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Best 6 Graphic Design Schools in California in 2021

August 13, 2021 | Staff Writers

Graphic Design Schools in California
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Those that choose to pursue a graphic design degree have the unique ability to visualize an idea and create their vision on another type of media. Designers develop advertising, news, features, and entertainment compositions through their artistic skills. Today, graphic designers are more in demand than ever, graphics are needed for Web browsers, social platforms, portable devices, print publications, and just about any article or story that is accompanied by visuals.

Graphic designers in days gone by used to take a pencil to paper. Thanks to this creative process we have some of the greatest cartoon characters ever, like those two famous mice, Mickey, and Minnie.

Top 5 Graphic Design Schools

Rank School Location
1Art Center College of DesignPasadena, California
2The California Institute of the ArtsSanta Clarita, California
3San Diego State UniversitySanta Clarita, California
4San Jose State UniversitySan Jose, California
5Otis College of Art and DesignLos Angeles, California

Today, the process is much different and more complex. Most graphic designers create their visual concepts using complex software products. So, their skill set needs to go beyond sketching out an image, a whole new type of technology has come into play for those that choose the art field of being a graphic designer.

Some of the classwork that those pursuing a graphic design degree include:

  • Graphics and layout
  • Print media
  • Digital photography
  • Digital graphic design for the Web
  • Typography

Many Career Choices for Graphic Designers Today

Graphic designers have an open door when it comes to choosing the type of graphic design, they wish to pursue a career in. Those with a degree in graphic design may choose from the following:

  • Work for advertising of marketing agency as an art director
  • Freelance and self-employed designers
  • Printing and related print media activities
  • Newspapers, periodicals, books, etc.
  • Specialized design services
  • Use digital illustration, photo editing tools, and layout software to help create designs
  • Create visual elements such as logos, create original images to deliver messages
  • Select colors, images, and typefaces to create a look and feel

With a degree in graphic design, there are some other categories that students find attractive, while a bit outside their study area:

  • Teachers in design schools, colleges, etc.
  • Specialized fields that lend their skills to architects, industrial designers, landscape architects, interior designers.
  • Create interactive designs, public art exhibitions, window dressings, displays, and other interesting career possibilities.

Career Outlook and Compensation

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment rates for graphic designers is projected to decline around 4% until 2029. Keep in mind, this overall employment is expected to go down, but specialized skills within the industry are expected to rise. Students with special skills like:

  • Students that work with computer systems are projected to grow as more companies are looking to increase their visual presence, and this requires the skills of a talented graphic designer.
  • Students will need to keep up with the latest design trends and technologies to keep themselves marketable.

As far as remuneration is concerned, the BLS also states that the median income for those with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design can expect a starting income of around $47,640.

Schools with Top Honors for Graphic Design

Many schools feature graphic design degrees, but we wanted to provide students with some of the top schools, so they can consider the best options in their field of study.

Best 6 Graphic Design Schools in California

1

Art Center College of Design

  • Pasadena, California
  • Graduation Rate: 64%

The school offers students an opportunity to earn their undergraduate in Graphic design and continue their studies with the Art Center’s MFA Graduate Graphic Design (MGx) program. The program was designed to help talented students become the next generation leaders, and influences in the design community. The college has been internationally recognized as a leader in:

  • Immersive crafts
  • Design leadership
  • Transmedia platforms including print, interactive models, motion, etc.
  • Entrepreneurship and ability to become thought-leaders

The Art Center College of Design is a nonprofit, private college that was founded in 1930 and initially located in downtown Los Angeles. The school offers a two-year (4-term) program. The photography department was started in 1935 and the famed photographer Ansel Adams was a guest instructor.

School Overview

Tuition/Fees: Approximately $44,932
Student to Faculty Ratio: 8:1
Visit School Website
2

The California Institute of the Arts

  • Santa Clarita, California
  • Graduation Rate: 66%

The California Institute of the Arts, also known as The CalArts Graphic Design College has designed a program that includes both practical and conceptual art skills. This enables designers to bring out their visionary talents as they learn to integrate visual language with “imagination, theory, and different technologies.

The school is renowned as a “game-changer” in the way they develop professional artists. Students in CalArts Graphic Design classes will have access across many different disciplines. They will learn:

  • Typography and printmaking
  • Design history
  • Drawing
  • Digital imaging
  • Web design
  • Motion graphics and video
  • Painting
  • Image-making tools

CalArts is a private art university that was incorporated in Santa Clarita, California, in 1961. It was the first “degree-granting” institution offering students degrees in the visual and performing arts. Today the school offers BFA, MFA programs in Graphic Design, and an MFA in Graphic Design with Motion Graphics Specialization.

