What are the top graphic design BFA programs for 2021?
|1||Rhode Island School of Design||Rhode Island|
|2||ArtCenter College of Design||California|
|3||School of Visual Arts||New York|
|4||The New School’s Parsons School of Design||New York|
|5||Pratt Institute||New York|
|6||Maryland Institute College of Art||Maryland|
|7||Savannah College of Art and Design||Georgia|
|8||California Institute of the Arts||California|
|9||School of the Art Institute of Chicago||Illinois|
|10||Virginia Commonwealth University||Virginia|
|11||California College of the Arts||California|
|12||University of Texas at Austin||Texas|
|13||Minneapolis College of Art and Design||Minnesota|
|14||Ringling College of Art and Design||Florida|
|15||University of North Texas||Texas|
|16||Washington University in St. Louis||Missouri|
|17||Otis College of Art and Design||California|
|18||Cooper Union||New York|
|19||Brigham Young University||Utah|
|20||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||Illinois|
|21||University of Southern California||California|
|22||University of Kansas||Kansas|
|24||Kansas City Art Institute||Missouri|
Below are the Top 25 Graphic Design schools and colleges in the US offering Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree programs for 2021. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) offers a four-year undergraduate BFA in Graphic Design. One of the largest departments at RISD, Graphic Design serves approximately 165 students and features dedicated studios in the Design Center where they “learn the fundamental value of typography, imagery, grids, systems and more in the course of creating everything from traditional books, posters, logos and websites to apps, interactive texts and other digital media,” says the school.
The core BFA curriculum “builds a range of analytical, formal, sensory and technical design experiences. Sophomores begin exploring visual principles of form, image, color and typography.” During their junior year, students will focus on “conceptual thinking in areas such as communication theory, visual systems and information design.” The final year of the program focuses on “design applications, with a range of electives available to expose students to specific areas of graphic design practice.” Upper level students also have opportunities to pursue professional internships.
Graduates of enjoy a high employment rate. Around 96% of all RISD graphic design graduates are employed one year after graduation, and 70% are employed in positions directly related to their major.
ArtCenter College of Design offers a BFA in Graphic Design (Gx) that prepares students for careers in print and branding, packaging and environmental graphic design, motion and visual interaction design, transmedia, and spatial media. Course highlights include Information Design, Materials of Art and Design, Motion Design, Narrative Imaging, Package Design, Transmedia, and Visual Interaction Design. Students will complete 87 studio units, which allows them to create an emphasis area through electives. All students will have the opportunity to complete a portfolio and career preparation courses.
ArtCenter Gx graduates “are highly sought after by the most exciting and disruptive global brands,” says the school. They have been hired at Uber, Tesla, Google, Facebook, Nike, and creative agencies such as IDEO, R/GA, Local Projects, “and other future-forward organizations.”
The School of Visual Arts (SVA) offers a BFA in Design. The program “is a multidisciplinary educational system in itself, offering separate majors that include Graphic Design, Motion Graphics, Interaction Design and 3D Design,” says the school.
The program can be further divided into package design, editorial design, information graphics, corporate identity, publication design, CD packaging, book jacket design, environmental design and website design. Other program highlights include intensive one-week workshops, exhibitions that are routinely covered by NBC, CBS. ABC, and CNN, competitions, enrollment in the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Artists) and the Art Directors Club—two of the most prestigious design organizations in the country, industry review, and internships.
Graduates of the SVA Graphic Design Program have gone on to work for commercial and not-for-profit corporations, institutions and businesses. Many founded their own start-ups, design firms and studios. Some have become partners in businesses and individual projects. Graduates have started over 50 design studios around the globe.
The New School’s Parsons School of Design offers a BFA Communication Design. The oldest undergraduate program of its kind in the U.S., the BFA begins with “an intensive study of typography and interaction.” Students will expand their “expertise in brand and editorial design, digital products, type design, motion graphics, and spatial graphics.” Course highlights for the program include Drawing/Imaging, Interaction Studio, Sustainable Systems, and Visual Culture (Advanced Research Seminar).
Career opportunities for Communication Design graduates include Digital Product Design, Graphic Design, Interaction Design (IxD), Product Development or Management, and User Experience (UX) Design, to name a few.
