Study Computer Graphics: Bachelors, Associates & Online Degree Info

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What jobs can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in computer graphics? Get the facts about requirements, online options, courses, and training programs.
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Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Graphics at a Glance

Undergraduate degrees in computer graphics focus on different aspects of the technology and the art that make up this career field. One common factor among them is that they explore the technology used to capture, create, and display this art form. Graphic artists, website designers, multimedia animators, desktop publishers, and commercial designers all use computer-based graphic artistry to communicate the desired message to the selected audience. Graphic arts skills are in demand in many industries to educate, entertain, advertise, and inform.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job growth for graphic designers will grow by 13% between 2010 and 2020. However, the BLS projects that job growth for multimedia artists and animators will grow more slowly, at a rate of eight percent during the same time frame. The best job prospects, reports the BLS, are for website designers and graphic artists for computer games and mobile applications.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals who are seeking an entry level position in graphic design or who want to transfer their degree to a four-year college Individuals seeking professional careers in graphic design, animation or multimedia presentations
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual median salary) - Graphic designer ($44,000)*
- Photographer ($29,000)
- Website designer ($52,000)**
- Multimedia artist or animator ($61,000)*
- Film and video editor ($53,000)*
- Senior website designer ($80,000)**
Time to Completion two years full-time four years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 6-8 general education courses
- Roughly 12-14 computer graphics and art courses
- Internship or practicum (not offered at all schools)
- Roughly 12-15 general education courses
- Roughly 23-24 computer graphics and art classes
- Internship
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED
- Minimum required ACT or SAT score (required by some schools)
- Assessment testing (usually administered by college - not always required)
- High school diploma or GED
- Minimum required ACT or SAT score
Online Availability - Limited or partial - Limited or partial

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2011 salaries; **Salary.com.

Associate's Degree in Computer Graphics

Associate's degree programs in computer graphics provide classes using the technology and practices that are the standard in this industry. Under the guidance of your instructors, you'll have the opportunity to hone your artistic talents while becoming proficient in the technology used to create the imagery that could be used in any number of applications and industries. The projects you create in your classes can form the basis of your portfolio, to showcase your artistry and technical proficiency to prospective employers. This degree program can teach you the technical and artistic skills that are in demand for an entry-level position as a graphic artist, or you can transfer your credits to a bachelor's degree program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Many community colleges that offer this program have an open admissions policy, and you can be accepted into their program where it might be more difficult to be accepted into a four-year college. You can then transfer your associate's degree credits to a bachelor's degree program
  • Some employers don't require a bachelor's degree, but look for candidates who can demonstrate proficiency in the required technical skills and have an outstanding portfolio
  • This degree program can provide you with the skills required to obtain an entry-level position as a graphic arts technician for a variety of applications

Cons

  • Associate's degree programs don't provide classes in the more advanced and complex aspects of computer graphics and design, which may limit your qualifications for some jobs
  • Some employers are looking for candidates with bachelor's degrees, and an associate's degree may not qualify you for as many jobs
  • You may be competing for jobs against candidates who have no education and can be trained on the job*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Different schools that offer associate's degree programs in computer graphics focus on different aspects of this art form. Computer graphics courses feature art and design classes along with general education courses in English, humanities, math, and science. You may also have courses in photography, drawing, video, animation, rendering, and website design, depending on the focus of the program you choose. Many programs provide you with an opportunity to develop your portfolio and participate in a practicum or internship, gaining valuable on-the-job experience. You may also be required to demonstrate proficiency in basic computer operation and operating systems before you can be accepted at certain schools. Courses generally include the following:

  • Visualization and communication
  • Computer imaging and digital media
  • Graphics software
  • 2-D and 3-D imaging and animation
  • Interactive media

Online Course Info

It may be difficult to find computer graphics degrees available as a fully online program. There are some schools who offer some online courses as part of their campus program. If you're considering an online program, be sure to verify that it is accredited and that the coursework and graduation requirements are comparable to programs offered on campus.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Many schools provide an opportunity for internships and to develop a portfolio. Both of these options provide valuable experience that most employers prefer in job candidates. With an internship, you'll have the opportunity to learn valuable tricks of the trade, and you may be able to position yourself for a job offer upon graduation. Your portfolio is your resume, demonstrating your artistic talent and technical proficiency. Make the most of these opportunities to gain a competitive edge in this job market.

Degree Alternatives

If your intended career path involves animation or special effects, you may want to choose a degree program that focuses on that aspect of this field. There are different techniques and tools used to create animation and special effects that aren't covered in computer graphics programs; therefore, this program will most likely not provide you with the skill set demanded by employers who are looking to hire animation or special effects artists.

Bachelor's Degree in Computer Graphics

Bachelor's degree programs in computer graphics teach the powerful union of art and technology to communicate or to enhance a message using imagery. There isn't a segment of our society that isn't influenced by the visual creations of graphic artists, or where computer-generated imagery isn't used, from the smallest icons to full-blown websites and video games and from broadcast programming to printed brochures and logos. Using your own artistic skills, you'll have hands-on training in the most advanced technology used in this industry to design, create, and produce a finished product that captures the essence of the message you want to convey. Graduates can find jobs as website designers, or designers of video games, mobile applications, and multimedia presentations. This type of work can be found in the public and private sectors.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some employers prefer job candidates with a bachelor's degree, and this program will make you more competitive against candidates with associate's degrees
  • A bachelor's degree program offers classes in more complex technology and graphic arts than an associate's degree program, providing a broader and more advanced skill set which will make you more competitive in the job market
  • The demand for graphic artists to design computer-generated images for mobile applications and computer gaming is increasing*

Cons

  • More companies are outsourcing graphic artists jobs overseas, increasing the competition for fewer jobs*
  • This is a career field that attracts many job seekers for available domestic positions, and the competition for jobs is intense*
  • There is increased demand for animation and special effects artists*, and computer graphics programs may not provide the specialized training in this technology to qualify you for this position

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

You'll be required to take general education courses in English, math, science, and humanities. You may have courses designed to take you through the normal design and production process, depending on the emphasis of the program you select. There may also be art courses that feature color, composition and design as well as digital photography. While art is an important feature of this program, the technology is the tool that drives this medium; therefore, classes are likely to feature the commonly used hardware and software used in this industry to create graphic and video imagery. Your instructors will likely teach the best techniques to help you become proficient in this powerful technology. Curriculum requirements generally include the following:

  • Visual communication
  • Graphic design
  • 2-D and 3-D imaging and modeling
  • Digital imaging, video, and audio
  • Animation

Online Course Info

This degree program may be difficult to find as a online or distance learning option. Some schools offer certain of the courses online, but don't have the entire degree program available as an online option. The courses that are offered are comparable to the courses provided on campus. If you're considering an online computer graphics program, be sure to verify that it is accredited.

Degree Alternatives

Some schools offer a five-year master's degree program in computer graphics when combined with their bachelor's degree program, shaving a year off the traditional master's degree requirements. You may decide to take this accelerated option to a master's degree when you enroll for the bachelor's degree in order to acquire more complex graphic arts skills and enhanced technical proficiency, thereby gaining a competitive edge in this highly competitive job market.

How Continuing Education Can Help You Stand Out

The technology that is used to created graphic images and animation is extremely dynamic, and a professional graphic artist is going to have to stay current with the latest developments in order to remain competitive. Many colleges offer continuing education courses in this technology which are designed to keep the working professional current on the latest developments. Many companies who create the software used by graphic artists also provide training in their products, teaching artists how to fully exploit all the complex features of their programs. Your career will likely depend on your technical proficiency, and staying current with the latest releases will maintain your competitive edge.

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