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

Written by ACR StaffNovember 28, 2016
Did You Know.....Full Sail University offers online degree programs in computer animation, game art, and game design? Learn more about Full Sail University's online programs.
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Our 2016 list of the Top 10 Graphic Design School Programs in the South. For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.

We define the South as Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas.

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1.  North Carolina State University at Raleigh, Raleigh North, Carolina (Top 1% of schools considered)

Founded in 1887, North Carolina State University at Raleigh (NC State Raleigh) is home to more than 34,000 students enrolled in 300 undergraduate and graduate degree programs through 65 departments and 12 colleges. The College of Design is home to the Graphic Design Program, which leads to a Bachelor of Graphic Design or a Master of Graphic Design. The College has recently established a PhD in Design/Information Design Concentration as well. The undergraduate and graduate degrees are NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) accredited and the PhD program is set to receive NASAD approval after graduating its first class. 

Per the College of Design, “students in the undergraduate program study comparative ideas about, and methods for, creating visual communication.” Sequenced core studios, typography courses, and image-making courses “progressively introduce and develop skills, processes, and sensitivities across a range of media.” Graduate students will “closely examine the cultural and technological situatedness of graphic design and its products, and to seek understanding of the people who use and interact with the things that graphic designers make.” 

2. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (Top 2% of schools considered)

Founded in 1978, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is home to more than 12,000 students enrolled in more than 40 degree programs, 70 minors and certificate programs, and a large number of online programs. The school also offers more graphic design programs than just about any other school on our list. Options include BA, BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in Graphic Design as well as a Minor and a Certificate Program. A Design Management MA is also on the menu. 

The Graphic Design Programs highlight Product Packaging, Entrepreneurship, Mobile Technology, Interface Design and User Experience. All students have the opportunity to declare a double major in the areas of Advertising, Branded Entertainment, Illustration, Motion Media Design, Sequential Art and more, and access to Minors such as Mobile and Interactive Design, Advertising Copywriting. Students may complement their degree with Certificates in Digital Publishing or Interactive Design as well. 

The BA degree is offered in Atlanta, Savannah and online and the BFA, MA, MFA, and Minor programs are offered in Atlanta, Hong Kong, Savannah, and online. With campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France, SCAD also offers plenty of opportunities to study at both domestic and international locations. 

3. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida (Top 2% of schools considered)

Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) opened with 111 courses and just 75 students in 1931. Today, the school sits on a 35-acre campus and it is home to 1,300 degree-seeking students. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Graphic Design. Students in the program will collaborate with other artists such as copywriters, printers, photographers, illustrators, and developers to “make their ideas a reality,” says the school. Graduates of the RCAD Graphic Design Program have been hired by companies such as Google, Facebook, Adult Swim, CBS Interactive, ESPN, Apple iTunes, Leo Burnett, Microsoft, Yahoo!, American Greetings, IGN Entertainment, Wieden + Kennedy, Walt Disney Company, Birchbox, Inc. and many others. 

4. University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia (Top 3% of schools considered)

The University of Georgia (UGA) was established in 1785 and it is home to 36,130 students enrolled in 170 majors and academic programs across 17 colleges and schools. The Lamar Dodd School of Art offers a BFA in Art with Concentrations in Graphic Design, Printmaking & Book Arts, and ArtX: Expanded Forms. An Interdisciplinary Art & Design A.B., a Minor in Studio Art, and MFA degrees in ArtX and Printmaking are also on the menu. All art and design students have access to a large study abroad program that offers experiences on all seven continents and UGA campuses in Costa Rica, Central America; Cortona, Italy, and Oxford, England. 

5. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Top 3% of schools considered)

Louisiana State University (LSU) has been around since 1860. The school is home to more than 31,500 students enrolled in over 200 programs across 11 colleges and schools. The College of Art + Design, School of Art offers two degree programs for aspiring graphic designers including a BFA and MFA in Graphic Design. The curriculum includes study in the areas of Typography, Print and Editorial Design, Information Design, Digital Imaging, Packaging, Environmental Design, Identity Design, and Branding. 

Other program highlights include an internship course that may lead students to cities such as New York, Atlanta and Dallas, and access to the Graphic Design Student Association (GDSA) which regularly holds extracurricular field trips and lectures, the Graphic Design Student Office (GDSO), and AIGA (the Professional Association for Design), which offers a student chapter and regional association with the New Orleans AIGA. 

