For those looking to upskill in UX design, there are many options in 2023. But when it comes to graphic design, some of the best options are longer academic courses at a graphic design school.
Whether you choose to study online or in-person, attending a graphic design school will give you access to unique resources, mentorship, and unrivaled networking opportunities that can jumpstart your career. While this route into a design career requires a significant time and money investment, exploring your options is the best start!
In this post, we’ll look at the 20 best graphic design schools in the U.S. and around the world. We’ll cover the following:
Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in.
1. What is a graphic design school?
Graphic design schools are specialized institutions that equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to become effective visual communicators. The curricula of such schools typically encompass various aspects of graphic design.
This will vary depending on your chosen course but might incorporate things like typography, illustration, branding, web design, and packaging design. Some graphic design schools also verse their students in the wider visual arts, blending modern techniques with more traditional approaches to the visual arts.
Undertake a course of study in an area like graphic or communications design, and you’ll learn the fundamental principles of color theory, composition, layout, and much more.
You might also receive training in different software applications and technologies, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Most importantly, you’ll get to grips with the creative process at large, allowing you to develop your unique style and approach in a way that might not be possible on a shorter, more intensive course.
Since most graphic design schools offer courses ranging from one to five years, another benefit is that you’ll typically have internship and portfolio-building opportunities. These can help you establish connections with professionals in the industry while working on real-world design projects.
Graduates from these schools can go on to many varied careers but often work as art directors, visual designers, multimedia artists, illustrators, and more.
2. The best graphic design schools
Now that we know what a graphic design school is and what sorts of things you’ll learn let’s look at our handpicked top 20. The first ten focus on graphic design schools based in the U.S. We’ll then cast the net wider to explore some renowned international schools.
Rhode Island School of Design at a glance:
- Location: Providence, Rhode Island
- Estimated price: $81,810 per academic year (see a cost breakdown)
- Duration: 4 years for their BFA Graphic Design
- Admission requirements: Application form, academic transcripts, tests, portfolio, college essay, and letter of recommendation
Founded in 1877, RISD is one of the world’s preeminent colleges of art and design. It has a reputation for producing world-renowned designers who go on to succeed in various industries.
With a rigorous curriculum and an approach that encourages students to experiment and push their creative boundaries, RISD’s professors are some of the best in the business. Depending on the course you choose, you’ll also receive hands-on training with cutting-edge technology and equipment.
Parson’s School of Design at a glance:
- Location: New York City, New York
- Estimated price: $27,794 per semester for an undergraduate program
- Duration: 2 years or less for their AAS Communication Design program
- Admission requirements: Application form, application fee, essay, portfolio, letter(s) of recommendation, academic transcripts, standardized test scores (optional)
Located in the heart of New York City, Parson’s is a melting pot of cultures and ideas. Its faculty is composed of experienced designers who are passionate about teaching and sharing their knowledge.
It’s also known for its forward-thinking approach to design education, incorporating sustainability and social justice issues into its curriculum. It’s also the only private graphic design school affiliated with a private national research university, The New School.
The Pratt Institute at a glance:
- Location: Brooklyn, New York
- Estimated price: $77,607 per undergraduate academic year (before aid)
- Duration: 2 years for their Graphic Design associate degree
- Admission requirements: Application form, portfolio, and test
Founded in 1877, The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn offers nearly 50 programs focused on comprehensive design education, balancing practical skills with creative thinking.
Its location in Brooklyn, one of the most vibrant boroughs in New York City, provides students with a rich source of inspiration. The faculty at Pratt includes some of the most respected designers in the industry, and students have access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.
ArtCenter College of Design at a glance:
- Location: Pasadena, California
- Estimated price: $24,471 per undergraduate semester
- Duration: 2 to 4 years for their Graphic Design BFAs
- Admission requirements: Application form, $50 fee, transcripts, portfolio, essays (x2)
Founded in 1930, ArtCenter is known for its rigorous curriculum and is one of the few schools offering a degree in Interaction Design.
Beginning life as a vocational college, its faculty now includes some of the most influential designers out there, and the school has a strong reputation for producing distinguished alumni, including Clement Mok.
ArtCenter’s location in sunny Pasadena, a short drive from Los Angeles, also offers access to a thriving design community.
Maryland Institute of Art at a glance:
- Location: Baltimore, Maryland
- Estimated price: $53,180 per academic year, $26,580 per semester
- Duration: 2 years for their Graphic Design MFA
- Admission requirements: Application form, portfolio, standardized tests, essay, letter of recommendation, academic transcripts
Founded in 1826, MICA is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the US, supporting a tight-knit community of designers passionate about their craft.
Its curriculum emphasizes experimentation and innovation, and students are encouraged to push the boundaries of traditional design.
It is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, a consortium of 36 leading US art schools.
Carnegie Mellon School of Design at a glance:
- Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Estimated price: $83,697 per academic year (including costs of attendance)
- Duration: 4 years for their Bachelor of Design (BDes) degrees
- Admission requirements: Application form, short video, portfolio
Founded in 1900, Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design is particularly well-known for its dedicated program in Communication Design.
