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Highest Honors: Top Design Schools

In our last edition, GDUSA published its annual Students To Watch roundup. The students were so interesting – and so many readers have asked to learn more about the schools which nurture them – that we’ve compiled a roundup of the institutions represented – as well as a handful of other favorites. The theme: education is more important than ever as the lines between the studio and the classroom, the office and the academy, continue to blur.


With more than 18,000 students, Academy of Art University is the largest accredited private art and design university in the nation. Founded in 1929, the school and San Francisco have grown up together and served as mutual sources of inspiration and talent. Academy of Art University offers accredited AA, BA, BFA, B. Arch, MA, MFA and M. Arch degree programs in numerous areas of study, as well as continuing art education and pre-college programs for high school students. Flexible online degree programs are available in most areas of study, including graphic design. What makes the School of Graphic Design special is its emphasis on portfolio development. From the very first class, students are encouraged to create an exceptional portfolio that demonstrates their skill in traditional drawing and painting as well as their well-rounded education in typography, print and editorial design, branding, information design, web design and packaging. Academy of Art University is an accredited member of WASC, NASAD, CIDA (BFA-IAD, MFA-IAD) and NAAB (B. Arch, M. Arch).



For more than 80 years, Art Center College of Design has remained focused on the core educational mission of developing creative leaders and innovators in art and design. The institution is leading the way with cross-disciplinary programs and studios that prepare students within and outside their chosen fields. Art Center College has an international reputation for its rigorous, transdisciplinary curriculum, faculty of professionals, strong ties to industry and a commitment to socially responsible design. The school has roughly 2,000 students, undergraduate and graduate.



The Graphic Design Program at Auburn University prepares students to practice visual communication in a competitive global environment. Auburn’s nationally regarded BFA is NASAD accredited and concentrates on interactive design and mobile design, user experience design, strategic branding, typography, publication design, packaging, illustration and image making, and fine arts. Students receive hands-on design instruction in a professional studio environment with a strong sense of community among students and faculty. Courses emphasize a systemic approach to design by incorporating cross-disciplinary collaborations and train students to become versatile designers and art directors. The program hosts exhibitions, design symposiums, and guest lectures by industry leaders, and the internship program provides real-world experience and opportunities to network. Students build a strong portfolio of work as a result of their overall experience and education. The Program is housed among other prestigious design disciplines within the beautiful traditional campus setting.



Founded in 1907, CCA is an independent art college offering 22 undergraduate and 10 graduate programs in design, fine arts, architecture, and writing. It has campuses in San Francisco and Oakland, and currently enrolls nearly 2,000 full-time students. The college educates students to shape culture and society through practice and critical study. Graphic design at CCA is a media-blind discipline that engages the mind and the senses by translating ideas ‒ from simple to complex ‒ into the communication of information, emotion, and reflection. Taught by some of the most recognized practitioners, scholars, and theorists working today, students learn to identify problems and find solutions that move people to think, feel, and act.



Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design is one of the oldest and most respected programs, with a rich history in Product Design, Communication Design, Interaction and Service Design. It is one of the only leading programs to offer design degrees at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels within a multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural research university. The School of Design houses approximately 250 students within a historic building on the beautiful campus in Pittsburgh, one of America’s most livable cities. School officials state: “The demand for our graduates is increasing, and each year during Confluence, our career fair, many students receive offers of employment prior to graduation.”



Located in midtown Detroit, CCS strives to provide students with the tools needed for successful careers in the creative industries. The school fosters students’ resolve to pursue excellence, act ethically, engage their responsibilities as citizens, and learn throughout their lives. Students learn to be visual communicators who actively use art and design toward the betterment of society. Graduates work in numerous industries, such as transportation, film and animation, advertising and communications, consumer electronics, athletic apparel, and more. Founded in 1906, CCS plays a key role in Detroit’s cultural and educational communities. A private, fully accredited college, CCS enrolls more than 1,400 students, pursuing MFA and BFA degrees. The College also offers free art education for more than 4,000 youth annually through its Community Arts Partnerships program, and its Henry Ford Academy is a public charter school with a high-performance academic curriculum and a special focus on art and design.



For more than 75 years, Cranbrook has been one of the nation’s leading graduate schools of art, architecture, and design. It has been home to some of the world’s most renowned designers and artists, and Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Daniel Libeskind, Michael and Katherine McCoy, and Jun Kaneko have taught there. The Academy does not have a set curricula, required classes, or prerequisites; rather it is a graduate-only program designed specifically to support individual exploration and mentoring. The New York Times has said that “the effect of Cranbrook and its graduates and faculty on the physical environment of this country has been profound … Cranbrook, surely more than any other institution, has a right to think of itself as synonymous with contemporary American design.”



Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design offers sixteen undergraduate and six graduate degree programs all of which are predominantly studio based. The College maintains an award-winning faculty of industry practitioners who emphasize the use of the latest technologies. Westphal College is home to the Mandell Theater, the Pearlstein Gallery, Drexel’s television (DUTV) and radio (WKDU 91.7 FM) stations, the Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies, MAD Dragon Records and Drexel’s Historic Costume Collection. The Graphic Design program prepares students to inform, persuade and entertain through the creative use of word and image, and a balance of traditional and technical artistic studies. Graphic Design students learn to conceptualize, design and produce visual communication in books, magazines, posters, ads, packaging, websites, interactive media, information systems, exhibition design, motion and many other forms of media. Students use this work to develop an expansive portfolio, which, along with six-month co-op experiences, prepares them for successful employment after graduation



F.I.T. is a State University of New York college of art and design, business and technology. FIT offers more than 45 programs of study leading to Associate in Applied Science, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Fine Arts, and Master of Professional Studies degrees. FIT provides students with a rare combination of specialized curricula, an indepth liberal arts education, affordable tuition, and an extraordinary location in the center of New York City, world capital of the arts, business, and communications. The school offers a BFA in Graphic Design, which provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to assume entry-level design positions in fashion, retailing, publishing, nonprofit organizations, and innovative design firms. The program guides students to become creative thinkers with a mastery of conceptual and applied skills. Other options include one and two-year degrees in Advertising and Marketing Communications and in Communication Design.



Full Sail University’s Art & Design School provides a range of design degrees for careers in the media industry. For traditional artists, the University offers Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Graphic Design, where students learn professional methods of layout and design for print and electronic media. Digital graphics are taught in the Digital Arts & Design Bachelor’s degree program, which applies traditional art theory to the latest multimedia platforms. The Web Design & Development Bachelor’s degree program focuses specifically on online media, and the processes for developing interactive web content. The Art & Design School also features the Media Design Master’s of Fine Arts degree, which covers subjects like studio management and brand development, as well as the Instructional Design & Technology Master’s degree, which helps teachers bring multimedia to their classrooms. Full Sail University’s Art & Design School is home to a community of talented instructors, and guided by an advisory board of art professionals who ensure that the curriculum and tools used in each degree program are current and industry-relevant.

fullsail.edu or admissions@fullsail.com


Founded in 1885, KCAI is today a premier private, fully accredited, four-year college of art and design. Students studying for the BFA degree can choose from a variety of majors, including animation, art history, ceramics, creative writing, digital filmmaking, digital media, fiber, graphic design, illustration, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture. Notable graduates include multimedia artist Robert Rauschenberg; ceramic artists Richard Notkin and Akio Takamori; graphic designer April Greiman; and sculptors Robert Morris, Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler. Walt Disney took Saturday art classes at KCAI, his only formal training in art. Consistently recognized for its curriculum, the school’s academic programs are strengthened by first-rate support services, technology and practical learning opportunities. A scenic 15-acre campus situates students between the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the college’s gallery, the H&R Block Artspace, is located about two blocks from main campus.



Kennesaw State University School of Art & Design offers a BFA degree with concentrations in graphic communication, drawing/painting, ceramics/sculpture, and photography/printmaking, as well as a BS degree in Art Education. These are pre-professional programs, the first for aspiring artists and the second for teachers. Admission to the degree programs is highly competitive. All students must pass an initial portfolio review of their studio work in order to be fully accepted as art majors. Another portfolio review is required for BFA students in order to be accepted into a studio concentration area. Over 500 declared majors are enrolled in visual arts programs. The faculty includes twenty permanent, full-time professors, and 15-20 part-time faculty members. An award-winning Visual Arts Building provides 32,000-square-feet of studio and classroom space with state-of-the-art equipment.



Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 65 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. Redefining art and design education, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.

www.mica.edu 410.669.9200


MCAD is a strong regional and growing national leader in areas such as fine arts, graphic design, and comic art. The school offers degree, certificate and continuing education programs. Its student body includes more than 700 students from 29 states and 12 countries. Of these, 50% are enrolled in design, 25% in media arts, and 25% in fine arts; 40% are men and 60% are women; and the average student is 21 years old. The campus, which shares a block with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, comprises classroom buildings, professional facilities, gallery spaces, student housing, artist studios and a sculpture garden. The modernist Main Building is one of the only projects in the U.S. designed by Pritzker Prize ‒ winning architect Kenzo Tange, and the historic Julia Morrison Memorial Building is just shy of 100 years old.



