Rankings

Top Online Graphic Design Degree Programs for 2018

Graphic designers use art, language, and technology to speak to consumers. They create the designs and logos that deliver ideas to the people who see them. They also think of new ways to convey messages in advertising and help structure the layout of webpages, books, and marketing materials to increase and improve consumer consumption. While traditional graphic design positions in the print industry, such as those in newspaper, book, and periodical design, are projected to decline, employment in computer systems design and related services is projected to grow 20% between 2016 and 2026. As the growth in mobile device usage continues, the demand for graphic design in this medium will increase as well.

Even though traditional training in art and design is still helpful, today's graphic designers must be proficient in the latest computer graphics and design software. The best online graphic design degree programs encourage students to embrace their creativity and think of new and interactive solutions for attracting consumers. Graphic designers must also have the analytical skills necessary to view design objectively, perceiving how messages will be received by the intended audience. With the proliferation of online study and online graphic design courses, aspiring graphic designers not only study at some of the best schools in the country without moving or even commuting, but they also take graphic design online courses while maintaining employment and/or family responsibilities. Furthermore, a graphic design degree online provides the same education and degree as a traditional program.

What Are The Best Online Graphic Design Programs?

1

Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH

Tap into your creative side and learn how to produce designs that inspire and influence with the online BA in Graphic Design and Media Arts from SNHU. Whether you dream of the fast pace of an agency, the rigors of a design firm or the independence of running your own shop, our online graphic design degree program will teach you how to translate your ideas through concept, design and digital media. Choose the general design and media arts track or focus your degree with our web design concentration. Coursework in SNHU's online graphic design degree program is built around training you in aesthetics and creative problem solving using the latest technology, while also providing cultural and social context for the work you do. Have the creative vision but not yet familiar with today's design technology tools? Ramp up or refresh your graphic design software skills with the elective GRA 100: Introduction to Graphic Design Technology.

2

Liberty University Lynchburg, VA

Set in Central Virginia, Liberty University is an evangelical liberal arts institution that has been pioneering online and distance education since 1985. The online bachelor of fine arts in graphic design at Liberty University gives students exposure to a variety of artistic techniques and challenges them to develop their conceptual planning skills, aesthetic eye, and critical thinking abilities. The 120-credit-hour online graphic design degree program educates students in art history and the fundamentals of digital design to provide a foundation for the modern techniques of contemporary graphic design. In addition to preparing aspiring design professionals for the workforce, this graphic design degree online provides graduates with a solid platform from which to launch into a master of fine arts program. Students learn from the great artists of the past and present in these online graphic design courses at Liberty University, as they strive to become the great artists of the future.

3

Full Sail University Winter Park, FL

From its high-tech campus just outside of Orlando, Florida, Full Sail University has been offering programs in entertainment and design for more than 35 years. The bachelor of science in graphic design online program emphasizes an understanding of the entire field of design, beginning with the study of aesthetics and moving through to developing each student's technical proficiency in the field. Full Sail University provides the students in its online graphic design courses with access to real-world experiences and opportunities to work on professional projects, allowing them to build an impressive portfolio prior to graduating. Perhaps even more impressive, the entire online graphic design degree program is completable within 32 months. Full Sail University has received acclaim for its graphic design courses online in publications such as Tips & Tricks, Rolling Stone, and Unleashed Magazine. The university also closely charts the success of its graduates and alumni, many of whom go on to work on major motion pictures, TV, video games, and advertising.

4

Rasmussen College Ocala, FL

With more than 20 campuses across six different states and over 70 degree programs available, Rasmussen College is an institution that provides students with choice and opportunity. Since 1900, Rasmussen College has been dedicated to offering career-focused education. Today, 117 years later, the institution is more focused on that mission than ever, making many of its programs more accessible with online degree options. The School of Design at Rasmussen College offers fully online associate and bachelor’s graphic design online degree programs with specializations in either animation and motion graphics or web and interactive design. Both programs feature online graphic design courses that develop mastery of current and relevant software and design concepts, while putting students in position to create comprehensive and impactful portfolios. Each of these online graphic design degree programs are eligible for fast-tracking as well, with the associate degree completable in just 18 months and the bachelor's degree completable in three years.

5

Penn Foster Career School Summerdale, PA

From its founding in 1890 to today, Penn Foster Career School has been driven to make higher learning accessible for everyone. In 2003, when the institution started the transition from distance learning via correspondence to online programs, the career school took another step closer to fully realizing that mission. At Penn Foster Career School, students in the computer graphic artist career diploma program take their graphic design online courses when and where their life and work schedule allows. The program provides graduates with a thorough understanding of Adobe© Illustrator© and other commonly used industry software to create digital art. The online graphic design courses consist of comprehensive lessons in color theory, computer graphics, and the fundamentals of graphic design and production. Students set their own pace, meaning fast-tracked schedules are available that allow the program to be completed in as little as four months.

