woman pursuing an mfa in graphic design

These Are the Best MS, MA, and MFA Graphic Design Programs in the U.S.

9 min read

For women passionate about visual communication, pursuing a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Science (MS), or Master of Arts (MA) in graphic design can be a transformative step toward honing their skills, expanding their knowledge, and realizing their professional aspirations. These graduate programs offer a dynamic blend of theoretical exploration and practical application, providing a fertile ground for personal growth and artistic development. Read on to learn more about each school and what to consider before making a final decision on which of these MFA graphic design programs is right for you.

How to Evaluate Whether a Graduate Program is the Right Fit for You

Before we list the best programs, let’s consider what might make each art and design program the right fit for you as a graphic designer. When determining which graduate program is the right fit, it’s crucial to consider various factors that align with your personal and professional goals. Here’s a guide on how prospective graduate students can evaluate each graduate school.

Research Program Offerings

Look into the specific offerings of each program. Consider factors such as the curriculum, faculty expertise, research opportunities, and available resources. Determine whether the program’s focus aligns with your interests and career aspirations in graphic design. What’s important to you? Are studio projects more important to you than learning about graphic design theory?

Evaluate Faculty Diversity and Support

Pay attention to the diversity of the faculty within each program, including the representation of women amongst instructors and visiting designers. Seek programs where female faculty members are actively engaged in teaching, mentoring, and leadership roles. Additionally, consider whether the program provides support networks or resources specifically tailored to women students, such as mentorship programs or women in design initiatives.

Review Alumni Success and Networks

Research the professional achievements and career paths of alumni from each program. Look for evidence of strong alumni networks and connections within the industry, which can provide valuable support and opportunities for career advancement. Consider reaching out to alumni, particularly women, to learn about their experiences and insights. Ask about whether the school supported the professional practice of these students after successful completion of the program.

Consider Campus Culture and Environment

Evaluate the overall campus culture and environment of each program, including factors such as inclusivity, support for diversity, and campus safety. Seek programs where you feel welcomed, respected, and supported in pursuing your academic and professional goals. Attend campus visits or virtual events to get a sense of the community and culture firsthand.

Assess Financial Aid and Resources

Consider the financial implications of attending each program, including tuition costs, available scholarships, and financial aid opportunities. Seek one of several graduate programs that offers adequate financial support and resources, particularly for women students who may face additional financial barriers. Additionally, consider whether the program provides resources such as childcare support, housing assistance, or professional development funds.

Evaluate Location and Accessibility

Take into account the location of each program and its accessibility, especially for women who may have additional responsibilities such as caregiving or family commitments. Consider factors such as proximity to support networks, transportation options, and available amenities or services in the surrounding area.

Trust Your Instincts and Prioritize Your Needs

Ultimately, trust your instincts and prioritize your individual needs, values, and preferences when selecting a graduate program. Consider what environment, resources, and support structures will best enable you to thrive academically, personally, and professionally. Seek programs where you feel empowered, valued, and able to fully contribute your unique perspectives and talents as a woman in the field of graphic design.

These Are the Best MA and MFA Graphic Design Programs in the U.S.

Each of the following programs offers unique opportunities for graduate study in graphic design, with distinct approaches to curriculum, faculty expertise, program length, and financial aid options. Prospective students should carefully evaluate these factors and consider their individual goals and priorities when selecting a program that best aligns with their academic and professional aspirations.

Yale University – Yale School of Art MFA Program

The Master of Fine Arts program at Yale School of Art offers a rigorous curriculum designed to foster creative exploration, critical thinking, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Students engage in a wide range of coursework, including studio practice, seminars, critiques, and written thesis development. The program boasts a renowned faculty of accomplished artists and designers who provide mentorship and guidance to students.

Alumni from Yale School of Art have achieved significant success in the field of graphic design, with many establishing their own design studios or holding influential positions in leading design firms and organizations. The program typically spans two to three years, depending on the individual student’s pace of study.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) – Graphic Design Department MFA Program

RISD’s Graphic Design Department offers an MFA program known for its innovative approach to design education and emphasis on experimentation and research. The curriculum encompasses a combination of studio courses (like Advanced Publication Design), seminars, workshops, and independent projects, allowing students to develop their creative vision and technical skills.

The faculty includes esteemed designers and scholars who provide mentorship and critique to students throughout their studies. RISD boasts a strong network of alumni who have made significant contributions to the field of graphic design. This graphic design program typically spans two years of full-time study, with opportunities for elective courses and collaborative projects.

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) – MFA in Graphic Design

MICA’s MFA in Graphic Design program offers a dynamic curriculum focused on conceptual thinking, visual communication, and design research. Students engage in a combination of studio courses, seminars, workshops, and independent projects, with an emphasis on experimentation and critical inquiry.

The program features a diverse faculty of practicing designers and scholars who bring a wealth of industry experience and expertise to the classroom. MICA boasts a strong alumni network, with graduates holding prominent positions in design studios, agencies, and organizations worldwide. The program typically spans two years of full-time study, with opportunities for internships, professional development, and interdisciplinary collaboration. 

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – Design Media Arts MFA or MA

UCLA’s Design Media Arts program offers both MFA and MA options, providing students with opportunities for creative exploration and research in design and media arts. The curriculum covers a wide range of topics including digital media, interactive design, and experimental animation. Notable alumni include artists such as Jennifer Steinkamp and Casey Reas.

The faculty comprises accomplished artists, designers, and scholars who mentor students in interdisciplinary approaches to design practice. The program typically lasts two years and offers limited options for distance learning. UCLA offers financial aid, scholarships, and assistantships to eligible graduate students.

