Saturday, September 18, 2021

The 15 Best Game Design Schools in the US

The online gaming industry is huge — worth over $300 billion! The explosive growth of gaming has fueled the need to come up with new and improved games for players continually, and gaming companies are forever on the lookout for new designers.

To tap into the increasing popularity of online gaming, a large number of schools now offer programs for aspiring game designers, from four-year bachelor’s degrees to quick certificates and online programs. 

If you’re interested in turning your gaming habit into a full-blown career, check out our lineup of the 15 best game design schools, and stay tuned for the scoop on how you can turn your dreams into a reality.

Best Four-Year Game Design Colleges

Whether you want to build a solid foundation in game design or impress potential employers (or both!), these top-rated bachelor’s programs are perfect to learn the tricks of the trade in the ever-evolving gaming industry.

1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Want to learn from an award-winning faculty who hail from impressive companies like Nintendo, Microsoft, and Nickelodeon? At the University of Southern California you’ll be able to learn from the best and have the choice of four degree programs (two undergraduate and two graduate) in game design and development. 

💰 Cost of attendance$25,721 per semester
Prerequisites– 3 to 5 units of mathematics
– One unit of science (physics, chemistry, or biology) 
– Satisfactory SAT/ACT scores (although the school has suspended testing requirements for the 2021-22 academic year)
📈 Acceptance rateLess than 5 percent

2. DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, WA

If you would prefer a game design degree that pays careful attention to the behavior and psychology of game design, DigiPen could be the college for you. Consistently ranked among the top game design schools in the US, you’ll be challenged every semester to design, prototype, and test your very own game designs — so look sharp!

💰 Cost of attendance$34,900 per year
Prerequisites– Physics, computer science, and related advanced placement (AP) courses
– 4.0 GPA
– Design portfolio (optional)
– SAT/ACT scores (optional)
📈 Acceptance rate34 percent

3. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

The University of Utah’s four-year degree offers a cheap and cheerful bachelor’s in gaming and interactive entertainment. 

Less money, however, does not mean less opportunities. Graduates get to work with large and small studios such as EA, Disney, and Wahoo, earning an average salary of $67,045 per year upon entering the job market.

💰 Cost of attendance$27,914 per year (on campus), $22,334 per year (off campus)
Prerequisites– Students must complete four prerequisite courses at the college with a C or better to apply for the major
– SAT/ACT scores (optional)
📈 Acceptance rate79 percent

4. Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, NY

If you’re looking to learn the fundamentals in game design while keeping your options open in related fields, take a look at Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) four-year course in game, simulation, modeling, and visualization. 

With a 97 percent outcome rate (the total percentage of graduates who have entered the workforce), the median first-year salary of RIT graduates is $64,500. Not bad, huh? That’s not all — the school’s co-op program helps students land jobs at companies like Microsoft, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Valve Corp., and Walt Disney Interactive.

💰 Cost of attendance$69,276 per year
Prerequisites– Four years of math (including pre-calculus)
– Knowledge of chemistry and physics
– Computing electives are recommended
📈 Acceptance rate58 percent

5. Northeastern University, Boston, MA

A bachelor’s degree in game design from Northeastern University can help you juggle many roles and become anything from game writer to web designer.

Cooperative opportunities with big names like Zynga, Microsoft Studios, and SAIC provide real-world experience, attracting tons of talented students every year.

💰 Cost of attendance$28,250 per semester
PrerequisitesStudents may be required (and are otherwise encouraged) to submit a creative portfolio through SlideRoom
📈 Acceptance rate18 percent

Best Game Design Certificate Programs

If a four-year degree doesn’t sound like the right fit for you, a large number of public and private colleges also offer shorter certificate programs that provide excellent, hands-on experience and a quicker route to the job market. Some of these programs require a fair bit of college experience, so make sure you’re checking the admissions criteria before applying.

6. University of Washington, Seattle, WA

The online game design course at the University of Washington provides hands-on experience in building gaming prototypes and even pitching it to industry professionals. Create a game design document for your portfolio and learn how gaming processes roll at major studios — all in eight months. There are plenty of guest speakers too, which is great for networking.

