Can I Get a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design Online?

Can I Get a Master's Degree in Graphic Design Online?

There are many ways to get a master’s degree in graphic design online because so many schools and colleges offer this popular major to students. These degree programs help students to develop their artistic skills, increase their spatial intelligence, expand their design literacy and deepen their critical thinking abilities. Online schools and colleges will either offer students a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) or a Master of Arts in graphic design. The MFA focuses more on design tools and technology used for advanced graphic design practice. The MA will focus more on the conceptual elements and theories behind graphic design, such as art history, media arts, art psychology and communication.

Program Prerequisites

Before you can pursue a master’s degree in graphic design online, you must first complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. Much of the time, this degree will lay the foundation for a graduate degree in graphic design. In other words, you may wind up studying a subject, like fine arts with an emphasis in painting or illustration.

This undergraduate-level degree gives you the educational foundation you need to go on to a graduate program. It provides you with lessons in art theory, art history, painting, drawing, sculpture and more. It also allows you to correct and improve any weaknesses you have. For example, if you feel your drawing skills aren’t up to par, then the arts program you’re enrolled in will help you strengthen these skills.

Your undergraduate program will also give you the opportunity to partake in internships at graphic design studios. These learning opportunities give you some real-world experience. They may also even provide you with some samples for your portfolio, which you can use to get jobs or to gain admittance to your graduate program.

If you decide not to major in an arts program for your undergraduate degree, you may have to take some classes between your undergraduate and graduate programs to get your skills up to speed. Some master-level programs will require you to have a certain number of classes in the basics, like painting and drawing. More progressive programs may not require you to learn these skills in a formal classroom setting. However, the admissions team in your graduate programs of choice will likely ask to see your portfolio to ensure that you have the skills required to keep up in the program.

There are some additional program requirements you should know about as well. Anyone who applies to a master’s degree in graphic design online program must be proficient in hardware and software solutions used within the field of graphic design. Program applicants must have a working knowledge of Macintosh systems and Adobe Creative Suite software programs. Familiarity with online learning blackboards, communication and Internet-based file sharing services is expected. Online degree applicants should know the basic history and evolution of graphic design as well as contemporary topics visual design. Students may benefit from having already studied creative drawing, painting and writing.

Classes in art history, digital design, visual communications, computer science and information technology are recommended. Most programs require applicants to submit a resume that includes a list of their awards, exhibitions and publications. Program applicants should include a portfolio of their best visual work and a project list that provides brief description of accomplishments. All of these will help the admissions staff to understand and contextualize the applicant’s works. Some online graduate degree programs will require a letter of recommendation and a statement of purpose regarding career and academic goals.

Degree Options

Some online master’s degree in graphic design programs may offer students two- and three-year programs. For example, a two-year program would be designed for students with strong graphic design backgrounds, or bachelor’s degrees in the field of technology. These accelerated two-year degree programs focus on enhancing existing artistic skills, technical acumen and visual communication strategies. A three-year program will be for students who have an accredited bachelor’s degree in any field.

The first year of these programs will provide students with an overview of basic topics like authorship, typography, design history and image making. The following years will offer advanced classes in a variety of fields. Some online programs are hybrids, which means that they offer on-campus lectures, workshops and graphic design exhibitions. These may include group critiques, field trips to artist events or one-on-one discussions with faculty. Programs that offer a temporary residency allow students to learn more about creative collaboration, project management and hands-on design practices.

Why Pursue a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design Online?

Can I Get a Master's Degree in Graphic Design Online?

Graduate-level degrees open doors that wouldn’t be available to you with just a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. In order to answer this question more fully, this section will be divided thematically into two parts: academic and real-world career opportunities.

Many people pursue advanced degrees because they have their sights set on jobs in higher education. In other words, they’d like to become a professor of graphic design or a related topic. If that is the case, then there is a specific degree track that the student must follow in order to ultimately be considered for a teaching position at a university.

To teach in an arts-related field at the college level, you must either possess an MFA or a Ph.D. degree. Both the Master of Fine Art and the Doctor of Philosophy are what’s called “terminal degrees.” These degrees represent the highest level of study you can achieve in a subject. Most colleges and universities require their professors to have a terminal degree if they want to be considered for tenure-track teaching positions.

Some community colleges will allow a person to teach with only a master’s degree, but job candidates who have a terminal master’s degree, like the MFA, or a Ph.D. have a better chance at getting the job if the position is competitive. People who possess these degrees by virtue of the fact that they have the degrees demonstrate that they have the skills and the theoretical knowledge to guide the next generation of graphic design students.

