Your Complete Guide to

Online Graphic Design Degrees

The best graphic design programs, benefits, list of Universities, rankings, FAQs and everything you ever wanted to know.
Grant Aldrich on March 13, 2023

So, you’re thinking about going back to college to earn your degree. That is a really sound decision. Not only will you learn skills that will make you more marketable and help you land that dream job, but you’ll also be able to earn more for your family.

But now the question is, what degree should you pursue? Well, if you’ve always been a creative person with an interest in design – maybe that kid who was always doodling in class – and you also have an interest in marketing as well, then a degree in graphic design may be the ideal choice.

Graphic designers are responsible for creating visual concepts to communicate ideas on behalf of businesses to inspire consumer buying behavior. Their skills are always in demand because every business in every industry needs help with promotion and marketing. And with the addition of digital marketing, the demand for graphic designers is likely to increase more.

If you find yourself in the job market as an aspiring graphic designer, then having a degree in the field means will ensure you have a competitive edge over others when hunting for a job. Additionally, being enrolled in a program comes with the added benefit of work that can be utilized for a portfolio. What a two-for-one strike to land the position you’ve always wanted.

In this article, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about earning a graphic design degree. We’ll list the best graphic design degrees that offer the biggest career potential and compare online to traditional degrees. We’ll also talk about the differences between Associate, Bachelor, Master’s and Doctoral degrees so you have an idea of which will help you reach your career goals and are able to make the best decision for yourself.

Be sure to read this ENTIRE article because we’re also going to tell you exactly how could help you save a TON of time and money toward your tuition!

4 Best Online Graphic Design Degrees

We’ll dive into the specific graphic design degrees in just a moment, but first, we want to share with you WHY we believe these degrees are the best.

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Job Security

As we mentioned a little while ago, the skills obtained through one of these degree programs are always in demand by pretty much every business in every industry. This means there are always businesses looking to hire those candidates who have a great sense of design, who have the right skills and qualifications, and will add the most value to their organization.

In a time of economic uncertainty as in recent times, being qualified, with a strong background in design, makes for an attractive candidate for employers and companies looking for the most creative and innovative problem solvers. Additionally, the field if great for those looking to build a career as a freelancer.

Great for Making a Career Change

Does this scenario sound familiar: you’ve been in the workforce for sometime but have recently begun to realize you are just not as passionate about your job/career as you once were? You’d like to make a change but aren’t exactly sure how to go about it? Getting a degree in graphic design is perfect for those looking to make a career change, who want to pursue their creative instincts and also feel excited about their future prospects.

Flexible and Affordable

We’ve decided to focus on those graphic design degrees that can be earned online. Traditional education can discourage adult students from starting in a new direction because of the kind of risks it involves. On the other hand, online education allows busy working adults the flexibility to learn on their own time and at their own pace.

Online degrees are also a great option for those looking to save their money to spare themselves some financial horrors. It’s really a win-win solution for those looking to pursue their academic goals without running out of money. The extra cash in your pocket sounds great!

Okay, now that you understand why we chose the following degrees, let’s take a look at them:

Graphic Design (BFA)

Graphic designers use their visual art abilities to help brands market their products and services. From color selection, logo creation and product packaging, graphic designers are involved in every aspect of the brand design process. Think of all your favorite brands like Apple, McDonalds and Nike. Those iconic logos all began in a graphic designer’s imagination. Maybe a similar great idea is lurking in your imagination, waiting for a great brand to happen.

In a bachelor of arts in graphic design program, students learn how to use both traditional and digital art tools to create stunning graphics and designs. You will study the fundamentals of drawing, photography best practices, and learn how to use Adobe Creative Suite programs. In some programs, you might even learn the nuances of visual marketing and coding and web development. The program is really extensive, providing the learners with a lot of skills to make it in the field.

Here are some other fun and exciting classes graphic design students typically take:

  • Color Theory and Application
  • Art History
  • Drawing
  • Typography
  • Web Design
  • Idea Visualization
  • Interactive Design
  • Print Production

What Kind of Job Can You Land with This Degree?

