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Top 25 Public Graphic Design Schools and Colleges in the U.S. – 2015

Written by ACR StaffDecember 3, 2015
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Our 2015 list of the Top 25 Public Graphic Design School Programs in the US. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia (Top 1% of schools considered)

Established in 1838, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is home to more than 31,000 students enrolled in around 226 certificate and degree programs across 13 schools and one college. The School of the Arts is home to the Department of Graphic Design. The Department offers two programs for aspiring graphic designers. Students may choose between the BFA in Graphic Design or the MFA with a Concentration in Visual Communications (Graphic Design).

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

North Carolina State University (NC State) was established in 1887 and it is home to nearly 34,000 students enrolled in more than 300 degree programs across 12 colleges and 65 departments. The College of Design, Department of Art and Design, offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Programs include a BA in Graphic Design and a Master of Graphic Design. The master’s program allows students to enroll in a three-credit elective at nearby Duke University or UNC/Chapel Hill under NC State tuition.

3. Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Top 1% of schools considered)

Founded in 1884, Temple University is home to nearly 38,000 students enrolled in 421 academic programs across 17 colleges and schools. Temple’s Tyler School of Art offers several unique programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include BFA and MFA degrees in Graphic & Interactive Design. Students in both programs have the opportunity to participate in Temple University’s Rome Program. The Program manages the Graphic Design Collaborative Workshop, which takes place during a six-week summer session in Rome.

4. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (Top 2% of schools considered)

The University of Cincinnati dates back to 1819. It is home to more than 44,000 students enrolled in hundreds of programs across 13 colleges and a graduate school. The College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) is home to the School of Design, which houses the Communication Design program. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a Master of Design (MDes) with an Emphasis in Visualization and Product Interaction, and a BS in Graphic Communication Design (formerly Graphic Design).

5. University of North Texas, Denton, Texas (Top 2% of schools considered)

The University of North Texas was founded in 1890. It is home to more than 36,000 students enrolled in 99 bachelors, 83 masters and 36 doctoral degree programs across 11 colleges and schools. The College of Visual Arts & Design houses the Design Department, which offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include a BFA in Communication Design (Graphic Design) as well as MA and MFA degrees in Design.

6. Portland State University, Portland, Oregon (Top 2% of schools considered)

Founded in 1946, Portland State University is home to more than 28,000 students enrolled in 120-plus majors, minors and concentrations across eight schools. The College of the Arts, School of Art + Design offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Offerings include BA and BS degrees in Graphic Design. The School of A+D also offers a Minor in Graphic Design.  

7. Kent State University, Kent, Ohio (Top 2% of schools considered)

Founded in 1910, Kent State University (KSU or Kent State) is home to 27,500 students enrolled in more than 300 degree programs across dozens of colleges, schools, and departments. The College of Communication and Information, School of Visual Communication Design offers a variety of degree programs for aspiring graphic designers. Undergraduate options include BA and BFA degrees in Visual Communication Design. Graduate level options include MA and MFA degrees in Visual Communication Design.

8. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (Top 3% of schools considered)

Arizona State University (ASU) was established in 1885. It is home to more than 80,000 students and houses five campuses including Tempe, West (Glendale), Polytechnic (Mesa), Downtown Phoenix, and Thunderbird (Glendale). The Tempe campus is home to the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (ASU Herberger). The Institute offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs for aspiring graphic designers including a Bachelor of Science in Design (BSD) in Graphic (Visual Communication) Design and a Master of Science in Design (MSD) with a Concentration in Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design).

Also known as MVCD, the MSD program features two-year and three-plus-year options. The Two-year program is a studio-based program that consists of 60 hours of study and the three-plus-year program is a 102-hour studio-based program. The 102-hour program is designed for students that do not have an undergraduate degree in visual communication or graphic design.

9. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (Top 3% of schools considered)

The University of Kansas (KU) opened its doors in September 1866. It is home to around 28,000 students from all 50 states and 105 countries. One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities, KU houses 13 schools, which offer more than 360 degree programs. The School of Architecture, Design and Planning is home to the Department of Design. Established in 1920, the Department offers five design programs. Offerings for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Visual Communication in Graphic Design. The program is “networked with local advertising and promotional agencies,” where students may complete an internship as part of the degree.

10. Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon (Top 3% of schools considered)

Founded in 1868, Oregon State University is home to more than 30,000 students enrolled in 200-plus undergraduate and more than 80 graduate degree programs across 13 colleges and schools. The College of Business is home to the School of Design & Human Environment (SDHE), which offers a BFA in Graphic Design. Through the SDHE Internship program, graphic design students have the opportunity to work at a local company to gain experience and contacts in the industry. Design students also have the opportunity to study abroad in London or Rome.

