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For current graphic designers seeking to elevate their expertise and marketability, pursuing a master’s in graphic design can be the key to achieving your goals. This degree combines the intricacies of art and the pragmatism of business, providing you with a more substantial set of skills highly valued in the industry.

While not a prerequisite for a career in graphic design, a master’s degree can distinguish you as a top-tier candidate, potentially leading to higher earning opportunities — with the top 10% of graphic designers earning over $100,450 in 2023.

Most master’s programs can be completed in about two years, with the average graduate tuition costing $19,749 for the 2020-2021 academic year.

How to Choose a Master’s in Graphic Design Program

Choose your area of study

By choosing an area of study for your master’s in graphic design, you can customize your education to your career goals and interests. Not only will this make your graduate experience more enjoyable, but it can also make you a more competitive hire in specific sectors of the design industry.

For example, those who want to tell stories through art will thrive in illustration, focusing on creating original artwork for books, magazines, and digital media. Students interested in creating visual campaigns that drive consumer behavior and boost brand engagement may prefer marketing design, while those who are interested in UX/UI principles and want to build user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing websites will excel in web design.

Research schools and programs

Now that you’ve decided on a specialization, you can begin researching schools and programs that can support your interests. You may come into this process with a few questions of your own, but the following questions can help guide your research further:

  • What specializations does the program offer?
  • What are the faculty’s areas of expertise and background?
  • How does the curriculum align with your career goals?
  • What are the program’s facilities and resources like?
  • Does a recognized accrediting body accredit the program?

To find answers to these questions, you can explore the program’s official website, contact admissions counselors, and review student testimonials and alumni success stories.

Prepare for tests and applications

When it comes time to prepare for applications, prioritize assembling a solid portfolio, as it’s often the most critical component and will be heavily weighed by admissions committees. You’ll also want to write a thoughtful personal statement articulating your design goals and enthusiasm for the program. Additionally, begin gathering transcripts and securing recommendation letters early to ensure you’re set for impending deadlines.

While GRE scores may be optional at many schools, consider enrolling in a test prep program to improve your scores and strengthen your application.

Select your program

If you submit multiple applications, you may receive multiple acceptance letters. Fortunately, you can make this decision easier by revisiting your initial criteria, focusing on what aspects of the program are most important to you. Reassess the total cost of attendance, including expenses beyond tuition, and research any financial aid opportunities. This will ensure that the program you choose aligns with your academic and career goals and is financially feasible.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Financing your degree without incurring substantial debt may seem impossible, but with strategic planning, you can pay for your education while reducing your debt burden.

Start by prioritizing funding options that don’t require repayment — like scholarships or grants, which provide free money based on merit or need. You may also be eligible for assistantships, often offering tuition remission or a stipend for teaching or research assistant roles. If you’re employed, ask if your company offers tuition assistance for career-relevant education. Federal loans can be helpful if you need to bridge any financial gaps — just be sure to borrow only what’s necessary so you can more easily pay it back later on.

Best 50 Accredited Master’s in Graphic Design Programs

Best Master's in Graphic Design Degree Programs_2024 badge

Yale University

Maryland Institute College of Art

Boston University

Rhode Island School of Design

University of Illinois at Chicago

Suffolk University

North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Art Center College of Design

California Institute of the Arts

Otis College of Art and Design

Iowa State University

Ohio University

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts

Liberty University

Oklahoma State University

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How we rank schools

Our list focuses on master’s-level programs in graphic design, visual communications, and digital media. They are a mix of on-campus, online, and hybrid programs that generally take one to two years of full-time study to complete.

All of the schools featured in this guide are approved by the regional accrediting agency that covers their area. Accreditation is a rigorous periodic process that ensures up-to-date, relevant curricula, appropriate facilities, and highly qualified professors. Many of these options have programmatic accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design as well.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in Graphic Design Program?

Intended for professionals already working in the field, a master’s in graphic design will provide an immersive exploration into advanced design principles to help you level up your skills. With approximately two years of full-time study, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of visual communication, digital media, and interactive design. The curriculum frequently includes typography, branding, and user experience design coursework. Many programs emphasize the development of your personal aesthetic and professional portfolio, setting you up for success when it comes time to enter the job market.

A key component is the thesis project, where students are expected to create a comprehensive design project that illustrates their mastery of graphic design concepts and methods. This thesis is intended to culminate your learning, but it also serves as a significant portfolio piece that can be presented to potential employers or clients.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in graphic design program

  • Brand Identity Design: An essential component of many curriculums, this course teaches the strategic process of creating and developing brand identities to represent companies and products effectively. Lessons cover the psychology of color, design theory, and the integration of design elements to build a cohesive brand presence across different forms of media.
  • Advanced Typography: Another standard course offering, this class analyzes the art and technique of arranging type to make the language it forms more visually appealing and optimally functional. Participants explore various typefaces, discuss typographic history, and experiment with layout techniques, improving readability and viewer engagement.
  • Interactive Design: This course focuses on designing user-friendly and engaging digital interfaces. Students learn about user-centered design principles, wireframing, prototyping, and testing interactive products like websites and apps, preparing them to create aesthetically pleasing and functionally practical designs.
  • Motion Graphics: Often deemed an elective, courses in this realm allow students to explore the world of animated graphic design. Participants learn about animation, timing, and storytelling principles through visuals. Students are taught how to use industry-standard software to create dynamic and compelling visual effects and sequences that can be applied in film, television, and online platforms.

Master’s in Graphic Design Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a master's in graphic design degree program?

Requirements can vary depending on the specific institution, but most schools share common criteria. Generally, you’ll need to prepare:

  • Official academic transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A portfolio showcasing your best design work
  • GRE scores, if required

Be sure to reach out to an admissions counselor before applying. They can provide specific guidance on the application process, help clarify any requirements, and offer insights into how you can strengthen your application.

How much does a master's in graphic design degree cost?

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the average cost of graduate-level tuition was $19,749 — but this figure can vary depending on the institution.

When planning your budget, it’s essential to incorporate some room for additional expenses not included in the tuition price, such as housing, commuting costs, textbooks, and course materials. This will help you get a realistic picture of the total cost of your education, ensuring you’re financially prepared for all aspects of your graduate studies.

How long does it take to earn a master's in graphic design degree?

Securing a graduate degree in graphic design takes approximately two years for full-time students, while part-time students may take three or four years, depending on their course load each semester.

Considering the total number of credits the program requires is crucial, as this varies significantly between institutions and can directly impact your graduation timeline. Although most programs require 30 to 36 credits for completion, some may need more or slightly less — depending on the institution.

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