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Top 25 Public 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 Public Graphic Design School Programs in the US. 

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

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

North Carolina State University at Raleigh (NC State Raleigh) is “the school of 100+ startups and spinoffs.” Founded in 1887 and home to more than 34,000 students, the school offers 300 undergraduate and graduate degree programs through 65 departments and 12 colleges. The College of Design is home to the Graphic Design program which offers two degree paths—a Bachelor of Graphic Design and 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.” 

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

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) was established in 1838 and it 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. 

3. Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, Massachusetts (Top 1% of schools considered)

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) was founded in 1873. It 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. 

4. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (Top 1% of schools considered)

The University of Cincinnati was founded in 1819 and it is home to 44,251 students enrolled in 370 degree programs across 13 colleges and a graduate school. The College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) houses the School of Design, which offers a BS in Communication Design. This program takes five years to complete and students may choose from three Concentration areas including Graphic Design, Motion Design, and Interaction Design. Another degree option is available through University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash College. The Art and Visual Communication Department here offers a two-year Associate Degree in Applied Graphic Communication. However, students in the program have the option to complete it in three years. 

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

Kent State University (KSU or Kent State) was founded in 1910. It is home to nearly 29,000 students enrolled in more than 300 degree programs across 11 colleges and the School of Digital Sciences. The College of Communication and Information, School of Visual Communication Design, offers a BFA in Visual Communication Design and a Design Minor. Per the School, the BFA program consists of approximately two-thirds of the coursework in the "creation and study of the visual arts," with the remainder in general studies. Because of the greater emphasis on upper-level studio courses, the BFA allows majors the opportunity to build greater expertise in a given area of the field. 

The Design Minor provides students with “grounding in the fundamental elements of graphic design, including design research and history, graphic software, industry standards and professional ethics.” All School of Visual Communication Design students must complete 300 hours of internship before graduation. Most internships are paid and students have the opportunity to work at major companies across Cleveland and in Chicago, San Francisco and New York. 

6. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (Top 2% of schools considered)

Arizona State University (ASU) was founded in 1885 and it is home to more than 82,000 students (2014) enrolled in over 290 academic undergraduate programs and hundreds of graduate programs across 17 colleges and schools. The ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts houses the Design School, which offers programs in the areas of Architecture, Environmental Design, Industrial design, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design). 

Visual Communication Design (VCD) options include a BSD in Graphic Design, an MSD with a Concentration in Visual Communication Design (VCD MSD), and a Master of Visual Communication Design (MVCD). The MVCD has two options—a two-year studio-based program designed for students with a degree in VCD or Graphic Design and a 3+ program designed to be a first professional degree for those students who do not have an undergraduate degree in VCD or Graphic Design. The undergraduate program allows students to work on projects in the areas of Information Design, Interaction Design, Exhibition Design, Animation, Motion Graphics, Branding, Publication Design, Web Design, Interface Design and multiple contemporary facets of sensorial design. 

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

Founded in 1890 as Texas Normal College and Teachers’ Training Institute, the University of North Texas (UNT) is home to 37,000 students enrolled in 100 bachelors, 83 masters, and 37 doctoral degree programs across 11 colleges and schools. The Design Department of the College of Visual Arts & Design houses the Communication Design Program. Degree options include a BFA, MA, and MFA in Communication Design. The 36 credit-hour Master of Arts in Design and the 60 credit-hour Master of Fine Arts in Design are both taught as concentrations in Design Research. 

The BFA program covers the basic principles of design, image making, color theory and typography. It is also designed to “help students learn to be effective conceptual thinkers and, most importantly, creative problem solvers in the disciplines of Advertising and of Graphic Design.” Students in all Graphic Design programs have the opportunity to complete an internship, study abroad, and access “valuable resources” consisting of over 1,000 reference books, magazines and paper/print samples of photography, illustration, typography, graphic design and advertising. 

8. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (Top 2% of schools considered)

The University of Kansas (KU) was founded in 1865 and it is home to 28,401 students enrolled in more than 370 programs across 14 schools and one college. The School of Architecture, Design and Planning is home to The Department of Design which offers a BFA in Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design) and a Certificate in Book Arts. 

Graduates of the Graphic Design Program are prepared to pursue careers in a wide range of areas such as traditional print media, magazine and book design, corporate marketing communications, branding, packaging design, exhibition and environmental design, motion graphic design, website design, interface design and more. Certificate students “learn art and craft production across the “whole book”— papermaking, typography, printing, and binding, informed by the history of the book.” 

