How Long Is a Graphic Design Degree?How Long Is a Graphic Design Degree?How Long Is a Graphic Design Degree?

Graphic design is about creativity, but it’s also big business. Market research firm IBISWorld estimates that global revenue associated with graphic design will top $43 billion in 2022. That reflects the importance of this interdisciplinary field that brings visual art, pictures, and text into an array of areas such as advertising, marketing, and software development. Graphic design enables individuals to use their creativity in a host of ways that are rewarding and commercially desirable.

Useful in almost any industry, graphic design expertise can be valuable to anyone who is interested in visual communication. Pursuing an undergraduate degree in graphic design or a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Media is a great way to acquire graphic design skills. But how long is a graphic design degree program, and what does enrolling in such a program entail? Understanding how long it takes to earn a degree can be the first step in planning how you’ll reach your goals.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design?

The amount of time it will take to complete a graphic design degree program depends on how you approach earning the degree. Whether you take classes online or on campus, enroll on a full-time or part-time basis, or have transfer credits can all factor into your degree completion time. Even after you earn a degree, you may want to consider taking the time to obtain specialized certifications to enhance your credentials.

Factors Affecting Degree Completion Time

Online or on campus. The length of a graphic design degree program will depend on whether you can take classes online or in person. Either way, earning the degree will require completing about 128 credit hours. You may find, however, that the flexibility of online classes can help you earn those credits more quickly.

Course load. The size of your course load — specifically, whether you can take classes full or part time — also will determine how soon you can complete a graphic design degree. The U.S. Department of Education defines full-time enrollment as enrollment in at least 12 credit hours. Enrolling on a full-time basis, a student can earn an undergraduate degree in around eight semesters. Taking summer classes can shorten that time. If you choose to take classes on a part-time basis, completing a degree will take longer.

Transfer credits. Don’t forget any eligible credits you’ve already earned. The number of credits you can transfer from previous coursework can have a big effect on how long it takes to finish a graphic design degree.

Boosting Your Qualifications with Graphic Design Certifications

Even after graduating, you might consider earning certifications to strengthen your resume. For example, Adobe offers Adobe certified professional certifications for several of its applications related to graphic design. In addition, AIGA (known formerly as the American Institute of Graphic Arts), a professional organization for individuals with an interest in design, also offers several certificates for creatives to expand expertise in areas such as small business management, collaboration, and project management.

The time you spend earning a graphic design degree is filled with opportunities to learn the core concepts of graphic design and related areas that reinforce that foundation. Students also have the chance to build a portfolio of their work.

Core Concepts in a Graphic Design Degree Program

The concepts that graphic design students learn span many subjects and media. Coursework often includes instruction on how to use Adobe Creative Cloud programs including Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop, among other tools. Core courses focus on topics such as:

  • Foundations of design. These courses cover design principles and foundational elements such as composition and color theory.
  • Digital illustration. Students in these courses hone their skills in computer graphics and visual communication while exploring topics such as vector graphics and raster graphics.
  • Motion graphics. Focusing on motion in visual communication, these courses allow students to build their expertise in graphics that give the illusion of motion or rotation.
  • Web design. These courses provide students with skills in front-end web development, teaching them to use tools like HTML, CSS, and graphic design in interactive media.
  • Digital photography. Through these courses, students have an opportunity to strengthen their expertise in using photographic images and managing color, as well as in the theoretical and technical aspects of digital photography.

Areas of Study That Reinforce the Core Concepts of Graphic Design

Devoting the time to earn a graphic design degree also allows students to build their knowledge in subject areas that reinforce the core concepts of graphic design. Students do this through courses that concentrate on areas such as:

  • Art history and graphic design history. These courses teach students about the evolution of art, the origins of graphic design, and design movements through the years.
  • Forms of media. Through courses that explore various media, students gain valuable expertise in areas such as social media and digital media, as well as the roles those media play in communication, public relations, and marketing.
  • Psychology of design. In studying the psychology behind design, students get to explore the psychological underpinnings of design and their influence on individuals’ behavior.

Creation of a Graphic Design Portfolio

In addition to expanding your expertise, devoting the time to earn a graphic design degree offers another huge dividend: It enables you to build a portfolio of work. As students add to their portfolios, they have the benefit of receiving valuable feedback from faculty members. After completing a program, students then have a portfolio to show future employers or submit to graduate design programs.

Graphic Design Degree Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that graphic designers had a median annual salary of $53,380 as of May 2020. Of course, the specific type of job influences a graphic designer’s salary. For example, the BLS reported that, as of May 2020:

  • Graphic designers who worked in public relations, advertising, and related services had a median annual salary of $55,800.
  • Graphic designers who worked in book, periodical, newspaper, and directory publishing had a median annual salary of $45,170.

Factors such as geographic location and experience also can affect a graphic designer’s salary.

Design Your Own Path

Knowing how long a graphic design degree takes is important, but if you have a sincere interest in the field, each moment in the journey will be time well spent. The field of graphic design offers a breadth of opportunity to work in an array of industries. If you’re curious about graphic design programs and want to learn more, explore Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Media program to explore how it could help you achieve your ambitions. With a range of courses designed to build your expertise as a visual communicator, Maryville’s program helps prepare graduates for fulfilling careers. Start making your mark in the world of design today.

Recommended Reading

Design in the Digital Age: Must-Have Tools for Graphic Designers

Motion Graphics vs. Graphic Design: What’s the Difference?

What Is Digital Media? All You Need to Know About This Booming Industry


Adobe Certified Professional, Explore Certifications

AIGA, Certificates for Creatives

IBISWorld, Global Graphic Designers — Market Size 2004–2027

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Graphic Designers

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