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Top 50 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 50 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)

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. One of Yale’s top schools is the School of the Arts. Opened as Yale School of the Fine Arts in 1869, the School of the Arts was the nation’s first art school connected with an institution of higher learning. 

With 127 students enrolled (Fall 2015), the School of the Arts offers an MFA degree in Graphic Design. The Graphic Design MFA is a competitive program that accepts just 10 students each year and up to seven students into the preliminary-year program. 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.” 

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

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. 

One of the largest departments at RISD, Graphic Design offers “countless opportunities to collaborate within and beyond the discipline,” thanks to access to approximately 165 undergraduate majors. 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. 

3. Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland (Top 1% of schools considered)

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. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include 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.” 

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

Established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney, 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. 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. The School of Art is home to the Graphic Design program which leads to a BFA or MFA. 

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. 

5. Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (Top 1% of schools considered)

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.” 

The 2D Department is the Graduate Graphic Design Department, which 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). 

6.  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 “the school of 100+ startups and spinoffs.” It is also 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 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.” 

7. Parsons The New School for Design, New York, New York (Top 1% of schools considered)

Founded in 1896, Parsons The New School for Design 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 (AMT), the School of Constructed Environments, the School of Design Strategies, and the School of Fashion. The School of Art, Media, and Technology, 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. 

8. School of Visual Arts, New York, New York (Top 2% of schools considered)

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. 

Offerings for aspiring graphic designers include 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. 

9. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (Top 2% of schools considered)

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. Founded in 2014, The School of Design 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 that 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.  

10. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Top 2% of schools considered)

Founded in 1900, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is home to 13,650 students, enrolled in more than 100 programs across seven colleges and schools. The College of Fine Art, School of Design, offers a Bachelor of Design degree (BDes), formerly BFA, 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. 

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

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

12. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 2% of schools considered)

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

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

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. 

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. 

14. 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. The school also offers 70 minors and certificate programs, and 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. 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. 

15. Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, Massachusetts (Top 2% of schools considered)

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) was founded in 1873 as a training institution for aspiring architects, artists, drawing teachers, and designers. Today, MassArt 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. 

16. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (Top 3% of schools considered)

Founded in 1819, the University of Cincinnati 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. 

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

Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) 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 offers a BFA in Graphic Design that prepares students to design “show-stopping solutions for print and interactive media.”   

Students in the RCAD Graphic Design Program will collaborate with other artists such as copywriters, printers, photographers, illustrators, and developers to “make their ideas a reality.” Graduates of the 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. 

18. Kent State University, Kent, Ohio (Top 3% of schools considered)

Kent State University (KSU or Kent State) was founded in 1910 and 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. 

19. Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Top 3% of schools considered)

Established in 1886, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) 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. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include 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. 

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

Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) 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. 

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

Founded in 1885, Arizona State University (ASU) 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. 

22. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (Top 3% of schools considered)

Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) 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. 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. 

23. University of North Texas, Denton, Texas (Top 3% of schools considered)

University of North Texas (UNT) was founded in 1890 as Texas Normal College and Teachers’ Training Institute. It 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. 

24. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (Top 4% of schools considered)

The University of Kansas (KU) was founded in 1865 and opened its doors for classes in 1866.  The school is home to 28,401 students enrolled in more than 370 programs across 14 schools and one college—including the only schools of pharmacy and medicine in the state. 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.” 

25. Portland State University, Portland, Oregon (Top 4% of schools considered)

Portland State University (PSU) opened its doors in the summer of 1946 to 220 students, offering the first two years of college study. Today, the school spans 50 city blocks, and houses nine colleges and schools, 226 degree programs, and 29,000 students, including 1,700 international students from 91 countries. The College of Arts 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.