Pratt Institute houses the School of Design, which offers “up to four of Pratt’s oldest and most esteemed disciplines,” says the school. This includes the BFA in Communications Design, where “students learn to engage audiences, explore technologies, develop visual languages, challenge preconceptions, redefine problems, and identify opportunities through the lens of communication design.” Students in the BFA program have the opportunity to choose a focus area. Options include Graphic Design, Illustration, and Advertising Art Direction.
Graphic Design students will “explore topics and modes of practice, such as typographic and identity systems, visual rhetoric, interactivity, experience design, sustainability, and inclusivity.” Projects in the program “encourage critical inquiry, collaborative processes, and experimentation with multiple technologies and platforms.” Through electives students can explore a “wide spectrum of specializations in graphic design, including user experience, motion graphics, type design, independent publishing, data visualization, and post-artifact books.”
BFA students also have the opportunity to enroll in one of more than 20 study abroad programs and international exchange programs in over a dozen locations such as Florence, Milan, Copenhagen, London, and Tokyo.
Graduates of the Graphic Design and Communication Design Program at Pratt are “equipped to pursue a spectrum of exciting career paths as creative professionals.” Pratt alumni “continue to distinguish themselves in design studios, cultural institutions, branding agencies, and independent enterprises making significant contributions to the fields of art and design, publishing, education, film, gaming, advertising, and many more.”
Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) offers a BFA in Graphic Design with three Concentrations: Graphic Design Studio, Book Arts Studio, and Graphic Design + Humanistic Studies.
The undergraduate graphic design curriculum features a three-year sequence of core design courses. Course highlights include Body/World Machine, Cartographies, Color/Design/Process, Haptics and Optics, PhotoImaging, and Typography.
Graduates will have the skills and experience needed to create designs for books, magazines, apps, websites, posters, advertisements, games, logos, film titles, and many other media.
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers a BFA in Graphic Design. Offered in Atlanta, Savannah, and online via eLearning, the program highlights Entrepreneurship, Mobile Technology, Product Packaging, and User Experience and Interface Design (UX/UI). 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 Advertising and Branding, Advertising Copywriting, Mobile and Interactive Design, and Motion Media Design. Students may complement their degree with a Certificate in Digital Publishing as well.
All graphic design students will “learn how to weave entrepreneurship and modern technology with product and user-centered design,” says the school. They will “learn from titans of the industry at Airbnb, Google, Hasbro, and more” Students will also “gain an all-access pass to leading-edge resources and star-studded signature events like SCADstyle, attended by luminaries from global art, fashion, and modern design.”
SCAD graduates are prepared to join elite agencies, multinational companies, or start their own businesses as they lead branding, visual marketing, interactive media, and immersive campaigns. Graduates work at top companies around the globe including Apple, IBM, Ralph Lauren, Under Armour, Verizon, and many others.
California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) offers a BFA in Graphic Design. This full-time, four-year program 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.
Each year in the program, “builds on the experience of the previous as a sequence of additional classes explore image-making, typography and design history. Baseline coursework is followed by more specialized classes in areas such as web design, motion graphics, and type design.”
In addition to core studio classes, all candidates in the Program are required to pass a Graduation Portfolio Review in order to complete the program and obtain the BFA degree.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) offers a BFA in Studio with a Visual Communication Design Pathway. The program has two major areas of focus: Physical Media (environments, print, and objects) and Virtual Media (interactive and time-based media). This includes books/bookbinding, coding/programming/scripting, data visualization/diagrams/maps, design issues, film titles and fonts, identity systems, illustrations, image text narrative, installations/wayfinding signage, and interface design. Other components include letterpress printing, methodologies, museum exhibitions/kiosks, packages/package graphics, posters, print production and offset printing, digital/screen-based production, publications/magazines, strategy, symbols/web icons, theory, typography, websites/design for mobile phone and tablets, and video.
Additional Visual Communication 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 offered.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) offers a BFA in Graphic Design and a Communication Arts BFA (CA BFA). Students in the Graphic Design program will learn about publication and print design, sequential and motion design, and interaction design. After completing the Art Foundation Program, students will advance to hands-on Studio and Seminar courses in sequential order that will move them through the 122 credit hour curriculum.
Course highlights include Book Arts, Design Methods and Processes, Design Technology, Imaging, Interaction, Letterpress, Studio Management, and Visual Narrative.
The CA BFA is a flexible program that allows students to study 3D Modeling, Advanced Figure Drawing, Concept Design and Entertainment Design (such as video games and visual effects), Scientific Illustration, and Sequential Imaging (such as comic books and storyboards). “The program is centered on a rigorous investigation of studio methods and practices which explore conceptual and theoretical concerns for understanding and creating image, media, content and context.”