Those who possess the Ph.D. may also be expected to contribute to academic journals and write books about graphic design and related subjects. These written works contribute to new ideas to the scholarly side of the discipline. Others who take this career route may also have the opportunity to become curators of local collections in museums. For example, the professor who studied the history of book arts may end up being the curator for a permanent exhibit of illuminated manuscripts.

Those who don’t want to work in academia still have plenty of options in the job market if they possess a master’s degree in graphic design. They’re the people who get the degree in order to help their “real-world” job prospects. Many of these career graphic designers already have the bachelor’s degree they need to start a career in the field. They may have even been working as graphic designers for five years or more.

For them, pursuing an advanced degree is the next step required for career advancement. One of the best examples of this is the person who wants to go on to become an art director. This senior-level management position requires many, many years of work experience and often an advanced degree, too.

The purpose of the degree in this case is to provide its holder with the necessary experience and theoretical knowledge that big projects require. A good example of this is the person who works as an art director in a video game studio.

While the art director may not develop the actual video games, he or she will be responsible for the overall look of the game, as well as for any collateral materials that go along with the game, like the box it comes in.

For the person who wants a job, like art director, the advanced degree may also make up for other deficits. For example, suppose you’re a self-taught designer and you want to quickly take your design skills to the next level, then getting the advanced degree may present the best option for you and the advancement of your career. This is particularly true if your undergraduate degree is in another field besides graphic design.

Finally, many graduate-level design programs come with a business education component written into the curriculum. You may have the opportunity to take classes that teach you how to run a design studio, how to develop a business’s brand or even how to do the accounting for a graphic design firm. All of these additional skills will help you in your quest for a management-level job in graphic design.

Asynchronous Coursework

Can I Get a Master's Degree in Graphic Design Online?

The previous section provides a nice segue into the topic of studying graphic design online. More specifically, it highlights one of the reasons why people earn a master’s degree in graphic design online. As has already been pointed out, many people who pursue an advanced degree in graphic design already work as graphic designers.

Many of them also have family responsibilities and full-time jobs. They don’t have the time nor the money to take two or three years off of work and life to get an advanced degree. Online degrees address many of these issues. Most online courses take place in an asynchronous setting. This basically means that students access the materials at a time that’s convenient for them. They learn the material from textbooks, recorded lectures and other pre-planned lessons.

In contrast, all classroom-based education takes place in person in real time. That means that the student must attend class at a specific time and date. For many working professionals, traditional classes at the university meet at times that won’t work with the professional’s schedule: during the day, for example.

Campus-based classes are examples of in-person synchronous education. That is students attend class at a set time. Some online degrees do have synchronous class schedules, with students and instructors meeting via technologies, like Zoom or Skype. However, online degrees are usually more cutting edge and convenient than that.

They have to be in order to allow students to attend class. For some students, that might mean logging into the online classroom at 6:00 a.m. in order get in a recorded lecture before work. For others, it might mean a 2:00 a.m. Skype call to work with an instructor who lives in China.

Because these degrees don’t require students to log on at a specific time, they allow students to attend class and do their work at a time that works for them. That’s why so many professional designers love online graphic design programs. They can earn a graduate-level degree without interrupting their schedules or shirking on their family and work obligations.

It Costs Less

Can I Get a Master's Degree in Graphic Design Online?

Cost counts as another reason why so many people look into colleges that allow them to get a master’s degree in graphic design online. These programs typically cost less money than campus-based graphic design degree programs do.

This is mostly due to not having the same facilities costs. Online students won’t use resources, like the student union building or the sports center or the on-campus library. It costs money to maintain those buildings and to pay the people who staff them. Online students don’t use these facilities, so they don’t pay for them and the people who staff them.

Many times, professors who work online don’t even live near the university or college they teach at. Since all instruction is online and much of it is asynchronous, they live wherever they want. Students do, too.

Additionally, the cost of an online education is less because many of these programs are designed to move at an accelerated pace. Many of these programs allow students to graduate in one to two years. Because of this, graduates of these programs can start their search for higher-paying jobs much sooner than their on-campus counterparts.

Finally, online students won’t pay commuting and parking costs. Since they don’t need to leave home in order to “get to class,” they don’t need to drive. No driving means they’re not required to spend money on gas, oil and other car upkeep. They’re also not required to try to find and pay for parking on campus.

