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Top 25 Private Graphic Design Schools and Colleges in the U.S. – 2016

Written by ACR StaffNovember 28, 2016
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Our 2016 list of the Top 25 Private Graphic Design School Programs in the US. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Yale University School of the Arts, New Haven, Connecticut (Top 1% of schools considered)

Opened as Yale School of the Fine Arts in 1869, Yale University School of the Arts was the nation’s first art school connected with an institution of higher learning. Today, the School has a population of 127 students enrolled (Fall 2015), and it offers a competitive MFA degree in Graphic Design that accepts just 10 students each year and up to seven students into the preliminary-year program. 

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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.” 

About Yale: Yale University was founded in 1701 as the Collegiate School to educate students for “public employment both in Church and Civil State.” Today, the school is home to more than 8,300 students and it houses well over 145 departments, schools and programs covering the areas of art, architecture, divinity, drama, forestry and environmental studies, law, management, music, public health, and more. 

2. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island (Top 1% of schools considered)

One of the largest departments at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is the Graphic Design Department, which offers “countless opportunities to collaborate within and beyond the discipline.” This is thanks to an impressive 165 undergraduate majors—including the BFA in Graphic Design. 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. 

About RISD: Founded in 1877, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is home to 2,481 students from across the U.S. and 57 other countries. This private art and design school offers 32 graduate and undergraduate art and design programs leading to a BFA, MFA, five-year Professional Baccalaureate, or a Bachelor of Architecture. Aspiring graphic designers have two options—a BFA or MFA. 

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

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) offers 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.” 

About MICA: Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is 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. 

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

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is home to The School of Art, which offers both BFA and MFA degrees in Graphic Design. 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. 

About CalArts: Established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney, California Institute of the Arts is the nation's first postsecondary institution to offer graduate and undergraduate degrees in both the Visual and Performing Arts. The school is 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. 

5. Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (Top 2% of schools considered)

Cranbrook Academy of Art houses a 2D Department that is also home to the Graduate Graphic Design Department. The Department places emphasis on “the experimental.” Work being produced in the Department “falls on a continuum from book, poster and letterform design, through installation, social practices and contemporary art,” says the Academy. The program leads to an MFA in 2D Design (Graphic Design). 

About the Academy: Cranbrook Academy is a unique art and design school that began “informal art education” in the late 1920s. The Academy consists of 10 programs/departments including 2D Design, 3D Design, Architecture, Ceramics, Fiber, Metalsmithing, Painting, Print Media, Photography and Sculpture. Per the Academy, “each department is led by a full-time Artist or Designer-in-Residence who is the sole faculty member and head of the department. Each department has an enrollment of approximately 15 students, who are selected by the Artist-in-Residence.” Programs are “free of the formal course structure typical of most art schools and universities. Instead, the studio environment is the core of the curriculum with emphasis on developing an individual body of work.” 

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

Parsons The New School for Design is home to The School of Art, Media, and Technology (AMT), which 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. 

About Parsons: Founded in 1896, Parsons is home to more than 5,000 students enrolled in 27 undergraduate, graduate, and associate degree programs. Parsons houses five schools including the School of Art and Design History and Theory, the School of Art, Media, and Technology, the School of Constructed Environments, the School of Design Strategies, and the School of Fashion. 

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

School of Visual Arts (SVA) offers 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. 

About SVA: Founded in 1947 as “Cartoonists and Illustrators School,” School of Visual Arts (SVA) attracts more than 4,000 students each year from across the U.S. and abroad. The school 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. 

8. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (Top 3% of schools considered)

Founded in 2014, the School of Design at Pratt Institute 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 who 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 

About Pratt: Founded in 1887, Pratt institute 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. 

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

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is home to the College of Fine Art, School of Design, which offers a Bachelor of Design degree (BDes) 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. 

About CMU: Founded in 1900, Carnegie Mellon University is home to 13,650 students, enrolled in more than 100 programs across seven colleges and schools. 

10. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 4% of schools considered)

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers through its Visual Communication Design Department. Options include a BFA, MFA or Certificate in Graphic Design. The BFA program has two major areas of focus including Physical Media (print, objects, and environments) and Virtual Media (interactive and time-based media). The MFA program offers the opportunity to explore other related departments at SAIC such as Printmedia, Writing, Photography, Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects, and Film, Video, New Media, and Animation (FVNMA). The purpose of this opportunity is to “extend students’ design work into new territories.” The Graphic Design Certificate is designed for “students with an interest in exploring graphic design with an emphasis on print media,” says the Department. 