Its curriculum is structured around systems thinking, with students encouraged to collaborate and think outside the box when problem-solving.
Its location in Pittsburgh, a city known for its thriving tech industry, also provides students and graduates alike with plenty of access to real-world design opportunities and jobs.
Yale University School of Art at a glance:
- Location: New Haven, Connecticut
- Estimated price: $72,594 per academic year (including costs of attendance)
- Duration: 2-year BFA in Graphic Design
Admission requirements: A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or a diploma from a four-year accredited professional art school
Yale’s School of Art, founded in 1869, is one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious design schools. Rooted in the liberal arts and emphasizing interdisciplinary thinking, Yale students have access to some of the best resources and facilities in the world.
The art school’s faculty includes some of the most respected designers and scholars, reflecting their highly selective entry process—Yale accepts just 10-12 students annually for their 2-year BFA in Graphic Design.
California College of the Arts at a glance:
- Location: San Francisco, California
- Estimated price: $57,096 graduate academic year (not including attendance costs)
- Duration: 4-year BFA Graphic Design Program
- Admission requirements: Application form, application fee, ($70), essay, academic transcripts, letter of recommendation
Dating back to 1907, CCA is another leader in art and design education, renowned for its immersive, interdisciplinary approach and the tangible influence of its California location on its commitment to social responsibility.
Focused on equipping students with the practical skills and mindsets to thrive in the dynamic field of graphic design and UX, this private college offers 23 undergraduate and 11 graduate programs.
Savannah College of Art and Design at a glance:
- Location: Savannah, Georgia
- Estimated price: $39,105 for one undergraduate academic year
- Duration: 4 years for a BFA degree
- Admission requirements: Diploma, 1-3 recommendation letters, statement of purpose, portfolio or audition, resume, SAT scores
One of the younger schools on our list, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was founded in 1978 and is located in the heart of historic Georgia.
It’s nevertheless a premier destination for students seeking world-class graphic design education. With an emphasis on hands-on learning, SCAD’s award-winning faculty and state-of-the-art facilities prepare students for a variety of careers.
From typography and branding to web design and digital media, SCAD has a diverse range of programs to choose from.
VCUarts at a glance:
- Location: Richmond, Virginia
- Estimated price: $15,642 undergraduate academic year
- Duration: 3 years for their BFA Graphic Design program
- Admission requirements: Application form, portfolio, official transcripts, test scores (optional), recommendations (optional)
Founded in 1928, VCUarts’ graphic design program values diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences. Its unique curriculum emphasizes collaboration, experimentation, and interdisciplinary work.
It’s a competitive course to get on to; however, for those lucky enough to succeed, VCUarts will provide a stimulating environment, equipping learners with the necessary tools to make their mark in the ever-evolving design world, with a focus on community impact.
Royal College of Art at a glance:
- Location: London, UK
- Estimated price: Fees vary depending on the course. As a guide, their pre-Masters graduate diploma in art and design costs $25,000 (£20,200) for overseas students, and $12,000 (£9,700) for British nationals
- Duration: Find out by selecting your preferred course of study
- Admission requirements: Varies depending on the course but for their graduate diploma, the application includes an application form and portfolio
Founded in 1837, the Royal College of Art in London is world-famous for its graduate arts programs, blending traditional design principles with modern approaches and broader fine art education.
With a vast history and exceptional faculty, the RCA fosters a culture of creativity and is known for attracting students from over 60 countries.
Many of its graduates go on to become notable contributors to the industry, solidifying the RCA’s position as one of the most respected art and design schools in the world.
Politecnico di Milano at a glance:
- Location: Milan, Italy
- Estimated price: $4,215 (3,900 €) per academic year for non-EEA students (exceptions available)
- Duration: 3 years for their Communication Design program
- Admission requirements: Varies depending on country of origin
Renowned for its comprehensive Communication Design program, Politecnico di Milano is the largest polytechnic in the world. It caters to over 40,000 students and offers advanced facilities and real-world, project-based learning.
Being a vocational school, it is accustomed to preparing graduates for successful careers in graphic design and related areas, such as UX design.
From typography to branding, Politecnico di Milano’s expert professional lecturers are dedicated to ensuring students have the necessary skills to tackle the industry’s challenges.
Hong Kong Design Institute at a glance:
- Location: Hong Kong
- Estimated price: $4,030 (31,570 HKD) with support, or $7,230 ($56,600 HKD) self-financed
- Duration: 1 to 3 years
- Admission requirements: Application form (including fee), interview, and one of the following qualifications
Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI) is a leading institution offering innovative and practical design education in the region.
The institute provides a range of programs, from diploma to degree level, in areas including graphic design, fashion, product design, and much more. It has state-of-the-art workshops, galleries, fabrication facilities, and a learning resources center dedicated to giving graduates the best career start possible.
