Online Graphic Design Degree: A Complete Guide

featured image of person holding degree for graphic design

Graphic design is a lucrative industry with a lot of potential.

Graphic designing includes a lot of fields. Animation, illustration, video game design, ux design are just some to name a few.

Due to the growing trend of e-learning, it is now easier than ever to study graphic design without applying for a design school.

Many schools and universities have recognized this shift to digital and have started to adapt. To satisfy student’s needs several universities have started to offer online graphic design degree programs. 

These help aspiring designers earn a degree even if they have never attended a design school.

However, many people raise certain concerns regarding this new change in education.

The most common is:

Is an online graphic design degree worth it?

gradutaion ceremony with overlay text "Is an online graphic design degree worth it?"

This is a genuine concern as many employers still require graphic designers with at least a bachelor’s degree. This is because it shows employers that the designer is reliable and has gone through a proper process of learning.

However, more employers have started to recognize the value of online graphic design degree programs. These degrees are being offered by reputable universities and are equivalent to on-campus degrees.

So, in short yes, online graphic design degrees are worth it. They walk you through all the basics, fundamentals and theories of graphic design. 

They teach you effective visual communication techniques using color, composition, typography, and branding elements. 

All the essential skills needed to succeed as a graphic designer.

They type of online degree you pursue also matters as graphic designers with advanced-level degrees typically earn more.

Why pursue an online graphic design degree?

There are many benefits that you might get by studying online rather than on-campus.

  • Accessibility – In a formal setting, you are required to show up on time and complete coursework within a given time-frame. If you miss a lecture you might get behind or confused compared to your peers. Distant learning offers students the freedom to access the course content anytime. All lectures, homework, quizzes, assignments and resources would be uploaded online enabling students to have 24/7 access to it.
  • Flexibility – Studying a formal degree requires student to maintain a fixed schedule whereas, studying an online graphic design degree lets students work at their own pace. These online degree programs are pre-recorded and uploaded. This allows students to attend courses on their desired time and convenience.
  • Digital resources – When studying online it is easier for teachers to share helpful resources with their students. What may seem time-consuming on-campus is easy to implement online. Resources such as, websites and research material, can be uploaded on the school portal giving instant access to all the students.
  • Degree options – Online graphic design degree programs have made it possible for students to attend top-rank universities without the need to re-locate. This means that a competent designer sitting in Bangladesh can attend a design school in California.

Types of online graphic design degrees

There are 3 main types of degrees you can pursue as a graphic designer learning online. 

  • Associate degree 
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree

Several design universities offer the above online degree programs. But first, let’s dive deeper into these 3 types.

Associate degree in graphic design

An associate degree is an undergraduate degree program. It is a degree higher than a GED, Matriculation or high-school diploma but below a bachelor’s degree.

An online associate degree in graphic design gives a general education revolving around graphic design concepts and software. These skills give designers a chance to build a portfolio for prospective clients or universities they may want to apply to in the future. 

The average online associate degree in graphic design typically consists of 60-90 credits and takes 2 years to complete.

These degree programs could contain a general understanding of:

  • Typography
  • Color and composition
  • Graphic design software
  • Layout techniques
  • Digital design
  • Print publication

Bachelor’s degree in graphic design

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree awarded by colleges and universities. It is higher than an associate degree but below a Master’s degree. 

Bachelor degree programs typically take about 4 years to complete however distant learners might be able to graduate in 3 years or less. These programs usually require 120 credits for graduation and allow students to work on their own pace.

An online bachelor’s degree in graphic design gives a more hands-on approach to graphic designing including theoretical and practical knowledge. You will learn all the required skills to start your career as a professional graphic designer.

These skills include an introduction and understanding of industry-standard software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and traditional drawing techniques.

Some schools also allow specialization in specific fields such as print publication or motion graphics.

To apply for an online graphic design bachelor’s degree program you may need to send screenshots or documents of your GED, matriculation or high-school diploma along with a personal statement. Some schools might ask for a portfolio as well though that’s uncommon.

Generally, these degree programs could include a thorough study of:

  • History of graphic design
  • Drawing
  • Color Theory
  • Print design and publication

Master’s degree in graphic design

A master’s degree is a post-graduate degree awarded by colleges and universities after displaying mastery in a specific subject.

Master degree programs refine graphic designers' skills and polish their work making them stand out from the competition. Since graphic designing is a highly competitive field a master’s degree can definitely help you excel in your career.

Distant learners can apply for one of many masters of fine arts (MFA) degrees available.

Online master’s degree programs focus around specific fields of graphic design rather than a general outline of the subject.

For example: animation, user experience, and advertising.

The duration of the course depends on the field of study you choose and the curriculum structure. Typically students complete their online graphic design master’s degree program in 1-3 years.

To apply for an online master’s degree in graphic design students may need to send screenshots or documents of a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related field, have a high GPA and a portfolio of their work.

Some schools may also require official GRE score, personal references, proof of work, or other documents.