Preparing for Online Study

Can I Get a Master's Degree in Graphic Design Online?

Online graphic design programs do have many advantages. However, attending class online is in many ways a completely different experience than attending class in person. This requires that students make adjustments to how they show up to class, how they study and how they hand in assignments.

The bad news for some is that these new skills come with a learning curve. However, the upsides that come with this learning curve far outweigh the challenges the situation presents.

For one thing, these programs allow students to get their degree when they may not be able to get it otherwise. For another thing, many of the skills the students must acquire in order to study graphic design online are also useful in the work setting.

For example, studying graphic design online will require students to turn in their work electronically. They’ll have to learn how to create digital files of their work in order to do this.

Once they’re working with clients, they’ll actually have to send files to clients electronically. Many of these clients won’t even be in the same city or state, depending on how big the design studio is. Despite this, the graphic designer must know how to send work to the client in order to keep the flow of work going. Doing this won’t be an issue because the designer will have done this many times during the course of his or her online graphic design degree.

These graphic designers will also have an opportunity to learn how to use technologies, like Zoom, so that they can meet with other students when they’re working on a class project together. Again, once they’re in a real-world work environment, they’ll be expected to meet with clients this way. While it’s true that getting a master’s degree in graphic design online teaches you solid graphic design skills, it will also teach you other skills that will be useful, like the ones mentioned here.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that the online setting actually gives you many advantages that the in-person classroom can’t. Learning how to communicate effectively online and how to send files via email and other file-sharing programs may be some of the most useful skills you’ll acquire while you’re in your online graduate school program.

Networking With People Around the World

Can I Get a Master's Degree in Graphic Design Online?

In the age of the Internet, many of the people you meet through work may not live in the same place that you do. Many of the biggest design studios in the world, like IDEO, have offices all over the world.

That means you could potentially get a job someplace else after you graduate with your master’s degree in graphic design. It’s common knowledge that most jobs don’t come from answering an ad. They come to you because you know someone. The beauty of an online master’s degree is that you’ll meet students and faculty from all over the world. If you have a guest lecturer for one of your classes, chances are he or she won’t be from your city, either.

When you study online, you are presented with the opportunity to network with all of these graphic design professionals because these people will be the people you meet in class. The person you worked with on your last group project could be the person who helps you get a new job in a new city.

Salary Considerations

It probably goes without saying that you’re interested in a graduate degree because you’re hoping to make more money. Generally speaking, this will be the case. It is estimated that the salary differences between someone who holds a bachelor’s degree compared to someone who holds a master’s degree is quite a lot: It can be as much as $12,000 a year or more.

That doesn’t take into consideration specific job salaries. That’s just a general figure. If you look at specific jobs, like professor or art director, the reason for getting the degree becomes even more obvious. Professors of art and graphic design can make as much as $88,000 per year. Art directors can make as much as $99,000 or more a year. These are just two examples that show why getting an online graduate degree in graphic design also makes good financial sense.

Final Thoughts on Getting a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design Online

A two-year, online master’s degree in graphic design is an excellent academic choice for tech savvy students who want to refine their artistic abilities. A three-year, non-accelerated program is a good choice for students who want a career change, but do not have any background in graphic design.

Additionally, online graphic design degrees have many advantages that campus-based degrees don’t. Because these degrees rely heavily on technology, they teach student how to use technologies that will be useful in their careers down the road. Not only will students learn industry-standard graphic design software programs, like the Adobe Suite, they’ll also learn how to share files online and to communicate effectively through email and online platforms, like Zoom. Having to work this way prepares them for jobs in design studios that serve clients all over the world.

It’s also important to note that these programs work with a person’s schedule. Most of the classes are asynchronous, which allows students like you to access the lessons at a time that works for their schedules. This differs from campus-based classes, which require students to meet at a specific time and day in order to receive instruction. Yet despite the many advantages that these programs provide, they’re usually less expensive than their campus-based counterparts. These programs don’t require students to pay for facilities they don’t use. Students in an online class also don’t have commuting costs or any other costs that you’d typically associate with attending class on campus.

Finally, these degrees prepare students for jobs in academia or in the real world. Aspiring graphic design professors will get as much out of their online degree program as aspiring art directors will. Studying graphic design online is a way to reach your career goals and to increase your income in the process and to do so without making you quit your job or shirk your family obligations in the process.

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