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The Best Graphic Design Schools in the U.S. 2017

Graphic design schools are centers of learning that teach students how to create effective mechanisms for visual communication for a vast array of industries and purposes. Graphic designers use words and pictures to present ideas, concepts, instruction, marketing, and direction; examples of design are everywhere. From cereal boxes to billboards, graphic designers create communicative art which carries a specific message to a target group.

Graphic designers develop, plan, and produce materials in print and digital formats. Either solo, if self-employed, or in a team they meet and ask questions to establish clients’ needs and goals, budget, and timeframe for the project, then make recommendations based on their knowledge of design. Sometimes, like in larger design firms, graphic designers won’t meet with clients but will get the whole story from an art director or account manager. Using this information, a designer or designers will prepare initial concepts using digital illustration or photo-editing software, an estimate of costs and a schedule for completion. Upon client approval, the designer will draw up layouts, including text, graphics, photographs, illustrations, etc., and present to other’s on the design team, account managers, and copywriters.

During the design process, designers will meet with other staff to discuss progress, changes to the design, and any other major issues regarding the final layouts. Although there may be a number of people involved in the project, including copywriters, printers, photographers, and web developers, the graphic artist often coordinates the work of these professionals to ensure they meet all of the requirements of the project, the budget, and timeline. If a project is to be printed, they will also prepare materials and check proofs prior to press run.

Graphic designers create logos, original artwork and illustrations, select colors, images, and fonts, plus any other elements necessary to deliver the desired message. If working with copywriters, a designer will often collaborate closely to help decide how words will be used; in paragraphs as lists or tables, making sometimes complex ideas more accessible. Some graphic designers will specialize in a specific category or type of client. For instance, some designers only create graphics used in product packaging, still others will design websites or book jackets. But most designers are generalists, creating designs for a variety of clients and projects. In order to do their job and remain competitive, graphic designers must keep up-to-date with the latest software and computer technologies. Just one of the many reasons why an education is so important. On this page, we provide a list of the nation’s best graphic design schools, along with guides and links to additional resources for students seeking education or training in a specific area of focus.

  • School Name

    26 schools ranked

  • Nestled amidst the picturesque New England seaboard, Rhode Island School of Design has long been one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious colleges offering rigorous art programs at both an undergraduate and graduate level.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 2,481
  • Unique in its educational approach, Parsons prioritizes humanity and culture; ever-seeking a connection to global urban centers with project-based learning. Founded in 1896, Parsons confers both undergraduate and graduate degrees at 5

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 10,344
  • Pratt Institute utilizes the city of New York as a literal classroom by engaging students in real life experiences including public critiques and internships with top design companies like Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and more.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 4,784
  • The recipient of a multitude of awards and recognition from across the globe; VCUART demonstrates it student support by having one of the lowest tuition rates of the nation’s Top 10 Art Institutions.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 30,918
  • With a tradition of learning to create and influence change; the Center impacts its community as well as global society. Its visionary methodology regarding art and design reflects the conservatory approach it embraces.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 2,133
  • The School of Design is one of the nation's only institutions to offer degrees at 3 levels: BA, MA and PhD, within a multi-disciplinary research context.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,963
  • Embracing a forward-looking approach to artistic academia, SCAD is a student-centered institution determined to provide educational excellence within the context of a positive learning environment. Students learn to create art, as well as live creatively artistic lives.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 11,861
  • Founded in 197, SVA is a for-profit art and design educational institution located in New York offering 11 bachelor’s programs & 22 graduate options. SVA emphasizes excellence in expression and responsible industry participation.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 4,408
  • Founded in Baltimore in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is one of the oldest art colleges in the U.S. For undergraduate education in the fine arts and its MFA programs, U.S. News & World Report has ranked MICA as one of the top colleges in the nation. Parade Magazine has ranked it in the Top 2 Studio Arts Programs in the U.S.; and The Princeton Review consistently names it a “Best Northeastern College.”

