Finding online art programs can be tricky business. First, there’s defining “art”: graphic arts, fine arts, liberal arts and performing arts. So many choices and so many things to think about. Second, there’s identifying which schools have online programs in the field, and which programs make the most sense for you. The following page highlights some of today's top colleges and universities with quality online degree programs in multiple arts disciplines, and provides an in-depth guide for anyone looking to learn more about higher education in these diverse fields.
A sample listing of job titles alone demonstrates the exceptional breadth of the visual arts professions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites more than 40 job titles and career paths for graduates of online art degree programs. Aspiring or growing artists can find higher educational options at the certificate, associate and bachelor’s degree levels, as well as some at the graduate level. For those going into production, commercial and marketing-related arts fields, the associate degree can provide an adequate introduction. But many will find that they need to complete a four-year degree for many arts jobs.
The curriculum in arts graduate degree programs builds on specializations within lecture and studio programs that lead to a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, or tracks that concentrate on art history, art theory or art field business. Theory/history tracks typically lead to master’s and doctorate degrees of art (MA, PhD). Master’s degrees and professional certificates may benefit artists in fields such as technology, marketing, or healthcare who are seeking leadership roles and promotions. Doctorates are ideal for art lecturers, practitioners, and researchers that wish to teach at the post-graduate level.
Earning a degree in the arts requires time and energy. Earning an online degree in the arts requires those same things, as well as detailed information about online learning in the field: how it works and for whom it makes sense. The following timeline shows a years-to-completion estimate for those with no previous college, from earning a two-year associate degree, to taking the entire eight years (or longer) to go straight through to a doctorate in arts. Knowing the length of each of the online arts degrees can help students map out and track long-term goals and accomplishments.
There are “general studies” arts degrees. Online colleges also offer associate, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates in arts fields such as:
The Associate Degree in Arts (A.A) is a two-year, 60-unit educational program that provides a lower-division general education paired with an overview of the arts and elective courses in the arts curriculum. Online associate degrees and certificates are commonly offered at junior or community colleges, fully online schools and private academies. The A.A. degree program can be ideal for students who are beginning to examine their options in the arts fields. It can provide cost-saving alternative to students planning to go on to a four-year online arts degree programs by covering the undergraduate general educational core courses required in bachelor’s degree programs.
An online associate degree in arts may also provide baseline information in some arts fields for students eager to work on their own or those entering the arts professions. Courses can include studies in art history, painting, illustration, computer design software, arts merchandising, fabrics and materials. Online art degree programs requiring studio time may allow students to make arrangements at a convenient location or may require limited on-campus attendance.
Like campus-based art schools, online art degree programs at the bachelor’s level typically require up to 60 undergraduate general education credits and two years of direct studies in the arts for another 60 credit hours. Applicants to four-year academies, schools, colleges and universities offering online art degrees must have a high school diploma to apply. Standardized college test scores are often a major requirement. To remain enrolled, students are required to maintain a minimum of 2.0 GPA. All related studio projects, comprehensive exams and portfolios must also receive passing grades.
Courses can include studies in 2D and 3D modeling software, art history, color and composition, figure drawing and human anatomy, art preservation, jewelry design and materials, multimedia design, and art criticism. Many schools require satisfactory completion of senior projects and a portfolio.
In addition to pursuing a bachelor’s of arts (B.A.) degree, students can opt to enroll in studio programs with coursework leading to a bachelor’s of fine arts (B.F.A.) degree. A B.F.A. program typically reduces the breadth of liberal arts courses required to graduate and supplements them with focused courses in the art specialty selected by the student. Often, these are hands-on, studio degrees leading to a body of work, gallery presentation, or arts portfolio.
Colleges, art schools and universities offering undergraduate online art degrees all require applicants to hold a high-school diploma. Institutions offering two-year online art degree programs leading to A.A. degrees and certificates may require completion of specific high school preparatory courses.
Institutions that provide options for bachelor’s-level online art degrees often require applicants to provide SAT and ACT aptitude test scores as a qualifying measurement. The school may also ask students to complete an admissions essay or formal declaration of academic goals. Letters of recommendation may not always be required, but endorsements of academic aptitude from former teachers or professors can sway admissions officers.
Here are the key elements for applying to online undergraduate degree programs in art:
Institutions offering online art degrees beyond the baccalaureate may offer a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. As with their bachelor’s degree equivalents, the master’s degrees in arts are primarily divided into studio-based degrees and academic/research paths. Within the two main disciplines, students can choose among specialized options including fields of animation, art history, art theory, graphic design, fashion or interior design, illustration, photography studio art, visual effects and web design. The MFA traditionally will present graduate-level coursework combined with a concentration in studio or production work building on previous skills and technical knowledge. Coursework for both paths is delivered entirely online, however some schools require short-term campus residency for MFA students.
Non-artists may prefer earning an MA in art. Some studies and careers along this pathway include roles in art administration, art education, art preservation, gallery/museum/library administration, and arts publishing.
