What are the top graphic design schools in the Midwest for 2021?

Top 25 Graphic Design Schools in the Midwest – 2021 College Rankings
RankingSchoolStateTop %
1School of the Art Institute of ChicagoIllinois 1%
2Minneapolis College of Art and DesignMinnesota 1%
3Washington University in St. LouisMissouri 2%
4University of CincinnatiOhio 2%
5University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Illinios2%
6University of Illinois at ChicagoIllinois 3%
7University of KansasKansas 3%
8Kansas City Art InstituteMissouri4%
9The Ohio State UniversityOhio 4%
10Michigan State UniversityMichigan 4%
11Iowa State UniversityIowa 5%
12College for Creative StudiesMichigan 5%
13Kent State UniversityOhio 6%
14Columbia College ChicagoIllinois 6%
15University of Minnesota - Twin CitiesMinnesota 6%
16Columbus College of Art and DesignOhio 7%
17Purdue UniversityIndiana 7%
18Indiana UniversityIndiana 8%
19Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design Wisconsin 8%
20Indiana University-Purdue University, IndianapolisIndiana 8%
21University of Wisconsin – StoutWisconsin 9%
22University of Notre DameIndiana 9%
23Bowling Green State UniversityOhio 10%
24University of Wisconsin – MadisonWisconsin 10%
25Kansas State UniversityKansas 10%

Our 2021 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

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the oldest accredited independent schools of art and design in the country. Founded in 1866, the school has been recognized as “the most influential art college in the United States,” by Columbia University’s National Arts Journalism survey.  

More than 3,000 students are enrolled in more than 50 areas of study in 24 departments at SAIC. The Visual Communication Design Department (VCD) houses the Visual Communication Design Program, which offers BFA and MFA degrees in Studio with a Visual Communication Design Pathway. A Post-baccalaureate 30 credit hour Certificate in Studio is also available and can serve as a track into the MFA program.

The BFA 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.

In the MFA 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.

2. Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Top 1% of schools considered)
Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Established in 1886, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) houses more than 90,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. The school’s more than 800 students have full access to these works along with creative spaces/classrooms, professional facilities, additional galleries, student housing complexes, artist studios, and a sculpture garden. Students also have access to 23 art and design degree programs and undergraduate minors. Degree programs lead to the BFA, BS, MA, or MFA.

Among the schools art and design programs are 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 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. They will 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.

The 60 credit hour MFA 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. 

Designed for motivated working adults, the 30 credit MA in Graphic and Web Design takes place entirely online. With small class sizes designed to encourage collaboration, courses for the program cover design principles, ideation, programming, ideation, research, typography, 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 England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, or anywhere in the U.S.

3. Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri (Top 2% of colleges considered)
Washington University in St. Louis

Founded in 1853, Washington University in St. Louis serves nearly 15,000 students enrolled in more than more than 90 fields of study in seven schools. The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts 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 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.

4. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (Top 2% of colleges considered)
University of Cincinnati

Founded in 1819, the University of Cincinnati (UC) serves nearly 47,000 students enrolled in more than 400 academic programs across 14 colleges and a graduate school. UC is the global founder of cooperative education (co-op), so students also have access to some of the world’s best experience-based learning opportunities. UC co-op students “earn a collective $75 Million per year working in 22 countries and 44 states for more than 1,300 employers,” says the 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 (BSDES). The program, which takes five years to complete, offers three concentration areas including Graphic Design, Interaction Design, and Motion Design.

Students in the BS program will take a broad range of courses such as Design Ideation, Foundational Drawing and Design, Kinetic Communication, Photodesign, and Typography. 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 (AVC) Department at Ash offers a two-year Associate of Applied Business (AAB) 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.

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

University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign (UIUC) was established in 1867 as Illinois Industrial University. The school is one of the original 37 public land-grant institutions created after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act. UIUC serves nearly 52,400 students enrolled in 150 undergraduate and more than 100 graduate and professional programs. Programs are offered across 16 “academic units,” including the College of Fine and Applied Arts, which houses the School of Art and Design—home to the Graphic Design Program.

Degree options include a BFA and MFA in Graphic Design. The 122 credit hour undergraduate 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.

The 64 credit hour MFA 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.

6. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 3% of schools considered)
University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) was formed in 1982 by two U. of I. campuses—the Medical Center campus, which dates back to the 19th century, and the comprehensive Chicago Circle campus which, in 1965, replaced the two-year undergraduate Navy Pier campus that opened in 1946 to educate returning veterans. Today, with more than 33,500 students enrolled, UIC is the largest university in the Chicago area. 


UIC offers 260 degree programs and 66 certificate programs across 15 colleges. This includes the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts (CADA), which houses the School of Art and Art History, Department of Art—home to the Graphic Design Program. Degree options include the Bachelor of Design (BDes) and Master of Design (MDes) in Graphic Design, and 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.


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.”

Course highlights for the BDes include Analyzing the Natural World, Digital Media Design: Interactivity, Form + Image Studio, Type: Experimentation, and Understanding the Individual in Society. Students will also complete a thesis. 


The two-year MDes “is a globally oriented program delivered in Chicago and Basel, Switzerland.” Chicago-based students have the opportunity to participate in the Basel School of Design Summer Workshops. In both locations, students will focus on the independent master’s research project. The program culminates in a public exhibition of the project.

7. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (Top 3% of colleges considered)
University of Kansas

The University of Kansas (KU) opened in 1866 with just 55 students. Today, the school serves 28,500 students across five campuses in the Lawrence, Overland Park, Kansas City, Wichita, and Salina. More than 400 degree and certificate programs are offered in 13 schools, including the only schools of pharmacy and medicine in the state.

The School of Architecture and Design at KU houses the Department of Design, which 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.

The Certificate requires 12 credit hours, and students learn production across the “whole book—papermaking, typography, printing, and binding, informed by the history of the book.”

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.

8. Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri, (Top 4% of colleges considered)
Kansas City Art Institute

Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) was established in 1885 as a Sketch Club. Today, this art and designs school serves nearly 700 students, enrolled in 13 BFA programs with courses taught by practicing artists, designers, and scholars.

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 in the program 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.

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

The Ohio State University (OSU) was established in 1870 as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. This land-, sea- and space-grant university houses more than 200 academic centers and institutes, where research, policy-making, knowledge creation and student engagement happen daily across many disciplines. Serving more than 68,000 students, the school offers over 200 majors, minors and specializations in 18 colleges and schools.

OSU’s College of Arts and Sciences houses the Department of Design. Established in 1968, the Department has an 18:1 student to instructor ratio and more than 3,000 Design alumni. Programs for aspiring designers 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.

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

Founded in 1855, Michigan State University (MSU) serves nearly 50,000 students enrolled in more than 200 programs in 17 degree-granting colleges. The school, which sits on one of the biggest and greenest campuses in the nation, lists notable alumni such as NBA legend Magic Johnson, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, celebrated actor James Caan, and film director/producer/writer/actor Sam Raimi.

MSU’s College of Arts & Letters, Department of Art, Art History, and Design, offers a BFA and a 15 credit hour Minor in Graphic Design. An MFA that allows students to select a track such as Graphic Design is also available.

The BFA program offers the unique opportunity for students to gain real-world design experience by providing design services to the community. “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,” says the school. “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 AIGA membership, internship opportunities, and the Annual Visiting Artist & Scholar Lecture Series. Past lecturers include Martin Venezky, Ben Fry, Jim Sherraden of Hatch Showprint, Stuart Bailey, Jan Wilker, Cheryl Towler Weese, Hans Allemann, Karen Cheng, Nancy Skolos & Tom Wedell, James Victore, Andrew Blauvelt.

MSU Graphic Design alumni are Art Directors, Creative Directors, Freelancers, Graphic Designers and Video Editors with advertising agencies, design firms, in-house design offices, production studios, publishing companies, and more.

11. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa (Top 5% of colleges considered)
Iowa State University

Founded in 1858, Iowa State University serves 31,825 students enrolled in more than 100 undergraduate majors and over 200 fields of study leading a graduate or professional degree. Programs are offered in eight colleges, two schools, and roughly 150 academic departments. The College of Design houses the Department of Graphic Design, which offers BFA and MFA degrees in Graphic Design, and an MA in Experiential Graphic Design (MAxDG).