The Northwestern University School of Professional Studies has an extensive offering of online master’s degrees and certificate programs, and this now includes an online Master of Science in Information Design and Strategy (IDS). As digital output increasingly becomes the backbone of most business strategy, there is an acute need for professionals with a better big-picture understanding of information management, design and technology. The program teaches students how to blend digital skills like information architecture and experience design with branding and messaging needs, translate data into compelling visual forms and narratives, and understand how research and analytics can drive communication strategies and tactics. The program prepares students to step into a cross-functional or leadership role by developing a deep and holistic understanding of today’s sophisticated digital media. The program is particularly useful for people in creative fields who want a stronger grounding in business strategy, so that they can expand career opportunities and make a larger impact on their organizations. The program is part-time and completely online.



Established in 1918, Otis is the first independent professional school of art in Los Angeles. The City of Angels is a cultural capital, making it a stimulating place to study art and design. When students graduate, they join the professional communities of entertainment, art, design and fashion. Alumni and faculty are leaders in these communities and support recent graduates. Graphic Design majors concentrate on research, formal application and experimentation, technological proficiency, and innovative outcomes. The goal is to develop critical thinking and visual communication tools for careers in a changing and competitive workplace. During senior year students explore conceptual, theoretical, and experimental projects through individual proposals. They meet in cross-disciplinary teams led by faculty advisors and guest critics. Graduates value structure, surface and form, but also consider the engagements and interactions of design with clients, audiences, and the culture at large.



Based in New York but active around the world, this leading institution offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the full spectrum of design disciplines. Parsons’ five schools, which encompass 27 rigorous undergraduate, associates and graduate degree programs, offer options for both focused training and interdisciplinary study. The School of Art, Media, and Technology embodies the frisson between art and design, with programs in Communication Design, Design and Technology, Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Illustration and Photography. The AAS in Graphics Design can be completed on campus, online or in combination and goes beyond basic technical knowledge to provide a complete design education. The program investigates up-to-the-minute tools and trends of the trade, including web design, while providing a solid foundation in traditional practices and concepts.



Founded in 1982, this private, professional art college offers BFA degrees, certificates, credentials, and curricula that enable students of all ages to pursue art as their life’s work. The educational philosophy is described as “Communication as Currency in the Curriculum.” This means that the institution’s learning experience teaches students adaptive thinking techniques and effective making skills that result in a deliberate and influential artistic voice. Students engage with an interactive process of concept, construction, critique, and redesign in an immersive experiential environment. Because visual, verbal, and virtual communication is increasingly valued in a global society, the curriculum emphasizes the relationships among thinking, making, and communicating. Students are transformed as they are challenged to cultivate expansive points-of-view and create sophisticated visual output. Graduates are said to be “strong thinkers, strong makers, and strong communicators.”



The mission of the Graphic Design Communication program at Philadelphia University is to cultivate design strategists with an innovative spirit and superior critical thinking skills applicable to a diversity of human needs. Consistent with the University’s overall mission to provide professional training with a rigorous Liberal Arts and Business core, the Graphic Design Communication curriculum fosters an appreciation for design as a cultural craft with a relevant historical background and a rapidly evolving future that includes multiple disciplines. The program seeks to develop students who can contribute intelligently and responsibly at a global level for the common good. The curriculum culminates with a BS degree. The program is conceptually based on the belief that designers’ highest value is to be able to generate ideas ‒ that intellectual property is his/her creative capital. Real-world assignments are featured to engender practical, active, hands-on learning. The curriculum emphasizes traditional design skills, and the ability to create and develop visual and verbal responses to complex communication problems across media.



Portfolio Center is a graduate-level communication arts school whose mission is to prepare students for creative practice and leadership. Thanks to a small, intimate environment, the Atlanta-based school is able to break the boundaries of traditional instruction. Education is hands-on and interactive; there are no lectures, and no one gets lost. Believing in the importance of good design, design that is useful and beautiful, students learn to render content with real meaning and to create innovative solutions that contribute to the culture. Says Director of Design Hank Richardson: “Because great communication begins with sound reasoning, we train students to think.” Portfolio Center offers both full time and part time intensive programs; students graduate with a Certificate of Professional Studies in Art Direction, Copywriting, Design, Web Design, Illustration or Photography.