The demand for graphic designers is growing! Here are just some of the career options available for graduates with a graphic design degree:

  • Art director
  • Creative director
  • Drafter
  • Film and video editor
  • Marketing manager
  • Web designer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for graphic designers was $50,710 in May 2021, with the highest 10% earning more than $89,210.

Game Programming & Development

Are you someone that has always enjoyed playing video games or are just fascinated with how real and fictional characters and worlds can be stimulated in video games? Thanks to mobile gaming, what was once an activity relegated to teenagers is now something people of all ages do in their spare time. This might explain why the gaming industry is now estimated to be worth $98 billion in the US, a whopping increase of 9.3% from 2019. And experts are now forecasting that the industry will be worth $321 billion by 2026. That’s a huge industry with plenty of opportunities and sustained earning potential.

With a bachelor’s degree in game programming and development, students will have the opportunity to create a portfolio that may help them land a great job after graduation. You will study every aspect of video game design and development and learn how to create visually pleasing, user-friendly and immersive gaming experiences.

Here are just some of the things you’ll learn how to do in this program:

  • Use various programming languages like C++, C# and Java
  • Create dynamic and realistic gaming experiences, including game AI
  • Apply industry-standard design, production and testing techniques throughout all phases of development
  • Research, develop and contribute to advances and trends within the field of game programming

Career Outlook

The really fantastic thing about this degree is that graduates will be prepared for careers in the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry and beyond. IT has gone beyond traditional leisure time activities and video games. Many industries are now using meaningful experiences with gaming development tools. For instance, med students are using virtual simulation software to rehearse complex surgical procedures. The military is also now relying on digital programs to prepare soldiers for combat. Once you know how to develop realistic virtual environments, the world is your oyster as far as the kind of career path you’d like and what can be achieved with the skills you have developed.

Not to mention, the gaming industry is only growing and improving with the popularity of platforms like Esports and streaming opportunities. Talk about living the high life, being paid to play while also following your dream of creating some exciting video games!

Some of the job titles held by graduates are:

  • Game programmer or game developer
  • Tools programmer
  • Simulations programmer
  • Software applications developer

The software development field in particular will see job growth of up to 25% through 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the median annual salary for these professionals was $120,730 in May 2021, with the highest 10% earning more than $168,570.

3D Modeling & Animation

(This degree is sometimes a Graphic Design concentration)

Have you always been a fan of blockbuster 3D animated movies like Toy Story and Finding Nemo? Do you love the idea of being part of an industry that entertains the masses? If so, a bachelor’s of arts in 3D animation and modeling may be the perfect program for you where you get to all this and more!

Students in this program will learn how to use popular computer design programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Maya. You’ll also learn how to write HTML and CSS code for web development. In addition, and equally important, you’ll spend time refining your skills as an artist and storyteller studying storyboarding, lighting techniques, rendering, character design, and more. That means both your creative side and as well technical side will get the chance to grow, be nurtured, and be applied to finding your way into the industry.

Here are just some of the fun and exciting courses you would take for this degree:

  • Game Characters
  • 3D Modeling
  • Demo Reel Development
  • Mechanics, Expressions, & Characters
  • Fundamentals of Web
  • Animation & Rigging
  • 3D Rendering
  • 3D Scripting

The Future Looks Bright!

Over the last decade, we have definitely witnessed a steady increase in the popularity of 3D films, videos and games, and this trend isn’t likely to stop anytime soon. Skilled and talented animators are in high demand. In fact, according to the BLS, the employment of 3D animators is projected to grow 5% over the coming decade. The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for these professionals was $78,790 in May 2021 with the highest 10% earning more than $131,370.

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Web Design and Development

Thanks to the evolution of digital technology, the modern business now takes place online. But none of this business could ever happen if it wasn’t for the skills of web designers and developers. With the right training and qualifications, you could also be among the skilful people driving this industry and putting businesses online.

A bachelor’s degree in web design and development provides students with the skills and knowledge needed to understand the full lifecycle of web projects. You’ll be proficient at not only the designing and initial concepts but also in writing code and deploying the project to production.

