The Top 20 Graphic Design Schools in the United States

 

Graphic designers are associated with nearly everything we look at, watch, or read, from the designs on books to the navigation of websites, halftime commercials, and business card logos. Graphic designers are the visual geeks who ensure that every concert poster and app user interface impacts and convey the desired message.

Is this interesting to you? You might be curious about how you can be a graphic designer. So you go to school! This article will explain what a graphic design course is, how I came up with this list, the best graphic design schools, and how to pick the right program for you.

What Exactly Is a Graphic Design School?

The use of images, text, and media to express information or ideas is known as graphic design or communication design. Graphic designers are strategic communicators who create advertisements, book jackets, posters, websites, app interfaces, publishing layouts, album art, and logos, among other things.

Graphic design may be a good career choice for you if you’re creative and innovative, especially if you’re interested in technology.

To be a professional graphic designer, you’ll need to build a strong portfolio of projects to show prospective employers, which you can do on your own or by earning an associate degree. Suggest taking a BA or BFA in graphic design or communications design if you want a fully fleshed-out college education, a guaranteed strong portfolio, and ready-made industry connections (the name and specific degree type rely on the school).

Graphic design programs are available at art schools and departments within more prominent universities. They can even be found in some technical schools!

This list includes a variety of graphic design programs, all of which are excellent places to get a visual design education and learn the skills required to launch a design career.

Methodology for Ranking Graphic Design Programs

How did I compile this list of graphic design schools?

First, I compiled as many lists of the top graphic design schools as I could find. I removed those that appeared to be from less trustworthy or reputable sources (such as personal blogs) or already compiled lists from other sources (since they would be redundant).

This left me with rankings from a variety of sources, as well as data from a variety of sources—trade magazines, alumni rankings, student satisfaction, and so on. Although US News and World Report do not rank undergraduate graphic design courses, they do have data on freshman retention rates, which I also considered.

Preliminary averages were calculated for each of the rankings.

Schools were then ranked according to their average score and the number of lists they emerged on (a school that appeared in spots 5 and 6 on two lists but not on any others did not beat a school that appeared in spots 7, 8, 7, and 8 on four lists). In close calls, freshmen retention rates were used to cut ties.

Generally, the rankings convey a relatively comprehensive assessment of prestige/name recognition, student satisfaction, alumni program valuation, and return on investment.

 

The Top Graphic Design Schools

The following are the top 20 graphic design courses. Each entry includes the school’s location, details about the school, its admission rate, and the degrees offered. Unless otherwise specified, all enrollment rates are for fall 2020.

I’ve included links to our admissions requirements pages for each school; however, these pages are primarily concerned with GPA and test scores. Remember that a strong portfolio of your previous creative work will likely be more significant than grades or GPA when implementing a graphic design program.

The Best Overall Programs

These programs have a strong brand, relatively high rankings, and notable faculty and alumni.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

 

— Providence, Rhode Island

In terms of brand awareness and famous alumni (including the founders of Airbnb, animator/comedian Seth MacFarlane, film director Gus Van Sant, and fashion designers Nicole Miller and Jill Stuart), RISD is the Harvard of art schools. Several alumni have indeed earned MacArthur “genius” grants. You can anticipate well-funded programs and faculty at the very top of their fields if you join RISD.

It’s no surprise, then, that RISD has consistently ranked at the top of graphic design college rankings. It’s the most competitive school on this list, with a well-established and well-known graphic design program. Students who apply to RISD as a whole do not choose a major until they are halfway through their first year of study. Graphic Design is one of RISD’s largest undergraduate departments, with approximately 165 students. They earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

  • Check out our expert admissions requirements for RISD here
  • Admission Rate:20%
  • Available Degree: BFA in Graphic Design

Parsons School of Design

 

(The New School) — Manhattan, New York

Parsons is another school with a strong brand and a stellar faculty, and they continuously rank near the top of best-program rankings. The school was ranked the top design school in the United States by QS World University Rankings in 2019 and the third-best in the world in 2021, owing to its interdisciplinary emphasis on the nuts-and-bolts technical and design-functional aspects.