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 2,197
  • Established in 1886, MCAD is a not-for-profit, private college conferring both 4 year and postgraduate degrees. A preeminent art and design educational institution, MCAD offers certificate programs, continuing education and hosts numerous exhibitions.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 796
  • Educating students since 1970, Newsweek Magazine and The Daily Beast have ranked CalArts as the nation’s top college of the arts. Its six schools offer rigorous graduate and undergraduate degree programs.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,448
  • Founded in 1864, Yale School of Art is one of the nation’s oldest and prestigious of educational institutions. Iconic faculty & distinguished alumni continue to define artistic evolvement on a global scale.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,385
  • Established in 1918, Otis is recognized as Los Angeles’ first independent professional school of art and design. With locations in the heart of cultural, entrepreneurial and artistic developments; students learn from and become masters of artistry.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,160
  • A world-class research university, UC utilizes an interdisciplinary approach; complete with an international, prestigious faculty; a variety of workshop facilities, photography and computer graphics center and an experimental technology laboratory.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 36,042
  • With 22 undergraduate degree programs, 12 graduate programs and international study options; California College of the Arts successfully balances tradition with innovation and theory with practice. Students enjoy an 8:1 student/teacher ratio and class sizes averaging 13 students.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,975
  • Established in 1906, the College for Creative Studies is a small, private, fully-accredited institution of higher learning. Diversity and inclusion characterize the student body: undergraduates hail from 35 states and 24 countries; while the graduate population is comprised of 81% international enrollees from 8 countries. Located in Midtown Detroit, students enjoy the long-established, rich culture of the city. From the Detroit Film Theatre and the Detroit Institute of Arts; to the libraries, galleries and famous restaurants; both college and students can leverage the educational opportunities provided by the urban community.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,487
  • Since 1866, School of the Art Institute of Chicago has been committed to academic excellence, interdisciplinary exploration and the enrichment of each student’s artistic inquiry and experimentation.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 3,591
  • With its legacy beginning in 1873, Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), is public, independent, and one of the nation’s oldest art schools. Stressing diversity and inclusiveness, MassArt fosters and encourages community-building, within and outside the college. Challenging students to transcend traditional boundaries, MassArt addresses the learning process within each student from a holistic standpoint. Valuing art as a life-enhancing force, there is an emphasis on academic excellence as a foundation for greatness.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 1,990
  • Founded in 1931, Ringling College excels in propelling students into the real world of art through substantive internships, national competitions, cutting-edge technology, and client projects (to name a few).

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1262
  • CAMD is one of the nation’s leading educational institutions. For almost 140 years, the college has been focused on the development of passionate young artists by encouraging bold statements and innovative creativity.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,876
  • With 30 distinct areas of study, Academy of Art University is America's largest private accredited art university. Markedly exceptional is their “No-Barrier to Admissions” policy. Applicants need only possess passion coupled with the ability to concretize it.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private, For Profit
    • imgEnrollment : 13,800
  • RIT is a private college whose fine arts programs are consistently ranked in the “Top 10” by US News. Conferring associates, undergraduate and graduate degrees, it has 4 galleries and a Center for Design.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 16,639
  • An exclusive graduate degree granting institution unlike any other in the United States; the 2-year Academy confers MA degrees in 10 areas. All studies are studio-based & students are mentored by 10 Artists-in-Residence.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 152
  • CVAD offers 30 undergraduate and graduate art programs, heralding it as one of nation’s most comprehensive visual arts schools within a public university. CVAD hasTexas’ 1st and only Ph.D. program in art education.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 37,299
  • With a tradition of excellence in arts education, art history and a comprehensive array of studio disciplines; KSU offers the only MFA program in northeast Ohio. Since 1910, opportunities abound, including graphic design, industrial design, and film studies.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 30,067
  • The Art College is unique in its strategic partnership approach to education. Utilizing the expertise of the rich artistic community in which it is located; it blends experience with an interdisciplinary approach.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 6,512

How to Choose a Graphic Design School

Graphic design allows individuals to communicate through graphics, rather than through words (although typefaces and fonts are also a part of graphic design). Graphic designs done by artists can be found virtually everywhere, from online advertising and websites, to video games and magazines. Students entering this industry can specialize in graphic design for digital media, publishing, packaging, branding and corporate identities, marketing communications, and more, and they can creatively express their ideas through visual communications for business and advertising purposes.

Many college-level programs also provide students with the opportunity to build an up-to-date and professional portfolio of their latest and greatest work. For most graphic designers, creating a portfolio is essential as employers rely heavily on a designer’s portfolio when deciding between one job candidate and another. Another thing to keep in mind is the importance of staying up-to-date with computer graphics and design software; either on your own or through training programs. There are a number of professional associations, like the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), that offer courses intended to keep graphic designers’ skills current.

