Can I Get a High-Paying Job with an Associate Degree in Graphic Design?

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Do you like drawing, sketching or doodling in your spare time? Do you find yourself looking at logos or other graphics and thinking of alternative colors, images or approaches that could be used? If so, then a career in graphic design may be a good fit for you. You may be thinking that you need a four-year college diploma or an advanced degree to get a well-paying job in this artistic field.

It is true that may senior graphic designer, graphical artist or marketing positions do look for a four-year degree as a starting point when evaluating potential candidates. Yet, as of 2019, the average four-year public college costs nearly $10,000 per year. The annual tuition at many private colleges, universities or art institutes can be as high as $40,000 or more per year. Those prices just may not be realistic for many people, especially coming out of high school.

As an alternative, many two-year, or associate degree, colleges only charge between $3,000 and $4,000 per year. Costs that are one-third of a typical public university and one tenth or less of many upper echelon private schools. These programs also offer the chance to get your degree and start working full-time in your chosen field in as little as two years, or half the time of four-year programs.

The combination of shorter programs and lower prices certainly sounds appealing. One question that many potential students often ponder is whether they can still get high-paying graphic design jobs with an associate degree. After all, lower tuition and shorter completion times are only really a benefit if there are jobs available upon graduation.

The good news is that, although some people may think that a bachelor’s degree is required for high-paying careers in graphic design, there are many great positions for those who possess an associate degree. Please read on for examples of graphic design jobs that do not require a diploma from a four-year college, a master’s degree or advanced certifications.

Desktop Publishers

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One high-paying job available to persons with an associate degree in graphic design involves desktop publishing. Desktop publishers primarily are responsible for creating electronic layouts for brochures, newspapers, newsletters, magazines, books, and web pages. They can also help to format PowerPoint presentations, financial reports, stock prospectuses and other documents that companies need to present to potential customers, shareholders and other stakeholders.

These professionals use sophisticated publishing software to combine drawings, charts, illustrations and words into attractive documents that people can quickly read and easily understand. Many times, desktop publishers are responsible for choosing appropriate fonts or layouts to best convey key points. They are also involved with editing graphical elements, proofing the draft documents and checking for errors in the colors, layouts or text.

Businesses highly value these skills and often seek out dedicated publishers because it gives them the ability to quickly create customized documents. Furthermore, the results from a trained publisher not only look more professional but often take less time than if the HR, accounting, finance or other employees were to try and create similar reports.

In fact, companies in almost all industries either hire their own people for graphic design jobs or contract with a professional publishing company to handle these tasks. Aircraft manufacturers, defense contractors, major department stores, computer manufacturers, accounting firms, law firms and many other businesses are all looking for people with desktop publishing know-how.

Because these jobs are in demand, the average yearly salary for desktop publishers in 2017 was about $42,350 according to the United States Department of Labor. However, as you gain more experience, senior desktop publishers in large cities like Washington D.C., New York, Chicago or Los Angeles can make between $70,000 and $100.000 per year.

Software Quality Assurance Testers

How many times have you downloaded a new game or a new program on your favorite app store only to have it run extremely slowly or crash? Perhaps you have found issues where links or buttons that you click on do not work on your favorite websites or use your favorite computer programs.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were someone’s job to check the underlying code and make sure that the software works before it is released to you and the rest of the public? The good news is that there is just such a role in many software and application development companies. Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers are tasked with analyzing and compiling the computer code before it makes it into the next release, patch or bug fix.

The good news is that you do not need an advanced degree to run test scripts or to review the computer programmers’ or software developers’ work. People with associate degrees in graphic design can and do get jobs in this field. The most important thing is that you have an eye for detail and an ability to catch mistakes.

In fact, with the explosion of software starting around the year 2000, quality assurance testers have steadily grown in demand. The need for software testers has only grown further due to several factors. First, many companies used to use a waterfall methodology to develop software. Under this approach, software developers would take two, three, four or more years to develop a sophisticated computer program.

After that, updates happened relatively infrequently, perhaps one per quarter or even once per year. While these update packages were usually larger, software developers often had significantly more time to review, test and check their code for errors and compatibility issues.

Now, many of the leading developers are moving toward an AGILE software development methodology. This style involves developing code over two-week sprints. Smaller features, updates or fixes are released on the fly or at least monthly. Some larger functionalities will take multiple sprints, but the speed with which software is released and the need for detailed quality assurance testers has grown exponentially.

Second, the advent of mobile apps has also increased the need for qualified testers. These apps are often simpler, more specialized programs that need to be released quickly. However, they also must be compatible with not only the latest Android and iOS devices but also legacy versions as well. All these factors point to the fact that software testers are often well-paid, and they enjoy increased job security compared to other fields. Per Glassdoor, the average salary for software quality assurance testers in November of 2018 was around $78,134 per year.

Web Developer

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One of the highest-paying graphic design jobs for people with an associate degree is a web development. One aspect of this professional’s job is to create appealing and effective websites by utilizing programming codes such as HTML, JavaScript or XML. Other tasks of these professionals include integrating audio and visual features into websites, monitoring website traffic, and troubleshooting technical issues with websites and applications.

