Online Graphics Arts and Design Schools and Colleges: How to Choose

While individual online courses in specific graphic design skills are most common, some certificates and degrees are also available online. Learn about the different requirements, classes, and degrees in an online graphic arts and design program.

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Online undergraduate and graduate degree programs in graphic arts and design are readily available. Here we discuss a few of the programs and available schools, as well as important considerations for selecting a school, such as education levels and internship opportunities.

How to Select an Online Graphic Arts and Design School

Online classes and programs in graphic arts and design teach students to manipulate images, produce multimedia and design layout for websites, print media and marketing. Online training in the graphic arts and design field is available in several areas, including Web design, print design and animation. Students can choose from a number of degree and certificate levels, or just take individual classes. These programs are typically found at community colleges, technical colleges and 4-year schools.

Classes or Programs

When choosing a school, students should consider whether they seek a comprehensive or focused type of graphic design instruction. Individual online classes in graphic arts and design, typically available through public and private schools, focus on specific skill sets, such as typography, Web design or digital animation, or on specific computer applications, such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign. These courses are offered at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels and allow students to develop skills in the areas of their choice.

Alternately, online certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in graphic arts or design, generally offered by for-profit art schools, provide students with a range of skills in design and graphic arts, which prepare graduates to design for various media. Many of these programs include business courses that teach students to market their design work.

Internships and Career Preparation

Individual online courses allow students to gain hands-on experience working with software, but don't offer internships or professional design project experience. These types of courses are generally most valuable for current professionals looking to expand or advance their skills in a specific graphic design area for a particular application.

While not all certificate or degree programs in graphic design offer internship opportunities, many connect students with successful design alumni or with design firms that allow students to gain professional experience. Furthermore, these programs allow students to build a diverse design portfolio, which may prepare them for competitive graphic design jobs.

List of Online Graphic Arts and Design Programs

Certificate in Graphic Design

A certificate program in graphic design generally requires eight or nine courses that can be completed entirely online, though some schools also offer hybrid programs, which require occasional on-campus attendance. Students learn graphic design techniques and become familiar with software used for photo editing, logo design, Web design, typography, animation and publishing layout. Coursework often includes:

  • Graphic design history
  • Digital imaging
  • Color theory

Associate's Degree in Graphic Design

An associate's degree program incorporates in-depth training in a wider range of graphic design skills in addition to providing students with business and marketing courses through general education requirements. Common courses include:

  • Information design
  • Web design
  • Web animation

Bachelor's Degree in Graphic and Multimedia Design

Students in a graphic arts and design bachelor's degree program learn advanced methods for designing print, motion and Web graphics, while building a portfolio of work. Additionally, students receive training in business, advertising and art direction. Areas of focus include:

  • Motion graphics
  • Interactive design
  • Print and 2D design

Master's Degree in Graphic Design

These programs generally culminate in a fine arts degree, allowing students to explore and develop a unique graphic style. Students access online lessons, which provide training in advanced graphic design techniques as well as message incorporation and integration. Course examples include:

  • Web typography
  • Package design
  • Information design
  • Experimental typography

Schools With Online Programs in Graphic Arts and Design

Penn Foster College has an online associate's degree program in graphic design that can be completed in four semesters. Exams are proctored and students must develop a portfolio. Students must also have high-speed internet, email and Windows 7 or later or Apple Mac running OS X or later.

Full Sail University provides a 32-month online bachelor's program in graphic design. Students participate in ongoing portfolio courses and seven Career Modules to develop professional skills. Students also have access to Career Development advisors to discuss various career paths.

The Academy of Art University offers online associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in graphic design. Graduate students can choose from a Master of Arts in Graphic Design and Digital Media or a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. The MA program emphasizes career development while the MFA program emphasizes mastery of the profession. The MFA also requires a thesis and offers specialized coursework in identity, print publication, typography and visual literacy.

Students interested in studying graphic arts and design online should first consider whether to pursue individual classes or a complete undergraduate or graduate degree program. They should also consider internship requirements, how the program prepares them for a future career, and any additional technical requirements, such as specific operating systems.

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