Online Art and Design Programs

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Approximately 1.7 million individuals are employed in the art and design industries across the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Generally, occupations within art and design can be grouped into major categories, such as the following:

  • Visual Arts
  • Performing Arts
  • Fine Arts
  • Fashion/Textiles
  • Audio/Video Technology

Within those professional areas, prospective students can pursue a variety of educational avenues, ranging from art history to cinematography, interior design to photography. Training is available through online programs that offer students a collaborative learning environment while still providing the same quality curriculum found in on-campus counterparts.

Online Degrees Programs in Art and Design

Because of the specialized nature of their instruction, art and design degrees are typically considered professional degrees, meaning they provide students with training for direct entry into an occupation. Programs can be found at community colleges, technical institutes, career centers, as well as four-year public and private institutions. There are online art and design programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level specific to the student's interests. A review of 2013 graduation data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows the most popular areas of study included:

  • Art studies
  • Fine arts
  • Graphic design
  • Music
  • Theatre arts
  • Music performance
  • Cinematography and film production
  • Visual and performing arts
  • Radio and television
  • Interior design

Below is an overview of the different types of degree programs available for students considering a career in art- or design-related fields.

Associate Degree

At the associate level, prospective students can select from a variety of associate degree options, including both academic- and professionally focused programs. These options include an Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Applied Arts (AAA), and the Associate of Fine Art (AFA).

  • Associate of Arts. A two-year program of study, the Associate of Arts degree is designed to prepare them to transfer to a four-year university to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree. Curriculum is typically divided between general education coursework (e.g. social sciences, humanities, mathematics) and classes in a specialized area of study (e.g. media production, fashion, graphic design).
  • Associate of Fine Arts. Similar to the Associate of Arts, the Associate of Fine Arts is a two-year degree program designed to prepare students to enter a four-year Bachelor of Arts program. Curriculum includes general education, general art classes, and subject specific coursework (e.g. studio arts, photography, acting).
  • Associate of Applied Arts. A terminal degree, the Associate of Applied Arts provides students with industry- and occupation-specific instruction, preparing them for entry-level positions in fields such as media arts, technology, design, and more.

Bachelor's Degree

Prospective students may choose between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in arts and design. On the surface, there is no distinguishable difference between the quality and type of curriculum students complete. The BA offers a diversified program of study that includes broad instruction in the arts, application coursework, and minor classes. The BFA is a more comprehensive, specialized degree program that allows students to further concentrate their studies in areas such as design, dance, acting, musical theatre, and more.

Master's Degree

At the graduate level, prospective students may pursue two types of advanced training: a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and Master of Arts (MA). The Master of Fine Arts is a professional, terminal degree aimed at providing focused instruction in an area of practice, such as creative writing, theatre arts, photography, and more. An MFA, in general, requires between two- to three-years of study to complete. The Master of Arts is an academic degree that focuses on a wider scope of study with curriculum split between liberal arts and subject-area specific coursework. The MA can be completed in as little as one year, but traditionally requires approximately two years of study to finish.


The highest educational award in the arts and design field is the doctorate. Students may pursue either an academic degree, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a professional degree, the Doctor of Arts (DA). The major difference between the PhD and the DA is content, with the PhD designed for students focused on pursuing research-based careers and the DA designed for students desiring careers as academic instructors.

Specializations in Art and Design

Overall, more than 179,000 students graduated with degrees in various arts and design programs of study in 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. As noted above, academic programs in art and design are oriented around professional career areas, such as the visual arts, music, interior design, performing arts, and more. Below is a list of example specializations grouped by major area of interest.

  • Music: Music (general), Music Performance, Music Management
  • Visual Arts: Graphic design, photography, film studies
  • Performing Arts: Theatre arts, Theatre arts management, drama
  • Audio/Visual Technology: Radio and television, digital communication, interactive technology
  • Design: Fashion merchandising, interior design, fashion modeling

Career Outlook for Art and Design Graduates

Career opportunities are just as varied as the degree paths themselves in art and design. As a combined industry, the BLS projects art and design occupations to create more than 180,000 job openings nationally between 2012 and 2022. Some of the fastest growing fields include cinematography, broadcasting, and interior design. There are more than 100 potential art and design career avenues. The table below includes a nationwide employment overview, using BLS data.

Career Average Salary 2012 Employment 2022 Employment Growth
Art directors $97,850 74,800 77,000 3.0%
Craft artists $36,300 11,200 11,600 3.3%
Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators $51,120 28,800 29,900 3.8%
Multimedia artists and animators $69,410 68,900 73,200 6.3%
Commercial and industrial designers $67,030 39,200 40,900 4.4%
Graphic designers $50,670 259,500 276,900 6.7%
Interior designers $54,850 54,900 61,900 12.8%
Actors, producers, and directors $85,470 183,200 189,400 3.4%
Broadcast technicians $42,310 36,700 37,900 3.2%
Photographers $38,350 136,300 142,200 4.3%
Film and video editors $75,090 28,100 28,300 0.6%


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arts & Design Occupational Data, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes270000.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Data, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_data_occupational_data.htm
  • National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS, http://www.nces.gov

Online Art and Design Programs

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