Beyond managing the website content and layout, web developers are also responsible for designing a truly interactive user experience. The website needs to not only be vibrant and easy to read but also needs to be easy to navigate. If the website sells products or includes a store, then the developer also must factor in payment forms, security layers for credit cards and other sensitive personally identifiable information. As a result, this job will require a combination of graphic design and computer programming knowledge.

In today’s digital world, even small businesses have websites. The importance of an engaging and effective web presence is only going to continue to grow as more and more people shop online. In fact, the demand for web developers is expected to grow by eight to 10 percent over the next decade. Job growth potential along with an average salary of $68,000 per year could be an ideal option for a recent graduate.

Digital Designers

Obtaining a position as a digital designer is another potential option once you get your associate degree in graphic design. Digital designers use their technical and creative skills to produce a broad range of visual graphics for use on websites, video games, mobile apps and other electronic mediums. Some digital designers focus on special effects for the latest blockbuster movies.

Other professionals use their digital skills to assist with the creation of traditional paper media including fliers, brochures, advertisements, and logos. These professionals can be found working for marketing firms, advertising agencies, video game manufacturers, website design companies and other graphic design jobs. Average salaries for these positions were $59,000 in November 2018 according to

Graphic Design Assistants

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With your associate degree you could also apply to become a graphic design assistant. In that role you assist lead designers with creating print layouts, drafting marketing materials, sketching company logos and other digital or print-based media tasks.

The lead designer may also ask for your input or thoughts on preliminary designs. You will also need to review and proofread the initial layouts to ensure that they meet the company’s or the customer’s requirements.

Per the United States Department of Labor website, 2017 salaries for graphic design assistants ranged from $28,560 to $83,140. As an entry-level professional you should expect to receive an amount on the lower end of that spectrum. Once you gain more experience and develop your own unique style, then you can expect your salary to increase.

Animator or Multimedia Artist

When you think of an animator or multimedia artist your first thought may be of someone who works for a major television network or movie studio creating cartoon characters. While those professionals are indeed animators, these graphic design jobs involve more than dreaming up the next comic book heroine or drawing a sensational caricature.

Animators are also responsible for taking a storyteller’s ideas and turning them into visual images. They often start with developing storyboards to lay out the story and plan the interactions with the characters. They also painstakingly design backgrounds to ensure that the environments also look realistic.

In addition to movies and television shows, video game companies also use animators and multimedia artists to digitally render realistic characters and the lifelike worlds that they explore. Teams of animators and visual effects specialists can spend years crafting the shading, layout and depth of the objects within games to make sure that they are not only realistic but also fully interactive.

Animator and multimedia artists can expect to earn between $30,000 and $50,000 for preliminary graphic design jobs. These amounts can increase up to $100,000 or more as you develop your skills. If you are fortunate enough to create a popular game, comic book or cartoon character, then your earnings could be significantly higher.

Marketing Coordinator

A marketing coordinator is someone who helps to develop the plan to advertise and sell new, improved or existing products to customers. They are often responsible for crafting promotional offers, fliers, advertising campaigns, commercials and other forms of marketing.

With an associate degree in graphic design, you could use your creative nature and your design expertise to develop these marketing and promotional materials. As part of this effort, you may also record and analyze current sales numbers and customer preference trends. This information will tell you how well your campaign is performing and may provide insights into how to improve your marketing materials.

Marketing coordinators typically make between $35,000 and $60.000 per year. However, this position could lead to a marketing manager or director role, which can pay over $200,000 if you develop the right experience and demonstrate a successful track record.


Overall, graphic design jobs offer many terrific career opportunities for people who would like to combine their creative and technical talents. Best of all, as our list above indicates, you do not need to graduate from a four-year college or to obtain advanced degrees or certifications to break into this field. You can obtain a high-paying graphic design job after completing an associate degree.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to obtain an associate degree?

Most associate degree programs require only two years of study, which is half the time of many college and university programs. Also, there are options where you can complete your degree at night or on weekends. These programs may take longer but offer more flexibility if you already have a job, a family or another commitment.

How much does it cost for an associate degree program?

The average two-year associate degree program costs only $3,000 to $4,000 per year. As a comparison, the typical four-year public college costs $10,000 or more per year. Tuition for private colleges and universities can be as much as $40,000 or more per year.

What jobs can I get with a graphic arts degree?

You may be thinking that the only graphic design jobs available to you with an associate degree involve developing company logos, drawing cartoons or other illustrations. While you can certainly pursue those types of positions with your degree in graphic design, people with these skills and training are also successful software quality assurance testers, web developers, art directors, desktop publishers and marketing or visual communications coordinators.

How much money can I make with an associate degree in graphic design?

Your base salary will depend upon several factors including the job location, your level of experience, your existing portfolio of work and your performance in the degree program.

However, many of the jobs on our list will pay between $30,000 and $50,000 for entry-level professionals. Once you gain more experience, your salary can increase up to $70.000 or more, especially if you live in a large city similar New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta or Chicago.

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