For those who possess both an artistic eye and solid computer skills, graphic design may be the perfect career path, offering the potential to earn an annual salary of around $52,000. Graphic designers use computer programs, along with a knowledge of visual communication concepts, to enhance the look and impact of printed and digital materials. Graphic design is also an excellent choice for people with an entrepreneurial spirit, as many designers are self-employed, working for a diverse range of clients on many different projects. Scroll down to find a ranked list of the best colleges that offer online degrees in graphic design. Then read on for more information about accreditation, what students will learn when pursuing a degree in graphic design, and answers to frequently asked questions about the field.
Online Bachelor’s in Graphic Design with the Highest Return on Investment
We ranked the top online bachelor’s degrees in graphic design by calculating return on investment (ROI) based on median 10-year alumni earnings and student debt. ROI illustrates real alumni outcomes based on both the cost of the degree as well as future earnings, providing prospective students with a gauge of whether the program is likely to be worth the benefits in earnings. The University of Florida has an estimated return of $469,100, which is $130,417 higher than the average ROI for graphic design programs across the country.
ROI amounts are based on data reported by the U.S. Department of Education. Tuitions are manually researched in order to determine tuition amounts specific to online degrees. Read our methodology for more details.
Best Bachelor's Degrees in Graphic Design Rankings Details
University of Florida
Median Salary: $48,041
Annual Tuition: $15,000
Median Debt: $20,500
The University of Florida (UF) offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Digital Arts and Sciences program requiring 120 credit hours. The program teaches the concepts of digital arts combined with the use of technology. Students learn the foundational concepts of design, as well as the specifics of digital production, animation, and game design. Graduates find employment as website... designers, digital artists, illustrators, and more.
Canvas is the online learning management system in use at the University of Florida. The university offers a variety of scholarships, as well as military discounts for service members and their spouses. The military discount also applies to members of the National Guard. UF allows 60 eligible credits to be transferred in from outside universities or colleges. The university's CAREERs resource center assists students in preparing to enter the workforce.
Applications for the fall semester are due by February 1. Applications for enrollment are submitted online. In addition to tutoring and student forums, the university offers a variety of online resources.
Cost per Credit: $500
Credits Required: 120
Graduation Rate: 90%
Acceptance Rate: 42%
Federal Loan Recipients: 93%
Average SAT Scores: 1280 - 1440
Accreditation: SACS COC
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,181
St. Louis (MO)
Median Salary: $39,153
Annual Tuition: $16,000
Median Debt: $22,250
The online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Media at Maryville University seeks to teach the knowledge and skills needed for careers in design and digital media. This program offers a foundation in design theory, typography, digital photography, motion graphics, game design, and UX/UI design. Students also take classes in communication, social media, marketing, and art and design... history. In addition to online coursework, an internship and portfolio are needed to complete the degree.
Coursework is delivered using the Canvas system, where students can access lesson plans, assignments, and forums to communicate with peers and professors. Maryville hosts a range of scholarship options, but all applicants must first fill out a FAFSA.
To apply, students should have a high school diploma or GED, with at least a 2.5 GPA. Official transcripts are required, but students do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Personal enrollment advisors are available to help prospective students with the application process. B.F.A. students are assigned a student support advisor to provide them with academic resources and career development assistance.
Cost per Credit: $500
Credits Required: 128
Graduation Rate: 72%
Acceptance Rate: 92%
Federal Loan Recipients: 100%
Average SAT Scores: 1020 - 1240
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 581
Median Salary: $37,208
Annual Tuition: $13,600
Median Debt: $21,250
The online Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design degree at Bellevue University provides students with the background and skill set needed in a variety of creative careers. Students in this 127-credit program study color, typography, layout, and other design elements so they can create designs and branding for specific audiences. Alongside their online courses, students must complete... a portfolio to earn their degrees. The program is a combination of design theory and practical learning, using the same types of software and technology currently used in the field.
Online classes are taught through the Blackboard learning management system, and may also include additional online learning tools. Transfer credits are accepted for students who have already completed some college education. Bellevue provides institutional scholarships based on need, merit, or program of study.
Those interested in applying can submit an online application. Resources available for online students include tech support, tutoring services, academic advising, and library services.
