2020 Best Online Bachelor's in Graphic Design Degrees

By Jennifer King Logan | Updated November 24, 2020

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.

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Graphic Design Degrees

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Graphic Design Badge

The following 5 schools offer the best online bachelor's in graphic design degrees, based on their low tuition rates and mid-career salary potentials. At #1, the University of Maryland Global Campus charges $14,970 per year for their Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Communication. Southern New Hampshire University Online offers distance learners a BA Graphic Design and Media Arts for $9,600 per year. Alumni reported a mid-career salary of $58,100.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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2020 Online Colleges Offering Graphic Design Degrees - Ranking Details

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.

Program Requirements

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.

Curriculum

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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