Computer Graphic Design Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate or bachelor's degree in computer graphic design? Find out degree program requirements, online options and info on courses and computer graphic design training programs.
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Studying Computer Graphic Design: Degrees at a Glance

Computer graphic artists combine their creative skills with their technical knowledge to create visual products that communicate complex messages. The art of computer graphics combines illustration, image manipulation, desktop publishing and digital photography. Professionals in the industry develop strategies to communicate information and render model and animate images to create visual effects. Graphic artists and designers use their skills to create advertising, corporate branding, products as well as images for television and video games. Undergraduate programs provide an education that incorporates traditional and modern imaging techniques.

The associate degree program provides the education and skills required for entry-level opportunities in multiple industries, including advertising or product packaging. The bachelor's degree offers an in-depth education that leads to creative careers in and out of academic settings.

There was expected to be a large difference in the job outlooks of various careers in this field, depending on the amount of technological change that will affect the specialty. On the high end, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected a 13% increase in the number of graphic design jobs from 20102-2020. On the low end, the BLS reports showed an anticipated 15% decline in positions for desktop publishers.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level support opportunities People who want to work in multiple industries as graphic designers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Desktop publisher ($39,000)*
- Drafter ($48,000)*
- Graphic designer ($49,000)*
- Multimedia artist or animator ($68,000)*
- Art director ($96,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credits
- Internship
- Portfolio
- Roughly 120 credits
- Internship
- Portfolio
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate in Computer Graphic Design

The associate degree provides a foundation in the concepts, skills and technologies required for entry-level graphic or design opportunities. You will develop critical thinking skills as they relate to visual language and visual communication theory. In addition, you will learn how historical precedents affect modern design practices and how changes in technology ultimately affect the industry. Exercises and projects provide the platform for developing your style and understanding your own work. Most programs require a professional portfolio designed to help you market yourself competitively.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The technical skills you gain are transferable to other careers or industries
  • Hands-on projects offer the opportunity to complete a professional portfolio
  • This is a field where experience and talent can be substituted for formal education*

Cons

  • Job growth is slower than average (6% for drafters) or rapidly declining (-15% for desktop publishers)*
  • The program may not prepare you for graphic artist or multimedia artist or animation careers
  • Competition against bachelor's degree holders will be keen

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections).

Common Courses and Requirements

The associate degree requires roughly 60 credits in general education and major coursework. In addition to traditional design concepts, you will learn to conceptualize and create designs using modern technologies, like illustration and publishing software. Upon graduation, you will be able demonstrate your understanding of topics like lighting, color and because of undergraduate training in:

  • Drawing
  • Communication design
  • Typographic design
  • Visualization
  • Digital photography
  • Desktop publishing
  • Marketing portfolios

Online Course Info

Several schools offer associate-level, distance-education programs in graphic design that you can complete online. Online programs offer courses similar to those offered by traditional degree programs. You will be able to focus your studies on coursework like drawing and perspective, fundamentals of Web design and image editing, to name a few. Access to the appropriate technologies, including design software, is important when choosing an online program.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Employers usually prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree for graphic design opportunities. Despite this, experience plays a significant role in securing employment. Participating in collaborative projects, research opportunities and internships will boost your level of experience. Developing a strong portfolio and learning to market your work will also help you stand out. If you are less naturally talented at drawing, taking additional courses in illustration or drawing using computer software may also boost your marketability.

Bachelor's in Computer Graphic Design

Bachelor's degree curriculum offers a deeper understanding of the industry through the study of upper-division or advanced topics. In addition, students usually select a specialization or group of electives. You will learn about color, design and composition through a structured set of courses. Programs also develop critical thinking and analytical skills through general education coursework. The development of a professional portfolio is usually required. Some schools offer training in marketing techniques to increase job prospects.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Graphic artists will enjoy average job growth (13%) through 2020*
  • Programs provide the academic foundation for entry into graphic artist positions
  • Internships and professional portfolio courses will enhance your marketability

Cons

  • Some salaries are comparable to those earned by associate degree holders, e.g. drafters earned $48,000 vs. graphic designers who earned $49,000**
  • Overall, job growth in the industry is slower than average (8 and 9% for multimedia artists/animators and art directors, respectively)*
  • A thick skin is necessary, as criticism and rejection are a normal part of seeking work in the industry

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Common Courses and Requirements

The bachelor's degree expands the education offered by the associate degree through the study of general education classes like written and visual communication, mathematics, ethics and politics and science. Courses usually include visual foundations, writing for the media, advertising design, graphic communication, drawing principles, marketing and designing Web graphics.

In addition to coursework, you will prepare a professional portfolio designed from your education and supervised work experiences. Programs may also require a cooperative education experience or collaborative projects.

Online Course Info

Online bachelor's degree programs - like Bachelor of Science programs in graphic arts - provide distance education through a completely online experience. Programs offer coursework closely related to that offered by campus-based facilities. Schools design distance-education courses to meet the needs of working professionals or those seeking advancement. You may be able to enroll in accelerated classes or programs designed with a self-paced component.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Graphic designers usually need a minimum of one year of experience for entry-level opportunities; participating in internships, field experiences or collaborative projects will boost your level of experience. In addition, a solid portfolio with diverse products and illustrations can make the difference when searching for employment. Take advantage of each opportunity to create a new product for your portfolio and seek constructive criticism from your instructors to improve your work. Investing time and money in your portfolio, and learning how to market it, can also give you an edge.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Information Technology
      • AASIT: Network Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. Computer Information Technology
      • A.S. General Studies - Computer Information Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. ECPI University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate's - Network Security
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Technology Studies
      • Associate of Science - Information Technology Admin and Management
  • Campus and Online Programs
    5. Everest

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate's - Computer Information Science
  • Oklahoma City, OK

    Oklahoma State University

  • Warwick, RI

    New England Institute of Technology

  • Online Programs Available
    8. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AAS in Technical Studies (Computer Technologies)
      • AAS in Technical Studies (Electromechanical Technologies)
      • AAS in Technical Studies (Electronic / Instrumentation Technologies)
      • AS in Science in Technology (Computer Technologies)
      • AS in Science in Technology (Electromechanical Technologies)
      • AS in Science in Technology (Electronic / Instrumentation Technologies)

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Associate: Information Technology
  • AASIT: Network Admin

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Indiana Wesleyan University

  • A.S. Computer Information Technology
  • A.S. General Studies - Computer Information Technology

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ECPI University

  • Associate's - Network Security

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Herzing University

  • Associate of Science - Technology Studies
  • Associate of Science - Information Technology Admin and Management

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Everest

  • Associate's - Computer Information Science

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Excelsior College

  • AAS in Technical Studies (Computer Technologies)
  • AAS in Technical Studies (Electromechanical Technologies)
  • AAS in Technical Studies (Electronic / Instrumentation Technologies)

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