What are the graphic design MFA programs for 2021?

Top 25 Graphic Design MFA Programs in the U.S. – 2021 College Rankings
1Rhode Island School of DesignRhode Island
2ArtCenter College of DesignCalifornia
3School of Visual ArtsNew York
4Yale University Connecticut
5Maryland Institute College of ArtMaryland
6Savannah College of Art and DesignGeorgia
7California Institute of the ArtsCalifornia
8Cranbrook Academy of ArtMichigan
9School of the Art Institute of ChicagoIllinois
10Virginia Commonwealth UniversityVirginia
11California College of the ArtsCalifornia
12University of Texas at AustinTexas
13Minneapolis College of Art and DesignMinnesota
14Otis College of Art and DesignCalifornia
15University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Illinois
16University of Southern CaliforniaCalifornia
17The Ohio State UniversityOhio
18Boston UniversityMassachusetts
19San Diego State UniversityCalifornia
20Academy of Art UniversityCalifornia
21Iowa State UniversityIowa
22Rochester Institute of TechnologyNew York
23Kent State UniversityOhio
24University of HoustonTexas
25Texas State University, San MarcosTexas

Below are the Top 25 Graphic Design schools and colleges in the US offering Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree programs for 2021. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) offers two- and three-year Tracks leading to the MFA in Graphic Design. The MFA Tracks allow students to tailor individual courses of study through cross-disciplinary electives. MFA students will also complete the Graduate Studio and Graduate Seminar Sequences. Course highlights include Graduate Form, Graduate Type Design, and Graduate Type Typography. Both MFA Tracks require a Thesis.

Graduates of both Tracks programs 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.

2. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California
ArtCenter College of Design

ArtCenter College of Design offers an MFA in Graphic Design (MGx) with two- and three-year options. The two-year option is five terms and the three-year option is seven terms. Students who need additional design skills typically choose the three-year program. Both programs require a thesis, Graduate Studio, Graduate Seminar, Professional Leadership, and Graduate Portfolio courses. MGx students also have the opportunity to complete Graphic Design Internship OR Studio Independent Study OR Testlab Berlin.

ArtCenter MGx 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.”

3. School of Visual Arts, New York, New York
School of Visual Arts Logo

The School of Visual Arts (SVA) offers a Design/Designer as Entrepreneur MFA that “inspires” students to conceive, produce, brand and market their own innovative content. Interaction, motion graphics, branding, and user experience are covered as well as typography as a visual language, video and new media directing, and art book and digital publishing. Students will also take classes in business, marketing, ethnography, strategy, research, advertising, promotion, intellectual property and networking.

The MFA program includes “advanced instruction in a variety of authoring skills, such as writing, editing, criticism, typography as a visual language, Film and new media directing, visual journalism and book and magazine publishing,” during the first year. Students will also take courses in marketing, research, advertising, promotion, publicity, intellectual property and networking.

In the second year of the program, students will design and write a proposal for a product that will be presented to a panel of "guest faculty" who will decide whether it has enough merit to progress to the developmental stage. In this stage, “students will produce a prototype for backers, publishers, producers or distributors. Working individually, this final proposal, dummy or prototype will be professionally produced for presentation purposes.”

Graduate students will have access to the SVA MFA studios, open 24 hours a day and “designed to simulate an operational design/media firm with spacious workstations that allow for individual and collaborative work.”

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.

4. Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Yale School of the Art

Yale University houses Yale School Art, which offers an MFA in Graphic Design. Known as the Yale Graphic Design MFA (Yale GDMFA), this 60 credit hour program accepts just 12 students each year and up to six students into the preliminary-year program. MFA applicants for this competitive program are expected to have “substantial and distinguished experience in visual studies and related professional experience,” says the school. Students can expect support for their graphic design collections in several ways including, “studio work led by faculty meeting weekly, small five- or six-person thesis groups meeting biweekly, and individual sessions with writing and editing tutors.”

Lectures, presentations, and workshops are also part of the program as well as access to “extraordinary” resources including Yale University courses, conferences, films, lectures, museums, and the “extensive” research and rare book collections of Sterling and Beinecke libraries.

