As an industry that combines creativity, communication, engineering, collaboration, and business acumen, it is easy to see how a graphic design program may appeal to a wide range of students.
Those who like the idea of working for themselves may gravitate closer to a graphic design job, where freelancers account for 90% of the total industry workforce.
The graphic industry also promises to be a lucrative career field – as more companies strive to establish an online presence, the need for exceptional talent in digital design is stronger than ever.
The global graphic designer market exceeded $45 billion in 2021, with over 25% of that amount stemming from the US market.
Here are our picks for ten of the best graphic design colleges in the US – from the East Coast to the West Coast and through international student exchange programs, students attending these institutions will benefit from working alongside graphic design titans and experimenting with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.
Here are our picks for 10 of the best graphic design schools in the US.
Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD)
The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) three-year graphic design program exposes students to typography, theoretical perspectives, and plenty of studio experience. Students enjoy a great deal of flexibility in their elective choices, and first-year students choose one studio elective each from the following categories: Color and Design, Form and Space, Systems and Time.
As students progress through the curriculum, they might take a higher-level course such as GD 307: Product Design and Prototyping.
In this context, students work as part of a small team to create an innovative digital product.
Simultaneously, they analyze product design from the perspective of a business, consumer, and larger tech industry.
MICA graduates obtain jobs as fine artists, art educators, entrepreneurs, and graphic designers after they leave the Institute.
Currently, MICA alumni work at high-profile companies like Kate Spade, the Museum of Modern Art, NPR, and Under Armour.
Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI)
RISD offers a four-year BFA in Graphic Design – their cohesive program prepares students to critique communication effectiveness, respond to communication needs through diverse forms of media, utilize up-to-date software and technology, and define a professional brand and identity.
Students benefit from the constructive feedback of visiting designers who frequent RISD regularly.
The school’s facilities include top-notch 3D printers and lighting studios, and equipment such as binding machines, proofing presses, and silkscreen studios.
In their senior year, RISD students might take a class like Design in the Posthuman Age, where they endeavor to understand a modern problem through visual research-based projects, then use graphic design to illuminate ethical issues that emerge from innovations in technology and science.
The degree project affords seniors the space to harness their talents, interests, and stories into a culminating piece or portfolio.
RISD graphic alumni are leading industry experts. Alum Nicholas Felton was a lead designer of Facebook’s timeline and co-creator of the Reporter app for iOS.
Forough Abadian and Jada Akoto both recently appeared on the 2022 Students to Watch list, published by Graphic Design USA.
Three additional alumni united to create the 2 x 4 global design consultancy in NYC – the group has developed brand strategies for superstar clients like Calvin Klein, Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, and Harvard University.
California College of the Arts (Oakland, CA)
The California College of the Arts boasts a highly-regarded STEM-designated graphic design program, currently ranked #14 in the nation.
Students have exceptional opportunities at the College of the Arts when it comes to internships, facilities, and courses.
The student-to-faculty ratio is a mere 8:1, and first-year students benefit from close mentorship relationships with faculty from the first day of class.
As part of the First-Year Core Studio Program, students enroll in core humanities and sciences classes, then choose studio electives in an area of interest.
The Rapid Prototyping Studio is one of the college’s neatest facilities – the space is dedicated to fabrication and prototyping enabled by computers, with tools that include laser cutters, engravers, and 3D printers.
Students can experiment with a variety of mediums in the studio, including wood, rubber, glass, and stone.
When it comes to career preparation, the Bay Area is home to myriad tech companies, cultural centers, and design studios where students can hone their skills and eventually gain employment. Current alumni work for organizations like Atlassian, Bonfire Labs, and MacFadden & Thorpe.
University of the Arts (Philadelphia, PA)
What sets the University of the Arts apart from other schools on this list is its emphasis on cross-disciplinary collaboration.
Classes like GDES 410 Portfolio and Brand Development guide students in creating a full branding project that includes physical and digital components.
Beginning in the first year, students develop skills in drawing, communicating, using technology, and working as part of a team. Student projects blossom from sociocultural, political, and technology issues, and many alumni move on to build their own firms or work at successful organizations like Comcast, Apple, and the American Museum of Natural History.
In addition to the many opportunities that Philadelphia has to offer budding graphic designers, students can also apply to participate in a Semester Abroad or Study Away program in their junior or senior year.
There are also Short Travel programs that occur during academic breaks. In the winter 2022 break, for example, three cohorts of students traveled to Japan, Kenya, and London.
ArtCenter College of Design (Pasadena, CA)
At the ArtCenter College of Design, students build graphic identities using packaging, literature, 3D motion, and apps. Classes like Generative Design even teach students how to use code and scripting to create design elements.
The school offers free classes like the Revamp It workshop, where students receive guidance in improving type/letterform skills and logo/symbol manipulation.
Students also have the opportunity to explore topics through two special programs: the 14-week Sponsored Studio and the 3-day DesignStorm.