The BFA in Graphic Design is a four-year degree consisting of one year in the College of Design Core Design Program, which allows students to experiment with interdisciplinary work at the earliest stages of their college education, make informed degree choices, and apply to multiple programs at the end of the first year. Students in the program will have the opportunity to complete the Junior year Graphic Design Practicum that provides real-world experience with clients such as Habitat for Humanity and the Special Olympics. In their Senior year, students will also complete a summer internship or study abroad experience in College of Design’s Rome Program or Graphic Design in Europe.

Other program highlights include travel experiences every semester to design centers across the country and option studios in a variety of graphic design applications. This includes 3D Animation, Branding and Logo Design, Exhibition Design, Motion Graphics, Multimedia, Narrative, Packaging, Publications, Typography, Wayfinding, and Web and E-commerce.

The Graphic Design MFA program 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. 

The MAxGD Program is designed for artists seeking a graphic design specialization with little or no previous experience in the area. This 30 credit hour program “focuses on preparing students for visual communication” and it “provides a comprehensive exposure to all aspects of user experience, including but not exclusive to wayfinding, exhibition design, interaction, information design, and placemaking.”

Other program highlights include internship opportunities, participation in senior shows, and study abroad experiences.

12. College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan (Top 5% of colleges considered)
College for Creative Studies

The idea for the College for Creative Studies (CCS) dates back to 1906 when a group of local civic leaders established the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. Members began teaching informal classes in basic design, drawing, and woodcarving and in 1911, and they opened a gallery where student and prominent modern artists could display and sell their work.

In 1926 and with an enrollment of 280 students, the Society became one of the first arts and crafts organizations to offer a formal, four-year program in art under the name Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts.

Today, CCS is a private, fully accredited college offering BFA and MFA degrees to more than 1,400 students. With an enrollment of 114 students, the Graphic Design Department is one of the top five largest departments at CCS. Degree options for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Communication Design (Graphic Design). Degrees that complement Graphic Design include BFAs in Advertising: Copywriting, Advertising: Design, and Fine Arts.

The BFA in Communication Design (Graphic Design) covers print, motion and interaction. In fall 2021, the degree will become a STEM-designated program for all entering students.

The current program begins with the core principles of print-based graphic design. This includes color, hierarchy, image, messaging, and typography. Students will “merge what they’ve learned with the language of code in order to build media and create interactive environments on a wide variety of platforms.” Course highlights for the program include 2D Design, 3D Techniques, Advanced Communication Design, Business Practices, Concepts & Methods/Visual Culture, Digital Techniques, Interaction I-III, Typography I-III, Visual Culture, and Visual Narration: Africa/America, and Visual Narration: Asia.

Other program highlights include the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or a year in places such as Austria, Australia, Germany, Mexico, and Paris; internship opportunities at places such as Chrysler, Converse, Foote Cone & Belding, FUSE, Microsoft, Quicksilver, Reebok, Urban Outfitters, and Whirlpool; and one of the highest post-graduate employment rates in the country.

Graduates of the Communication Design (Graphic Design) Program at CCS are prepared to pursue a wide range of job titles such as Advertising Designer, Brand manager, Creative Director, Editorial Designer, Graphic Designer, Interaction Designer, Interactive Art Director, Mobile Media Designer, Social Media Director, User Experience Designer (UX), User Interface Designer (UI), Visual Designer, and Web Designer.

Many CCS Design alumni are entrepreneurs who open their own design studios across the country and the globe, including Los Angeles, New York City, the Netherlands, and in of course, in Detroit.

13. Kent State University, Kent, Ohio (Top 6% of colleges considered)
Kent State University

Founded in 1910 as a teacher-training school, Kent State University (KSU) serves 38,000 students enrolled in more than 340 degree programs offered in more than 40 colleges, departments, and schools.

The College of Communication and Information houses the School of Visual Communication Design (VCD), which offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include BA, BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in Visual Communication Design.

The BA is a 123-credit hour program that focuses on “design and illustration in the context of a broad program of general studies,” says the school. An internship is required for the program and well as completion of a minor. Suggested options include Advertising, Communication Studies, Digital Sciences, Electronic Media, Fine Art Studio, Health Communication, Language, Management or Entrepreneurship for Non-Business Majors, Marketing, Photo-Illustration, Public Relations, and Visual Journalism.

Note that most KSU internships are paid, and students have the opportunity to work at major companies across Cleveland and in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.