DEGREE PROGRAMS

Graphic design is taught in traditional colleges and universities and in private art schools. Degrees range from undergraduate certificates to postgraduate level, but most graphic designers will earn either an associate or bachelor’s degree in graphic design, or a closely-related field. However, individuals holding a bachelor’s degree in another field can typically pursue technical training in graphic design to meet hiring qualifications.

There are several two-year degrees available for aspiring graphic designers to pursue, such as an Associate of Science, Associate of Arts, Associate of Fine Arts, or Associate of Applied Science. All provide students to move on to a bachelor program upon completion, but the Associate of Applied Science is recommended for those who want to enter the workforce in the area of graphic design immediately upon graduation.

Students who choose to further their education and apply to a bachelor program can choose from a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Arts, or a Bachelor of Science degree. The bachelor of fine arts degree is the most common degree for those who wish to enter a career as a graphic artist as it is much more technical and geared toward graphic design, whereas the other two degrees offer a liberal arts education with some graphic design coursework. Master’s degrees in graphic design are also offered, but most designers do not need to obtain a post-graduate degree to further their career in graphic design. However, for those who wish to teach at the college level, a master’s degree is typically required.

For individuals who need or want to earn their degree online, there are a number of accredited programs that offer both an associate level degree and bachelor’s level degree. Studying online provides an advantage to individuals who wish to earn a living while studying, those with family obligations, people who want the flexibility online classes offer, or want to earn a degree with less associated costs than attending class on-campus.

College graphic design program content can vary depending on the school, but usually includes courses like design principles, lettering, branding, graphic design, mastery of software, such as Adobe Creative Suite, motion graphics, typography, CSS, fundamentals of photography, drawing, color theory, modern web design, logo design, pattern design, infographics, social media design, and business essentials – just to name a few. With such an expanse of opportunities in the field of graphic design, it is imperative that the school you choose prepares you for a lifelong career no matter where your goals lead you. On this page, we provide a list of the nation’s best graphic design schools, along with guides and links to additional resources for students seeking education or training in a specific area of focus.

PRIVATE SCHOOL VS. PUBLIC UNIVERSITY

There are about 320 postsecondary colleges, universities, and private schools that are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Most of these schools include programs in studio art, principles of design, commercial graphics production, computerized design, printing techniques, and website design. But, are there advantages to attending a private college over a public university? Comparing differences, similarities, pros and cons can help students choose the right school for a career in graphic design. Most students and their families are concerned about the growing costs of a college education; and rightfully so. However, the graphic design field, like many other career fields, demands a college education. So, considering costs is vital when choosing a school.

Private college tuition is about 3-times more expensive than in-state tuition at most universities. The differences are due to the fact that public colleges are funded by the state and private colleges are either for-profit or non-profit, thus receive no state funding. That said, there are some spectacular private colleges that teach graphic design, and some employers will take ‘school name and reputation’ into consideration when comparing candidates. If you are willing to move out of state, can you pay out-of-state tuition which is usually much more than in-state tuition, unless there is a tuition reciprocity program between states?

Class size is also a consideration when deciding between private and public schools. Typically, class sizes and teacher-to-student ratios are smaller at private schools, thereby allowing professors to have closer relationships with students. Smaller class size also allows easier access to professors for students. Private colleges are often more intimate allowing students to form close-knit relationships with classmates too. But, if you want the extracurricular activities that larger universities offer, you want to join a fraternity or sorority, or take part in athletics, than a public university should be your choice, as private colleges have few, if any, on-campus activities outside of class.

Graduation rates are also another thing to take into consideration. If you’re committed to graduating on time and getting a job, then private school may serve you best. Compared to public universities, 53 percent of private school students graduate on-time, whereas only 33 percent of students who attend a public school graduate on-time. This is due in part because at a larger university it is sometimes more difficult to enroll in all the classes you need for your major.

SCHOOL LOCATION

Far ahead of sending out applications for college, students should decide if they want to move away from home, stay close to home, spend more on out-of-state tuition, or attend a school with a great reputation for graphic design no matter the cost or location. Many students don’t want the commotion, long commute times, traffic, and excitement of a large city, while other’s thrive in this environment. Sometimes it’s necessary to attend college out-of-state simply for job opportunities post-graduation. Larger cities also offer many more opportunities to visit museums and galleries that may display samples of graphic art, and usually offer greater access to cultural experiences than found in smaller cities. But, smaller cities offer a more intimate environment and home-town feel. Ask yourself, do you crave the hustle and bustle of a big city, or prefer the less anxious small town environment?

