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What's the Difference Between a Graphic Design Certificate and Degree?

By Michelle Ecker on December 17, 2020

What's the Difference Between a Graphic Design Certificate and Degree?

If you want to become a professional graphic designer, a great way to begin is by exploring all the educational options available to you as you discover what credentials you will need in order to get started.  

Many people wonder the difference between graphic design certificates and degrees- what they cost, what they’ll teach you, what they can be used for, and how long they take to complete. Depending on the type of job you want, it’s important to understand the differences between the two before you invest in your education. 

What’s Included in a Graphic Design Certificate Course? 

When it comes to the curriculum, graphic design certificate and degree programs cover many of the same topics, but there are a few differences you should be aware of. 

NYIAD’s graphic design certificate course is designed to teach you what it takes to be proficient in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Our online course specifically prepares students for the Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) Certification Exam, meaning that our curriculum is meant to train learners to pass the ACE exam- using both Photoshop and Illustrator. 

This certificate course also includes hours of video instruction, including over 100 on-screen tutorials, which will show you how to create high quality designs- from concept to execution. Students in this course explore: 

  • Design theory 
  • Color
  • Typography 
  • Layout 
  • Essential design techniques 
  • Standard design methods and processes  

All of which are used in the workplace by today’s professional graphic designers. 

Throughout the course, you will work on developing a well-rounded graphic design portfolio as you complete a series of design projects. Your projects will be reviewed by your mentor, a professional graphic designer. This mentor will provide one-to-one feedback meant to help you grow as a designer. With their guidance, you will study what it takes to succeed as a graphic designer. Upon graduating, you should be prepared to start working as a freelance designer or an entry-level production designer. 

Read the full graphic design course outline.  

What’s Included in a Graphic Design Degree Program? 

A degree program is much longer than a certificate course and includes all the topics mentioned above- and then some.  

A degree program might include comprehensive, semester-long courses on just one of those single topics- like typography for example- whereas a certificate-granting institution like NYIAD instead offers a briefer introduction to these topics. A degree program might also include general core curriculum unrelated to graphic design- courses like mathematics, science, etc.  

How Long Does It Take To Get Certified in Graphic Design? 

Generally, certificate programs can be completed in under a year, whereas degree programs can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years of study in order for the student to earn their degree. 

Which Graphic Design Course Is Right for You? 

At the end of the day, there are fulfilling careers in graphic design to be found for both certificate and degree graduates. 

Asking whether it’s necessary for a graphic designer to have a design degree is like asking whether you need a writing degree to become a writer. While investing in a college education in creative writing is no doubt a valuable and rewarding pursuit, it’s also expensive and time consuming- and countless writers have successful, rewarding careers without one. 

There are certainly companies out there who require the designers on their staff to have received a degree. There are also certainly plenty of companies who just want their designers to have the skills needed, and to know how to do the work and use the software. So when it comes to getting hired as a graphic designer, we’d have to say that it truly depends on who you ask.  

For example, after looking at the graphic design certificate course offered at NYIAD, Robert Mansfield, the Design Director of Forbes Media shared, “NYIAD has created a must-do graphic design course for anyone who wants a career as a designer. I wish this course was available to me when I was starting out.”  

Get started at NYIAD  

If a certificate program like this sounds like the right fit for you, you can get started at any time. Our online graphic design course has no official start dates, class times or project due dates- meaning you make your entire schedule from home based on your personal preferences. Start something new and rewarding today. You can enroll and get started online or call 1-800-583-1742 to get started over the phone with one of our student services representatives.   

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