Study Graphic Communications: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a graphic communications degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Graphic Communications Associate and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

If you are familiar with the field of graphic design, you may also be interested in graphic communications, a related field that emphasizes finding visual solutions to communicate messages using color, typography, design and layout techniques. Graphic communications combines the aesthetic elements of graphic design with the technology of printing, electronic publishing and more. Graphic communications professionals work for advertising agencies, multimedia production houses, magazines and newspapers; they also work as freelancers. An associate degree program in graphic communications prepares you to work as a photographer.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected 13% growth in this field from 2010-2020, about average across all professions. A bachelor's degree opens the door to a number of career areas; some bachelor's degree holders go on to work as art directors. While this field is relatively high-paying, the BLS predicted slower than average growth (nine percent) for the same time period (

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to begin a career in the field or transfer into a bachelor's degree program Individuals who wish to work in a variety of careers in the field
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Desktop publisher ($37,000)*
- Photographer ($29,000)*
- Printing press operator ($34,000)*
- Print binding and finishing worker ($29,000)*
- Graphic designer ($44,000)*
- Art director ($81,000)*
- Web developer ($78,000)*
- Multimedia artist ($61,000)*
- Technical writer ($65,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full-time Four years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Required and elective courses in the subject
- Portfolio work
- Interactive CD presentation
- Required and elective courses in the subject
- Projects
- Internship
- Portfolio work
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes, but not common at this time Yes, but not common at this time

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

Associate Degree in Graphic Communications

Associate degree programs in graphic communications are designed to give you a solid introduction to the subject through courses in a core program that help develop practical knowledge while also offering the chance to work hands-on with design projects and software. You study the principles of design, terminology and production methods for print and electronic media. Associate degree holders go on to work as illustrators, digital photography manipulators and print workers, gaining employment in advertising agencies, printing companies, graphic design firms and magazines.

Pros and Cons


  • Many associate degree programs allow you to specialize in a specific area of interest
  • You will have the opportunity for hands-on training that will prepare you for a number of careers in the field
  • Graduates employed in the field have the flexibility to work with a company or as an independent contractor


  • Some jobs in graphic and Web design may require a bachelor's degree
  • Careers in printing are declining since fewer publications are being printed
  • Online associate degree programs in graphic communications are not common at this time

Courses and Requirements

Many associate degree programs in graphic communications provide you with an opportunity to select an area of concentration. Some areas you may consider are print media or multimedia. The area that you choose to study will dictate the courses that are required, but most programs require coursework in page layout, digital imaging, design and other general subjects in graphic communications. Some courses that you may take include:

  • Digital photography
  • Advertising layout
  • Image editing
  • Video production
  • Web page animation
  • Applied graphic art
  • Computer drawing
  • Principles of advertising
  • Design fundamentals

You may also be required to complete work for your portfolio and create interactive presentations.

Online Degree Options

Online associate degree programs for graphic communications are available, but are not very common at this time. You may find that these programs are offered as both hybrid programs, combining online learning with on-campus courses, and as completely online programs. You should be sure to carefully research any program that you find, as it may not be from an accredited school.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Computer skills are very important if you wish to work in desktop publishing, so you may wish to take courses in computer topics and concentrate on gaining proficiency with the software and computers used in publishing. Jobs for desktop publishers are predicted to decline rapidly from 2010-2020; with more competition for the jobs that do exist, you may have an advantage if you take computer courses relevant to the field.

Other courses that may be helpful, especially if you plan to work as a photographer, are those in marketing and business. Many photographers are self-employed, and gaining skills in these areas may be necessary for running your own business.

Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Communications

In a bachelor's degree program, you will learn about the design and technical aspects of the graphic communications industry. You will gain knowledge of Web design and development, multimedia, 3D modeling, digital production and more. Many programs also focus on helping students become proficient with much of the software commonly used in the field - Adobe Creative, AutoCAD, Pro Tools and Final Cut Pro are a few of the programs you may learn to use. Graduates of bachelor's degree programs may work for Web design firms, production houses, advertising agencies or newspapers.

Pros and Cons


  • A bachelor's degree in graphic communications allow you to enter a variety of careers, which may not be available to associate degree holders
  • Some bachelor's degree programs offer the opportunity to select an area of concentration
  • According to the BLS, job growth for Web developers was projected at 22% from 2010-2020, faster than average*


  • The BLS predicted slower than average growth from 2010-2020 for jobs for multimedia artists (about nine percent)*
  • You need several years of experience in the field before you are qualified to work as an art director
  • You may have difficulty finding an online bachelor's degree program

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses

As a student in a bachelor's degree program in graphic communications, you follow a plan of core coursework that will build a solid foundation in the subject. Typically, students complete a number of preparatory courses toward the major during the first two years of their program; these courses may cover mathematics, technology and design for graphic communications. Many programs give you the option to select a specific area on which to focus once you begin coursework in the major. Some concentrations that you may choose from include 3D graphics, digital design and production or interactive media.

Some examples of courses that you may take include:

  • Dreamweaver
  • Digital prepress
  • Multimedia with Flash
  • Principles of marketing
  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator
  • Digital Flash gaming
  • 3D animation

Some programs require you to complete an internship in addition to traditional coursework, providing experience in the field.

Online Degree Options

If you are seeking an online bachelor's degree program in graphic communications, keep in mind that while these programs do exist, they are not common. Those that do exist generally offer the same types of courses as traditional, campus-based programs. Students in online programs also receive training on software used in the field and develop their portfolios for future employment.

Stand Out with This Degree

An essential tool for employment in the graphic communications industry is a well-developed portfolio. If you wish to work as a graphic designer or art director, the strength of your portfolio will be very important when looking to gain employment. You may look for opportunities to work on your portfolio while completing your degree program - projects and internships are some ways to achieve this goal.

For graduates who are interested in working as Web developers, taking more advanced computer courses may be very helpful. Many employers in this field look for experience in Web programming languages in particular, so you may wish to take some courses in this area.

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Full Sail University

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