FACULTY & ACADEMIC REPUTATION

No doubt, the overall college experience is based on a lot more than taking design classes and meeting new people. And, while important, thousands of students register for classes every year based on faculty and school reputation. In fact, in Fall, 2013, more than 165,000 students took a survey by the American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2013 that showed 64 percent of respondents said a very good academic reputation was the most important factor in college choice. Other factors, such as location, cost, and course offerings are also vitally important, but knowing the college you attend has a strong reputation is paramount in most student’s minds.

In the same way, your college experience will be shaped by your professors. Just as they are paramount to a school’s success, professors become mentors and advisors to their students, and help them feel a sense of belonging and worth. And, because they are experts in the field of graphic design, they can advise students on the various career options after graduation and beyond as connections to the industry. And, although a positive professor-student relationship alone doesn’t’ translate into good grades or academic success, it is a fact that students who form bonds with their professors typically perform better in school. Does the college have a good reputation and strong faculty? Are the faculty established in the industry? Are they current on the latest technology and software used in graphic design? What do recent grads say about the school and their time on campus? Asking alumni can shed light on a school’s reputation, as can asking professionals in the field who have hired graduates of the graphic design program.

What to Expect from a Graphic Design Program

WHAT YOU WILL STUDY

Whether pursuing an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or furthering your education and earning your master’s degree in graphic design, the goal of any program is to prepare you for a career in the many areas of graphic design. Courses offer both foundational and upper-level skill development and knowledge of the graphic design field and provide a solid foundation for professional and personal development and educational growth. In class, students learn about art and about computer technology, typography, the various kinds of media, composition, design principles, CGI and animation, and photography. And because technology changes with the wind, much of what you learn in school will be outdated in a few years, so staying up-to-date is imperative in this field.

SKILLS YOU WILL LEARN

College will also give you professional skills needed to succeed in the graphic design industry. You’ll have the opportunity to work alongside other student designers and professors and learn skills you can only master by doing the work. You’ll learn how to work in a team environment and how to work under pressure. You’ll learn about timelines, budgets, and business practices. All of these hands-on skills will help make you ready to enter the job market as a professional graphic designer.

Typically, graphic designers will have a number of skills, either learned or inherent, which include artistic ability in order to produce illustrations of design ideas, either by hand or with computer software. They must have analytical skills to look at their work from another person’s (usually the client) point of view to ensure the design conveys the client’s message. Graphic designers must be good communicators, be able to communicate ideas in new and innovative ways, and have strong computer skills. They must also have time-management skills in order to produce great work on deadline.

Graphic designers do not produce art for art’s sake, but instead must convey a specific message, call to action, or emotion based on a client’s intent. For example, a graphic designer might be tasked with creating a logo for a client by incorporating a new shape or color scheme. The client may intend for the new logo to convey a certain emotion but leave the same lasting impression previously expressed in their old logo. With creativity, vision, and imagination, the graphic artist will then design a logo to meet these criteria.

ADDITIONAL BENEFITS

Although must of graphic design work is performed on a computer, it can also employ motion graphics, animation, or 3D images, and must often be optimized for viewing on a range of digital platforms. Most graphic artists are generalist; able to perform all types of printed or digital work, but some choose to specialize in only one or two areas, such as typography, branding and advertising, desktop publishing, interface or user experience design, web design, book design, product packaging, logos, print and publications, web production, newsletters, etc. That said, most designers enjoy working with a variety of clients which leads to more flexibility, as well as expand overall opportunities for employment.

The ability to land your dream job in the graphic design industry relies greatly on your portfolio. Some employers will choose one candidate over another simply by looking through their portfolios. A portfolio, which can be in print or online, or in the form of a personal website, is a personal record of growth and progress and is used to showcase skills and knowledge within the field of graphic design. That’s why employers commonly use a portfolio to assess a candidate’s strengths and abilities; to see who they are and what they can do. And, that’s why it’s important to compile a professional-looking portfolio whether you attend college or not.