What are the top graphic design school programs in North Carolina for 2021?

Top 5 North Carolina Graphic Design Schools - 2021 College Rankings
1North Carolina State University at RaleighRaleigh
2Appalachian State UniversityBoone
3East Carolina UniversityGreenville
4University of North Carolina, CharlotteCharlotte
5North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State UniversityGreensboro

Our 2021 ranking of the top graphic design school programs in North Carolina. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.

1. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, Raleigh, North Carolina
North Carolina State University at Raleigh

North Carolina State University (NC State) began as a land-grant institution in 1887, with a focus on agriculture and research. Today, NC State is one of the nation’s largest schools, serving more than 36,000 students, enrolled in 300 degree programs in a wide range of disciplines. Programs are offered in 12 colleges and more than 60 academic departments.

The College of Design, Department of Art + Design, houses the Graphic Design program, which offers two degree paths—a Bachelor of Graphic Design (BGD) and a Master of Graphic Design (MGD). Both programs are NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) accredited and the MGD is one of the few graphic design graduate programs with STEM Classification (CIP).

Students in the undergraduate program “study comparative ideas about, and methods for, creating visual communication,” says the school. “Through project-based assignments, students acquire strong formal and conceptualization skills. They learn and practice graphic design strategies, such as mapping and diagramming, to understand design problems, audiences, contexts, and visualization techniques, including ideation and iteration, to explore and refine design possibilities and determine appropriateness.”

All undergraduate students have the opportunity to take an advanced studio in another College of Design discipline (a swing studio), study abroad for a semester or summer at the NC State Prague Institute, and gain professional experience through paid internships within leading firms, and/or participate in sponsored studios as part of the graphic design curriculum.

Graduate students have two options: two-year and three-year programs. In both, students will “closely examine the cultural and technological situatedness of graphic design and its products, and seek understanding of the people who use and interact with the things that graphic designers make.”

Students in all programs will explore and become proficient in a wide range of media — print, web, mobile, virtual reality, augmented reality, and embedded technology. Students will also practice visualization strategies such as mapping, diagramming, and storyboarding and develop strong formal and conceptualization skills through project-based assignments. They will also immerse in advanced studios that cover special topics such as accessible design, branding, and data visualization.

2. Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina
Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University was founded in 1899 as Watauga Academy. The school serves just over 20,000 students enrolled in 150 undergraduate and graduate degree programs through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine and Applied Arts, Reich College of Education, Walker College of Business, Hayes School of Music, Beaver College of Health Sciences and Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies. Appalachian also offers doctorate degrees in education and psychology.

The College of Fine and Applied Arts houses the Department of Art, which offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include a BFA in Graphic Design and BS degrees in Graphic Communications Management – Cross Media Production (GCM – CMP) or Print/Packaging Production (GCM – PPP). The BS degrees are part of the Thomas W. Reese Graphic Communications Management Program.

Students in the Graphic Design BFA Program will learn to design environmental graphics, identity programs, interactive, screen-based experiences, packaging, print publications, signage/information systems, and type design. Graduates are prepared to enter the graphic design field or graduate school.

The Graphic Communications Management Program prepares students “for entry-level supervisory and staff positions in graphic communications,” says the school. The BS in GCM – CMP focuses on “applying graphic messaging across different channels/platforms such as web, email, print, cover wraps, etc. to communicate to various markets.”

The BS in GCM - PPP “covers a wide variety of processes and methods of production – including offset lithography, flexography, digital printing systems, variable data printing and wide format printing in addition to the design and production of packages that protect and promote products in channels of distribution.”

The BS programs require a General Business Minor and an industry internship that helps prepare students to enter the workforce in a range of roles.

3. East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
East Carolina University

Founded in 1907 as a teacher training school, East Carolina University (ECU) serves around 28,800 students, making it the third largest university in North Carolina. The school, which offers more than 200 undergraduate, graduate and minor programs, consists of 12 colleges and schools. The College of Fine Arts & Communication houses the School of Art and Design (SoAD), which has several programs for aspiring graphic designers. Options include BFAs in Art and Art Education, and an MFA in Art. All pathways offer a Concentration in Graphic Design.