11. University of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison, Wisconsin (Top 4% of schools considered)

The University of Wisconsin – Madison (UW-Madison) was founded in 1848. It is home to 43,389 students enrolled in more than 300 programs across 21 colleges and schools. The School of Education offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers including a BS and a BFA in Art with a Concentration in Graphic Design. Several graduate programs are also offered through the School of Education. Options include MA and MFA degrees in Art with a Focus in Graphics. The School also offers a Doctoral Minor in Art. Students may choose from several focus areas in the minor, including Graphics.

12. San Diego State University, San Diego, California (Top 4% of schools considered)

Founded in 1897, San Diego State University (SDSU) is the oldest and largest university in San Diego and the third largest in the State of California. SDSU is home to around 30,000 students from more than 100 countries. It offers nearly 160 undergraduate majors and minors, 16 pre-professional programs, and nearly 100 graduate degrees and credentials. The school houses seven colleges including the College of Professional Studies & Fine Arts, which is home to the School of Art and Design. The School offers a variety of programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include a BA in Applied Arts & Sciences with a Major in Art. This program features an Emphasis in Graphic Design. MA and MFA degrees in Studio Arts are also on the menu. Both graduate programs also offer an Emphasis in Graphic Design. 

13. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (Top 4% of schools considered)

The University of Arizona (UA) was established in 1885. It is home to more than 40,000 students enrolled in 300-plus majors across 21 colleges, 20 schools, and dozens of departments. The College of Fine Arts is home to the School of Art, which offers two programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include BFA and MFA degrees in Studio Art with a Visual Communications Emphasis. Program highlights include a wide range of internship opportunities and a variety of study abroad programs. Please note that the name of this program will become “Illustration & Design” effective Fall 2016. The program will still provide the education and training needed to become a graphic designer.

14. California State University - Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California (Top 4% of schools considered)

Established in 1947, California State University - Los Angeles (Cal State LA) is home to 27,000 students enrolled in 300-plus programs across eight colleges and dozens of departments. The College of Arts and Letters, Department of Art offers a BA in Graphic Design/Visual Communication. The program prepares students to work in today’s digital media and print industries. Besides internship opportunities, the program offers access to the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, the TV, Film and Media Center, and internship opportunities at the Getty Center. 

15. Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas (Top 5% of schools considered)

Established in 1903 as Southwest Texas State Normal School, Texas State University is home to more than 38,000 students enrolled in nearly 200 programs across nine colleges. The College of Fine Arts & Communication houses three schools and two departments. The School of Art + Design offers two programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include a BFA in Communication Design (ComDes) with a Graphic Design Focus and an MFA in Communication Design (ComDes). Classes for both programs are taught in a studio environment, with class sizes limited to 20 students. The programs also highlight internship opportunities with a variety of Austin and San Antonio firms, as well as companies across the U.S. and in Europe.

16. San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California (Top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1899 as San Francisco State Normal School, San Francisco State University (SFSU) is home to 30,500 students enrolled in 140-plus undergraduate and graduate programs, 17 credential programs and 38 certificate programs across seven colleges. The College of Liberal & Creative Arts is home to the Department of Design and Industry (DAI). The Department offers a BS in Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design and Interactive Digital Media).

The BS in Visual Communication Design (BSVCD) program is for students who “intend to focus their studies on design problems along a spectrum anchored by graphic design and digital media and with outcomes including print graphics, information design, web design, interaction design, and motion graphics.” Aspiring graphic designers might also consider the Master of Arts (MA) in Industrial Arts, which allows students to study Visual Communication Design/Graphic Communications. A Minor in Industrial Arts is also on the menu, which covers graphics and digital media and design, among other related subjects.

17. Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio (Top 5% of schools considered)

Bowling Green State University (BGSU) was founded in 1910 and it is home 19,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs across nine colleges. The College of Arts and Sciences is home to the School of Art, which houses the Division of Graphic Design (BGSUGD). The Division offers a BFA in Graphic Design. Graduates of the program go on to become graphic designers, communications specialists, and art directors in a variety of fields with major corporations and creative firms across the U.S. 

18. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Top 6% of schools considered)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill) is the nation’s first public university. Chartered in 1789, UNC 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, which is home to 650 undergraduates and 135 graduate students, offers a variety of unique bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees for aspiring graphic designers. Two such degrees are the BA in Journalism & Mass Communication with a Specialization Editing & Graphic Design, and the JD/MA dual degree with a Specialization in Visual Communication/Editing/Multimedia.

