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How To Get An Online Graphic Design Degree

How To Get An Online Graphic Design Degree

Graphic design is a fun, creative field that blends art and technology. As a graphic designer, you can use your artistic talents to communicate ideas visually through images, layouts, typography, colours, and more. Sound appealing? An online graphic design degree could be perfect for you!

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about earning an online graphic design degree. I'll review the pros and cons, program options, application tips, and more. Let's dive in!

Why Study Graphic Design Online?

Graphic Design Education

Online Flexibility – The #1 Perk

What is the most significant advantage of an online graphic design degree? Flexibility! You can study whenever and wherever suits you best – no early morning traffic jams or after-work commutes. Simply log in and learn at your own pace.

This flexibility is excellent for students who:

  • Work full-time jobs
  • Have family/caring commitments
  • Want to study while travelling
  • Prefer learning in a self-paced, independent way

An online program lets you fit your studies around other responsibilities and obligations.

Lower Costs – Save Money

Another significant upside of online learning is the lower costs compared to on-campus study. Online graphic design programs tend to be significantly cheaper, as you're not paying for things like:

  • Campus facilities
  • Accommodation & living costs near the university
  • Transport & parking fees

The money you save by avoiding those expenses can make a huge difference, especially if you must continue working while studying.

Cons – Is Online Study Right For You?

My central reservation about online graphic design degrees is the potential lack of hands-on, practical experience. While high-quality online programs include functional components, there are fewer opportunities than campus learning. You may miss out on:

  • Using speciality equipment & facilities
  • Group collaboration and feedback
  • Face-to-face critique and guidance from professors

This practical element is essential in a visual, creative field like graphic design. Self-motivated students can mitigate this by proactively seeking hands-on practice and collaboration opportunities.

Self-Discipline Required

Staying motivated and disciplined is vital when studying graphic design remotely. Online programs require self-directed learning and time management. You need to:

  • Set your schedule
  • Meet deadlines independently
  • Avoid distractions

If you struggle to work autonomously, you may find the independent structure of online degrees challenging. Look for programs with built-in support, like advisors, forums, and small class sizes.

Program Options – What's Right for You?

Graphic Design Degree Path

First, the Basics

When looking at online graphic design degree options, first consider the basics:

  • Level: Associate, bachelor's or master's degree?
  • Cost: What's your total budget?
  • Timeframe: How quickly do you want to graduate?

As a general rule, bachelor's degrees take around four years full-time. Associate degrees are faster at two years. A master's adds 1-2 years after a bachelor's. Costs range from $10,000 annually for in-state public universities to $35,000+ for private colleges.

Once you have those fundamentals sorted, it's time to explore the different program structures.

Associate's Degree

If budget and timeframe are top priorities, an online associate's in graphic design could be perfect. In just two years of full-time study, you'll gain a foundation in essential skills like:

  • Digital illustration & photo editing
  • Page layout principles
  • Typography
  • Color theory
  • Print and digital design processes

You get exposure to the graphic design basics at the associate's level. The lower tuition fees and quicker pace make this an accessible stepping stone into the field.

Bear in mind, though, that roles open to associate graduates are generally more entry-level or specialised compared to bachelor's graduates. Common jobs include:

  • Desktop publishing
  • Graphic production artist
  • Prepress technician
  • Illustrator

Continuing a bachelor's degree makes sense if you want broader creative opportunities and higher career potential.

Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's in graphic design provides comprehensive, well-rounded training. Online BAs and BFAs take around four years of full-time study, covering:

  • Fundamentals: Design and composition, typography, colour theory, etc.
  • Software: Adobe Creative Cloud skills – Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign etc.
  • Digital skills: Web design, multimedia, motion graphics
  • Practical experience: Real client briefs, internships, portfolios

With a bachelor's, you'll be prepared for roles like:

  • Graphic designer
  • Web designer
  • Multimedia designer
  • Creative director
  • Brand identity designer
  • UX/UI designer

The in-depth knowledge and versatile skill set qualify you for various design careers. That makes the bachelor's degree a popular and flexible choice.

Master's Degree

For experienced designers looking to upskill, advance, or specialise, an online graphic design master's could be the way to go.