The four-year BFA course in Communication Design (a graphic design equivalent) at the school has positioned alumni at Google, Facebook, and New York Magazine and a healthy crop of entrepreneurs and freelancers.

  • Our expert admissions requirements for Parsons are available here
  • Admission Rate: 57% (The New School)
  • Degree Provided: BFA in Communication Design

The Pratt Institute— Brooklyn, New York

Another reputable institution is the Pratt Institute, housed on a historic campus in Brooklyn, New York. They believe in “poetic pragmatism,” which combines artistic vision with practical skills. Numerous faculty members are working professionals who teach part-time.

Pratt Institute provides a BFA in Communications Design, an interdisciplinary course that focuses on marketing, illustrating, and graphic design. Alumni applaud the program for preparing them for their future careers professions in their fields, as well as for its innovative and cutting-edge focus.

  • For more information on the Pratt Institute’s admissions requirements, click here.
  • Admission Rate: 57%
  • Degree Program Provided: BFA in Communication Design

Programs that are highly regarded

These programs have a lot of resources and are well-known in the industry. Many provide a distinct perspective on graphic design or have a particular focus not found at many other institutions.

 

ArtCenter College of Design Pasadena, California

The ArtCenter’s undergraduate graphic design program provides specialized training in both old and new media, producing well-rounded practitioners with skills in all areas of graphic design as a discipline. The ArtCenter promotes a creative, experimental, and socially conscious approach.

 

The school also provides a good return on investment, with alumni earning more than graduates from peer institutions. Graduates work in a wide range of industries and fields; alumni currently work for a wide range of companies, including Nike and NASA.

  • See our expert admissions requirements for ArtCenter College of Design here.
  • Acceptance Rate: 60%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

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Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)— Baltimore, Maryland

MICA has a contemporary, metropolitan campus in Baltimore and offers a craft-focused BFA in Graphic Design that aims to develop your creativity as well as your technological skills. Gender Studies and Critical Theory are two liberal arts minors available at MICA.

It also offers a one-of-a-kind interdisciplinary BFA program in humanistic studies, which allows you to merge your graphic design education with a multidisciplinary emphasis on the progressive humanities and arts.

  • Here are our expert admissions requirements for MICA.
  • Acceptance Rate: 64%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)— Valencia, Santa Clarita, California

CalArts is for you to attend an art school founded by Walt Disney. Disney envisioned CalArts as a place where students from all artistic disciplines could grow in a collaborative, workshop-centered environment.

The BFA Graphic Design program is relatively small, with only 12-20 new students admitted each year. Many graduates work for major film, television, and technology companies. If Hollywood is calling your name, CalArts could be a great fit!

  • You can find our expert admissions requirements for the California Institute of the Arts here.
  • Acceptance Rate: 25%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

Carnegie Mellon School of Design— Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

You might be surprised to discover a large research university known for its engineering program on a list of graphic design schools. But don’t be fooled! Carnegie Mellon University takes a novel approach to the study and practice of graphic design; Alumni praise the program’s integration of artistic design points with cutting-edge technology.

Instead of a BFA, Carnegie Mellon’s design school provides a BDes (Bachelor of Design). It also provides an interdisciplinary design degree that can be combined with another course of study of a student’s choosing, appealing to students with diverse interests.

Finally, it’s an excellent choice if you want an art school education and the experience of a large research university. Overall, Carnegie Mellon University provides a cutting-edge, solid foundation for design careers.

  • See our expert admissions requirements for Carnegie Mellon here (note that this is for Carnegie Mellon overall, and the different subschools may have slightly different conditions).
  • Acceptance Rate: 17%
  • Degree Offered: Bachelor of Design (BDes)

 

School of Visual Arts— Manhattan, New York

The School of Visual Arts provides a BFA in Graphic Design with the option of specializing in package design, website design, book jacket design, and so on.

