Online Graphic Design Degrees

A growing number of graphic design opportunities in new media (such as smartphone apps and computer systems design) are reinvigorating the industry and creating new jobs for talented artists. Artists who understand computer graphics and design software will be well prepared for a variety of positions in the field.

The best graphic designers should be seasoned visual thinkers with an eye for design, color, and typography. They are capable of conveying a clear visual message while constantly imagining new, innovative ways to succinctly broadcast a brand with a few simple shapes and colors. Graphic designers also need to be excellent and sensitive collaborators, able to intuit a customer’s needs and work with a team to turn a vision into reality.

Students interested in pursuing a graphic design career may be intrigued to learn how they can obtain certification online. Whether pursuing a bachelor’s, certificate program, or any other kind of degree, distance learners can pursue a variety of online opportunities. Once in school, they can sharpen their technique and prepare for a fun and engaging career without ever setting foot in a traditional classroom.

Meet our expert

Read More

Laura Stinson Graphic Design

“I decided on an online program because it allowed me to be flexible in my studying.”

Online Graphic Design Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $19,376 17.54% 2 years $32,100 $48,700 9.9%
Bachelor's $22,934 13.72% 4 years $37,500 $60,700 6.8%
Master's $27,506 12.98% 1+ years $48,700 $73,500 6.4%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

While a graphic design degree is not strictly necessary, most employers prefer to hire candidates with an academic background in the field. According to Burning-Glass.com, of approximately 32,000 graphic design job listings, a full 91% of employers preferred job candidates who had a graphic design degree. An associate degree can help you find work as an assistant to a designer, but you’ll find more, and better paying job options with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Choosing Your Graphic Design Career

Average Graphic Design Salaries

$72,134
$40,994
$83,429

User Experience/Interaction Designer

Salary: $72,134
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
1% 261,600 Associates None

A user experience/interaction designer’s job is to create the overall sensory and informational experience that users will feel when interacting with a product or service. Interaction designers help develop the visual and practical design of a product. They account for how a product will function and provide information to the user, and ensure that it does so in a positive, enjoyable manner. Designers should master user interface design, as they will often be responsible for creating the wireframe, or basic overview of a website or online app. Designers need to be creative, analytical thinkers with an appreciation for aesthetics and a knack for anticipating user needs. They must also be comfortable collaborating across sectors, from design to IT.

Freelance Graphic Designer

Salary: $40,994
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
1% 261,600 Associates None

Freelance graphic designers help brands or businesses communicate visual messages through typography, symbols, color, and images. They often help develop visual brand identity by designing booklets, flyers, brochures, or web graphics. Freelance graphic designers need a strong eye for color and balance and should be able to employ a variety of visual approaches into their work. Freelancers must be self-starters. They should understand their strengths and weaknesses and feel comfortable marketing themselves. They need effective time management skills, and the creative flexibility to meet diverse customer needs. Successful designers build relationships with clients and enjoy networking with potential customers.

Creative Director

Salary: $83,429
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
1% 261,600 High School Diploma or Equivalent None

Creative directors need to be imaginative, big-picture thinkers who can help business owners express their brand in everything from visual advertisements to product design. They are responsible for conceiving broad overall concepts and projects for graphic design, advertising, web design, and product design. Creative directors are responsible for managing teams of designers, copywriters, and multimedia producers, making effective leadership skills critical. They also need to be business savvy, as they are charged with overseeing budgets and timelines, while offering creative feedback on projects across all departments.

Online Graphic Design Degree in Action

Laura Stinson Graphic Design

Laura Stinson is the web and graphic designer behind Designed by Laura. She specializes in WordPress websites and identity design packages for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and nonprofits.

Laura earned her BA in English in 2003, through a traditional on-campus program. In 2009, she returned to school for a web design & development degree. After completing her AS, she realized that design was her true passion, so she earned a BFA in Graphic Design in 2013 from the International Academy of Design & Technology Online.

Why did you pursue your graphic design degree online?

I chose to pursue an online degree for several reasons. One, I had already done the on-campus experience, and being a little older, I knew it just wouldn't be comparable. Secondly, the only school in my area that offered what I wanted was a pretty far drive (45 minutes both ways) and I didn't want to make that drive regularly for however long I was in school. Eventually, I decided on an online program because it allowed me to be flexible in my studying, and gave me the freedom to pursue other interests by not being in a classroom for several hours a week.

What were the biggest advantages for you as you studied online?

