Becoming a Graphic Designer in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a historic industrial state, with its largest city, Philadelphia, being the sixth-most-populous in the US. Although known as the Quaker State, Pennsylvania has a lot to offer regarding innovation and an economy where graphic designers can find employment opportunities.

What You Need to Become a Graphic Designer in Pennsylvania?

The first step to becoming a graphic designer, in general, is to understand the rules of design. If you’re unsure where to start, check out some certificate programs at local or online universities. These are usually one-year programs that teach you the foundational skills in design. They give you an idea of where a graphic design degree can take you as far as careers.

Once you’re sure that the graphic design field is one that you wish to pursue, the next step is thinking about a degree. While not mandatory, a bachelor’s or master’s degree can go a long way in getting your foot in the door when you’re looking for a job in graphic design. These degrees show prospective employers that you’re dedicated, focused, and well-rounded in design – both the principles behind it and the most recent tech on the market.

Career Outlook for Graphic Design

Many people solely associate Pennsylvania with industrial or rural jobs. But the state’s economy is also deeply rooted in banking, gambling and film. And all of these industries employ graphic designers in their marketing, product placement and general design concepts.

About 23K openings in the graphic design job market are projected each year, despite a relatively small growth of 3% over the next decade. In Pennsylvania specifically, the average salary is about 53K, with the high end being 98K.

The Best Graphic Design Schools in Pennsylvania

There are over 260 colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, ranging from private to public institutions. Quite a few tout great graphic design programs.

Drexel University

Drexel is known as a research-focused university, but the important thing is the school’s (and founder’s) mission: “…preparing each new generation of students for productive professional and civic lives.”

With three campuses in Philadelphia, a bustling city, and other sites throughout the state, Drexel is a great place for students looking to explore and grow into a historic community that also pushes for progress. Living on campus can look like a two or four-year residency program designed to connect students to an academic community and offer a range of housing options that fit their needs. To support growth, the university also offers gender-inclusive housing.

The BS degree in Graphic Design at Drexel is offered under the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. The curriculum is set up to involve students in equal parts theory and practice, with base coursework in the humanities and physical & social sciences.

Students will focus on generating ideas, visualizing them and bringing them to life with project-based exploration. Media that students will be utilizing includes books, magazines, web, motion design, interactive design, advertising, exhibitions, data visualization and more.

Throughout the program, students will be encouraged to foster their own style and put together an impressive portfolio. They may also decide to pursue advanced elective courses in a variety of categories, including experimental publication design, environmental graphic design and motion graphic design.

Moore College of Art & Design

Moore College of Art & Design was founded right when new industries were popping up all over Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. Sara Worthington Peter set out to found a visual arts college for women that focused on career achievement, and 170 years later, Moore is still going strong.

While a “woman-only” college might be a turn-off to some students initially, Moore makes a point to define which students are qualified: “(i) assigned female at birth; or (ii) who self-identify as women, trans women, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming individuals, at the time of application.” Moore is obviously not stuck in the past.

An urban campus, Moore College sits right in the middle of Philadelphia and its history. Moore has two main buildings and two residence halls surrounding a spacious campus that is easy to navigate for new students. 97% of students from 2020 are now employed or in a graduate program; 100% of BFA students receive financial aid of some degree; and 100% of BFA students also earn paid internships in their time with Moore.

The college offers a BFA in Graphic Design is led through workshops, studio tours, critiques and mentorship programs. Graduates of Moore have gone on to work for companies such as Apple, Campbell’s Comcast, Philadelphia Brewing Company, Philadelphia Horticultural Society, Quirk Books, Urban Outfitters and more.

Set up as a four-year program, the BFA truly immerses students in the art, a plus of going to an Art & Design college that focuses on your career.

Pennsylvania College of Art & Design

This college, located in Lancaster, PA, touts themselves as “makers & dreamers, designers & entrepreneurs.” Lancaster is made up of a flourishing art community, and students will without a doubt benefit from being exposed to innovative designs and artists at all stages of their careers.

Pennsylvania College of Art & Design (PCA&D) focuses on teaching students adaptive thinking and “effective making skills.” They want their alumni to be able to produce thoughtful, deliberate art and designs out in the world.

With nine other colleges in Lancaster and a beautiful urban, tree-lined cityscape, students will have the chance to create a healthy social life and explore amusements parks, art galleries and small local businesses. PCA&D offers three programs related to housing: PCA&D sponsored housing (1-4 bedroom apartments), the use of a housing referral sheet to connect students to housing options in Lancaster, and commuter connections (a program for those living nearby and interested in carpooling into campus).

The BFA in Graphic Design available at PCA&D focuses on powerful communication and imagery. Students will be immersed not only in the technical aspects of design but the conceptual aspects as well. The faculty leading the Graphic Design program either freelance or work full-time in design. A definite plus is the opportunity to get your design published while still a student, thanks to competitive assignments – making any portfolio stand out.

For this degree, a senior internship is required. Students will also need to prepare a final portfolio and senior exhibition.

Temple University

Located in Philadelphia, Temple University was originally founded as a night school in 1884. Since then, it has become an important research institution, with roughly 40,000 students attending each year. It is the largest university in Philadelphia and offers over 500 academic programs – one of which is Graphic and Interactive Design, available as an MFA, BFA or Entrepreneurial Studies Major.

With so many options, let’s get right into what each involves.

The Graphic and Interactive Design BFA program requires prospective students to show a portfolio for review and admission if interested in moving forward to a GAID major. The GAID program follows a strict schedule that students must adhere to, as well as meeting particular laptop and software requirements. This program is structured to prepare students for careers in print and tech-based design. Students will take on faculty-led social challenges that range from poster campaigns to apps.

The Graphic and Interactive Design MFA program spans two years and 60 credits. It’s research-driven and supported by specialists, technology and resources at Temple. Students in this program create socially conscious designs and full-time attendance is required on the main campus.

Additionally, Temple also offers a BFA in Graphic & Interactive Design with Entrepreneurial Studies. The main difference between this program and the previous two is the inclusion of the Entrepreneurship coursework, which sets students up for tackling the job market as soon as they graduate. 

Temple is easily one of the most intimidating universities on our list, but students who are sure that their future is rooted in graphic design and ready to tackle a challenging and demanding academic career will thrive in this research-based and socially conscious environment.

La Roche University

La Roche University is a private Catholic college located north of Pittsburgh. Despite their foundation in Catholicism, they welcome students of all backgrounds and talents. Offering over 50 majors, La Roche has a strong social community for students to engage in, with clubs, activities and volunteer opportunities on campus.

Students interested in living on campus will have the option of apartment-style suites and varied dining options. La Roche’s campus has been ranked as one of the safest four-year private college campuses nationally, with 24-hour security personnel on patrol and telephones throughout campus.

La Roche University offers a Graphic Design major that encourages curiosity, collaboration and social awareness. They inspire students to set out to shape culture and create positive change in the community and society. The Graphic Design Department describes the curriculum as “rigorous,” with freshman courses setting the foundation for upper-level courses. Students will be immersed in studio-centered work and yearly (informal) portfolio reviews with faculty.

The student-to-teacher ratio at this university is better than the national average at 12:1, and they have a 69% acceptance rate. Prospective students are required to submit the basics to attend La Roche: an application and test scores, with optional letter(s) of recommendation and/or short essays.