There’s a maxim about good graphic design: good graphic design is invisible – it’s the truly bad and the truly great that get noticed. Anyone seeking a bachelor in graphic design is focused on learning how to avoid the bad, strive for the good, and every once in a while get noticed for the right reasons. In the 21st century, where advertising is quite literally everywhere, graphic design degrees are valuable to aspiring marketing professionals to stand out and get noticed as consummate professionals.
Why Get a BFA in Graphic Design?
Graphic design is a process that uses visuals to communicate a message to an audience – not for the sake of art or self-expression, but for a direct and specific purpose. Designers have a variety of tools at hand, from photography and color to text and animation. Graphic design is particularly useful in marketing strategy. Graphic design in marketing can serve for a number of purposes, such as web design, branding, packaging, signage, logo creation, and advertising graphic design.
While many graphic designers start their careers with no formal education at all – just lots of hours of trial and error – a bachelor’s degree in graphic design lets employers know that you are serious. While experience is valuable in any field, what you learn from a bachelor’s degree program is more than just Photoshop skills and color theory. It’s how to adapt to changes in the market, how to build a network of connections, and how to deliver what your employer or client is looking for. That’s why a traditional on-campus program is still extremely valuable, even in the age of online education.
Methodology: Ranking the Best Bachelor in Graphic Design Programs
To rank the Top 25 Best Value Graphic Design Degree for 2019, Value Colleges editors began by seeking out regionally-accredited and NASAD-accredited art and design schools. Only schools meeting those basic qualifications for quality were considered. From there, programs were ranked according to three equally-weighted factors:
- Cost – current IPEDS data
- Reputation – Niche student reviews
- Alumni Salary – current College Scorecard data
With this combination of criteria, Value Colleges gives students the assurance that the program they choose will combine affordability and results for a measurable value and return on investment.
Virginia Tech’s BFA in Graphic/Visual Communication Design comes from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, one of the nation’s most acclaimed and trusted schools of its kind. Completion of the School of Visual Arts Foundation Program is required before students can enroll in the graphic design program. A portfolio review is also required. Once accepted, visual communication design students learn skills such as typography, web and mobile design, human-centered design, and hand lettering.
For more than a century and a half, Virginia Tech has been one of the South’s leaders in technology, and one of its most demanding. The exclusivity of the Graphic/Visual Communication Design program at Virginia Tech ensures its quality. In addition to specific art and design skills, the program provides a foundation in conceptual thinking, use of signs and symbolism in visual communication, and problem solving. The program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).
Carnegie Mellon - School of Design
The Carnegie Mellon School of Design offers a Bachelor of Design degree (BDes), which is an alternative to the BFA in graphic design. The BDes designation distinguishes design as a separate discipline. Carnegie Mellon offers three tracks for its Bachelor of Design degree: Communications, Products, and Environments. After the first year, students can choose to focus on two of the three tracks. This focus can be narrowed to provide a specialization in one area in the final years, or the student can continue to take courses in both specialties.
Carnegie Mellon also offers a program called Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology (IDeATe). This program gives students the opportunity to study design as it relates to one of the other disciplines offered by the university. There are eight options to choose from: sound design, media design, game design, learning media, animation and special effects, intelligent environments, entrepreneurship for creative industries, and physical computing. The design programs at Carnegie Mellon are taught by experts in communication, industrial, and environmental design and the school collaborates with leading companies to provide projects that give students real-world experience working with clients.
UCLA - Design Media Arts
UCLA’s BA in Design Media Arts, offered by the School of Arts and Architecture, gives students a solid foundation in basic design elements such as typography and color. The program features courses in a wide range of design-related subjects, including visual communication, game design, interactivity, web design, and audio visual design. Class sizes are small, which fosters the development of relationships and a sense of community among students pursuing graphic design degrees at the school. The school prioritizes experimentation and personal growth over commercialism and encourages students to meet new people and to learn to think critically and analytically.
UCLA’s School of Arts and Architecture combines performance and studio work with research studies to give students a solid foundation in both the arts and in their academic studies. The school views design as a way of thinking and combines history, theory, and practice to promote the creation of experimental media and culturally significant objects and experiences.
Temple University - Tyler School of Art
The Tyler School of Art at Temple University offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic & Interactive Design. The program is practice-based and covers both print and digital media. Students learn typography, image making, branding and packaging, sign and poster design, advertising, illustration, web design, and more. The program prepares students to work both independently and with clients on client-driven projects.