These programs are perfect if you want to:

  • Pivot your career
  • Develop expertise in a focus area like UX, motion graphics, or digital marketing.
  • Become an educator or instructor
  • Build strategic leadership and business skills

The master's allows you to hone your creative eye and professional toolkit, positioning you for higher-level or specialised design roles.

Pros and Cons of Degree Types

Let's summarise the key advantages and disadvantages of each degree level:


Pros: Affordable, fast-track to an entry-level job

Cons: Less versatility, limited advancement


Pros: Well-rounded training, comprehensive career options

Cons: Longer, more expensive than associate's


Pros: Gain expertise, advance your career
Cons: Significant cost & time commitment

Think about your ultimate goals, budget, and timeline. That should help determine the right degree path. Remember, you can build up incrementally, starting with an associate's before continuing to a bachelor's.

Program Structure – Online, Hybrid, or Accelerated?

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Online Degrees

Fully online graphic design programs deliver all coursework virtually via:

  • Pre-recorded video lectures
  • Live video conferencing sessions
  • Online forums and collaboration tools
  • Digital assignment submissions

You'll use cloud-based design software and storage so you can complete all work remotely. Programs provide support like tutoring, tech help, and digital internship placement.

Hybrid/Blended Degrees

Hybrid or blended graphic design degrees mix online and on-campus components. This could take various forms:

  • Taking general education modules online and significant requirements on campus
  • Completing the bulk of coursework online, with occasional in-person intensives
  • Studying online initially, then finishing senior capstone projects in person
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The proportions vary, but hybrids offer some in-person interaction and facility access combined with online flexibility.

Accelerated Degrees

Some programs are structured to allow you to earn a graphic design degree faster than usual. Accelerated options condense material into:

  • Year-round, full-time study without summer breaks
  • Overlapping and concurrent modules
  • Credit for prior experience and learning

While quicker, accelerated degrees require an intense pace and workload. They're ideal if you want to upskill rapidly for a career change.

Cost – Tuition, Aid and Budgeting

What To Budget For

Online graphic design degrees cover a wide tuition range based on factors like:

  • Public or private institution
  • In-state or out-of-state
  • Non-profit or for-profit

You can roughly expect to pay:

  • Public in-state: $10,000 – $20,000 per year
  • Public out-of-state: $20,000 – $30,000 per year
  • Private non-profit: $30,000 – $40,000+ per year

On top of tuition, factor in expenses for:

  • Technology & Software
  • Books & course materials
  • Graduation & certificate fees

Most online programs provide technology fee estimates. You may need a computer, design software, and a drawing tablet or camera equipment.

Making It Affordable

To keep costs down, explore options like:

  • Federal and state financial aid: Grants, loans, work-study programs
  • Scholarships: Many vendors and organisations offer design scholarships
  • Employer assistance: If you're working, check education benefits
  • Military aid: GI Bill and other programs for military personnel
  • Tuition discounts: Online programs offer in-state rates to all US residents

Get creative with your funding sources – it all adds up! Payment plans that spread out tuition each semester or year can also help.

Application Process & Tips

Do You Need A Graphic Design Degree

For online graphic design programs, you generally need:

  • High school diploma or equivalent with a minimum GPA (e.g. 2.5+)
  • Submission of application and fee
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Portfolio (primarily for transfers)

Programs evaluate applications based on academic achievements, creative potential, and passion for the design field.

To Apply: Key Tips

Here are some top tips for applying to online graphic design programs successfully:

  • Apply broadly: Don't just settle for your local school. Cast a wide net and explore top programs across different states.
  • Start early: Give yourself around 6-12 months to research options, request information, gather materials, and submit applications. Early planning makes a big difference.
  • Hone your design skills: Brush up on software and principles. Develop art pieces and design samples to include in your portfolio/statements.
  • Highlight your abilities: Everything you submit should showcase your skills, creativity, and commitment to design. Give specific examples.
  • Be genuine: Admissions teams want to see your authentic passion and personality. Don't try to be someone you're not. Focus on what inspires and motivates you.
  • Double-check deadlines: Give yourself plenty of time before submission cutoffs. Don't leave it to the last minute.

