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Top 10 Graphic Design Schools and Colleges in the West – 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 on the West Coast. For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.

1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California (Top 2% of schools considered)

Established in 1961, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is the nation's first postsecondary institution to offer graduate and undergraduate degrees in both the Visual and Performing Arts. Created by Walt and Roy Disney, the school is now home to nearly 1,500 students enrolled in more than 70 programs across six schools including the Schools of Art, Critical Studies, Theater, and Film/Video, the Herb Alpert School of Music, and the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance. The School of Art is home to the Graphic Design program which leads to a BFA or MFA. 

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The BFA program is a full-time, four-year program that prepares students for a career in print and publication design, web and interface design, motion graphics for broadcast and film, branding, identity and type design, and design history and education. The MFA program offers two- and three-year options, including a Specialization in Motion Graphics. The Specialization prepares students to enter the commercial field of motion graphics. 

2. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California (Top 5% of schools considered)

Opened in 1930, the ArtCenter College of Design spans two campuses and four structures in the U.S. and Berlin. The school offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degrees in the areas of Industrial Design and Visual and Applied Arts. ArtCenter also offers a joint MS/MBA program with the Drucker School of Management. 

Programs for aspiring graphic designers are offered through the Graphic Design Department (GX) and include a BFA in Graphic Design and an MFA Graduate Graphic Design (MGx) degree. Students might also consider interdisciplinary programs such as the Desginmatters Concentration, which leads to a Certificate in Art and Design for Social Impact or the Integrated Studies Program, which covers essential skills and competencies, critical thinking and the creative process, cultural literacy and contextual reference, interdisciplinary experience, and quality of execution and professional practices. All programs offer internships and study abroad experiences. 

3. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (Top 5% of schools considered)

California College of the Arts (CCA) was founded in 1907 and it is home to nearly 2,000 students enrolled in 21 undergraduate and 13 graduate degree programs. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Graphic Design, a BA in Visual Studies, and an MA in Visual and Critical Studies. An MDes in Interaction Design is also on the menu. Graphic Design program highlights include the opportunity to immerse in the areas of Brand Identity, Print, Motion Graphics, and Screen-Based and Interactive Design, elective offerings that will “strengthen” students “design toolkit,” and the opportunity to gain real-world experience through CCA’s extensive internship program. 

CCA alumni have landed positions at innovative design firms, museums, publishing houses, technology companies, nonprofits, and more. 

4. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (Top 10% of schools considered)

Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by General Harrison Gray Otis—the founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Home to more than 1,000 students, OTIS offers more than a dozen interdisciplinary art and design programs from Animation and Motion Design to Graphic Design and Illustration. Specific programs for aspiring graphic designers are offered through the Communication Arts Department. Options include a BA in Graphic Design or a BA in Graphic Design with an Advertising Design Minor. Graduates of the Graphic Design and Advertising programs have landed positions at major companies such as Apple, Anthropologie, LACMA, Guess, Metro, Capitol Records, and others. 

5. Portland State University, Portland, Oregon (Top 10% of schools considered)

Portland State University (PSU) opened its doors in the summer of 1946 to 220 students. Today, the school is home to 29,000 students enrolled 226 degree programs across nine colleges and schools. The College of Arts is home to the Schools of Architecture, the School of Art + Design, the School of Music, and the School of Theater + Film. With 1,400 students enrolled, the School of Art + Design offers BA, BS, BFA degrees and Minors in areas from Art History to Graphic Design. 

The Graphic Design Program has three degree options—a BA, BS and a Minor. Program highlights include mostly studio-based courses, opportunities to engage in professional internships, and summer study abroad experiences such as Printmaking in Mexico and Art History in Rome.

6. Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon (Top 10% of schools considered)

Oregon State University (OSU) is home to more than 30,000 students in Corvallis, Bend, Newport and Portland, making it Oregon's statewide and largest university. Founded in 1868, the school offers some 200 undergraduate and 80-plus graduate degree programs across 11 academic colleges. The College of Liberal Arts-School of Arts and Communication offers a BFA in Graphic Design featuring “a hybrid curriculum that incorporates courses in new media, digital communications, art and design, as well as an innovative course on collaboration.” Graduates of the program are prepared for positions in a variety of areas such as print media, editorial design, marketing, advertising, branding, package design, web design, app design, interface design, interaction design, information design, motion graphics and more. 

7. San Diego State University, San Diego, California (Top 15% of schools considered)

Founded in 1897 and home to 35,000 students, San Diego State University (SDSU) is the oldest and largest university in San Diego and the third largest in California. The school houses seven colleges that offer nearly 160 undergraduate majors and minors, 16 pre-professional programs and nearly 100 graduate degrees and credentials. The College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts (PSFA) 10 core departments and schools, including the School of Art + Design. Here, students can earn a BA in Applied Arts and Sciences with an Emphasis in Graphic Design or Multimedia and an MA or MFA with an Emphasis in Graphic Design or Multimedia. Students may also focus on Book Arts or Illustration by choosing from an extensive collection of electives.    

The Graphic Design program features participation in a large internship program that “places students in professional settings in graphic design firms, interior design offices, galleries, museums and schools in the Southern California region and, specifically, the San Diego community.” The active study abroad program offers experiences in places such as Turkey, Scotland, Mexico, and Japan. Graphic design students are also involved in professional organizations such as the American Institute of Graphic Art (AIGA), the American Craft Council, and the Society of Photographic Education. 

Graduates of the art and design programs at SDSU hold titles such as Graphic Designer, Corporate Image Designer, Layout/Production Artist, Advertising Artist, Print Production Specialist, Graphic Illustrator, Technical Illustrator, and many others. 

8. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington (Top 15% of schools considered)

The University of Washington was founded in 1861 and it is home to more than 54,000 students enrolled in 165 majors across 16 colleges and schools. The College of Arts & Sciences is home to the Department of Art + Art History + Design, which offers a Bachelor of Design (BDes) in Visual Communication Design and a Master of Design (MDes). One of the largest undergraduate programs at the University of Washington, Visual Communication Design emphasizes “visual problem solving, organizational skills, and information theory.” Students engage in all phases of typography, information design, design systems, exhibition design, publication design, new media, and visual methods/processes. 

9. Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, Washington (Top 15% of schools considered)

Established in 1914, Cornish College of the Arts is home to 767 students from 35 states and 18 countries. The College offers BFA degrees in the areas of Art, Dance, Design, Film/Media, Interior Architecture, Music (BMus and Post-Baccalaureate Artist Diploma in Early Music), Performance Production, and Theater. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Design: Graphic Design, Motion Design, User Design and a BFA in Art: Printmaking, Digital Media, Painting, Photography, Video, Sculpture. 

All art and design students may complete an internship or study abroad. Recent examples of where Cornish students have studied Visual and Performing Arts include Accademia dell’Arte, Arezzo, Italy; Burren College of Art, Ballyvaughan, Ireland; Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, Scotland; NYU Berlin, Berlin, Germany; Temple University, Japan Campus, Minato, Japan; Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, Scotland; SACI, Florence, Italy; University of Tasmania, Hobart/ Launceston, Australia, and the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia. 

10. California State Polytechnic University Pomona, Pomona, California (Top 15% of schools considered)

Established in 1938 with an all-male enrollment of just 110 students, California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona) is one of only two polytechnic universities of the 23 California State University campuses and 11 in the U.S. Today, Cal Poly Pomona is home to a co-ed population of 23,966 students enrolled in more than 100 degree programs across eight colleges. The school’s College of Environmental Design, Department of Art, offers one program for aspiring graphic designers—a BFA in Graphic Design. 

Per the Department, the 180-unit program “focuses on intensive work in art and design supported by a program of general studies.” Students learn to work creatively in Typography, Print, Identity, Illustration, Packaging, Web Design, Motion Graphics, and Environmental Graphic Design.