In addition, students will also study application development and become proficient at building mobile apps for both IOS and Android devices. And if there is an interest, they may also choose to study application, system and plugin development for platforms such as WordPress, Facebook and other content management systems. You see, just one program can open up so many opportunities for you.

Some more good news is that with these skills, you are also well-equipped to chart your own journey, whether as a freelancer or an independent contractor, taking on projects and clients of your choice. Freedom + being your own boss + great earning potential definitely sounds like something you don’t want to miss out on.

Here are just some of the fun and challenging courses you may take in a web design program:

  • Fundamentals of Information Technology
  • Website Design
  • Database Design and Management
  • Object-Oriented Analysis and Design
  • Mobile Application Design and Development
  • Ecommerce Systems
  • Web and Mobile User Experience
  • Cyberlaw and Ethics

Numerous Career Paths Await Graduates

It has been estimated that the Internet now hosts over 1.5 BILLION websites with roughly 380 new websites created every MINUTE. This massive amount of web assets has caused a great demand for skilled web developers and designers.

Here are just some of the possible careers graduates with this degree can build:

  • Web designer and developer
  • Applications developer
  • Game developer
  • Multimedia programmer and specialist
  • SEO specialist
  • UX designer or researcher
  • Web content manager
  • Database administrator
  • Information systems manager
  • IT sales professional
  • Software engineer and tester

According to the BLS, the employment of web developers and digital designers is projected to grow 23% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for web developers and digital designers was $79,890 in May 2020, with the highest 10% earning more than $168,200.

Online Vs Traditional Campus Graphic Design Degrees

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, we are focusing on sharing those degrees with you that may be earned entirely online, and for three very good reasons:

  1. They Allow for Flexible Learning

Most busy working adults simply aren’t going to have the kind of schedules that allow them to attend set classes on a college campus. A traditional school would either be in the way of learning or work. But online degrees let students study at their own pace and whenever is convenient for THEM!

Now, you do not need to wake up early in the morning or stay up late to take a class. With online learning, you set your own schedule. Simply grab a coffee and start learning when you feel energized.

  1. Affordability

Online programs cost just a fraction of what you’d pay to take classes at a brick-and-mortar school. In addition to these savings, you also don’t need to pay for room and board, or even gas money to get to class! And because you can continue to work your regular job, you can pay your way through school and not graduate with any debt! It’s a total win-win situation.

Keep reading because we’re about to tell you how you can save a lot of money on your online degree.

  1. Graphic Design Degrees Fit Online Learning Perfectly!

These days, just about any degree can be earned online. But unlike some degrees, such as those in certain science fields that require lab work, the field of graphic design is obviously perfect for online learning.

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Benefits of a Graphic Design Degree

Here are just a few benefits of getting a bachelor’s degree in graphic design:

You’ll Be More Marketable

As you may imagine, there will be a lot of other candidates out there vying for the same job as you. So how to make sure you get the best opportunities? Well, a degree will help set you apart and show prospective employers you can add real value to their team with qualifications and credible training.

You’ll Increase Your Earning Potential

You want to start a career earning as much as you possibly can. A degree in graphic design will increase your earning potential right out of the gate. Employers are always quick to get those who have the relevant qualifications and degrees say just that.

Working as a graphic designer is also the perfect opportunity for the creative in you to put your artistic skills to good use, where you also get paid. Having to pursue your passion while you get highly paid for it seems like a good way to go!

Develop Your Skills and Portfolio Under Expert Guidance

And lastly, one of the biggest benefits of earning a degree in graphic design is that you will have the opportunity to work alongside experts in the field who can guide you, nurture you with their industry experience and assist you in putting together a strong portfolio that gets attention from prospective employers.

Cost and Tuition of Obtaining a Graphic Design Degree

There’s no denying that a college degree is a big financial commitment for most people. And sadly, most adult students assume they can’t afford to go back to school, and so they give up on pursuing their dream.

Well, we are here to tell you, that college can be far more affordable than you may think. We encourage you to read our article on 5 ways you can save on college tuition. Also, spend a few minutes using our free Smartplan to find ways to save at various schools across the country. Many schools offer free courses, discounts and more, and our free Smartplan will help you take advantage.

