Complete Guide to an Online Web Design Degree

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Quick Facts
Accreditation: Institutional
Degree Levels: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, and Certificate
Avg Tuition: $19,384

Web designers are experts at creating appealing, user-friendly web experiences for diverse audiences. Though many prospective web designers are self-taught, employers often require a minimum of a two-year associate degree for most entry-level positions. Students pursuing a career in web design should have an interest in computer information and systems technology, as well as an eye for detail. An online web design degree can help prepare you for a job coding websites, creating website designs, or serving as the creative mind behind websites.

As is true with all degrees, students interested in online web design programs should carefully research accreditation, as this quality designation ensures you are receiving an education that has been accredited by an agency that is recognized by the US Department of Education. Well-respected software manufacturers, like Adobe or Microsoft, will have their own endorsements. Read More

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Comprehensive List of Schools for an Online Web Design Degree (36)

Overview of Available Online Web Design Degrees

Certificates in web design vary, with specialties such as certified web designer, certified webmaster, certified HTML developer, and certified Internet professional, among others. Knowing what type of web design job you want will help you choose the certification that best suits your career goals. Almost all certificatie courses will take a year or less to complete and, depending on the program's specific area of focus, will cover various aspects of web design, including HTML/CSS, usability or UX design, layout and organization of website elements, computer software, or programming languages.

Undergraduate degrees will offer a more in-depth education that mixes computer technology with the aesthetics and features of website design. Bachelor's degree programs include introductory courses in computer science, math, data structure, and visual communication. As you near the end of your degree, you can also expect courses such as constructing websites, web infrastructure, web programming and usability, and software engineering.

Graduate and doctoral degrees in web design allow for students to hone their skills and become experts in the field. Graduate-level programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, although it doesn't necessarily need to be in web design. Courses here include data systems, website infrastructure, coding, digital imaging, and the relationship between people and the web. To complete a graduate program, you'll also likely do a thesis, but in this field students typically complete project-based capstone work instead of submitting a lengthy research paper.

Online Associate Degrees in Web Design

The associate degree program in web design trains students in the programming, art and design, and multimedia skills needed to create engaging websites. Web design associate programs are available through community colleges and vocational-technical schools, as well as career colleges. Students complete between 20 and 30 courses over the span of two years. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED; some programs may require familiarity with subjects like HTML.

The coursework in the web design program integrates digital and graphic design skills. Classes in traditional design areas such as typography, color theory, and design fundamentals teach students how to create aesthetic online experiences. Technical courses cover computer programs and languages, such as Adobe Flash, Dreamweaver, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript and more. Other classes discuss the creation of online learning materials, digital imaging, and evolving best practices in web design.

The web design associate degree program is good preparation for beginning careers in web development and design. Associate degrees can lead to entry-level careers in web development; employers also prefer to hire candidates that are up to date on the latest programming languages and tools. The associate degree may also be used to enter graphic design assistant positions in digital settings at specialized design firms, publishing houses, or advertising agencies.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Web Design

The bachelor's program in web design combines computer programming and technical skills with an understanding of art and graphic design. These degrees require about four years and 120 credit hours of coursework. A high school diploma or GED is the prerequisite for admission.

The bachelor's in web design introduces students to computing principles, design concepts, and the use of software applications. Specific courses include typography, graphics, advertisement layout, object-oriented programming, website construction, digital art, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), scripting languages, marketing, web publishing, graphics, audio production, drawing, and 2-D design.

Many bachelor's programs incorporate experiential learning into the degree in the form of internships or project-based classes. Web design students might work for a local tech company, assisting with web programming or design. Project-based courses usually take place during the student's senior year and require students to develop functional, appealing websites to add to their portfolio of work.

Graduates with a bachelor's degree in web design are well suited for careers as entry-level web developers, graphic designers, and multimedia artists. These professionals work in a wide array of industries, such as information technology, healthcare, public relations, advertising, and printing. In order to remain competitive, web designers need to stay up to date on the latest programming languages and design trends throughout their careers.

Online Master's Degrees in Web Design

The master’s degree in web design covers the technical skills used to build the structural framework and layout of interactive, complex websites. These programs have a firm foundation in basic information technology (IT) skills and require about 10 to 20 courses. Students can generally complete the program in a one- to three-year time frame. Programs are available through computer science, information technology, and professional development departments of colleges and universities. Applicants typically need an accredited bachelor’s degree and working knowledge of operating systems and programming.

The web design master’s curriculum discusses the basic IT concepts, programming, and interactive design skills to build secure and stable websites. Foundational courses in IT topics, such as IT industry structures and enterprise architecture, discuss the IT tools and techniques used in business today. Courses in programming languages like PHP and JavaScript teach students how to process data and build web applications. Other courses discuss digital media layout, web interactivity, and digital communication. Many programs require a capstone course or thesis project where students build a large website from the ground up.