💰 Cost of attendance$4,287 for the eight-month program
Prerequisites– Two years of college
– Team player
– Willingness to learn new game engines (which are software frameworks to build video games)

7. University of Michigan, Dearborn, MI

If you’re a Call of Duty fan, what about applying to the very school that gave birth to the video game’s developer Austin Krauss? Offered both online and on campus, the graduate-level certificate program at UM-Dearborn is taught from a software engineering perspective. Students, therefore, are expected to have prior experience in computer science or engineering. 

💰 Cost of attendance$445 per credit (Michigan residents), $840 (non-residents), $556 (non-residents in online programs)
PrerequisitesUndergraduate degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher

8. Pasadena City College, Pasadena, CA

From preparing storyboards to working with industry-standard game engines, the certificate program at Pasadena City College is perfect to gain entry-level proficiency in game designing. Participate in a shared incubator course with other media students and develop your professional portfolio — all in just three semesters.  

💰 Cost of attendance$79 per semester + course material fees (California residents), $386 per semester + course material fees (out-of-state students)
PrerequisitesProficiency in writing and math

9. American University, Washington, DC

Want to be a part of gaming events while getting your certification? American University’s one-year graduate certification offers classes in game and society, game research methods, and other non-game electives. Plus, being in DC gives you the chance to take part in popular events in and around the area — Indie Arcade at the Smithsonian Museum, Global Game Jam, and Games+ to name a few. 

💰 Cost of attendance$25,271
Prerequisites– Portfolio (optional)
– Students must have a college degree with at least a 3.0 grade-point average 

10. Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY

If you’re an aspiring animator, game designer, or programmer, this 18-month certificate can be combined as a component of your four-year degree or even as a stand-alone course. The university’s game design club is also open if you’re willing to meet like-minded people. 

💰 Cost of attendance$1,995 for the complete course
Prerequisites– Reasonable familiarity with computers 
– Background in high school-level mathematics is recommended

Top Game Design Schools for Online Learning

For those who need more flexibility, or perhaps lower college costs, there’s also the option of securing a college degree from the comfort of your home. Here are some of the best gaming schools if you want to take a class propped up on your favorite chair.

11. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA

From study abroad trips and gaming fests to electronic entertainment expositions — at Savannah College of Art and Design, students can earn a BA or BFA in interactive design and game development while participating in a wide range of activities. The 180-hour course (which can be taken online or at any of the school’s three campuses) concentrates on themes like digital aesthetics, programming, and game art.

💰 Cost of attendance$43,331 per year
Prerequisites– Minimum 3.0 GPA
– TOEFL scores for non-native speakers
– Portfolio (optional)
– Resume (optional)
– SAT/ACT requirements are waived till fall 2021. Check with the school’s website for the latest update

12. Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida

At Full Sail University, students can complete the online bachelor’s degree in 29 months followed by the master’s program that takes one year. There are plenty of interesting classes ranging from Game Characters, Motion Capture, Game Production Tools, and Psychology of Play.

💰 Cost of attendance$88,000 for the bachelor’s course
Prerequisites– High School diploma or GED
– Verification of English proficiency for non-native speakers

13. Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia

If you believe gaming is serious business, the 500-hour online Video Game Design and Development Certificate program at Kennesaw State University is the perfect fit for you. The curriculum covers five significant areas of study: programming languages, mathematics, 3D graphics pipeline programming, real-time game engine architectures, and artificial intelligence algorithms.

💰 Cost of attendance$2,095 for the complete course
Prerequisites– Reasonable familiarity with computers
– Knowledge of high school-level math

14. University of Baltimore, Baltimore, MD

Learn 3D animation, usability design, and computer programming at the oldest and largest online gaming program in Maryland at the University of Baltimore. UBalt’s Simulation and Game Design program is a top-ranking game design program, especially perfect if you can’t pay through the nose. 