Cost per Credit: $425
Credits Required: 128
Federal Loan Recipients: 89%
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 5,052
Southern New Hampshire University Online
Median Salary: $35,808
Annual Tuition: $9,600
Median Debt: $19,334
The Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design and Media Arts at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is designed for those pursuing careers in the visual arts. The program offers concentrations in web design or 3D modeling and animation. The curriculum of this online graphic design program teaches students the latest technology and tools used in the world of design and media. Students... also learn how to build media strategies to reach intended audiences, solve challenges through collaboration, and create high-quality work at a professional level.
SNHU uses the Desire2Learn system to deliver courses, which gives online students the flexibility to participate in classroom discussions and submit assignments asynchronously. Classroom activities may include papers, presentations, group projects, labs, and quizzes. SNHU provides a number of scholarships and grants to help students fund their degrees.
Admissions occur on a rolling basis, so candidates can apply anytime by submitting an online application. Those who need additional support have access to online tutoring, the virtual writing center, and the SNHU Help Desk.
Graduation Rate: 52%
Acceptance Rate: 78%
Federal Loan Recipients: 75%
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 76,929
Academy of Art University
San Francisco (CA)
Median Salary: $34,586
Annual Tuition: $33,363
Median Debt: $35,000
Academy of Art University (AAU) offers an online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, developing skills in typography, packaging, branding, print, user experience, and motion graphics. This full-time program requires 132 credits for graduation. Students take between 15 and 21 credits per semester, and must complete an internship and senior portfolio. Students also have the option... to study abroad. Courses are taught by industry experts with real-world experience.
Both asynchronous and synchronous online learning options are offered to students. Coursework may include interactive slideshows, recorded audio, lectures, written content, hands-on work, and more. Students can record video and audio to submit projects and can receive instructor feedback in the same way. Students at AAU are also expected to participate in discussion boards, providing thoughts and feedback to classmates. AAU students have access to an accomplished network of alumni, as well as AAU's Career Services team.
Students can apply year-round, and applications are accepted through the first week of each semester. Online students at AAU can utilize online student communities, participate in virtual town hall meetings, work with mentors, and more.
Cost per Credit: $1,011
Credits Required: 132
Graduation Rate: 40%
Federal Loan Recipients: 63%
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 2,673
Abilene Christian University
Median Salary: $30,771
Annual Tuition: $11,850
Median Debt: $21,500
The online Bachelor of Science in Digital Media at Abilene Christian University (ACU) provides students with an education in web design, graphic design, and video production. Students have the option to choose either graphic design, film production, or general studies as a concentration. This 120-credit, full-time program requires students to complete a digital media portfolio and... digital media capstone project before graduation. Abilene Christian University is a Christian-based institution.
Students access course materials using the Canvas learning management system. ACU offers students financial aid options, and 100% of students receive some form of financial aid, either need- or merit-based. ACU was named a Military-Friendly School for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Students who are interested in fall semester admission must apply by December 15 of the year before their desired start date. Applicants can submit their information and documentation online. Students who take classes online have access to IT support, ACU's Online Writing Center, disability services, and more.
Cost per Credit: $395
Credits Required: 120
Graduation Rate: 67%
Acceptance Rate: 58%
Federal Loan Recipients: 100%
Average SAT Scores: 1040 - 1230
Accreditation: SACS COC
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 32
Median Salary: $28,682
Annual Tuition: $13,650
Median Debt: $23,542
Liberty University (LU) offers an online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. This 120-credit, full-time program can be completed in about three and a half years. Students learn vector illustration, advanced typography, website design, marketing, user experience design, and more. A hands-on internship and practicum course give students real-world experience before graduation....
Students at Liberty University access courses through the Blackboard course management system. Classes are almost completely asynchronous. Many students at Liberty receive financial aid. The school accepts transfer credits. While students in the BFA program can take all of their classes at LU, it's possible to transfer up to 75% of the credits required for graduation from another school.
Applicants can apply online or over the phone, and required documents can be emailed to the school. Admissions are accepted on a rolling basis. Online students at LU have access to the Office of Online Student Life, free tutoring, online library access, IT support, career services, and more.
Cost per Credit: $390
Credits Required: 140
Graduation Rate: 49%
Acceptance Rate: 30%
Federal Loan Recipients: 97%
Average SAT Scores: 970 - 1200
Accreditation: SACS COC
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 32,610
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design
Median Salary: $29,374
Annual Tuition: $19,388
Median Debt: $35,375
An online Bachelor in Fine Arts in Graphic Design is available from the Rocky Mountain College of Arts and Design (RMCAD). There is also an optional concentration in art education. The degree requires 111 credit hours. The degree's primary focus is the concepts, fundamentals, and ideals of graphic design, and students learn to use industry-standard software to design for print and... the web. Internships are available through the school's career resources.
