2022 Best Graphic Design Schools That Produce Expert Designers
As digital advertising trends evolve, graphic designers must diversify their skills now more than ever before. We’ve researched a handful of the top-rated graphic design schools that produce well-versed designers in 2022.
Significant changes in the marketing industry and the proliferation of DIY design tools in the marketing software sphere have some on the periphery concerned about the long-term health of the graphic design industry. Experts do expect a decline over the next 7 years though, primarily due to the shift away from traditional print and publishing design because of a decreased demand. Within the industry, though, it’s understood that much of this decline will be mitigated by significant growth in digital advertising, which accounted for roughly 64% of total ad spend in 2021 and is expected to continue to expand throughout the same period of anticipated industry decline.
With digital advertising requiring a wide array of highly technical skills, the demand for well-educated and skilled designers is anticipated to match the growth trends of digital advertising much closer than other channels in the industry. Because of trends in the marketing industry itself, as well as the structure of small businesses, startups, and agencies, graphic designers must have a diverse set of skills in order to tackle the diverse design projects that they can expect to cross their workspace.
The shift in the workforce and the challenges of sourcing talented workers across all industries means agencies and small businesses should be extremely intentional in their search efforts to identify and connect with qualified candidates. And for individuals seeking to cross-skill or start their professional journeys, it’s helpful to know which avenues they have to acquire the necessary skills and expertise to succeed in the modern digital marketing space as a graphic designer. That’s why our goal in this article is to provide those audiences with a list of the best graphic design education programs across the country, focusing on the more accessible Non-Ivy League programs.
Educational Programs Offering the Best Graphic Design Degrees
Our goal in this discussion isn’t to rank the institutions in our list as much as help our readers connect with some of the most comprehensive graphic design programs across the United States. Scouring through a wide array of rankings of graphic design schools, we found ten institutions mentioned consistently. We’ve summarized each school’s curriculum below.
The Pratt Institute is a comprehensive art and design college that has been ranked in the top 10 such programs since 2015. Supported by recipients of a number of prestigious awards such as Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, the Pratt Institute’s School of Art provides a graphic design and illustration focused Associate program, a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (BFA) program with a focus on digital arts, and design management and digital arts-focused Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs. The program has recently expanded to include animation, motion graphics, interactive media, and game design to match the rising need for graphic designers in the interactive gaming and online experience spheres. Program costs can be explored with tools provided on Pratt’s admissions page.
Virginia Commonwealth University
Recognized as having one of the U.S. News and World Report’s best MFA programs in 2021, Virginia Commonwealth University is also one of the top-ranked universities in the United States. Prioritizing innovation and problem solving, the VCU Department of Graphic Design offers undergraduate and graduate-level programs. The BFA program is built around foundational design theory and art principles intended to familiarize graduates with effective visual communication strategies.
The MFA in Design coursework focuses on leadership skills and other tools that future art directors and client managers will need to translate client requirements into innovative solutions in real-world interactive design projects. VCU’s admission page includes a breakdown of tuition costs depending on your residency and needs.
Rhode Island School of Design
In numerous rankings and discussions, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is viewed as one of the leading design and fine arts schools, with around 20 bachelor’s and master’s programs ranging across a number of visual and tactile art disciplines. The Graphic Design majors are focused heavily on design skills and design theory. At the undergraduate level, students develop the skills necessary to create cohesive solutions to modern business problems using contemporary design software.
The MFA in Graphic Design helps aspiring graphic designers to collaborate and lead by assembling their own design portfolios and helping undergraduates to hone their own design skills through mentoring and exhibition curation at the onsite museum. Estimate student costs with RISD’s financial services page.
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Maryland Institute College of Art
Maryland Institute College of Art lays claim to the oldest art and design degree-granting program in the country and is considered a top producer of skilled professional designers. The Graphic Design undergraduate program, offered as both a minor and a major, prioritizes the commercial and social applications and helps budding designers develop visual problem-solving strategies for branding, package design, user interface, and user experience for website design and digital applications, and other modern visual design applications. Those who complete the undergraduate program can continue their journey into the school’s MA in Graphic Design or Social Design, or the MFA in Graphic Design.
The MFA is a theory-focused program, while the MA allows candidates to take a deep dive into creating a professional portfolio and is designed to prioritize and accelerate participants’ transitions into professional industry roles. You can explore the costs of undergraduate and graduate tuition fees through the website’s admissions pages.
Savannah College of Art and Design
Aspiring graphic designers looking for top design programs would do well to explore the programs at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Touting itself as the “university for creative careers,” SCAD offers both online and in-person graphic design degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and focuses both on design and storytelling. The BA in visual communication and BFA in graphic design both focus on applying traditional design practices such as drawing fundamentals, color theory, and typography concepts in both technical and non-technical mediums.
Students explore web design, digital communication theory and applications, and methods for applying composition best practices in digital media. The MA and MFA in graphic design and visual experience offer varying levels of extended research on narrative, static and dynamic content, and experience design. The MFA requires candidates to craft and complete a thesis to complete the program. SCAD’s admission page provides an overview of tuition costs and fees based on which program you’re planning to attend.
School of Visual Arts
The School of Visual Arts is one of several institutions on this list that offer dedicated graphic design programs, with 31 different programs with design courses focused on various design and visual arts disciplines. Graphic design-focused programs range from the continuing education certificate in Design, Advertising, and Visual Narrative to Undergraduate BFA programs in Design, Advertising, and Animation. The MFA programs include Design and Design for Social Innovation, Interaction Design, Visual Narrative, and Products of Design. The goal of these programs is to create professionals capable of navigating and adapting to ever-evolving marketing trends. SVA’s programs vary in price, and a full breakdown of tuition by degree and department can be found on the admissions page.