💰 Cost of attendance$4,682 per year (Maryland residents), $11,275 (out-of-state students)
Prerequisites– High school diploma
– Test scores

15. Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia

Are you looking for a program to take your game design skills to the next level? Liberty’s online bachelor’s degree in game design is perfect for you. It’s designed to equip starters with the programming and design skills necessary to join the ever-evolving gaming industry. A mix of courses in graphic design, digital imaging, and computer programming means you can also side with other career options after graduation.

💰 Cost of attendance$27,573 for the complete course
Prerequisites– High school diploma
– SAT/ACT (optional)

Read More: Nine Ways to Nail Remote Learning

Why Go to School for Video Game Design?

A college education gives you an edge over other candidates, especially in a niche industry like game design. You can access new and advanced technologies that are already taking the gaming industry by storm, like 3D projection caves, motion simulation systems, and immersive research labs.

Another advantage to attending a game design school is that you can participate in co-op programs (that combine classroom education with actual job experience) and internship opportunities. You also get to rub shoulders with industry professionals and learn from them along the way. Ultimately, all of these factors combined can help you secure your dream job after graduation. 

Skills Needed to Work as a Game Designer

A game designer is a writer, programmer, and artist all fused into one. Besides computer skills, a designer needs a grip on art and design and an understanding of what makes a game appealing.

To make a breakthrough as a videogame designer, you need to have a solid knowledge of 3D animation, graphics, and programming languages. This understanding will help create storyboards, work on the game’s backend, and ultimately lead the development process. 

Designers also have to work with software like Adobe Creative Suite, Unreal 4, Unity, and Maya and sometimes have to script custom software to meet the game’s requirements. Hence, a sound knowledge of these tools is mandatory.

Next Steps in Becoming a Game Designer

If you’re all geared up for a future in game design, here are a few skills to brush up on to improve your chances of acceptance into one of these programs.

  • Consume copious amounts of gaming content. Listen to Game Developers Conference sessions on YouTube, where artists and gaming professionals exchange ideas or go through video game postmortems to help learn from your past successes and failures. 
  • Join game-making groups. There are plenty of these groups on social media platforms that you can join. For instance, the Indie Game Developers on Facebook, with over 123K members, is meant “for small companies and individuals designing and publishing their own games.” These groups will also help you meet like-minded people who will help you improve. 
  • Participate in game jams. Straight As are great, but in the real world you need to display your skills — and what better way to do that than game jams? If you haven’t already heard, game jams are fun contests where you have to build video games based on a theme. Anybody can apply. So, keep an eye out for the hundreds of local game jams at colleges, universities, or other private spaces, and bigger events, such as the Global Game Jam, which takes place every year in over 100 countries around the world.
  • Apply to colleges. Love it or hate it — there’s no substitute for a college degree in the real world. To make sure your efforts pay off, make a list of the colleges you want to apply to and start checking their application requirements (including federal aid, scholarship, and grant options) to stay ahead of the game.

If you have the passion, all you need is the effort to build a successful career in game design. A few extra steps will go a long way to help you stand out from the crowd and show potential employers that you have what it takes to become a valuable addition to their organization.

Frequently Asked Questions About Game Design Schools

How long does it take to get a degree in game design?

Like most college degrees, a degree in game design requires four years if you’re planning to do a bachelor’s and another two years if you combine it with a master’s. Certificate programs are shorter and typically end within a year, or a maximum of 18 months.

A spike in smartphone gaming (especially during lockdown) has accelerated the demand to design games for the applications environment. People involved in multimedia art and animation, including game designers and developers, can expect a four percent growth rate over the next decade. That’s almost 7,000 openings on average per year, plus a boatload of opportunities in the gaming sector, especially for those with a robust portfolio.

A degree in game design can also be useful for finding a job as a graphic designer, VFX artist, information security analyst, database administrator, or web developer. 

Game design is a small and niche field, which means you need great contacts and a solid background to further your prospects in the gaming industry. A college degree does just that by improving your portfolio and connecting you with professionals. Plus, once you’re in the job, a degree can lead to promotions or even extra job mobility. 

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