For the BFA program, approximately two-thirds of the coursework focuses on “the creation and study of the visual arts,” with the remainder in general studies. Because of the greater emphasis on upper-level studio courses, the BFA allows majors the opportunity to build greater expertise in a given area of the field. An internship is a required component of the BFA program as well as an exit portfolio presentation for public display.

The MA in VCD consists of 32 credit hours of study that can be completed in three semesters. The program “is recommended for students seeking professional employment after completing their degree and who need to build a portfolio of work to enhance career opportunities.” Potential emerging markets for graduates include branding, digital media, social media, and user experience design.

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 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.”

“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.”

14. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 6% of colleges considered)
Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago (Columbia) was founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory. Serving nearly 7,000 students from all 50 states and 60 countries, Columbia offers 150 majors, minors, and graduate programs in the Schools of Media Arts, Fine and Performing Arts, and Liberal Arts and Sciences. The School of Fine and Performing Arts offers 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.

Students in the Graphic Design programs at Columbia will “develop advanced skills in typography, layout, information design, packaging design, and other applications through hands-on courses.” They will also learn the software and technology needed to “deliver dynamic visual communications,” and “gain experience in research and client management.” Business is a major component of the program, as it prepares students for positions in ad agencies, design firms, and in-house corporate design. It also prepares students to launch their own businesses.

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

The BFA requires more advanced courses in graphic design. Students in this degree track do not choose a concentration and they will take courses across disciplines including Publication Design, Visual Identity, and Web Design.

Students in both the BA and BFA programs have the opportunity to intern at firms such as Foote, Cone & Belding and Leo Burnett, and with clients like Procter & Gamble. Besides real-world experience, graphic design students will graduate from the program with polished portfolio to share with potential employers.

Graduates of the programs have landed positions at places such as Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive), Google, Leo Burnett, and Modern Luxury.

15. University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Top 6% of colleges considered)
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Founded in 1851, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (UMN) is the flagship institution of the University of Minnesota System and Minnesota’s only land-grant university. One of the nation’s largest research universities, the school is also one of just five universities in the U.S. with an engineering school, medical school, law school, veterinary medicine school, and agricultural school all on one campus.

UMN serves more than 50,000 students enrolled in more than 150 undergraduate majors and 150+ minors, along with more than 200 master’s and doctoral programs. Undergraduate programs are offered in eight freshman-admitting and five upper-division colleges. The College of Design houses the Graphic Design Program, which has several pathways for aspiring graphic designers and professionals including a BFA in Graphic Design and the Graphic Design Track (MA, MS, MFA, PhD).

The undergraduate Graphic Design Program at UMN “educates students in design methods, theory, and creative problem solving utilized in the industry today,” says the school. “Students “will learn how humans communicate, perceive, interpret, and understand visual information” and they will also “be exposed to a wide variety of creative opportunities that include but are not limited to: branding, typography, packaging, interaction design, user experience, and data visualization.”

The graduate Graphic Design Track offers areas of study such as color systems and perception, design education, design education history, human interaction with designed objects, multicultural communication, social and cultural implications of design, and visual representation of information. The program also includes an Emphasis in Interactive Design, “which provides students with experience in designing for the electronic environment.” The program, which “integrates theory with practice in the application of emergent and established technologies to digital design solutions,” requires a creative thesis.

16. Columbus College of Art and Design, Columbus, Ohio (Top 7% of colleges considered)
Columbus College of Art and Design

Founded in 1879 Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) is one of the oldest private art and design colleges in the United States. Serving nearly 1,100 students, the school offers 12 BFA programs and two graduate programs in a broad range of subjects and practice areas. Options for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA and a Minor in Advertising Design & Graphic Design.

The Minor is 15 credit hours and the BFA is a 120 credit hour program consisting of 60 hours of program requirements, 18 of CORE studio requirements, and 42 of CORE liberal arts requirements. Course highlights include Advanced Branding Concepts, Applied Design, Conceptual Copywriting and AD, Content Marketing Strategy, Motion Graphics, Digital Design Lab, Typographic Communication, UX Strategy & Interaction, and Web Strategy & Design.

Other program highlights include engagement in the professional community via co-ops and internships at top design, advertising, and digital agencies, participation in events such as the American Advertising Federation sponsored event The Pitch, which focuses on social change projects, and the opportunity to become a member of AdGraph Collective Community.