Design Academy Eindhoven at a glance:
- Location: Eindhoven, The Netherlands
- Estimated price: $13,427 (€12,400) in annual statutory and institutional tuition fees (see breakdown and additional costs)
- Duration: 4-yea BA in Design and a 2-year Master’s program
- Admission requirements: Application form, home assignment, portrait picture, and interview. Learn more
A leading design school in the Netherlands, Design Academy Eindhoven is famed for its innovative and experimental approach to design, progressive teaching style, and lecturers and alumni who have achieved significant professional advances in international design.
It’s also the perfect place for those looking to experience the well-established culture of the Netherlands.
Universität der Künste Berlin at a glance:
- Location: Berlin, Germany
- Estimated price: No fees, but a contribution of 320 € per semester is required
- Duration: Standard of 6 semesters for a degree in Master of Arts
- Admission requirements: Application form, application fee, professional documentation (resume, etc.), artistic documents, work samples, and written exam
The Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK) truly stands out on our list. With around 3,500 students, it specializes in fine art, architecture, music, performing, and, of course, design.
By encouraging students to experiment and blend various disciplines, UdK cultivates an environment that challenges students to develop their style in areas including graphic and communications design.
Located in Europe’s most vibrant cultural capital, many of the school’s graduates go on to become world leaders in the design field—a fact reflected by its competitive applicant acceptance rate of around 15%.
IED Barcelona School of Design at a glance:
- Location: Barcelona, Spain
- Estimated price: From $16,250 (€15,100) for the Graphic Design program
- Duration: 4 years
- Admission requirements: Varies depending on course and nationality
One of the unique features of IED Barcelona School of Design is its strong emphasis on sustainability and social responsibility in design. The school believes that designers are responsible for developing environmentally and socially conscious solutions and integrating this philosophy into its curriculum.
Additionally, the school has a close relationship with the city of Barcelona, encouraging students to engage with local communities and cultures in their work. This combination of sustainability and community-focused design makes IED Barcelona School unique.
Zurich University of the Arts at a glance:
- Location: Zurich, Switzerland
- Estimated price: $800 (CHF 720) per semester, plus course materials
- Duration: 3 years for BA Design, Visual Communication
- Admission requirements: Description of work, portfolio, transcript, resume, and additional documents, including social security number and identity information
Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) offers a wide range of programs combining different artistic disciplines. These include music, film, theatre, and design. Its breadth of courses allows students to explore innovative ways of creating art while collaborating with those in different fields.
ZHdK also strongly emphasizes practical experience, providing students with opportunities to work on real-world projects while engaging with the professional community both locally and further afield.
University of Applied Arts Vienna at a glance:
- Location: Vienna, Austria
- Estimated price: $810 (€747) per semester for non-EU nationals
- Duration: 2 to 3 years, depending on whether it’s a BA or MA
- Admission requirements: Entrance exam (see full details)
Nestled in the heart of Austria’s vibrant capital (once crowned the most livable city in the world!), the University of Applied Arts Vienna is a hub of innovation.
Its cutting-edge art, design, and architecture programs offer students the chance to explore new frontiers of expression while pushing the boundaries of their craft. Combining the country’s complex history with a forward-looking ethos, this institution is a real gem of the European academic landscape.
19. Aalto University
Aalto University at a glance:
- Location: Aalto, Finland
- Estimated price: $13,000 (€12,000) per academic year for a Bachelor’s degree, $16,250 (€15,000) for a Master’s
- Duration: 2 to 3 years
- Admission requirements: Application form and one of the following qualification documents
Although not explicitly focused on arts and design, Aalto University in Finland is a dynamic institution that promotes innovation across all its subject areas. Although primarily focused on technology and business (as well as art and design), this ideally places Aalto for those seeking a career in UX or product design.
The school offers unique opportunities to develop a range of skills. Its particular commitment to sustainability, entrepreneurship, and internationalization makes Aalto a leader in shaping the future of education and research, especially as we face challenges such as the climate crisis.
École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs at a glance:
- Location: Paris, France
- Estimated price: $575 (€530) annual tuition fees and health insurance
- Duration: 2 to 5 years for their Graphic Design program (site in French)
- Admission requirements: Examination and appropriate qualification
École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (ENSAD) is a prestigious institution of higher education in Paris that has been at the forefront of art and design education for over two centuries.
ENSAD offers a range of programs in various fields, including graphic design, typography, illustration, and animation. With a focus on experimentation and critical thinking, ENSAD has a reputation for producing talented and innovative designers. Notable alumni include Jean-Paul Goude, Maurice Cloche, and Annette Messager.
3. Final thoughts
In this post, we’ve explored the world’s 20 best graphic design schools. The full list of notable institutions is much longer than this, of course, so we encourage you to research further graphic design schools online.
Aim to find one with an ethos and approach that matches your personal values, career objectives, and artistic direction.
While it’s important to note that attending a graphic design school online or in person is not the only path to becoming a successful designer, knowing the options available is the best way to make an informed decision about how to proceed with your career.
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