Your Guide to Graphic Design Degrees

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Graphic design, communication design, and design programs focus on visual communications.

[Featured image] Graphic design student sits at a tilted table and works on a new design project. He has a series of papers in front of him and is using a pen to update his designs.

A graphic design degree signifies in-depth knowledge about visual communication and design. In fact, graphic design programs are also called communication design or design programs.

In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of graphic design degrees and share what you can expect if you pursue your bachelor’s degree in graphic design.

Types of graphic design degrees

You can pursue your graphic design degree at the associate, bachelor's, or master's level. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of each degree type:

  • Associate degree: Associate degree programs typically take about two years to complete if you attend school full-time. In graphic design, schools usually offer one of two associate degree programs: Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS). Both types of programs offer foundational knowledge, usually through introductory coursework. In some programs, it’s considered that students who pursue AA degrees will later transfer into a bachelor’s degree program, while AAS degree students may pursue a career directly after graduation.

  • Bachelor’s degree: Bachelor’s degree programs take about four or five years to complete if you attend school full-time. In graphic design, schools tend to offer either a Bachelor of Arts (BA), a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), or both. Both programs will be similar, though BA programs may be more theoretical, while BFA programs may be more technical and creative.

  • Master’s degree: Master’s degree programs usually take one to two years of full-time study. Like at the bachelor level, schools typically offer Master of Arts (MA), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), or both. Master’s programs are advanced degrees designed to deepen expertise in visual communication. 

You can also take individual graphic design courses or earn a certificate. These options enable you to learn foundational design skills with less of a financial and time commitment. If you’ve already earned your degree in another subject area and hope to work in graphic design, a certificate program may be a good option as you refocus your career path.

Online graphic design degrees

With the prevalence of digital design, there are many options to pursue your graphic design degree online. You can expect similar foundational and technical coursework, but with the flexibility of learning from anywhere with an internet connection. Online courses may also be asynchronous, meaning you can log on to learn at whatever time is most convenient for you.

See if online learning is right for you with the Fundamentals of Graphic Design from the California Institute of the Arts on Coursera. This is the first course of five in the Graphic Design Specialization, available completely online.

Learn more: 10 Surprising Benefits of Online Learning

Bachelor’s degree in graphic design

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor’s degree is often considered the entry-level education for many arts and design occupations such as graphic designer, art director, and special effects artist [1], and among those with a fine and performing arts degree, graphic design is the most common major [2].

A bachelor’s degree isn’t always necessary to work in a design-related field—Zippia reports that 68 percent of graphic designers have a bachelor’s degree, while 23 percent have an associate degree [3].

Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect if you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree in graphic design.

Types of courses

When you pursue your bachelor’s degree, you can typically expect to take both general education courses across a variety of disciplines and coursework directly related to your major. For those in a BA graphic design program, your courses may skew toward culture and context, while BFA programs will likely incorporate more studio art courses. However, both BA and BFA programs will likely require some of both.

Some graphic design courses you may take include:

  • Introduction to graphic design

  • Digital communication

  • Design thinking

  • Art history

  • Color theory

  • Typography

  • Studio art courses like drawing, painting, or sculpture

  • Motion design

  • Production design

  • Web design

  • User experience

  • Information design

  • Media management

Tuition and degree length

Earning a bachelor’s degree tends to be a sizable financial and time commitment. The cost of your degree will vary depending on where you go to school. College Board reports that the average tuition and fees for a public four-year in-state university is $10,740 annually, while the average cost of a private four-year university is $38,080 annually [4].

Many graphic design programs are designed to be completed in four years with a full-time commitment. However, across all bachelor’s degree programs, many students spend five or more years earning their degree. Several factors can influence the time it takes to earn your degree, including full-time versus part-time status, whether you’ve switched majors or transferred schools, or entered your program with some college credits. 

Learn more: Is a Bachelor’s Degree Worth It?

What can you do with a graphic design degree?

A bachelor’s degree tends to be a fairly versatile credential, but you may find it easier to enter certain design-related fields with a graphic design degree. A graphic design degree can signal your knowledge to potential employers, and perhaps more importantly, can give you confidence as you approach design-related projects.

People who have earned graphic design degrees work in a range of industries, for companies like Google, Meta, Reddit, Disney, Hulu, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Live Nation, and Capital One.

Here are some jobs you may pursue with a graphic design degree, along with their average salaries in the United States as of August 2022, according to Glassdoor:

Learn more: Graphic Design Jobs: 2022 Guide

Start learning graphic design

If you enjoy figuring out ways to communicate with people using visual media and want to pursue a creative career path, you may like studying graphic design. Start learning today on Coursera. Check out the Graphic Design Specialization from CalArts, or pursue a Professional Certificate in UX Design from Google. Sign up today for a free, seven-day trial and see if graphic design is right for you!

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Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Arts and Design Occupations,” Accessed September 13, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.