Graphic Design Education: 2 year Associates Degree vs. 4 Year Bachelor’s Degree

Should Graphic Designer Get a Bachelors or Associates Degree 

Graphic Design Education: Two-year AA or AS Degree vs. A Four-Year Bachelor’s Degree 

Within the graphic design industry, there is a debate about which option is more beneficial - a two-year AA/AS degree or a four-year Bachelor’s degree. Having been on both sides of the proverbial fence (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, as well as an MA and have taught at a two-year community college) I can see both sides. Clearly, there are pros and cons to obtaining either degree.    

The AA Degree - The Pros

            Traditionally, an Associate in Arts (AA) or Associate in Science (AS) degree was seen as a stepping-stone to obtaining further education at a four-year institution. However, more traditional college students (approximately 18 to 23 years old) are choosing to get only an AA or AS degree as there are distinct advantages.

  1. The cost. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and College Message Boards, the average tuition and fees for the 2006-2007 academic year was $2,727 at public two-year schools vs. $5,836 at a four-year public institution, which is less than half.[1]
  2. Smaller class sizes. Generally at community colleges and technical schools, class sizes are limited to 25-30 students maximum versus classes of hundreds at larger four-year colleges.
  3. Personalized attention. With a smaller number of students, instructors are better able to provide personal attention to all students, but particularly those who may be having educational difficulties. As a former instructor at an Illinois community college, I can attest to the fact that working individually with students in a one-on-one learning environment provides assistance not often available in four-year institutions.
  4. A focus on developing a specific skill through core courses and hands-on training.
  5. More graduates with four-year degrees are returning to technical or community colleges to learn a trade. According the Minneapolis Star Tribune[2] an estimated 20% of community college students (at least in Minnesota) have a four-year degree and are returning to learn a specific skill to supplement Bachelor degrees.

The AA Degree - The Con’s

  1. AA or AS degrees generally focus on core skills or learning a specific trade. This point ties in with the argument that a Bachelor’s degree provides a “well-rounded education” through requiring more general education classes in art history, English, science, sociology, communication, etc.
  2. An AA or AS degree is viewed by some as “too easy to get”. This perception most likely has a lot to do with that fact that public two-year colleges have an “open door policy” which means schools are required to admit almost anyone who wishes to further their education. However, like any educational institution, students must maintain a certain GPA to stay in school.
  3. There is still the stigma that community colleges and technical school are not “as good” as four-year colleges. I had a number of students from Northern


    University take required courses at the community college where I taught because they were often full at the University. They frequently had the attitude that


    College wasn’t as good, however; most learned they had to work just as hard if not harder to earn an acceptable grade.

The Bachelors Degree - The Pros

            As with an AA or AS degree, obtaining a four-year Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design also has pros and cons.

  1. Some employers will only accept a four-year degree in graphic design.
  2. More in-depth knowledge of the graphic design field is acquired over a four year program than in a two-year. One example given by a graduate of a four-year graphic design program in the University of

    Wisconsin system is the requirement of art history courses which translate into a better understanding of design fundamentals.
  3. In an online debate on the Fog Creek Software site in 2002 titled, “Associate Degree vs. Bachelor Degree” respondents in favor of obtaining a Bachelor’s degree noted the well-rounded graduate such programs try to provide. Said one respondent, “Simple rule of thumb - the more education you have, the more options you have in life.”
  4. The higher cost of a Bachelor’s can be successfully handled through avenues such as scholarships, financial aid, and work study programs.

The Bachelor’s Degree - Cons

  1. The time commitment required to obtain a Bachelor’s degree is twice as long as most AA or AS programs. In real-life, some people may need to find employment in their field sooner rather than later.
  2. The cost. Even with scholarships, financial aid, and work study programs, students graduating from four-year institutions often find themselves carrying a higher debt load than those attending two-year schools.


No doubt there are more Pros and Cons that can be listed under each type of degree program. But ultimately, whether you choose to pursue a two-year or a four-year degree may depend on what your specific goals are both personally and professionally. For a returning adult student looking to change careers, the AA or AS in Graphic Design might very well be the best choice. It may also be the best educational avenue for students wishing to gain skills, obtain employment, and return to a four-year program at a later date.

On the other side of the argument, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree may be the right course for those looking to have a more well-rounded educational experience that can still be applicable to their career. A four-year degree may also offer better job opportunities when corporate recruiters visit college campuses, as well as a larger body to network with. Whatever the choice, weigh the pros and cons of each carefully and choose what is best for you.






Kathryn Schleich is a free lance writer, graphic and web designer. You may contact her via her web site at: www.women-write.com.

[1] © 2007 American Association for Adult and Continuing Education at http://www.acc.nche.edu/ and “Tuition Increases Continue to Slow at Public Colleges According to College Boards”, www.collegeboards.com/pressreleases of Jelsoft Enterprises, Ltd.  

[2] Minneapolis Star Tribune, “More college alums are graduating to trade school”, May 11, 2007.

[tags]design education, graphic design education, bachelors degree, associates degree, 2 years vs 4 years, associates vs bachelors, graphic design degrees, design degrees, graphic design[/tags]

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  1. Posted July 25, 2007 at 8:56 am | Permalink

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  2. Posted July 26, 2007 at 11:02 am | Permalink

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  3. Rasheed:]
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink

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