Finding the Right Graphic Design Program

by Frederick H. Carlson
Finding the Right Graphic Design Program

Graphic design programs run the gamut from traditional 4-year programs to short workshops. You can find programs of all types here on Which is right for you?

Traditional 4-Year Programs and Graphic Design Courses

You may want an education that encourages interaction with a variety of people and subjects in addition to graphic design, and a range of degrees from the bachelor's to the doctoral (Ph.D.) level.

Some large universities have very good graphic design departments, but often do not promote themselves as aggressively as schools specializing in design alone.

Coursework at large schools emphasize the liberal arts outside of one's major field, typically in areas such as English, History, Humanities, and the Sciences. The four-year program gives you the most freedom to move around and learn about other programs outside design. You may even get overwhelmed with the sharp focus of graphic design and switch majors!

Four-Year Design Schools with Graphic Design Specialization

Art and design schools offer intensive, studio-centered graphic design instruction and theory, and advanced course offerings highly specific to particular markets. They increasingly offer liberal arts courses as well, granting degrees at the Bachelor's, Master's, or very occasionally the Doctoral level.

Some degrees offered are graphic design-related and graphics career specific. The required coursework outside of the studio graphic arts classes is more industry-centered toward writing, art history, business, marketing, and advertising to broaden the young graphic designers' perspectives.

One advantage of these schools is that they are accustomed to crafting a graphic design course mix to blend full-time and part-time adjunct faculty who provide a great range of practical and theoretical experiences for the student.

Graphic Design Courses at Community Colleges

Community colleges offer two-year associate's degrees or certification. They may offer a vocational focus in areas related to graphic design, such as commercial graphic production, computer graphics, or printing.

Community colleges are designed to meet the needs of those just beginning their post-high school education who aren't certain what they want to do, those who want to supplement a prior degree, or those who have already entered the work force and are looking for a part-time education.

Part-time or adult education programs are very common in all schools; but community colleges most often fill this need.

Vocational/Technical Colleges with Design Courses

A vocational/technical education teaches you information pertinent to a small segment of the graphic design field, including programs in the applied graphic arts, printing industries, and computer graphics training. These colleges and academies offer associate's degrees, certificates, or diplomas.

Coursework stresses practicality and hands-on experience at the expense of general educational goals, especially in the areas of graphic design principles and graphic design theory.

Employment networks are organized around these schools to help graduates find jobs. Since these programs have a narrow focus on the task, you'll need to learn outside the job to expand your overall education.

An individual with excellent drive, personal ability, and desire to self-teach can use the particular educational experience of the vo-tech situation productively, save money, and complete satisfying career pathways in the graphic design business.

Graphic Design Workshops, Trade Conventions & Special Graphic Design Training

Graphic design workshops give brief, intensive training in a desired subject or skill set.

Graphic design schools, colleges with graphic design programs, and other trade associations like the GAG (Graphic Artists Guild) and the AIGA (American Institute of the Graphic Arts), will often feature special programs to update current graphic designers.

Workshops, often focused on new computer software and new advances in reprographics, can focus training into a day or a series of days instead of taking the semester-length approach. Many of these offerings also are concerned with building better business and market conditions since after all, your goal in small business is to succeed!

The author, Frederick H. Carlson, has 25+ years experience in the graphic design and illustration industry. His work has included everything from book design to wall-sized murals to cassette and CD covers, and his design clientele have included Sony Music, Rockwell, University of Pittsburgh, the National Science Foundation, The Wall Street Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post.

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