Study Graphic Design: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a graphic design degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and a PhD degree and potential careers.
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Graphic Design Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

If you already have an undergraduate degree in graphic design, a master's degree or PhD allows you to focus on specific areas of the field. For instance, you could choose to focus on criticism, design history or design theory. Although you may need a PhD to teach at a post-secondary school, doctorate level programs in this field are rare. Usually, a graduate degree is unnecessary to work as a graphic designer.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? People who are interested in studying graphic design more extensively Individuals who want to teach art or design at the post-secondary level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Graphic designer ($44,000)*
- Art director ($48,000)*
- Post-secondary art teacher ($73,000 - this salary is for a position at a university )*
- Post-secondary art teacher ($72,000 - this salary is for a position at a junior college)
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time Must be completed within 5 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Portfolio
- Successfully complete approximately 64 credit hours
- Capstone project
- Written examination
- Oral examination
- Doctoral dissertation
Prerequisites - Undergraduate degree - Master's degree in an art-related field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

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

Master's in Graphic Design

A master's degree program in graphic design trains you to use computer software and create hand drawings to design visually appealing concepts. For instance, graphic designers may create original logos or images that are used to promote a specific company. It is important to understand that this profession is constantly changing, requiring that you be prepared to continuously learn how to use a variety of media types to keep your designs original. Regardless of whether you enter the workforce as a design educator, researcher or designer, your job tasks will likely include applying creative problem solving techniques to design issues on a daily basis.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can complete the programs online
  • Your education may make it possible for you to work as a Web developer, which has an expected higher-than-average job growth rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
  • Programs can typically be completed in two years or less

Cons

  • For your career, you may find it necessary to take additional classes that are not part of a master's degree program in graphic design
  • You may find it necessary to attend continuing education training or courses to stay abreast of changes in the industry
  • As a graphic designer, you can expect an average expected job growth, which is likely to make job competition fierce

Course Requirements

In a graphic design master's degree program you must complete approximately 18 credit hours of study, regardless of whether you pursue a Master of Arts or a Master of Fine Arts. In either program, you take studio design classes, attend seminars related to your focus area and complete a capstone project. You may also take elective courses in areas such as interactive design, topography or the theories of graphic design.

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs in graphic design are available. Some universities offer a fully online program, while others may have a hybrid program that consists of both distance and campus-based classes. Online programs are generally interactive, and usually require you to watch instructional videos that help you complete hands-on assignments.

Stand Out with this Degree

A portfolio is a common requirement for students working towards their master's degree in graphic design. By compiling a portfolio that shows your strengths and abilities, you are more likely to stand out against fellow job seekers.

You might also consider completing courses in interactive and digital design. Being able to use interactive software programs to create graphic design elements indicates that you are willing and capable of adapting your skills to new technology. This may make you more attractive to employers.

Degree Alternatives

If graphic design does not seem like the right career for you, you might consider earning a degree in Web development. Students in these programs learn about Web graphics development, Webscripting, motion and interactivity. The BLS predicts that job opportunities for Web developers will grow 22% during the 2010-2020 decade.

PhD in Graphic Design

A PhD in graphic design is a common choice for individuals interested in a research career or teaching art at the post-secondary level. These degree programs are research based, and require that students complete a project to graduate.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Program allows you to to extensively study multiple aspects of graphic design
  • Having a PhD can increase your earning potential; master's degree holders earn about $48,000 among all professions available to them, while PhD holders earn about $73,000
  • A PhD gives you the chance to teach aspiring graphic designers at the undergraduate and graduate levels

Cons

  • PhD programs in graphic design are rare
  • Programs are not available online
  • A PhD program requires approximately 5 years of study to complete

Course Requirements

The majority of your courses in this program focus on the processes, methods and theories used to conduct research in the field. Some of your coursework is also be related to art education, and a small portion focuses on intense study of the different aspects of graphic design. Some schools require that you choose a degree objective, such as housing studies, apparel design, interior design or graphic design. You must also write a dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Currently, online PhD programs in graphic design are unavailable. Attending an on-campus program allows you to interact with professors regarding your research and dissertation, and may even permit you to complete a teaching assistantship.

Stand Out with this Degree

To stand out against your competition, consider taking courses in interactive design. Using interactive elements in your designs shows employers that you have a breath of knowledge about using technology as it pertains to the field.

Additionally, consider completing theoretical coursework about graphic design, the media and society. Understanding how society interprets and is affected by graphic design may impress employers seeking to hire researchers.

Popular Schools

  • Campus and Online Programs
    1. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. - New Media Journalism
      • M.S. - New Media Journalism
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology
      • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology
  • Montpelier, VT

    Vermont College of Fine Arts

  • Chicago, IL

    University of Illinois at Chicago

  • Denver, CO

    University of Denver

  • El Paso, TX

    The University of Texas at El Paso

  • Boston, MA

    Suffolk University

  • New York, NY

    School of Visual Arts

  • Rochester, NY

    Rochester Institute of Technology

  • Providence, RI

    Rhode Island School of Design

Featured Schools

Full Sail University

  • M.S. - New Media Journalism

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Vermont College of Fine Arts

University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Denver

The University of Texas at El Paso

Suffolk University

School of Visual Arts