The focus during the junior and senior years is typography along with advanced coursework in everything from illustration to digital drawing. The senior year of the program culminates with the capstone portfolio course and a variety of electives are offered each semester to provide students the opportunity for specialized study.
Both BFA options prepare students to create effective visual communications for the advertising industry, business, entertainment, marketing, public relations, publishing, retail, and more.
California College of the Arts (CCA) offers BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Interaction Design. Highlights for both programs include the opportunity to immerse in the areas of Brand Identity, Motion Graphics, Print and Screen-Based and Interactive Design. Elective offerings will “strengthen” students “design toolkit,” says the school and CCAs extensive internship program provides real-world experience. Students have the opportunity to intern for design firms, publishing houses, and nonprofits as they work toward a polished thesis project.
“Situated within a top art college the Graphic Design program also benefits from an atmosphere of hands-on making and experimentation. Students are constantly giving and getting feedback and testing their ideas with faculty, visiting experts, and peers.”
Students also benefit from CCAs location in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to Apple, Netflix, IDEO, YouTube, Pinterest, NASA, Google, and many other technology companies. Graduates of the programs have landed positions at innovative design firms, museums, publishing houses, technology companies, nonprofits, and more.
The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) offers a BFA in Design. Students in the program develop their research, problem-solving and critical thinking/making skills through studio-based courses, while elective courses and the university’s core curriculum emphasize the liberal arts. In their junior year, students must complete at least one professional internship, which may include working at major companies with offices in the Austin area. Just a few include Apple, Dell, EA Games, Frog, Google, IBM, Pentagram, and Samsung.
The BFA is a pre-professional degree program encompassing typography, image creation/manipulation, interaction design and 3D design that is intended to prepare students for employment in the field of design. During the senior year, BFA Design students undertake a capstone design project and show their work in a public exhibition at the Visual Arts Center.
Design graduate students share studio space and have access to many other departmental and university resources, including The Computer Lab, The Design Lab, The Digital Fabrication Lab, The Wood Shop, The Visual Arts Center, The Harry Ransom Center, The Materials Lab, The Foundry, and the Fine Arts Library.
Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) offers a BFA in Graphic Design. The 120 credit hour BFA program allow students to “develop their own voice and produce original work,” says the school. “They will research, engage with, and create innovative concepts, content, and form, and learn to communicate ideas visually.”
Students have the opportunity to take electives outside of graphic design, complete a required internship to gain practical, real-world experience, participate in the Emerging Talent Showcase to share their work with potential employers, and complete a semester-long project to culminate in the Commencement Exhibition.
Graphic Design BFA students have the option to study abroad in places such as England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, or anywhere in the U.S.
Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) offers a BFA Graphic Design. Launched in 1980, the Graphic Design program allows students to collaborate with other artists such as copywriters, developers, illustrators, photographers, and printers “to make their ideas a reality,” says the school. Course highlights include Contemporary Design Culture, Design & Typography, Drawing & 2D Design, Drawing & 3D Design, Interactive Design, New Media Design, and Visual Persuasion. For Course GDES 491, students have three options: Design Center, an Internship, or Graphic Design Elective.
RCAD internships have led to many full-time employment opportunities. Graduates have been hired by companies such as Arc Worldwide, Facebook, Google, Instagram, Leo Burnett, Microsoft, Nickelodeon, Saatchi & Saatchi X, Studio BCC, Walt Disney Imagineering, Wieden + Kennedy, and many others.
University of North Texas (UNT) offers a BFA in Communication Design with a Concentration in Graphic Design. Students begin the program “by learning to use the basic principles of design and design thinking, and progress to learn image making, color theory and typography as they create a wide variety of visual communications,” says the school.
Course highlights include Advertising Copywriting, Cause-Based Design, Communication Design Studio, Foundations – Space, Foundations – Systems & Transformations, Graphic Design, Graphic Design Advanced Campaigns, Image Making & Color Theory, Interaction Design, Publication Design, and Typography. Other program highlights include intensive studio courses and the opportunity to complete a professional internship.
Students who complete the Graphic Design Concentration will gain the ability to generate original, creative messages and ideas, and develop a professional portfolio to submit to potential employers. Graduates “are regularly recognized in national and international design competitions and have a high placement rate at top design, interactive and advertising firms throughout the country.”