6. University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida (Top 4% of schools considered)

The University of Florida (UF) opened in 1858 as the Gainesville Academy. The school is home to more than 52,500 students enrolled in more than 100 undergraduate majors and 200 graduate programs across 16 colleges. The College of the Arts, School of Art + Art History offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include a BFA in Graphic Design and a graduate MFA in Studio Art with a Graphic Design Concentration. Students may also take studio courses as a non-major. Per the School, the BFA and MFA programs are “centered on a uniquely collaborative studio/classroom environment where students build a vibrant learning community to foster exceptional creativity and innovation.” 

Recent graduates of UFGD are working at major companies such as Apple and Intuit, and teaching at schools such as University of Alabama at Birmingham, Auburn University, Ball State University, Roger Williams University, Ohio University, the University of Houston-Downtown, and Western Oregon University. 

7. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Top 5% of schools considered)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill) was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795 as the nation’s first public university. The school is home to more than 29,000 students enrolled in 78 bachelors, 112 master's, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. The School of Media and Journalism offers a unique undergraduate program for aspiring graphic designers: a BA in Media and Journalism with a Specialization in Editing & Graphic Design. A Certificate in Technology and Communication is also on the menu, which may complement the Editing & Graphic Design Specialization. Per the School, “editing and graphic design courses reflect the need for journalists to be proficient in both print and online forms, including social media.” 

Students in the program develop skills in caption writing, page design, story editing, headline writing, and alternative story forms. In addition, “students may take advantage of advanced instruction in Information Graphics, 3D Design and Motion Graphics,” as well as study and intern abroad programs. 

UNC Chapel Hill offers several graduate options that may interest graduates of the BA in Media and Journalism Program. Offerings include an MA in Mass Communication with a Specialization in Electronic Communication, Strategic Communication or Visual Communication/Editing/Multimedia, and a MA in Technology and Communication (MATC), which, focuses on focuses on Interactive Media, the Internet, Digital Economics and “other issues reshaping journalism and mass communication in the 21st century.” 

8. Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama (Top 5% of schools considered)

Established in 1856 as the East Alabama Male College, Auburn University is home to a co-ed student population of 28,290 students enrolled in more than 140 degree options across 13 colleges and schools. The College of Architecture, Design and Construction is home to in the School of Industrial + Graphic Design, which offers a Graphic Design Program (GDES) that leads to a BFA. The program emphasizes Fine Arts, Exhibitions, Identity Development, Logos, Visual/Digital Interface, Packaging, and Magazine Design. Auburn GDES is the only NASAD-accredited Graphic Design Program in Alabama. 

9. University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee (Top 6% of schools considered)

University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) was founded in 1794 at Blount College. It is home to more than 28,000 students enrolled in 300+ degree programs and 170+ undergraduate majors, concentrations, and specializations across 11 colleges. The College of Arts and Sciences, School of Art has several options for aspiring graphic designers including a BFA degree in Graphic Design, BA and BFA degrees in Studio Art, and MFA degrees in Transmedia Design and Printmaking. Per the School, Graduates of School of Art are prepared to pursue graduate work or careers such as Fine Artist, Graphic Designer, Digital Artist, Photographer, Media/Film Artist, and Arts Administrator, to name a few. 

10. Memphis College of Art, Memphis, Tennessee (Top 6% of schools considered)

Memphis College of Art opened on March 16, 1936 as Memphis Art School. The school is home to 400-450 students representing 25 states and five foreign countries enrolled in a variety of BFA degree programs in Visual Arts and five MFA degree programs. Options for aspiring graphic designers are offered in the Department of Design and include BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Design Arts with a Concentration in Graphic Design, and an MFA in Studio Art. Graphic design students can expect to study Advertising Design, App Design, Brand Identity, Data Visualization and Mapping, Design Research, Design Theory, Design Thinking, Digital Design, Exhibition Design, Information Design, Packaging Design, Publication Design, Signage Design, Social Design, Sustainable Design, System Design, Typography, Way Finding Design and Web Design. 

Around 82 percent of MCA graduates report working in an art-related field and 95 percent report working in any field or graduate school.