Generally, these programs include an extensive focus on:

  • Design Theory
  • Design critique
  • Collaboration
  • Multimedia
  • Design practice
  • Research techniques and strategies

Career options for an online graphic design degree

Online graphic design degree programs equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to start a job and gain some real work experience. Also, you would have a high-quality portfolio with you to present to prospective clients and employers.

Below are just some of many career opportunities for graphic designers with an online degree.

Brand Identity and Logo Design

Brand identity and logo designers are professionals who design the unique look and feel of a business. They are responsible for creating custom imagery for a company, increasing their brand awareness. They combine design elements for effective visual communication catered to a specific audience. 

Motion Graphics Designer

A motion graphics designer or motion designer designs graphics for movies, TVs, and the web. They use visual effects, animation and illustrations to add motion to static designs. These designers specialize in video and animation software such as Adobe After effects.

UI/UX Designer

The growing need of digital products and services has given rise to user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. Designers specializing in this field are responsible for providing a satisfactory user experience. They achieve this by designing user-friendly applications with intuitive interfaces that are easy to interact with.

Typographer

Typographers use computer software to create typefaces that convey a specific mood or emotion. They work with brands to create customized typefaces to maintain brand image and increase brand awareness. Many of these individuals work in advertising and product design. 

There are other types of typographers such as, a calligrapher. Calligraphy may not be a glamorized industry but that doesn’t stop calligraphers from creating beautiful scripts. Calligraphers are commonly self-employed and work on commissions by creating special lettering and scripts for businesses.

Print Designer

Print designers work with publishers, advertising agencies and marketing firms to create products ready for print. Print designers focus solely on layout design, creating attractive pages, and making them easy to consume.

These are just some of the career options available to graphic designers with an online graphic design degree. 

For more information, you can check out this article I wrote on the 11 highest paying graphic design jobs with a promising future.

Online graphic design certifications

According to Burning Glass, majority of employers don’t require an online graphic design certification.

However, these certifications help graphic designers display their expertise and knowledge on a subject.

Since these certifications are focused on the know-how of design software it helps show employers that the candidate is reliable and skilled in his field.

Here are the most popular online graphic design certifications:

  • ACE Photoshop CC 2015 – This certification is awarded by Adobe, the industry-standard in graphic design. It tests designer’s digital imagery skills and photo manipulation techniques. The certification includes 57 questions revolving around Photoshop tools and techniques and takes 90 minutes to complete.
  • ACE Illustrator CC 2015 – This certification tests designers’ vector graphics and illustration skills using Adobe Illustrator. To pass, students need at least 550 points on the 60 MCQs (multiple choice questions).
  • ACE InDesign CC 2015 – The InDesign certification test’s candidates’ layout, text and composition skills. This is a great certification for anyone specializing in print design. It is required you have at least 2 years of experience with InDesign to attend this exam.
  • ACE Premiere Pro CC 2015 – The adobe premiere pro certificate is awarded to skilled motion designers. Adequate knowledge of animation, audio mixing, and cinematics is essential to pass this course.
  • ACE Dreamweaver CC 2015 – This certification focuses on advanced web design and layout techniques using coding languages. To earn this credential, designers need to show proficiency in HTML, CSS, layout and website structure contributing to a high-quality website design. Passing this exam would require candidates to correctly answer 55 questions related to site structure, markup, and CSS elements in a span of 75 minutes. Some highly skilled designers may also possess Javascript skills.
  • Certified Professional Web Designer (CPWDS) - This certification was developed by the World Organization of Webmasters to test designers’ web design skills. Interested candidates pay a $125 fee and are expected to answer 70 exam questions on HTML, CSS, site structure, and web graphics.
  • CIW Web Design Professional – This certification is more geared towards graphic designers from a marketing perspective. The CIW web design would test designers on marketing strategies and modern web design technology. This certification is great for web designers planning to work on E-commerce sites as it would set you up for success in the e-commerce industry. Candidates would be given brief training on marketing and design and then expected to pay a fee of $300 making them eligible to attend the 2 exams.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions regarding an online graphic design degree:

How long does it take to get an online graphic design degree?

An associate degree typically takes 2 years to complete.

A bachelor’s degree typically takes 4 years on average to complete.

A master’s degree typically takes 2 years to complete.

The duration of the online graphic design degree program may vary on the type of degree you choose. For example, a bachelor’s in architecture typically takes longer to complete (around 5 years). 

Is an online graphic design degree better than a formal degree?

Generally, both degrees provide the same value to students in terms of coursework, training and skill development.  Employers may be skeptical of a graphic designer with an online degree but more businesses have started to realize the value these designers can bring.

The main benefits of an online graphic design might be the number of options, convenience, and flexibility.

Is it worth getting a graphic design certification?

A large majority of employers don’t require a graphic design certification. However, it is worth it getting a graphic design certification. It’s a way of showing prospective employers and clients your skills and knowledge on a given subject. This makes you a more credible and reliable candidate.

If you have any further questions, let me know in the comments below.

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