School Overview

Tuition/Fees: $26,425 per semester
Student to Faculty Ratio: 8:1
Visit School Website
3

San Diego State University

  • Santa Clarita, California
  • Graduation Rate: 75%

San Diego State University’s School of Art Design’s Graphic Design program is professional-level instruction that gives students the ability to gain the skills needed to execute visual communications to meet the contexts of the audience. Students learn the theories of communication, design, and problem-solving. Throughout the program, students will develop professional skills that they will rely on throughout their careers. Some of these include:

  • Working on projects require the use of cognitive, social, and cultural factors to inform, instruct and persuade others
  • Fundamentals of design, typography, and image-making
  • History courses that foster form and concept-development skills

San Diego State University was founded in 1897 in San Diego as the San Diego Normal School. It is considered a top research university and has drawn students from all over the globe. The school offers 190 bachelor’s degrees, 91 master’s, 25 doctoral degrees, and 26 different teaching credentials.

School Overview

Tuition/Fees: Approximately $3,860 for full-time students
Student to Faculty Ratio: 25:1 (San Diego University in general)
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4

San Jose State University

  • San Jose, California
  • Graduation Rate: 62%

San Jose State University’s Graphic Design Program is the only public university in Silicon Valley offering this program. Because of its prime location, many students secure internships and even jobs with many of the technology industries, professional and service organizations that are located in the area. Students are fortunate for the faculty at the university as many are professionals themselves and can share real-world experiences. The university is always updating its technology and classwork to stay on the bleeding-edge of what the field demands. Throughout their coursework, students can choose from a wide range of major and minor areas of study, including:

  • Animation and illustration
  • Graphic design
  • Industrial design
  • Interior design

San José State University was founded in 1857 and is located in San Jose; it is the oldest public university on the West Coast. The School offers 145 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. It had a total enrollment of 33,025 in the fall of 2020 and is considered one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the U.S.

School Overview

Tuition/Fees: Undergraduate tuition (up to 6 credits) is $2,720
Student to Faculty Ratio: 27:1
Visit School Website
5

Otis College of Art and Design

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Graduation Rate: 64%

Otis College of Art and Design offers a wide range of degrees within the graphic arts, art, and media niches. The school is highly regarded for its curriculum, faculty, and students. Many alumni and faculty are Fulbright and Guggenheim grant recipients. Otis College is considered a leader in design education. The school offers various programs; some of the “core” programs include:

  • Liberal and fine arts
  • Illustration
  • Product design
  • Graphic design
  • Landscape design
  • Digital media
  • Toy design

Otis College of Art and Design was established in 1918 and is a private art and design school located in Los Angeles. Within the graphic arts curriculum, the college offers seven majors and 19 minors. For future educators, the school offers two minors that enable students to omit the California Subject Exam.

School Overview

Tuition/Fees: $23,260 per semester (based on a two-semester year)
Student to Faculty Ratio: 9:1
Visit School Website
6

The California College of the Arts

  • Oakland, California
  • Graduation Rate: 61%

The California College of the Arts (CCA) has two locations, a campus in Oakland, and a second campus in San Francisco, which is known as the “innovation corridor.” The university has been attracting students from around the world for years. The school focuses on taking talented individuals and giving them the best of both art and design schools to turn out some of the most talented graphic artists today. Top performing students can join the Graphic Design Intern Program, which may secure them internships with:

  • Technology firms
  • Publishing houses
  • Museums
  • Non-profit organizations, and more

CCA was founded in 1907 as the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts during the height of the Arts and Crafts movement. After withstanding several name changes throughout the years, in 2003 the college changed its name to California College of the Arts. The school offers 22 different undergrad degrees and 13 graduate programs.

School Overview

Tuition/Fees: between $31,950 to $63,900
Student to Faculty Ratio: 8:1
Visit School Website

Methodology for Rating Graphic Design Schools in California

It is exceedingly difficult to find a top graphic design school that checks all the boxes. That can be especially difficult if you are limited as to the schools you can attend. Many people must go to school in the state where they live, to claim residency tuition. This automatically reduces the number of universities available to the student. 

We have reviewed the top schools in California that offer respected graphic design programs and doing some of the work for students, so they do not have to start at the bottom.

We review a wide range of different criteria like the size of the classes, teacher to student ratio, graduation rate, and cost of tuition and fees. After reviewing all this information, we define a number for each school based on these and other criteria.

If there is a top graphics design school that has been omitted from this list, please let us know. If there is an error, please contact us so appropriate updates can be made.

Find the program that’s right for you

Whether you’re trying to start your career or make a big change, we can help you find the perfect school to help you reach your goals.

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BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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