Why Earn an Online Graphic Design Degree?

There are several reasons to earn a graphic design degree online. One of the most attractive aspects of online graphic design degree programs is the flexibility it affords. Many courses are offered asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace. This flexibility allows professionals to continue to work on a full- or part-time basis while earning their degree, which can help them pay for tuition costs.

Online graphic design programs usually offer lower tuition rates than traditional on-campus programs. The lower tuition rates do not denote a lower quality of education, as most online courses are taught by the same instructors as the on-campus courses. Online students retain all access to on-campus resources and are eligible to receive the same financial aid as on-campus students. The combination of lower tuition rates, a wide variety of financial aid opportunities, and the ability to work while going to school makes an online education an affordable alternative to on-campus study.

Education Needed for a Career in Graphic Design

Online graphic design programs are offered at three degree levels: associate, bachelor's, and master's. Associate programs take about two years for students to complete. There are a variety of jobs available to students who complete their associate degree, but the higher level of degree they earn, the more job opportunities and higher salary opportunities they will be able to achieve.

Students who pursue a bachelor's degree will have a higher salary and more job opportunities available to them than professionals with an associate degree, but they typically need around four years to complete their degree. Professionals with a master's degree in graphic design enjoy the most career opportunities and highest salary options in the field. An online master's in graphic design typically takes one-and-a-half to two years to complete after completing a bachelor's program.

Median Salary for Graphic Design Graduates by Degree Level
Associate Degree in Graphic Design $38,245
Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design $42,134
Master's Degree in Graphic Design $51,824

Associate Degree in Graphic Design

Students interested in applying to an online associate program for graphic design must provide their high school diploma or proof of GED completion, a completed application, and oftentimes they will need to submit an essay or samples of their design work. Other admissions requirements vary depending on the college. Most associate program curricula require students to complete 70-75 credits of coursework, which can be completed in just two years of full-time study.

Graphic design associate programs include courses that cover a variety of topics including typography, layout design, and print production. Graduates with an associate degree in graphic design usually pursue careers in print production, advertising, computer graphics, and publishing. They may also choose to continue their education in a bachelor's program. An associate program is a great starting point for students interested in an online graphic design education.

Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design

Students interested in applying to an online bachelor's program for graphic design must provide their high school diploma or proof of GED completion, a completed application, and meet minimum GPA requirements, usually 2.0 minimum or higher. Some colleges require other admission documents such as essays, recommendations, and design/written samples. On average, online bachelor's program curricula require students to complete 120 credits of coursework, which can be completed in four years of full-time study. In addition to the required coursework, many programs require students to complete internships or practicums.

These online bachelor's programs include courses on many different topics such as digital imaging, history of art, and graphic design. There are also required internships that place students in practical settings to work on projects similar to what they might encounter in their careers. Graduates usually pursue careers as art directors, web developers, and multimedia artists and animators. Students who graduate from an online bachelor's program in good academic standing have the opportunity to continue their education and pursue a master's in graphic design. Earning an advanced degree in graphic design can lead to higher pay and increased job opportunities.

Master's Degree in Graphic Design

Applicants to online master's in graphic design programs are required to submit their transcripts with an average minimum GPA of 3.0, a completed application, and samples of their work. Admission requirements vary depending on the university, with some requiring GRE test scores as well. Most graphic design master's curricula cover a wide range of topics, including visual communication, branding, and advanced typography. These programs can usually be completed in between 18 months and two years of full-time study.

Graduates with master's degrees in graphic design can pursue careers as brand managers, creative directors, design strategists, and senior designers. Many master's programs will require students to complete internships as a way for them to gain exposure to the graphic design industry. Earning an online master's degree in graphic design is a great way for students to increase their experience in a particular area of graphic design, which can result in increased job opportunities and higher salaries.

Online Graphic Design Degree Specializations

Graphic design students are able to customize their degrees by choosing a specialization. Specializations allow students to complete coursework that caters to their personal interests and career goals in one particular area. However, these specializations are not offered in all programs and vary greatly from school to school. Below are some common examples of graphic design degree specializations.

Animation Graphics
Animation graphics teaches students how to create graphics and animations. Students combine video editing skills with graphic design skills to prepare for careers as animators.
Web Design
Students in a web design specialization learn how to code and create websites. They learn about the components of a website and how to make it function properly, preparing them for careers as web designers.
Editorial Design
Editorial design focuses on document design and typography. Students learn how to create documents and how to appropriately choose fonts and other design elements. This specialization prepares students for careers as typographers or editors.
Interactive Design
Interactive design teaches students the importance of user interface and interaction on websites. They learn how to analyze their audience and manipulate websites, preparing them for careers as experience architects or web designers.
Advertising and Marketing
Advertising and marketing specializations cover topics like logo design and packaging design. Students learn how to create company logos and labels, preparing them for careers as marketing specialists or packaging designers.

