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Top 10 Graphic Design Schools and Colleges in the East – 2016

Written by ACR StaffNovember 28, 2016
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Our 2016 list of the Top 10 Graphic Design School Programs in the East.

For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.

1. Yale University School of the Arts, New Haven, Connecticut (Top 1% of schools considered)
Yale University home to more than 8,300 students well over 145 departments, schools and programs that cover the areas of art, architecture, divinity, drama, forestry and environmental studies, law, management, music, public health, and more. One of Yale’s top schools is the School of the Arts. Opened as Yale School of the Fine Arts in 1869 (Yale University was founded 1701), the School of the Arts was the nation’s first art school connected with an institution of higher learning. 

With 127 students enrolled (Fall 2015), the School of the Arts offers an MFA degree in Graphic Design. The Graphic Design MFA is a competitive program that accepts just 10 students each year and up to seven students into the preliminary-year program. Per the School, MFA applicants are expected to have “substantial and distinguished experience in visual studies and related professional experience.” Students can expect support for their graphic design collections in several ways: “studio work led by faculty meeting weekly; small five- or six-person thesis groups meeting biweekly; individual sessions with writing and editing tutors; and lectures, presentations, and workshops,” as well as “extraordinary resources of Yale University courses, conferences, films, lectures, and museums, and especially the extensive research and rare book collections of Sterling and Beinecke libraries.” 

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2. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island (Top 2% of schools considered)

Founded in 1877, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is a private art and design school that offers 32 graduate and undergraduate art and design programs to a population of nearly 2,500 students from across the U.S. and 57 other countries. Programs lead to a BFA, MFA, five-year Professional Baccalaureate, or a Bachelor of Architecture. Aspiring graphic designers have two options—a BFA or MFA. 

One of the largest departments at RISD, Graphic Design offers “countless opportunities to collaborate within and beyond the discipline,” thanks to access to approximately 165 undergraduate majors. The MFA program offers the same opportunity, as well as two tracks: a two-year option designed for students entering with undergraduate degrees in graphic design or other visual communication, and a three-year option designed for students with degrees in liberal arts, the sciences or fine arts.  An impressive 96 percent of all RISD graphic design graduates are employed one year after graduation. Seventy percent are employed in positions directly related to their major. 

3. Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland (Top 2% of schools considered)

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) was founded in 1826 making it the oldest degree-granting college of art in the nation. The school is home to more than 2,000 students enrolled in more than 80 programs leading to the BFA, MA, MFA, and MPS degrees. MICA also offers a variety of Certificate programs. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Graphic Design with three Concentrations including Graphic Design Studio, Book Arts Studio, and Graphic Design + Humanistic Studies. An MFA in Graphic Design (GD MFA) is also on the menu. 

The undergraduate graphic design curriculum at MICA features a three-year sequence of core design courses, while the 60-credit MFA program features two years of full-time study that combines “critical seminars, guided studio courses, and independent work.” Per the school, students in the MFA program may choose a concentration in Critical Studies or Curatorial Practices or “take advantage of electives in many MICA departments, including video, printmaking, and digital media.” 

4. Parsons The New School for Design, New York, New York (Top 3% of schools considered)

Parsons The New School for Design is home to more than 5,000 students enrolled in 27 undergraduate, graduate, and associate degree programs. Founded in 1896, Parsons houses five schools, including the School of Art and Design History and Theory, the School of Art, Media, and Technology (AMT), the School of Constructed Environments, the School of Design Strategies, and the School of Fashion. The School of Art, Media, and Technology, offers several degree programs for aspiring graphic designers. Offerings include an AAS in Graphic Design and a BFA in Communication Design. 

The AAS program provides a “solid foundation in the traditional practices and concepts of graphic design,” while the BFA covers typography and interaction. Sponsored projects are in the areas of publication, interaction design, branding, advertising, type design, information design, motion graphics, and environmental design. 

5. School of Visual Arts, New York, New York (Top 3% of schools considered)

The School of Visual Arts (SVA) attracts more than 4,000 students each year from across the U.S. and abroad. Founded in 1947 as “Cartoonists and Illustrators School,” SVA offers 11 undergraduate and 21 graduate degree programs in areas ranging from fine arts and graphic design to filmmaking and photography. The programs at SVA lead to a BFA, MFA, MA, MAT or MPS degree. 

