Multimedia Design Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a multimedia design degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Multimedia Design Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

A degree in multimedia design prepares graduates for work as multimedia artists and animators, graphic designers, video game designers, and more. Graduates may be able to find work in software publishing, movies and television, video gaming, advertising, public relations, and other industries. Some schools offer one general multimedia design degree that touches key courses topics. Others offer multimedia design degrees with specializations in web design, animation, video, digital design, and more.

The job outlook for multimedia artists and animators is mixed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of job growth from 2010 to 2020 is only 8%, which is slower than average for all occupations. In May 2011, the average mean salary was $68,000. In contrast, jobs for graphic designers are expected to grow 13% during that period, which is about as fast as the average. Graphic designers' median salary was $49,000 in May 2011.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in gaining artistic and computer skills Students who want to delve deeper into specific areas of multimedia design
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Multimedia artists and animators ($68,000)* - Graphic designers ($49,000)*
- Video game designers ($80,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements General education courses
- Roughly 30-50 credit hours of multimedia design courses
- Final portfolio project
General education courses
- Roughly 60-80 credit hours of multimedia design courses
- Final portfolio or capstone project
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED
- Portfolio review may be required
High school diploma or GED
- Some schools may require a pre-admission portfolio review
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Associate's Degree in Multimedia Design

Associate's degree programs are structured to provide students with the technical skills they need to learn industry standard software to produce web animation, video games, interactive CDs, and more. Students are also encouraged to develop their creative and artistic design abilities as they build their portfolios. Students should be prepared to spend long hours in their school's design studios as they work on creating class projects and developing their portfolios.

Most associate's degree programs include basic courses in multimedia, design software, drawing, animation, and more. In addition to core courses, associate's degree students can take electives to get additional training to develop their design skills in certain areas.

Students who know they want to focus on a particular area may want to choose a school that offers a degree program in that area. For instance, if you're interested in animation, choose a school that offers an associate's degree in animation. You'll still get the solid foundation you need in multimedia design, but you'll spend addition time on your area of interest.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You may not need a more advanced degree to succeed as a multimedia designer
  • This degree can provide the technical design skills you need to develop a strong portfolio
  • In 2010, 59% of multimedia artists were self-employed, so this could be a good freelance career*

Cons

  • May have to compete with cheaper overseas labor for jobs
  • If your technical or creative skills aren't strong, an associate's degree may not be enough education for some of the most desirable jobs
  • May have limited opportunities to specialize in your desired area at this degree level

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Most associate's degree programs require roughly 60 total credit hours under the semester system, but programs from schools on the quarter system require roughly 90 credits for completion. All programs have a general education requirement that must be met and they all provide basic training in the core areas of multimedia design. However, some schools offer additional courses, or degree specializations, to allow for more in-depth training in certain multimedia design areas. For instance, students who choose specializations in animation, game design, or web design will likely take the same core multimedia design courses. For the remainder of their degree program they will take courses in their area of specialization. Most degree programs also require a final portfolio project or capstone project.

Common course topics for a multimedia design degree include:

  • Multimedia
  • Computer graphics
  • Multimedia technologies
  • Game design
  • 3D Animation
  • Graphic design
  • Web design
  • Drawing

Online Degree Options

Online associate's degree programs in multimedia design are available. These degree programs are offered by schools that operate fully online and by those that also offer on-campus degree programs. The curriculum for each type of degree program is roughly the same. For the schools that offer both online and on-campus programs, there is virtually no difference in the courses offered.

Stand Out With This Degree

According to the BLS, to succeed with this degree, you should have artistic ability and a solid foundation in the technical aspects of multimedia design. However, potential employers may overlook a weakness in one area if you're strong in the other. For instance, if you're not strong in both areas, you should either have impressive technical skills or have a strong portfolio.

If you're noticeably weak in one of those areas, you can either spend more time developing your strength, or you can spend more time on overcoming your weaker area. Throughout your degree program, you'll build your portfolio. You may want to consider that project the most important professional tool you have to help you get the jobs you want after you graduate. If possible, try to find work as an intern before you graduate to give you more opportunities to hone your skills. Furthermore, consider taking additional courses, if needed.

Bachelor's in Multimedia Design

The skills covered in a bachelor's degree program in multimedia design include creative and technical aspects of designing digital media, computer software training, visual communication theory, and relevant project experience. In this degree program, you should develop skills in design, drawing, computer technology, digital information creation and management, visual communication, project management, and time management. Most schools also require a final portfolio review or the completion of a capstone project. Some schools may require both.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • According to the BLS, most multimedia artists work in specific areas, and this degree offers more specialized degree programs to choose from
  • Work environment may offer the opportunity to work in teams and to work alone
  • Although your skills may be more important to some employers than your education, your education can help you develop the skills you need to succeed

Cons

  • Expect intense national and international competition for the best jobs
  • If you struggle to learn new, company-specific software, you may have trouble in some areas of multimedia specialization, especially animation*
  • If you have outstanding creative or technical talents, a bachelor's degree may be more education than you need

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

A bachelor's degree program in multimedia design should provide training in the basic technology of website coding and operation and in the use of industry standard software. Students will also explore creative topics, such as art, design, and animation. There are more opportunities for specialization at this degree level, including specialization within a specific area. For instance, if you want to become a game designer, some schools offer degrees with a creative focus, while others offer game design degrees with a programming focus.

Course subjects offered for a game design degree may include the following:

  • Game development
  • Game design
  • Website design
  • Graphic design
  • Networks and operating systems
  • Software Engineering
  • Interface and console design
  • 3D computer animation
  • Interactive storytelling
  • Digital video production
  • Digital audio

A capstone or final portfolio review project is usually required. Some schools also offer career development and project management courses.

Online Degree Options

Like associate's degree programs, bachelor's degree programs in multimedia design are also available online. The degree requirements are similar to those offered on-campus. If you're interested in getting your degree online, you should expect to take the same type of courses you would take in an on-campus degree program.

Stand Out With This Degree

The ability to demonstrate your technical skills and design talent is very important to prospective employers, so you need to have a strong portfolio to stand out. The BLS notes that, although many multimedia artists have bachelor's degrees, employers don't usually require a degree. They are more interested in determining whether applicants have the technical and creative skills they require.

Although a bachelor's degree isn't required by many employers looking for multimedia artists, the skills you develop during your degree program can help you create the kind of impressive portfolio you need during your job search. In addition to using your degree program to build your portfolio, you may also want to consider volunteering your design services to local businesses and organizations to gain work experience.

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