teams of creative professionals. Students also learn how to maintain positive relationships with clients and corporate managers and discover how to bridge the worlds of visual design and business strategy.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Graphic Design Program?

Because there are many different types of master's in graphic design programs, admission requirements vary. For instance, some programs focus on skills training, while others emphasize business strategy or research. However, admission requirements for comparable online and on-campus programs are usually similar.

Many master's in graphic design programs require applicants to submit portfolios of their creative work. Your portfolio should demonstrate your formal skill, visual acuity, awareness of recent developments in the field, and personal style.

Application

Graduate programs do not use centralized application systems, such as the Common App. Instead, almost all programs require prospective students to apply directly by filling out an online application. Most schools charge application fees; however, some schools offer fee waivers to qualifying applicants.

Test Scores

Some master's in graphic design programs require applicants to submit GRE scores, while others do not. Occasionally, programs request GRE scores from applicants who do not hold undergraduate degrees in graphic design. Also, many programs ask applicants whose first language is not English to take an English language proficiency test, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL.

Letters of Recommendation

Many programs request that applicants submit 2-3 letters of recommendation. When asking for a reference letter, reach out to former instructors or supervisors who can attest to your design skills and ability to succeed in graduate school. Make sure to contact potential letter writers well in advance, so they have enough time to write their recommendations.

Resume and Work Experience

Some admissions departments may take your professional graphic design experience into account when reviewing your application. For this reason, it's a good idea to update your resume to showcase your accomplishments. Demonstrate your design skills by creating a resume that is stylish, streamlined, and easy to read.

Essays

Most master's in graphic design programs request a statement of purpose or an artist's statement from each applicant. Some admissions committees may also request a writing sample or academic essay. In your statement of purpose, demonstrate your qualifications for the program you're applying to and explain how it will help you achieve your professional goals.

Official Transcripts

Almost all schools request official academic transcripts from applicants. Your transcripts help admissions departments assess the likelihood that you will succeed in graduate school. Also, some programs award transfer credits to applicants who have taken qualifying courses. Submitting your transcripts helps admissions committees determine if you should receive transfer credits.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Graphic Design Degree?

Career Outlook

The BLS projects that the graphic design field will grow 3% between 2020 and 2030, adding 7,300 new jobs. While this job growth rate is slower than the average across all occupations, the BLS projects that the number of jobs in related professions will increase rapidly during the same 10-year period.

A degree in graphic design is incredibly versatile. Graduates of graphic design programs work as art directors, web designers, advertising and marketing managers, and more. The BLS projects that jobs for art directors will grow 11%, and jobs for web developers and digital designers will grow 13% between 2020 and 2030. Positions for advertising, promotions, and marketing managers may see a 10% increase during this time.

See where a master's in graphic design can take you. Explore graphic design careers.

Career Paths

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers use typography, color, and other visual elements to communicate ideas and engage consumers. They create page layouts for publications, determine the visual elements of brands, design product packaging, and much more. Although you can become a graphic designer by earning a bachelor's degree, earning your master's in graphic design may qualify you for senior roles.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $53,380

Web Developer or Digital Designer

Web designers are responsible for the appearance and functionality of websites and mobile applications. They determine a site's color scheme, typography, graphics, and layout. Some web designers work as user interface (UI) designers, focusing on how users interact with websites and applications. Others work as user experience (UX) designers, ensuring that sites are intuitive to use and easy to navigate.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $77,200

Advertising, Promotions, or Marketing Manager

Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers generate demand for products and services They create ad campaigns, spearhead promotional efforts, and identify new consumer markets. Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers need both creativity and business savvy.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $141,490

Art Director

Art directors determine the visual style of publications, advertising campaigns, product packaging, and films and television shows. They manage teams of creative professionals, such as graphic designers, photographers, and set designers, who execute their design plans. Art directors also have administrative responsibilities, such as establishing project timelines and budgets.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $97,270

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers instruct courses beyond the high school level, often at colleges and universities. Graphic design instructors at postsecondary schools teach students design techniques and best practices. Some postsecondary graphic design teachers also engage in specialized research and publish in academic journals.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $80,560

Graphic Design Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Graduates of master's in graphic design programs sometimes pursue doctoral degrees. Some enter Ph.D. programs in design where they research various topics, such as sustainability in design, design for learning, and design in urban environments. Ph.D. programs in design typically prepare students for careers as researchers or postsecondary educators.

Some graduates of master's in graphic design programs instead choose to earn doctor of design, or DDes degrees. DDes degree programs provide advanced training in graphic design, industrial design, and architecture. Graduates of DDes programs sometimes pursue careers as postsecondary teachers of graphic design; however, many continue to work primarily as practitioners.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Graphic Design Program?

