Visual Media Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a visual media degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate or bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Visual Media: Degrees at a Glance

Visual media degree programs offer concentrations in a variety of art forms, from graphic design and animation to photography and film. While a degree isn't necessarily required for careers in these fields, the studio requirements and coursework in a 2-year program could help you develop relevant technical skills. The same can be said of a bachelor's degree program. Moreover, completing one of these 4-year degree programs could open up additional career options as a film and video editor or graphic designer.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected job opportunities for photographers and graphic designers could increase 13% over the 2010-2020 decade. Multimedia artists and animators could expect a slightly less favorable job outlook of 8%, while employment for film and video editors was only expected to grow 5%.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in entry-level art and design careers Those who would like to pursue a more extensive course of study or expand their career opportunities
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Photographer ($37,000)*
- Multimedia artist and animator ($70,000)*
- Photographer ($37,000)*
- Graphic designer ($49,000)*
- Film and video editor ($64,000)*
- Multimedia artist and animator ($70,000)*
Time to Completion 4-5 semesters, full-time About four years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements About 45 credit hours of visual arts coursework - Around 50-70 credit hours of visual arts coursework
- Capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED - High school diploma or GED
- Portfolio
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2012 figures).

Associate Degrees in Visual Media

Visual media associate degree programs can offer career tracks or focus areas in photography, animation, graphic design and digital media. The program coursework can introduce you to the tools and technology needed to enter the career field as an artist or designer. Some also provide instruction in best business practices and include coursework designed to help you develop a professional portfolio of your work.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Coursework can provide you with the computer skills desired by employers
  • Program applicants don't generally need to submit portfolios for admission
  • Associate degree programs take only two years to complete

Cons

  • A degree isn't necessarily required for a career as a photographer, multimedia artist or animator
  • Jobs in graphic design usually require a bachelor's degree
  • Employment opportunities as an animator could be limited by outsourcing*

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

Courses and Requirements

Many programs include a handful of art history courses along with general education requirements. The rest of your curriculum depends on your career track or focus area. Some sample course offerings are listed below:

  • Electronic publishing
  • 3-D animation
  • Film production equipment
  • Motion graphics
  • Typography
  • Computer imagery

Online Degree and Class Info

Generally, private for-profit schools offer the only available online visual media associate degree programs. These programs are directed at students who want to specialize in digital media or graphic design. You might also find that some public schools offer online courses in interactive media, products commonly used in visual media, such as Photoshop, or digital media that can be applied toward an on-campus associate degree program.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

According to the BLS, multimedia artists and animators who excel in creating realistic computer graphics could face the best job prospects. The same can be said of photographers who have familiarity with digital photo and video editing techniques. While enrolled in your associate degree program, look for electives in such areas as advanced computer animation, editing and computer imagery.

Bachelor's Degrees in Visual Media

Visual media bachelor's degree programs can offer concentrations in areas that include animation, graphic design, film and photography. Some schools even allow you to design your own curriculum if you'd like to specialize in more than one medium or pursue a broader course of study. These programs typically award either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Fine Arts. The latter option usually entails more extensive studio requirements.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Earning a bachelor's degree can open up additional career opportunities
  • Many programs offer interdisciplinary coursework, allowing you to develop technical skills in several areas
  • Exceptional employment growth was projected for graphic designers in the computer systems design industry (61% from 2010-2020)*

Cons

  • Film and video editors, multimedia artists and animators were all expected to face an unfavorable employment outlook from 2010-2020*
  • Many multimedia artists and animators work more than 40 hours per week*
  • Compared to associate degree programs, a bachelor's degree can take an extra two years to complete

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Many visual media bachelor's degree programs include foundation courses covering art and design basics like 2-D and 3-D design, drawing and art history. The remaining coursework varies according to your area of interest. Possible topics of study include the following:

  • Experimental video
  • Typography
  • Web page design
  • Visual culture
  • Printmaking
  • Motion graphics

Program coursework usually culminates in an internship or capstone project. This could be accompanied by a semester-long course of study where you learn how to prepare your portfolio and resume.

Online Degree and Class Info

You might find online bachelor's degree programs in similar fields like visual communication and media arts. Distance education programs at this level are also largely offered by for-profit schools, though some public institutions do offer individual classes on such topics as digital photography and multimedia art. Credit hours earned in these classes could be applied to schools' art and fine arts programs.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

The BLS reports that graphic designers with experience designing websites and other types of interactive media could face the best job prospects. When choosing program electives, look for those that can teach you how to use Java and hypertext markup language (HTML) or develop interactive media for websites and mobile applications.

An expertise with computer graphics could also help improve your chances for employment as a multimedia artist or animator. You might want to consider courses that can develop your familiarity with 3-D modeling and motion graphics as well as expose you to the Macintosh software programs used to create them.

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