What are the top Illinois game design programs for 2024?

Top Illinois Game Design Schools and Colleges - 2024 College Rankings
1DePaul UniversityChicago
2Columbia College ChicagoChicago
3Bradley UniversityPeoria

Our 2024 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

Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) at DePaul University (DePaul) has a Game Design program with five degree options. At the undergraduate level, students can earn a BS in Game Design, Computer Science (CS)/Game Systems, or Game Programming. At the graduate level, options include a Game Programming MS and Game Design MFA. 

Game Design at DePaul University emphasizes collaboration and interdisciplinary learning. As such, students have opportunities to work with peers across the audio, programming, fine art, and writing disciplines. The curriculum includes coursework that helps students navigate the game production process from inception to the testing phase. 

Course examples across programs include Game Development; Game Engine Programming; Playtesting; Unity Workshop; 3D Animation; Advanced Game Design; Practical Scripting for Games; Physics for Game Developers; Game Sound Design; Rendering and Graphics Programming; Real-Time Software Development; 3D Design and Modeling; Tool Programming for Game Development; Game Modification Workshop; and Game Development Studio. Electives allow students to explore areas such as AI, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and animation. 

Across programs, students have access to the game development studio DePaul Originals; the Deep Games Laboratory; and CDM facilities such as the gameplay, playtest and usability, virtual reality, and game development and research labs. Other program features include participation in a variety of exhibitions; internships with local and national studios; and the biennial Japan Study Abroad Program. 

This two-week trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya consists of visits to game and animation companies; galleries and museums; restaurants; and temples, cultural centers, and historic sites. In Nagoya, students will collaborate with Japanese game and animation students at Trident College of Computing. This two-day game/animation jam is the culminating experience for the trip. 

Graduates of the Game Design programs at DePaul University will enter the job market with a portfolio of their best work. 

Some of the top careers for DePaul Game Design graduates include Game Design and Development, Software Engineering, Animation, Project Management, Computer Graphics, and Commercial Production. Program alumni have been hired at companies and studios such as Epic Games, iiRcade, Leo Burnett Worldwide, Fast Radius, and Speegs Media. 

With around 23,800 students, more than 300 programs, two campuses, and 10 academic colleges and schools, DePaul University is the largest Catholic university in the United States. Founded in 1898, DePaul is also America’s 13th-largest private, not-for-profit university, and the largest private, not-for-profit college in the Midwest. DePaul University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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

The School of Media Arts at Columbia College Chicago (Columbia College or CCC) is home to the Interactive Arts & Media (IAM) Department. Recognized for its work with Epic Game’s Unreal Engine, the department is now a member the Unreal Academic Partner Program. The partnership provides access to a library of asset management tools, and training opportunities with the engine and its technologies, including Twinmotion and MetaHuman Creator. 

The IAM Department at Columbia College also provides cross-disciplinary training in game development, animation, programming, visual effects, virtual reality (VR), user experience design, and app development. Students in all programs have opportunities to work with traditional and emerging technologies to create games, animations, and immersive experiences—beginning on the first day of class. 

All CCC IAM students have access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment such as The Game Lab; The Equipment Cave (assets: game consoles, equipment, digital cameras, and more); The Motion Capture Studio; The Open Lab; The Sound Studio; and Animation Production Spaces. 

Specific IAM Programs for game designers include BA degrees in Game Art and Game Design with concentrations in Game Development and Game Sound Design; BA and BS degrees in Programming with concentrations in Game Programming and Application Programming; and minors in Game Art and Game Design. Both minors are ideal complements to the Animation, Filmmaking, Illustration, and Creative Writing majors.                                           

Across degree programs, students will complete courses such as Game Programming I and II; Simulation and Serious Games; Story Development for Interactive Media; Game Level Production; Game Audio Studio; Advanced Game Scripting and Environments; Game Culture; Sound Design for Games I and II; Studio Collaboration; and Sound and Music for Interactive Games. 

Students will also complete the Games Studio Capstone, which provides opportunities to develop a game following the gaming industry production model. Across two semesters, students will work in groups in an Indie Game Studio (small) or Large Team Game Studio to produce games. 

Final games are eligible to be presented at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, California; Industry Night at Columbia College Chicago; South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas; and the Chicago Toy and Game Fair.  