Since there are a limited number of spaces available, a competitive portfolio review process is required to secure a place in Temple University’s Graphic & Interactive Design program. The portfolio review is completed during the sophomore year. Students accepted into the major must begin their GAID coursework the following fall and complete all courses in sequence and time in order to remain in the major. Students pursuing a bachelor of arts in graphic design at Temple University must have a laptop that meets the minimum specifications set forth in the program guidelines.
Cooper Union School of Art
The BFA in Graphic Design at the Cooper Union School of Art is an integrated program that provides students with instruction in a variety of disciplines. Students learn to recognize relationships between various visual arts and can choose between seven specializations, one of which is graphic arts. The school strives to foster long-lasting mentoring relationships between teachers and students by allowing students to take the same advanced studio courses multiple times. Each time, the experience will be completely different since the projects change.
The School of Art at the Cooper Union seeks to teach artists to use their creative potential not only in artistic endeavors but also to question the status quo and transform their communities and their world. Students are encouraged to experiment and participate in research as part of their studies, which include art theory, history, and criticism in the visual arts as well as general studies in the humanities. The graphic arts program is NASAD accredited.
Fashion Institute of Technology
The SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) offers a BFA in Graphic Design. The program provides a foundation in the elements of graphic design and builds on it through hands-on projects and classes. Students are encouraged to experiment and innovate as they learn and practice typography, media and editorial design, corporate branding and identity, environmental graphic design, and more. The program focuses on skills that can be used at work and requires an internship that provides professional experience. Students work to learn presentation skills and are expected to build portfolios. Graduates can present their work to industry leaders at the Art and Design Graduating Student Exhibition, which provides an outlet for students to showcase their best work.
Backed by the State University of New York – by many measures the nation’s best public university system – FIT has been regularly ranked among the top fashion-related schools in the world. This makes FIT a great choice for students seeking a bachelor of arts in graphic design who wish to pursue careers in the fashion industry.
The School of Industrial + Graphic Design at Auburn University offers a BFA in Graphic Design that provides students with instruction in many areas of visual design. Subject areas covered include packaging, magazine design, digital interfaces, fine arts, logo design, and brand identity. Students must enroll as Pre-Graphic Design (PGDE) majors for the first year and then apply for admission to the Graphic Design program. Admission is selective and limited.
The Auburn University School of Industrial + Graphic Design works with industry in order to offer collaboration experiences that allow students the experience of working on a real-world project as part of a design team. The school also offers study abroad opportunities in Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, Hong Kong, or Taiwan during the spring and summer. Auburn University hosts an annual sustainable design competition and a juried Student Show Exhibition. Each fall, experts from within the industry come to the school to speak.
USC - Roski School of Art and Design
The BFA in Design offered by USC’s Roski School of Art and Design is an intensive program that features immersion in design through studio courses. Students also attend seminars on critical theory and complete a capstone studio course and a senior thesis. There are internships available as well as international tours to study art around the world. Students who earn graphic design degrees from USC will be prepared to enter careers in advertising, fashion, publishing, sports, entertainment, and more. The first year focuses on illustration and drawing using a variety of media augmented with design-specific workshops. Students may choose to minor in advertising, business, communication, entrepreneurship, or marketing.
The Roski School of Art and Design is one of the oldest art schools in Southern California. The school provides support for students to experiment and express their creativity, as well as opportunities for collaboration and cross-discipline research with other schools at USC. Students at USC learn to create art that raises difficult questions about their culture and their world.
Louisiana State University
The Louisiana State University’s BFA in Graphic Design is the School of Art’s bachelor in graphic design program, offering exceptional instruction that prepares students to become outstanding visual communicators. The program prepares students to meet the challenges they will meet in the real world as they work in the fields of print design, illustration, information design, advertising, packaging, branding, environmental design, and more. Design students at LSU showcase their skills in regional, national, and international design competitions even before graduation. The program gives them the skills they need to think critically and solve problems creatively.
The College of Art & Design at LSU pushes students to explore their creativity, think about contemporary issues, and offer solutions to problems that impact the entire world. Students have the opportunity to work with clients on real projects and conduct research that positively impacts the environment. LSU graduates join an extensive network of alumni all over the world who make positive contributions to their communities, wherever they are.
Rutgers University - Camden
The Camden College of Arts and Sciences offers Rutgers University’s Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design that has a firm foundation in the liberal arts. Students learn critical thinking with a focus on research, and are encouraged to push their boundaries and develop their creative perspectives and methods. Students can choose between eight concentrations within the graphic design program. They are animation, arts education, art therapy, graphic design, intermedia and electronic arts, painting and drawing, photography, and sculpture.
