Online Art Schools & Degrees

Best Online Art Schools for 2017

Some career fields more than others lend themselves to online or distance learning. Many art professors, teachers, and even students couldn’t envision mastering different drawing techniques or learning how to properly spin a potter’s wheel, online. Today, however, many schools are moving in that direction by offering students a respected alternative to on-campus programs. In 2014, it was estimated that more than five million students were enrolled in at least one distance education course at a degree-granting postsecondary institution.

Earning a degree online is no longer taboo in the workplace with many employers placing the same weight on a degree earned through distance learning as in a traditional college classroom. Earning an online art degree is no different. Programs encourage personal exploration in a range of media while building expertise in students’ specialties. Many online art programs are taught by successful, practicing artists who inspire students and nurture their individual talents. Some programs are geared toward students who cannot attend classes on-campus, such as individuals with family obligations, individuals with disabilities, or people who work and value the ability to balance family, work, and schooling responsibilities. About 80 percent of all online students live within 100 miles of a campus, and 60 percent are employed full-time. Forty-six percent say their biggest reason for enrolling in online or distance learning classes was to advance their current career.

There are a number of other reasons why art students are signing up for online or distance learning courses. Online courses are flexible and give students the ability to study anytime, anywhere. They are, on average, about 30 percent cheaper than at traditional colleges. Many online art classes can be completed in less time, and students love the variety of courses available.

Prospective students seeking an online art degree may evaluate dozens of schools to find the best program to suit their needs. This is especially true for aspiring artists who intend to pursue a degree via distance learning. Art is a unique career that requires an education as unique as the student who is working toward a degree. Individual creativity and style are best fostered through robust learning experiences, exposure to wide range of art forms, and dynamic curriculum. Most art disciplines also require a strong foundation in formal art concepts and technique, which are best learned through interaction with instructors and collaboration with teachers and support structures. Whether you are interested in freelancing as a fine artist, working as a graphic designer in a major city, or traveling the world creating animated digital applications, a great education is the ticket to get there. Listed below are some of the nation’s top online art colleges and universities selected for their combination of academic excellence, innovative technology, and rich online curriculum.

  • School Name

    12 schools ranked

  • Southern New Hampshire University brings its stellar reputation for excellence to its Online Division, comprised of over 100 bachelors degrees. Accepting up to 90 transfer credits towards the BA, students have access to their online programs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Undoubtedly attractive as well, is the affordability factor accompanying each program's flexible design.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 61,285
  • Arizona State University has taken its gold standard reputation to its Online Division. Their innovative online learning experience features the same content as its onsite equivalent, but with upgraded delivery. From the comfort of their choosing, students receive instruction from the same highly-recognized campus faculty, along with all campus benefits such as its vast academic, research and career resources.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 51,984
  • 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
  • Recently named as one of the top university's in the world by Rolling Stone Magazine, Full Sail University offers a broad range of online and on-campus undergraduate and graduate options.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private, For Profit
  • To make their online programs more accessible, affordable and transformative through greater employment opportunities; The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division is going non-profit as it integrates into the Dream Center Foundation. With its Academic Achievement Grant of its $38,500; scholars virtually have it all; academic reputation, financial support and online convenience.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 919

Guide to Available Art Degrees


An associate degree in art is typically a two-year program offered by a community or technical college. Students should not confuse this degree with an Associate in Arts, which is available in many different disciplines. The associate degree in art prepares students for future artistic endeavors by providing a broad, general education in art. While it’s common for people who earn an associate degree to transfer to a four-year college or go on to earn their bachelor’s degree online, some choose to seek employment in the field immediately. In addition to general education courses like English, math, and social science, students in an associate program focus on working in a variety of mediums. Coursework may include an introduction to art, art history, art appreciation, 2D and 3D design, drawing, digital art, photography, and graphic design. Students will also learn critical thinking skills and communication, both written and verbal skills. By posting their work online, they will also learn how to critique as well as how to learn and grow as an artist by being critiqued. Most schools offer video demonstrations, and opportunities to communicate and engage in discussion with professors.


The typical undergraduate degree in art takes four years to complete, although there is more flexibility when earning a degree online. Some students who have completed a portion of the required coursework elsewhere may qualify for an accelerated program. Others may need more time to complete the degree requirements due to work and family obligations. Regardless of individual circumstances, all students should expect to complete the following courses when earning a four-year degree in art:


This introductory course provides students with a background of art throughout history, and teaches them how to evaluate art critically as well as give them an understanding of each type of artistic medium. Students learn to appreciate the principles of aesthetics as it applies to their own work and as they evaluate works of art from various periods in world history.


