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Generally, people fall into two categories when it comes to how they think: Left-brained people tend to be analytical and formulaic, right-brained people tend to be visual and creative. Some say graphic designers, charged with the task of digitally communicating messages and concepts (often without words), are a little bit of both: They have an appreciation for the technical as well as the creative. The profession requires technical skill and knowledge of the craft, and graduate school offers training in both.

To get into a graduate graphic design program, you’ll need a strong portfolio, a bound collection of your computer-generated designs (usually around fifteen samples). A working knowledge of design software is needed to compile your portfolio. Admissions officers place the heaviest weight on your potential as an artist and look to the portfolio to find it. Second, they consider your personal essay, a letter of intent detailing what contributions you plan to make to the field of graphic design. Letters of recommendation help convince admissions officers you could be a benefit to their program. In most cases, the least determining factor of admission is the undergraduate transcript. Academic records generally confirm or confound an applicant’s appeal. So if your grades weren’t stellar but your talent is, don’t worry.

Degree Information

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in graphic design typically takes two years to obtain. Because an MFA is the terminal degree in this field (no doctorates offered), you’ll have the option of teaching at the university level post-graduation. In some cases, over half of program’s graduate students have teaching aspirations.

At the end of their second and final year, students present a master’s thesis. The graphic design thesis is a lot different than your traditional academic thesis. Most graduate students are required to present new research on an important topic within their field of study; by contrast, the creative projects presented by graphic design students demonstrate development as graphic designers.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Is the level at which classes are taught compatible with your skill level?
  • Are the faculty members working professionals? How are they regarded in their field?
  • What is the average class size?
  • What kind of printing facilities and computer labs are available on campus?
  • How is the school ranked among other visual arts programs?

Career Overview

The goal of many graduate graphic design programs is for their graduates to go on to enjoy versatile careers as designers, so they focus on cross-disciplinary studies. Those graduates who do not become educators pursue a variety of graphic design positions, from web design to illustration to animation. They are hired by advertising firms, design firms, publications, and corporations. Many graduates become freelancers and work as their own boss.

Career/Licensing Requirements

Besides experience and talent, there are no specific requirements for a career in graphic design. No licensing is necessary.

Salary Information

Professional graphic designers can earn a range of salaries, typically between $35,000 and $45,000. Starting salaries can be even less, but having an MFA can bolster your worth. Salaries fluctuate depending on the size and success of the design firm or corporation you are working for as well as your level of experience.

Related Links

The American Institute for Graphic Arts
Provides information on conferences, competitions and exhibitions within the design community.

Communication Arts Magazine
This is the online version of the trade journal for visual communications popular among designers, art directors, and students.

Creative Hotlist
This site features job listings for creative professionals.

The Graphic Arts Guild
A union of designers offering networking opportunities, information, services and professional discounts.