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Q&A - Graduate Programs in Graphic Design

How hard is it to gain admission to brick-and-mortar or online graduate programs in graphic design?

More than 20 schools offer advanced degrees in graphic design, both a Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), which is the highest degree you can obtain in the field. U.S. News & World Report released its ranking of top graphic design graduate programs in 2012. Many of these brick-and-mortar programs are highly competitive, with very low admission rates. For example, in 2010, the Rhode Island School of Design admitted 18.7% of its graduate applicants, and in 2011, Yale University’s School of Art admitted only 6% of its applicants.

Several schools offer an online masters in graphic design, either entirely online or through a low-residency MFA program that requires on-campus sessions once or twice per year. Online graduate programs range from selective to open, which means that you must apply and submit required materials, including evidence of an undergraduate degree, but enrollment is available to anyone who meets the basic qualifications.

Whatever school you choose, check with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to be sure you select an accredited graphic design graduate school.

The most important part of your application to graduate school for graphic design is your portfolio, which exemplifies your creative work and gives admissions committees an idea of whether you will succeed in graphic design graduate programs and beyond. Portfolio samples could come from coursework, internships or paid projects, but always be sure they show your best work.

What are the average salaries for graphic design degree graduates?

In its Occupation Outlook Handbook entry for graphic designers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 13% job growth between 2010 and 2020 for graphic designers, which is about average.

Graphic designers on average make about $43,000 each year, and this number includes people who have significant experience in the field. When you start out with no work experience, you can make anywhere from $19,000 to $45,000 a year, depending on where you live. However, if you earn a degree from a graduate school for graphic design, you might make $2,000 more each year, even at an entry-level job.

While a bachelors degree in graphic design is usually sufficient for your first job, the experience, connections and samples you will gain in your graduate program will help you stand out in an increasingly competitive market. Also, many online graduate programs in graphic design specialize in website and interactive media, which is an area of expected growth.

You may decide you enjoy your education experience enough that you want to stay in the classroom, not as a student, but as a teacher. With an advanced degree in graphic design, you are qualified to teach at the university level. Post-secondary graphic design teachers earn an average of $54,000 annually, and the field expects to see 17% job growth.

If I am interested in pursuing a graduate degree in graphic design, what related graduate programs should I consider?

In your search for graphic design graduate schools, you may discover other programs that have something in common with graphic design but ultimately offer different career paths. Industrial design, for example, combines the visual elements of graphic design with the functional aspects of industry. Industrial designers create objects, spaces and products for consumers, including everything from microwaves and teapots to cars and chainsaws. You have the option to earn an MA or an MFA in industrial design.

Another related program is marketing, which is not just about sales, but also about psychology. Like graphic designers, marketers consider what consumers want and how to communicate that desire in interesting, memorable and lasting ways. You could work for a large corporation, smaller company or nonprofit organization, or you may choose to start your own business. You can earn an MS, which can lead to a PhD, or an MBA with a marketing concentration.

A third possibility is studio arts, which channels the creativity of a graphic design graduate program. In MFA studio art programs, you will focus on 1 medium, which could be painting, photography or even performance art, while you are also mentored by professional artists. Studio artists primarily earn their living through sales, grants and commissions. In addition to making and exhibiting art, many studio art graduates teach, either at the university level or in the community.

Are there any iPhone or iPad apps that would benefit me while I am completing my on-campus or online graphic design graduate degree?

The Dexigner app helps you keep up with the latest news, trends and events in graphic design, art and related fields. This app also offers information on competitions, awards, exhibitions, lectures and other events in your community. You can download Dexigner for use on your iPhone or iPad.

You can test your knowledge of graphic design concepts and history with the Graphics Design Quiz that is available for both the iPhone and iPad. Graphic design grad schools are challenging, and this fun and practical app will help you refresh your memory between classes and prepare for exams.

The Typography Manual is an iPhone and iPad app that replaces a heavy reference book. This app contains extensive information about graphic design history, terminology and styles, as well as a list of additional web resources.

The best graphic design graduate programs encourage constant creative thinking. No matter where you are, you can capture your ideas with ZeptoPad 3.0 Vector Based Drawing, a portable white board with drawing, handwriting, photo editing and other functions. This app also lets you save your work, share it with colleagues or send it to a Mac or PC for larger display.