In the 30-hour Graphic Design Concentration “words meet images, clear and purposeful communication meets aesthetic impact, and a range of human needs and desires are addressed,” says the school. Most classes for the programs “center around the examination and discussion of student work so a consistent output of graphic design is essential. This limits the graphic design students to those who want to work. The work includes thinking, reading, and talking as well as the production of designed objects.”

In addition to the concentration, coursework in Book Arts, Community Arts, Glass, Letterpress, Wood Design, and interdisciplinary studios are available. Students in the program will also have opportunities to produce projects for actual clients, and internships and study abroad opportunities are part of the BFA programs.

At the end of the programs, students will be required to complete a senior exhibition, portfolio, reel, or film, depending on the focus area. This culminating experience is an important capstone experience that prepares students to pursue their professional goals beyond ECU.

The MFA in Art with a Concentration in Graphic Design is a 60 credit hour program that includes coursework in Art History, Graphic Design, Supporting Art Areas (art electives) and coursework outside of the SoAD. All MFA candidates have access to teaching and research assistantship opportunities awarded once students have successfully completed 18 hours (six classes) of Studio Art coursework. Full-time Assistantships are 20 hours per week and pay $12,000 per academic year.

Graduates of the MFA program are prepared to seek employment in “academia as a professor of graphic design, undertake high-level graphic design practice, or a variety of other options.”

4. University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina
University of North Carolina

Founded in 1946, University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) serves more than 30,000 students enrolled in over 200 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in nine colleges. The College of Arts + Architecture (COA+A) offers a BFA in Art, Studio Art, with a Concentration in Graphic Design. This professional degree program allows students to choose more than one Studio Concentration. Options that complement the Graphic Design Concentration include Digital Media, Illustration, Photography, and Print Media.

The Graphic Design program consists of 120 credit hours of study, including 80 credit hours in Art. Students can expect to take courses such as 2D and 3D Design, 4D (Digital Production), Communications Design, Digital Foundations, Graphic Design I & II, Interactive Art and Design, Print Production, Typography, and UX/UI Design Strategies.

Students will complete several graphic design projects and Senior Seminar. They will also participate in a BFA Senior Exhibit. An optional, but strongly recommended internship is part of the program as well as participation in the UNC’s Study Abroad Program. A major highlight of the program is the recurring summer experience in Rome.

5. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, North Carolina
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University (North Carolina AT&T) was founded in 1891. The school serves nearly 12,800 students enrolled in 130 degree and certificate programs in nine colleges and schools, plus AT&T Online.

The College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences offers BA degrees in Visual Arts-Visual Media (Graphic) Design and Visual Arts Design. The College of Science and Technology houses the Department of Computer Graphics Technology (Graphic Design Technology), which offers a BS in Graphic Design Technology.

The BA in Visual Media (Graphic Design) requires 127-128 credit hours of study. Courses range from Foundation to Advanced Levels in Art and Media Techniques. Students will take Studio courses in Advertising Design, Computer Visual Design, Design Drawing, and Motion Arts. Graphic Design Majors “are expected to begin developing their portfolios as freshmen and to have accumulated a substantial body of work by their senior year,” says the school.  

The BA in Visual Arts Design requires 124 credit hours. Students will take studio courses in Art History, Color Theory, Computer Graphic Design, Design, Drawing, and Painting. A portfolio is also required.

The BS in Computer Graphics Technology “is the only one of its kind in the Piedmont-Triad region that incorporates both design and technology management.” This means, “graduates are in high demand by video game companies, design and communications firms, governmental agencies and more, with significant opportunities for advancement over the life of their careers.”

The program offers two Concentrations: Technical Design (TD) and User Experience (UX). The TD Concentration focuses on Architectural, Mechanical, Packaging, and Product designs. The UX Concentration “emphasizes true user experience applied to website development, video game creation, 2D and 3D animations, multimedia production, virtual reality (VR), publishing design, logo design, typography, and to create content for marketing or communication.” In addition to the fields mentioned earlier, graduates focus on freelance design work and entrepreneurship.