Accredited Online Graphic Design Degrees

There are two main types of academic accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is the more widely accepted form of accreditation, making credits earned at these schools easily transferable. Most major universities are regionally accredited. Due to the wider acceptance of this accreditation, most employers look for candidates who have completed their education at a regionally accredited institution.

National accreditation is more common among technical and trade schools. Credits from nationally accredited institutions are difficult to transfer, and these schools are not as widely recognized by employers. As a result, nationally accredited schools should not be considered as a primary option if it can be avoided. CHEA's online database provides a full list of all accredited institutions and programs in the U.S.

Career and Salary Outlook for Graphic Design Graduates

Graduates of graphic design programs can pursue careers in marketing, web design, graphic design, or they can work as creative directors. Graphic design professionals must have a blend of tech savvy, intelligence, and creativity to succeed in this field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graphic design is a popular choice for professionals from a variety of educational backgrounds. As a result, those with an academic background in graphic design can help stand out when applying for jobs. Below are a few examples of some of the best paying jobs for graduates with a degree in graphic design.

Best Jobs For Graphic Design Majors by Salary
  Entry Level (0-5 Years) Mid-Career (5-10 Years) Experienced (10-20 Years) Late-Career (20+ Years)
Interaction Designer $72,000 $87,000 $97,000 No Data
Creative Director $54,000 $79,000 $101,000 $106,000
User Experience Designer $69,000 $83,000 $92,000 $97,000
Design Manager $58,000 $75,000 $87,000 $93,000
Creative Services Director $45,000 $69,000 $83,000 $91,000

Licensure and Certification Requirements for Online Graphic Design Degree Graduates

Graphic design professionals can earn one of many certifications to prove their worth to potential employers. These certifications can help open doors to career opportunities that may not have otherwise been available. Some universities offer certifications in addition to undergraduate and graduate programs. If they do not offer them directly at the university, admissions staff are usually able to guide students on how to pursue certifications.

  • Adobe certified expert (ACE): Students who choose to become an Adobe certified expert must be proficient in all of the Adobe products including Photoshop, InDesign, and Lightroom. To become certified, students are required to take a rigorous exam reviewing each Adobe product and its functions. Prior to the exam, students can take in-person or online courses to learn about the material covered in this exam.
  • Certified professional web designer (CPWDS): This certification is a good fit for those who want to learn about HTML and CSS, website design, web graphics, and HTM Land WYSIWYG editors. The CPWDS certification is a sign that a professional is an expert in all areas of web design. To become certified, professionals must pass a 60-minute exam that features various types of questions.
  • CIW web design professional: The CIW web design professional certification is ideal for web and graphic designers, art directors, and advertising professionals interested in validating their knowledge and understanding of website development and design. They will learn to conduct online business and handle technical issues on eCommerce websites. To become certified, applicants must pass two separate exams on web design and eCommerce.
  • AMA's professional certified marketer (PCM): The American Marketing Association offers a PCM certification for graphic design professionals interested in marketing and advertising. The certification teaches professionals about brand strategies and various marketing techniques. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and a minimum of four years of marketing experience to be considered.

Professional Organizations for Graphic Design Professionals

There are several professional organizations that are ideal for graphic design professionals. Joining a professional organization provides members with access to career services and networking opportunities. Many organizations also host annual conferences, where professionals can meet with one another and discuss the latest developments in their field. Below are a few professional organizations that every graphic design professional should consider joining.

  • American Institute of Graphic Arts: AIGA is a design organization in New York with over 25,000 members. Members work in all different areas of communication design such as graphic design, branding and identity, and typography.
  • Society for News Design: The SND is a professional organization with members who work in the media industry in the news sector. Members are involved in illustration, web design, infographics, and graphic design.
  • International Society of Typographic Designers: The ISTD is a worldwide organization for typographers, educators, and graphic designers. This organizations creates and sustains typography standards and facilitates discussions on new and innovative ideas in the industry.

Financing Your Online Graphic Design Degree

There are multiple ways for graphic design students to finance their degree. The first step is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which qualifies students to receive federal financial aid in the form of loans, scholarships, and grants. Students can also explore scholarships and work-study programs offered by their school or other organizations.

Scholarships for Graphic Design Students

Scholarships are a great resource for students who want help paying for their education. There are many scholarships that are earmarked specifically for graphic design students. These scholarships vary in application requirements and award amounts, so students should choose which ones they are most interested in before applying.


To determine the best online Graphic Design programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 4 best online Graphic Design programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.

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