Each art school, college or university establishes its own entrance requirements. Some schools are governed by state or institutional requirements. As a general rule, all students must have completed their undergraduate degrees in order to apply to a graduate program. Common application requirements for graduate online degree programs in art include submissions of:
The Doctor of Fine Arts (PhD) is an academic degree pursued by both practicing artists and designers, and by arts researchers, historians and educators. The degree is designed primarily for graduate students seeking post-secondary education careers. A PhD may also be a degree of choice for an arts consultant, historian, conservationist or lecturer. Traditionally, the MFA was considered a “terminal degree” allowing artists and designers to hold university faculty positions. More recently, however, universities are telling artists to earn their PhDs if they plan on becoming professors. Inside Higher Ed reports that MFA holders are finding an advantage in the highly competitive academic employment line if they go on and complete their doctorates. Another master’s degree in arts holder told the Huffington Post that it was only after he completed his PhD did he make it to the final interviews.
Doctoral degrees are comprised of 48 credit hours of advanced coursework and independent directed studies toward completing a scholarly dissertation. Currently there are only a few institutions offering a Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA) degree. Most DFA’s are conferred as honorary distinctions to artists.
The strength of any online art degree program lies in the school’s ability to consistently deliver courses of high academic quality and degrees recognized by the many communities that make up the art and design world. Institutional rankings and reputations are earned by the faculty, curriculum, and services that support online students. Strong overall performance often begins with the voluntary assessment of financial and academic accountability by the process known as formal accreditation.
When an institution applies for accreditation, it begins a transparent process by which an independent agency rates the school against commonly accepted arts and letters standards. Accreditation protects the value of a college degree, especially in the eyes of the professional and academic communities. The lack of accreditation negatively impacts the school’s reputation. Schools without accreditation may not offer federally backed student aid in the form of loans and grants. Students should verify that their prospective schools and colleges hold accreditation from one of the six regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Transfer students need to be especially aware of proper accreditation to ensure that their previous college credit will be accepted at their prospective online art degree programs or if their current work will be accepted by academic evaluators for programs in the future.
Students should evaluate how much bang they get for their education dollar. Does the institution offering online art degrees simply host digitized classes, or does it provide online course and career counseling, online tutoring, professional library and research assistance, and job listing/placement services? Do students receive continued career support after they graduate?
Schools offering online art degrees should offer information on student graduation rates, average time to complete degrees, and career track records of graduates. Art students should be curious enough to research the academic or artistic credentials of faculty members. Studio arts students may wish to work with a talented mentor and teacher; will the professor or instructor remain on the faculty during the length of the degree program? Program aspirants should also examine degree requirements and course descriptions, along with any fine print in the college application. Does the class leader have experience conducting online courses and workshops?
Not everyone is cut out for online learning. Most schools provide access to a course demo that includes the range of email, chat, discussion threads, and video and voice conferencing software. Students can assess their ability to study online and how smoothly the online art degree programs operate through the learning interface. There should not be a steep learning curve; the student should spend energy learning art, not on how to access archived lectures.
How well does the school support online students? Is there a round-the-clock phone number, chat or email for technical support? Does the system provide access to all course materials, class registration functions, with research libraries and college offices (art department, tutors, financial aid, career counseling)?
Many people want to be artists, but not everyone has the dedication and patience to develop the vital skills to fulfill their aspirations. Greg R. is a graphic designer that started going to comic book conventions when he was a teenager. By the time he finished high school Greg had illustrated several comic books, but found that he really wanted to go into animation. After finishing two years at a community college in Oregon, he enrolled in a B.A. completion program offering online art degrees that accepted his transfer credits. Today he works as an animator for a boutique-advertising firm near Portland.
Degree: Bachelor of Arts - Digital Arts and Animation Completion date: May 2012.
1. What drew you to your university and especially to the online arts program?
After junior college, I was self-directed enough to learn some basic modeling programs at home, but not enough to really do what I wanted. A local company said I could do static graphics for them until I learned the animation and multimedia software and finished my degree. It was perfect.
2. What guided your school choice?
Because employers were looking for degrees in addition to how much you know, I decided to take a program that had training in tools like AutoCAD, Maya, and Houdini and satisfied the B.A. requirements.
3. What were the concrete benefits of your online program and courses? Were the technology and online delivery systems effective/appropriate?
I did a lot of the courses at home and some at the office, when they let me. A senior director actually helped me with projects that I used for credit. After a while, I started getting work assignments in animation even though I hadn’t graduated.
4. Did the online arts degree program meet your academic goals and were you mentored?
Two of the students in the program were really ahead of me, so we did a few collaborative projects through the online design interface. One of my professors had a film background and used to animate the hard way. It was great to learn fundamentals from him since most of the same principles apply.
5. How has your professional experience gone following graduation? Was your online degree accepted by your employer?
For now, I’m excited to be doing the work where I am. I got a bonus when I completed my degree. I have gotten emails and calls from people who have seen my stuff. I’m pretty sure my degree will make it easier to go where I want to go.
With so many possibilities for studying art now available via online learning, prospective students can easily find themselves overwhelmed while trying to narrow their options. There are many factors to consider before enrolling, such as flexibility, tuition and fees, available concentration, and student support. After identifying the level of degree and field of art they wish to pursue, students can use the search tool below to help sift out the best degrees matched to their needs.