The Camden College of Arts and Sciences allows students the chance to enjoy the benefits of pursuing an education at a research university without giving up the advantages of attending a smaller college. These advantages include small class sizes, which allow students to work closely with faculty members. Rutgers graduates are prepared for whatever comes next, whether that is a career, professional school, or a graduate degree.
Texas State University
The School of Art and Design at Texas State University’s BFA in Communication Design program offers one of the largest programs of its kind in the US. Its stimulates learning for students who wish to pursue the study of art direction, graphic design, and interactive media. The Communication Design curriculum provides students with a rigorous study within their major, which is built on four foundation courses. Subjects included in the program include corporate identity, art direction, typography, sustainable packaging, design research, and environmental graphics. There is a focus on preparing for professional practice, and students work on building their portfolios throughout their time in the program.
Participation in internships and design contests in encouraged, and many Communication Design students at Texas State have been recognized in publications such as Step Inside Design, CMYK, and PRINT. Students have also been recognized in competitions such as the Creative Summit, the American Advertising Federation Awards, and The One Show. Classes are limited to approximately 16 students and are taught in a studio environment. There is a student lab available with equipment such as a CNC router, die cutter, 3D printer, and laser cutter.
University of Cincinnati - College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP)
The Myron E. Ulman Jr. School of Design at the University of Cincinnati offers a Bachelor of Communication Design. This program prepares students to be able to express feelings, information, and ideas in visual form. Students learn to use drawing, photography, typography, video, animation, and other visual tools to communicate concepts effectively. The core of the program is a sequence of design studios that encourage the development of visual and critical thinking skills as well as design skills.
In addition to their communication design coursework, students at the School of Design participate in co-ops, which provide valuable real-world experience. The Communication Design program is five years long and includes five semesters of industry experience through the co-op program.
Howard University’s Department of Art offers a BFA in Design that emphasizes cross-curricular experiences. Students learn central principles that form the foundation of design as well as studying theory and learning to apply learned techniques in practical visual design applications. The design program teaches students to produce multiple solutions to problems, whether 2D or 3D, printed or digital, still or animated. Students identify and analyze problems, research solutions, and develop prototypes. The program helps students develop problem-solving proficiency as well as design skills.
The Department of Art at Howard University has a prestigious history, and the faculty is composed of an energetic group of professors who are motivated to teach creative pursuits to talented students. Many of the school’s faculty members have achieved national recognition for the contributions to the arts. One of the nation’s most prestigious HBCU’s, Howard University’s design program is also accredited by NASAD.
Syracuse University’s BS in Graphic Design program focuses on a human-focused approach to graphic design and teaches students to handle the challenges of managing technical skills as well as branding and marketing skills. The bachelor in graphic design takes a broad approach to the process and ensures that students have the skills to design websites and related publications.
Syracuse University differs from other programs by offering students the hands-on experience they need to handle graphic design in the work environment. The students work directly with clients through Newhouse during their senior year as part of the capstone course. That allows students to handle the challenges of working in the real-world environment without the pressure associated with starting out in a new career. Students also have access to an annual workshop to learn skills related to teamwork and design from experienced professionals in the graphic design industry.
Kennesaw State University
The BFA in Graphic Communications from Kennesaw State University is a bachelor of arts in graphic design that evaluates the challenges associated with a global marketplace. The program recognizes the challenges of handling design and creative works in a connected world that requires consideration for variable audiences and target groups. By teaching students the technical and creative skills they need to develop marketable skills in a competitive field, the BFA program helps students advance in their career goals.
Kennesaw State University differs from other programs by taking a global and multicultural approach to the graphic communication industry. By teaching students to handle the challenges of a global market environment, it prepares students to gain a competitive edge when applying for new positions. The school also recognizes the importance of technical and creative skills, so it focuses on developing both sets of skills for long-term career goals.
Drexel University - Westphal College of Media Arts & Design
Drexel University’s BFA in Graphic Design program recognizes that students may focus on developing skills in variable aspects of media and focuses on teaching students the skills they need to handle the different forms of communication. Students develop an expansive portfolio throughout their work on a degree program and learn to produce visual communication for print and screen media, posters, advertisements, websites, and related media.
Drexel University differs from other schools by helping students develop a portfolio before they move into the workforce. That focus on teaching students graphic design and the technical skills associated with graphic design allows them to create works of art that capture the attention of potential employers. The school has helped students obtain work in well-known companies due to the focus on excellence and developing useful skills for different types of media and graphic communication.