Founded in 1887, Pratt Institute is a global leader in higher education dedicated to preparing its 4,700 undergraduate and graduate students for successful careers in art, design, architecture, information and library science, and liberal arts and sciences. Located in a cultural hub with historic campuses in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Pratt is a living lab of craft and creativity with an esteemed faculty of accomplished professionals and scholars who challenge their talented students to transform their passion into meaningful expression. The Institute has Bachelors and Master's degree programs in communications design, which are part of Pratt’s School of Design. The Undergraduate Communications Design department offers concentrations in illustration, advertising art direction, and graphic design, and teaches students to craft the strongest and most impactful communications possible by being creative problem solvers and elegant image-makers. Pratt's Graduate Communications Design department educates graphic and package designers, and offers an MFA in communications design and an MS in package design. Both degree programs provide students with the opportunity to develop and refine their design process, design voice, and creative skills, preparing them for leadership positions in their field.



PrattMWP students spend their years immersed in not one, but two, strikingly different environments with lively art cultures. Students who select this route complete the first two years of their program on the Utica, New York campus and are then guaranteed a seamless relocation to Pratt’s main Brooklyn campus at the beginning of their junior year. The PrattMWP campus allows students to achieve all the prestige and benefits of a Pratt art education at a location that develops their confidence, individual voice and insight into the world. PrattMWP shares its campus with the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, which offers collections, exhibits, classes and events that attract artists and art enthusiasts from around the globe. PrattMWP offers majors in Fine Arts, Communications Design, Art Education, and Photography. It is the perfect choice for students who prefer to transition to the big city with advanced skills and a tight group of friends. Communications Design students have recently been recognized by GDUSA, Print, NOW, UNESCO, Creative Quarterly, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the United States Mint.



Rich, multifaceted and encompassing a broad range of media, Graphic Design at Rhode Island School of Design respects the foundations of formal, aesthetic and analytical knowledge and skills while exploring the ever-changing context and function of visual communication. Since 1877, RISD has stood out as a leader in art and design education, attracting extraordinary people who thrive in its creative culture. As one of the first colleges of its kind in the country ‒ founded simultaneously with the RISD Museum of Art ‒ it has always been something of a maverick.



This private, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offers Bachelor’s degree programs in: Advertising Design, Business of Art & Design, Computer Animation, Film, Fine Arts, Game Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, Interior Design, Motion Design, and Photography and Imaging. Located on Florida's Gulf Coast, the picturesque 35-acre campus now includes 90 buildings, and attracts close to 1,300 students from 44 states and 53 foreign countries. It is recognized as a high quality, innovative visual arts colleges and as a leader in the use of technology in the arts.



Graphic design at RIT is the study and practice of communicating ideas and information through printed, environmental and digital presentations. Typography and images are integrated to express messages that interest, inform and persuade intended audiences. With the addition of visual movement, navigation and sound, digital presentations are also developed. Using research, critical thinking, creativity, and a range of problem-solving principles, graphic design students solve complex visual communication problems within the constraints of time, space, budget, and technology. Areas of study include publication design, signage and environmental design, corporate identity, web and interactive media, packaging design, and information design. There are currently 220 graphic design BFA students.



The Savannah College of Art and Design is a private, non-profit university with locations in Savannah and Atlanta, Hong Kong, and eLearning. SCAD’s Graphic Design program offers BFA, BA, MA, and MFA degrees at all locations and boasts state-of-the-art facilities, over 900 students and 21 full time faculty worldwide. Students pursuing a degree in Graphic Design develop strong ideation and typographic foundations before developing a wide breadth of media outcomes. While studying graphic design, students at SCAD collaborate with Fortune 500 companies including, Hewlett-Packard, Coca-Cola, Gulfstream Aerospace, Snap on Tools, Microsoft, and more. Notable alumni include Grammy nominated designer and founder of the Burbank CA design firm Meat and Potatoes, Todd Gallopo and current Executive Creative Director at the National Football League, Shandon Melvin.

www.scad.edu or admissions@scad.edu


The School of Advertising Art is a small college with one focus ‒ graphic design. SAA offers personalized training to aspiring designers, preparing students for successful careers. The SAA Associate Degree Program is a two-year program that leads to a degree in Applied Business in Advertising Art. The program consists of design and professional development courses that focus on creativity, typography, graphic design, photography, web design, illustration, video/motion design, and communication and presentation skills. With a job placement rate of 100%, SAA is committed to providing career services to recent graduates and alumni. SAA has a strong reputation among employers for educating designers who are creative and prepared for the demands of the advertising industry.



School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for more than six decades. Comprised of more than 6,000 students at its Manhattan campus and 35,000 alumni in 100 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. The mission of SVA is to educate future generations of artists, designers and creative professionals with undergraduate degree programs in art and design, rigorous and practice-based graduate programs in the visual arts and its allied fields, and a continuing education program intended to meet the diverse needs of NYC’s professional art and design community. SVA is home to numerous undergraduate and graduate degree programs in fields that range from fine arts to graphic design, photography to filmmaking, art criticism to art education. Together, the departments cover a broad range of creative endeavors, employ industry-leading professionals as faculty members and offer numerous and varied opportunities for students to engage with their chosen field.