Graduates of the program are prepared to seek positions such as Art Director, Brand Manager, Copywriter, Digital Designer, Graphic Designer, Interactive Media Director, Social Media Manager, Web Designer/Developer, and many others.

Recent employers of CCAD BFA graduates include A&E Networks, American Greetings, Apple, Arc Worldwide/Leo Burnett, BBDO Worldwide, IBM iX, JPMorgan Chase, Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Young & Rubicam, to name a few.

17. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana (Top 7% of colleges considered)
Purdue University

Purdue University began classes in 1874 with just six instructors and 39 students. Today, the school serves a record 45,869 students, including 34,920 undergraduates, just under 18,000 of whom are Indiana residents. Purdue also has one of the largest enrollments of international students in the nation.

More than 200 majors and hundreds of graduate programs are offered in 10 colleges and schools + Purdue Polytechnic Institute. The College of Liberal Arts houses the Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Dance, Art, and Performance, home of the Department of Design. Here, aspiring graphic designers can earn a BFA or MFA in Visual Communications Design (VCD).

Areas of study covered for the BFA in VCD include Color Design, Graphic Design, New Media, Packaging, Posters, Typography, and Web Design. Students in the program “will work on a series of problem-based visual assignments to build their visual message design and experience design skills,” says the school. Before advancing to upper-level design, sophomore students must pass a selective portfolio review.

Upon passing, junior (and senior year) students will “experience immense mentoring, skill development, and an abundance of student opportunities from competitions, exhibitions, internships, and extracurriculars.”

Graduates of the program often find themselves in various Junior and Senior roles, as well as, Associate, Coordinator, Director, Manager and Specialist positions. Alumni hold positions in many branches of design such as Art Direction, Branding Design, Design Education, Graphic Art, Graphic Design, Independent Graphic Design Consulting and Operations, Marketing Communications, Packaging Design, and Web and Multimedia Design.

The MFA in VCD has two options: Thesis (66 credits) and Non-Thesis (60 credits). Both options offer teaching assistantship opportunities and courses in advanced color design, critical theory, design methodology, history, information design, posters, research methods, typography, web communications, and more. In the third year of both programs, after passing a qualifying review, students will focus on research and production of their MFA exhibition and thesis/non-thesis work.

At the end of the program, successful students will present a public gallery talk about their research during their MFA exhibition.

18. Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana (Top 8% of colleges considered)
Indiana University

Indiana University Bloomington (IU Bloomington) was founded in 1820 as The Seminary. The school became Indiana College in 1828 and Indiana University in 1838. Today, Bloomington is the largest and oldest Indiana University campus, serving more than 40,000 students of the systems 90,090 students.

IU Bloomington has more than 200 undergraduate majors divided among 12 schools and 400+ graduate degrees in The University Graduate School. The Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design (SOAAD) offers 14 areas of study from Apparel Merchandising to Graphic Design to Sculpture.

SOAAD has three degree pathways for aspiring graphic designers: the Studio Art BA, BFA, and MFA. The undergraduate programs cover theory, process, and application. Students in the programs “learn fundamental value of typography, imagery, grids, systems, and more in the course of creating everything from posters and logos to apps and other digital media,” says the school. The BA requires 39 credit hours in studio and at least 12 credit hours in art history and students in the BFA program must complete at least 62 credit hours in studio and at least 12 credit hours in art history as well. 

Other program highlights include creative collaboration with teams of artists and designers, nationally and internationally recognized visiting artists through the McKinney Visiting Artist Series, volunteer opportunities, and access to The Letterpress Studio, which has more than 50 years of history. Internship opportunities are also available.

Previous studio art majors have interned with companies and organizations such as 4Art Inc., Gallery, BlueLine Media Productions, Indiana University Eskenazi Museum of Art, Kala Art Institute, Mediaworks Advertising, , Morningstar, Inc., Shanghai Media Group, and Urban Outfitters. Students may choose to work in apprenticeships with independent artists or craftspeople, and they have the opportunity to work with departments on campus or for local businesses.

BFA and MFA students are provided their own individual work areas, with separate shared studio spaces. The MFA studio is adjacent to the Letterpress Studio and spaces are “equipped with white boards for brainstorming and collaborative work.” Graduate students must complete 60 credit hours at the graduate level.