A master’s degree in web design is excellent preparation for a career as a web developer, since most employers only require an associate or bachelor’s degree and programming knowledge. The general IT and industry topics of the degree can also help graduates prepare for roles as information security specialists or IT project managers. Graduates with a strong portfolio of design work can become consultants or freelancers in web design.

Online Certificates in Web Design

Certificates in web design may be used by novices to apply for entry-level positions as web designers or by experienced web developers to expand their graphic design skills and advance in their jobs. Educational requirements for careers in web design depend largely on the standards set by employers and the amount of technical work involved in a particular job. Some companies may accept job applicants with only a high school diploma, while others may require that applicants hold a certificate or associate degree.

General web design certificate programs teach students the basic coding, software, and visual art skills needed to work as professional website designers. Applicants to certificate programs should hold a high school diploma and may need to purchase computer software to complete coursework. Schools often recommended that students take prior classes or have some familiarity with computers and web languages (especially HTML). Most certificate programs take about one year, or 44-66 credit hours, to complete.

It is also possible that some classes may be necessary for students who have training or education in web design, but who require an update on newer techniques and information. Much like other careers that deal with technology, the work done by web designers evolves over the years to reflect improvements in software and technology. Web designers may need a great deal of training with new techniques to understand the syntax and code used to make modern websites. This type of training is often required even for someone with experience using older methods for web design.

An online web design certificate can be received from a number of schools and organizations that are recognized within the industry as respected professional groups. One or more tests must be completed to gain certification, which usually cover different technical aspects of web design and ensure an applicant understands the process of creating and managing a website. Gaining certification allows someone to easily indicate to potential employers or candidates that he or she is experienced as a web designer and knows how to meet their needs. Membership in a professional organization may also require certification, which can open up possibilities for new clients and create opportunities for networking within the career field.

The Importance of Accreditation

The accreditation of a program or institution is a hallmark of not only its academic excellence, but also its favorable reputation in the academic and professional communities. Accrediting agencies should always be recognized by the US Department of Education. Here is a list of reasons why students should only choose accredited online web design programs:

  • Proof of excellence: By choosing a program that is accredited, you can trust that it will meet fundamental requirements for the field you have chosen, ensuring that you are given the basic knowledge necessary to be conversant in the field, and to complete the work required of you in whatever career you may find yourself in later. Be aware, however, that while many schools may say they are accredited, they actually aren't. Always check with the college and the board of education in your state to be sure.  
  • Transferability: By attending an accredited program, you can be confident that your classes, grades, and units will transfer to any institution you attend later on. For instance, if you complete some of the courses in an unaccredited online web design program, but then decide to attend an accredited, traditional university later, the credits you earned for that online coursework may not be accepted by the university. In that case, you would need to take the courses all over again at the university.  
  • Widespread acceptance: Degrees and certifications from accredited institutions will be recognized and valued by employers and other academic institutions. Potential employers may question the legitimacy of your degree, and hence, your qualifications, if the degree is from an unaccredited program or school. A resume with an accredited degree on it will allow you to begin your career from the best possible starting point.

What Students Will Learn in an Online Web Design Degree Program

Web design degrees and certificates combine classes in programming with coursework in design. Students take classes in topics like digital imaging, visual design, user experience, motion graphics, and mobile applications. Undergraduate programs are good preparation for careers as a web designer, web developer, or graphic designer. Master's degrees may focus more on information technology and programming, or they may look more at design and media. The master's can be a good option for people with undergraduate degrees in disciplines outside of the design realm who want to break into this career.

Before students can begin studying design principles, they must build their technology skills and learn to use a variety of computer programs that are commonly involved in Web design. First, students must master programming code. Computer programming classes will introduce students to popular computer programming languages, which can be used to put together websites and web-based programs. Web design certificate and degree programs will differ significantly in how much study of computer programming languages they require.

Other technology skills that students must build include the use of multimedia in web design, including sound, imagery, and videography. Some programs will also include study of Adobe Photoshop and video-editing software, though other programs may assume that students already have this knowledge.

Once students have proven their ability to use software programs to create unique, multimedia websites that can relay information in a number of ways, they will study the same design principles that interior designers and graphic artists study. Color theory -- understanding how colors work together on a computer screen and how they psychologically affect people -- is an important consideration for aspiring web designers.

One of the most important online web design courses a student will take explores website organization. Understanding how to use links, graphics, videos, sound, and titles to effectively organize information will help make wbsites easily navigable and accessible to all types of Internet users. Businesses who hire web designers rely on them to create websites that consumers are attracted to and are able to use easily and efficiently.


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