The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis offers a BFA in Communication Design. The offering is described as a “collaborative program at the intersection of graphic design, illustration, and interaction design.” Students 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 2D and 3D design, digital design, drawing, and a weekly lecture course. Second year students explore disciplines across art and design, selecting from introductory courses in fashion design, graphic design, illustration, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and typography.
Course highlights include Branding & Identity, Content to Cover: The Design of Books, Design for Social Impact, Enchanted Objects: Material Culture, Letterpress Printing, Pictures for Communication, Sculpting Realities, Visualizing Literature: Texture/Structure, and Visual Principles for the Screen. Professional Practice Seminars help students “develop essential skills like writing preparing a portfolio and CV, applying for internships and jobs, and presenting a public lecture” on their work.
The BFA Program culminates in a Senior Capstone, which may be an illustrated book, graphic novel/mini-comic, screen-based presentation, digital experience or zine. The final project is displayed in a public exhibition and reviewed by external design professionals.
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) offers a BFA in Graphic Design. Formats covered in the program, include branding and logo development, posters, books, package design, apps, websites, and interactive design. Students “learn to articulate a critical and theoretical perspective and develop graphic design skills, such as type design and traditional letterpress,” says the school. “Strong craft and presentation skills are emphasized throughout,” with students achieving “the highest level of design excellence through critiques, reviews, and workshops.”
Course highlights for the program include Advanced Image Making Projects, Communication Studio I-IV, Connections through Color and Design, Creative Action Studio, Drawing and Building Form, Systems and Identity Design, Type and Alternative Media, Typography, Visual Language, and Writing in the Digital Age. A Senior Thesis/Research Paper, Senior Project/Seminar, and Capstone are also part of the program.
Graduates of the OTIS Graphic Design Program have landed positions at major companies and studios such as ABC, Inc. and Partners, Apple, Anthropologie, Capitol Records, Conde Nast Publications, Disney Consumer Products, GUESS?, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Ogilvy Worldwide, Sony Music, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros. Records, and Young & Rubicam.
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (Cooper Union or CU) offers a flexible BFA in Art with a Specialization in Graphic Design. Students in the program may take elective studio classes and seminars, offered on a rotating basis, and they have the option to focus their work in one or more areas of specialization. Besides Graphic Design, options include Drawing, Film and Video, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture. Students may also enroll in advanced studio classes with the same course number multiple times.
The school says students are also “encouraged to follow an integrated approach by selecting from various areas while observing a prerequisite system designed to allow in-depth study in specific disciplines.” Other program highlights include internship and study abroad opportunities.
Brigham Young University (BYU) offers a BFA in Graphic Design that “simulates a professional studio experience with students working to solve complex visual problems,” says the school. “As members of a small cohort group, students complete a variety of individual and collaborative projects under close faculty direction.”
Course highlights for the program include 3D Design, Advertising, Bookbinding, Branding, Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, Illustration, Interaction Design, Letterpress Studio, Motion 1 & 2, and Typography. Students in the program will complete the BFA Capstone Project and a required Professional Internship.
Student interns have the opportunity to apply their design skills in a real working environment, they will learn how to meet the needs of the client while preserving the integrity of the design principles they have learned in class, and interact with team members from all areas of expertise on a real-world project.
Graduates of this limited enrollment program (40 students) “will be able to create design solutions across multiple mediums, including print, interactive media, and film.”
University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign (UIUC) offers a BFA in Graphic Design. This 122 credit hour program prepares students for entrance into the professional practice of design visual communications. “studio work addresses graphic design fundamentals (typography and image making), design history and contemporary practices, research methods, user experience, and social responsibility,” says the school. 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. Highlights include Sustainability, Video, and the design of Ninth Letter, “a nationally-distributed and award-winning literary arts journal.”
Just a few required courses include Advanced Interaction Design, Ethics of a Designer in a Global Economy, Expressive Drawing, Graphic Design Toolbox, Image Practice, Time Arts, Typographic Systems, and Visualization Drawing. Students in this program will also have the opportunity to complete an internship.
University of Southern California (USC) offers a Design BFA. This four-year pre-professional program begins with foundation courses such as Drawing and Illustration. Students will gain experience “with a wide array of artistic media,” says the school, and participate in “skills-based workshops in 2D and 3D design-specific media.” Design coursework is “complemented by a series of critical theory seminars, professional design internships, and international design study tours,” along with “a senior thesis and Minors in Advertising, Business, Communication, Entrepreneurship and Marketing.” A required 26 units of electives allows students to refine their focus.
