Top 10 Graphic Design Schools Ranked

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January 26th, 2010 in Rankings

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Featured Programs

The graphic design field has always been competitive and is expected to continue in this trend. Job growth in graphic design is not projected to grow substantially, only increasing approximately by the average employment growth rate. Experienced graphic designers will be given preference by employers. Recent graduates of graphic design degree programs will have to rely on their educational credentials to persuade employers to offer them positions. Choosing a school with a well regarded program in the graphic design or related fields is important since it could be a critical deciding factor. With these facts in mind, take the time to make a discerning decision on which school to attend. Consider the factors employers may find of most importance; quality of the degree program, reputation of the school, accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Choose a college which offers a superior academic program. The college should provide current technology and design software with which to train their students. Employers will want individuals who are capable of utilizing both effectively. Consider the resources the college offers to their students. Some college campuses have technology laboratories with state of the art equipment provided for their student’s use. Another area to consider would be any affiliations the college has with companies or organizations in relation to the graphic design industry. These types of connections could facilitate internship opportunities and may result in job offers. Below is a list of the top ranked graphic design programs from which you can begin your search:

1. Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University was one of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie's many contributions to society. Founded in 1900, the university began as Carnegie Technical Schools before becoming the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1912. From there the school merged with Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in 1967 to become the Carnegie Mellon we know today. The school is world renowned, earning the 21st overall position in the Top 200 World Universities done by Times Higher Education, and US News and World Report ranked Carnegie Mellon 22nd in the nation amongst national research universities. Students benefit from the opportunity of being able to choose from seven colleges and independent schools within the University; Graphic Design students would be attending the College of Fine Arts. This college was honored in 2008 with a #1 ranking for its MFA Design program by US News and World Report. The College of Fine Arts takes a holistic approach to teaching design, emphasizing learning through doing. This first involves taking students through a Freshman year primarily concerned with discovery, enabling students to begin acquiring basic skills while also allowing them to become aware of social and cultural contexts of design. Subsequent years see students concentrating on their chief interest, which for Graphical Design students would mean Communication Design. Students also delve into design history and the opportunity to study abroad is presented. Finally, for senior year students form teams and work on interdisciplinary projects that encompass everything they have learned at Carnegie Mellon.

2. Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University was initially founded in 1838 as a medical college and has expanded throughout the last century to become the well respected, state affiliated university it is today. Virginia Commonwealth University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and has several specialized program accreditations. Considered a research institution, VCU contributes to the advancement and development of the many disciplines it teaches. The skilled teaching of the faculty members and the collaborative information derived from professional resources within the local community ensure graduates receive a comprehensive and rigorous educational experience. The 120 credit Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program in Graphic Design offered at Virginia Commonwealth University prepares students for the competitive professional fields in creative design. The curriculum includes foundational courses in art which must be completed prior to admission to the graphic design program. The program addresses the areas of communication, ethics, communication technology, and distinguishing a target audience and adapting communications towards their needs. The rigorous program requires students to adhere to a high level of professional performance. Students complete courses in methodology and research which include surface research, space research, quantitative literacy, focused inquiry, survey of western art, history of visual communication and a range of design specific courses.

3. Rhode Island School of Design

The Rhode Island School of Design, one of the finest stand alone design schools in the country, was founded in 1877 in Providence, Rhode Island. Today the school offers a rich student life that includes shared resources with contiguous Brown University including social, academic, and community resources. Students at RISD have the opportunity to attend joint courses with the Ivy League school. Over 2,200 students and 350 faculty and curators call the Rhode Island School of Design home, and the school also receives visits from over 200 artists in a typical year. RISD offers an intense Graphic Design program that includes study in communications theory, design history, visual form-making, color, systems thinking and information design, as well as extensive study of typography. Students are encouraged to create their own personal design language as they progress through the course of study, emphasized by the focus on creative decision making and analytical problem solving skills. The school offers a traditional four year undergraduate degree that results in a Bachelor of Fine Arts, but students can also choose to embark upon a five year program that results in a Bachelor of Graphic Design which shows that a student has reached a higher level of proficiency.

4. Pratt Institute

Pratt Institute has been one of the leading art schools in the country since its founding in 1886. Pratt is a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, an organization consisting of 36 of the premier art schools in the United States. Students at the Pratt Institute have their choice of three campuses located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Utica, although the main part of campus is located in Brooklyn (fans of the television show 'Fringe' will recognize the campus quite well, as it stands in for Harvard on the show). Graphic Design students at Pratt Institute take an undergraduate course of study in Communications Design, which leads students to one of three careers; the aforementioned Graphic Design, Illustration, or Advertising Art Direction. Regardless of their career path, all students are taught the same skills and studio techniques and all students learn proficiency in photography, painting, computer graphics, film, typography, and printmaking. Pratt Institute places great value on graduates being proficient problem solvers, and thus want their students to have the skills to be managers, directors, and top artists instead of simply technicians. One big feather in Pratt Institute's cap are the multitude of internship possibilities presented by the school's New York City location. Pratt Institute students will find ample internship opportunities at large and influential advertising agencies, design firms, and publishing houses.

5. Maryland Institute College of Art

The Maryland Institute College of Art is one of the oldest art colleges in the United States, having been founded in 1826 as the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts. The school is quite distinguished and this is reflected in recent US News and World Report rankings, placing the Maryland Institute College of Art 4th in the nation for Masters of Fine Arts programs, with special recognition for its Masters in Graphic Design program. It was also listed in the nation's top 25 design schools by ID magazine. Graphic Design students enrolling in the Maryland Institute College of Art benefit from an internationally renowned faculty and many opportunities for hands on learning experiences. Students majoring in Graphic Design will take a total of 126 credits, spanning three years (following a freshman "Foundation" year), with 63 of those being in the concentrated field of Graphic Design. The core courses begin Sophomore year with heavy focus on typography and the core concepts of graphic design, followed by more hands on experience Junior and Senior years.

6. Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art is a part of Cranbrook Educational Community located in the Detroit, Michigan suburb of Bloomfield Hills. The school was founded in 1984 and had a large role in shaping American infrastructural design, so much so that the New York Times said in 1984 that "Cranbrook, surely more than any other institution, has a right to think of itself as synonymous with contemporary American design." Cranbrook doesn't have faculty, instead they have artists-in-residence, each of whom are real working artists. Their disciplines are intimate, only admitting 10 students per year each. Students who don't want to mess with unrelated curriculum requirements will love Cranbrook, who get down to the core of Art and Design right away. The school in fact has no departmental or curriculum requirements. Instead students simply have Studios, minors, and a Critical Studies and Humanities sequence. Currently the Graphic Design discipline is taught by Cranbrook alum Elliott Earls a graphic and performance artist who has lived and taught all over the world. Cranbrook is an atypical school that is perfect if you are an elite student looking for a unique experience.

7. University of Delaware

The long history of the University of Delaware began with their founding as a private institution in 1743. Among their alumni, the University of Delaware boasts three signers of the Declaration of Independence and one United States Constitution signer. The University of Delaware has earned the distinction as a research university; a title applied to only 3% of institutions. The superior academic programs offered at the University of Delaware include 130 bachelors, 79 master and 39 doctoral programs within seven colleges. Students are afforded the opportunity to learn from the award winning faculty members who teach at the school; including Nobel laureates, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellows. The Department of Art at the University of Delaware offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication Degree. The curriculum requirements include 18 credits in foundational art courses. Courses include foundation drawing, 2- dimensional design, digital media and research studio. Students are required to complete at least 75 credit hours in courses within the art department. Concentrations within the major are offered and can be completed with 30 credits within the focused area. The Department of Art incorporates trips to a variety of major art centers to view the work of renowned artists and designers. Campus resources include the Recitation Gallery, a Macintosh equipped computer art site, studio work shops and a digital laboratory.

8. California Institute of the Arts

CalArts has one of the most unique founding story of all the schools on our list, having been founded in 1961 by Walt Disney (he merged two failing schools, the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music). The school, ever since its foundation, has taking funding from the Walt Disney family. Walt Disney originally had a vision that involved interdisciplinary learning where students would learn a variety of skills. CalArts thus became the first school in the country to offer BFAs and MFAs in both performing and visual arts. The Graphic Design program at CalArts emphasizes both the practical and conceptual sides of the discipline. Students benefit from intimate classes that feature critique-based learning that ensures lots of hands on opportunities. Students work in a communal setting and have access to studios that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Faculty is accomplished and the school provides students additional opportunity for learning through visits from guests and traveling faculty from other schools. CalArts makes sure that each student not only learns abstractly, but also hands on, which guarantees that the student will not only have a transcript upon graduation but also a strong portfolio to present as they head out into the working world.

9. Corcoran College of Art and Design

Corcoran College of Art and Design was originally established in the late 1800’s in reaction to the enthusiastic response of patrons of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The college is located in the heart of Washington DC’s cultural district, amidst an array of museums. Since its beginnings, Corcoran has offered students the opportunity to become immersed within the visual arts fields while pursuing their various degree programs. The campus has studio locations and classrooms at three locations around the nation’s capitol. Students are offered the option of pursuing non-credit, part time credit and continuing education credit courses. Fully accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education since the 1980’s, Corcoran College is also a member of the National Association of Schools of Art. The 120 credit Bachelor of Fine Art degree in Graphic Design provides students with the fundamental skills and practical knowledge of the field through academic courses and hands on work experience. The graphic design curriculum includes studies in the areas of theory, history and technology. Courses specific to the major include typography, publication design, fundamentals of graphic design, writing, art history, communication design, design concepts, contemporary culture and theories and history of graphic design. Students can participate in internships with MTV, National Geographic Magazine, MTV, America Online and the Marriott Corporation. Social Awareness programs within the college allow students the opportunity to participate in special projects with a social impact.

10. Drexel University

The Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University is committed to providing degree programs with an emphasis on practical industry relevant experience. The industry focused programs offered at Drexel University ensure their graduates are prepared to be successful contenders in the exceptionally competitive creative fields. Drexel University provides their students with a unique comprehensive educational experience which combines creative coursework with valuable science and humanities curriculum. Students are encouraged to participate in entrepreneurial projects and activities which offer a wealth of professionally relevant experience. The courses are taught by experienced industry professionals who offer students the benefit of their career perspectives. Classes are small in size and taught in studio settings. The degree programs offered in graphic design at Drexel University’s Westphal College provides students with both education and work experience. The 182 credit Bachelor of Science Graphic Design degree curriculum develops student’s creative and problem solving skills and trains them to produce a variety of visual communication projects for a range of print and interactive media ventures. Students can pursue a specialization in environmental design, web and motion design or advertising design. Courses required to be completed include at least 63 general education requirements: expository, analytical and persuasive writing and reading; physical science for design and mathematical foundations for design. Visual studies credits include several history of art courses, design courses, painting and drawing courses in which 46 credits must be completed. In addition to the academic work, students are expected to participate in the university’s Co-op program which affords them the opportunity to gain essential work experience.

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