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

In the summer of 1946, Portland State University (PSU) opened its doors to 220 students, offering the first two years of college study. Today, the school is home to 29,000 students enrolled in 226 degree programs across nine colleges and schools. Among them is the College of Arts, which is home to the schools of Architecture, Art + Design, Music, and 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. 

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

Founded in 1868, 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.

Academic offerings include 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. 

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

Chartered in 1888 as “The Temple College,” Temple University is home to more than 35,000 students enrolled in more than 400 academic programs across 17 schools and colleges. The Tyler School of Art is home to the Graphic and Interactive Design program which has two degree offerings—a BFA and MFA in Graphic and Interactive Design. The programs cover design concepts, and it teaches students “how to make images, to work with typography, and to master a wide range of new and traditional media.” 

According to the School, graduates of both programs are “employed by studios and agencies around the country and abroad. They work in print and web design studios, advertising agencies, publishing companies, film and television, music packaging and promotion, product design and packaging, in design departments of major corporations, and as freelance illustrators.” 

12. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (Top 3% of schools considered)

The University of Arizona (UA) was established in 1885 and it is home to more than 42,000 students enrolled in more than 300 undergraduate and graduate degree programs across 20 colleges, 11 schools, and three campuses. The College of Fine Arts, School of Arts offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers including a BFA in Studio Art (2-D, 3-D, Photography, Visual Communication) and an MFA in Studio Art-Visual Communications. Other options include BFA and MFA degrees in Studio Art with an Emphasis in Illustration + Design. 

13. Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas (Top 3% of schools considered)

Texas State University was authorized by the Texas legislature in 1899 under the name “Southwest Texas State Normal School.” The school opened its doors in 1903. Today, the school is home to 38,849 students enrolled in 98 bachelor’s, 90 master’s and 12 doctoral degree programs through nine academic colleges. The College of Fine Arts & Communication houses the School of Art and Design which offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include BFA and MFA degrees in Communication Design. 

Considered one of the largest public programs in the country, the Communication Design Program (undergraduate) allows students to pursue interests within four areas of professional study: Graphic Design, Art Direction, Interactive Media, and Illustration. The graduate program is designed to provide advanced study in the areas of Corporate Advertising, Art Direction, Graphic Design, and Digital Media Design. 

Per the school, students and graduates of the program have received recognition in design journals by having their work published in CMYK, Step Inside Design, Graphis New Talent Annual, and PRINT, and they have also received recognition in competitions such as The One Show, American Advertising Federation Awards, National DSVC Student Show, Creative Summit, Art Director's Club of Houston, Austin Addy Awards, and San Antonio Addy Awards. 

14. University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas (Top 3% of schools considered)

The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) opened in 1883 and it is home to 50,950 students enrolled in more than 500 degree programs and fields of study across 18 colleges and schools. The College of Fine Arts, Department of Art and Art History, offers BA, BFA and MFA degrees in Design, and a BFA in Visual Studies. All students have the opportunity to participate in the internship program, which may include working at major companies with offices in the Austin area. Just a few include Google, Dell, IBM, Apple, Samsung, Frog, Pentagram, EA Games, and more. 

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

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. Founded in 1897, the school offers nearly 160 undergraduate majors and minors, 16 pre-professional programs and nearly 100 graduate degrees and credentials across seven colleges. 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. 

16. Queens College, Queens, New York (Top 4% of schools considered)

Queens College is part of the City University of New York (CUNY). Established in 1937, current enrollment is close to 19,000 matriculated students from nearly 170 countries. The school awards bachelor’s and master’s degrees in over 170 areas across four divisions including Arts and Humanities, Education, Mathematics and the Natural Sciences, and the Social Sciences. The Arts and Humanities Division houses the Design Program which offers a BS in Design with a Concentration in Communication Design (Graphic Design), Interaction Design, or Animation and Illustration. 

Minors in Graphic Design, Digital Graphics, and Imagemaking are also on the menu as well as an MFA in Studio with a Concentration in Media or other area with approval. Per the school, students in all Design programs “learn visual communication using industry-standard technology across interactive, time-based, digital and traditional media.” Graduates are prepared for a career in design or for graduate study. 

17. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington (Top 4% of schools considered)

The University of Washington was founded in 1861. Home to more than 54,000 students (2014), the school offers 165 majors across 16 colleges and schools and in 79 departments. 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. 

18. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana (Top 4% of schools considered)

Established in 1969, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is home to 30,488 students enrolled in more than 250 degree programs across 19 schools. Several programs are available for aspiring graphic designers through Herron School of Art + Design. Offerings include BFA and MFA degrees in Visual Communication Design, an MFA in Visual Art, and degree-enhancing Minors in Design Production, Studio Art and Technology, and Book Arts. 

Technologies and tools utilized in the Visual Communication programs include, but are not limited to, drawing, offset printing, photography, and time-based and interactive media (film, video, computer multimedia). Students also learn how to perform basic business practices, including organizing design projects and working productively as a member of teams. All students, Art, Design or otherwise, have access to internship and study abroad opportunities. 

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

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 schools and colleges. 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. 

20. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois (Top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1867, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I or UIUC) is one of the original 37 public land-grant institutions created after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862. The school is home to 43,603 students enrolled in more than 150 programs across 15 Colleges and Instructional Units. The College of Fine and Applied Arts, School of Art and Design offers a BFA degrees in Graphic Design and New Media, an MFA in Graphic Design and a Minor in Art + Design. Another graduate degree offering that complements Graphic Design is the MFA in Painting, Sculpture, and New Media. 

All design students may study for a semester abroad and they also have access to internship opportunities. Design students have gone on to land positions in Interaction Design, Art Direction, Publication Design, Motion Graphics, Photography, Type Design, Environmental Design, and Social/Service Design in a variety of settings. 

21. California State Polytechnic University Pomona, Pomona, California (Top 5% of schools considered)

California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona) was established in 1938 with an all-male enrollment of 110 students. The school is one of only two polytechnic universities of the 23 California State University campuses and 11 in the U.S. The school is also the largest in area of all Cal State campuses. 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. 

22. Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan (Top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1855, Michigan State University (MSU) is home to 50,543 students from all 50 states and more than 138 countries. The school offers more than 200 programs across 17 colleges and students have access to more than 260 study abroad programs on all continents in more than 60 countries. The College of Arts & Letters, Department of Art, Art History, and Design offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include BA and BFA degrees in Studio Art with a Concentration in Graphic Design, an MFA in Graphic Design, and a Graphic Design Minor. 

Program highlights include real-world experience through internships, the client-initiated coursework of Design Center, and the AIGA (the professional association for design) student group and lectures given by designers such as Massimo Vignelli, Nancy Skolos & Tom Wedell, James Victore, Andrew Blauvelt, Stuart Bailey, and Karen Cheng. Students also have the opportunity to gain experience by offering design services to the community. 

Recent graduates of the Graphic Design programs at MSU hold positions as Creative Directors, Art Directors, Graphic Designers, Freelancers, and Video Editors with design firms, advertising agencies, production companies, publishing companies, and in-house design offices. 

23. University of Houston, Houston, Texas (Top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1927, the University of Houston (UH) is home to 40,914 students enrolled in more than 300 academic programs across 12 colleges and the UH Law Center. The College of Arts, School of Art, offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include and a BFA in Graphic Design, an MFA in Studio Arts with a Concentration in Graphic Design, and a Minor in Studio Arts. All design students have access to UH’s large internship program, which highlights jobs with both national and international companies. Students may also study abroad in dozens of countries around the world. 

24. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 5% of schools considered)

With nearly 29,000 students, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is the largest university in Chicago. Established in 1982, UIC has regional campuses in Peoria, Rockford, Springfield, and Urbana, IL., and The Quad Cities and it offers 248 degree programs and 32 certificates across 15 colleges. The College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts houses the School of Design which offers a Bachelor of Design (BDes) and a Master of Design (MDes) in Graphic Design. The four-year BDes program highlights studio-based instruction, while the two-year MDes focuses on an independent master’s research project. 

A third option is the MDes Prelim Program. Offered to applicants who do not hold a bachelor’s degree in design, the Prelim Program is a customized year-long program that prepares students for the two-year MDes. 

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

Louisiana State University (LSU) welcomed its first class on January 2, 1860. The school, which is home to more than 31,527 students, offers over 200 programs across 11 colleges and schools. The College of Art and Design offers a BFA in Graphic Design. Students have the opportunity to complete an internship at an area firm and/or study abroad.