Deciding to study graphic design online is exciting. Thorough preparation gives you the best chance of gaining admission to quality programs.

Resources and Support

What Resources Do Online Programs Offer?

Quality online graphic design degrees provide many student resources and support services. Typical resources include:

  • Academic advisors & tutors
  • Writing, math and tech support centres
  • Career services & internship assistance
  • Student health and counseling
  • Learning management systems
  • Digital libraries and databases
  • Student organisations and clubs
  • Tech help desks

The goal is to ensure remote students can access all the tools and guidance they need to succeed. Top programs go the extra mile in virtual learning environments.

Does Accreditation Matter?

Yes! Accreditation is a mark of quality assurance that your degree meets national standards. It ensures your investment pays off with a meaningful qualification.

Look for programs accredited by bodies like:

  • National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Higher Learning Commission

Programmatic accreditation from NASAD is considered the gold standard. However, regional accreditation is also respected and vital.

Graduation and Beyond

Art Director Job Description

Practical Skills and Experience

The best online programs provide extensive hands-on training through:

  • Design courses using industry-standard software like Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Real-world client briefs and agency-style projects
  • Virtual internship placements
  • Portfolio development with feedback from instructors
  • Courses focused on skills like client management and branding

Remember those concerns about practical experience? Top online programs make this a central focus. The goal is to prepare you for immediate career success.

Career and Salary Outlook

Upon graduating with your online graphic design degree, you'll have many exciting creative careers open to you. Some popular options include:

Graphic Designer

  • Average Salary: $54,490 per year
  • Job Outlook: 3% growth (2019-2029)

Web Designer

  • Average Salary: $77,200 per year
  • Job Outlook: 8% growth (2019-2029)

Multimedia Artist/Animator

  • Average Salary: $77,700 per year
  • Job Outlook: 4% growth (2019-2029)

UX Designer

  • Average Salary: $89,561 per year

Brand & Marketing Designer

  • Average Salary: $59,573 per year

Many designers also choose to freelance full-time or work in a permanent position. The skills are hugely versatile – from publications to advertising to web/tech roles.

You could find yourself designing for non-profits, start-ups, global brands, design agencies, educational institutions, game developers, etc. The average salaries compare well against other creative fields.

Employers highly value candidates with up-to-date software skills, a diverse portfolio, and knowledge of modern design trends and best practices. You'll be in a prime position for success with an online degree.

In Conclusion

If you're artistic and imaginative with a passion for visual communication, an online graphic design degree could be the perfect fit. You'll cultivate crucial skills, build an impressive portfolio, and graduate ready to turn your creativity into a rewarding career.

Remember, the most fulfilment comes when you match your passion and talents to the right degree program and specialisation. Take the time to research options thoroughly and find that sweet spot. With an open mindset, self-discipline, and dedication, you will flourish as an online graphic design student.

Best of luck on your creative journey! Feel free to reach out with any further questions you may have.


Can I complete my entire graphic design degree online?

Yes, most programs offer fully online graphic design degrees at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's levels. All coursework, including major requirements, can be completed remotely without visiting a physical campus.

What kind of jobs can I get with an online graphic design degree?

Some common career paths include graphic designer, web designer, UX/UI designer, multimedia artist, brand designer, publication designer, art director, and more. Online degrees provide versatile training suitable for a wide range of creative roles.

Do employers value online design degrees as much as on-campus ones?

Employers care most about your skills, portfolio, and practical experience – not how you earned your degree. Provided your program is from an accredited institution, an online design degree holds just as much weight and credibility.

How long does it take to earn an online graphic design degree? Typical program durations are:

Associate's: 2 years (full-time)
Bachelor's: 4 years (full-time)
Master's: 1-2 years (full-time after bachelor's). Some accelerated programs allow you to progress faster, depending on your specific situation.

What are the technology and software requirements for online design programs?

This varies, but typically, you'll need a modern PC or Mac, design software like Adobe Creative Cloud, a digital drawing tablet, internet connection, image/video editing capabilities, etc. Programs provide tech requirement lists in their admissions information.

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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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