Choosing a Graphic Design Program: 3 Questions You Should be Asking

graphic_design_program_questionsIf you dream of becoming a graphic designer, you’ve probably heard about how a degree can help you launch a successful design career. The next step in your journey is choosing the right graphic design program for you.

There are hundreds of accredited graphic design programs nationwide, so it’s important to do a little research before deciding on one. The programs may seem similar on the surface, but once you dig a little deeper you will discover slight variations in delivery and curriculum.

Since you don’t have the time or expertise to dissect every tiny detail of a program, we enlisted the help of an expert to assist you in the process.

According to Jennifer Ayotte, dean of the Rasmussen College School of Design,  you can uncover the critical details about a graphic design program by asking three simple questions. 

1. Does the program offer access to the latest graphic design software?

Mastering the latest and greatest graphic design software is one of the most important skills you acquire from earning a design degree. You may be the most creative person around but if you don’t have the technical skill to give life to your ideas, you won’t find success.

Every graphic design program will expose you to some version of design software, but it’s important to find out exactly which software you’ll be using because as history tells us, things move pretty quickly in the world of design.

“Design software has quickly adopted the widespread trend of persistent, almost annual, updates,” says Ayotte.

Students who are trained in outdated software don’t gain the educational benefits of what the industry offers, according to Ayotte. She says familiarity with the latest software could be the one element on your resume that stands out to a prospective employer.

Ayotte says the graphic design program at Rasmussen College trains students in digital painting and illustration using digital drawing tablets in tandem with Adobe Creative Cloud software.

The bottom line: In an industry as innovative and fast-moving as graphic design, you want to be confident you are learning the latest techniques and technologies in order to make a splash when you enter the workforce.

2. Does the program provide hands-on graphic design experience?

Most graphic design programs will incorporate some degree of tactile learning in addition to traditional methods like lectures or textbooks. However, programs that emphasize hands-on learning provide priceless experience to their students.

“For designers, the proof is in the pudding,” says Ayotte. Reading about theory, watching demonstrations and analyzing existing designs are all critical components of the field, but the most important thing is proving your design skills, she says.

It’s important to note that graphic design programs incorporate hands-on learning methods in many different ways. Some instructors invite industry professionals to critique student work and provide feedback similar to what they would encounter in the real world. Setting up tours of design agencies is another way to give students a true taste of the industry.

Other schools have student-led “agencies” that design real projects for local organizations. Also, programs that connect their students with internship opportunities are providing them with invaluable knowledge that is difficult to teach in a classroom setting.

The bottom line: Hands-on learning is essential for success in the industry, so look for a graphic design program that places a major emphasis on practical learning.

3. Will the program help you build a solid graphic design portfolio?

Let’s be honest, you’re not investing your time and money in earning a degree just for fun. You’re doing it to land your dream design career. According to Ayotte, the two most important factors in landing a graphic design job are the degree and the portfolio.

She says that if you have a degree but a weak portfolio, it will be difficult to succeed and vice versa. Since these two elements are so closely intertwined, the best graphic design programs help their students create an impressive portfolio.

When a program integrates hands-on experience into its curriculum, it gives students an opportunity to walk away with professional pieces that showcase their skills to future employers.

School projects can certainly be helpful learning tools but when evaluating a prospective designer’s portfolio, most hiring managers will give little credit to a piece of work that wasn’t executed in a real-world setting.

Ayotte explains that her design instructors consist mostly of experts currently working in the industry, which makes them great mentors and career counselors for their students. The best graphic design programs follow this model as well, giving students an opportunity to learn from established designers and build their portfolio alongside industry professionals.

“Some of the best lessons to share with students are the ones that just happened a few hours ago at work,” says Ayotte.

The bottom line: Your portfolio will play a pivotal role in landing your dream design job, so choosing a graphic design program that assists you in building an impressive one is crucial.

Find the perfect program for you...

Before enrolling in any graphic design program, make a point to speak to an admissions counselor or program representative to discover the ins and outs of the program. Getting the answers to these three questions is a great way to learn the basic fundamentals of each program.

We know that every individual has his or her own preference regarding learning methods. At the end of the day, you are the only person who can decide which graphic design program is right for you. And remember: Never settle for a program that doesn’t meet your needs!


Click on the Rasmussen College degree page to learn more about what the School of Design offers its graphic design students!

External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Callie is the Associate Content Marketing Manager at Collegis Education. She oversees all blog content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about providing quality content to empower others to improve their lives.

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