Becoming a Graphic Designer in South Dakota: a Guide

With excellent communication skills, artistic talent, and relevant technical know-how, you can have a great graphic design career in South Dakota. Often, you’ll be working at a computer in an office environment, designing things like advertisements, web pages and themes or product packaging for well-paying corporate clients. The digital workflow simplifies everything for you and is ideal for any visual communication delivered on electronic media, including social media and TV ads. Still, some of your design work may require a few minutes to hours or even days of iterative sketching with pencil and paper. 

Is a Graphic Design Career Any Good?

Combining your natural creative talent and passion for art with the right education creates the perfect recipe for success as a graphic designer. This career offers many attractive perks, including:

  • Reputable employers: First, graduate with a degree in graphic design and build a solid art portfolio. These credentials put designers on the course for employment opportunities with prestigious firms, from local companies to multinationals like Coca-Cola or AT&T.  
  • Attractive pay: Graphic designers earn a median wage of $24.38 per hour and $50,710 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You could make much more by advancing your career into leadership positions like a creative director.
  • Job opportunities in multiple industries: Any firm with an image to create or brand messaging to convey to a specific audience engages graphic designers at some point. It’s the same across all sectors of the economy, from advertising and public relations to manufacturing and software publishing.
  • You can work online: Having the capacity to telecommute full-time or just a few days of the week helped many companies stay afloat and employees keep their jobs during the pandemic. Graphic design is highly suited to this level of work flexibility as you can send its digital deliverables to your client by email. You can also collaborate remotely on design with your colleagues using workplace productivity tools or cloud-based design software like Adobe Creative Cloud.  

Graphic Design Jobs, Salaries, and Industry Outlook

In 2021, South Dakota emerged top for the state with the fastest pace of post-COVID economic recovery, surpassing its pre-pandemic activity by 11%. As the recovery momentum continues, new jobs emerge across key sectors like agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, and services. The state has approximately 620 people working as graphic designers, according to recent BLS data. East South Dakota, which employs 190 of these creative professionals, has one of the highest concentrations of graphic design jobs among nonmetropolitan areas nationwide.

Projections Central estimates that the South Dakota graphic design profession will continue improving at a rate of 1% annually for the next few years. This growth should create about 100 new jobs each year, resulting in 950 employed graphic designers by 2028, according to the forecast. Hopefully, you’ll have attained your BFA in graphic design to qualify for some of those well-paying positions by then.  

Mean graphic designer salaries in South Dakota are $19.29 per hour and $40,120 a year. Their counterparts, nationally, earn much more on average ($28.83 hourly and $59,970 annually). As with any other industry, some roles and employers offer better remuneration and perks than others. Graphic designers working for Control4 earn an average of $41.15 per hour, while those at AT&T make $33.83, according to Indeed.com. These are decent job opportunities in South Dakota, but the higher-than-average pay usually requires extensive prior experience with a beautiful graphic design portfolio.

Schools With Graphic Design Programs in South Dakota

Your journey to becoming an art director, production artist, or visual information specialist can begin at any of these accredited colleges:

South Dakota State University, Brookings

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Graphic Design at South Dakota State University (SDSU) has one of the most robust and comprehensive curricula in the state. It is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD) and falls under the School of Design in Brookings. During the four-year program, you’ll cover multiple design majors that are mandatory to graduate, including visual communication, animation and interactive media. The curriculum is anything but dull when you participate in the various experiential internships and cultural/professional components involving local and international educational trips.

You should meet at least one of the following minimum requirements to join the undergraduate program fresh from high school:

  • An ACT score of 18 or SAT subscore total of 970 in Math and Reading/Writing or
  • A minimum cumulative GPA of 2.6 from high school or
  • Finish top 60% of graduating class

The above qualifications can only take you as far as the first year of your fine arts studies. Your performance at the freshman level will determine your progression to the next.

The BFA Curriculum and Requirements   

The graphic design (BFA) curriculum at SDSU imposes some of the most challenging academic requirements to keep progressing and eventually graduate. Throughout the 120-credit program, you should maintain an overall GPA of 2.5 and a major GPA of 2.6 or higher. Pay attention to these core art and design courses as you must attain a “C” or better in each:

  • Art courses (including drawing and color theory)
  • Art elective (studio art)
  • Design (including 2D concepts and creative thinking)
  • Graphic design (including computer graphics, design research, typography, and brand strategy
  • Interactive design
  • History of world art
  • History of graphic design
  • Architecture

Program costs

For South Dakota-based undergraduate students, each academic year at SDSU comprises 30 credits and costs approximately $17,758. The annual estimate includes tuition ($4,650), meals ($1,561), accommodation ($2,068), and other fees per a 15-credit semester.

University of South Dakota, Vermillion

Graphic design is one of the majors available in the BFA program at the University of South Dakota (USD). The institution received its NASAD accreditation in 1979 and now boasts a fully-fledged Art Department with the resources to help turn creative and inquisitive learners into proficient designers. Before joining the undergraduate course straight from high school, you have to meet one or more of the following minimum USD admission requirements:

  • Minimum high school GPA of 2.6 overall or
  • Finish top half of your high school graduating class or
  • Minimum ACT score of 21 or SAT score of 1070 or
  • Smarter Balanced Assessments score of 3 or higher in English Language Arts and Math

Check out additional requirements for specific high school courses and the admission criteria for transfer and international applicants here.

Curriculum (BFA in Graphic Design)

Although your primary goal is to become a graphic designer when you get your BFA, the 120-credit program at USD exposes you to other potential areas of focus. Courses like painting, sculpture and ceramics are part of the 18 studio core and 81 major hours you must complete getting your BFA. The extra coursework will give you a more balanced perception and grasp of art, with supplementary knowledge to reinforce your professional competitiveness. To help you build a stellar portfolio ahead of entry into the graphic design job market, you’ll participate in various field-based internships.

Program Costs

If you are living on campus during your four-year graphic design studies at USD, you’ll be paying approximately $7,773 in tuition per year (30 credits). Other fees, including meals ($3,770) and housing ($4,454), bring the total annual cost to about $18,856.

Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell

Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) takes a rather straightforward approach to graphic design. They offer this course as an optional concentration in the Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Digital Media and Design program. With the digitally-focused curriculum, students dive right into core design subjects that prepare them for a rewarding career in computer graphics, desktop publishing and more.

DWU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and requires the following minimums from undergraduate applicants:

  • High school GPA of 2.0 if applying with ACT/SAT test results, or 3.0 if not
  • ACT score of 18 or SAT score of 860 if the application includes test scores

Curriculum

The BA program covers cultural, aesthetic, and digital aspects of graphic design to instill core visual communication skills. During your studies, you’ll have unlimited access to the university’s digital labs equipped with Macintosh computers. This environment is necessary for learning and building proficiencies in graphic design software and new media. The curriculum covers fundamentals like color theory, digital imaging and communication principles with respect to modern society and mass media.

Experiential internships at Innovative Systems are another helpful feature of the DWU graphic design program. The university struck a deal with the Mitchell-based software and hardware design firm to offer student designers opportunities to practice their passion hands-on. At the university’s student-managed Dark Lab, you’ll get a chance to strengthen your graphic design portfolio by creating solutions for real-life local clients.

Program costs

Assuming you complete 12-16 credits per semester at DWU, you’ll be paying roughly $30,700 in tuition per year. Meals and housing for students living on campus cost about $7,200 annually. For the technology that makes your study life easier at DWU, you’ll be paying $700 every two semesters. Total annual fees paid to the university per student come to $39,090. These costs do not include expenses like travel, such as during your field internships.