Best Graphic Design Schools in Montana

The work that graphic designers do is evident in every aspect of our lives. From the cereal box you pulled out of the cupboard, to the logo on your coat, to every ad you saw after you left your home, graphic design is everywhere. The industry is incredibly competitive, but for someone who thrives on a challenge and wants to work in a creative industry, graphic design may be the perfect career choice.

Just about every industry needs graphic designers, and they are spoiled for choice when it comes to career options. A new graduate could become an illustrator, art director, web designer, logo designer or typographer, to name a few. Jobs will be easier to come by in urban areas, but those who prefer a small-town feel can easily find work in a more rural environment.

Regardless of the environment or population density of a city, graphic design is a career that will always be in demand. A graphic designer should have an eye for design, be willing to keep up with new technologies, yet also have an appreciation for historical techniques and the flexibility to adapt to a client’s needs and wants. Good communication and some salesmanship are additional skills that will help graphic designers be successful in their careers.

What Is Required?

While there are no requirements at either the state or national level, a graphic designer would benefit heavily from obtaining a formal post-secondary education. The market is highly competitive, so a good education can go a long way to helping a new graduate stand out from the crowd.

Many employers will look for employees that have completed at least an associate’s degree in order to ensure that they will be bringing a good foundation of knowledge to the role. Beyond an associate’s degree, prospective students may choose to pursue a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the majority of graphic designers (sixty percent) choose to complete a BA.

What to Look for in a Program

With multiple programs to choose from it can feel overwhelming to figure out whether you’re making the right decision. Some of your decision will come down to factors like location and cost

  • Hands-on Instruction

Graphic design requires students to master many skills that are not easily taught in a lecture hall. If at all possible, speak with your future instructors to get a feel for their commitment to their students. Seeking out current and past students of your chosen program can also be helpful for gaining a clearer picture of what you’ll be getting.

  • Practical Studio Work

Where will you be learning all of these skills? Once again, a lecture hall won’t cut it. Take a tour of the department and check what type of facilities the school has. Do they provide the tools you’ll be using, or do you need to provide them yourself? These are all good things to know.

  • Internships

No matter how excellent your classes are, the only thing that can prepare you for working in the real world is real-world experience. Internships offer just this and can often lead to full-time work post-graduation.

  • Current Content and Technology

Creative industries are constantly changing so you’ll want to make sure that your chosen program will be teaching you what you need to know in order to stay competitive. A good program will have a mix of new and old to give you well-rounded setup skills.

Top Graphic Design Schools

Montana has fewer graphic design programs than some other states, which should make a choice a little easier, but for those still trying to make a decision, the schools listed below have been consistently ranked as the top programs to attend in the state.

Montana State University, Bozeman, MT

MSU is located in the city of Bozeman, which is the fourth largest city in Montana and is the County seat of Gallatin County. Bozeman is located in South West Montana and boasts a population of 50,000.

The four-year BFA program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), and its program focuses on developing a student’s professional design skills in preparation for entering the design industry. MSU has been preparing graphic design students for a successful creative career for the past 30 years.

MSU encourages students to explore a variety of subjects during their studies, such as digital visualization, design and society, publication design, illustration, drawing, history of graphic design, Intro to Adobe, ceramics, and many more.

Students must earn a minimum of 120 credits in order to obtain their BFA. Their first year is spent covering core and foundational classes and then graphic design concepts are introduced in the second year. Before students are allowed to continue into the upper years, they must pass a portfolio review. Students are not required to, but are encouraged to participate in an internship during their study in order to gain as much professional experience as possible.

Montana State University-Northern Campus

MSU Northern is located in the town of Havre, which is located in the North Mountain area of Montana, just 45 miles from the Canadian border. Havre is a small town of just under 10,000 people and is known as the seat of Hill County. Living costs in Havre are lower than other areas in Montana making it an appealing choice for those working with a budget.

The BA program offered at the Northern campus offers a marketing-centric approach to working as a graphic designer. The courses on offer expose students to both traditional media and digital processes giving students the flexibility to be competitive in today’s job market.

During their time at MSU Northern, students will get the chance to explore subjects like illustration, graphic design, electronic design, motion graphics, design for social media, web design & development, print design and more.

This four-year program combines a good mix of core university classes, technical skills, and one on one instruction. Students will leave the program with a set of skills that allows them to adapt to an ever-evolving industry. Students can choose to pursue a BA or add graphic design as a minor to another program. Neither program states the availability of an internship, so interested students should enquire with admissions before making their final decision.

Flathead Valley Community College, Kalispell, MT

Flathead Valley Community College is located in the mountain town of Kalispell, home to Glacier National Park and located in the North West of Montana. Kalispell is a small town of about 20,000. The environment surrounding the college makes for endless creative inspiration.

Flathead offers a two-year associate’s degree that works well as a stand-alone program or can be used as a stepping stone to transfer into a four-year program at another university down the line.

Although this program is only two years as opposed to four, students are fully immersed in a wide array of subjects such as visual language, typography, digital illustration, graphic design, professional business communication, marketing, desktop publishing, video editing and more. There are fewer of the core components included in four-year programs, such as history, math and science, but students will still walk away with a well-rounded design-focused education.

The program consists of 65 credits that are required in order to graduate with an associate’s degree. Beyond a heavy offering of design skills and the most up-to-date technology, this program offers several courses that provide students with business skills such as marketing, presentations and contract writing that can really give students an edge when entering the workforce. Students also have the opportunity to participate in an internship which is invaluable to gaining professional experience prior to graduating.

Career Outlook and Salary Expectations

For those interested in pursuing a career in graphic design and who want to stay in Montana, getting a proper education is essential to getting a good salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary a graphic designer can expect to make is $ 39,800 per year or $19.14 per hour. With time and education, this amount could go as high as $65,780 per year.

In terms of projected growth, the field of graphic design is only expected to grow three percent from 2020-2030, which is the same across the nation and is slower than the average growth for most industries. Although the field of graphic design is less prolific than other fields, students should not be entirely discouraged. The world won’t stop needing these designers any time soon.

Interestingly, for those not against working in a rural setting, West and southwest Montana’s nonmetropolitan areas makes the top five for the highest concentration of jobs for graphic designers.

Graphic designers have the choice of working for someone else or starting their own business and working freelance. If you want to work in a creative field, enjoy working with new technologies and are enticed by the flexibility to work in multiple locations and industries, consider getting your degree and working toward becoming a graphic designer.