Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Programs

Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Programs

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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.

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.

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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 Best Online Associate in Graphic Design Degree Programs

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Community College of Vermont 

Winooski, VT Apply Now

About this school

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 

Salt Lake City, UT Apply Now

About this school

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.

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.

Salary by Experience for Graphic Design Careers

Job Title Entry Level
(0-12 Months)
Early Career
(1-4 Years)
(5-9 Years)
(10-19 Years)
Graphic Designer $38,000 $41,000 $47,000 $49,000
Production Artist $35,000 $41,000 $49,000 $55,000
Multimedia Artist or Animator N/A $51,000 $56,000 $60,000
Senior Graphic Designer N/A $55,000 $60,000 $63,000
Art Director $48,000 $54,000 $66,000 $73,000

Source: PayScale

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:
    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