Other Graphic Design Program highlights include an active AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) student chapter, CIPB (Chicago International Poster Biennial)—an international competition representing leading designers from throughout the world, internship opportunities and the option to study abroad. 

About SAIC: Founded in 1866 as the Chicago Academy of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest accredited independent schools of art and design in the country. The school is home to 3,590 students enrolled in more than 25 programs. 

11. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California (Top 4% of schools considered)

The ArtCenter College of Design is home to the Graphic Design Department (GX), which offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include 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. 

About ArtCenter: The ArtCenter College of Design opened in 1930. The school, which spans two campuses and four structures in the U.S. and Berlin, 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. 

12. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (Top 5% of schools considered)

Savanah College of Art and Design (SCAD) 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. 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.  

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. 

About SCAD: 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. The school also offers 70 minors and certificate programs, as well as a large number of online programs. With campuses in Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France, SCAD also offers plenty of opportunities to study at both domestic and international locations. 

13. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida (Top 5% of schools considered)

Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) offers a BFA in Graphic Design that prepares students to design “show-stopping solutions for print and interactive media.” Students in the program will collaborate with other artists such as copywriters, printers, photographers, illustrators, and developers to “make their ideas a reality.” 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. 

About RCAD: Ringling College of Art and Design was established in 1931 by John Ringling—circus baron, art collector, and real estate developer. The school opened with 111 courses and just 75 students. Today, RCAD sits on a 35-acre campus and it is home to 1,300 degree-seeking students with 94% enrolled full-time, and 6% enrolled part-time. The school 

14. Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Top 5% of schools considered)

Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) offers a BFA in Graphic Design and Post-Baccalaureate Certificates in Graphic Design and Interactive Design and Marketing. An MFA in Visual Studies is also on the menu. Students in the 60-credit MFA program pursue creative work in Graphic Design, Illustration, Interactive Media, Paper and Book Arts, Printmaking, and many others. Students in all graphic design programs have the opportunity to gain practical, real-world experience through a required internship. The option to study abroad or elsewhere in the U.S. is also highlighted. 

About MCAD: Minneapolis College of Art and Design was established in 1886 and it is home to more than 700 students from 29 states and 12 countries. Of these, 50 percent are enrolled in Design and 25 are enrolled in Media Arts. The school offers 20-plus programs across several departments. 

15. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (Top 6% of schools considered)

California College of the Arts (CCA) offers a BFA in Graphic Design. Program highlights include the opportunity to study 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. Other degree options include a BA in Visual Studies, an MA in Visual and Critical Studies, and an MDes in Interaction Design. 

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

About CCA: California College of the Arts was founded in 1907. It is home to nearly 2,000 students enrolled in 21 undergraduate and 13 graduate degree programs. 

16. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (Top 6% of schools considered)

Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) offers a BA in Graphic Design and a BA in Graphic Design with an Advertising Design Minor. These programs are offered through the school’s Communication Arts Department. 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. 

About OTIS: Otis College of Art and Design was established in 1918 by the founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times—General Harrison Gray Otis. 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. 

17. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York (Top 6% of schools considered)

Syracuse University (SU) is home to the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, which houses the Department of Multimedia Photography and Design. This department is home to 1,900 undergraduate students, 250 master’s degree students and 13 doctoral degree students. Program for aspiring graphic designers include a BS in Graphic Design and a BS in 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. 

About SU: Syracuse University 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. 

18. Cooper Union, New York, New York (Top 7% of schools considered)

Art students at Cooper Union account for 32 percent of the entire student body. Besides housing one of Cooper Union’s largest majors, the School of Art offers a four-year BFA that is “committed to an integrated curriculum that encompasses the fundamental disciplines and resources of the visual arts including painting, sculpture, drawing, film and video, graphic design, photography and printmaking.” The Graphic Design Program leads to a BFA in Art with a Focus Graphic Design. Internship opportunities are highlighted as well as the opportunity to study abroad. 

About Cooper Union: Cooper Union was founded in 1859 as The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (CU). Today, the school is commonly known as CU, Cooper Union or The Cooper Union. CU offers programs in the areas of Art, Architecture and Engineering, as well as courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences. 

19. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York (Top 7% of schools considered)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is home to the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS), which houses the Department of Communication and Media (C&M). The Department has several offerings for aspiring graphic designers. Options include a BS in Communications with a Concentration in Graphic Design, a dual major—BS in Communication (with an emphasis in Graphic Design) and Design, Innovation, and Society (COMM/DSIS), a Communication Design Certificate and a Graduate Graphics Certificate.   

