What are the top graphic design schools in the Midwest for 2020?

Top 10 Midwest Graphic Design Schools – 2020 Rankings
RankingSchoolStateTop %
1School of the Art Institute of ChicagoIllinois 1%
2University of Illinois at ChicagoIllinois 1%
3Minneapolis College of Art and DesignMinnesota 2%
4Columbia College ChicagoIllinois 2%
5University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIllinois 2%
6The Ohio State UniversityOhio 3%
7University of CincinnatiOhio 3%
8Washington University in St. LouisMissouri 4%
9Kent State UniversityOhio 4%
10Michigan State UniversityMichigan 4%

Our 2020 rankings of the top graphic design schools in the Midwest. We considered over 250 colleges in the midwest with graphic design programs for this year's rankings. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

We define the Midwest as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Idaho, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. 

1. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 1% of schools considered)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Founded in 1866, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the oldest accredited independent schools of art and design in the country. Serving nearly 3,700 students from 78 countries, SAIC offers more than 50 areas of study from Animation and Costume Design to Visual Communication Design and Writing. Programs for aspiring graphic designers are offered through the 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,” says the school. The Graphic Design Certificate is designed for “students with an interest in exploring graphic design with an emphasis on print media.”

Other Graphic Design Program highlights include an active AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) student chapter, Exploratory Languages (a lecture series featuring leading designers and design educators from across the country), and CIPB (Chicago International Poster Biennial), which is an international competition representing leading designers from throughout the world. Internship and optional study abroad opportunities are also available.

2. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 1% of schools considered)
University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) was formed in 1982 “by the consolidation of two U. of I. campuses: the Medical Center campus, which dates back to the 19th century and the comprehensive Chicago Circle campus which replaced, in 1965, the two-year undergraduate Navy Pier campus that opened in 1946 to educate returning veterans.” Today, with more than 31,600 students enrolled in 250 degree programs and 53 certificate programs across 15 colleges, UIC is the largest university in the Chicago area. 

The College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts (CADA) 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. In the BDES program, “emphasis is placed on perfecting hand skills and in developing proficiency with digital technology,” says the school. “Through exposure to design practice, design culture, and critical observation, students experience Chicago as a global design center.”

3. Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Top 2% of schools considered)
Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) was established in 1886. The school, which shares a block with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, serves more than 800 students from 45 states and 15 countries. Of these, 50% are enrolled in Design, 38% in Media Arts, 10% in Fine Arts, and the remaining 2% in MCAD's new Arts Entrepreneurship Department. More than 20 programs are available across several departments, including a BFA in Graphic Design, Post-Baccalaureate Certificates in Graphic Design and Interactive Design and Marketing, and an MFA in Visual Studies. A 30 credit hour MA in Graphic and Web Design (online) is also available.

Students in the 120 credit hour BFA program “will develop their own voice and produce original work, they will research, engage with, and create innovative concepts, content, and form, and learn to communicate ideas visually,” says the school. Students will also “refine their technical and conceptual design skills in preparation for a professional career in graphic design.”

The 60 credit hour MFA program allow students to pursue creative work in Graphic Design, Illustration, Interactive Media, Paper and Book Arts, Printmaking, and many others. Students will participate in opportunities “unique to MCAD’s MFA program” at art galleries, art centers, and nonprofits, designed to position students for success post-graduation. Most credits in the program are earned through one-on-one work with a faculty mentor who is an expert in the students chosen field. Optional internships are part of the program as well as a capstone thesis exhibition and paper in the final year. 

Designed for motivated working adults, the 30 credit MA in Graphic and Web Design takes place entirely online. Courses cover typography, research, design principles, programming, ideation, web design, workflow management, and more. Students can start in fall or spring, and take one or two classes per semester.

Students in all programs also have the option to study abroad in places such as Italy, Japan, Ireland, England or Germany, or elsewhere in the U.S.

4. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 2% of colleges considered)
Columbia College Chicago

Established in 1890, Columbia College serves more than 7,300 students from nearly every state and more than 60 countries. The school has over 100 academic majors or programs across several schools and more than 20 departments. Schools include the School of Media Arts, the School of Fine and Performing Arts, and the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Programs for aspiring graphic designers are offered in the School of Fine and Performing Arts. Options include BA and BFA degrees in Graphic Design. A second BA in Graphic Design is also available for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree.

BA students take fewer credit hours in the major and are encouraged to choose a minor or double major in another program such as Fine Arts, Photography, Advertising, or Motion Graphics. BA students choose a concentration in one discipline such as Web Design, Publication Design, or a general concentration.

The BFA requires more advanced courses in graphic design than the BA. Students in this degree track do not choose a concentration and take courses across disciplines including Web Design, Publication Design, and Visual Identity. A second BA in Graphic Design is available if a student has already earned a bachelor’s degree.

Students in both programs have the opportunity to intern at firms such as Leo Burnett—one  of the largest advertising agencies in the world, and with clients like Procter & Gamble and Foote, Cone & Belding—a global advertising agency with clients around the world. Students have also interned at Pivot Design-an award-winning branding, marketing, and advertising agency, Pressley Johnson Design—one of the premiere design communications firms in the Midwest, and 50,000feet,Inc.—a firm that has worked with some of America’s top brands.

