Online Master's in Graphic Design Programs

Online master's degree programs in graphic design provide students with hands-on training in the field and help equip students for future careers. Find out details of these degree programs, like course topics and program length, as well as career information. Schools offering Graphic Design degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Overview of Online Master's Degree Programs in Graphic Design

Online master's degree programs in graphic design help train students in the theories and techniques of visual communication. Students in these programs also further develop their artistic abilities and prepare for a range of different careers.

Typically, these online master's degree programs are available as Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees and are terminal degrees, or the highest degree in the field. Some of these programs are available in either part-time and full-time formats and may offer more than one start date for flexibility.

Learn more about these online master's programs here.

Length of Program

Online master's degree programs in graphic design can usually be completed in 2 to 3 years. Most MA programs can be completed in 2 years and may range from 30 to 45 credits, while MFA degree programs typically take 3 years to complete and may range from 60 to 90 credits. However, there are some MFA degree programs that can be completed in 2 years.

Other factors that may affect the length of one of these online programs are the format of the program and/or transfer credit policies. For example, there are some MA degree programs that may be completed in 3 years if taken part-time instead of full-time. Some of these online programs accept transfer credit from previous coursework and even life/work experience for up to 50% of the degree program, which could significantly cut the amount of time to degree completion.

Practical Experience

Students can complete many of these programs fully online, but some may include an internship experience. Even if they can be completed fully online, most online master's degree programs in graphic design include hands-on learning experience to help students further develop their skills in the field. Throughout many of these programs, students are expected to be adding to their professional portfolio to help prepare for future job searches.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Courses

Coursework may be synchronous and/or asynchronous for flexibility, depending on the course and/or program. Synchronous courses ask students to log in and 'attend' classes, seminars and workshops virtually. Asynchronous courses allow students to download materials, absorb coursework and complete assignments whenever (and wherever) it's most convenient for them.

Common Courses

Coursework for online master's degree programs in graphic design varies greatly by institution and the type of degree. MA degree programs usually require less coursework than MFA degree programs and may culminate in a final project and/or internship experience, while MFA degree programs typically require more coursework and conclude with an internship, practicum experience, thesis, and/or portfolio project. Some programs may allow students to choose from a few options for the culminating experience(s).

Courses in these programs vary greatly in the title and subject but a few broad examples of common course topics for these degree programs include:


Courses in the history of graphic design explore examples of visual communication, which may date back to cave paintings. As they study the evolution of these designs, students may learn about key designers and how they influenced the field. Some of these courses may also examine design in the context of culture, political, and social movements. Depending on the course, students may be required to complete various projects and/or presentations of topics presented in the material.


Students may take courses that examine topics in type form, user experience design, visual analysis, publication design, or interactive design. In general, these courses help train students in the specific techniques of the subject and typically give students opportunities to practice these skills and techniques firsthand. Coursework in visual analysis helps students examine work critically and understand the decision-making process for designs.


Students may take one or more courses focusing on general research and writing skills for graduate students and others focusing on design research and methodologies. Either type of course is designed to help prepare students for a career by equipping them with the communication skills needed to be a professional in the field. Students may be required to complete writing projects, learn about visual communication models and theories, and/or explore different methods for research in graphic design, such as surveys and interviews.

Admissions Requirements

Applicants to online master's degree programs in graphic design typically need to have a bachelor's degree, and some schools may require applicants to meet a minimum GPA requirement, which may be around a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Students applying to these programs typically need to fill out the appropriate application, include the required application fee, and submit their transcripts (official or unofficial, depending on the program), letters of recommendation, and/or a resume. International students may also need to submit English proficiency test scores. Applicants should be sure to check deadlines, as many of these programs offer multiple start dates for flexibility.

Most of these online degree programs also require applicants to include an artist statement and portfolio of their work. The artist statement usually serves as a statement of purpose or statement of intent and may talk about interests and/or goals. The portfolio needs to include pieces of the student's best work to demonstrate skills and abilities in the field. Some programs may allow students to submit their portfolio online.

How to Choose an Online Master's Program in Graphic Design

Due to the uniqueness of each online master's degree program in graphic design, there are many different factors for students to think about when choosing a program. Students may want to start by considering their personal preferences and schedules to select the best program format for them. For instance, if they want to attend school full- or part-time, how fast they want to complete the degree, transfer credit policies, and/or the format of courses. Some students may also have preferences for smaller class sizes or more hands-on experiences. Some other important considerations for choosing an online master's program in graphic design are discussed below.