In addition to unique degree options for graphic designers, the School of Media and Journalism manages six study abroad exchanges in Paris, London, Brisbane, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, and Pamplona.

19. University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas (Top 6% of schools considered)

The University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington or UTA) was established in 1895 as Arlington College. In 1967, after six name changes beginning in 1902, the school became the University of Texas at Arlington. Today, UTA is home to nearly 35,000 students from every state and more than 100 countries. The school offers more than 180 degree programs across 10 schools and colleges. The College of Liberal Arts is home to the Department of Art and Art History, which offers two programs for aspiring graphic designers.

Options include BFA and MFA degrees in Visual Communication (Graphic Design, Web Design, Illustration, APP Design, Packaging, Gaming). The program is home to 300 students, which is the largest in the Art and Art History Department. Graduates of the programs are employed by top design agencies/studios in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, and throughout the nation, according to the school. In addition, students in the program have won over 132 state, regional, and national awards since 2001.

20. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Indianapolis, Indiana (Top 6% of schools considered)

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is home to two of Indiana’s top universities—Indiana University-Indianapolis and Purdue University-Indianapolis. Accredited in 1969, this “urban research university” is home to 30,690 students enrolled in 243 degree programs across two colleges and 17 schools. The Herron School of Art and Design offers BFA and MFA degrees in Visual Communication Design (VCD). A Design Production Minor is also on the menu and the College of Visual and Performing Arts at IUPUI’s Fort Wayne campus offers a BFA in VCD with a Concentration in Graphic Design.

21. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Top 6% of schools considered)

Louisiana State University (LSU) taught its first class on January 2, 1860. The school is home to more than 29,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs across 11 colleges and schools. The College of Art and Design at LSU offers several programs for aspiring animators including BFA and MFA degrees in Graphic Design. According to LSU, the programs prepare students for a career in graphic design “through experiences in the development of work in typography, print and editorial design, information design, digital imaging, packaging, environmental design, identity design, and branding.”

22. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana (Top 7% of schools considered)

Established in 1869, Purdue University-West Lafayette is home to 38,788 students enrolled in 200-plus majors across 10 academic colleges and schools. The College of Liberal Arts is home to the Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts. The School houses two departments—Art and Design and Theatre, three divisions—Dance, Music, and Purdue Galleries, and nearly 900 undergraduate and graduate students. The School offers two programs for aspiring graphic designers. Offerings include BA and MFA degrees in Visual Communications Design (VCD). All graphic design students have the opportunity to participate in the internship program and to show their work via special exhibitions.

23. University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia (Top 7% of schools considered)

Chartered in 1785, the University of Georgia (UGA) is home to more than 34,000 students enrolled in 170 programs through 17 colleges and schools. The Franklin College of Arts and Sciences is home to the Lamar Dodd School of Art. The School offers 15 undergraduate areas of study and 10 graduate areas of study. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA with a Concentration in Graphic Design. The program features 39 credit hours of graphic design study as well as studio electives in the areas of drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography. All students have the opportunity to study abroad in places such as Cortona—a small town in Tuscany, Italy, Ghana, Africa or Costa Rica, Central America.

24. University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee (Top 7% of schools considered)

The University of Memphis was founded in 1909. It is home to more than 20,000 students enrolled in more than 350 areas of study at the bachelor’s, masters and doctoral levels. The school houses 13 colleges and schools from communication and fine arts to law. Programs for aspiring graphic designers are offered through the College of Communication and Fine Arts (CCFA), Department of Art. Offerings include BFA and MFA degrees in Art with a Concentration in Graphic Design. For inspiration, all students have access to Center for Sustainable Design (CSD), the Art Museum of the University of Memphis (AMUM), and The Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art.

25. Miami University, Oxford, Ohio (Top 8% of schools considered)

Miami University was founded in 1809. It is home to nearly 19,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in nearly 200 degree programs. Each year, around 230 students per year leave Oxford to study at Miami University Dolibois European Center in Luxembourg for a semester or a year. In addition, regional campuses in Hamilton, Middletown, and West Chester enroll 5,076 students combined. The main campus in Oxford houses six colleges and the graduate school. The College of Creative Arts is home to the Department of Art which offers one program for aspiring graphic designers—a BFA in Graphic Design.

The program offers a unique selection of focus tracks including Business, Communication, Cultural Studies, Environmental Design, Interactive Design, Studio Art, Perception and Cognition, and Technical Communication. Other highlights include paid internships with leading firms and study abroad opportunities.