BA and BFA graduates work in all areas of media and graphic design, and MFA alumni go on to become “esteemed professors, artists, researchers, and creative professionals all over the world.”

19. Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), Milwaukee Wisconsin (Top 8% of colleges considered)
Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

Founded in 1974, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is Wisconsin’s only four-year, private college of visual art and design. The school is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD)—a consortium of 39 leading art schools in the United States and Canada.

MIAD serves nearly 900 degree-seeking students, 600 pre-college students, and 250 outreach/special programs students enrolled in five BFA degree programs and more than a dozen minors. Programs include Communication Design, Illustration, Interior Architecture and Design, New Studio Practice: Fine Arts, and Product Design.

The Communication Design BFA consists of 120 credits hours of study including 78 studio credits and 42 liberal studies credits. Minors that complement the program include Advertising, Art Management, Book Arts, Copywriting, and Digital Media Production.

Communication Design coursework begins with the study of 2D design and ends in the creation of a professional portfolio. Course highlights include Advertising Design, Computer Studio, Digital 4D, Information Graphics, Packaging Design, Research, Process & Connection, Service Learning, Systems of Drawing, and Visual Language. Students will complete Senior Writing Seminar and several Communication Design Thesis courses. 

Throughout the Communication Design program, students will have the opportunity to take on internships at advertising and design firms in Milwaukee and across the U.S. They will also build their portfolio with real-world experience through MIAD’s Visual Resources Studio. “Self-promotion, presentation and collaboration will all be introduced and refined throughout the program,” says the school. Graduates of the program are prepared to work in marketing communication firms and major corporations.

MIAD Communication Design alumni hold positions such as Advertising Designer, Art Director, Graphic Designer, Package Designer, Storyboard Illustrator, and Web Designer. In addition, many graduates of head their own successful advertising agencies and design firms.

20. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana (Top 8% of colleges considered)
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Established in 1969, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) serves 29,390 students enrolled in 450 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in 19 distinct schools and colleges. Herron School of Art + Design houses the Visual Communication Design Program (VCD), which has BFA, MFA, and Minor options.

The program “provides students with a deep understanding of the design process, the ability to work collaboratively, and the skills that are essential for a successful career in design,” says the school. Students in all options have access to eight visual communication design studios that “encourage a team-driven approach to projects.” VCD students also have access to “research and studio spaces including the Think It Make It Lab, woodshops, photo lighting studios, book arts studio, and the Herron Art Library.”

The BFA consists of 125 credit hours of study, the Minor is 18 credit hours, and the MFA requires 60 credit hours to graduate. The Minor covers basic skills, print production and web design, typography, and visual narrative, “in the core fields of applied design.” Students in the program will “also learn about design craftsmanship and excellence in handmade or digital work.” The program is designed to “serve students who wish to acquire marketable skills complementing their primary degree program, whether in fine arts or in other degree programs outside of Herron.” Note that a Minor in Book Arts is also offered.

BFA in VCD course highlights include 2D and 3D Design, Building & Making, Image & 4D Studio, Designing for People-Centered Experiences, Design Methodology, Making Meaning, Studio Art & Technology, and Type & Image. BFA students will also take Production: Digital Design Outcomes and Print Design Outcomes and they will complete the Senior Capstone and Portfolio Courses as well as a required internship.

Careers for graduates of the VCD BFA Program include Art Director, Book Designer, Brand Strategist, Exhibit or Environmental Designer, Graphic Designer, Interactive Designer, Mobile App Designer, Motion Graphics Animator, Typeface Designer, and User Experience Designer.

The MFA requires a thesis and successful completion of courses such as Collaborative Action in Research Design, Design Methods for Prototyping, Design Thinking, Intro Design Thinking for Tackling Wicked Problems and Sensemaking and Leadership in Design Education. Students in the program will attend seminars, method courses, and collaborative action research courses, and work with a variety of professionals and community partners on and off campus to gain hands-on experience.

Graduates of the program have been hired by companies such as Airbnb, Amazon, Chase Bank, ExxonMobil, Facebook, Google, Humana, Salesforce, Texas Tech University and many others.

