Finding Degrees in Graphic Arts: Which Program Is Right For Me?

Many different programs today offer degrees in graphic arts. In fact one of the most common questions asked by those interested in pursuing such careers is whether or not a degree is really even necessary.

Ultimately, the answer to that question depends on what specific area of design you wish to enter.

For example, someone who was interested in becoming a freelance graphic designer would probably do better to educate themselves and focus hard on learning the technology (software and computers).

Of course, they should also develop a really good portfolio of work, even if this means taking on clients for very little pay in the beginning.

If you are more interested in pursuing “traditional” work opportunities within the graphic arts field, then education can only help your cause.

According to US Government statistics, graphic arts jobs are expected to grow at an average rate. Also, job seekers are expected to face keen competition.

Having a college degree could help to set you apart from others without any degree. Of course, having a solid portfolio of work and actual work experience (even if it was unpaid) will also help. A good example might be an internship, which many college degree programs offer.

Now that you are convinced a degree can be a big help in finding a career, the next question is usually what types of degrees and programs are available?

Here are just a few of your options:

  • Graphic Design Certificate (GDC): These programs are typically very short, sometimes they can be completed within just a few hours. These programs typically focus on the software, maybe even just a single element of a single popular program. You will receive a certificate, but this type of program is only recommended for a complete beginner. Even then, the main purpose of such a short program is to give you a taste of what graphic design is all about.


  • Associate of Arts in Graphic Design and Multi Media (AA/GDM): These are usually 2 year, college level programs. You will learn the basics of the graphics field, including how to create effective designs that visually communicate a message in a variety of media environments. Additionally, there will be classes to help develop your skills in the areas of critical thinking, logic, communications and problem solving.


  • Associate of Science in Graphic Design (AS/GD): The focus of this 2 year, college level program is to develop conceptual thinking in addition to graphic design technical and creative skills. You will also receive an introduction to the theory and practice of design production, electronic publishing and even sales promotion and marketing.


  • Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design (BS/GD): This is a 4 year college level degree program. This one has a lot more marketability and credibility than any of the certificate or associate programs. You will develop an understanding of all the elements of design, including color, composition, layout and typography. Of course, you will also focus and build upon the skills taught at the associate level. Upon graduation, you will be qualified for almost every entry-level position in the industry.


  • Master Degree in Graphic Design (MS/GD): With this program, you will continue your study of design and problem solving skills development. At this level, you will also learn how to build and manage a team of other designers. Upon graduation from this 2-3 years program (having already earned a BS or BA degree); you will be qualified for supervisory positions in the graphic arts field.


There may even be some requirements in order to be accepted into these programs. Many of the certificate programs do not require anything other paying the fees. However, to enroll in either an associate or bachelor program, you will usually need a high school diploma. In some of the better programs you may also be required to produce a portfolio of work or demonstrate some competence with design software.

It is really important to investigate each type of program that you may be interested in.

There are degree programs and courses available entirely online. There are also programs which occur in a traditional physical classroom. Finally, there are degree programs that include a combination of both online and on-the-ground classroom learning. The format of your specific learning program is entirely up to you.

You should also consider the tuition and costs involved in obtaining degrees in graphic arts. These expenses vary from cheap to affordable to extremely expensive. The best advice here, once again, is to really do your research. Of course, there are also a number of sources which can help to offset some of these costs, including scholarships, grants and loans.

Another thing to consider when deciding upon a degree program is what types of positions they will prepare you for. The list above is more of a general guideline; each degree program also includes specific concentrations and areas of specialization.

For example, you could pursue a BS/GD degree with a concentration in animation, or even web design.

Choose your specific concentration with an eye towards what you like, the probable career path, job growth and the income associated with that particular specialization.

Consider the statistics below:


Design Industry Sector Median Salary
Computer Systems Design $47,000
Specialized Design Services $45,000
Advertising & Public Relations $43,000
Newspaper, Magazine & Book Publishing $37,000
Printing & Related Support Services $36,000


This table clearly shows that certain areas of the graphic design field are experiencing growth and others are seeing decline. Anything related to the internet, online or digital media is in an up-trend right now, while areas like printing and physical publishing seem to be in decline.

Finding specific degrees in graphic arts will require some research and thought. To determine which program is right for you, first decide which area within the graphic arts field you would like to build a career in.

This should make it easy to determine a correct concentration or specialty.

From here, find a school which offers that particular focus and then simply choose the best one, based on factors such as tuition, financial aid, types of classes, etc…

Finding the right program will start you on the path to a fulfilling and financially rewarding career.