Rhode Island School of Design
The Rhode Island School of Design’s BFA in Graphic Design prepares students to handle the problem solving associated with graphic design. The bachelor in graphic design recognizes that students need more than just technical skills to handle their work environment. They need the skills to solve problems, critique designs for their effectiveness, and respond to potential problems in a timely manner. The BFA program helps students develop the skills to handle challenges in their work environment without getting overwhelmed or facing complications with their design goals.
Rhode Island School of Design stands apart from other programs by offering an expansive community and opportunities to collaborate with students in other fields. That aspect of designing allows students to get a feel for the way graphic designers work with others in their job and prepares them to work on projects for an employer. The focus on community and student engagement allows students to learn the skills that will help them advance in their career.
Jefferson - Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce
Thomas Jefferson University’s BS in Graphic Design Communication program allows students to develop the design skills and the technical skills they need to convey a message in their designs for an employer. The program recognizes that graphic designers play a role in every area of graphic communication. It teaches students to recognize the role of graphic design in various forms of media and how to get a message across to a target audience through their designs.
The way Thomas Jefferson University stands out from other programs is the collaborative projects. The degree program is through the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce. That means students work with others in related fields to learn the skills they need to collaborate with other parties and groups. That allows them to develop teamwork skills that carry forward into a career. They also have opportunities to work with professional graphic designers to further enhance their understanding of the role of design in a logo, website, package, or related media.
Virginia Commonwealth University
The Virginia Commonwealth University BFA in Graphic Design degree program focuses on the artistic aspects of graphic design by requiring students to take art classes as the foundation of their coursework. They then move into more specialized studies in publication and print design, motion design, and interactive design. The coursework teaches students the problem-solving skills they need to handle the challenges of their career goals.
Virginia Commonwealth University stands out from other programs by developing artistic skills before moving into the technical skills associated with graphic design. The program recognizes the importance of art when working on design elements for a company, and strives to teach students the creative skills they need before it focuses on the methodology and technology involved in modern design and interactions.
Art Center College of Design
The Art Center College of Design’s BFA in Graphic Design is a program that focuses on high standards for student creativity and critical thinking. The coursework focuses on teaching students to create a work that conveys a specific message without using words or using limited words. That focus on critical thought allows students to create dynamic works of art that encourage the viewer to take action. Depending on the type of media, the message may range from buying a product to following through with the goals of a company.
The Art Center College of Design stands out from other schools by focusing on the Transmedia Fluency teaching style. The school takes an approach to teaching that transcends the traditional commercialism of graphic design in media and packaging to improve student capabilities in their work. The school offers two types of teaching styles: the teaching style designed for generalists who want to work in graphic design without a specific area of focus, and specialized crafts designed for students who want to learn graphic design as it relates to a specific type of media.
Academy of Art University
The Academy of Art University BFA in Graphic Design comes from a cutting-edge School of Graphic Design, a thorough skills education built around effective use of both traditional graphic design principles and the most current technology. From typography and print media, to UX design and even animations and motion graphics, AAU’s bachelor in graphic design program provides interactive, collaborative curriculum and interviews with experts in the field to improve student understanding of the graphic design industry.
One of the first schools dedicated to advertising, the Academy of Art University began in 1929, and its location in San Francisco has made it a destination for students – especially in the modern tech era. AAU is both regionally accredited and accredited by the NASAD, providing a level of reputability that is rare for a private, for-profit institution. The largest private art and design school in the nation, Academy of Art University is always on the forefront.
The BFA in Graphic Design from Woodbury University offers students the skills and training they need to handle the challenges of a career in graphic design. The school helps students build up their portfolio and learn the technical skills associated with graphic design. It also puts a heavy emphasis on problem-solving and critical thinking skills. That focus on developing useful skills helps students when they start working on hands-on projects and gain experience in their job. It gives them a competitive edge when working on a long-term goal.
Woodbury University differs from other schools by focusing on real-world skills. It was nationally ranked by GDUSA in 2018 as one of the top graphic design schools in the country. The school also focuses on the networking skills students need to handle their career aspirations and gives them hands-on experience before they move into their career. Since students may also want to specialize in a specific area of graphic design, they are encouraged to create a portfolio to reflect that area of interest. The focus on skills that enhance a student’s abilities in their career helps with long-term plans for a job.
The Sage Colleges
The BFA in Graphic and Media Design from Sage Colleges offers students a career-oriented degree for their long-term goals. The program recognizes the importance of developing skills in multiple media sources and helps students learn the different skills they need for print and digital media. It also recognizes that graphic designers play a role in illustration, print media, and publishing. The program helps students learn to use computers and modern tools to improve their work and create compelling works of art that convey a specific message based on the goals of an employer.
