Highest Honors: Top US Design Schools


In our last edition, GDUSA ran its annual Students To Watch feature. The students were so interesting — and so many readers have asked to learn more about the schools which have nurtured them — that we have whipped up 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 U.S. Founded in 1929, the school offers accredited AA, BA, BFA, MA, MFA and M.Arch degree programs in 21 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 the School of Graphic Design, which provides a world-class accredited curriculum. What makes Academy of Art University’s School of Graphic Design special is the emphasis on portfolio development. From the very first class, students are encouraged to create an exceptional portfolio that shows 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. When a graduate ventures into the highly competitive Graphic Design industry, they are not hoping to gain experience, but rather build upon the experience they have already accumulated at the school. Academy of Art University is an accredited member of WASC, NASAD, CIDA (BFA-IAD, MFA-IAD) and NAAB (M.Arch). www.academyart.edu, 800.544.2787(US) or 415.274.2200


At Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design, the approach is of a humanistic discipline that involves initiating, planning, and shaping products, communications, ideas, and services within continually changing social, environmental, and economic landscapes. The school looks to living systems to help fashion a responsible approach that values the quality of human life in balance with a healthy and sustainable planet. The aim is to prepare designers for a world that places high value on the quality of human interactions, and the design education focuses on learning by doing with a balance of theory and practice and the developing of a student’s individual voice when solving problems for people. Human-centered methods synthesize traditional approaches with technological innovations to meet human needs. Because The School of Design is part of a major research university, it draws upon the strengths of the liberal arts and the scientific and creative disciplines, helping students become trans-disciplinary, collaborative problem solvers. The School of Design offers undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees, as well as a minor for undergraduates. www.design.cmu.edu, 412.268.2828


Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design offers 16 undergraduate and five graduate programs in media, design and the performing arts. Programs are taught in small studio settings, featuring hands-on learning and 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. Through a balance of traditional and technical artistic studies as well as foundation coursework in humanities and social sciences, Drexel’s Graphic Design program prepares students to inform, persuade and entertain through the creative use of word and image. Graphic design students learn to conceptualize, design and produce visual communication in many media. They then use this work to develop an expansive portfolio, which along with six month co-op experiences, prepares them for successful employment outcomes after graduation. www.drexel.edu/westphal, 215.895.2000


Full Sail University is an educational leader for those pursuing careers in the entertainment and media industries. Founded in 1979, it currently provides more than 40 degree programs for 18,000 students, and boasts 45,000 graduates. Full Sail has been recognized as one of the Top Five Game Degree Programs by Electronic Gaming Monthly and one of the Best Music Programs by Rolling Stone Magazine. It has been similarly recognized as among the best in the country for film, new media, and social media, and was recently named the “School/College of the Year” by the Florida Association of Post­secondary Schools and Colleges. Full Sail offers on-campus and online Master’s, Bachelor’s, and Associate’s degree programs in areas related to animation, art, business, education, graphic design, film, marketing, web development, music, recording arts, sports, and video games. A program of particular interest to GDUSA readers is the Media Design MFA that can be earned online in 12 months. Full Sail graduate credits include work on OSCAR, Emmy, GRAMMY, ADDY, MTV Video Music Award, and Spike Video Game Award nominated and winning projects. www.fullsail.edu


Founded in 1885, the Kansas City Art Institute is one of the oldest colleges of art and design in the United States. Today, KCAI is a premier private, fully accredited, four-year college of art and design. Students studying for the BFA degree can choose from 13 majors, including animation, art history, ceramics, creative writing, digital filmmaking, digital media, fiber, graphic design, illustration, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture. KCAI’s approximately 770 students represent 38 states and several foreign countries. 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 rigorous, diverse curriculum, the school’s academic programs are strengthened by first-rate support services, technology and practical learning opportunities. KCAI’s 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. www.kcai.edu, 800.522.5224


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 48 states and 54 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degrees 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. All of the above have earned MICA top rankings by U.S. News & World Report, The Chronicle of Higher Education, ID magazine and others. www.mica.edu, 410.669.9200


Established in 1918, Otis is the first independent professional school of art in Los Angeles. The City of Angels is a cultural capital and its 524 cultural institutions and more than 100 different languages evince its diversity, and make 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. The research and production methodologies developed during this year integrate personal vision with professional goals. Graduates value structure, surface and form, but also consider the engagements and interactions of design with clients, audiences, and the culture at large. www.otis.edu, 800.527.OTIS


