Like many art forms, graphic design can be learned two ways: through formal training or self-taught exploration. Indeed, many digital artists and graphic design professionals get their start with independent research and practice. For these individuals especially, earning an online graphic design degree may seem redundant, but the value of a college education in the arts should not be underestimated. An associate degree in graphic design helps develop and hone the artistic knowledge and technical skills required to excel in visual communication careers.
Jobs in the arts, including graphic design, currently face slower-than-average national growth projections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 4% increase in graphic design job opportunities between 2016 and 2026. However, as long as companies and individuals strive to create compelling visual messages, the need for skilled graphic design professionals will remain.
Featured Online Schools
A graphic design degree can lead to work in various fields, including advertising, video game publishing, film, and television. Experienced and late-career design professionals frequently earn lucrative salaries of $50,000-$70,000. Whether you're a self-taught artist looking to hone professional skills or a creative individual looking to join a dynamic field, an online graphic design associate degree can provide the jump-start you need to succeed.
Graphic Design Degree Program Ranking Guidelines:
Online Associate in Graphic Design Ranking Guidelines
We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.
Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our
school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased
information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a
rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.
Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the
federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each
specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at
While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we
value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break
down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.
The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the
schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.
Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual
surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college,
university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys,
which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is
publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College
Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic
Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of
schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com,
subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other
sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.
Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology
About Our Ranking Factors
Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online
education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.
Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are
weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student
We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and
graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities.
For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our
rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.
In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research
and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial
incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.
If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff
through contact page.
We thank you for your readership and trust.
The Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Degree Programs
Return to the top
#2 The Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Programs
Gateway Technical College
- Kenosha, WI
- 2 years
- Online + Campus
Distance learners seeking flexible study in graphic design should consider Gateway Technical College's online associate in graphic design. The program prepares students for the graphic design field through comprehensive coursework. Associate degree-holders can apply their college credits toward a bachelor's degree or other educational endeavors.
Throughout the program, students can access career services, academic advising, and other institutional resources. The institution also provides online enrollees with virtual library services and academic tutoring resources, including writing tutoring.
The institution reports the average financial aid award as $5,730. Enrollees benefit from financial aid, with 74% of degree candidates receiving some form of funding.
Gateway Technical College at a Glance:
Type of School: Public, 2-year
Location: Kenosha, Wisconsin
Admission Rate: Data not available
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 8-to-1
Undergrad Tuition In State: $4,095
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $6,143
Transfer Credit Accepted: Data not available
Percent Online Enrollment
Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Higher Learning Commission
The Advantages of a Graphic Design Education
Earning an associate in graphic design online serves as a great first step toward a career in visual design. Associate graduates possess key fundamental knowledge and many of the skills needed to produce compelling digital work. As is the case with many artistic disciplines, graphic design jobs are often quite competitive.
Associate degrees typically fulfill minimum education requirements for entry-level work in related fields like desktop publishing and web development. However, many companies require entry-level graphic designers to have a bachelor's degree and a substantial portfolio of professional work. Skilled associate graduates may circumvent the traditional hiring process altogether by pursuing freelance graphic design opportunities, but contract work can be difficult to break into, with traditional classroom learners and self-taught artists all competing for a limited number of jobs.
The section below covers graphic design careers and salaries in more detail. Read on to discover where your education can take you.
Return to the top
Graphic Design Degree Salary Information
The BLS projects that positions in graphic design will grow by 4% between 2016 and 2026. Graphic designers earn a median salary of $50,370 in the U.S. Because of this industry's competitive nature, it's important to build your resume during your education. While earning your graphic design associate degree, focus on creating a strong work portfolio that can help you stand out to future employers. Here are some jobs you can pursue in the field after earning your associate degree in graphic design online.
Graphic designers create visual messages using color, text, layout, and illustrations. While companies generally prefer entry-level applicants to hold a bachelor's degree, associate graduates with excellent portfolios may be considered.
Production artists typically work in design firms, using specialized software to review the accuracy and quality of files before publication or delivery. An associate or bachelor's degree is generally required for entry-level employment.
Multimedia Artist or Animator:
Multimedia artists and animators create 2D and 3D graphics for use in television, movies, video games, and other media platforms. Most work within a specialized area. Employers usually prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree.
Senior Graphic Designer:
Senior graphic designers work directly on design projects and delegate certain project components to teams of junior designers. These professionals must possess extensive experience in the graphic design field.
Art directors manage and coordinate the development and design processes of visual projects used in television, film, and other media. Art directors typically hold a bachelor's degree and have extensive experience in the field.
Salary by Experience for Graphic Design Careers
|Multimedia Artist or Animator
|Senior Graphic Designer
Return to the top
Choosing an Online Graphic Design Degree Program
For some, choosing which college to attend is an easy decision. Online learners, however, can face an especially overwhelming decision-making process as certain factors, like distance from campus, make less of an impact. Instead, online learners may base their choice on elements like cost, transfer policies, curriculum requirements, or program length. When considering prospective schools, take your time to evaluate each according to your own priorities. Look for the online school that best fits your needs.
- Program Cost:
Generally, schools in your home state prove more affordable than out-of-state institutions, but some online schools charge distance learners in-state rates regardless of residency. Tuition, fees, textbooks, and supplies can add up quickly. Don't be afraid to break out the calculator to help determine what you can afford.
