For those who prefer to communicate through visual or artistic representations rather than simple words, a graphic design degree may be a step toward a rewarding and lucrative career in graphic arts. The work of graphic designers can be found anywhere from magazines and book covers to online advertising, website creation and video game production. Students entering this field can expect to learn a wide variety of creative ways to express themselves and to create effective visual communications for business and advertising purposes.


Degrees in graphic design can be found at traditional colleges and universities or through art schools that specialize in art and design. Degree levels range from undergraduate certificates through postgraduate degrees, with the most commonly sought after being the associate and bachelor degrees in this field. Even within these different levels, several degrees are available. For example, students can earn an Associate of Arts, an Associate of Science, an Associate of Fine Arts, or an Associate of Applied Science degree, all taking about two years. The first three of these degrees are generally for those interested in moving on to a bachelor program after completion, while the applied science degree is recommended for those candidates who wish to enter the workforce in the field of graphic design immediately after graduating.

At the bachelor degree level, students can choose from a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The first two offer a general liberal arts education with some graphic design courses, but the Fine Arts degree is the most technical and the most common for students wishing to begin a career as a graphic artist. Masters degrees are offered in the same three areas, but these are neither common nor usually necessary for obtaining and furthering a career in graphic design.

How to Find the Top Graphic Design Degree Programs

When considering schools that offer graphic design programs, the best graphic design degrees will come from those schools that provide a mix of knowledge and skills taught. Ranking in the number one spot according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2012 annual survey of top colleges and universities is the Rhode Island School of Design, or RISD. This is one of the oldest schools of design in the United States and offers studio-based degree programs that prepare thousands of students each year for careers in architecture, design, and fine arts.

Coming in at number three on the ranking list mentioned above is the Maryland Institute College of Arts, or MICA. This school has the distinction as being named within the top 25 design schools in the nation by both GDUSA magazine and ID magazine. MICA differentiates between book and magazine design programs and the more commercially geared graphic design degree option.

Strong contenders in the arena of online degree programs within the graphic design field are Full Sail University, Rasmussen College, and the International Academy of Design and Technology, all of which are accredited and offer at least an associate degree in graphic design. In addition, Rasmussen offers an accelerated learning program that allows students the opportunity to complete a bachelor’s degree in as little as 18 months, furthering a career already in progress or speeding up the process of breaking into the field of graphic design.

Careers and Salaries for Individuals with Graphic Design Degrees

A degree program in graphic design opens up a variety of career opportunities for program graduates, including working as a multimedia designer, web designer, logo designer, or layout artist. In today’s multimedia world, it is predicted that the need for well-trained graphic designers in the field of web design and computer graphics will continue to grow and be competitive over at least the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all graphic design fields in general will continue to grow about as fast as all other occupations through the year 2020.

Seeking employment in one of the graphic design careers can be lucrative, with graphic design salaries averaging about $48,000 annually, according to BLS. Choosing to specialize in a specific career aspect of graphic design can be even more lucrative, earning as much as six figures annually for jobs such as that of an advertising and promotions manager or public relations and fundraising manager. In addition, branching out into fields such as that of art director can result in an average annual salary of over $80,000. While the duties of art directors are not strictly graphic design related, many have previous work experience in the field of graphic art and design. A bachelor’s degree is generally considered the minimum education level for these fields, with varying levels of work experience also needed for the more advanced positions.

The bottom line is that a degree in the graphic arts can open a wide variety of options for future career paths and salaries. Given that the field can be entered with just an associate degree, candidates can often begin working while considering whether to continue their education and obtain a bachelor’s degree, or continue working while going to school for the higher degree.

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