MA vs. MFA

One of the biggest differences between these degree programs is that MA programs are more general and provide skills in graphic design but may include more courses in other areas outside of the fine arts, like history. On the other hand, MFA degree programs are more specific programs and provide advanced practical skills in graphic design. This is evident in the additional culminating requirements typically found in an MFA program, such as a thesis, internship, practicum, and/or portfolio project, as opposed to just a final project or internship for an MA program.

As discussed, there are also some differences in the length of these degree programs. MA programs typically require fewer credits and can usually be completed faster than an MFA.


Students should be sure to find an accredited institution and/or program. Usually, master's degree programs in graphic design do not have program-specific accreditation, but many of the schools that offer these degree programs are accredited by different organizations.

Some schools that offer online master's programs in graphic design may be accredited by regional accreditation bodies; these bodies provide a broad, school-wide accreditation for schools with many different types of programs. For example, some institutions may be accredited by groups like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges or the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Other schools that offer a master's program in graphic design and other art- and design-related programs may be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. This accreditation may help students know that the school provides high-quality education specifically in art and design.

Cost of the Program

Students typically want to know and need to consider the cost of an online degree program and/or any financial aid options to determine if they can afford the tuition. Tuition rates vary by a number of factors, including institution and in-state versus out-of-state status. However, some online master's degree programs in graphic design may cost between about $855 and $1,085 per credit hour. Many programs also have additional fees that students need to consider with the program cost, such as enrollment fees, course fees, and additional materials and supplies.

Financial Aid/Scholarships

Colleges and universities typically accept a wide range of financial aid and scholarships to help students be able to afford their chosen degree program. Students usually have to begin this process by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Based on information from the FAFSA, students may qualify for loans and/or grants to help pay for their schooling. Loans have to be paid back, but grants and scholarships are like gifts and do not have to be repaid.

Students can usually apply for a wide range of scholarships to help pay for school. Scholarships are commonly need- and/or merit-based and may be available from private organizations, schools, and/or the government.

Some scholarships may be for specific student populations. For example, some schools may offer half-tuition scholarships for current educators completing a degree. There may also be scholarships available specifically for graduate students, such as AmeriCorps or the P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship for female graduate students from outside of the United States or Canada.

Others are designed specifically for graphic design students such as The Chelsy Tomashoff Memorial Scholarship for Print Design Excellence, the Walt Disney Imaginations Design Competition Project Challenge or the Integrated Project Solutions Scholarship.

Job Options in Graphic Design

Graduates with their master's in graphic design are usually prepared for a wide range of advanced positions in the field. Those with a background in graphic design may apply their skills to a variety of industries, including animation, advertising, public relations, and sales. Some job titles for graduates with a master's in graphic design may include:

  • Graphic designer
  • Art director
  • Web designer
  • Brand designer
  • User experience designer
  • Product designer
  • Exhibit/environmental designer

Graphic Designers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2018, graphic designers made a median salary of $50,370. The BLS also reported a job outlook of 3% from 2018 to 2028, which is slower than average. This outlook may vary by industry and those designers with skills in current technology and techniques used in the field are likely to be more competitive.

Graphic designers create visuals to help communicate ideas to consumers. They may need to develop logos and other images, which requires them to choose fonts, colors, sizes, and other characteristics based on a client's directions and preferences. They may also help determine the layout of projects and check their work for any mistakes before publication.

Art Directors

As of 2018, art directors made an annual median salary of $92,780, per the BLS. These directors had a job outlook of 1% from 2018 to 2028, which indicates little or no change in the number of jobs. This outlook may be due to a decrease in the publishing industry and the competition for positions.

Art directors oversee the work of graphic designers and other designers and artists and they work to create the different visuals for various types of media. These professionals work to ensure that the overall visual style of a project is consistent with client goals and preferences and must approve each piece of included artwork. Art directors are also responsible for keeping projects within budget and meeting deadlines.

Multimedia Artists and Animators

Multimedia artists and animators had a median annual salary of $72,520 as of 2018, according to the BLS. The BLS also reported that these professionals had a job outlook of 4% from 2018 to 2028, which is as fast as average. Job growth may be due to the growing need for artists for various forms of entertainment, but may also be balanced by the tendency in the industry to hire artists outside of the country.

Multimedia artists and animators create the models and images used in an array of media, such as video games and movies. They typically work in teams on a project and must meet set deadlines with their work. These artists may use different techniques to create images and animations for a project and/or be responsible for making changes based on feedback from the director or client.

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