21. University of Wisconsin – Stout, Menomonie, Wisconsin (Top 9% of colleges considered)
University of Wisconsin – Stout

University of Wisconsin – Stout (UW-Stout) was established in 1891 as The Stout Manual Training School. Today, the school is one of just 125 polytechnic universities in the U.S. and the only one in Wisconsin. Serving nearly 8,000 students, UW-Stout offers 49 undergraduate degrees and 22 graduate programs, many of which are unique to Stout or are not offered elsewhere in the Midwest.

Programs are offered in three colleges and six schools, including the School of Art And Design, where students can earn a BFA in Graphic Design and Interactive Media, BS in Graphic Communications (GCOM), an MFA in Design or a Minor in Graphic Media and Print Management. All programs except for the Hybrid MFA in Design are on-campus.

The BFA in Graphic Design and Interactive Media has two Concentrations: Communication Design (CD) and Interaction Design (ID). CD is an exploration of graphic design including advertising, publication, packaging, and motion graphics. ID is “a study of design for interactivity across web, mobile app, and emerging screen-based media,” says the school.

Graduates of the programs hold titles such as Advertising/Marketing Designers, Art Directors, Brand Strategists, Interactive Designers, Logo and Identity Systems Designers, Motion Graphics Designers, Package Designers, and more. They have been hired at companies such as FCB, NPR, Target, and many others.

Core coursework for the BS in GCOM covers areas such as building digital media files, campaign anatomy and delivery, color science and applications, cost analysis for graphics projects, creative graphics software tools, fundamentals of package manufacturing, planning for digital production, Professional practices in graphics, visual graphics and conditional imagery, web graphics, and working with graphics clients.

Ninety-nine percent of Graphic Communications graduates are employed or continuing their education. Graduates work in graphics and graphic design, imaging, marketing, and media, to name a few.

22. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana (Top 9% of colleges considered)
University of Notre Dame

Founded in November 1842, University of Notre Dame offers global experiences to enhance the schools 75 undergraduate programs and more than 20 graduate programs. Nearly 50 international study programs are available along with a network of 11 Global Gateways and centers in some of the world’s top cities.

Degree programs at the University of Notre Dame are offered in eight colleges and schools and to a student population of nearly 12,700 students. The College of Arts and Letters houses the Department of Art, Art History & Design, home of the Design Division, which offers degree programs leading to the BA, BFA, and MFA degrees in Design. Degree Concentrations in the Division include Industrial Design and Visual Communication Design.

The BA in Visual Communication Design (formerly Graphic Design) requires 36 hours of coursework (or 12 courses). The program is “suited to students who wish to double major or desire to create a custom experience combining visual communication design with art, art history, marketing, psychology, athletics…and more,” says the school. The BFA degree requires 66 hours of coursework (or 21 courses) in the major area and affords “a larger portfolio due to considerably more design studio experiences.”

BFA candidates also have the opportunity to pursue a year long, self-driven thesis project. Students in both programs can expect to take courses such as 2D and 3D Foundations, Art History, and Drawing. Seminars are part of the programs as well as study abroad in London or Rome. Internships at design firms in the Chicago area and across the country are also available.

Graduates of the Graphic Design Programs at University of Notre Dame have a wide variety of career opportunities from advertising to web design. Graduates hold positions such Animator, Book Designer, Environmental Graphic Designer, Experience Design, Illustrator, Interaction Designer, Type Designer, and Web Designer.

The Design MFA is a 60-credit terminal degree that provides cross-disciplinary training in Animation & Digital Media, Digital Cinema, Photography & Video, Game Design, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, Interior Design, and Interactive Media & UX. Graduate students will work with faculty to create a focus area tailored to their interests. The program also “provides a unique opportunity for experiential learning and design-based research through collaborative faculty-student projects that reach across design disciplines.”

Graduates of the Design MFA Program at UW-Stout are prepared to seek creative leadership positions in all industries as well as positions in education.

23. Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio (Top 10% of colleges considered)
Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green State University (BGSU) was founded in 1910. With campuses in Bowling Green (main) and Huron, Ohio (BGSU Firelands), the school serves around 20,000 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate majors and programs in dozens of colleges, divisions, and schools. Within BGSU’s College of Arts and Sciences is the School of Art, which houses five divisions: Art Education, Art History, Digital Arts, Graphic Design, and Studio.

