Best Graphic Design Schools in California: A Comprehensive Guide

Looking to study graphic design in California? This guide highlights the best graphic design schools in California, detailing what makes each unique. Whether you’re looking for flexibility, industry connections, or innovative curricula, find out which schools can help you launch a successful design career.

  • Shillington School of Graphic Design offers flexible, short-term programs that equip students with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills, making them industry-ready with strong portfolios.
  • CalArts emphasizes a cross-disciplinary approach and holistic education, encouraging students to explore innovative solutions and develop their own creative agendas within a supportive studio community.
  • ArtCenter College of Design focuses on providing practical skills through a curriculum rich in branding, typography, and interactive media, ensuring students build professional portfolios by working on real-world projects.

Shillington School of Graphic Design

Shillington School of Graphic Design distinguishes itself with flexible learning options, including both online and on-campus courses tailored to various schedules. Shillington offers comprehensive programs of either three or nine months duration, encompassing design theory and practical skills with tools such as:

  • InDesign
  • Illustrator
  • Figma
  • Photoshop

This arrangement suits individuals who need to juggle learning with other obligations.

The institution emphasizes real-world projects, facilitating students to engage with complex briefs and extensive projects. This practical methodology aids students in honing their conceptual skills and refining their work into professional portfolios. Shillington guarantees that its graphic design students are equipped to confidently enter the industry, with skills ranging from branding presentations to interview portfolios and website creation.

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

CalArts is renowned for promoting cross-disciplinary exploration and fearless creativity within a vibrant, intimate studio community. The Graphic Design Program emphasizes rigorous inquiry and innovative making, encouraging students to challenge traditional structures and value systems in graphic design. This unique approach fosters individual growth and allows students to develop their own creative agendas.

CalArts’ curriculum amalgamates history, theory, and expansive cultural literacy, including modern art, laying a critical foundation for students’ work. The program aims to educate students holistically, merging metier coursework, active mentorship, and substantial critique for a well-rounded learning experience. The amalgamation of diverse disciplines and viewpoints readies students to evolve into adaptable and reflective designers.

Graphic design students at CalArts receive support from faculty members who are not only professional artists but also leaders in their respective fields. Such mentorship plays a pivotal role in guiding students through their creative paths and fostering innovative solutions to modern design challenges.

The institution’s dedication to cultivating a cooperative and supportive environment renders it a distinguished choice for budding graphic designers.

ArtCenter College of Design

Situated in Pasadena, ArtCenter College of Design prioritizes providing graphic designers with practical abilities and distinctive voices. Founded by Edward A. ‘Tink’ Adams, the school has earned a reputation for propelling students into leadership positions in advertising, publishing, and industrial design. ArtCenter’s MFA in Graphic Design is available as a standard two-year program or an extended three-year version, providing students with flexibility.

The core faculty at ArtCenter comprises national and international experts in:

  • branding
  • leadership
  • typography
  • interactive media
  • environmental graphic design

Such expertise enables students to construct a professional portfolio encompassing real-world clients and entrepreneurial projects, highlighting practical abilities and unique creative expressions. The program’s practical methodology guarantees that students are fully equipped to meet the requirements of the graphic design industry.

The institution’s focus on practical experience is reflected in its curriculum, featuring courses in advertising art direction, communication design, and interactive design. Through work on actual client projects and the enhancement of their conceptual skills, students garner priceless insights into the professional realm of graphic design.

California College of the Arts (CCA)

The Graphic Design BFA program at California College of the Arts (CCA) combines creativity, craft, and critical thinking. The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including:

  • Visual communication across print, screen, and space
  • Graphic Design Tools
  • Typography
  • Interactive Design

These courses emphasize both conceptual exploration and practical problem-solving. This blend of creativity and technical skills prepares students for diverse careers in the design industry.

Led by Chair E Roon Kang and Assistant Chair Sara Raffo, the program benefits from faculty expertise in areas such as:

  • app interfaces
  • consumer electronics
  • exhibition design
  • motion graphics
  • typography-focused work

These experienced professionals guide students through interdisciplinary classes that incorporate digital realms and offer unique internship opportunities in the Bay Area, allowing them to explore virtual reality.

