Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Programs
| TBS Staff
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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.
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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.
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.
The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:
The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.
To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):
1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]
- Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
- Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
- Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
- Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
- Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
- Considers range of electives within that discipline
- Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline
2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]
- Considers education background of the faculty
- Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
- Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
- Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
- Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources
3. Reputation [weight = 20%]
- Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
- “Freshness” of academic knowledge
- Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
- Suitability of graduates for the workplace
4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]
- Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
- Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants
5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]
- Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
- Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business
6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]
Considers the following of the online classes:
- Types of online technology used to deliver content
- Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
- Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
- Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
Considers the following of instructors:
- Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
- Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
- Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
- Ratio to number of students in a class
- Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees
Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.
To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:
- Public or private status
- Acceptance rate
- Retention rate
- Graduation rate
- ACT/SAT requirements
- Cost in-state / out of state
- Undergrad, grad, or both offered
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If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.
Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!
The Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Degree Programs
The New School in New York City opened nearly a century ago as a center for social research. Today, the university includes five colleges, including the prestigious Parsons School of Design. At Parsons, based in NYC's Greenwich Village, students master the fields of art and design in both their traditional and emerging forms. The school's AAS in graphic design, for example, cultivates visual literacy through an immersive 65-credit curriculum that allows students to realize their creative potential.
Part of the School of Art, Media, and Technology, this graphic design associate degree takes an average of two years to complete. There are two tracks, including a fast track that takes only a year to complete by combining previously earned credits. Courses cover the history of the field, traditional processes, and new approaches such as web design. Students learn about digital layouts, color theory, and illustration. This online graphic design associate degree is a hybrid program that requires in-person attendance for some classes.
Toward the end of the program, Parsons encourages students to round out their experience with immersive study at one of New York's design-driven companies. Students admitted to the AAS program can transfer up to 31 credits. Typically, students who enroll in Parsons associate programs have already earned a degree. Applications are sent online and must include transcripts, a statement of intent, and a creative assignment. There are two terms each year in the fall and spring.
Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, has served the region's students for over 60 years. Expanding over time to offer distance education, Foothill College's enrollment today tops 13,000, and its programs include over 70 associate degrees and more than 90 specialty certificates. The AA in graphic and interactive design is one of the college's newer offerings, taking on the craft of visual storytelling.
The associate degree in graphic design at Foothill College is a 90-credit program, 58 of which consist of core and support courses. Students learn about traditional processes of layout and sketching, along with the use of digital graphics and online tools. Support courses explore artistic subjects such as print arts and relief printing. While courses are asynchronous, the graphic arts program is not self-paced. Learners earning Foothill College's online graphic design associate degree learn with a cohort and advance through courses as a team. The average class size is 27 students.
All courses pertaining to the graphic design major must be taken for a letter grade, and a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or better in all core and support courses must be earned to graduate. Foothill College maintains an open-door admission policy, meaning a high school diploma or equivalent is the only requirement. There are four terms a year in the fall, winter, spring, and summer. Transfer credits are accepted if earned from a regionally accredited institution.
Based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, GTC offers 65 programs of study in areas such as health, business, education, and IT, and serves more than 21,000 students. Within the arts, students can choose from two associate degrees and 11 certificates in publishing, digital photography, and editing. The AAS in graphic communications is a 60-credit degree that prepares future graphic designers for careers in advertising, marketing, or web design.
The online graphic design associate degree is offered in both blended and fully online formats. Courses are taught asynchronously, and classes may be taken out of sequence for added flexibility. The online associate degree in graphic design at GTC takes the traditional tools of creativity and bridges them with the technical tools of today.
The curriculum blends major courses with general education requirements, with typical semester loads including three or four courses in design and one in a foundational subject. Students can complete the AAS in two years. There are no special admissions requirements. In addition to transcripts, placement testing helps determine the best plan of study for every student. For online learners, tuition is the same as for in-state students; the out-of-state tuition charge is waived.
For more than 100 years, Gateway Technical College has supported lifelong learning and professional development. Founded in 1911, GTC was the first publicly funded continuation school in the Badger State.
Located in Winooski, Vermont, CCV is the Green Mountain State's second-largest college, serving over 7,000 students each semester. Founded in 1970, CCV offered its first distance learning course in 1996, and by 2010, 27% of its students were studying online. Today, CCV offers 200 online/hybrid courses each semester, including 12 associate degrees and seven certificates that are available fully online.
The AA in design and media studies is a 60-credit degree that prepares students for careers in the commercial arts and media. This blended online graphic design associate degree combines creativity, communication, design, and technology. There are three areas of focus: graphic design, media communications, and visual arts. The graphic design concentration focuses on the technical side of design, taking a closer look at printed art, software, and other artistic tools used in the digital space. Required courses include typography, Adobe Creative Cloud, two-dimensional design, and storytelling through media. Depending on the instructor, students earning their graphic design associate degree online can take courses asynchronously, synchronously, or both. Part- and full-time options are available
There are three semesters per year in the fall, spring, and summer. All applications require transcripts of prior coursework and proof of a diploma or GED certificate. Residents of other New England states may be eligible for special enrollment and a tuition discount.
Independence University is an online school that has offered distance learning for working professionals since 1978. Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, it offers career-focused associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in diverse fields through four schools: the School of Healthcare, School of Business, School of Technology, and School of Graphic Arts. Following a merger in 2010, IU became a branch of Stevens-Henager College. IU promotes accelerated degree options, offers a generous credit transfer policy, and has eliminated all electives.
The AAS in graphic arts from IU is a 99.5-credit program that can be completed in as few as 20 months. Through the program, students learn tools of the trade, such as Adobe Creative Cloud, as well as how to tell a story through visuals for print or web applications. Courses cover topics such as computer fundamentals, working within a digital environment, psychology of motivation, logo/identity design, and internet commerce. In addition to major-specific requirements, students of this graphic design associate degree also need to take six general education courses for 24 credits. Courses may be taken synchronously or asynchronously.
Admissions to the graphic design associate degree at IU begins with a phone interview with an admissions consultant. Interested students discuss their school background, professional goals, and financial planning. Tuition is the same for all online students, regardless of state residency. Currently, IU's programs are not available to residents of Arkansas, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, and Montana.
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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
|Job Title||Entry Level
|Multimedia Artist or Animator||N/A||$51,000||$56,000||$60,000|
|Senior Graphic Designer||N/A||$55,000||$60,000||$63,000|
Source: PayScaleReturn 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.
- 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
- 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.
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