This foundational class is appropriate for students who intend to work as graphic artists and those training for other similar work in the field of art. It introduces the concept of a color spectrum, which means that human beings view color based on several competing factors. It’s important for students to understand this design concept in order for their work to appeal to a wide range of people. This class also teaches students color theory; value, hue, saturation, color themes, and color harmonies.


Bachelor degree students learn the concepts of adding visual depth to their work with 3D drawing. This is an important skill for working with Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs. It allows people to be more efficient in their work because it nearly eliminates manual processes. Some colleges teach two-dimensional drawing (2D) as well.


Students in this survey course learn the processes and materials used in different types of fine art prints. These include monotype, drypoint, woodcut, and several others. Aesthetic understanding and the ability to critique oneself and others are additional skills students learn as they come to understand the process of printmaking. By the end of the course, students will know how to transfer an image from a drawing to a print.


Students enrolled in a bachelor degree program in art may complete elective courses in digital photography, painting, sculpture, architectural history and design, and advanced principles of visual design. It’s common for art schools to require a student portfolio prior to graduation, which often demonstrates a student’s proficiency in their chosen area of specialization, but can also include representative examples of their work in other areas of study.


A master’s degree in an artistic field helps adult learners and graduates with a bachelor’s degree acquire theoretical and creative expertise that can prepare them for a number of high-level careers in the field of art. Examples of degrees based on practice include a Masters in Fashion Design or a Masters in Animation. For those who are more inclined towards art theory, an advanced degree in art history or art management would be more appropriate. An art degree in with one of these fields will be useful for those seeking employment as a museum curator or as an art educator.

To satisfy the requirements for most master’s degrees in art, all students must research, write, and present a master’s thesis. Your thesis paper will demonstrate a high level of understanding of specific art topics to your field at the advanced level. Possible topic areas include discussing the evolution and current use of a particular art medium and educated criticism of a particular piece of art.

Exploring Areas of Specialization

Art is a broad field that allows for numerous areas of specialization for those completing a bachelor degree or higher. The information below highlights several possibilities for specialization along with possible careers within each:


The fine arts and design specialty involves the creation, production, and sale of works of art, in addition to the design of graphics, clothing, animation, and more. Some of the specific career fields that a person with a degree in fine arts and design might enter include:


An art director sets the tone for the visual style of magazines, newspapers, packaging for products, movie and television ads, websites, and related media. In addition to also being responsible for a brand’s image, someone in this position oversees the work of others involved in layout work, copywriting, and artistic production.


Craft and fine artists create paintings, glassware, ceramics, pottery, drawings, and other types of art to sell directly to the public or to art dealers. They may work as freelance artists or as a contractor or employee for a large art organization.


Interior designers create indoor and outdoor spaces that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. They select the design layout, colors, decorations, lighting, and furniture for offices, homes, and other areas where people work and live. In this line of work, interior designers also need a good understanding of local inspection regulations and building codes.


People in the field of visual communications send a message through a variety of mediums, including photography, animation, illustration, and graphic design. Some online schools require students majoring in visual communications to choose a specialty while others only encourage students to choose a concentration. Graphic designers typically learn how to manipluate a large number of computer programs in order to create graphics for websites, digital ads, and print media. Examples of jobs within this category include:


People in this job meet with clients to gain an in-depth understanding of the brand and message the client’s company wants to convey. They select colors, images, determine layout, and text style for corporate logos, business websites, product illustrations, and more.


This role requires a vast, but detailed skill set. Someone with a specialized degree in interactive media may create animation and graphics for electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets or develop various types of educational and industry-specific software.


A student whose degree is more on the art theory and history side of things may enjoy a career that allows him or her to research, find, and then select historical documents, artifacts, and works of arts for museum displays.


A media arts and animation specialty prepares students to produce 2D and 3D computer- generated art that helps objects and characters come to life for the viewer. Strong skills in drawing, illustration, and design are required for success in this field. Specific career possibilities include:


Animation is the process of using drawings and computer programs to create graphics for video games, movies, or for visual effect on a website or other form of multimedia. Along with many other skills, this involves developing storyboards in sequential order that eventually become an animated graphic.


A digital media producer is responsible for the creation and management of digital content, including DVDs, streaming files, and downloadable movies and music. Someone in this role is involved with a project from its initial concept until delivery to the client. They often supervise the work of a creative team as well.