CCA’s location in the Bay Area, with its legacy of craft and social justice, provides students with ample opportunities for internships and collaboration with top companies like IDEO, Google, Frog Design, and Snap Inc. The program’s emphasis on craft, creativity, and social engagement ensures that graduates are well-equipped to tackle real-world design challenges.

Otis College of Art and Design

Otis College of Art and Design offers a comprehensive 4-year program in graphic design or illustration, focusing on:

  • developing sophisticated image-makers, typographers, and storytellers
  • emphasizing the combination of image and type to create meaning, generate new ideas, and find innovative solutions
  • ensuring that students are well-versed in both digital and print-based work.

The program prepares students to work in various design fields such as:

  • branding
  • interactive design
  • packaging
  • advertising
  • creative director
  • graphic designer
  • visual designer

Hands-on learning and real-world design challenges with clients are integral parts of the curriculum, providing students with the practical experience they need to succeed in the industry.

Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD)

Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) prepares students to become bold and innovative designers through its multidisciplinary programs. Located in Laguna Beach, LCAD offers specializations in Graphic Design, Graphic Design with Illustration Emphasis, and Graphic Design with Action Sport Design Emphasis. The program promotes a multidisciplinary approach, covering UI/UX, 3D, motion graphics, video, VR, branding, packaging, and print solutions.

LCAD fosters the cultural and community aspects of creative practice by sharing resources with the broader community and holding exhibition programs. The school’s industry partnerships with companies like BoardRiders, Hurley, NFL, Nike, Pixar, Red Bull, and Samsung provide students with valuable connections and opportunities to collaborate on real-world projects.

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA’s Design Media Arts undergraduate program emphasizes digital and mass media creation, providing a strong foundation in design principles. The curriculum includes foundational courses in form, color, space, motion, typography, and interactivity, with core upper-division classes covering video, visual communication, network media, game design, and narrative. This comprehensive approach ensures that students are well-equipped to experiment across different media.

Admission to the graphic design program is based on creative talent and academic achievement, ensuring that students are both passionate and capable. The program culminates in Senior Projects classes where students define their own projects, allowing for individual growth and creativity.

University of Southern California (USC)

The USC Roski School of Art and Design offers an immersive studio experience with a combination of studio courses, theory seminars, and critique studios. This structure promotes a collaborative culture among faculty and students, encouraging them to engage deeply with their work and each other.

The graphic design program at USC is designed to be completed in four years, providing a comprehensive education in graphic design. Students at USC Roski benefit from connections with a notable network of alumni, which can open doors to various career opportunities.

The program also allows students to pair their degree with minors in fields like:

  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Computer Science
  • Business
  • Psychology

This interdisciplinary approach ensures that graduates are well-rounded and prepared for diverse roles in the design industry.

The emphasis on small classes and dedicated studio space allows for personalized instruction and mentorship, helping students develop their unique creative voices and professional portfolios.

San Diego State University (SDSU)

San Diego State University, one of the top graphic design colleges, offers a graphic design program that integrates community engagement, cutting-edge technology, and real-world design problems. The curriculum includes courses in:

  • Typography
  • Screen Printing
  • Packaging Design
  • Drawing
  • Two-Dimensional Design
  • Art History

This diverse curriculum ensures that students are prepared for various challenges in the design industry.

In their final year, students are required to complete a senior portfolio or exhibition, which prepares them for entry-level positions in graphic design. This capstone experience allows students to:

  • Showcase their skills and creativity
  • Gain practical experience
  • Demonstrate their ability to work on real-world projects
  • Develop a professional portfolio
  • Network with potential employers

Completing a senior portfolio or exhibition makes students attractive candidates for potential employers.

