Help find an affordable online grad program in design/visualization/visual communication
June 15, 2009 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I love my life and don't want to move from Western NC. Where should I look for an ONLINE graduate program in graphic design/visual communication/digital media that's affordable and appropriate for my interests and goals involving science education?

I’m graduating in Dec. with a B.A. in mass communication. But when I was exposed to a fabulous visualization tool earlier this year, I was bitten VERY HARD with the visualization bug and began moving my skillset from writing to design, visual communication and photography.

I got a photography/design internship at an environmental center and taught myself a fair amount of InDesign, Photoshop and digital photography (though I don’t know Flash, Illustrator, Director, Dreamweaver, Flash or QuarkXPress – YET *).

I liked the work, loved the science nerds whose information I interpreted, and my work (science photography and poster design) was well received.

So I’m now thinking of an advanced degree in something having to do with design/visual communication/visualization. But my situation isn’t typical.

I’m 40 and own my home, and love my house, my friends, my city, my pets and my life. I don’t want to move away from a place I love that took me a lifetime to find.

I’d prefer an online program (if you have criticisms of online learning in this field, speak up!). And I am old enough to prefer a solid and affordable program over a prestigious and pricey one. FWIW I live in Western NC.

Ideally, I want to work for a company or client that educates people about scientific/environmental issues, particularly large-scale issues like climate change. I want to create 2-D and 3-D works that correct misconceptions and show people things they didn’t know before about the natural world and our place in it.

Any recommendations for my grad studies? And any opinions on SCAD, a choice I hear might be a good one for me?

* I have a great internship lined up for fall that will help me get all the skills I can for the program I choose.
posted by Jennifer S. to Education (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I know Florida State has a big, reputable online distance learning program. You can get Masters Degrees online with them.
posted by Flood at 9:04 AM on June 15, 2009

You might consider an MA in Instructional Design, like the one offered at U. of Mass.. Something like this could broaden your employment prospects, you could design stuff for educational programs.
posted by mareli at 9:43 AM on June 15, 2009


They have a few MA's that are entirely online.

I had a good experience in their photography department.
posted by rumsey monument at 9:48 AM on June 15, 2009

Be sure to look into job availability with the area you're thinking of focusing upon. In the Mpls./St. Paul market, for example, there are waaaaaay too many designers out there. Where you live may be different, but be sure to check it out beforehand.
posted by bucko at 10:32 AM on June 15, 2009

I went to the physical SCAD campus (also for photography like rumsey monument) and had friends who went through the design program, they all had nothing but good things to say about it and are all working various design jobs across the country now. My own experience was really great and I feel like the fairly high cost of a private art school was well worth it.

I know pretty much all the departments were extremely focused on environmental/sustainability issues because that is where the market is going. I also had friends who took online classes and heard a lot of people say it was more work & harder than just attending the "real" version.

If you have a BA you will probably have to take some remedial fine art oriented courses (to get caught up with what a BFA program would have put you through). I had some friends who came in from liberal arts schools for their graduate degree who had to do that. I don't have any first hand experience in the design program, but generally the MA/MFA programs are very self-driven so if you want to focus on science visualization you will most likely be able to tailor all your projects to that.
posted by bradbane at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2009

I’m now thinking of an advanced degree in something having to do with design/visual communication/visualization.

What are you hoping to get out of this? (Not snarky)

The awesome thing about graphic design is that college degrees mean a lot less than a) your portfolio and b) your software (or web dev) skills. Having a BA under your belt is always good, but if you have a strong portfolio and software skills, it really doesn't matter if you went to Clown College.

BFA programs are where many (but not all) designers build portfolios. But it sounds like you've lined up some solid internship opportunities, which hopefully will give you a chance to create a portfolio that will impress potential employers. My off-the-cuff advice would be to skip grad school and use your internships (and your free time) to build your portfolio. Buy a pass to to learn the software you're missing. Use Twitter to follow and network with people at science museums, children's museums, environmental non-profits -- the types of companies you'd like to work for.

IMO, grad school (in general) is a place for people who either 1) have no real-world experience and need a way to get a foot in the door of an industry, or 2) people already experienced in a field and need that degree to move into management, boost their salary, start an academic career, etc. People in (2) usually get a lot out of grad school. People in (1) often end up with a lot of debt and only incrementally improved job prospects. Real-world experience like your internships is much more likely to get you a good job, and you can always beef up your skills without an expensive MA program.

*** None of this is in any way meant to denigrate the value of Design programs. And if you still feel like you need someone to teach you How to Design, then maybe design school is what you should do. It's just an acknowledgement that Graphic Design, unlike many other fields, does not require a degree per se, and that it is possible to work and establish a career without going to Design School. Also, that the purpose of an MA is not to teach a newbie how to use Flash well enough to get a job, but to allow focused, self-directed research and exploration of a particular subject area in order to produce works of academic value. You want a Master's because you already have a BA, but from the sound of your question, you still need to learn a lot of BFA level stuff. Don't pay a lot of money for grad school when you can get all of that in the workplace for so much less. ***
posted by junkbox at 11:49 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

One thing you might think about, if you're especially interested in environmental science, is studying geographic information systems. While GIS is information science and a lot of it is about database management and such, most scientific illustration on a regional and global scale is done with GIS and good design skills are very important in many GIS jobs. Almost anything climate related would probably be done with GIS, as well as things like land use change. Buncombe Tech has a certificate program as do many other community college and state schools (wasn't sure which Western NC city you're in).
posted by hydropsyche at 4:18 PM on June 15, 2009

Thanks all! Food for thought.
posted by Jennifer S. at 5:43 PM on June 16, 2009

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