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Online Graphic Design Degree

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A graduate program in graphic design allows students to improve their skills, learn new techniques, and assume leadership roles in the industry. Some programs also equip graphic designers with the necessary skills to start their own graphic design businesses.

With the advent of digital communications, employment opportunities for graphic designers in traditional print media like magazines and newspapers have considerably declined. However, the same technology fuels demand for graphic artists who communicate effectively on a digital platform. Though online communication requires a different set of skills than traditional media, it still engages the graphic designer's creativity and attention to detail.

A master's in graphic design typically takes two years to complete for those with a bachelor's in graphic design or a related field. Learners with a bachelor's in another discipline may take longer. An online master's in graphic design usually requires an onsite internship experience prior to graduation.

This guide provides information on some of the country's best online graphic design degrees. Continue reading to learn about design concentrations and coursework, in addition to degree requirements and graphic design software.

Top Five Online Degrees in Graphic Design

Ranking School Location Average Net Price
1 Bellevue University Bellevue, NE $9,635
2 California Baptist University Riverside, CA $24,170
3 Midway University Midway, KY $22,791
4 Kentucky Wesleyan College Owensboro, KY $26,422
5 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA $27,432

Online Degree in Graphic Design Overview

Communication lies at the heart of graphic design. Graphic designers create images that convey a specific message. They use the different elements of design to engage, inform, and inspire an audience.

Some graphic designers still work in traditional areas such as book jacket design and print or billboard advertising. However, many new designers create digital work. The demand for digital graphic designers continues to increase as more clients develop an online presence.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for graphic designers to grow 3% between 2018 and 2028, slower than the 5% projected growth rate for all other occupations. With fewer jobs available, graphic designers face tough competition for work. However, a master's degree in graphic design increases employment chances.

A master's degree typically takes two years, or 60 credits, to complete. Admission requirements for online programs in graphic design tend to vary among schools. Some colleges accept work experience for credit, while others do not. Both on-campus and online programs typically require an internship experience. Most schools allow online enrollees to complete their internship experience at a location convenient for them.

Common Graphic Design Courses

The following list offers examples of common courses in graphic design graduate programs. Particular courses vary by program, so make sure to research a prospective program's course offerings before enrolling.

  • Design Theory and Criticism

    Students examine different graphic design theories and their practical applications. The course familiarizes students with correlational research techniques and the history of design theory. Students also address modern challenges in the field and explore practical solutions.

  • Interactive Design

    Students explore new technologies in interactive web development. They learn to apply advanced visual theories in a variety of emerging media environments and evaluate the effectiveness of interactive design technology. Students typically complete a project that demonstrates an understanding of the principles of graphic design and new technology.

  • Motion Graphics

    This course often attracts students who plan to specialize in web graphic design. Learners explore topics such as creative conceptualization, principles of integrated design, and screenwriting. Students work primarily with Adobe, but also gain exposure to other programs. Assignments allow students to gain familiarity with motion graphics techniques.

  • Publication Design

    This course focuses on design cohesion and teaches students how to integrate the aesthetic and technical aspects of graphic design. Students learn skills that apply to web design, print, and various advertising and marketing collaterals, all while developing a unique and versatile visual style. Degree-seekers gain practical understanding by completing assignments and developing an original body of work.

  • Typography and Visual Narrative

    Students learn to develop compelling visual narratives using elements of typography. Going beyond font types and sizes, the course shows students how to integrate typography and messaging in dynamic graphic design collaterals. Students explore topics such as letterform anatomy and design, alternative execution strategies, and layout and proportion systems. Students typically complete a project or research paper on the topic.

Graphic Design Requirements

Schools offering on-campus and online graphic design degrees usually maintain the same admission requirements for both programs. Specific admission requirements vary among institutions.

Colleges and universities, as well as stand-alone schools specializing in art and design, typically require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related field. Most schools consider applications from students who hold an undergraduate degree in a different field, but generally require them to enroll in foundational courses prior to beginning a master's program.

Many programs require graphic design applicants to submit a portfolio of their work along with a statement of purpose. If possible, demonstrate your versatility by including work for both commercial products and institutional brands, as well as work across different media. Be sure to connect your statement of purpose with your portfolio.

Because of the competitive nature of professional graphic design, most schools prefer to admit students with work experience. Some institutions award credits for extensive experience in specific areas, but this is not always the case. Contact prospective programs directly to inquire about specific policies.

During the admissions process, most schools require a transcript of records, at least two letters of recommendation, and a resume. Applicants must submit transcripts from each school they attended during their undergraduate education. Some programs also require scores from a graduate entrance exam such as the GRE. Keep in mind that GRE scores remain valid for five years.