 

Alumni have lauded the school’s exceptional networking opportunities. Every year in the Senior Library, SVA sends compilations of graduating student work to industry giants and holds professional-level exhibitions of student work. SVA is a wonderful choice if your primary goal is to be commercially marketable and network; it may not be the best school for you if you want to practice design on an artistic and theoretical level.

  • Admissions requirements for the School of Visual Arts as determined by our admissions experts can be found here.
  • Acceptance Rate: 71%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)— Savannah, Georgia

With over 11,000 students enrolled, Savannah College of Art and Design is extensive for an art school. You have the option of earning a BA in Visual Communication (with a focus on graphic design) or a BFA in Graphic Design, so your options are open. Professors have extensive industry experience, and you will have the opportunity to study at SCAD’s campuses in Hong Kong or Lacoste, France.

 

Overall, SCAD is a robust design school with numerous opportunities for motivated students.

  • Our expert admissions requirements for Savannah College of Art and Design can be found here.
  • Acceptance Rate: 96%
  • Degrees Offered: BA in Visual Communication, BFA in Graphic Design

 

You could have unlimited access to these trees at SCAD!

 

Virginia Commonwealth University— Richmond, Virginia

VCU is a large public university with over 30,000 students and is another excellent choice if you want to combine art school skills with great university experience. VCU has a BFA in Graphic Design, but you must complete the “Art Foundation” sequence before applying for the specialization.

  • Our expert admissions requirements for Virginia Commonwealth University can be found here.
  • Acceptance Rate: 82%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

Is Hollywood calling?

Well-liked programs

This section includes some well-known art schools with graphic design programs that aren’t as well established as their other programs and some newer graphic design programs that are just getting started.

 

Otis College of Art and Design— Los Angeles, CA

The BFA graphic design program at Otis is housed in the Communication Design department, which also houses illustration and advertising design programs.

 

Graduates of graphic design programs have gone on to work for companies such as Apple, Anthropologie, Conde Nast, Disney, Interscope Records, Mattel, Sony, and Target, among others. It’s an excellent option for students who would like to do design work for major corporations and are interested in some of graphic design’s more commercial aspects.

  • View here our expert admissions specifications for the Otis College of Design and Art
  • Acceptance Rate: 78%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Communication Design, graphic design focus

 

University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning— Cincinnati, Ohio

If you want to combine the experience of attending a large NCAA division-1 university with a high-quality design program and the opportunity to take courses in a variety of disciplines, the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning might be a good fit for you!

In contrast to many other programs that offer a BFA, the University of Cincinnati offers a BS in Communication Design degree in graphic design. Many students work in the healthcare industry, for governments, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). If you are interested in innovation in those fields, this school is a great place to start.

  • Our expert admissions requirements for the University of Cincinnati can be found here (Please keep in mind that this applies to the entire school, not just the College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning.)
  • Acceptance Rate: 77% (whole university)
  • Degree Offered: BS in Communication Design

 

California College of the Arts (CCA)— Oakland, CA

CCA provides a BFA in Graphic Design program that prepares students to work in various design fields. It also offers a robust internship program for fourth-year students, ensuring that you graduate with hands-on, real-world professional experience.

CCA also focuses on social justice-oriented and socially conscious design practice. Students essentially get a little bit of everything: a diverse skill set, professional experience, and social awareness.

  • Our admissions requirements for California College of the Arts are expertly crafted by our team of admissions experts can be found here.
  • Acceptance Rate: 73%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

Yale University School of Art— New Haven, Connecticut

Yale is the ideal school for you if you want an Ivy League education and excellent preparation for a career as a graphic designer. A BA degree is awarded to students who major in art specializing in graphic design. Students interested in the major should be aware that they will need to apply for admission in their sophomore year.

The graphic design program, like many others at Yale, focuses on the craft and theory of design rather than its more practical and commercial applications. As a result, this program is best suited to students whose interests are academic and artistic rather than technical or commercial.