RMCAD uses a proprietary learning management system to deliver coursework. Students use the system to submit projects and critique peer work. The college offers and accepts a variety of scholarships. Active duty military personnel, their spouses, and members of the National Guard are eligible for the military discount. Up to 60 credits can be transferred from outside schools.
Online resources are offered by RMCAD and include online tutoring and study groups. RMCAD also offers career resources that include Passport services and job fairs. The school offers rolling deadlines for enrollment. Applications are to be submitted online.
Graduation Rate: 41%
Federal Loan Recipients: 88%
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 512
Savannah College of Art and Design
Median Salary: $27,316
Annual Tuition: $37,575
Median Debt: $27,000
Aspiring visual artists can pursue two online graphic design degrees through the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD): a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication with a concentration in graphic design and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. The B.A. includes a liberal arts core curriculum and 45 credit hours of coursework in print and digital design. The B.F.A. has a... focused curriculum that covers drawing, visual design, and digital communication. A portfolio class is required to complete the B.F.A. Both programs offer internship opportunities for hands-on learning.
Students in both degree programs take classes through the MySCAD digital portal and work independently toward set due dates and progress markers. SCAD provides scholarships and grants to help reduce tuition, some of which are only available to students who submit a portfolio of their work when applying.
Prospective students can submit an application and request transcripts online, along with the optional portfolio. Students can enroll to start during any quarter, but SCAD encourages candidates to apply six months before their intended start date. Online students can access electronic library resources, peer tutoring, graduate school mentors, counseling, and academic advising.
Graduation Rate: 68%
Acceptance Rate: 93%
Federal Loan Recipients: 98%
Average SAT Scores: 1030 - 1230
Accreditation: SACS COC
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 567
Full Sail University
Winter Park (FL)
Median Salary: $28,151
Annual Tuition: $15,990
Median Debt: $39,270
Full Sail University offers a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design, providing students with instruction in creative presentation, technology in entertainment and media, design/art theory, color theory, art history, and more. Students are required to complete seven project and portfolio courses. This accelerated program requires the completion of 20 courses before graduation.
Through... Full Sail's custom-created learning management system, students access course materials, communicate with classmates, and work with professors. Throughout the program, students build and deliver presentations, provide feedback to other students, and go through hands-on learning experiences to hone their graphic design skills. Many students who attend Full Sail University receive financial aid. The school is a designated Yellow Ribbon Program participant, and has a specialized admissions team for active duty and veteran military members who want to further their education. Full Sail University accepts transfer credits.
Applicants can submit their applications and any required documents online. Admissions are accepted on a rolling basis, and degree programs begin each month. It's recommended that students apply at least three months before their desired start date. Online students have access to career development services, disability services, and more.
Cost per Credit: $533
Credits Required: 120
Graduation Rate: 31%
Federal Loan Recipients: 84%
Undergrad Online Enrollment: 13,385
Online Graphic Design Degree Overview & Career Information
Graphic design students typically learn how to use popular software, like Photoshop and InDesign, as well as how to use computer programming languages that can help them build and adjust their designs online. Design classes discuss illustration, print design, color theory, photography, and web design, and students practice combining images and text in a variety of formats. Undergraduate programs are good for developing a solid portfolio, which is necessary preparation for staff-level design jobs. A master's degree can be useful for advancing into art director positions.
Associate degrees and undergraduate certificates in graphic design can provide a solid foundation that can help motivated students to pursue graphic design assistant positions. These programs include courses in areas like the Adobe Creative Suite, typography, and color theory. Some career-oriented programs may specialize in a particular design area, such as web design or interactive design.
Bachelor’s degrees can provide the necessary depth and breadth in graphic design to pursue a variety of jobs. Students take courses in visual communication, graphic design theory, print design, and electronic layouts, along with classes in general education areas like humanities, natural science, and social science. Students in a bachelor’s program also develop a portfolio of exceptional design projects, which can be used later to apply for jobs or graduate school.