Juniors and seniors can participate in Sponsored Studio projects, where they partner with brands like Land Rover, Adidas, Visa, and Amazon to develop intellectual property – many are even compensated well for their developments! Others earn internships and job placements due to this experience.
The DesignStorms are more intimate, uniting 15 students, three faculty members, and a sponsor’s design team to explore a specific problem or issue. Students receive feedback as they work to complete a final presentation on day three of the “storm.”
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (New York, NY)
Cooper Union is ranked as the #1 Best Value School and Most Innovative School by the 2022 U.S. News and World Report.
Cooper Unio’s School of Arts offers a four-year BFA program with an integrated curriculum that requires students to experiment with painting, drawing, graphic design, printmaking, and other media.
In addition to taking graphic design courses, students also take classes in calligraphy and AV projects.
In an upper-level class like FA 315A Advanced Design, students create three impactful projects, each critiqued by a visiting designer: one in web design, one in type design, and one as part of a guest artist series.
The School of Art offers international exchange programs in locations like Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Kyoto.
For high school students interested in attending Cooper Union, the Summer Art Intensive is a great option where they can build a professional portfolio for the purpose of applying to design schools.
Participants choose one of four concentrations – animation, digital photography, graphic design, or drawing – and experience collaborating with guest artists, as well.
Otis College of Art and Design (Los Angeles, CA)
Otis’ Communication Arts program offers two areas of focus: graphic design and animation. Students pursuing careers in graphic design will experiment with brand development, logo creation, package design, web and app design, and poster creation.
A typical sophomore student might enroll in a class like CAIL200 Creative Action Lecture, where they work as members of transdisciplinary teams with a Los Angeles community partner to create or revitalize a brand or product.
The Senior Capstone course requires students to highlight a theme that encapsulates elements from their own identity and practice.
Graduates earn design positions at creative brands like Guess, Anthropologie, and Capitol Records; additionally, they can expect to earn high salaries immediately after college.
Otis College is ranked #6 in the nation for Post-Graduation Median Earnings, according to The Economist.
Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
Carnegie Mellon is one of the most impressive graphic design schools on this list. The school recently received a $10 million gift from an alumnus to establish the Joseph Ballay Center for Design Fusion, which will serve as a center for design classes, sponsored projects, and community collaborations.
Undergraduates can earn a BDes (Bachelor of Design degree), which they can customize to suit their own needs by choosing among courses in each of the three main tracks: products, communications, and environments.
Students on the communications track focus on narrative storytelling and future-casting. Environment track students look for inspiration in contexts like airports, retail stores, museums, and even schools.
In the products track, for example, students experiment with engineering and robotics. Recently, eight students in a Product Design 3 course worked to create a first responder mobile water filtration system to provide clean drinking water to communities within the first two days of an emergency, an intervention that can assist until larger EMS arrive on the scene.
CMU also offers a unique program called IDeATe – Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology – which allows students to collaborate with majors in other disciplines on projects in special effects, game design, educational technology, and entrepreneurship.
There are various clubs formed specifically for graphic design students. The AIGA gives graphic design students a networking environment where they can attend galleries, fundraisers, and design landmarks.
The ISDA connects aspiring designers with professionals in the community; additionally, members embark on day trips and weekend excursions, as well as trips to the annual regional conference.
Carnegie Mellon graduates earn some of the highest salaries after graduation, compared to students from other schools.
A recent survey of 2017-2018 graduates revealed a salary range of $52,000 to $130,000, with an average salary of $86,250.
Massachusetts College of Art and Design (Boston, MA)
The Massachusetts College of Art and Design offers a graphic design program through their BFA in Communication Design, where students create solutions for package and publication design, app and website design, and brand development.
In a class like CDGD357 Identity Systems, students explore all areas of the branding process and create a prototype with print and digital samples.
CDGD368 Disobedient Design: From Activist Posters to Augmented Reality is another intriguing course offering inspired by the November 2016 protests; in this course, students analyze acts of resistance and create posters, websites, AR experiences, and digital installations to respond to a modern issue.
Students are highly encouraged to complete an internship during their studies at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Boston offers a thriving location to network and build a professional resume.
Savannah College of Art & Design (Savannah, GA)
At SCAD, graphic design students learn alongside experts from Airbnb, Google, Hasbro, and other iconic companies. While some students pursue projects in advertising and media, others gravitate to the burgeoning fields of virtual and augmented reality.
SCAD’s BFA in graphic design includes courses like interface design and systems visualization. In a class like GRDS 376 Business Practices for Graphic Design, students will navigate typical design issues, like determining pricing structures, giving estimates, providing invoices, and building relations with clients.
SCAD alumni go on to work for organizations like CNN and LinkedIn – graduate Shandon Melvin is currently the creative director for the NFL, where he oversees the league’s identity and branding of all teams.
The school regularly invites successful alumni to return to the school and impart their knowledge and experience as part of the visiting lecturer series – additional speakers include Henry Kim (the senior creative director of The Coca-Cola Company), the UX visual design team from Google, and Grammy Award-winning designer Stefan Sagmeister.