  • View how our expert admissions specifications are for the Yale University
  • Acceptance Rate: 6.3% (whole university)
  • Degree Offered: BA in Art specializing in graphic design.

 

Yale also experiences snowy New England winters.

 

College for Creative Studies— Detroit, Michigan

A BFA in Graphic Design is available from the College for Creative Studies. They specialize in “experience design,” or immersive multimedia design experiences. CCS is the place to be, as programs focusing on experience design are scarce if this is of interest to you.

CCS also has a strong emphasis on community engagement across the board. Dreamworks, Google, Nike, Disney, Fox, Microsoft, universities, and libraries have all hired graphic design graduates. Many have also started their design firms.

  • See here for our expert admissions requirements for the College for Creative Studies.
  • Acceptance Rate: 44%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)— Chicago, IL

The School of the Art Institute is associated with Chicago’s well-known Art Institute Museum. SAIC’s BFA in Visual Communication Design program focuses on physical and virtual design mediums. The department works hard to ensure that students graduate with real-world professional experience facilitates student freelance work and internships.

In addition, the department hosts an annual lecture series featuring visiting designers who are doing innovative work in the field. And, of course, the campus is in the heart of downtown Chicago, which is home to a plethora of cultural and artistic institutions.

  • Admissions requirements for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as determined by our admissions experts Chicago can be found here.
  • Acceptance Rate: 57%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Visual Communication Design

 

Chicago also has the Bean, er, Cloud Gate.

Programs that work

Name recognition is low at these schools, but you’ll get a solid educational foundation from which to launch your graphic design career.

 

Ringling College of Art and Design— Sarasota, FL

Ringling does not recognize many schools higher up on this list, but it has a robust and well-rounded program.

 

Ringling College of Art and Design offers a BFA in Graphic Design to transform students into “visual storytellers.” Students can study abroad in Europe during their time at Ringling. Furthermore, alumni have received prestigious industry awards and have worked for Instagram, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Birchbox, Trader Joe’s, and top design agencies.

  • See our expert admissions requirements for Ringling College of Art and Design.
  • Acceptance Rate: 63.9%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

University of the Arts (UArts)— Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

UArts’ BFA in Graphic Design program prepares students for old and new media careers. As part of their coursework, students have the opportunity to work on real-world, practical projects in the greater Philadelphia area. In addition, the department hosts an annual Spring Workshop on design topics with renowned guest faculty.

 

This is another program where the emphasis is on the practical and commercial rather than the artistic and theoretical.

  • View here for our expert admissions requirements for the University of the Arts.
  • Acceptance Rate: 73%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

Academy of Art University— San Francisco, CA

The BFA in Graphic Design program at Academy of Art University focuses on the “intersection of art and commerce.” There is also an emphasis on professional readiness and creative and marketing competencies. Overall, this school is more concerned with providing you with practical workforce skills and connections than with As a designer, you should be refining your artistic sensibilities. See here for our expert admissions specifications for the Academy of Art University.

  • Acceptance Rate: 99.9% (admissions are open)
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)— Rochester, NY

The Graphic Design BFA at RIT covers a wide range of skills and is interdisciplinary. Students have unique opportunities to work on projects with students from other departments and disciplines, particularly technical and engineering departments. Students are also encouraged to think about “design’s social, ethical, and environmental impact.”

 

Students interested in the intersection of technology and design should consider RIT.

  • Our expert admissions requirements for the Rochester Institute of Technology can be found here.
  • Acceptance Rate: 70.7%
  • Degree Offered: BFA in Graphic Design

 

Take a look at this important and cutting-edge piece of graphic design.

How to Select the Appropriate Graphic Design School for You

With so many options, it can be difficult to narrow the field down to a few programs that you are truly interested in. I strongly advise visiting schools, attending information sessions near you, and speaking with current students and recent alumni. Check out the Reddit graphic design forum if you don’t know any alumni!

In addition, here are some key questions to think about as you compile a list of graphic design programs to apply to.

#1: What is the strength of my portfolio? Is it Possible for Me to Get into a Competitive Program?