The Division of Graphic Design (BGSU GD) offers a BFA in Graphic Design. Course highlights include 3D Dimensional Graphic Design, Design for Social Impact, Graphic Design Thinking, Information Design, System-Based Graphic Design, Time-Based Graphic Design, and User Experience and Interface Design (UX/UI). Students will also complete the Collaborative & Community Engagement Practicum, Senior Studio in Graphic Design, Graphic Design Senior Thesis, and the Graphic Design Internship.

Graduates of the program will “exhibit skills in team building, collaboration, storytelling and intervention design as well as developing community partnerships along with a professional work ethic,” they will “demonstrate knowledge of graphic design related tools for application of practices and processes of the industry,” and have the ability to “apply both verbal and visual presentation skills.”

24. University of Wisconsin – Madison, Madison, Wisconsin (Top 10% of colleges considered)
University of Wisconsin – Madison

University of Wisconsin – Madison (UW Madison) was founded in 1848. The school serves approximately 45,540 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate majors and certificates and over 250 masters, doctoral, and professional programs through 13 colleges and schools.

The School of Education houses the Art Department, which offers two professional programs—Studio Art and Art Education—across three undergraduate degrees and two studio certificate programs. Studio art majors may pursue the BS in Art (BS-Art) - Graphic Design or the BFA in Graphic Design. A Graphic Design Certificate is also available.

All art majors must complete a Foundations year, which includes courses in contemporary and modern art, analog and digital design for two, three and four-dimensional art practices, and drawing concepts and methods. “Students may select their breadth and elective studio courses from a list of incredibly diverse studio offerings,” says the school.

The BFA program is a studio-intensive, professional-level degree that requires 72 studio credits, “spent in intermediate and advanced-level studio courses, allowing art and design students to graduate with a highly advanced portfolio.” In the BS program, students will spend approximately 17 of the 45 required studio credits “in intermediate and advanced-level studio courses, allowing students to graduate with a high-intermediate level portfolio.”

Course highlights for the programs include Digital Art & Code, Digital Imaging Studio, Relief Printmaking, Serigraphy, Topics in 4D Art, and Video/Performance. Students in both programs will also take Advanced Studio and Colloquium in Arts. BFA students will complete the Professional Practices Capstone Course.

For artists who are not interested in a degree program, but would like to develop their talents, the Art Department offers Certificate in Art Studio with five focus areas: 2D, 3D, 4D (time-based), Graphic Design, and Photography. Students “will complete one course focusing on the historical context of art, two courses that provide a foundation for their chosen area, and two related electives that allow for the exploration and development of their skills.”

25. Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas (Top 10% of colleges considered)
Kansas State University

Founded in 1863, Kansas State University (K-State) serves nearly 21,000 students enrolled in more than 250 undergraduate majors and options and 165-plus graduate degrees and certificates. Programs are offered in nine colleges and the graduate school.

The College of Arts and Sciences at K-State houses more than 20 departments and serves over 7,000 students. Around 115 degree programs, study abroad experiences, and pre-professional options are offered. Housed within the College of Arts and Sciences is the Department of Art, which has BFA and MFA Programs with a Concentration (undergraduate) or Emphasis (graduate) in Graphic Design. A Minor in Graphic Design consisting of 18 credit hours of study is also available.

The 120 credit hour BFA program takes place in a laboratory-like studio setting where “where an active community, informal peer-interaction, and opportunities for collaborative output help inform students' preparation for professional practice,” says the school. “Through a mixture of training and experience in visual communication design centered on typography, the program develops students' abilities to shape and solve problems, while expanding technical and visual skill sets across industry-relevant media, materials, and environments.”

Students in the BFA program will also have access to internship and study abroad opportunities and all K-State Graphic Design students will benefit from the local AIGA student group, which arranges studio tours, travels to national conferences and events, and attracts influential contemporary designers for speaking engagements.

The K-State MFA program includes 10-12 graduate students across disciplines. The Graphic Design Emphasis “develops students' abilities to shape and solve problems, while expanding technical and visual skill sets across industry-relevant media, materials, and environments.” This is accomplished “through a mixture of training and experience in visual communication design centered on typography.”

Highlights for this three-year program include independent study with departmental faculty and a cross-disciplinary graduate committee, dedicated studio space in Willard Hall, and access to the rest of the Art Department facilities. Graduate student work culminates in a third-year capstone design project and exhibition. The event usually takes place “in the beautiful Mark A. Chapman Gallery.”