A master’s degree in graphic design can be a good choice for people with or without graphic design backgrounds, as these degrees may be advanced or entry level. The master’s degree usually focuses around a thesis project, a large piece of graphic design work that showcases what the student has learned, as well as their top design ideas. Students with graphic design backgrounds can choose to focus the master’s program in a particular design area, such as branding or digital design.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Graphic Design
The bachelor’s degree program in graphic design provides a foundation in art history and practice, as well as the particular skills involved in print and digital design. Students in graphic design bachelor’s programs learn how to create commercial art in the form of logos, typography, ads, web pages, digital animation, and more.
Online bachelor's graphic design programs take four years to complete and require about 120 credit hours of coursework. They can be pursued at art and design colleges as well as traditional universities. Along with a high school diploma or the equivalent, many programs require the submission of an art portfolio documenting the applicant’s abilities.
The graphic design coursework includes training in basic artistic skills, followed by training in the design practices for creating pleasing arrays of graphics and text. Beginning courses include art history, drawing, illustration, and painting, which help students develop the basic artistic ability they will use for later design work. Design courses discuss such topics as typography, advertising design, 3-D design, and web design. Many programs require a thesis or portfolio development project during the student’s senior year; this large, integrated project can be used to apply for internships and jobs after graduation.
The graphic design field is a competitive one, and many firms expect applicants to have a relevant bachelor’s degree. Graduates of the bachelor’s program are well situated to enter assistant roles in advertising, design, and web development firms; after a year or more of experience, assistants may move into a staff position. The most competitive graphic design opportunities will be for those with a strong understanding of design skills relating to new technology, such as mobile applications and website design.
The Importance of an Accredited Online Graphic Design Program
Accreditation isn’t only important for degrees in medicine or other high-stakes fields. This certification can also help you evaluate graphic design programs and choose a quality degree. Graphic designers have to understand the latest design tools in order to stand out in this technical career. Accreditation can be a way to determine whether a program exposes students to the most up-to-date design technologies.
The first type of accreditation is institutional accreditation. It is important for all degrees, regardless of the field. In addition to institutional accreditation, there is also programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation only applies to a particular type of program or degree within a school.
As with all online degree programs, prospective graphic design students should look for schools with a legitimate institutional accreditation from a regional or national accrediting body. Although it’s not required, programmatic accreditation can also be a sign of a great graphic design degree program. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design is the main accrediting body for undergraduate and graduate graphic design degrees. Prospective students can also verify the accreditation of schools and programs via the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
What Students Will Learn in an Online Graphic Design Program
Graphic design is visual communication, so graphic designers must learn how to create visually appealing combinations of words and pictures in a number of different formats. To learn how to do this, students take courses in art and design, specific graphics areas, digital design, and professional processes.
For example, an overview course like design and art theory introduces students to the concepts behind color and composition. To gain an understanding of the psychological impact that good design can have on a culture, students examine the ways in which art and design have been used throughout history. Other classes, like digital expression, focus on using artists' tools to create a narrative, which is very important in commercial graphic design.
Other classes look at specific graphic design components. A course on logos and symbols, for example, discusses the ways that very succinct types of graphic design can make an impact. In these online courses, specific art techniques lead to good logo design. Classes in digital graphic design, such as video game design and animation, address the ways that sound and moving pictures can convey a message and cover the editing and technical skills to help students succeed in this popular and ever-changing field.
Some courses, such as production management, look at graphic design projects in the real world of commercial art and teach students how they would design and execute those projects. Learning these industry practices is crucial for taking the skills learned in the degree out into the job market.
Frequently Asked Questions About Graphic Design Degrees
Do I need computer skills to be a graphic designer?
In addition to having artistic sensibilities and a knowledge of current design trends, graphic designers should also have technical skills. Some of the more common design software programs include InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. For designers who want to specialize in web design, they may also need to learn a software program like Dreamweaver and possibly understand how to do some basic coding. A comprehensive list of HTML coding bootcamps can be found on Switchup.org.
How much can I expect to earn as a graphic designer?
As of 2019, ONET Online was reporting that the median annual wage for a graphic designer was $52,110. Experienced, educated designers who advance to the level of art director can expect an annual wage of about $94,220.
Do I need access to specific software to learn graphic design?
Graphic design has become a field that depends heavily on computer use. Students of brick-and-mortar schools may have access to computer labs and computers with design software installed. Online schools will require that their students have access to the programs they need to complete their assignments. Any students who wish to have design software available on their home computers might consider buying the versions that are licensed for student use; often, student versions cost less than professional versions.
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