The two-year MDes program focuses on an independent master’s research project that offers students the opportunity to explore a topic of inquiry with the potential to inform and shape disciplinary knowledge. Course examples include Advanced Graphic Design, Research Seminar, Documentation Studio, and Research Studio. During the final year of the program, students will participate in the Book Design Masters Project Exhibition.

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 yearlong program that prepares students for the two-year MDes.

5. University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, Champaign, Urbana (Top 2% of colleges considered)
University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign

Established in 1867 as Illinois Industrial University, University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign is one of the original 37 public land-grant institutions created after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act. The school serves nearly 48,000 students through 15 colleges and instructional units. The College of Fine and Applied Arts, School of Art and Design offers a 122 credit hour Graphic Design program that leads to a BFA. A 64 credit hour MFA in Graphic Design is also available.

The Graphic Design BFA prepares students for entrance into the professional practice of design visual communications. The school says, “studio work addresses graphic design fundamentals (typography and image making), design history and contemporary practices, research methods, user experience, and social responsibility.” In addition, “students have the opportunity to develop their personal interests by taking advantage of a highly interdisciplinary selection of elective courses offered by the School of Art + Design, including Photography, Video, Traditional Printmaking, Sustainability, Advanced Interaction Design, and the design of Ninth Letter, a nationally-distributed and award-winning literary arts journal.”

The MFA prepares students to contribute to the field of design by entering into practice, academia or both. Specialized tracks of study for the program include Sustainable and Regenerative Design, Urban Sociology and Critical Race Design, Visual and Cultural Studies, and (student-proposed) Applied Research in Responsible, Innovation, Social Impact, and Engagement.

Students also have the opportunity to “explore responsible futures through research in traditional print media and emergent technologies including, but not limited to, data visualization, digital interaction, information design, systems thinking, and visual narrative.” Other program highlights include the opportunity to take courses at Siebel Center for Design, collaboration with PhD students in Informatics, who specialize in design, and networking through “world-class” Programs across campus. Students will also develop partnerships at the Research Park—a leading technology hub that cultivates start-ups and accelerates corporate innovation at companies such as Abbott Laboratories, ADM, Ameren, Capital One, and State Farm.

6. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (Top 3% of colleges considered)
The Ohio State University

Established in 1870 as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, The Ohio State University offers over 200 majors, minors and specializations from which more than 68,000 students can choose several paths to focus on graphic design in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Design. Options include a Bachelor of Science in Design (BSD) in Visual Communication Design and a Design Thinking Minor.

Students in the BSD program use digital tools, “including advanced computing technology, to visualize and present translations of complex data and ideas,” says the school. Students will “study and explore research-based approaches to the visual design of information, the development of brand identities based on present and future conditions, and the creation of way-finding systems for navigating complex environments.”

The production of printed materials such as books, brochures, packaging, and posters is also part of the program. Sample courses include Design Media 1 for Visual Communication Design, Typographic Design, Materials + Processes for Visual Communication Design, Design Research, Collaborative Design, Professional Practices, Sustainability and the Built Environment, and Design Matters. In their senior year, designers will complete a final project “that demonstrates each student's comprehensive knowledge and ability to work independently.”

The Design Thinking Minor is a 15 credit hour program that introduces students to new and creative ways to solve problems. Courses include Design Practice, Design History, Exploring Design Thinking, Visualization as Thinking, and Presentation as Thinking.

Graphic design students who would like to pursue graduate study at OSU have two options: the MFA in Visual Arts offered through the Department of Art and the MFA in Digital Animation and Interactive Media offered through the Department of Design. The MFA in Visual arts offers emphases in seven studio areas: Art and Technology, Ceramics, Glass, Painting and Drawing, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture. The 66 credit hour, three-year program allows students to work across disciplines and with faculty from all seven studio areas.

The MFA in Digital Animation and Interactive Media allows students to select courses that cover visual design, technical skills for animation and interactive media, programming and algorithms, audio design, writing and scripting, and professional development. Students in all graduate art programs have 24/7 access to private and semi-private studio spaces as well as The Wexner Center for the Arts—a world-renowned contemporary art center located on campus; The Fine Arts and Cartoon Libraries; and the Urban Arts Space—an off-campus, OSU-run gallery in downtown Columbus. The Urban Arts Space is the location of the third-year thesis exhibitions.

7. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (Top 3% of colleges considered)
University of Cincinnati

Founded in 1819, the University of Cincinnati (UC) serves more than 46,300 students enrolled in 370 degree programs across 13 colleges and a graduate school. The College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) houses the Myron E. Ullman Jr. School of Design, which offers a BS in Communication Design. The program, which takes five years to complete, offers three concentration areas including Graphic Design, Motion Design, and Interaction Design.

Students in the BS program will take a broad range of courses such as Foundational Drawing and Design, Kinetic Communication, Typography, Photodesign, and Design Ideation. Courses are supplemented with general education requirements, directed electives, design history, and interdisciplinary courses in design thinking and user-centered design. Studios “will refine and develop specific or general skills,” says the school “and be enhanced with further study in design history, methodology, research methods, and global studies.” Students in the program also reinforce their skills in the field through several co-ops.