Sage Colleges differ from other programs due to their accreditation and career-focused curriculum. The school is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, or NASAD. The school also offers students the opportunity to join the American Institute of Graphic Artists student group, which offers students an opportunity to network with experienced professionals in graphic design careers. The experience allows students to feel confident about their career opportunities.
The New School - Parsons School of Design
The BFA in Communication Design and Graphic Design from The New School Parsons School of Design is a comprehensive program designed to help students focus on a career in graphic design. The program takes a collaborative approach to the teaching process and recognizes that students need to learn teamwork skills to improve their opportunities for their career. It also focuses on hands-on projects that help students build up their portfolio while working together to finish a project.
New School’s Parsons School of Design stands apart from other programs by taking a hands-on approach to the learning process. It also offers students an opportunity to network with professional graphic designers in the top companies for a chance to gain opportunities for their career goals. Guest critics help students identify weaknesses in the works while internships give them hands-on experience in their field to start working on long-term opportunities for their job.
Savannah College of Art and Design
A BA or BFA in Graphic Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design focuses on a holistic approach to the graphic design industry. It studies the visuals and language used by powerhouse graphic design companies to convey messages to an audience or encourage action from an audience. The program also teaches students the skills they need to handle more than just the designs of a product. It teaches entrepreneurship skills, marketing skills, packaging design, mobile technology, and user experience as part of a holistic strategy for the industry.
Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD, stands out from other programs by offering more than the basic design and art skills associated with the graphic design industry. It takes a holistic approach to education and teaches students unique skills that give them a competitive advantage in the workplace. It teaches students the marketing and entrepreneurship skills they need to understand their target audience. It then delves into the technical skills to create a design that captures the attention to the target audience and encourages action through a few words or a carefully designed image.
What Makes a Good Graphic Design Program?
Of course, every school is different and will have different pros and cons. At the end of the day, you may just find that some schools are a better “fit” than others. However, there are a few things that set apart the best graphic designs schools in the world. First, look for schools that offer mentorship from professionals. If your school’s faculty have plenty of real-world experience, then you’ve made an excellent choice. Some schools also invite professional graphic designers for lectures, and students can learn a lot from these opportunities.
Second, look for schools that use cutting-edge technology. You’ll want your education to reflect real working conditions as accurately as possible. That way, you’ll feel fully prepared when you enter the workforce. Technology progresses all the time. The more cutting-edge the school technology, the less of a learning curve you’ll face when you use that technology in the field.
Third, the best graphic design schools in the world also give their students access to graphic design internships. With graphic design internships, you can get even more real-world experience and boost your resume before you even graduate.
Finally, look for NASAD accreditation. NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) sets quality standards for artistic education. When a school has NASAD accreditation, you’ll know that you’re getting one of the best educations possible.
What Will I Learn in a Graphic Design Bachelor’s Program?
Graphic designer education requirements will always vary from one school to the next. However, most graphic design programs will have a few things in common. At most schools, graphic design degree requirements will include several core classes followed by several design-specific classes. Your graphic design degree courses should cover the basics of art and color theory. You’ll also learn about typography, creating advertisements, digital design tools, and similar subjects.
Many graphic designer education requirements also include special projects. You might complete an internship, create a capstone project, or do something similar. These projects will help you build your portfolio and gain a taste of real-world experience. By the time you graduate, you’ll have some solid work under your belt, which will help you when you start your career.
A bachelor’s degree program is designed to provide a well-rounded approach. This way, no matter which direction your career takes you, your graphic design degree courses will provide you with a solid background of knowledge.
What’s the Difference Between a BFA in Graphic Design and a BS in Graphic Design?
Getting a degree in Graphic Design can be an exciting career opportunity. The average degree program has about 120 credits of coursework. However, the depth of the teaching within the graphic design program depends on whether it is a BFA degree or a BS degree program. The BS Graphic Design program covers a broad range of disciplines within the art world. Courses in computer software applications, principles of Design, and digital photography also is in the curriculum. More technical and industrial skills, like package design (which combines art and design with material science) would also be part of the program. The BS degree also provides the student with a strong computer graphics background. Although the program is a 120-credit hour course, only about forty-eight to fifty-one credits are concentrated on the graphic design major.
On the other hand, the BFA degree in graphic design is a much more intensive program within the creative industry. The courses do touch on the principles of design and computer graphic background, just like the BS degree. However, the courses also include Art history, sketching, drawing, visual arts, and color theory. The degree program is a 120-credit course, with approximately 72-84 credits concentrated in the Graphic Design major.