|California Institute of the Arts
|ArtCenter College of Design
|California College of the Arts
|Otis College of Art and Design
|University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
|San Diego State University
|Academy of Art University
|San Jose State University
|California State Polytechnic University Pomona
|University of Southern California
Our 2018 rankings of the top 10 graphic design school programs in California. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California (top 5% of schools considered)
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. Established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney, 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 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.
2. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California (top 5% of schools considered)
Established in 1930, ArtCenter College of Design spans two campuses and four structures in the U.S. and Berlin. Home to approximately 2,100 students from the U.S. and more than 40 other countries, ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degrees in the areas of Industrial Design and Visual and Applied Arts. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Graphic Design and an MFA Graduate Graphic Design (MGx) degree.
Per the school, students in the Graphic Design Programs will develop design solutions to communicate “the multi-dimensional experience of a place, product, service or personality in every imaginable concept.” They will accomplish this by “experimenting with a wide range of media—including books and digital magazines, packaging, 3D motion graphics, apps—to create compelling graphic identities and branded experiences.”
Aspiring designers might also consider interdisciplinary programs such as the Desginmatters Concentration or the Integrated Studies Program. Desginmatters leads to a Certificate in Art and Design for Social Impact. The Integrated Studies Program 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.
Offered through the Graphic Design Department (GX), all programs offer internship opportunities and study abroad experiences.
3. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (top 10% of schools considered)
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) is home to nearly 2,000 students from 55 countries and 46 states. The school offers 22 undergraduate and 12 graduate degree programs, plus two minors. Undergraduate programs for aspiring graphic designers include BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Interaction Design and a BA in Visual Studies. Graduate options include an MA in Visual and Critical Studies and an MDes in Interaction Design.
Highlights for all programs 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. Graduates have landed positions at innovative design firms, museums, publishing houses, technology companies, nonprofits, and more.
4. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (top 10% of schools considered)
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by General Harrison Gray Otis-- founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Home to 1,100 BFA and MFA students, OTIS offers more than a dozen interdisciplinary art and design programs from Animation and Motion Design to Illustration and Graphic Design. Specific programs for aspiring graphic designers are offered through the Communication Arts Department. Options include BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Communication Arts with an Emphasis in Graphic Design or Illustration or a Minor in Advertising Design, an MFA in Graphic Design and a Graphic Design Certificate.
Graduates of the Graphic Design programs at OTIS have landed positions at major companies such as Apple, Anthropologie, LACMA, Guess, Metro, Capitol Records, and others.
5. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California (top 15% of schools considered)
The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) was founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California. It is home to nearly 45,000 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The UCLA College and 12 professional schools offer more than 5,000 courses in 125 undergraduate degree programs, 98 master’s programs, 109 doctoral and professional programs, and 91 minors.
The School of Arts and Architecture is home to the Department of Design Media Arts (DMA), which offers both BA and MA degrees in Design Media Arts. Per the school, the DMA program “emphasizes innovative creation with digital and mass media within the context of a public research university.” The curriculum highlights “a solid foundation in form, color, space, motion, typography, and interactivity, followed by a broad selection of area studies courses in video, visual communication, network media, game design, and narrative.” The senior project allows students to focus on individual interests within the areas of Visual Communication and Image, interactivity and games, or video and animation.
“This uniquely challenging and diverse program invites students to balance aesthetic sensibility with logical reasoning, formal theories with practical application, and contemporary thought with historical perspective.” With courses that are taught as studios of no more than 22 students, individual growth and a sense of community within the department is encouraged.
6. San Diego State University, San Diego, California (top 15% of schools considered)
Founded in 1897 and home to nearly 34,000 students, San Diego State University (SDSU) is the oldest and largest university in San Diego and the third largest in California. 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) has 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.
7. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California (top 20% of schools considered)
Established in 1929, Academy of Art University is home to an estimated 13,800 students from more than 112 countries. The Academy offers dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs through several schools. The School of Graphic Design offers a variety of degree programs for aspiring game designers. Options include AA and BFA degrees Graphic Design and a Certificate.
According to the school, the Graphic Design Programs “guide students through the nuanced skill-development process required to achieve excellence in typography, print, packaging, branding, user experience, and motion graphics.” Sample courses include Design Technology: Digital Publishing Tools, Design Technology: Visual Design Tools, Visual Communication, Color Fundamentals, Interaction Design, Typography: Hierarchy and Form, Web Design, Package Design, Branding Principles, and Written Communication.
Courses are taught by “nationally recognized professionals who challenge their students to reach their personal creative potential.” Graduates of the Academy of Art programs will have the skills needed to “influence marketing strategies, raise awareness of critical issues, and facilitate cultural change.”
8. San Jose State University, San Jose, California (top 20% of schools considered)
Founded in 1857, San Jose State University (SJSU) is the oldest public institution of higher education on the West Coast. Home to more than 32,100 students, the school offers 145 areas of study with an additional 108 concentrations, through eight colleges. The College of Humanities and the Arts houses the Department of Design, which offers a BFA and a Minor in Graphic Design.
This unique program admits every student as a BA Design Studies Major. Upon completion of DsGD 100 and portfolio review, students are eligible to apply for pre-admission to the Graphic Design Program. Once admitted to the program, students will learn how to apply the principles of color, composition, hierarchy, and typography as they relate in the various media—digital, print, motion, 3-D, etc.—that exist in design. Per the school, students will graduate with the ability to “create and develop original concepts, build prototypes, integrate feedback, carry projects through to the production process, and apply principles of visual communication as they relate to reaching audiences, the role of design in society, and the ability to work cooperatively.”
Graduates will show “fluency in the breadth of disciplines that graphic design encompasses, with deep exploration into information architecture, user interface design, interactive design, motion graphics, iterative image-making, exhibition design and typeface design. They will “demonstrate understanding of the design process, design thinking and professional standards and practices, including real-project learning scenarios and a transition into preparing a portfolio to enter the workforce.”
9. California State Polytechnic University Pomona, Pomona, California (top 20% of schools considered)
Established in 1938 with an all-male enrollment of just 110 students, California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona) is one of just two polytechnic universities of the 23 California State University campuses and 11 in the U.S. Today, Cal Poly Pomona is home to a co-ed population of nearly 25,500 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.
10. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California (top 25% of schools considered)
Established in 1880, University of Southern California (USC) is home to 45,500 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate programs, 300-plus graduate programs, and more than 150 minors through 18 colleges and schools. The Roski School of Art and Design at USC was first organized in 1883, making it the oldest art school in Southern California. The school offers one program for aspiring graphic designers—a BFA in Design.
The program is a four-year pre-professional degree that highlights first-year foundation courses such as drawing and illustration. Students will also gain experience “with a wide array of artistic media,” says the school “along with skills-based workshops in 2D and 3D design-specific media.” Design coursework is “complemented by a series of critical theory seminars, professional design internships, international design study tours, a senior thesis” as well as a minor in communication, advertising, marketing, entrepreneurship or business.
Roski at USC also offers three interdisciplinary minors including Communication Design (with coursework in graphic design, advertising, marketing, and business). Sample design courses include Typography, Ideas and Intermedia, Communication and Social Media, Design Theory, Graphic Design in Fashion, Web Design, The Cultures of New Media, and Communication Technology and Culture.