What are the top game design programs in Illinois for 2021?

Top Illinois Game Design Schools - 2021 College Rankings
1DePaul UniversityChicago
2Columbia College ChicagoChicago
3Bradley UniversityPeoria

Our 2021 ranking of the top game design school programs in Illinois. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.

1. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University

DePaul University was founded in 1898 by the Congregation of the Mission (of Vincentian) religious community. Serving nearly 22,500 students, DePaul is the largest Catholic university in the United States, the 13th-largest private, not-for-profit university in the nation, and the largest private, not-for-profit college in the Midwest.

The school offers more than 300 programs of study in 10 colleges and schools and across two campuses in Chicago. One of the first universities to offer a game development course for smartphones, DePaul offers game design programs at all levels through the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM).

The CDM is organized into three schools including the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), the School of Computing (SoC), and the School of Design (SoD). Degree options include BS degrees in Game Design and Game Programming, a BS in Computer Science with a Game Systems Concentration, an MFA in Game Design and MS in Game Programming that covers real time computing, computer graphics, and professional retooling for the game industry. Students in this program will learn about software engineering, computer graphics, artificial intelligence, animation, software architecture, and networking. Minors in Game Design and Programming are also available and jointly offered by the CDM’s SoC and SoD.

DePaul University also offers a Game, Cinema, and Animation Summer Academy and the DePaul Game Experience (DGE). The Summer Academy is a weeklong program that features “hands-on instruction using the latest equipment and technology.” Participants may focus on Computer Game Development, 3D Computer Modeling and Animation for Games and Cinema or Digital Cinema Production.

The DePaul Game Experience (DGE) allows a select group of students to work on a game to submit to the Student IGF Competition. Past DGE teams have made entries that were finalists in the IGDA student competition.

Students in all Game Design programs have access to the Deep Games Laboratory and all CDM labs, including several that intersect with the program specifically, including game development and research, gameplay, virtual reality, and playtest and usability labs. The Deep Games Laboratory is a cross-disciplinary design, research, development, and assessment game lab housed in CDM that focuses on games exploring the human experience.

Recent DePaul Game Program graduates have gone on to work at Carbine Studios, Disney Interactive Studios, Firaxis, NeatherRealm Studios, Owlchemy Labs, Phosphor Games, Scientific Games, Wargaming, and many others. Several graduates have gone on to form their own gaming companies, including Young Horses, whose indie hit Octodad was developed at DePaul.

2. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago (Columbia) was founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory. The school serves nearly 7,000 students enrolled in 150 majors, minors, and graduate programs in the Schools of Media Arts, Fine and Performing Arts, and Liberal Arts and Sciences. The School of Media Arts houses the Interactive Arts & Media (IAM) Department, which offers a number of programs for aspiring game designers.

Options include BA degrees in Game Art and Game Design with Concentrations in Game Development and Game Sound Design, BA/BS degrees in Programming with a Concentration in Game Programming, and Minors in Game Art and Game Design Minor.

Game Design students will have the opportunity to create games right away in their first semester and create many more throughout their time at Columbia. The software tools used in class are the same tools students will use as professional game artists. “The curriculum mirrors the collaborative environment of the game industry,” says the school. Students will work in collaborative teams formed from seniors in Game Art, Game Design, Game Programming, and Game Sound.

The Senior Game Studio Capstone provides the opportunity to work in small (Indie Game Studio) or large (Large Team Game Studio) groups to develop a game. Students will also have the opportunity to show their work at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, South by Southwest (SXSW), and Industry Night at Columbia College. 

Students in all programs have access to The Game Lab. This “center for student-led game research includes PC- and console-gaming hardware, including both current generation consoles as well as an archived collection, a high-definition AV system, and a library of several hundred video game titles,” says the school.

Graduates of the Game Programs at Columbia College have landed positions at studios and companies such as Bungie, High Voltage Software, Incredible Technologies, Iron Galaxy, Jellyvision, NetherRealm Studios, Pixar, Raven Software, Raw Thrills, Robomondo, Skywalker Sound, Sony, and Weta Digital. Some alumni even build simulations for major companies such as John Deere and Walmart.

3. Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois
Bradley University

Bradley University was founded in 1897 as Bradley Polytechnic Institute by Lydia Moss Bradley—a business pioneer and wealthy philanthropist. The school opened with just 14 faculty and 150 students.

Today, Bradley University has a student population of 5,900 served by 340 full-time faculty members. Students are enrolled in more than 200 programs in eight colleges and schools.

Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts houses the Department of Interactive Media (IM), which offers a Game Art and Game Design Major leading to a BS or BA. Game Design and Game Production Minors are also available.

The Game Design Minor requires 18-21 credit hours of studies and Game Production requires 18 credit hours. Courses for the Game Design Minor “focus on the game development process, from concept development to story narrative and production of game audio and video,” says the school. Courses include Fundamentals of Interactive Design, Game Design I-II, Game Production II, and Introduction to Interactive Media. The program also includes Computer Game Capstone Project (three credits) and Advanced Game Capstone, which requires six credit hours to complete.

The Game Production Minor is open to Computer Science and Computer Information Systems Majors. The programs shows students how technical skills apply to game development, with courses focusing on “processes and tools used in the industry, as well as user-centered design principles.” Students will take Game Production I-II and Introduction to Interactive Media as well as Computer Game Capstone Project and Advanced Game Capstone.

The Game Art Major “covers a wide spectrum of visual aspects, including concept art, asset creation, environment art, character art and animation.” Game Design covers idea creation, scripting, game prototyping, and the game development process. Students in both programs will experience hands-on learning with industry-standard software packages, personal and professional growth through game jams and other competitions, and opportunities to show their digital artwork to the public at the annual FUSE exhibit. Students will also complete an internship “at a distinguished company working in game art or real-time visualization.”

Other program highlights include guest speakers and access to the Interactive Media, Animation Research, and Game Design Research Labs, and the InterMedia Center.

Bradley University IM graduates have landed positions at Blizzard, Double Negative MGM, NetherRealms, Oculus VR, Scientific Games, Sony Pictures Imageworks, United Renderworks, Warner Brothers Games, and more.