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 offers two programs in graphic and communication design: a BFA in Communication Design and an AAS in Graphic Design. The BFA program encompasses typography, print, data mapping, motion, sound, and spatial and environmental graphics, as well as branding, packaging, and advertising. Majors examine the social and cultural ramifications of communication, learning the art of persuasion by creating compelling messages, narrating them in meaningful ways, and crafting strategies to broadcast them to the world. The AAS in Graphic Design is a rigorous program for those who want to launch or advance their career as a graphic designer. It goes beyond basic technical knowledge to provide a complete design education. Part of a suite of associates degree programs at Parsons designed for motivated students with no prior arts education, the AAS in Graphic Design can be completed on campus, online, or in combination. Parsons graduates are leaders in their respective fields, with a shared commitment to creatively addressing the complexities of life in the 21st century. www.newschool.edu/parsons, 212.229.8989


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 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 across multiple disciplines. The Graphic Design curriculum culminates with a BS degree. The program is conceptually based on the premise that the designer’s highest value is to be able to generate ideas. The curriculum embraces design thinking and strategic planning as we view design as a powerful strategic tool to be used to help solve problems in society and business. The PhilaU Graphic Design curriculum features real-world assignments and the curriculum emphasizes traditional design skills and focuses on the ability to create and develop visual and verbal responses to complex visual communication problems across a variety of media. We develop students’ ability to articulate these responses both orally and in writing; we encourage the creation of original image-making through illustrative and photographic means, as well as the importance of the narrative, illuminating information and telling stories that resonate with an audience. Student work has been recognized regularly by major design competitions, exhibitions and publications. www.philau.edu/graphicdesignblog, 215.951.2700


Portfolio Center is a graduate-level communication arts school whose mission is to prepare students for creative practice and inevitable leadership. Thanks to a small, intimate environment, the school is able to break the boundaries of traditional instruction. The education is hands-on and interactive; there are no lectures, and no one gets lost in the crowd. 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 actually contribute to the culture. And, says Director of Design Hank Richardson, “because great communication begins with sound reasoning, we train students to think. As the first school of its kind, Portfolio Center has been around for more than 30 years. That’s 30 years of dynamic evolution, of staying ahead of an industry driven by changing media and technology. We’re proud of our history and even prouder of the ways our graduates, who are currently working on every continent, have touched and changed the world.” www.portfoliocenter.edu


Globally recognized for its distinguished academic reputation, Pratt Institute is one of the world’s most prestigious independent colleges. Founded in 1887, Pratt offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs to 4,700 students from around the world in architecture, art and design, information and library science, and liberal arts and sciences. Pratt’s programs are consistently ranked among the best in the country, and its faculty and alumni include the most renowned artists, designers, and scholars in their fields who collectively have produced some of the most innovative and iconic works of our time. Pratt’s inspirational campuses in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn and in Manhattan on West 14th Street place it in one of the world’s cultural epicenters and provides its students with unparalleled training facilities. Pratt is currently in the midst of a celebration of its rich history of creativity. Pratt’s Undergraduate Communications Design department is the only program in the country to recognize and embody the convergence and integration of illustration, advertising and graphic design as the primary forces for the visual expression of ideas. And its Graduate Communications Design department has been educating graphic and package designers for over 40 years. www.pratt.edu/academics/art_design, 718.636.3600


PrattMWP students spend the first two years of their BFA degree program in Central New York before completing their studies at Pratt’s main campus in Brooklyn. Focusing on foundations of art in an intimate creative community, 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. www.mwpai.edu, 800.755.8920


Founded in 1877, Rhode Island School of Design (or “RIZ-dee” for the acronym RISD) is one of the oldest and best-known colleges of art and design in the U.S. Each year approximately 2,300 students from around the world pursue a creative, studio-based education at RISD, which offers rigorous bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in 19 architecture, design, fine arts and art education majors. The college is located in Providence RI, which offers its own vibrant art scene and is conveniently located between the major cultural centers of Boston and New York. www.risd.edu, 401.454.6100


SCAD: The University for Creative Careers is a comprehensive art and design university, offering more than 40 majors and more than 50 minors at locations in Savannah and Atlanta; in Lacoste, France; online through SCAD eLearning; and in Hong Kong. Founded as the Savannah College of Art and Design, this private, nonprofit, accredited institution confers both masters and bachelors degrees, offers more degree programs and specializations than any other art and design university, and is uniquely qualified to prepare talented students for professional, creative careers. The diverse student body of more than 10,000 comes from all 50 states and nearly 100 countries worldwide. The more than 720 professors emphasize learning through individual attention in an inspiring university environment. Within six months of graduation, the vast majority of alumni are employed in their fields or have been admitted to graduate school. www.scad.edu, 800.869.7223 (Savannah)