Students also have a designated workspace in the design studio loft and access to equipment including bookbinding materials, wide format printers, a RISO duplicator, Vandercook press, and workspaces in the School of Art buildings. More resources supporting interdisciplinary projects including motion capture and VR are available at the nearby Center for Collaborative Arts and Media.

The Yale Graphic Design MFA takes two years to complete, full-time.

5. Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Maryland Institute College of Art

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) offers an MFA in Graphic Design (GD MFA). The 60 credit hour program features two years of full-time study that that the school says combines “critical seminars, guided studio courses, and independent work.” Students in the MFA program may “take advantage of electives in many MICA departments, including video, printmaking, and digital media,” to create a focus.

Other program highlights include the GDMA Workshop. Through the workshop, GDMA students will have the opportunity to create and exhibit a self-directed design project and a professional portfolio.

6. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers MFA degrees in Graphic Design and Design Management. Both programs highlight Entrepreneurship, User Experience and Interface Design (UX/UI), Mobile Technology, and Product Packaging. 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.

7. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
California Institute of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts offers an MFA in Graphic Design that has two- and three-year options. During the two-year program, students deepen and refine their work through a set of required and elective courses covering subjects such as type design, web design, typography, motion graphics, design theory and design history. Students will also work with visiting designers on short-term projects within the focused studio environment.

“The three-year program is designed for students who do not have a Graphic Design undergraduate degree, but who typically demonstrate a talent and enthusiasm for design, and a level of expertise in their given field. The heart of the Program is the Visual Literacy course, a critique class comprised of a series of structured projects designed to teach design principles, process, methodology and skills.”

Students in both programs are required to pass a Thesis Review to obtain the MFA degree.

8. Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art houses the 2D Design Department—home of the Graduate Graphic Design Department. Issues pursued in the Department include work situated at the intersection of design and art, exploration of the relationship between writing, criticism, and production, process of critique as generative tool, and objects first: theory, language, and writing all in support of the object. The program takes an interdisciplinary approach to design, with activities “designed to support the act of making,” says the school.

The program focus is “articulated in” the weekly structure, “where the lion’s share” of time “is dedicated to studio practice.” This means students and faculty “make work (together), discuss this work and consider its cultural implications.”

The Graduate Graphic Design Program at Cranbrook Academy of Art leads to an MFA.

9. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) offers an MFA in Studio with a Visual Communication Design Pathway. In this program, faculty “guide students in self-initiated work that explores issues of personal interest and cultural/social significance.” This 60 credit hour program offers the opportunity to explore other related departments at SAIC such as Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects; Film, Video, New Media, and Animation (FVNMA); Photography; Printmedia; and Writing. The purpose of this opportunity is to “extend students’ design work into new territories.”

Other 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.

10. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia
Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) offers an MFA in Design with a Concentration in Visual Communications. Students in the program “concentrate on the philosophical, communicative, and aesthetic relationships of visual problem solving and the interacting skills leading to the effective articulation of concepts,” says the school.

Graduates will have the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a career in Design Education and/or further their professional practices in conducting visual or theoretical research, and in investigating the intersections of function and expression in design problem solving.

11. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California
California College of the Arts

California College of the Arts (CCA) offers an MFA in Design that focuses on Graphic Design, Industrial Design, and Interaction Design. Highlights for the program 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 Graphic Design Programs have landed positions at innovative design firms, museums, publishing houses, technology companies, nonprofits, and more.

12. University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
University of Texas at Austin

Founded in 1881, the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) offers an MFA in Design that accepts exceptional students with preexisting design skills. The 60 credit hour program prepares students for “thought and organizational leadership in the field of design or in fields where design is being utilized strategically,” says the school. “In addition to advanced studio work in established design disciplines,” students have the “opportunity to study, explore and work in disciplines that intersect with design.”

All students in the program “will enjoy a formal curricular partnership with another discipline on campus and develop a thesis that thoughtfully intersects design with another field such as business, anthropology, engineering, or art.” In addition, the MFA Design program offers preparation for college teaching in the field of design through a series of classes exploring design pedagogy.

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.

13. Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) offers an MFA in Visual Studies. This 60 credit hour program allow students to pursue creative work in Graphic Design, Illustration, Interactive Media, Paper and Book Arts, Printmaking, and more. 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. 

MFA Students will also have the option to study abroad in places such as England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, or anywhere in the U.S.

14. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Otis College of Art and Design

Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) offers an MFA in Graphic Design. This accelerated LA-based program that takes 14 months to complete. During the program, students learn to work across media and platforms through a series of visiting workshops, courses in design theory and history, studio projects, and round table discussions.

“The coursework engages research, discourse, critical thinking, and iterative process with the goal of discovering many possible design outcomes,” says the school. “In so doing, the program supports students in taking on the challenges and opportunities in contemporary graphic design practice.”

Graduates of the Graphic Design Program at OTIS 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.

15. University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana

University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign (UIUC) offers an MFA in Graphic Design. This 64 credit hour program prepares students to “contribute to the field of design by entering into practice, academia or both.” Students in the program 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.

16. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California

University of Southern California (USC) offers an MFA and Dual BFA/MFA in Design.

The Design MFA is a five-term, 56-unit studio-based program administered in collaboration with the Graduate School, It is a professional degree in the practice of design that highlights mentored relationships with design faculty, participation in regular seminars, and discussions and studio visits with leading visiting designers, writers and theorists from around the world. The Roski School's partnership and affiliation with the contemporary design community in Los Angeles, such as American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), is also critical component of the MFA Design Program.

Students will complete an MFA Design Thesis and the opportunity to gain experience as a teaching assistant is available on a competitive basis. Field internship opportunities, design study tours to Asian or European cities, and the option to take Design Studio Co-Lab are other program highlights.

17. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University (OSU) offers an MFA in Visual Arts through the Department of Art and an MFA in Digital Animation and Interactive Media 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.

18. Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
Boston University

Boston University (BU) offers an MFA in Graphic Design. The program “provides a sequenced studio approach to advanced design thinking and problem solving for visual communication, preparing students to thrive in a dynamic professional environment,” says the school. Graphic Design Studios form the programs core and electives complement the studios, providing the opportunity to specialize in areas of interest. Elective courses currently include Information Design, Design for the Web, Interactive Design, Experience Design, Motion Graphics, Design Theory, History of Graphic Design, Editorial Design and Exhibition Design.

MFA students also benefit from lectures by nationally and internationally distinguished designers and direct contact with the industry. The program culminates in a master’s thesis, which is presented in an exhibition format at the Boston University Art Galleries.

19. San Diego State University, San Diego, California
San Diego State University

San Diego State University (SDSU) offers an MFA with a Graphic Design Emphasis. This 60-unit program includes a minimum of 45 units at the 600- and 700- level. With approval of the director and graduate adviser, a student may focus on a program of study combining two studio art fields. In addition to Graphic Design, options include Ceramics, Furniture/Wordworking, Interior Design, Jewelry/Metalwork, Multimedia, Painting, Printmaking, and Sculpture.

A Thesis is required as well as “an oral examination of each candidate by the graduate faculty of the School of Art and Design,” says the school. “The examination will occur at the time of the candidate’s master’s exhibition, and will encompass an in-depth discussion of the candidate’s thesis project.”

20. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art

Academy of Art University houses the School of Graphic Design where students are mentored by faculty with “years of graphic design experience working with top-flight studios and brand-name companies with strong ties to the industry,” says the school. Areas covered include Branding, Communication Design, Editorial Design, Environmental Design, Experience Design, Innovation, Motion Graphics, Packaging, Print, Typography, and User Experience.

The 63 credit-hour MFA in Graphic Design includes courses such as Making Ideas Visible, Type Experiments, User Experience Design, and Visual Thinking. Three Thesis courses are required, as well as Directed Study, Professional Practices for Designers & Advertisers, and an Internship.

School of Graphic Design graduates hold positions such as Creative/Art Director, Graphic Designer, Product Designer, and User Experience (UX) Designer. Companies that have hired Academy of Art graduates include Apple, Google, global design company IDEO, Nike, R/GA (advertising and marketing), and Square, to name a few.

21. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
Iowa State University

Iowa State University offers a Graphic Design MFA that consists of 64 credit hours of study. The terminal degree in the field, the MFA produces graduates who are “skilled in communication design and problem solving,” says the school, and “adept in the use of visual language, symbology, and interaction.” Program highlights include Graphic Design Field Study opportunities including study and tours of museums, galleries, artist and/or designer studios, and participation in the International Study Abroad Program in Western Europe, where students visit art museums, design studios, and educational facilities. 

22. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York
Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) offers an MFA in Visual Communication Design (VCD). This cross-disciplinary 60 credit hour program “focuses on all areas of design, including graphic design, user experience/interaction design, design studies, motion graphics, and 3D digital design.” Students have the option to enhance the degree by choosing an option in Communication Design, Interaction Design, or Motion and 3D Digital Design.

The MFA in VCD, which enrolls around 100 students, also allows all eligible students to participate in an optional co-op program the summer between their first and second years. Some students may have the opportunity to participate during the fall and spring terms.

Graduates of the MFA program are prepared to seek positions in industries such as Advertising, PR, and Marketing, Design, Electronic and Computer Hardware, and Internet and Software, to name a few. Potential job titles include Consulting Art Director and Visual Designer, Designer/Animator, Graphic Designer, Type Designer, UI/UX Designer or Designer and Developer, UX and Visual Designer, and many others.

23. Kent State University, Kent, Ohio
Kent State University

Kent State University (KSU) offers an MFA in Visual Communication Design. KSU was the first in the state to offer the terminal degree in the field.

The MFA in VCD is an interdisciplinary program that focuses on theory, research, and design process. Classes “have been developed to create an educational experience in design highlighted by field research methods, design thinking, and social innovation, augmented by practical university teaching experience where MFA candidates work hands-on with students at the freshman and sophomore level,” says the school.

“This approach helps graduates gain the necessary tools to succeed in their careers as innovative leaders in visual communication, design management, entrepreneurship and higher education.”

The MFA consists of 60 credit hours of study that takes five semesters to complete. Graduates of the program “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.”

24. University of Houston, Houston, Texas
University of Houston

University of Houston (UH) offers an MFA in Studio Art with a Concentration in Graphic Design. This 60 semester-hour degree includes 18 hours in the concentration 12 hours in art history, 24 hours of related arts, and six hours of graduate seminar. Upon completion of all coursework for the program, all graduate students must present their work in a thesis exhibition at the Blaffer Museum, with accompanying photographic documentation.

25. Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
Texas State University

Texas State University, San Marcos offers an MFA in Communication Design. The school says the program is “one of the largest public programs in the country.” The MFA curriculum is “designed to provide advanced study in the areas of corporate advertising art direction, graphic design, and digital media design. The graduate program will provide students with the following: advanced problem-solving methodologies, updating technological advancement relating to communication design, examination of historical events within the discipline, and emerging theoretical constructs.”

“Web-based delivery is heavily featured in course curriculum, as well as online video conferences, live chat, and blogging interfaces. In addition, the program offers courses via extended weekend seminars, evening courses, and independent directed study. This non-traditional structure allows active professionals to participate.” The MFA program also offers “limited graduate assistant positions for qualified students who wish to immerse themselves full time in their graduate studies.”

For students seeking a future career in higher education, the program provides the appropriate academic credential and the terminal degree in the discipline of visual communication design: the MFA.

“The exchange of ideas on an international basis is an important component of the MFA Communication Design program.” Guest professors from around the world visit the Texas State campus to” lecture and share their unique perspective on communication design with graduate students. In addition, selected students are encouraged to participate in international field trips to expand their knowledge in the field of communication design.”

Texas State University Communication Design students have been published in “prestigious design journals” such as CMYK, Communication Arts, Graphis New Talent Annual, Logo Lounge, PRINT, and Step Inside Design. Students have also received recognition in local, regional, and national competitions such as AIGA Flux, American Advertising Federation Awards, Art Director's Club of Houston, Austin Addy Awards, Creative Summit, The National Show, The One Show, and the San Antonio Addy Awards.