Parsons, The New School of Design
Another institution on our list that is largely dedicated to creative visual and design disciplines, the Parsons School of Design is part of a collective of colleges and graduate schools that are known as The New School. Through the Parsons School of Design, students take an interdisciplinary approach to design through a number of channels. Whereas other programs offer minimal continuing education and certificate programs, Parsons offers numerous relevant design-focused short programs, including Design Thinking in Practice, Digital Marketing, Graphic and Digital Design, Infographics and Data Visualization, Motion Design, User-Centered Design, and Web Design.
Up the line, the Associate Degree program offers an AAS in Communication Design. Undergraduate programs cover specializations such as Communication Design, Design and Technology, Product Design, and Strategic Design and Management. At the graduate level, paths include Communication Design, Design and Technology, Strategic Design, and Management. Through these programs, graphic design students can explore mobile and app design including UI/UX, motion graphics, digital filmmaking, video production, and new media art. Costs of Parsons’ programs vary by location and campus.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Often ranked as one of the leading institutions in art and design education, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) takes an interdisciplinary approach to art and design that helps graduates meet the demands of the modern business landscape. The Visual Communications Design path at SAIC is fairly diverse. At the undergraduate level, students can explore modern media skills via the BFA in Studio with a focus on Film, Video, New Media, and Animation or the Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design) line of coursework. Students explore design standards across numerous mediums, including digital platforms and product packaging, and learn to create visual messaging across multiple channels and applications.
For the MFA in Studio, students can explore the intersection between technology and design with AR and VR platforms and bio art among other emerging disciplines through the Art and Technology Studies department and the Design for Emerging Technologies focus. Students can also go deeper with Film, Video, New Media, and Animation and Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design) through the MFA level programs. SAIC’s costs per credit hour, as well as the other fees and costs, can be explored through the website’s Financial Aid & Tuition tab.
ArtCenter College of Design
Considered a global leader in art and design education, the ArtCenter College of Design recognizes the need to educate aspiring graphic designers to be able to deploy effective communication practices across multiple disciplines and mediums. Undergraduate candidates who aren’t pursuing traditional media can explore motion graphics, mobile device interface design, package design, and 3D motion graphics as well as visual interaction and transmedia design theories across Graphic Design, Interaction Design, and Spatial Experience Design curriculum paths.
The graduate paths allow students to explore degrees in Brand Design and Strategy, Graphic Design, Spatial Experience Design, and a number of niches focused on specific design paths. The ArtCenter includes a comprehensive calculator with its financial aid resources.
California Institute of the Arts
No list of the top graphic design institutions would be complete without including the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), the educational institution founded by Walt Disney as a place where creative minds could explore artistic disciplines in a collaborative interdisciplinary program. With more than 70 comprehensive degree programs encompassing performance and fine arts as well as modern visual and media arts. Aside from a wide array of related design and animation paths, the Graphic Design BFA and MFA paths prepare graphic designers to integrate visual language with both imagination and technology using modern theory and strategies. CalArts breaks down its extensive tuition rates and options on the institution’s Tuition and Fees page.
Benefits of Working Directly With Graphic Design Education Programs
Many educational institutions fold career services into the student experience. With the goal of developing professional acumen and supporting the job search process prior to and beyond graduation, career services departments often work with local businesses to create internship opportunities and possible direct-hire opportunities for graduates. These arrangements can be beneficial to both organizations, and help to support local economies as well.
Reduce Costs of Recruiting and Hiring
The challenges of the last two years have many businesses seeking to minimize costs and streamline operations. However, post-pandemic economic conditions have also resulted in many organizations experiencing gaps in their workforce, and employees are more likely to change jobs. Such high turnover can greatly impact a company’s bottom line, so it behooves small businesses and startups to partner with the career services departments of universities and colleges to create opportunities for students. This can provide much-needed staff support and create an opportunity to ensure a potential hire is the right fit for the company culture and position requirements with decreased costs and minimal online job posting costs.
Reduce the Time Spent Onboarding and Training New Hires
Rather than spending excessive time vetting interns, the company can allow the schools to do a majority of the leg work in identifying ideal potential employees. Because students are learning modern design and marketing skills and tactics and using industry-standard software tools at school, the need for extensive on-the-job training can be limited to company-specific practices and workflows. This will give aspiring graphic design graduates professional experience in the design field that will increase their future value if the organization keeps them on beyond the internship as full-time employees.
In the Post-COVID Economy, Reputation is Vital to Your Success
Creating opportunities for aspiring graphic designers, whether in the capacity of a design agency or to support your in-house design team, will go a long way in building your organization’s reputation with the local community. It will also give your brand exposure and allow you to promote your business in channels you might not otherwise be able to access, giving you a leg up on your competition.
Build Teams Composed of the Best-Educated Graphic Designers
The UpCity business-to-business community thrives by providing clients with innovative and industry-leading marketing services. Without a steady flow of skilled and capable graphic designers, many organizations will struggle to keep pace with the increasing demands of digital marketing and advertising. If you’re a small business looking to build your internal marketing team or an agency looking to expand services, partnering with colleges and universities with recognized graphic design programs can be an effective way to bolster your team and build your brand.