Graduates of HASS Department of Communication programs go on to enjoy careers in industry and government as graphic designers, brand managers, product designers, marketing strategists; content developers and editors; interaction designers; user experience designers; art directors; web designers, game designers, analysts and developers and more. 

About RPI: Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is a collection of five schools offering more than 145 programs to a population of 7,113 students. 

20. University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Top 8% of schools considered)

The University of the Arts (UArts) is home to the College of Art, Media and Design, School of Design, which offers BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Design, Art & Technology, an MFA in Book Arts + Printmaking, and Minors in Book Arts, Typography, and Multimedia. Students in the Graphic Design Program have the opportunity to choose courses from the Schools of Art, Film and Illustration or any cross-college program. All students have access to international opportunities such as study abroad, festivals, and workshops in countries such as Canada, France, and South Korea. 

About UArts: The University of the Arts is the nation’s only comprehensive arts university. The school, which traces its roots back to 1868, is home to around 1,900 students enrolled in 41 undergraduate and graduate programs through the College of Art, Media and Design, the College of Performing Arts, and the Division of Liberal Arts. 

21. Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri (Top 8% of schools considered)

Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) offers 13 academic disciplines in Art, Design and Media. Offerings for aspiring graphic designers include BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Interactive Arts. A BFA in Printmaking is also on the menu. Besides preparing students for a career in graphic design, the art and design programs at KCAI prepare students for some of the most competitive and professional programs. KCAI graduates have gone on to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), School of Visual Arts New York (SAIC), and Washington University, to name a few. 

About KCAI: Kansas City Art Institute has a 130-year history that includes notable names such as Walt Disney, who took classes here as a child, multimedia artist Robert Rauschenberg, who studied fashion design, writer Robert Morris, and performance artist and fabric sculptor Nick Cave, to name a few. The school is home to more than 600 students. 

22. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (Top 8% of schools considered)

Brigham Young University (BYU) is home to the College of Fine Arts and Communications , which houses 3,655 students enrolled in programs in the Department of Art, the School of Communications, the Department of Dance, the Department of Design, the School of Music, and the Department of Theater and Media Arts. Programs for aspiring graphic designers can be found in several departments and schools. Options include BA and BFA degrees in Graphic Design, and Minors in Design or Advertising Design in the Department of Design and a BFA in Art with a Focus in New Genres or Printmaking in the Department of Art. Other areas of study include Interaction Design, Motion Design, Visual Development, and Branding. 

About BYU: Brigham Young University was founded in 1875 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) It is home to 32,615 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in more than 380 undergraduate majors and minors, master’s programs and doctorate programs. The school houses dozens of colleges, schools, and departments that offer everything from Accounting to Visual Communications. 

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

Cornish College of the Arts offers a BFA in Design: Graphic Design, Motion Design, User Design and a BFA in Art: Printmaking, Digital Media, Painting, Photography, Video, Sculpture. Students in both programs have the opportunity to 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. 

About Cornish College of the Arts: Established in 1914 as the Cornish School, Cornish College of the Arts is home to 767 students from 35 states and 18 countries. The school 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. 

24. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 9% of schools considered)

Columbia College Chicago is home to the School of Fine and Performing Arts, which houses the Department of Design. The Department offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers including a BFA in Graphic Design and a BA in Graphic Design with Concentrations in Publication Design and Web Design. A BA in Advertising Art Direction is also on the menu for those interested in a second degree program. The School of Interactive Arts and Media also offers several options that complement Graphic Design. They include BA degrees in Social Media and Digital Strategy or Interaction Design, and a Web Development Minor. 

About Columbia College: Columbia College was established in 1890. It is home to more than 10,000 students enrolled in 100-plus academic majors or programs across three schools including the School of Fine and Performing Arts, the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the School of Media Arts. 

25. College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan (Top 9% of schools considered)

The College for Creative Studies (CCS) is home to a Graphic Design Department that has a population of 127 students, making it one of the top five largest departments at the school. Degree options for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Communication Design (Graphic Design), Interaction Design or Motion Graphics and MFA degrees in Interaction Design and Integrated Design. Degrees that complement Graphic Design include BFAs in Advertising: Copywriting, Advertising: Design and Fine Arts. 

All students have the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or a year in places such as Italy, Austria, Germany, Mexico, Paris, Australia, and more. Graduates of the Design programs at CCS are prepared to work in Graphic Design, Editorial Design, Environmental Design, Information Design, Interactive Design, Package Design, Publication Design, Web Design, and many others. 

About CCS: The College for Creative Studies was established in 1906 as The Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. The school is home to more than 1,400 students enrolled in over a dozen degree programs across 14 academic departments.