The biggest advantages to online studying are, as I mentioned, flexibility and freedom. I got to study exactly what I wanted from the kind of institute I wanted to study at, and didn't have to compromise on an on-campus program. I also got to go to school in my pajamas, which is always a plus in my book!

What were the challenges or obstacles you faced as an online graphic design student?

You have to be very self-motivated in order to complete an online program. Even though you have professors and classmates, it is very much like an independent study. It is also fast-paced. In my particular program, classes lasted only five weeks, instead of an entire semester. So I had to be able to manage my time well in order to complete assignments on time, and to learn the material. In many ways it was a self-guided education.

How did the online format help prepare you for your graphic design career?

Studying graphic design online was great preparation for me! About 90% of what I do is all done online, via email, chats, document sharing, etc., so I developed the skill set for conducting business mainly online, which carries a different set of expectations than conducting business in person. It doesn't mean you can just set your face-to-face interpersonal skills aside. But, it does mean you have to develop a different set of skills for doing business via the internet.

Online Graphic Design Degrees

Associate

Students in an associate program learn the basic technical and creative skills necessary to pursue a graphic design career. Upon graduation, they should know how to use graphic design software, and be able to integrate the fundamental principles of typography and color theory into their designs. An associate degree typically takes 18 months to two years of full-time studying to complete, at an estimated cost of nearly $20,000. Often, graphic designers with associate degrees become graphic design assistants.

Sample Courses
Color Theory, Photo Image-Editing, Typography, and Web Graphics Art Design
Common Majors
Graphic Design, Web Graphic Design, Interactive Design, and Motion Graphics
Potential Jobs
Freelance Graphic Designer, Web Designer, and Desktop Publisher
Average Income
$32,100
Employment Prospects
1% growth for freelance graphic designers, 27% growth for web designers

Bachelor’s

A bachelor's degree in graphic design teaches students the basics of art practice and history, providing them with a strong foundation in design for ads and websites. Students graduate with a thorough understanding of commercial artwork. A degree typically takes four years to complete, at an average cost of nearly $23,000. Students learn to apply visual language in design courses, in subjects like typography, advertising, and logo design. Graphic designers with a strong grasp of new media design, such as mobile apps, will be particularly competitive candidates in the job market.

Sample Courses
Concept Development, Graphic Symbolism, Corporate Identity, Drawing and Color Theory, and Animation
Common Majors
Print Media, Web Design, and Design and Media Arts
Potential Jobs
Art Director, Freelance Graphic Designer, and Multimedia Artist/Animator
Average Income
$48,700
Employment Prospects
6% growth for multimedia artist/animators, 2% growth for art directors, 1% growth for freelance graphic designers

The Top 5 Online Bachelor's Degrees in Graphic Design

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

Southern New Hampshire University

Manchester
  • annually: $28,884
2

Bellevue University

Bellevue
  • annually: $6,300
3

Stevens-Henager College - Murray

Murray
  • annually: $21,600
4

Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah
  • annually: $33,450

See full rankings

Master’s

Master's programs explore advanced theoretical issues of design, ranging from typography to branding to sustainability in design. A master's program usually requires students to complete 10-15 courses, which normally takes two or three years. The process culminates in a thesis design project, which merges lessons from design theory with practical application, and may require significant studiowork. Completing a master's program prepares students to begin working on a design staff or to launch their own enterprise.

Sample Courses
Introduction to Interaction Design, Branding Principles, Packaging Design, History of Graphic Design, and Typography 3: Complex Hierarchy
Common Majors
Graphic Design, Visual Communication Design, Motion Graphics, and 3D Design
Potential Jobs
Digital Graphic Designer, Art Director, and Creative Director
Average Income
$48,700
Employment Prospects
1% growth for creative directors, 2% growth for art directors, 7% growth for digital graphic designers

Professional Requirements

Technically, no official certification is required for most graphic design jobs. While most employers feel more comfortable hiring certified designers, your best asset isn’t a diploma; it’s a powerful, thoughtfully designed online portfolio. When building your portfolio, think carefully about which of your past projects best highlight your skills. Be discerning. Your portfolio is better served by a thorough visual and thoughtful explanation of a handful of your most impressive projects, rather than a superficial skim through everything you’ve ever created.

It’s important to demonstrate the breadth of your skills. If you have videos of user interactions with your products, include those in your portfolio. Also try to show the various stages of your designs to help give employers insight into your creative process. Your profile should show your range as a designer, ability to turn an initial sketch into a final product, capability of meeting a variety of customer needs, and most of all, your unique vision and perspective as a designer.