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Top 8 Graphic Design Schools to Launch Your Career

Top 8 Graphic Design Schools to Launch Your Career

Graphic design is an exciting and vibrant industry that allows creative professionals to use art, technology, and communication skills to solve problems. As visual communication becomes increasingly essential in our digitally connected world, the demand for talented graphic designers grows. However, launching a successful graphic design career requires strong technical abilities, creative thinking, and an aesthetic eye developed through comprehensive education and training.

Choosing the right graphic design program to hone your talents is a crucial first step. With so many options available, narrowing your selection can feel overwhelming. This guide spotlights 8 of the top graphic design schools in the world, outlining the stand-out qualities of each to help inform your decision-making.

To develop our recommendations, we evaluated program criteria like curriculum, facilities, faculty, career support services, graduation rates, alumni networks, internship opportunities, and more. Whether your interests lean more toward print, web, motion graphics, user experience (UX) design, or another specialisation, these leading institutions offer unmatched learning environments to develop the graphic design expertise needed for career success.

The Best Graphic Design Schools in the United States

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Rhode Island School Of Design (Risd)

Location: Providence, RI

RISD is frequently cited as one of the world's top art and design schools. Its graphic design program enjoys an excellent international reputation and is highly selective, admitting only 22% of applicants.

Students gain exceptional creative development through the following:

  • Rigorous studio-based curriculum focused on building solid visual communication abilities in typography, image-making, motion graphics, UI/UX design, and more
  • Access to leading facilities like the RISD Museum and the Fleet Library, with special collections relevant to graphic design training
  • Small class sizes taught by design leaders and practicing professionals
  • Immersive sophomore-year experience at RISD’s European Honors Program in Rome, Italy
  • Opportunities to customise studies through diverse electives and self-directed projects

Notable aspects of RISD’s graphic design program include the yearly exchange with Musashino Art University in Tokyo, intense senior capstone preparation, and the annual Graduate Graphic Design Conference.

With 93% of graduates employed or pursuing further education within ten months of finishing the program, RISD prepares students for leadership roles in graphic design.

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)

Maryland Institute College Of Art (Mica)

Location: Baltimore, MD

MICA is one of only a few colleges worldwide accredited in graphic design, interactive design, and illustration. Its BFA in Graphic Design is an immersive program focused on conceptual thinking, creative innovation, and relationships between medium and message.

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Key features include:

  • Foundation studies developing core design and artistic abilities applicable to any discipline
  • Option of concentration in graphic design or illustration
  • Special topics courses like package design, design for film, and more
  • Strong focus on professional preparedness with portfolio reviews each semester
  • Customisable studies through liberal arts electives, internships, and study-abroad options
  • Unique opportunities like the annual Baltimore Social Design Conference and collaboration with creative industries around the city

The department annually brings in 150-200 nationally and internationally recognised visiting designers for lectures and studio critiques. With a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, students receive highly personalised instruction and support in developing creative talent.

Yale University School of Art

Yale University School Of Art

Location: New Haven, CT

Consistently topping lists of best design schools in America, Yale offers an intensely rigorous and competitive MFA program shaped by leading designers and theoreticians. With Yale’s robust liberal arts heritage, graphic design students also gain interdisciplinary perspectives to inform creative solutions.

Distinguishing aspects include:

  • Completely customised curriculum tailored to individual development needs
  • Integration of intensive theory and practice through studio work, writing, and optional teaching fellow positions
  • A collaborative environment that encourages students to learn from each other
  • Only 2% applicant acceptance rate, allowing significant contact with faculty mentors
  • Strong alum network ranging from Pentagram partners to designers at Apple, Nike, and more

From traditional print to new media, Yale aims to advance the critical study and practice of graphic design. The program nurtures voices to lead and educate coming generations of visual communicators. Over 25% of graduates have founded their firms or organisations.

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy Of Art

Location: Bloomfield Hills, MI

As America’s top-ranked independent art and design school, Cranbrook offers an MFA in 2D Design with focused concentrations in graphic design. The program emphasises artistry through craft and encourages designers to engage deeply with the cultural and social contexts shaping their practice.

Additional details include:

  • Individual studio spaces promote self-directed work
  • Integration across 11 different design departments
  • Instruction from exceptional faculty like graphic designer Elliott Earls
  • Critical thinking about design theory and ethics
  • Strong focus on typography and book arts
  • Customisable curriculum based on interests and goals
  • Opportunities like Design Incubation, where students solve real business challenges

Cranbrook also manages an art museum, architecture firm, and 340-acre campus, offering rich inspiration for creative development. The program nurtures agile, resourceful designers who can excel in diverse industries.

The Best Graphic Design Schools Around the World

Royal College of Art (RCA)

Royal College Of Art (Rca)

Location: London, England

Having been rated the world’s #1 university for art and design, RCA has an excellent international reputation. Its MA in Visual Communication admits just 35 students annually, emphasising conceptual visual narratives and clarity of creative thinking grounded in research.

Additional aspects include:

  • Curriculum bridging graphic design and advertising
  • Diverse visiting faculty like Jonathan Barnbrook, Daniel Eatock, and Marion Deuchars
  • Collaborations with global brands like Renault and Deutsche Bank
  • Specialist workshops in animation, photography, and copywriting
  • Innovative Think Tank module to foster creativity
  • Access to multiple campus galleries and museums

RCA also manages Design Products, a leading program where graphic design students can explore product design. With such comprehensive facilities and opportunities in the heart of London’s vibrant visual communication industry, RCA prepares graduates to shape the future of graphic design worldwide.

