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BFA | 4-year program

The undergraduate program in Graphic Design allows students to fully absorb an informed design process that provides lifelong support as they go on to engage in real-world design opportunities. Students gain a thorough understanding of the principles of design, theories of communication and strategies for problem solving.

Learning outcomes

The program educates students to become resourceful designers engaged in reflexive, responsible and sustainable practices. Graduates are prepared to:

  • evaluate and critique the effectiveness of visual communication work
  • respond to a communication need by determining an appropriate perspective and following through by form-making using various means: editing, aesthetics and/or appropriation
  • develop and refine personal methods that culminate in a cohesive body of work targeting professional practice, an independent studio practice and/or entrepreneurship
  • work with contemporary and historical tools and software


Inspiring community

Despite being one of the largest departments at RISD, Graphic Design offers approximately 165 undergraduate majors countless opportunities to collaborate within and beyond the discipline. MFA candidates in the department work in a separate facility but interact with undergraduates as TAs and informal mentors who appreciate all opportunities to engage in meaningful exchange about graphic communication.

Learning environment

Graphic Design majors work in dedicated studios in the Design Center, where they have access to a wide array of digital and traditional printing and photographic resources, as well as specialized facilities for bookbinding, papermaking and screenprinting. Faculty members assign challenging projects covering everything from designing books, magazines and posters to UX and websites, film graphics, identities, packaging and exhibits. Each year dozens of visiting designers and critics spend time at RISD complementing the talents of resident faculty and offering alternative design perspectives from around the world

Curriculum

The core curriculum in Graphic Design builds a range of analytical, formal, sensory and technical design experiences. Sophomores begin exploring visual principles of form, image, color and typography. Conceptual thinking in areas such as communication theory, visual systems and information design forms the focus of the junior year. During senior year, emphasis is placed on design applications, with a range of electives available to expose students to specific areas of graphic design practice. Juniors and seniors also have opportunities to pursue professional internships over the summer or during the semester.

Foundation year

Fall
Drawing I
Design I
Spatial Dynamics I
First-year Literature Seminar
Theory and History of Art and Design I: Global Modernisms
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Drawing II
Design II
Spatial Dynamics II
Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Theory and History of Art and Design II: Premodern Worlds

Sophomore

Fall
Design Studio 1
Typography 1
History of Graphic Design
Liberal Arts elective
Open electives
Wintersession
Open elective
Spring
Design Studio 2
Typography 2
Color + Surface
Open electives
Liberal Arts elective

Junior

Fall
Design Studio 3
Typography 3
Open elective
Liberal Arts elective
Spring
Design Studio 4
Liberal Arts elective
Open electives

Senior

Fall
Graphic design electives
Open electives
Liberal arts elective
Wintersession
Open electives
Spring
Degree Project
Graphic Design elective
Open elective
Liberal Arts elective

Degree project

Undergraduate study in Graphic Design culminates in a challenging, self-defined degree project that taps into each student's strengths, interests and experiences.

Application requirements

  1. Common Application

    You’ll begin and manage your RISD application process by completing the Common Application. There is a non-refundable application fee of $60 to use this service; eligible students may apply for a fee waiver.

  2. Academic transcripts

    Applicants must provide official transcripts of all secondary academic work through the most recent grading period. Your counselor may submit your transcript through the Common Application, Parchment, email or mail. If your academic credentials are not written in English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator prior to submission.

  3. Tests and Test-Optional

    Test-Optional, SAT and ACT

    Beginning with students applying for entrance in 2020, RISD is offering citizens or permanent residents of the United States the ability to be reviewed without submitting results from the SAT or ACT. Students who qualify may opt into this process by selecting this option within the RISD section of the Common Application. Students who hold citizenship from all other countries, as well as students who are homeschooled, are still required to submit test results from the SAT or ACT exams.

    For students who choose to submit test scores, RISD will superscore your results, looking at your highest outcome across multiple test dates. Subject tests are not required.

    RISD’s institution code number for the SAT is 3726; for ACT the code number is 003812.

    English language proficiency tests

    All applicants who speak English as a second language, including US citizens, must submit results from any one of these three options: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or Duolingo (an online English test). Since proficiency in English is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants must attain an acceptable score on their chosen test; RISD requires a minimum result of 93 on the TOEFL or a 6.5 on the IELTS.

    Duolingo is changing its scoring system beginning with tests completed on July 15, 2019 and beyond. If you took this test prior to the change, we require a minimum result of 63. Applicants who completed the Duolingo test on or after July 15, 2019 must achieve a minimum score of 115, which is the equivalent of 63 in their prior scoring system.

    Plan to take the TOEFL or IELTS well in advance of the application deadline since it may take three weeks for your scores to be sent to RISD by the test agency. Duolingo test results may take up to four days to be received by RISD.

    The language test requirement may be waived for applicants who have studied in an institution where English is the language of instruction. You must contact the Admissions Office to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible.

  4. Portfolio

    Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. You will upload your portfolio in SlideRoom through the Common Application, where you will begin the application process.

    Your selected work should reflect a full range of your ideas, curiosity, experimentation and experience in creating and making. This can include work in any medium, in finished or sketch form, and can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed exploration.

    We strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation (rather than from imagination or a photograph). Drawing is a fundamental tool for visual makers from initial concept to execution, so it is valuable for reviewers to see examples of your experience with and approach to drawing.

    While the majority of your portfolio should feature finished pieces, we suggest including some research or preparatory work in up to three—but no more than three—portfolio selections. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.

    Finally, we strongly discourage including excessive visual elements and text descriptions in a single slide submission. These are difficult to view and are likely to exceed the allowed file limit. Additional angles or detail shots of some works can either be submitted as an individual image or video upload, or you can upload a composite including up to three images. Editing is an important part of curating your portfolio. You may need to devise creative solutions to best show your work within the limits of submission guidelines.

    Our recommended file formats are: jpeg, png, gif, mp4 and mov. These formats are most compatible with SlideRoom. Google Drive or zipped files are not recommended formats for sharing your artwork.

  5. The Assignment

    In addition to submitting your portfolio, all applicants must respond to the following assignment (your response to which will be uploaded in a specific section of SlideRoom dedicated to the assignment):

    Begin by observing a phenomenon or choosing an object in the natural world. Create a visual reaction to this object or phenomenon. You may use any medium and work at any scale. Document this work and upload it as your first response.

    Then, make a transformation to or modification of your first response. We encourage you to impose no limits to the potential nature or scale of the alteration to your first solution. Document this altered work and upload it as your second response.

  6. Writing sample

    Submit one example of your writing, up to 650 words. Remember, this is the limit, not a goal. Use the full limit if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

    You will find the writing prompts in the Personal Essay section of the Common Application.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a distinctive personal position in the samples you submit.

  7. Letter(s) of recommendation

    Although not required, these letters can be very helpful to your application. One letter is suggested, although as many as three may be submitted. Recommendation letters should be written by teachers or other professionals who have firsthand knowledge of your art or academic achievements and can comment on your potential as a student.

    Please use the Common Application to invite your recommendation writers to submit letters through that service. Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below) or emailed to admissions@risd.edu.