While it may not be a traditional way to earn a degree in art, the advancements in media technology have made earning a degree online a more and more popular choice for students. Online degrees offer the same great education – with all of the access to coursework, classmates and professors as in traditional programs – with the benefit of allowing students to study at their own paces. As more colleges and universities begin to offer online programs in art, it can become difficult for the potential student to decide which will best suit their needs. The below programs have been vetted using our methodology to determine which offer the very best in an online art education.
To see how we selected the Nation's Best Online Art Degrees, please visit our methodology page.
|Rank||School Name||Score||Student-Teacher Ratio||Financial Aid||Cost||More Info|
|1||Savannah College of Art and Design||98.14||18:1||98%|
An array of online bachelor's degrees in the arts are available from the Savannah College of Art and Design. A program in sequential art targets artists interested in creating comics or cartoons. A game design program takes advantage of the instructional technology platform to explore human-machine interactions.
Online courses generally operate on a 10-week basis. Information sessions offer a first hand experience of what it is like to take courses online. Distance learners log into chat rooms, a portal, email, discussions boards and video conferencing systems to contact instructors, complete group projects and download study materials. While due dates are set for submitting work, there are no scheduled times for participation in online classes.
|2||Upper Iowa University||97.99||17:1||85%|
Upper Iowa University's distance learning Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design is fully online. The program is administered through the Center for Distance Learning. Areas that students learn about include the history of graphic design, advanced imaging and drawing, environmental art and 3D design foundations.
UIU email, chat rooms and the telephone are resources that the school uses to connect students, instructors and advisors. To download course schedules, turn in assignments, submit completed exams and review test scores, learners log into myUIU, a student portal. Other services available to adults enrolled in the online program are a counseling center, Information Technology Help Center and digital access to the Henderson-Wilder Library.
|3||California Baptist University||96.73||18:1||95%|
An online bachelor's degree in graphic design and digital media from California Baptist University is tailored for adults who want to work in visual arts jobs such as graphic designer, web designer, video animator or visual marketer. The university offers a faith-based approach to academics, exploring the cultural context of visual communications. Core courses cover areas like graphic art movements of the 20th century, fundamental design and web design. In addition to completing written coursework, participants work on hands-on projects and build an arts portfolio. Blackboard, video conferencing, discussion forums and campus email allow students to access course materials, submit assignments and exams, and communicate with instructors and classmates.
|4||Arizona State University-Online||96.27||23:1||91%|
Arizona State University's online bachelor's degree in art history is designed for adults who are interested in working as commercial artists, secondary school art teachers, art museum managers or archivists. The curriculum covers areas such as a history of photography, art from prehistory through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, art and television, and art with a modern focus.
Applicants must meet the university's competency requirements in subjects such as math and English. An online orientation is offered, and students should expect to spend six hours a week on class work for each credit hour they take. My ASU is the online portal that students use to submit course assignments, access upcoming class materials and participate in discussions.
Students enrolled in Washburn University can earn a Bachelor of Arts in communication through an online degree program that provides a specialized emphasis on communication theory and research. Students can also earn their BA in art history or studio art in the university's online program. Graduate students can earn their BFA degree with a concentration in art history. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Washburn offers the 2+2 Program to online students allowing the completion of bachelor degree programs through Washburn and other colleges simultaneously through the online Partnership for Leaning and Networking (PLAN) program.
|6||Colorado Mesa University||93.19||23:1||90%|
Students enrolled at Colorado Mesa University may choose from a range of Art degrees, including a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art or Graphic Design. Degree concentrations in the arts program are available in Art Education (K-12), Art History, Graphic Design-Animation and Motion Graphics, Graphic Design-Visual Design or Studio Art. The University also offers a Bachelor of Art in Liberal Arts degree and an Associate of Art with a Social Science emphasis completely online. The curriculum provides undergraduates with a solid foundation in art production fundamentals with all online education programs offered through Desire2Learn.
|7||Southern New Hampshire University||93.16||26:1||94%|
Bachelor's degrees in the arts from Southern New Hampshire University can be completed fully online. The graphic design program focuses on skills that may be used in advertising agencies, marketing companies and commercial arts organizations. Core courses include basic design and color theory, advanced digital imaging, and photography and visual language. Other programs in web design and development provide instruction in visual story-telling and interactive media arts.
The 120 credit hours needed to graduate include both required subjects and electives. MySNHU, campus email, recorded instructor videos and forums are among the tools learners access to turn in assignments, take tests and participate in classroom discussions.
|8||University of Wisconsin System eCampus||93.01||21:1||84%|
The eCampus at UW Stevens Point offers a virtual campus which is an extension of the extended UW System. Students may earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communicating Arts (with a choice of five minors) Liberal Studies, Psychology or Political Science. The virtual portal allows students to complete required coursework at a pace that works best for them. Accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the degree programs include online quizzes, assignments and projects. Online associate, master's and doctoral degrees are also offered at UW Stevens Point.