Besides the BS in Communication Design, aspiring graphic designers might consider another program offered through UC’s Blue Ash College. The Art and Visual Communication Department here offers a two-year Associate Degree in Applied Graphic Communication. The program is designed for “students seeking foundational skills appropriate for further study in the design field or for employment in areas of design support.” Classes are small, so students receive considerable personal attention and direction from faculty. Though the program is a two-year degree, students may take up to three years to complete it.

Graduates of the Communication Design and Graphic Communication programs at UC have career opportunities in advertising, branding and corporate identity, digital product design, exhibit design, interface design, motion graphics and post-production design, package design, service design, user experience design, and web design. They may be found working in the “healthcare system or for governments and NGOs impacting society. Established designers may create their own firms or pursue entrepreneurial activities.

8. Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri (Top 4% of colleges considered)
Washington University in St. Louis

Founded in 1853, Washington University in St. Louis serves more than 14,500 students enrolled in more than 300 academic programs in a number of colleges and schools. The College of Art houses the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, which offers a BA in Design and BFA in Communication Design. The BA in Design is a 120 credit hour, collaborative program that allows students to experience design research and process through work in graphic design, interaction design, illustration, and fashion. Students can complete a broad design degree without a concentration, or choose a concentration in Communication or Fashion.

The BFA in Communication Design is a “collaborative program at the intersection of graphic design, illustration, and interaction design,” says the school. Students in this program can choose to design interfaces for mobile devices and the web, they can make pictures for games and motion graphics, or illustrate stories and create comics and design printed posters and books. Students can also choose to apply design skills to social problems in the community, including areas such as public health and urban education, or they may study the history of printed images, comics, and advertising through the Douglas B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library.

The first year requires studio coursework in drawing, 2D and 3D design, digital design, and a weekly lecture course. Second year students explore disciplines across art and design, selecting from introductory courses in graphic design, typography, illustration, printmaking, painting, photography, sculpture, and fashion design.

Course highlights include Word & Image, Interaction Foundations, Interaction Design: User-Centered Applications, Illustration Concepts & Media/Visual Journalism, Content to Cover: The Design of Books, Design for Social Impact, and Art Practice. The program culminates in a Senior Capstone, which may be an illustrated book, zine, screen-based presentation, graphic novel/mini-comic, or digital experience. The final project is displayed in a public exhibition and reviewed by external design professionals.

9. Kent State University, Kent, Ohio (Top 4% of colleges considered)
Kent State University

Kent State University (KSU or Kent State) was founded in 1910. The school serves, which consists of an eight-campus system, serves approximately 43,457 students enrolled in more than 300 degree programs across dozens of colleges and schools. The College of Communication and Information, School of Visual Communication Design, offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers including BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in Visual Communication Design and a Design Minor.

The BFA program consists of approximately two-thirds of the coursework in the "creation and study of the visual arts," says the school, 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 MFA is one of only three programs in the state to offer the Master of Arts degree in Visual Communication Design and was the first to offer the terminal degree in the field, the Master of Fine Arts. The MA is a 32 credit hour program that prepares students to work in emerging markets such as social media, branding, digital media and user experience design. The MFA “serves students with a strong undergraduate and/or professional experience in design who wish to advance into leadership roles.” Graduates “typically pursue careers in design education, but also stand out in the industry for their ability to solve problems from a research-based design perspective.”

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.

10. Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan (Top 4% of schools considered)
Michigan State University

Founded in 1855, Michigan State University (MSU) serves around 50,350 students from 142 countries, every state in the United States and every county in Michigan. MSU students have access to more than 200 programs across 17 degree-granting colleges. The College of Arts & Letters, Department of Art, Art History, and Design, offers an MFA that allows students to select a track such as Graphic Design, and a BFA in Graphic Design that offers the unique opportunity for students to gain real-world design experience by offering design services to the community.

The school says “MSU's Design Center in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design works with internal and external clients to effectively communicate the client's messages in a professional manner. From logos to packaging, and brochures to websites, Design Center has worked on a variety of projects, each specifically targeted to address the goal and personality of an individual client.”

Undergraduate students who “exemplify creativity, dedication, and professionalism in the Graphic Design Program” are selected to join the Design Center creative team each year.

Other program highlights include the opportunity to select concentration courses structured to address several career options within the discipline, internship opportunities, AIGA membership, and the Annual Visiting Artist & Scholar Lecture Series. Recent lecturers include Massimo Vignelli, Martin Venezky, Ben Fry, Nancy Skolos & Tom Wedell, James Victore, Andrew Blauvelt, Jim Sherraden of Hatch Showprint, Stuart Bailey, Jan Wilker, Cheryl Towler Weese, Hans Allemann, and Karen Cheng.

Graduates of the Graphic Design Program 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. Career concentrations include identity system, environmental signage and exhibition, magazine and book, web site, software interfaces, film titles and broadcast television graphics, typeface, packaging, poster, corporate branding, and retail design, etc.