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona)

Cal Poly Pomona’s graphic design program emphasizes hands-on learning and problem-solving, ensuring that students are well-prepared for the demands of the industry. Offered by the College of Environmental Design, the program includes courses in:

  • Typography
  • Print
  • Identity
  • Illustration
  • Packaging
  • Web design
  • Motion graphics
  • Environmental graphic design

This comprehensive curriculum covers a wide range of design disciplines.

Students have access to internships in Southern California studios and industries, as well as opportunities for service learning programs and research collaboration. This practical experience helps students stay updated with changing technology and industry trends, making them competitive candidates in the job market.

Academy of Art University (AAU)

The Academy of Art University (AAU) graphic design program focuses on integrating art and commerce, offering a diverse curriculum that prepares students for various design careers. The program includes:

  • Branding
  • Experience design
  • Motion design
  • Packaging
  • Print

This practical approach ensures that students are well-equipped for the professional world.

The faculty at AAU consists of nationally recognized professionals and industry veterans who emphasize collaboration and personal and professional integrity. This mentorship is crucial in helping students develop their skills and navigate their careers. The school’s state-of-the-art facilities provide students with access to the latest software and equipment, ensuring they are well-prepared for the demands of the industry.

With a ‘no barrier’ admissions policy, AAU is accessible to a diverse range of students, making it an inclusive and supportive environment for aspiring graphic designers. The 4-year program prepares students for careers as:

  • Creative Directors
  • Art Directors
  • Graphic Designers
  • Product Designers

San Jose State University (SJSU)

San Jose State University’s graphic design program emphasizes:

  • Real-world design experiences
  • Practical skills
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Emotional intelligence

This prepares students for the constantly changing needs of society. The program also ensures that graduates are well-rounded and capable professionals. The faculty members are practicing designers, bringing updated knowledge and firsthand experience to their teaching.

The graphic design course at SJSU includes:

  • A duration of 4 years
  • A comprehensive education in design principles and practices
  • A structured program that prepares students for various career opportunities in the design industry.

Loyola Marymount University (LMU)

Loyola Marymount University’s graphic design program offers:

  • A focus on human-centered design and social justice
  • Opportunities to engage with the creative landscape of Los Angeles
  • Specializations in visual communication design and multimedia arts
  • The ability to tailor your education to your interests through the BFA program
  • The option to combine art and design with a minor or double major in complementary fields through the BA program

Students often engage in community-based collaboration, gaining valuable experience and exposure. The program also offers opportunities to exhibit their work in the school’s art gallery, providing students with a platform to showcase their creativity and skills.

Chapman University

Chapman University’s graphic design program offers a comprehensive education in design principles. The BFA in Graphic Design combines:

  • Traditional design methodologies
  • Practical design skills
  • Current design techniques
  • Exploratory and research-based processes

This program ensures that students develop a well-rounded skill set.

The program lasts for four years, providing ample time for students to hone their craft. Students have access to:

  • Required 120-hour design internships
  • Design-specific travel courses
  • Maker-space labs, which provide practical experience and exposure to industry-standard software

These opportunities ensure that students are well-prepared for the demands of the graphic design industry, including visual literacy.

California State University, Long Beach (CSULB)

California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) offers a highly demanding Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree in Graphic Design. The program requires students to maintain a specified minimum GPA and includes a competitive selection process involving a portfolio evaluation through SlideRoom. The BFA degree, comprising 132 units, prepares students for professional careers in design studios, advertising agencies, corporate design departments, and more.

The curriculum at CSULB includes courses in typography, advertising, packaging design, motion graphics, user-centered design, and media design. Students have opportunities to take advanced topics in graphic design and advertising, participate in internships, and engage in special studies. This diverse curriculum ensures that students are well-prepared for various roles in the design industry.

Students in the CSULB Graphic Design program have received numerous awards, including accolades from the One Show, the Type Directors Club, and Adobe Design Achievement Awards. Alumni have been featured in professional journals like Communication Arts, HOW, and Print. The program also offers international workshops in collaboration with renowned design institutions such as p98a in Berlin, UMPRUM Academy in Prague, and HAW University in Hamburg, providing students with global exposure and experience.