Cost

Online master's in graphic design programs are sometimes more affordable than on-campus programs, but not always. When comparing the cost of online vs. on-campus programs, consider factors other than tuition, such as transportation and housing costs. Also keep in mind whether you will continue working while completing classes. By reflecting on these and other considerations, you can determine the true cost of earning your degree.

Program Format

Some online programs offer courses asynchronously, while others adopt a synchronous course format. Many programs allow students to choose a mix of classes that meet at set times and assignments that can be completed at learners' discretion. When choosing an online master's in graphic design program, find out which online learning format the programs you're considering use and reflect on which style best fits your needs.

Location

Consider the location of the schools you apply to even if you choose to earn your degree remotely. Some online programs have limited on-campus requirements. Also, some public schools charge in-state residents reduced tuition rates. For these reasons, you may want to consider programs in your home state or close by.

Accreditation

Many graphic design programs are independently accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Additionally, universities are accredited by various regional and national organizations. Consider programs at regionally accredited schools. If, later on, you decide to transfer programs, other regionally accredited schools will be more likely to award you credit for the courses you've already completed.

Student Support

Consider programs that offer support services for online students. Student services can include tutoring, library assistance, and academic advising. Also, some online master's in graphic design programs may offer students internship opportunities or career placement services.

When choosing a program, look for those that provide opportunities for students to work closely with faculty members. Faculty mentors can offer academic guidance and may assist you in finding a job after you graduate.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Graphic Design Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

Liberty University true View School Profile Lynchburg, VA

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 true View School Profile Hamden, CT

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 true View School Profile Savannah, GA

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Graphic Design Programs

Is a master's in graphic design worth it? true

Deciding whether to attend graduate school can be challenging. In the graphic design field, many professionals find success without pursuing graduate degrees. However, in a competitive job market, earning your master's degree could set you apart from other qualified applicants. According to Zippia, only 3% of graphic designers have master's degrees.

Earning your master's in graphic design may also help you earn a higher salary. The BLS reports that in 2013, designers with master's degrees earned a median annual salary that was $10,000 higher than that of designers with bachelor's degrees alone. Earning your master's in graphic design may also be worth it if you plan to pursue a career as a graphic design instructor at a college or university.

What can I do with a master's in graphic design? true

Many graduates of master's in graphic design programs work in marketing, web design, and higher education. However, a degree in graphic design is highly versatile, and graduates work in many other fields as well.

For example, some graphic designers pursue careers in experiential design, which involves the use of graphic design techniques within built environments. Others pursue careers as industrial designers and are responsible for the look, feel, and functionality of manufactured products. Graphic design master's students who wish to enter these professions may need to take electives in basic industrial design techniques.

Are graphic design majors in demand? true

The BLS projects that jobs for graphic designers will increase 3% between 2020 and 2030, which is slower than the average job growth rate across industries. However, graduates of master's in graphic design programs work in many professions that the BLS projects will grow rapidly over the next decade.

For instance, some master's in graphic design graduates pursue careers as art directors. The BLS projects that art director roles will increase 11% between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than average. The BLS projects that jobs for web developers and designers and postsecondary teachers will also grow at faster rates than average over the next 10 years.

How much money can I make with a master's in graphic design?

As of May 2020, graphic designers' average annual income was $58,370, according to the BLS. During the same period, the top-paying industry for graphic designers was the federal executive branch, followed by the software publishing industry. Graphic designers earned the most in Washington, D.C., where they made an average annual salary of $83,070.

Many master's in graphic design program graduates work in related fields, such as advertising, art direction, and web design. Web developers and digital interface designers earned an average annual income of $85,490 in May 2020. Art directors earned an average salary of $114,490 per year.

What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in graphic design?

Graduates of master's in graphic design programs who pursue careers as advertising, promotions, or marketing managers earn high salaries. Advertising and promotions managers earned an average income of $147,560 a year in May 2020, substantially more than graphic designers' average yearly wage of $58,370. According to the BLS, marketing managers earned an average annual salary of $154,470 in 2020.

Advertising and promotions managers earned the highest salaries in New York, New Jersey, and Colorado. The top-paying states for marketing managers were New York, New Jersey, and California. In New York, advertising and promotions managers earned an average annual salary of $183,640, while marketing managers in the state earned an average income of $194,940 per year.

Want to earn your bachelor's in graphic design? Find out about online programs, common degree requirements, and career options for graduates. We've ranked the top online associate in graphic design programs. Compare schools by cost and convenience. Earn your associate degree online. nWe've ranked the best online bachelor's in web design programs. Compare schools and learn what career opportunities await graduates.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.