A web developer with an undergraduate or graduate degree in art helps to design and create websites. He or she integrates audio, video, and graphics into the site and then tests it to make sure that it’s fully functional.

Signs of a Strong Online Program


The best indication that an online degree is valuable to you, the student is that the school or the program itself has received at least one outside accreditation. This means that a third-party educational organization has reviewed the college or program and decided it meets rigorous requirement standards for accreditation. A college may receive an official nod from one of six regional accrediting bodies across the United States. These agencies have all received approval from the Department of Education.

Agencies that provide accreditation for specific programs look at the courses offered in each program to determine how well they prepare students to use the skills in a career after graduation. Accrediting bodies also consider how a specific program fits into the college’s overall offerings. A major accrediting agency in the art discipline is the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.


Student support and resources is important for all students, but it is especially so for online students who don’t have the benefit of face-to-face communication with professors, staff, and other students. Students who complete their degree requirements online should feel like they have the same access to support and resources as everyone else. At a minimum, the online college should offer:

  • Financial Aid Counseling
  • Career Counseling & Placement
  • Availability Online Tutoring
  • Additional Assistance for Disable Students
  • Internship Opportunities in the Area


Completing an online degree takes a major commitment of time and financial resources. It is, therefore, essential that the curriculum challenges students personally and professionally. It also needs to be relevant to their eventual career goals. Teaching an online class requires creativity on the part of instructors who must see to it that students have a variety of formats in which to learn.


The school itself and the professors who teach there should have an outstanding reputation for excellence. For teachers, this goes well beyond mastery of subject material. They should take a passionate interest in the success of each student and make themselves available for those who require additional help. This is true for coursework on-campus as well as online. The administration should also have a strong record of sound fiscal management and decisions that improve the experience of staff and students alike.

What to Expect - Risks and Benefits

To complete an online degree in art, you must be focused and determined. Many people who start out with good intentions find the discipline necessary to succeed too difficult to live by. It’s easy to get sidetracked and find other things to do rather than set time aside to complete your studies. No doubt about it, online college classes, just like attending a regular school takes willpower and dedication. In many ways, online classes are just the same as on-campus classes. They are often the same size with the same teacher-to-student ratio. And, although you don’t always meet at regularly-scheduled times, assignments are usually due every week, so you want to practice good time-management skills. Keep in mind too, that reminders for course work are often communicated through emails or the college website, so logging in often and checking your email will help you stay on task.

It’s also easy to think you’re all alone out there in cyberspace; cranking out your assignments and completing your artwork. But, just because you’re not sitting in a lecture hall with dozens of other students doesn’t’ mean you’re on your own. Your professor, and even other students in your classes are often available online or through discussion boards. Most classes will be of the same variety as you would expect on-campus. Of course, it all depends on the course, but you will participate in discussions and critique of your work and the work of other students, as well as sometimes work on an assignment with other students taking the same class. For example, if taking a Photoshop class, you will be able to upload your drawings and sketches as an image file for students to review and critique, and your professor to grade.

But what about technical difficulties? It’s not uncommon for the Internet to go down, or just minutes before class, trying to log into a new program and not understanding the platform. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with any new software that may be needed for a particular class well before the class starts, and you may want to contact the school or a professor for instructions. Plus, although it may be more difficult to take your classes on an iPad or Kindle tablet, generally speaking, any device with a web browser that can connect to the Internet should work. However, serious students will invest in a desktop or laptop computer.

Time management seems to be one of the biggest reasons why students drop online classes. Just because classes are flexible, doesn’t’ mean you won’t be required to have an assignment in on time. Procrastination is toxic on campus and online. Set a schedule to get things done and stick to it. Another reason many students fail online is the dozens of distractions that seem to get in the way of completing assignments. Unfortunately, it’s hard to hold back from inviting friends over, logging into Facebook, or watching TV instead of sitting down and hammering out the next great piece of art. But, instead of letting distractions get the best of you, use them as a reward for when your assignment is complete. It’s also easy to ignore or simply not participate in online discussions with professors and other students, but like in most college classes, participation can count as part of your grade. Education is all about discourse. If you have a question, contact your professor rather than putting it off or ignoring it altogether.

And, if you’re worried that online classes won’t look as good on your resume or be recognized by a prospective employer, rest assured that online classes (especially those from respected and accredited colleges and universities) look the same on your transcript as any other course.