Graphic Design Software

  • Adobe Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud)

    This software offers features that allow designers to apply special effects, work in 3D, and isolate background elements. Graphic designers use Adobe Photoshop CC to create intricate artwork for print materials, websites, and product logos. Adobe Photoshop CC issues frequent updates and gives graphic designers access to exclusive features.

  • CorelDRAW Graphics Suite2019

    Designers use CorelDRAW to create professional vector illustrations. This software features customization options that help graphic designers work faster without sacrificing quality. CorelDRAW also enables designers to convert sketches into vector graphics. CorelDRAW supports more than 100 file formats and lets graphic designers publish directly to Wordpress.

  • Adobe Illustrator

    This software allows graphic designers to manipulate vector designs. It includes several templates in addition to an impressive suite of tools and features. Adobe Illustrator Draw, the mobile version of the software, allows graphic designers to create freeform vector images from their mobile phones.

  • Affinity Designer

    Affinity Designer lets users work in both vector and raster environments and move easily between them. It includes customizable grids, more than 1,000,000% zoom capability, and dynamic precision guides. Affinity Designer includes many of the most popular features of Adobe Illustrator for a lower price.

Graphic Design Scholarships

Even if you pursue one of the best cheap online graphic design degrees, many organizations offer funding that can help cover the cost of your education. Continue reading to learn about a few scholarship opportunities for those pursuing graduate graphic design programs.

AIGA Worldstudio Scholarships

Administered by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), this scholarship welcomes applications from both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a graphic design, illustration, or photography program. AIGA fosters cultural awareness and social and environmental responsibility in the next generation of designers and artists. AIGA requires a 400-word essay and 5-10 work samples.

Amount: $2,000-$5,000

Apply for Scholarship

Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation

PGSF offers this scholarship to students who plan to establish a career in graphic communications. Applicants must be enrolled in a qualifying postsecondary institution with a GPA of at least 3.0. The scholarship does not accept applications from full-time students pursuing an online-only program. However, part-time students pursuing an online-only degree can apply.

Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Apply for Scholarship

Support Creativity Scholarship

Residents of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or Pennsylvania enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in a creative field (including graphic design) can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit a sample of their creative work in any medium, including drawing, digital art, animation, or film. They must also submit an essay explaining their work and why they should receive the scholarship. Applicants must demonstrate financial need.

Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship

Best Cheap Online Degrees in Graphic Design 2020

Bellevue University

A military-friendly institution based in Bellevue, Nebraska, Bellevue University holds accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission. The school offers more than 80 degrees, including an online bachelor of arts degree in graphic design.

This 127-credit program ranks among the best online graphic design degrees in the country for learners seeking hands-on experience. Degree candidates develop a web and print portfolio using industry-standard graphic design software and hardware.

The program requires a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. Learners also need access to basic art supplies; a color printer; a digital camera; a sketchbook; and a pointing device, such as a trackpad, mouse, or graphics table.

California Baptist University

Founded in 1950 by the California Southern Baptist Convention, California Baptist University holds accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The Christian university offers more than 40 online degrees, including a bachelor of arts in graphic design and digital media.

The 48-credit online program trains students to use industry software, like Adobe InDesign, Dreamweaver, and Photoshop. Learners also study topics like photography, color theory, and drawing. Courses span eight weeks. Applicants need a high school diploma or equivalent with a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Midway University

Midway University is a liberal arts institution located on a 200-acre working horse farm. The university strives to offer students an affordable education, with 90% of students receiving financial aid. In addition to offering cheap online graphic design degrees, this institution boasts a low 16-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, providing learners with individualized attention from faculty.

Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Midway University offers a 120-credit online bachelor's degree in marketing communications with a concentration in graphic design. Classes begin every eight weeks. Applicants must hold a high school diploma or equivalent with a minimum 2.5 GPA and submit official ACT or SAT scores.

Kentucky Wesleyan College

Located in Owensboro, Kentucky Wesleyan College holds accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs, including an online bachelor of arts in graphic design.

The online graphic design program focuses on web design, branding, typography, and animation. The 120-credit program requires 42 upper-division credits. In addition to coursework, students complete an internship to build hands-on experience. Applicants must hold a high school diploma or equivalent and submit transcripts and ACT or SAT scores.

Liberty University

Founded in 1971, Liberty University enrolls more than 100,000 students worldwide and holds accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The evangelical liberal arts institution offers more than 400 online programs, including a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design.

Students pursuing the best cheap online graphic design degree gain hands-on experience through a supervised practicum and internship. Degree candidates also receive access to Adobe Creative Cloud. The 120-credit program features eight-week courses. Students can transfer up to 75 credits toward the degree.

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