A strong art and design portfolio is often required for admission to more competitive programs.

Have you been taking art classes since you were a child? Were you old enough to hold a pencil, or is graphic design a new interest for you?

 

I recommend taking your portfolio to any portfolio review sessions you can find to get feedback on it.

 

Sometimes art schools send representatives across the country to review student portfolios at portfolio review fairs, where you can get feedback from multiple schools in one day on how your portfolio compares and what you can do to improve it.

Otherwise, contact your local art and design school to get portfolio feedback and a better sense of your portfolio’s competitiveness.

#2: Do I prefer the artistic or commercial aspects of design?

Some programs, such as the one at Yale, are more concerned with the lofty and artistic aspects of graphic design and its theoretical applications. In contrast, others, such as the School for the Visual Arts, are more concerned with transforming you into a market-ready practitioner.

One isn’t necessarily better or more valuable than the other—but one may be more aligned with your objectives. Do you fantasize about creating experimental installations in art museums or designing advertisements concerning Target? Do you want to learn how to draw contour line art, or do you want to improve your drawing skills? Do you want to know the seven design principles? A more artistically oriented program might be for you if you answered yes to the first question. If the latter is the case, a more commercially focused option is a better bet.

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#3: Do I Want to Go to Art School?

Graphic design programs are generally divided into two types: those housed within specialized art schools, such as RISD, and those housed within more prominent universities, such as Carnegie Mellon.

If you want a more “traditional” college experience, you might be better off attending a larger university that has a graphic design program. If, on the other hand, you want to study in a smaller setting with other people who are passionate about the arts and design, you should consider enrolling in a dedicated art school.

Furthermore, if you don’t need a traditional university experience but don’t want to attend a super-small institution, consider a larger art school like SCAD.

                                 This appears to be a genuine and official art-school lecture.

#4: Do I Have an Interest in Interdisciplinary Studies? How about utilizing cutting-edge technology?

Some programs provide a lot of freedom to pursue your interests.

 

For example, Carnegie Mellon, MICA, and RIT all provide more flexibility in exploring other interests (particularly technological ones at Carnegie and RIT) than other, more rigid programs.

You should also think about whether you want a program like the College for Creative Studies that explicitly focuses on training students in new media and cutting-edge graphic design technologies.

#5: Is there a specific faculty member I’d like to work with?

 

Examine the faculty biographies of the professors and lecturers at all of the programs that interest you. Who is doing the work that you are most interested in? In your application, make sure to mention any faculty members who have impressed you and with whom you want to work.

#6: Should I Study Abroad?

If you are determined to study, your options are somewhat limited when traveling abroad. SCAD and Ringling both have established study abroad programs, but you’ll need to do some research to see if going abroad is an option at other schools as well.

#7: Do I Have Any Geographic Preferences?

Last but not least, where do you want to live while attending college?

 

There are numerous options in California and on the east coast (particularly in New York City), but you are not limited to those areas. Many of the programs on this list have locations as diverse as Sarasota, Florida, Chicago, Illinois, and Savannah, Georgia.

 

If you want to go to the Big Apple, you have many options.

The Best Graphic Design Schools: Key Takeaways

Graphic designers are involved in almost every aspect of information consumption: they create publishing layouts, book jackets, album art, websites, app interfaces, advertisements, event posters, company logos, etc. Being a graphic designer necessitates creativity, technological know-how, and professional savvy.

If this sounds like a career for you, enroll in graphic design school!

 

Many excellent graphic design programs can be found at art schools, large public universities, technical schools, and even the Ivy League. You’ll be able to find the program that’s right for you, thanks to this handy list!

What Comes Next?

 

Still undecided about college? Or are you still looking for a school? See our guides on whether or not to attend college and how to conduct college research. Do you require additional assistance in narrowing down your final list of schools? Learn how to choose which colleges to apply to and how many schools to apply to!

Are you debating what to study and concerned about your future earnings? Check out our list of the highest-paying college majors to see if you should pursue one of them.

 

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