What Is the Curriculum for a Master's Degree in Graphic Design?

The curriculum for a master's program in graphic design may vary slightly among schools, but the core coursework is fairly common in all programs. A thesis and portfolio are common requirements for these programs. Read on to learn more about the curriculum for a master's degree program in graphic design. Schools offering Graphic Design degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Program Overview

Graphic design master's programs are usually offered as Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and Master of Arts (MA) degrees. Most curricula for these programs cover a two- to three-year course of study and expose students to the kinds of problem solving issues that they will face in professional practice. Both coursework and research can be expected during a master's degree program, and a thesis is usually required during the last year.

Important Facts About This Field of Study

Degree Levels Certificate, associate's degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree
Online Availability Associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees can be earned online.
Possible Careers Art director, industrial designer, multimedia artist, animator
Specializations Digital publishing, interactive design
Median Salary (2018) $50,370*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 4%*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Some schools have a curriculum that allows students without undergraduate degrees in graphic design to take courses that will bring them up to speed for participation at the graduate level. Usually, students with a degree in the visual arts have to take fewer of these courses than those with a degree related to art. Some of these courses might include:

  • Graphic design
  • Color
  • Imaging
  • Illustration
  • Painting
  • Web design
  • Basic typography

Program Courses

Some schools allow students to choose the graphic design courses they take, as long as they have been approved for the program. Other schools have a set curriculum with some electives students can take. In either case, students usually do some work in a studio and take classroom courses, as well as undertaking directed study.

Some examples of courses that might be in the curriculum include:

  • Graphic design history
  • Typography
  • Research and writing
  • Visual thinking
  • Visual communications
  • Digital design studio
  • Professional practices
  • Making meaning

Thesis Presentation

For the final requirement in a typical master's degree program in graphic design, students must present a thesis based on a topic of their choice that has been approved by a faculty adviser. This usually involves both written and studio work and may involve research. Most curricula provide a framework within which students can navigate their thesis, such as courses in directed study, thesis preparation and thesis development.


Throughout a graphic design master's program, students create work that goes in their portfolios. Some that projects students complete might focus on web design, publication design or product branding. Some schools do portfolio reviews each semester, as well. Students can show their portfolios to potential employers to demonstrate their skills in the field, which might help improve their job prospects.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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  • Full Sail University

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  • Regent University

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  • Vermont College of Fine Arts

    Campus Locations:

    • Vermont: Montpelier
  • University of Illinois at Chicago

    Campus Locations:

    • Illinois: Chicago
  • University of Denver

    Campus Locations:

    • Colorado: Denver
  • The University of Texas at El Paso

    Campus Locations:

    • Texas: El Paso
  • Suffolk University

    Campus Locations:

    • Massachusetts: Boston
  • School of Visual Arts

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: New York
  • Rochester Institute of Technology

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: Rochester
  • Rhode Island School of Design

    Campus Locations:

    • Rhode Island: Providence