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) – Graphic Design MFA Program

CalArts’ Graphic Design Program offers an intensive MFA program focused on experimental practice, critical thinking, and collaborative learning. The curriculum combines studio courses, seminars, workshops, and research projects, providing students with opportunities to explore a wide range of design methodologies and approaches.

The faculty comprises accomplished designers and artists who mentor and challenge students to push the boundaries of graphic design. CalArts has a strong alumni network, with graduates working in diverse areas of the design industry, from branding and advertising to publishing and digital media. The program typically spans two to three years, with flexibility for part-time or full-time study options. 

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School of Visual Arts (SVA) – MFA Design Program

SVA’s MFA Design Program offers a dynamic curriculum focused on creative exploration, critical inquiry, and professional practice. The program encompasses a combination of studio courses, seminars, workshops, and internships, providing students with a comprehensive foundation in graphic design theory and practice.

The faculty includes accomplished designers and educators who mentor and support students in their artistic and professional development. SVA boasts a robust alumni network, with graduates working in leading design studios, agencies, and corporations worldwide. The program typically spans two years of full-time study, with opportunities for elective courses and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Cranbrook Academy of Art – 2D Design Department MFA Program

Cranbrook’s 2D Design Department offers an innovative MFA program that emphasizes experimentation, collaboration, and critical reflection. The curriculum encompasses a combination of studio courses, seminars, critiques, and independent projects, allowing students to explore diverse approaches to graphic design and visual communication.

The faculty comprises distinguished artists and designers who provide mentorship and guidance to students throughout their studies. Cranbrook boasts a prestigious alumni network, with graduates making significant contributions to the field of graphic design and related disciplines. The program typically spans two years of full-time study, with opportunities for elective courses and interdisciplinary collaboration.

While primarily an on-campus program, Cranbrook may offer some virtual learning options for select courses. Tuition costs are significant, but the school provides various scholarships, fellowships, and financial aid options to support students with demonstrated need.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) – Department of Graphic Design MFA Program

VCU’s Department of Graphic Design offers a dynamic MFA program focused on design research, experimentation, and professional practice. The curriculum includes a combination of studio courses, seminars, workshops, and internships, providing students with opportunities to develop their creative vision and technical skills.

The faculty comprises accomplished designers and scholars who mentor and challenge students to push the boundaries of graphic design. VCU boasts a strong alumni network, with graduates working in leading design studios, agencies, and corporations worldwide. The program typically spans two years of full-time study.

ArtCenter College of Design – Graphic Design Department MFA Program

ArtCenter’s Graphic Design Department offers a rigorous MFA program focused on creativity, innovation, and professional practice. The curriculum combines studio courses, seminars, workshops, and internships, providing students with a comprehensive foundation in graphic design theory and practice.

The faculty includes renowned designers and educators who mentor and support students in their artistic and professional development. ArtCenter boasts a prestigious alumni network, with graduates working in leading design studios, agencies, and corporations worldwide. The program typically spans two years of full-time study, with opportunities for elective courses and interdisciplinary collaboration. 

Parsons School of Design – MFA Communication Design

Parsons’ MFA program in Communication Design offers a dynamic and innovative curriculum, with coursework in branding, typography, and design strategy. Notable alumni include designers such as Paula Scher and Timothy Goodman. The faculty consists of leading practitioners and educators who mentor students in developing critical and socially engaged design practices. The program typically spans two years and offers limited options for distance learning. Parsons offers financial aid, scholarships, and assistantships to support graduate students.

Looking for Something a Bit Different? Consider These MS Options

The following MS programs provide valuable opportunities for graduate study in design-related fields, with a focus on research, innovation, and practical skills development. Prospective students should carefully evaluate each program’s offerings to determine which program best aligns with their academic and professional goals.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) – MS in Visual Communication Design

RIT’s MS program in Visual Communication Design offers an interdisciplinary approach to design education, combining theory, research, and practical skills development. The coursework covers topics such as typography, user experience design, and design research methods. The program typically spans two years and includes opportunities for collaborative projects and internships. RIT provides resources for distance learning, allowing students to engage in online coursework and virtual collaboration.

Georgia Institute of Technology – MS in Digital Media

Georgia Tech’s MS program in Digital Media focuses on the intersection of technology, design, and media arts. The curriculum includes courses in interactive design, game development, and digital storytelling. The program typically lasts two years and offers opportunities for hands-on projects and industry collaborations. Georgia Tech provides resources for distance learning, enabling students to access online coursework and virtual labs.

North Carolina State University (NC State) – MS in Graphic Design

NC State’s MS program in Graphic Design emphasizes research, innovation, and design thinking. The curriculum covers areas such as information design, branding, and design strategy. The program typically spans two years and includes opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and real-world projects. NC State offers limited options for distance learning, with some courses available online.

University of Washington (UW) – MS in Human Centered Design & Engineering

UW’s MS program in Human Centered Design & Engineering offers a multidisciplinary approach to design education, focusing on the intersection of design, technology, and human behavior. The curriculum includes courses in user experience design, usability testing, and design ethics. The program typically lasts two years and includes opportunities for hands-on projects and industry internships.

Final Thoughts on Graphic Design Graduate Programs

Women considering pursuing advanced degrees in graphic design, whether through MFA, MS, or MA programs, should feel empowered to take this step toward advancing their education and career in the field. These programs offer invaluable opportunities for creative exploration, skill development, and professional growth in a supportive and inclusive environment. By pursuing graduate studies in graphic design, women can further cultivate their talents, expand their networks, and make meaningful contributions to the design community.

Regardless of background or experience, every woman has a unique perspective and voice to bring to the field of graphic design, and these programs provide the platform and resources to amplify those voices. Let us know if you pursue one of the programs listed above (or if you attended a different university) in the comments below!