It should come as no surprise that, in an industry that exists solely because of the Internet, online web design education has not only become prevalent but also increasingly popular. There is plenty of debate as to whether a traditional education in web design is better or more rigorous than an online education, but as employers have seen how competent graduates from online web design degree programs are, much of that debate has faded. In fact, some even argue that an online web design education is better preparation for the working world because you are constantly immersed in an online environment similar to the one you will be working in as a professional.
Choosing an Online Web Design Degree Program
As the search for the best online web design degree program begins, it is important to understand what the degree program is and isn’t. Although there is plenty of overlap between the fields, an online web design degree is not the same as an online graphic design degree. In fact, graphic design is just a piece of what a student enrolled in a web design degree program will learn. Make sure to research the programs of interest to clarify that the program being offered is specifically in web design and not graphic design.
Once the web design and graphic design distinction has been cleared up, it is time to make sure that the schools of interest are accredited. Online web design degree programs are becoming more and more reputable, but they are still relatively new, and that means there are low-quality degree mills interspersed with the reputable institutions. The U.S Department of Education explains that the goal of the accreditation process is “to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.” Accreditation will not only be a buzzword that catches potential employers’ attention as they look at resumes, but it will also be a signal to other institutions. For example, some schools will offer two-year Associate’s degrees in web design. If that degree is obtained at an accredited institution, then it will be much easier for those credits to transfer because the school will immediately know that the previous education meets the minimum quality standards.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an accrediting body that specifically approves web design degree programs, so ensuring the schools of interest are accredited may be tricky. The best programs are all accredited, but it’s possible that the five programs you are considering are accredited by five different institutions. There are two easy ways to cover all your bases in this process. The first is use the Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. The accrediting bodies govern the individual programs and the DOE governs the accrediting bodies, so they cull all of the programs together in an easy-to-use database. If that list is too cumbersome and broad, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design is an organization that creates their own national standards for art and design degree programs. They have more than 320 accredited institutional members and those schools are clearly worth researching.
Once you have ensured that the programs of interest are accredited, it’s time to start the deep dive into individual programs. Not all web design degree programs are created equal. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a group of programs that are much better than others, it just means that different programs have different aspects of web design to offer. There are schools that specialize in art and design – such as Academy of Art University – and these schools boast singularly focused, design-heavy curriculum which is great for students who are positive they want to be web designers and want a niche program. There are other, more traditional schools that offer web design degree programs. These programs will undoubtedly focus on web design, but they may also feature core requirements in liberal arts and other subjects that are designed to provide the student with a well-rounded education and skillset.
It’s also important to look specifically at the curriculum and courses being offered. There is nothing wrong with programs that focus on a specific aspect of web design, but options and a diversified skillset will lead to more employment opportunities and a more complete resume. If you are positive that all you want to learn is Java, then feel free to look at programs that focus on teaching Java. But there are other programs that will offer, in addition to Java, coursework on HTML5, XML, and CSS. Being able to work with multiple languages makes you far more appealing to potential employers. In fact, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, many employers want developers to understand multiple programming languages as well as have “some knowledge of multimedia publishing tools”.
Also, there is no way to become a competent web designer without extensive hands-on experience. Low-quality programs will try to teach the students using online lectures about theory and practice that is helpful, but not without the hands-on component to serve as a complement. It is one thing to understand web design and it’s another thing entirely to be able to competently design a website. Hands-on learning is helpful in this respect and it is important to find a program that incorporates hands-on learning extensively throughout its curriculum.
Finally, you want to make sure the program has competent faculty. Web design is quite difficult and requires a lot of experience and knowledge and so it is probably best to learn these skills from industry professionals who have a multitude of experience.
Online Web Design Course Types
As mentioned above, there are a number of different web design tracks that lead to careers in the field. For those interested in getting their feet wet and learning the basics, some schools offer online web design Associate’s degrees. More serious students should consider a more in-depth program like a Bachelor’s degree or even a Master’s degree. As for what courses to expect, general courses will include subjects like micro and macroeconomics as well as statistics. Once you get into the more design-focused curriculum, expect introductory classes on software development and information technology before getting into more niche subjects like web design, database design, information systems implementation, and mobile design. These are just a handful of the courses that are required to become a professional web designer, so be prepared to study those subjects intensively.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that employers commonly require an Associate’s degree in web design to even consider applicants. However, for more technical positions, employers usually prefer applicants to have at least a Bachelor’s degree.