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

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What will you learn in a graphic art degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Graphic Art: Degrees at a Glance

If you have ever thought about turning your interest in art into a career, a degree program in graphic art may be a good fit for you. In a graphic art degree program, you can hone your skills in print, Web design and graphic design, and also learn about the business-side of the industry. Graduates may work full-time or on a freelance basis in advertising agencies, graphic design firms, publishing companies and more.

With a bachelor's degree in graphic art, you may find yourself working as a graphic designer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 13% growth in this field from 2010-2020, about as fast as average. You should be aware that some areas in this field are declining as fewer print publications are being produced. According to the BLS, desktop publishing is projected to decline at a rate of 15% from 2010-2020.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking a career in the graphic art field, or students who want to transfer to a bachelor's degree program Individuals seeking a career in the graphic art field
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Desktop publisher ($37,000)*
- Printing press operator ($34,000)*
- Print binding and finishing worker ($29,000)*
- Artist ($58,000)*
- Graphic Designer ($44,000)*
- Art director ($81,000)*
- Multimedia animator ($61,000)
- High school art teacher ($54,000)*
Time to Completion Approximately 2 years of full-time study Approximately 4 years of full-time study
Common Graduation Requirements - General education courses
- Required and elective courses in graphic art topics
- General education courses
- Required and elective courses in graphic art topics
- Design capstone project
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 Degree in Graphic Design

In an associate degree program in graphic art, you will learn about graphic art theory and develop artistic skills in the field. Graduates are eligible to obtain a number of jobs in the field, such as assistant production manager, artist, imaging operator and prepress technician. Many associate degree programs also emphasize the importance of staying current with industry developments with lectures, field trips, industry events and guest speakers. While a degree will provide you with basic skills in graphic design, having a strong portfolio will often be needed to secure employment.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An associate degree program will provide a solid foundation of knowledge in the field, covering a variety of topics
  • Completing an associate degree program is good preparation for transfer into a bachelor's degree program
  • Freelance and self-employment opportunities are available

Cons

  • According to the BLS, jobs for desktop publishers and printing workers are predicted to decline from 2010-2020*
  • A bachelor's degree may be required for many jobs in the field
  • Not all associate degree programs in graphic arts cover managerial aspects in depth

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses

Students in associate degree programs in graphic art typically begin their programs with several required general education courses in subjects like English composition, mathematics, laboratory science, social science and literature. Some examples of courses that you may take include:

  • Graphic arts management office systems
  • Graphic arts estimating
  • Color analysis
  • Desktop publishing
  • Graphic design
  • Photoshop
  • Printmaking
  • Computer fundamentals

Some associate degree programs may also require students to complete internships in the field.

Online Degree Options

Online associate degree programs for graphic art are available. These programs are fully online, with no need to travel to campus and offer the same types of classes that you would find at a traditional, on-campus program in graphic arts. Graduates of online programs may pursue the same types of careers as graduates of campus-based programs.

Stand Out with This Degree

Graduates with an interest in working in the publishing industry should be aware that jobs are becoming less plentiful. For this reason, you may face strong completion for positions in the field. Computer skills are very important, and taking computer courses in your associate degree program may give you an advantage to gain employment. Similarly, jobs are predicted to be fewer for printing workers in the coming years. Printing workers may need prepress and other practical skills in order to compete for jobs or advance in the field. Seeking out internships or additional lab work may help you stand out to potential employers.

Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Art

As a student in a bachelor's degree program in graphic art, you will study a number of graphic art topics, including design, presswork and computer and multimedia studies. For programs that prepare you for a career in a managerial or supervisory role, you may also take courses that focus on production management. These programs will build your skill set in monitoring and controlling print media and increase your proficiency in executive and managerial procedures.

After earning a bachelor's degree, you may find yourself working in advertising, publishing, printing or graphic communications. Graduates may compete with associate degree holders for entry-level jobs.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Bachelor's degree programs in graphic art prepare graduates for entry into a number of different career areas
  • Online bachelor's degree programs in graphic art are available
  • Though a bachelor's degree is not required to work as a craft or fine artist, developing your skills with coursework should increase your prospects

Cons

  • For students who are interested in pursuing a career as a high school art teacher, education coursework, student teaching and licensure may be required in addition to a bachelor's degree
  • Multimedia artists and animators often work long hours and face tight deadlines
  • It may not be possible to find a bachelor's degree program in graphic art that allow you to specialize in one area of interest

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

The courses that you will take in a bachelor's degree program in graphic art are very similar to those in an associate degree program. In addition to completing general education requirements, you will take required and elective courses in the field. Some courses that you may take include:

  • Print-on-demand management
  • Binding and finishing operations
  • Web page design and implementation
  • Digital color presswork
  • Multimedia design
  • Digital video design

You may also be required to complete work in a laboratory environment, work on a senior design project or intern in an industry position. Some programs require students to attend lectures and go on field trips, allowing them the opportunity to interact with faculty, students, and industry professionals.

Online Degree Options

You should be able to find online bachelor's degree programs in graphic art, and they are very similar to the online associate degree programs previously mentioned. After completing an online program, you will be eligible to seek employment in the same fields as graduates of a campus-based program. For students who wish to take advantage of such things as laboratory work, industry events and field trips, an on-campus program may still be the best option.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

In many careers that are available to graduates of bachelor's degree programs in graphic art, having an extensive portfolio is a great asset. If you are interested in gaining employment as a graphic designer, multimedia artist or art director, a well developed portfolio can give you an edge above other candidates. You should seek out opportunities to add to your portfolio through laboratory work, internships and design projects while completing your degree program. An impressive portfolio of work shows potential employers your artistic ability, skill and experience.

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