How To Become A Graphic Designer in Virginia?

Graphic design has become an integral part of the marketing field. It relies on transferring information by combining one or several visual media to tell a compelling story. Graphic design is used in virtually every industry, from health to advertising, fashion and politics.

You can find examples of graphic design work in every facet of the modern world, from movies to food advertisements and everything in between. As long as there’s a need to exchange information, graphic design has a role to play. That’s why the graphic design industry is worth $45.8 billion worldwide, with its US value being around $12.7 billion.

What is the Role of a Graphic Designer?

A graphic designer is tasked with conceptualizing, interpreting, and presenting visual messages. They create the extraordinary designs you see on the products you buy from the mall. They are also part of the team that designs the websites you visit on the internet. Graphic designers are responsible for the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a company: the Adidas Stripes, The Nike check, or Coca-Cola’s swiveling text. Every logo in existence had the hand of a graphic designer in it.

One way to become a professional graphic designer with not just a creative flair but in-depth knowledge of art, design, representation and communication is to get a degree in graphic design. A graphic designer studies the principles of art, design and graphics in school and uses the knowledge they got from it to create visual concepts. They use typography, images, color and symmetry elements to create aesthetically pleasing pieces and brand identity.

This article discusses the requirements to become a graphic designer in Virginia and the various schools that offer a graphic design program in the state.

Admission Requirements for Graphic Design Programs in Virginia

Graphic design programs in Virginia are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Arts and Design (NASAD), and many job opportunities are easier to access with a graphic design degree. Depending on the school, you could either get a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts), BA (Bachelor of Arts), BS (Bachelor of Science) or Associate of Applied Science degree in graphic design.

There are no general requirements that schools in Virginia follow for their graphic design programs. Each school has its own set of rules and requirements. However, having a portfolio that showcases your works will help you stand out in your application process.

Before applications and admission, you should already have a basic understanding of some design software such as Inkscape, Canva and Adobe Photoshop. These software tools are essential in graphic design because they help you bring your ideas to life. You can take preliminary online courses in graphic design on Coursera, Udemy and Skillshare. This will help build your CV and improve your application.

Best Graphic Design Schools and Programs in Virginia

Virginia Commonwealth University – Richmond, Virginia

The Virginia Commonwealth University was created in 1838. Its arts school has a graphic design department that offers a BFA degree in graphic design and communication. In this program, you will start with lectures in art foundational courses, after which you’ll take a series of seminar courses that teach you the ideals of visual communication.

Your junior year will be about learning the social and political plurality of graphic design and how to apply your designs as a tool for change. In your sophomore year, your coursework will be focused on experimentation in design practice. You will learn how to engage with materials and tools. Your senior year will end with a capstone project demonstrating your graphic designing skills and knowledge. 

To complete this program, you have to complete 122 credits. Tuition is $12,094 per year if you live in Virginia and $32,742 per year for non-residents.

To get into this program, you have to be already accepted into the school, have a minimum GPA of 2.5, complete your foundational art program and submit your portfolio for review.

The Art Institute of Virginia Beach – Virginia Beach, Virginia

This art institute combines both graphic design and web design into one program. It starts with courses in the basics of visual communication, image manipulation, color, composition and illustration. 

You will move into solving problems and learning how to design by using specific software and industry techniques. If you decide to specialize in graphic design, you’ll get personal mentorship and learn to conceptualize and create your own designs. After you are done with this 180-credit-hour program, you are awarded a BFA degree. The program costs $19,354 per year for both residents and non-residents.

Tidewater Community College Visual Arts Center – Norfolk, Virginia

The Tidewater Community College Visual Art Center offers a graphic design program that prepares you for work in advertising agencies, communication departments in companies and as a freelancer. The learning experience in this school is through a lot of hands-on experience. You will be taught how to use design hardware and software by professionals. You will start with the basics of typography, color and image manipulation. Then your skills will be honed till you have mastery of everything from print media to interactive digital media.

The program lasts for four semesters, and you will need 64-65 credits to graduate. When you graduate, you are awarded an Associate of Applied Science degree. You can then choose to transfer to a 4-year college. The first-year tuition costs $5,560 while in your first year.

Hampton University  – Hampton, Virginia

Hampton University is an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) that offers a BA program in graphic design, costing $17,732 per year. The graphic students at this school will start by completing foundational art courses such as drawing, color theory and art history and learning how to create your design portfolio properly.

After completing the foundational courses, you will begin more graphic design-related studies such as printmaking, typography, renderings and publications design. Hampton University prepares its graphic design students for the workforce through a compulsory art exhibition in their senior year. You can get a jump-start in your career if your work catches the eye of someone in the industry or a company looking for new talents.

George Mason University – Fairfax, Virginia

George Mason University trains its graphic design students to combine words and images to form new ideas. You experience the endless possibilities of graphic design through a combination of theoretical projects and interaction with real clients. You will also be taught the importance of teamwork with other artists and writers.

You will also get extensive training in fine arts and publication design. At the end of this degree program, you will be proficient in graphic design, advertising, publishing and related design fields. This graphic design degree at George Mason University is a four-year program. To enter this program, you must already be admitted and complete 24 credits in the creative arts. You must also have a basic understanding of graphic design software.

The tuition for this program is $13,014 for residents and $36,578 for non-residents.

Salary and Outlook for the Virginia Graphic Designers

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, graphic designers in Virginia earn an average of $60,700 per year. This amount is higher than the mean annual average of $59,979. In fact, graphic designers in Virginia are the fifth-highest paid in the US.

Your city of residence affects the amount you can earn in Virginia. In Arlington, VA, your average salary can get as high as $67,433 per year. Also, years of experience in graphic designing affect your earnings. Graphic designers in Virginia with more than ten years of experience could get up to $77,477 in yearly income.

Note that the place you work affects your pay too. If you choose to freelance, your income will be more affected by the clients, your experience and your portfolio rather than the state average.

Working as a Graphic Designer in Virginia

Graphic design gives you the freedom to choose if you want to be self-employed or work with a company. You could work in specialized design services, advertising, printing, animation or software design.

Virginia employs an average of 5,000 graphic designers as of May 2021. Graphic designers in Virginia with an understanding of Cinema 4D earn up to 27.07% more than the average salary, while those with Sketch skills make 28.12% more.

Currently, places you can work in the state include:

  • Graphic Designer, Virginia Southern VA Higher Education, Halifax, $45,000 to $55,000 per year
  • Graphic Designer, Peraton, McLean, $95,826 per year
  • Graphic Designer, The Washington Commanders, Ashburn, $36,400 to $46,200 per year
  • Graphic Designer, Pearson, Richmond, $50,000
  • Graphic Designer/Illustrator, Winrock International, Remote, $46,800 to $59,200 per year
  • Graphic Designer, Dewberry, Fairfax, $52,500 to $66,500 per year
  • Graphic Designer, Liberty University, Lynchburg, $28,900 to $36,500
  • Graphic Designer, TENICA and Associate LLC, Chantilly, $35,800 to $45,400 per year
  • Graphic Designer/Strategic Comms, Varen Technologies, Springfield, $44,000 to $55,800 per year
  • Graphic Artist, CMI Management, Arlington, $53,700 to $68,100 per year.