Graduates of the IAM programs at Columbia College Chicago are Serious Game Designers, Sound Effects Designers, Animators, Technical Artists, Simulation Designers, Game Designers, Game Programmers and Coders, Environmental Artists, and Quality Assurance Testers. Program alumni have been hired at major companies and studios such as Pixar, Sony, Bungie, Weta Digital, Iron Galaxy, Jellyvision, High Voltage Software, NetherRealm Studios, Incredible Technologies, Inc., John Deere, and Walmart. 

Columbia College Chicago was established in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory. The school serves nearly 6,700 students enrolled in more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. In addition to programs in creative areas such as communication and writing, media and digital, and music and sound, Columbia provides several business management programs. Columbia College Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

3. Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois
Bradley University

Bradley University is home to Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts, which houses the Interactive Media Department. Within the department is a production-focused Game Design program with degree options at all levels. For undergraduates, the program has BA/BS degrees in Game Design and Game Art. An 18-21credit hour Game Design minor is open to all students in the Department of Interactive Media and the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. 

At the graduate level, students can earn a Game Design and Development MS. This program consists of 30 credit hours without a concentration, and 31 credit hours with a Game Programming concentration. Program features include an environment that simulates a real industry production studio; the opportunity to form a corporation inside the Bradley University Interactive Media Department, where they will spend a year developing games; and regular feedback from working AAA game development professionals. 

Students in the Game Design and Development (no concentration) option will take 30 credit hours of required courses. This includes Game Prototyping (six credit hours); Game Production (12); Game Seminar (six); Game Practicum (two); and Game Post-Production (four). Students in the Game Programming concentration will take Game Engine Programming; Game Prototyping; Game Production; Game Post-Production; and Fundamentals of Software Engineering OR Computer Systems Analysis, Design and Integration. 

Elective examples for the concentration include Advanced Mobile Programming; Algorithms; Directed Individual Studies in Computer Information Systems; and Computer Game Capstone Project. 

All MS students will have the option to sell their final game to a major manufacturer and produce a professional portfolio of their best work. 

The Game Design BA/BS programs at Bradley University emphasize mentoring by faculty who have worked on game series such as League of Legends (produced by Riot Games), Red Faction (developed by Volition), and Far Cry (published by Ubisoft). BA/BS students also benefit from hands-on learning with industry software; participation in game jams; opportunities to show their work at the annual FUSE exhibit; and professional internships at major design companies. 

The Game Design BA/BS programs begin with the development of storytelling skills. Students will advance to computer science as it relates to games. During each semester, the program allows students to create videogames, tabletop games, and more. The major requires 53 credit hours. Course examples include Game Design I-II; Introduction to Game Scripting;  Critical Game Studies; Appreciating Comics; Introduction to Game Development; Game Production I-II; Survey of Games; History of Animation; Film Theory & Criticism; Fundamentals of Interactive Design; and Practicum. 

The Game Design BA/BS culminates with three courses totaling 12 credit hours: Prototyping for Capstone; Game Capstone Project I; and Game Capstone Project II. Graduates will leave the program with a publishable game and professional portfolio.

The Game Art BA/BS programs at Bradley University explore character art, animation, asset creation, concept art, and environment art. Students in this program benefit from hands-on learning with industry-standard software; participation in game jams and other competitions; the opportunity to work in game art of real-time visualization with a major company; and the chance to show digital artwork to the public at the annual FUSE exhibit. 

The Game Art major requires 53 credit hours. Course examples include Character Art; 2D for Game Art; Drawing 1 and 2; Game Art Fundamentals; Introduction to Animation; Game Production I-II; Environment Art; Game Art Development; Critical Game Studies; and Practicum. 

The Game Art BA/BS programs culminate with the Game Capstone Project completed across two courses totaling nine credits. 

Graduates of the Game Design programs at Bradley University are prepared for careers across industries such as games for entertainment, serious games, film and television, aerospace and aeronautics, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), science and medicine, user interface and user experience (UI/UX), advertising, human-computer interaction (HCI), museums, architecture, training simulations, artificial intelligence (AI), healthcare, and education.

Program alumni have been hired at places such as Blizzard Entertainment, NetherRealm Studios, Oculus VR, and Warner Bros. Games. 

Bradley University was founded by Lydia Moss Bradley in 1897. The school serves approximately 5,900 students from the U.S. and 43 other countries. More than 130 programs are provided across eight colleges and schools. Bradley University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).