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Gerrit Rietveld Acadamie

Gerrit Rietveld Academie

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Founded in 1948 alongside influential Dutch design movements like De Stijl, Rietveld’s Department of Graphic Design remains highly progressive while respecting craft tradition. The school offers a range of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, emphasising conceptual thinking and aesthetic development framed by ethical imperatives and social context.

Additional details:

  • Curriculum bridging graphic design and fine arts
  • A programme designed around yearly themes like “The Real World” exploring relevant issues
  • Only 30 applicants admitted per year
  • Wide-ranging course options in photography, animation, typography, theory of culture, and more
  • Collaborative project for the City of Amsterdam to foster engagement with real design challenges
  • Student-run magazine Rrradio, design agency, radio station, and Rietveld’s renowned annual book fair
  • Graduation rate of 92%, with most alums working professionally as graphic designers

Rietveld’s graphic design graduates emerge as reflective practitioners skilled in applying creative talent to drive positive change through visual communication.

École Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne (ECAL)

École Cantonale D’art De Lausanne (Ecal)

Location: Renens, Switzerland

Switzerland’s top art and design school, ECAL, is influential in graphic design, product design, photography, and film. Its Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication offers comprehensive training anchored by a core curriculum before branching into diverse specialisations.

Notable aspects include:

  • Emphasis on coding, editorial design, information design, and user experience (UX)
  • Research-driven focus on exploring creative applications of the latest 3D, virtual reality, and more technological developments.
  • Yearly master classes from world-class professionals
  • Collaborative projects solving problems posed by external companies and institutions
  • Exceptional facilities like photography studios, video editing suites, printmaking workshops, and libraries
  • Opportunities for internships and semester exchanges around the world

With innovative facilities and program concentrations unavailable elsewhere, ECAL gives students an advantage in specialist creative sectors spanning design, art, communication, and new technology.

Tsinghua University Academy of Arts and Design

Tsinghua University Academy Of Arts And Design

Location: Beijing, China

China’s top art college, Tsinghua, offers prestigious four-year BFA and three-year MFA degrees in Visual Communication focused on graphic design. Led by influential Chinese designers, the programs aim to interpret and redefine the Chinese cultural perspective in a global design context.

Additional aspects include:

  • Foundation studies in artistic skills and theory
  • Rigorous studio-based curriculum exploring 2D, environmental and interactive design
  • Deep investigation of Eastern and Western graphic design history
  • Instruction in creative software skills needed for contemporary best practice
  • On-campus art gallery showcasing student and faculty work
  • International exchange partnerships with schools in America, South Korea, Japan and across Europe
  • Opportunities to participate in national and global design competitions

With China's design industry growing exponentially, Tsinghua graduates possess the cross-cultural outlook and technical abilities to stand out from nearly 10 million creatives competing in the domestic job market.

Picking the Perfect Program for You

Choosing where to pursue graphic design degrees is an intensely personal decision that can determine the entire trajectory of your creative career. As one of the top predictors of employment success and compensation rates in the design job market, identifying programs that best match your talents, interests and professional aspirations is crucial.

When evaluating schools, look beyond basic metrics like program rankings or name recognition. More important factors include the specific concentration options relevant to your goals, evidence of concept-driven and aesthetically advanced course content, faculties practising at the forefront of contemporary design, opportunities for collaborative and interdisciplinary learning, institutional networks for internships and job placements after graduation, and more.

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While every program on our list has exceptional offerings, subtle differences make each university better suited for particular students. Leverage campus visits, portfolio days, virtual tours and informational interviews to get a well-rounded perspective on culture and curricula when deciding where to submit applications.

Investing the time upfront to clarify creative passions and research how prospective schools can nurture professional development will help you pick the perfect graphic design program to launch your career.

Frequently Asked Questions

What portfolio is needed to apply for graphic design degrees?

A portfolio featuring 10-15 pieces representing your best work is required for most programs. Samples should highlight visual communication abilities showcasing form, composition, colour, typography, layout, aesthetic cohesion, and conceptual thinking. Pieces can span any media, but aim for consistency in style and production quality.

What classes do graphic design students take?

A typical curriculum includes studio courses developing core abilities like drawing, colour theory, and design fundamentals before advancing to typography, layout, packaging, information design, branding, web design, motion graphics, coding, UX design, and more. Programs blend technical skill-building with theory examining cultural context and problem-solving methodologies to inform aesthetically engaging, user-centred communication solutions.

What skills are most important for a graphic design career?

While employers desire strong software proficiency relevant to contemporary best practices, most value evidence of creative thinking, aesthetic refinement, solution-focused ideation processes, and the ability to communicate complex visual narratives meeting audience needs. Portfolios should thus feature concept-driven work showcasing imagination and style.

What jobs can you get with a graphic design degree?

Common positions span design roles like visual brand identity developer, packaging designer, publication designer, web designer, UI/UX specialist, motion graphics animator and more. Some graduates pursue related jobs as art directors, creative directors, or founders of their agencies or design-focused companies. Degree-level training is preferred for most professional design positions.

How much do graphic designers earn on average?

According to Payscale, entry-level designers average $44,000 in annual salary. With 5-10 years of experience, average pay grows to $65,000, with senior-level designers earning $85,000+ per year on average. Salaries vary based on role, industry, location and company size. Passion for design and continuous skills development through a long-term career remain more significant motivators for most than high compensation alone.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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