The school of advertising art [saa] is a small college with one focus — graphic design. Founded in 1983, saa offers highly personalized training to aspiring designers as they work toward an Associate degree. Courses include illustration, 3D animation, graphic design, web design, photography, video, marketing, advertising and art history. saa instructors are working professionals who teach what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive industry. With a tradition of innovation and commitment to excellence, saa provides hands-on training in the latest design software, and offers professional job placement assistance. The school is based in Kettering OH. www.saa.edu, 877.300.9866


SVA is widely recognized as one of the finest art schools in the country for its innovative and experimental program philosophies, its participation in the cultural life of New York City, and the accessibility it offers to its unparalleled faculty of professional artists. Its basic mission is to educate students who aspire to become professional artists or to work in arts’ many related fields. This includes undergraduate degree programs in art and design that prepare students for entry into an array of professional fields in or related to the visual arts, while also equipping students with the skills necessary to become productive and thoughtful members of society; rigorous and practice-based graduate programs in the visual arts and its allied fields; a continuing education program intended to meet the diverse needs of New York City’s professional art and design community and the larger community within which the College resides; and a commitment to serving the greater good through community service. www.sva.edu


Founded in 1997, Sessions College for Professional Design is a fully online school offering degree and certificate programs in the visual arts. Its mission is to prepare art and design professionals for successful careers by providing the highest quality of online arts education. Students gain a thorough training in the technical, creative, and critical thinking skills that are required for a fast-changing industry. Programs include Associate Degree programs in Graphic Design, Web Design, and Digital Media, and Certificate programs ranging from Graphic Design and Web Design to Game Art and Fine Arts. Sessions College provides the rigorous programs, expert instructors, and one-to-one feedback. The Associate in Graphic Design program helps students develop proficiency in the traditional elements of art and design. Students acquire foundational design skills — color, typography, composition, and gain experience in industry-standard imaging and illustration software. Graphic Design majors build a broad foundation and develop a professional design process as they explore a range of media. www.sessions.edu


Established in 2004 as a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design, The Art Institute of Tampa offers degree and diploma programs in the creative fields of design, media arts, fashion and culinary. Programs of study are designed to help develop creativity and to make each student marketable to employers after graduation. The curriculum is reviewed and influenced by industry leaders and prominent employers who determine what skills are needed in the workplace. Design programs focus on principles of good design and practical skills, and coursework ranges from drawing, illustration and principles of design to typography, image manipulation, layout and more. Students work in classrooms, computer labs and on real-world style projects, many with a community service focus. In addition to their academic credentials and dedication to teaching, many of the faculty are working in their respective fields outside of the classroom. www.artinstitutes.edu/tampa, 866.703.3277.


The College of Saint Rose offers a BFA in Graphic Design, grounded in the fine arts and integrated within a liberal arts curriculum, which has been has been fully accredited by NASAD since 1995. The Albany NY-based school has been named one of the top design schools in the country by the Art Directors Club and has a proven track record. Outstanding portfolios enable the students to secure internships and job placement at nationally acclaimed design firms such as MTV, Abercrombie and Fitch, Anthropologie, Converse, Fox Studios, Nike, ESPN, and Hallmark, as well as with nationally renowned designers: Michael Beirut, Alexander Isley, April Greiman, Woody Pirtle, Walter Bernard and Milton Glaser. Almost 100% of the graduates achieve full employment in their field, within one year of graduation. Prospective employers are invited to campus to meet students and view portfolios, and the seniors attend national job fairs and portfolio reviews. Additionally, graduates have been accepted into graduate programs including Yale, Stanford, Tyler School of Art, School of Visual Arts, SCAD, RISD, VCU, RIT, Syracuse, Kent State, and Glasgow School of Art. www.strose.edu


The Shintaro Akatsu School of Design, University of Bridgeport, offers programs built to emphasize the importance of practical, theoretical and professional activities in various design fields. Students learn the fundamental and details of design; their application to real-world use; design’s impact on the user population; and the various means and methods needed to take their designs from concept to reality. A four-year BFA Graphic Design program consists of an integrated, inter-disciplinary sequence that is designed to strengthen communication skills, promote teamwork and individuality, stimulate creativity, and provide both traditional and technological skills for the career-oriented student. An innovative Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree in Design Management begins its second year with an international student body. Encompassing courses in design and business management, the program prepares design managers to lead creative teams in a variety of design industries. MPS-DM Chairman Alex W. White leads a team of outstanding faculty in developing disruptive thinking using design as the fulcrum for increasing customer delight. “The MPS Design Management program extends our longstanding mission to provide students with highly practical training in the fields of industrial, interior, and graphic design,” said SASD Director Richard Yelle. www1bpt.bridgeport.edu/art/mps

You might also like to read: The Role and Future of Design Education including the Most Influential Design Schools of the Past 50 Years and Today


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