Course highlights for the BFA program include 3D Design Studio, Art and Design Studio, Digital Tools for Design, Illustration for Art and Design, Publication Design, Typography, and Web Design. Students may also take advantage of the New York or International Design Study Tours.
The University of Kansas (KU) offers a BFA in Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design). Students in the program “learn to combine communication and technology with design and business to create powerful visual solutions,” says the school. Course content “deals with a variety of visual communication design problems related to the community, society, industry, commerce, and advertising and attention is given to the development of a well-rounded, representative, and quality portfolio.”
Course highlights include Book Arts, Bookmaking, Designing for Change, Designing for Social Interactions, Digital Letterpress, Elements of Type, Environmental Graphics, Exhibition Design, Letterpress, Motion Graphics, Publication & Editorial, The Photobook, Typographic Systems, and Visual Communication. The program also offers internship and study abroad opportunities as well as the option to complete the Certificate in Book Arts.
KU Visual Communication Design graduates work in a wide range of areas such as branding, corporate marketing communications, exhibition and environmental design, interface design, magazine and book design, motion graphic design, packaging design, traditional print media, and website design.
Potential job titles include Advertising Art Director, Animator, and Art Director, Commercial/Industrial Designer, Exhibition Designer, Graphic Designer, Marketing Manager, Multimedia Specialist, Public Relations Manager, and many others.
Auburn University offers a BFA in Graphic Design (BFA GDES). This is Alabama’s only GDES Program to receive accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) accreditation.
Students in the program “follow a curriculum that provides variety and depth in all aspects of the field, supported by Fine Arts electives,” says the school. This includes branding, illustration, motion, packaging, publication, typography, UI/UX, and packaging, app, and wayfinding design.
In addition, “students have excellent opportunities for internship and cooperative education experiences as a result of well established relationships with regional, national and international companies and firms.” As a result of their overall experience and education, students will build a strong portfolio of work.
Graduates of the program are prepared to design positions with magazines and in logo and identity development, interactive media, exhibitions, illustration, environmental graphics, packaging, and web design.
Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) offers a BFA in Graphic Design Program that balances “proficiency in software with essential hand skills, such as drawing, painting, collage, model making and experimental processes,” says the school. Students can expect an “immersive studio experience” and a “rigorous, diverse curriculum.” Course highlight Branding & Identity, Communication, Information and Data Visualization, Interaction, Media, Social Innovation, and Type and Image.
All students will have the opportunity to participate in KCAI’s internship program, three- to five-week long faculty-led travel programs, and full semester programs that can take them to one of several participating art and design colleges in the U.S. or abroad. These programs have allowed students to gain valuable professional experience in real world settings.
Graduates of KCAI’s Graphic Design Program have gone on to work with local and national design and advertising firms such as Airbnb, Barkley, Nickelodeon, Design Army, DMH, Fossil, Garmin, Hallmark, Hint, Hyperakt, Pentagram, Populous, Radius, R/GA, Salesforce, the Getty, and VML.
Boston University (BU) offers a Graphic Design BFA that “provides a sequenced studio approach to design, preparing students to thrive in a dynamic, creative professional environment,” says the school.
Students begin the program with Foundations, which introduces “visual concepts in two and three dimensions, with an emphasis on drawing from observation.” In the second year of the program, students specialize in graphic design coursework, with yearlong graphic design and typography studios that emphasize form and communication.
Third year students participate in graphic design and typography studios that “address authorship, audience, and medium.” Projects are completed in communal workspaces equipped with flat files, printers, and paper trimmers. “With training, students are also granted access to the School’s Printmaking facilities, which include etching, lithography, silkscreen, bookmaking, letterpress, and digital print studios.”
Students in the BFA program have the opportunity to complete coursework outside of the School of Visual Arts and explore a variety of programs across the BU community. Many undergraduate Graphic Design students are dual-degree majors.
The BFA in Graphic Design culminates in the thesis project and end of year exhibition, where students “articulate a personally driven design methodology through an installation of their work in the Boston University Art Galleries.”
Upon completion of the BFA program, students have the option to enroll in BU’s Graphic Design Graduate Certificate Program. This one-year full-time rigorous and intensive study in graphic design is an ideal step towards an MFA in Graphic Design.