Choosing the Right Type of Graphic Design Degree

If you’ve read this far, you’re most likely starting to see your future and how a degree in graphic design can help get you there. Acquiring a degree in graphic design works in your favor in more than one way. You get to train the artist in you, sharpen your skills to make some jaw dropping designs as well as have the chance at becoming the next household name in the world of graphic design!

Let’s take a look at the degrees available to you:

Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design

An associate’s degree is typically a two-year degree obtained through a vocation school or community college, though there are online associate’s degrees as well. For those students who want to enter the job market as quickly as possible, or for those who already have an understanding of basic software tools used in the industry and just need a brush up, an associate’s degree may be suitable. Earning this degree will qualify you to work as an assistant to a graphic artist or in positions that require a more limited skill set, like a Web page designer.

Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design

All of the degrees we discussed in this article are bachelor’s degrees, which typically take 4 years to complete. The nice thing about earning your bachelor’s degree online is, that you can work at your own pace and that means some people can earn their degree sooner than 4 years.

Employers like to see candidates with bachelor’s degrees and tend to give preference to these candidates. So, if you want the best chance of winning that coveted position, a bachelor’s degree will help you stand out from the crowd and get your resume to the top of the pile.

Master’s Degree in Graphic Design

Master’s degree programs are graduate-level programs that allow students to specialize in their discipline. You’ll need to obtain your bachelor’s degree first before pursuing this degree, recognizing it will tack on another one to two years to finish.

Master’s degrees are usually required for those executive-level positions where candidates will be expected to lead teams of people. So, if you have your heart set on someday being in charge of an art department, you may want to consider eventually going for your master’s. This degree will also significantly bump up your earning potential.

Doctorate Degree

Doctoral degree, or PhD, programs are the most advanced type of degree program in higher education. Graphic design PhD programs are rare, however. Completing one of these degrees typically takes several years.

Choosing the Correct University or College for Graphic Design

Now that you have a good idea of which online graphic design degree interests you, it’s time to think about selecting the right school for you, and as quickly and painlessly as possible!

Here are a few things we think are hugely important for adult students. Choose a university with:

  • Online Programs
  • $0 application fees
  • No required SAT/ACT testing
  • Faculty and professors that understand adult students’ needs
  • Discounts or scholarships
  • Convenient enrollment dates year-round (so you don’t have to wait for Spring or Fall)
  • Accreditation

Finding adult-friendly schools that match these can certainly be challenging! That’s why we created our Smartplan.

As someone with unique goals and requirements, you need to find schools that offer EXACTLY what you’re looking for. Our Smartplan can help you find the schools that align with your needs and do so in a relatively quick manner.

Register today to get your free Smartplan and compare different colleges! >>

Salary Data for Graphic Design Professionals

Let’s take one final look at some of the most common job titles for graduates with one of these degrees and their potential salary as reported by the BLS:

  • Art director: $100,890
  • Drafter: $60,290
  • Film and video editor: $49,230
  • Marketing manager: $127,150
  • Web designer: $73,760


Q: What kinds of software are used in the classes?

A: Common software tools used in graphic design programs include QuarkXPress, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Acrobat, FlightCheck, XHTML & Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and Mac & Windows Operating Systems

Q: What kind of portfolio will I have after taking this program?

A: A lot of that will depend on you and how much you are willing to put into each project. What we can say is you will have multiple opportunities to complete a variety of examples to create a professional looking portfolio.

Q: What can I do once I graduate?

A: Plenty! Your skills will open up numerous doors for you. And as we mentioned earlier, you’ll have opportunities to work in film, video, gaming, the military and healthcare, to name just a few. The sky really is the limit with this degree!

How to Get Started

Wow, we’ve just covered a LOT of information. You may be wondering what you should do next.

We highly recommend you take a few moments to use’s Smartplan to find the right school that offers all of the criteria you’re looking for.   We’ve provided this helpful and free tool for you to help you make the right decision, and find ways that could end up saving you a TON of time and money toward your business degree!

Register today for free >>

About the Author
Grant Aldrich
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.

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