What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Graphic Design Program?

If you’re a graphic designer considering a graduate degree, an online master’s in graphic design program offers convenience and flexibility compared to brick-and-mortar colleges and universities. Online programs provide the same high-quality education as on-campus courses but allow you to fit your classes around your schedule. The specifics of online curriculum and requirements vary between institutions, so it’s essential to take the time to compare master’s in graphic design programs to identify which is the best fit for your needs.

Available concentrations

Graphic design is a broad field that encompasses many different technologies and techniques. If you’re primarily interested in one particular aspect of graphic design, you should find a program that allows you to focus on that specialty. Some of the most common concentration options include:

  • 3D Modeling & Animation: Obtain the skills and knowledge to develop visual content for movies, animated web content, video games, and other media.
  • Web Design: Learn about the core digital standards for today’s website designs. This concentration covers blending artistic license with the usability and functionality internet users expect from a website.
  • Visual Communications: Gain the in-depth design knowledge needed to develop theoretical design concepts, pursue a career in design education, or conduct design-related research.

Common degree curriculum

Online master’s in graphic design programs are offered by many schools, and each one has a unique set of curricula. When choosing your online program, ensure the courses match your professional goals before deciding. It’s also important to know the curriculum delivery method. Blended programs may require you to attend some classes on campus, while other programs are entirely online.

Your concentration will also have an impact on the courses offered to you. Although coursework varies by concentration and school, there are some standard courses that nearly every program includes, such as:

  • History of Graphic Design: Learn about the evolution of visual communication and how technology has impacted graphic design standards and potential.
  • Interactive Design: Apply visual theories toward user interaction when creating design systems.
  • Advanced Typography: Examine advanced concepts in typography, including information hierarchy, visual identity, type fusion, and text layout principles.
  • User-Centered Strategy: Explore concepts of using digital systems and content to trigger psychological and emotional responses.

Certification and license preparation

After earning your degree, continuing your education and earning professional certifications can help you refine your skills, access more job opportunities, and advance your career.

Adobe software is a staple in the graphic design world, and several certifications are available to demonstrate proficiency in Adobe tools. Specifically, certification in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign proves that a graphic designer has mastered using the company’s offerings relevant to the industry.

Also, CIW is known for its educational standards in the IT industry and offers several professional certifications. Graphic designers should check out their user interface and web design certification options.

Program accreditation

Only apply to schools approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. If your school doesn’t have regional accreditation, you may be unable to access financial aid or transfer credits to another institution if needed.

Ideally, your program will also be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. NASAD sets high standards for art education, and graduating from a NASAD-accredited program shows employers that you are well-prepared for a career in graphic design.

Program completion timeframe

Online master’s in graphic design programs usually require about 30 credits, which takes most students roughly two years to complete. Completion times can change, however, depending on the program’s structure. Some programs require students to go through classes together, prohibiting any advancement without the rest of the group. Others allow students to complete work based on their understanding of concepts, allowing flexible options for taking additional classes to obtain a degree in less time.

You can also look for accelerated programs that condense information into shorter courses to earn your degree faster. Another option is to see if you can take classes during the winter and summer in addition to the traditional fall and spring semesters.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Graphic Design Graduates

A master’s in graphic design can prepare you to work in various industries, including web development, advertising, journalism, video game design, and film and television production.

While most graphic design occupations don’t require a master’s degree for entry-level positions, having this level of education helps you stand out from other candidates and get hired more quickly. Once you join an organization, a master’s may help you advance to higher-paying positions.

Indeed, there are plenty of opportunities to earn a six-figure income in this field. For example, the top 10% of graphic designers make over $100,920.

Job Title Job Description Median Yearly Salary Projected Growth Rate (2022 – 2032)
Graphic Designer Graphic designers develop visual concepts for animation, web design, advertising, and other areas using computer graphics software or by hand. These concepts include artwork, layouts, color schemes, and other visual elements. $57,990 3%
Desktop Publisher Desktop publishers use graphic design skills to create layouts for printed or online works, such as books, advertising campaigns, or newspapers. $47,910 -13%
Art Director Art directors oversee the entire visual concept of film productions, magazines, packaging, and other graphic design projects. They are responsible for the visual style of the projects they manage. $105,180 6%
Special Effects Artists and Animators Multimedia artists and animators are responsible for the 2D and 3D models found in animations and video games and specialize in digital special effects for all media types. $98,950 8%

Professional organizations

A career in graphic design demands regular training in the latest software and often depends on word-of-mouth marketing. To ensure success, professional organizations help cover both bases. By joining a professional organization, you gain access to training tools, the latest industry news, and networking opportunities. Many also provide job boards to connect graphic designers with clients who need their services. Here are a few organizations that offer significant benefits to their members:

  • American Institute of Graphic Arts: The AIGA is the country’s largest professional graphic design organization. Members can enjoy the networking benefits of visual design forums and in-person social events, participate in the contests and scholarships offered through the organization, pick up projects on hosted job boards, and take advantage of education and training offerings.
  • Society of Illustrators: Founded in 1901, the Society of Illustrators was one of the first organizations for graphic designers and illustrators. This organization offers message boards for member discussions and maintains updated blogs and newsletters to keep graphic designers in the know. Educational programs are provided along with contests and awards for graphic design professionals.
  • International Council of Design: This network of graphic design organizations is the largest in the world. Members are exposed to the latest industry research and have opportunities to meet with their colleagues at hosted functions. A fully developed career center and mentorship programs give members the best chance at professional success.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Graphic Design Degree

An online master’s in graphic design program is often less expensive than a traditional on-campus program, but some students may still need financial assistance. When searching for additional funding options, you should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which gives you access to federally-funded grant and loan programs. There are also many private scholarships available that you may qualify for.

Student Finance Resources and Guides

Thoroughly researching your financial aid options may allow you to drastically reduce the cost of your Master in Graphic Design degree. The following resources will help you save as much money as possible:

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