Offerings for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Graphic Design that consists of 72 credits of studio art courses, 30 credits in humanities & sciences, 12 in history, and six elective credits. An internship is on the menu, as well as the opportunity to narrow your focus to package design, editorial design, information graphics, corporate identity, publication design, CD packaging, book jacket design, environmental design, or website design. 

6. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (Top 4% of schools considered)

Pratt institute, was founded in 1887 and it is home to more than 4,600 students enrolled in 22 undergraduate degree programs, 26 graduate degree programs, and a variety of Certificate and Minor programs across five schools and The Center for Continuing and Professional Studies. Founded in 2014, The School of Design offers “up to four of Pratt’s oldest and most esteemed disciplines,” including Communications Design (ComD), Fashion Design, Industrial Design, and Interior Design. 

Per the School of Design, the ComD program is the “the only program in the country that recognizes and embodies the convergence and integration of Illustration, Advertising, and Graphic Design as the primary forces for the visual expression of ideas.” Students may Concentrate in any of the three areas. The School of Design also houses the Graduate Communications Design Department which also offers MFA and MS degrees in Communications Design and an MS in Package Design. 

For students that are not ready to commit to a degree program, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) offers Certificate Programs in Digital Design including Graphic Design, Computer Graphics, Motion Graphics and others. These programs may be taken individually or “stacked” producing an “accelerated path to completion.” Like the undergraduate and graduate ComD programs, Certificate programs offer the opportunity to complete an internship.  

7. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Top 4% of schools considered)

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) was founded in 1887 and it is home to 13,650 students enrolled in more than 100 programs across seven colleges and schools. The College of Fine Art, School of Design, offers a Bachelor of Design degree (BDes), formerly BFA, that covers three areas of Specialty: Product (Industrial) Design, Communication (Graphic) Design, and Design of Physical and Digital Environments. Students may focus in one or all three areas, or pursue a more interdisciplinary focus that combines two of the three. 

Other undergraduate options include the Minor in Design and the Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Degree (BXA), which provides students with the ability to evenly balance their study of humanities or sciences with design. The Minor is for students admitted to other programs on campus who are interested in gaining “fundamental design skills and/or exposure to design.” 

Graduate options to consider are plentiful and include a one-year Master of Arts (MA) in Design program, a one-year Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Design for Interactions, a two-year Master of Design (MDes) in Design for Interactions program, and a PhD in Design Studies. 

8. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia (Top 5% of schools considered)

Established in 1838, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is home to 31,242 students enrolled in around 226 degree and Certificate programs across 15 colleges and schools. The School of the Arts, which comprises more than 3,000 students, offers 25 degree programs. An additional four programs are offered at VCU’s Qatar campus. The School of the Arts, Department of Graphic Design, has several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Communication Arts, and an MFA with a Concentration in Design/Visual Communications. 

Per the Department, students in the MFA program “concentrate on the philosophical, communicative, and aesthetic relationships of visual problem solving and the interacting skills leading to the effective articulation of concepts.” Undergraduate students will take courses in the areas of Publication and Print Design, Sequential and Motion Design, and Interaction Design, “along with a series of related Studio and Seminar courses.” This program prepares students to create effective visual communications. 

9. Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, Massachusetts (Top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1873 as a training institution for aspiring architects, artists, drawing teachers, and designers, Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) offers more than 20 undergraduate art programs, nearly a dozen graduate programs, and around seven Certificate programs to a population of around 2,000 students. The Graphic Design Department offers a BFA in Graphic Design that focuses on “learning by doing” in studio classes. Per the school, students are exposed to intensive critique as well as discussions and lectures “through a sequenced combination of required courses in the major, studio electives, technical workshops and computer lab-based courses.” 

Also on the menu is a 38-credit Graphic Design Certificate Program (GDC) designed for working adults who are interested in advancing into a career in graphic design. Thanks to an excellent reputation in the design community, graduates of the Certificate program obtain jobs in all areas of the industry. 

10. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York (Top 5% of schools considered)

Syracuse University (SU) was founded in 1870 and it is home to approximately 21,789 students from all 50 U.S. states and 123 countries. The school offers more than 400 programs across 12 colleges and schools and a graduate school. The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication houses the Department of Multimedia Photography and Design, along with 1,900 undergraduate students, 250 master’s degree students and 13 doctoral degree students. The Department offers BS degrees in Graphic Design and Multimedia Photography & Design (Graphic Design). Second degree and advanced degree options include BS degrees in Magazine or Advertising, an MA in Advertising, and an online MS in Communications with a Concentration in Advertising.