Art and design play significant roles in daily life. Whether it's small things — the colors and typefaces on food packaging, say — or big things like the sizes and shapes of the interior and exterior spaces where we live and work, it's nearly impossible to go even one whole day without seeing an artifact of art or design.
Although it isn't always necessary to graduate from art and design school if you want a job in a creative field, programs that lead to art and design degrees can go a long way toward turning your passion for creative work into an employable skill. Here's some data from the National Center for Education Statistics, showing how many art and design schools there are in each of eight U.S. regions:
|No. of institutions with art and design degree programs
|No. of institutions offering art and design degrees online
|Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI)
|Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO)
|Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK)
|Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD)
|Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV)
|Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI)
|Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.)
|New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME)
|Total (all 50 states)
Entry-level art and design degrees
Aspiring artists and designers can find art degree programs at variety of points on the academic spectrum. Here's some detail about types of undergraduate degrees available on campus and online at graphic design schools and art academies around the country:
- Associate degrees - Photography, filmmaking, interior design, illustration, graphic design, screenwriting, acting, graphic communications and game design are just a few of the art and design specialties available as associate degrees, where students spend approximately two years studying their art, practicing their skill and taking in some general education core courses. Very few professions require art and design degrees at the associate level, but they can be a great option if you're new to an artistic discipline and want to spend some dedicated time practicing while you earn credits toward a bachelor's.
- Bachelor's degrees - It's often the case that an impressive portfolio is more important to employers of artists and designers than any specific level of academic achievement. Most bachelor's degrees at art and design schools, however — particularly Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs in studio art, graphic design, digital arts, communication design and other subjects that allow students ample opportunity to create new work — can help you build your portfolio while also working your way to the minimum expected level of education in most professional circles.
- Non-degree study - Some art and graphic design schools offer undergraduate certificate programs that concentrate students' attention squarely on coursework that's directly relevant to their chosen discipline. Certificate programs typically consist of between 15 and 20 required credit hours, take between six months and a year to complete and can be found in such disciplines as graphic design, web design, digital arts, illustration, photography, sculpting, painting, printmaking, ceramics, arts entrepreneurship and more.
Students who are comfortable enough with the digital environment can earn an art degree or attend graphic design school online, provided they can acquire and use any tools or other pieces of technology necessary to complete the assignments virtually. If you're thinking about a career change to a creative field but don't want to take too much time out of your schedule to learn and practice, an online art degree might be right for you.
Advanced-degree art and design programs
Students whose hunger for knowledge and creative development isn't satisfied by a bachelor's degree can take their study up a notch. Here's a rundown of some of what you can expect from advanced programs of study in the arts:
- Master's degree programs - A graduate degree is essential if you have any plans to teach at a college or university, and the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree is the go-to study plan for artists and designers at the graduate level. The list of available subjects, which includes studio art, general design, industrial design, fashion design, painting, theater arts, dance and more, is as broad if not broader than that available for undergraduates. MFA programs typically take two or three years, contain ample time for workshops and directed studio work and lead up to a juried gallery exhibition or other substantial thesis project.
- Doctorate programs - Doctoral degree programs in the studio arts are relatively uncommon, but several institutions have taken their exploration of the discipline of design to new scholarly heights with Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Design (DDes) degrees for designers and design scholars who hope to contribute to their discipline by conducting research and producing original scholarship. Doctoral design degrees typically take three or four years and culminate in the production and defense of a massive, in-depth research project.
- Graduate certificates - Graduate certificates for art and design students come in two primary types: those that focus on studio work and technical practice to help students build a portfolio and those that aim to impart peripheral skills such as archiving, historic preservation, marketing, teaching and others that add depth to an arts graduate's CV. Some institutions may offer non-degree graduate study in the form of a brief residency as a visiting part of an active MFA program.
There are some graphic design schools that offer graduate study via digital distance education, although most MFA programs and virtually all doctoral programs require at least some residency from their enrolled students. Certain graduate certificates may be earned entirely online.
Q&A with an expert
Why would you encourage someone to consider an art or design degree?
We are moving into an economy that is going to pay for creative ideas and creative thinking. Getting a degree where you are taught to think differently is exactly what will be in high demand in the coming years.
What are the most common educational paths for students hoping to establish a career in an art or design profession?
If you want a career in art or design, always be learning about running your own business. Creatives are even more poised to work as freelancers and that involves business skills as well.
What's some advice you might have for a student who's just started thinking about enrolling in an art or design program?
Remember it's not just about creating art, it's about learning to think like an artist. That creative thinking is so valuable and extends far beyond the art you produce.
What would have been helpful to know about the professional world of art and design when you were pursuing your own education?
The fine art field can seem like the lottery, but success in this field is how you define it. Some think living off of your art is success, however I know many artists that have a fan base and work a "real job."
Are there certain art and design degrees that offer better career prospects than others?
The world is constantly changing. Ten years ago it was art and design for print, now the market is looking for UX designers. If you work hard, have talent and the drive to succeed, you will find a job. As I mentioned previously, the hot job now is in UX and gaming, but in 4 years that can change.
Types of art and design careers
The actual range of career titles where you might make use of your design or art degree can be pretty surprising. Here's a table of salary and job outlook data for a few of those careers, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Art, Drama, and Music Teachers, Postsecondary
|Designers, All Other
|Set and Exhibit Designers
|Special Effects Artists and Animators
|Librarians, Curators, and Archivists
|Artists and Related Workers, All Other
|Art and Design Workers
|Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators
Common misconceptions about art and design degrees
Most people, artists included, can't even come up with a consensus definition for exactly what art is, so it's understandable that there are a few misconceptions out there about art degrees. Here are a few common ones — make sure you don't start on your quest for the perfect graphic design school with any of these mistaken ideas in mind:
Misconception: Graduates with art degrees all end up working in fast food.
- Fact: We had to address this one first — you know you've heard it. It may be true that studying art in college doesn't prepare you explicitly for a specific job field after graduation, but there are tons of people out there working in fields they didn't study in school. If you're creative — and you are, if you're studying art, right? — you'll be able to find your way to a decent job with any degree.
Misconception: Art and design degrees are too expensive to be a good investment.
- Fact: Small, private arts colleges do typically come with a substantial price tag, but those aren't the only places on Earth where dedicated artists can study, practice and improve their craft. Two of the most important elements of an art degree program are the concentrated studio time and the expert guidance you can get from professors and more experienced students, and those things are no less available at state universities and other public institutions than they are in the ivory towers of prestigious (and expensive) private academies.
Misconception: You have to be a weirdo to get an art or design degree.
- Fact: You certainly can get an art degree if you're a weirdo, but it's not a prerequisite. Artists and designers tend to have somewhat strong personalities and creative ways of looking at the world, which may have an influence on how they're seen by people who are prone to making snap judgments, but broad suggestions based on stereotypes are almost always inaccurate. If you like art, whoever you are, maybe you're cut out for an art degree.
How can I enroll in an online art and design degree program?
Individual institutions set their own policies for admission and enrollment, so the best way to discover the next steps on the road to the art degree of your dreams is to get in touch with a school that sounds right for you. We've included some listings below to get you started, so pick out a school or two and get in touch for more information.