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

If you’re a graphic designer consider a graduate degree, an online master’s in graphic design program offers convenience and flexibility that can’t be compared to brick-and-mortar colleges and universities. Online programs offer the same level of 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 important to take the time to compare master’s in graphic design programs to identify which is the best fit for your needs.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Graphic Design

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION POSSIBLE CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
3D Modeling & Animation Obtain the skills and knowledge to develop visual content for movies, animated web content, video games and other media. 3D animator for films, video games and web content, often a freelancing position
Web Design Focuses on the core digital standards for today’s website designs. This program will explain how to blend artistic license with the usability and functionality internet users expect from a website. Website designer, often a freelance position
Visual Communications Gain in-depth design knowledge needed to engage theoretical design concepts, pursue a career in design education or conduct design-related research. Graphic design educator in a high school or higher learning institution

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Graphic Design

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, make sure the courses offered sync with your professional goals before making your decision. 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 basic courses that most programs offer. These courses may be under different names and include:

COURSES DESCRIPTION
History of Graphic Design Learn the evolution of visual communication and how technology has impacted graphic design standards and potential.
Interactive Design Apply visual theories towards 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.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Graphic Design?

For most online master’s in graphic design programs, students should expect to invest in two years of school to complete their degree. This can change, however, depending on curriculum’s structure. Some programs require students to go through classes together, as a group, prohibiting any advancement without the rest of the group. Others allow students to complete their work based on their own understanding of concepts, allowing flexible options for taking additional classes so a degree can be obtained in less time. For most programs, the class completion requirement for a master’s in graphic design is around 30 credits.

If you’re interested in obtaining your degree faster, you can reduce the amount of time needed by finding a program that allows you to dictate the pace of your learning. Accelerated programs often condense information into shorter class times. Check to see if each course is offered all year so you don’t have to wait to take a specific class you need for your degree.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Graphic Design Prepares For

CERTIFICATION DESCRIPTION
Adobe Certification Adobe software is a staple in the graphic design world, and there are several certifications available to demonstrate proficiency in Adobe tools. Specifically, certification in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign provide evidence a graphic designer has mastered the use of the company’s offerings relevant to the industry.
CIW Certification CIW is known for its educational standards regarding web design and offers two professional certifications. Graphic designers have the option of taking exams for Web Design Specialist Certification and E-Commerce Specialist Certification. Obtaining both awards the CIW Web Design Professional Certification.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Graphic Design Degrees

When choosing your online master’s in graphic design program, one of the first things you should look for is the accreditation awarded to the offering institution. Accreditation is given when a school or program meets the educational standards of the awarding agency. Without accreditation from a respected agency, students who earn their degree put themselves at risk for lost job opportunities and an inability to further their education due to non-transferable credits.

In graphic design, look for accreditation from the U.S. Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation. These two agencies set the standard for educational quality and approve accrediting organizations that meet these standards. There are also several agencies that offer regional accreditation which sometimes holds more weight with potential employers. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is an industry-specific agency with set standards that directly relate to graphic design. At a minimum, any institution you choose should be accredited by at least one of these agencies.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Graphic Design Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

Graphic design is a highly competitive industry that continues to evolve with the emergence of new technologies and platforms. Most employers require a degree, and obtaining a master’s in graphic design will give you an edge over designers who hold a bachelor’s degree. Completing an online master’s degree in graphic design will demonstrate you have a deeper knowledge of your industry that translates to better, more effective designs.

Expected Salary

A competitive edge in job placement isn’t the only benefit of completing an online master’s in graphic design program. Your efforts will also be rewarded with an ability to command a higher salary.

Job Title Salary Range
Senior Graphic Designer $43,216-$83,057
Creative Director $46,551-$154,149
Web Designer $33,721-$74,170
3D Animator $34,435-$96,843
Multimedia Designer $34,955-$76,474
Artistic Director $27,526-$92,430

Source: PayScale.com

With digital graphic design still being a relatively new field, it would be a great time to develop techniques and knowledge with a master’s degree program. Below are charts showing in-demand skills which improve digital designer salaries and job prospects, and the percent of employment of digital designers based on their experience level.

In-Demand Hard Skills that Improve Digital Designer Salaries
Employment of Digital Designers Based on Years of Experience

Source: PayScale.com

Career Opportunities

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Graphic Designer Graphic designers develop visual concepts for animation, web design, advertising and other areas using computer graphics software or by hand. These concepts can include artwork, layout, color schemes and other visual factors. $48,700 per year 4%
Desktop Publisher Desktop publishers use their graphic design skills to create layouts for printed or online works, such as books, advertising campaigns or newspapers. $42,350 per year -14%
Creative Art Director The creative art director oversees 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. $92,500 per year 5%
Multimedia 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 type of media. $70,530 per year 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, access to upcoming software innovations and networking opportunities. Many offer 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 (AIGA): The AIGA holds the spot as the largest professional graphic design organization in the country. Members can enjoy the networking benefits of graphic design forums and in-person social events, take part 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 (SI): The Society of Illustrators was one of the first organizations for graphic designers and illustrators. The organization offers message boards for member discussions and maintains updated blogs and newsletters to keep graphic designers in the know. Educational programs are offered along with contests and awards for graphic design professionals.

International Council of Design (ico-D): This network of graphic design organizations is the largest of its kind 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

An online master’s in graphic design program is often less expensive than a traditional on-campus program, but some students may still find themselves in need of financial assistance. When searching for additional funding options, the first actions you take should be filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This gives you access to federally funded grant and loan programs. There are also several scholarship programs that can help reduce the out-of-pocket price of your graduate degree. The resources below will get you started.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

Design Sponge Scholarship Program

Award: $250-$2,500

Deadline: November 27

Eligibility: High school seniors, undergraduate students or graduate students majoring in qualifying design areas, including graphic design.

Graphic Design Degree Hub Creativity Scholarship

Award: $1,500

Deadline: July 31 and October 31

Eligibility: Graphic design undergraduate and graduate students attending an accredited college or university who are U.S. citizens and hold at least a 3.0 GPA.

Halucinated Design Scholarships

Award: $1,000

Deadline: June 1

Eligibility: Incoming freshmen, undergraduate or graduate students majoring in graphic design who submit a creative design project, in any medium, to demonstrate their talent and artistic passion.

Werner B. Thiele Memorial Scholarship

Award: $1,000

Deadline: May 1

Eligibility: This scholarship is for full-time undergraduate or graduate students majoring in graphic design with at least a 3.0 GPA. Candidates must also be enrolled at a GEF-designated resource center at one of the following institutions – Pittsburgh State University, Western Michigan University, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Murray State University, Clemson University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Arizona State University or California Polytechnic State University at the sophomore level or above.

WorldStudio AIGA Scholarships

Award: $500-$5,000

Deadline: March 27

Eligibility: Undergraduate or graduate graphic design students attending an accredited university with at least a 2.0 GPA and who demonstrate significant financial need.