Shillington School of Graphic Design has been established for 20 years, with 6 campuses globally including the US, the UK and Australia. The course is taught by practicing graphic designers in a studio environment. Shillington endeavors to better prepare students for the practical aspects of working as a designer. On just the second day of the course the students are designing their first advertisement. By the end of the course, they will have completed 35 design briefs with varied deadlines, some as short as 45 minutes, others no longer than 2 days. With most industries “time is money,” a designer needs to not only design well but also design to meet demanding deadlines. “From day one,” state Shillington officials, “we encourage students to start talking about design so they become confident with both visually and verbally communicating their ideas to clients. We feel both these areas of design development integral to gaining a job in the graphic design industry and keeping it!”



The Art Institute of Tampa, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design, is one of The Art Institutes, providing an important source of design, media arts, fashion and culinary professionals. The Institute offers programs and degrees in Culinary Arts, Digital Image Management, Fashion, Web Design & Development, Graphic Design, Digital Filmmaking & Video Production, Digital Photography, Game Art & Design, Interior Design, Media Arts & Animation, Visual Effects & Motion Graphics and Interactive Media. Coursework is reviewed and influenced by industry leaders and prominent employers who determine what skills are needed in the workplace. Many faculty members also are working in their respective fields outside of the classroom. The Graphic Design programs at AI Tampa teach students to combine form and function into a concept or product that is visually compelling and meets consumer needs.



The College of Saint Rose Center for Art and Design encourages freedom of expression and challenges students to reach the fullest potential. The College’s BFA in Graphic Design provides the tools and opportunity to complete extraordinary design solutions. The full-time graphic design faculty has earned the highest degrees in the field and come to the classroom as published designers and experienced teachers. The College has been named a top design school by the Art Directors Club. Students have secured internships and job placement at nationally acclaimed design firms and with renowned designers. 100% of graduates achieve full employment in their field within one year of graduation. Prospective employers are invited to campus and the seniors attend job fairs and portfolio reviews. Additionally, graduates are accepted into prestigious graduate programs including Yale, Stanford, Tyler School of Art, SVA, SCAD, RISD, VCU, RIT, Syracuse and Kent State. The program has alumni working in 33 states and abroad.



The College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) houses nationally top-ranked programs in architecture and design that highlight the college’s award-winning faculty as well as the University’s renowned cooperative education program. Via this co-op program, all design students are required to work professionally paid semesters with employers around the globe. These students graduate with 20 months of such professional experience on their resumes and in their portfolios. Graphic communication design students earn an average of $48,000 over their five co-op semesters, working for in-demand, global employers like LPK, Apple, Pentagram, Target and many more.



The UCLA Department of Design Media Arts (DMA) offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to media creation that fosters individual exploration and innovative thinking. Within the context of the department, design is a process and way of thinking, and media arts foreground experimental media creation. The results emerge in and on books, galleries, game consoles, installations, films, magazines, performances, public spaces, televisions, and websites. Students “strive to create socially and culturally relevant objects, experiences, and spaces.”



Founded in 1884, Woodbury University is a private non-profit institution. The BFA in Graphic Design is a professional degree that is included in the University’s accreditation by the NASAD. Woodbury students consistently win international and national design awards, landing more than 30 since 2010. Students have achieved recognition in communication design, entertainment design, web, advertising, packaging, photography, logo design and environmental graphics. They learn the art of visual communication through the study of design, aesthetics, and media. In the senior year, they can focus their creative energy by customizing their studies in entertainment, motion, advertising, publication, or environmental graphics. Woodbury’s Los Angeles location, in the heart of the media capital, offers numerous internship opportunities at companies including Disney Imagineering, Universal Studios, The WB Television Network, MTV Networks, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros, Mattel, and The Getty.



This highly selective MFA program accepts up to ten students each year, and up to seven students for a preliminary year program. The degree program focuses on the development of a cohesive, investigative body of work, also known as the student’s thesis. It is conceived as a loose framework within which each student’s visual method is deployed across many diverse projects during his or her two-year course of study. While every thesis project is unique, there are several common features: a focus on methodology, the application of a visual method to studio work, and the organization of the work in a thoughtfully argued written document and catalogue raisonné, also known as the “Thesis Book.” Students applying to the preliminary-year program typically have relevant experience in a field of study outside design and demonstrate evidence of visual acuity.