- Transfer Policies:
For prospective students looking to earn an online associate degree, checking school transfer policies is vitally important. You want to make sure your hard-earned credits travel with you if you decide to pursue a bachelor's in the future. If possible, look over your prospective institution's transfer agreements with other schools.
- School Size and Type:
Online programs closely mimic their on-campus counterparts in areas such as curriculum and class size, which means you may want to research your prospective school's student-to-teacher ratio. When deciding between public versus private education, consider factors like tuition, scholarship opportunities, student/alumni resources, and community feel.
- Program Length:
How long do you want to spend working toward your associate in graphic design online? Some schools offer both full- and part-time enrollment options -- even allowing students to switch from full- to part-time, or vice versa, at the beginning of each new semester. Other schools offer less flexibility and feature only part-time enrollment.
- On-Campus Requirements:
When deciding on a program, consider your preferences for on-campus requirements. Many students pursue online learning specifically for the opportunity to earn a college degree from the comfort of home. Others prefer learning in a hybrid format, which offers opportunities to work with professors and peers in person.
Accreditation for Online Graphic Design Degrees
Accreditation means that a school undergoes regular evaluation by a third-party organization. This form of quality assurance looks at curriculum content, faculty qualifications, budget allocations, and availability of student services. Accreditation can impact your ability to obtain federal financial aid and transfer your associate degree credits to another institution in the future.
Accredited schools may either possess national or regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is the older and more prestigious of the two forms, but both ensure rigorous vetting and high-quality education offerings. Online graphic design associate degree programs are more common at community colleges and public liberal arts schools, which tend to pursue regional accreditation.
Top accrediting bodies to look for include the Higher Learning Commission and region-specific associations like the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. A few graphic design associate degrees possess additional field-specific accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
Let's say you find a school that displays accreditation credentials from an organization you don't recognize. How can you tell if those credentials are legitimate? The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) can help resolve your concerns. These two well-respected agencies maintain a set of minimum standards for national, regional, and programmatic accrediting bodies. You can take a look at all of the approved and/or recognized accreditors on the ED and CHEA websites. Legitimate organizations may meet one set of standards or both.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Graphic Design?
On average, an online graphic design associate degree requires 60-72 credits. Most students enrolled on a full-time basis complete all course requirements in two academic years. Full-time learners who take a large course load and enroll during summer semesters can graduate from an associate program in as little as 1-1.5 years. Some students prefer to enroll part time, however, to make room for work or family obligations. In this case, an associate degree typically takes 3-4 years. While part-time study allows for greater flexibility, it can result in an increased overall cost for learners enrolled at schools with semester- and year-based fees.
Students with prior college experience, such as an incomplete associate degree or dual-credit high school classes, can often decrease their time to graduation by applying transfer credits to their program. Transfer policies vary from school to school.
Courses in an Online Associate in Graphic Design Program
Online graphic design associate degree programs require students to complete a curriculum of general education and discipline-specific courses. Design students can expect to explore fundamentals in drawing, digital art, and visual communication principles like typography and color theory. Graduates are adequately prepared to pursue entry-level employment or further undergraduate education. Below you can find some courses common to these programs, but remember that the curriculum varies by school.
- History of Graphic Design:
Graphic design programs often begin with this essential survey course, which covers the historical development of visual communication around the world. Coursework emphasizes the study of major artistic movements, notable designers throughout history, and the influence of changing technology, culture, and sociopolitical factors on the evolution of graphic design.
Typography is the art of arranging type on a page or other visual medium. Beginner typography courses introduce students to the history, development, and components of letterforms. Learners typically complete assorted hands-on projects to explore letterform design and the use of typography elements to achieve desired effects.
- Drawing I:
Although graphic designers generally work in a digital medium, analog art skills are fundamentally important. Beginner drawing classes examine a variety of traditional and contemporary methods, introducing learners to basic drawing principles like space, form, perspective, shading, and texture. Students complete a variety of hands-on drawing exercises.
Return to the top
- Color Theory:
This course explores the interaction and application of color in graphic design work. Topics typically include terminology, principles of color theory, working with color, and developing color schemes. Students develop knowledge and hone their skills by examining the work of other designers and completing hands-on exercises.
- Digital Art and Graphics:
An undergraduate study of digital art forms and graphics emphasizes the marriage of technical skills and creativity to generate visual communication. Students in this course gain hands-on experience with digital tools and industry-standard software programs like Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. Assignments may result in pieces appropriate for a portfolio.
Graphic Design Membership Associations
Return to the top
- American Institute of Graphic Arts:
The field's oldest and largest professional association seeks to inspire designers and promote the value of design in business, government, and the media. AIGI offers an annual conference, various professional development opportunities, networking within more than 70 chapters, and extensive online resources.
- Graphic Artists Guild:
The Graphic Artists Guild advocates on behalf of its members to improve industry standards and help graphic artists and designers succeed. Members can network within four U.S. regions and access professional resources like legal referrals, digital contracts, and webinars.
- Society for Experiential Graphic Design:
SEGD is a worldwide community of professionals who use design to create rich and compelling environmental spaces. SEGD offers access to an online job board, local chapter events, and online resources, including a research journal, webinars, and video lectures.