PhD & Master's in Graphic Design: Graduate Programs, Schools & Degrees Online

Online Graphic Design Graduate programs provide students with the opportunity to conveniently study concepts and tools used to bring creative campaigns to life. Participants work to master strategy, workflow, interface design and user experience as they build on artistic talents.

written by Rana Waxman

Types of Graphic Design Degrees Online

Most Online Graphic Design Graduate programs are offered at the Masters level although some schools may award Certificates and Doctorate degrees. At that, Masters in Graphic Design online programs may be available as a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and Master of Arts (MA).

Some online graphic design schools may use the title “MFA” and “MA” interchangeably, so it's important to look at the curriculum rather than the title, to determine the focus of the degree.

For instance, one could check if the course plan stresses more on studio work (MFA) versus academic classes (MA).

The locations with the highest concentration of graphic design graduates are New York, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; Chicago IL. i

Online MFA in Graphic Design

An online Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Graphic Design is widely considered a terminal practitioner degree. Depending on the program emphasis, students might be in for a plan of study that includes critiques, research, design coursework and projects.

An MFA program is typically capped with some type of project which could be presented to a panel of peers and professionals. For instance, partner school, Full Sail University requires students to go through a full-scale branding project. In it they could learn how to identify client needs, develop well-researched creative work, and craft an effective brand strategy.

Some of the traditional MFA programs could take full-time students two to three years to complete. However, it may be possible to find an online program

with a more accelerated format of about one year, perhaps due to a more narrowly-focused course plan. For at-work students who want to learn some targeted skills to bring into a career or career search, this may be a well-suited option.

Online MA in Graphic Design

An online Master of Arts in Graphic Design is typically planned-out as an academic degree program. Frequently, there is a focus on design history and cultural contexts of media, as well as liberal-arts oriented electives. In some programs, students may need to complete a final project or thesis.

Online PhD in Graphic Design

A PhD in Graphic Design is a terminal research degree, and not commonly found in online format. PhD programs in design are usually built for students who aspire to teach or conduct fundamental research and/or innovate in the field.

At the doctoral level there may be other options to consider for creatives interested in the highest award in their field. One example is an online Doctor of Computer Science with a creative concentration, such as Emerging Media.

Emerging media examines through multiple lenses how social networks, new media, web science and virtual worlds are reshaping business, education, research and entertainment. Apart from significant research, students might take courses in Games and Gamification, Cloud Computing and Business Strategies for Social Media.

Online Graphic Design Certificates

An online Graduate Certificate in Graphic Design could cover just a few targeted design courses in perhaps, one year or less. While less common than full-degree programs, a certificate might help students learn a specific type of design software and could be a useful way to build a portfolio.

What Courses Might I Take in Online Graphic Design Programs?

Modern Online Graphic Design Graduate programs might include a selection of classic design courses along with digital technology infused curricula. Students might therefore learn how to create deliverables for multimedia campaigns.

Preview seven sample topics below, then review graphic design schools’ online offerings so you could line up an exciting choice.

  1. Effective Copywriting
  2. Publication Design
  3. Interactive Design
  4. History of Graphic Design
  5. Game Design
  6. Vector Illustration
  7. 3D Design

Admission Requirements

Admission to Masters in Graphic Design online programs usually requires the submission of an art portfolio, along with evidence of bachelors degree completion from an accredited U.S. institution. Applicants may also need a school-determined minimum GPA and letters of recommendation. Foreign students typically need documentation to support proficiency in English.

Master of Fine Arts and Doctor of Philosophy programs usually have different requirements for entry and exit. Some MFA programs do not require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission, whereas many doctoral degree programs don't.

Since each university sets its own standards, students should verify requirements of the schools on their list.

Why Earn a Graphic Design Degree Online?

One of the distinct features of online graphic design programs is that they frequently emphasize problem-solving and learning by doing. This format may empower distance students to generate their own concepts and ideas.

Fluency of ideas and originality are important abilities when it comes to formulating design concepts and approaches for visual communications media, such as print, broadcasting, and advertising. ii

There are a variety of graphic design schools online, and so, any number of features that might entice students to consider this format. Below are a few potential attributes.

  • No traditional application deadlines: classes might begin monthly for some programs, so one could apply anytime and possibly start on the date that is ideal for each person
  • Program design and course order: one may not need to sign up for specific classes every semester – some programs may have a predetermined program design and course order
  • Hands-on learning: programs might meld hands-on learning with real-world projects, and classes could combine creative technology with interaction, no matter the time zone
  • Interaction: distance students may collaborate differently (not in person) through their school’s online platform, but they might nonetheless connect with instructors and classmates through software and industry-centered technology
  • Projects: course projects involving hands-on creative work - from sketches, to music compositions, to game prototypes - might be developed, shared, and reviewed by instructors in a way that provides as much interaction as a classroom experience
  • Study on your own timetable: since courses are typically uploaded on a web-based platform with 24/7 access, it may add an element of scheduling flexibility

Graphic Design Career Outlook

While graphic designers could initiate a career with a Bachelors degree, a Masters degree such as a MFA could enable students to pursue more managerial and artistic roles (Bureau of Labor Statistics)iii. Creative directors manage talent engaged in design work and layout, and may confer with creative, art, copywriting, or production department heads to discuss client needs, presentation concepts and design-oriented activities.

Graphic Designer Salary: The average salary earned by Graphic Designers (based on May 2016 data) is reported as $47,640.iv By comparison, the average salary earned by Art Directors (based on May 2016 data) was reported as $89,820. v

Per BLS reports, with strong competition in the graphic design fields, those with the ability to navigate digital platforms and create user-friendly designs may have more favorable prospects. A good portfolio that shows “strong visual design and conceptual work across all multimedia platforms” is also seen as a

Apply to Online Graphic Design Graduate Programs

The variety of graphic design degrees online make it an exciting time to think about taking the next step in your education. Filter online Graphic Design Graduate programs by degree level to find the perfect one for you. Find one you like? Use the on-page form to quickly contact the online graphic design schools we partner with.

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