Updated in October 2020
Design affects everything we do and shapes how we experience the world as we know it, and design degrees cater to the diversity of this creative and wide ranging field. At any design school, you will be encouraged to develop your own creative and unique design style, in whatever discipline that may be – ranging from web design and graphic design to product design and additive manufacturing.
Studying design at university will teach you things about yourself and the world that you never thought possible. Over the course of three to five years, you’ll slowly equip yourself with the practical knowledge, theoretical skills and industry know-how to enter the commercial sector of your choice.
But where should you study? According to the 2020 QS World University Rankings – which compared 950 universities worldwide – the Royal College of Art in London took the top prize for the most prestigious school to study design. The rankings took factors such as academic reputation, employer reputation after students leave university, staff to student ratio and the amount of international staff and students into consideration.
Impressively, five American institutions made it into the top 10, making the US one of the best countries to study design. Here’s the list:
1. Royal College of Art
Located in Kensington, London, the Royal College of Art is once again ranked as the number one institution to study art and design – a title it’s held since 2015. The university offers 29 postgraduate programs across many art and design disciplines making it more than a suitable leader for worlds best design schools.
Tuition fees vary depending on the level of study and your country of origin. Domestic/EU students pay $16,200 per year, while non-EU students pay $20,000 per year. RCA currently offers postgrad degrees to students from over 60 countries and, importantly, offers competitive pre-entry scholarships, awarded based on the strength of your application and portfolio, your financial situation, your perceived talent and your academic promise.
You can apply online for 2021 entry. Applications for September 2021 intake along with Graduate Diploma January 2021 intake are now open for submission.
2. University of the Arts London
The University of the Arts London is home to a diverse body of 18,000 students from 130 countries and famous alumni of the university’s six renowned colleges include painter and printmaker Howard Hodgkin, illustrator Quentin Blake, fashion designer Stella McCartney, and painter Lucian Freud.
Fees sit at $11,865 per year for undergraduate home/EU students, while international non-EU students commencing their studies this 2020 paid $24,900. Scholarships available at UAL include the Grand Prix LVMH Scholarship, for a student of any nationality who is enrolled in the final year of a BA in Fine Art degree, and MEAD Scholarships and Fellowships.
- Fun Fact: over half of the fashion designers that showed at London Fashion Week 2018 are UAL alumni.
For more information on degrees, open days and to order a prospectus visit https://www.arts.ac.uk/.
3. Parsons the New School for Design
Known for its distinguished alumni (e.g. Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford), Parsons the New School for Design sits comfortably in third place this year. Located in the trendy Greenwich Village area of New York City, it’s clear to see why design students want to study here.
Undergraduate degrees at Parsons cost $34,500-$50,500 per year. Scholarships available include:
- The John L. Tishman Scholarship, awarded to students who show an interest and commitment to sustainable development, design and construction.
- The William Randolph Hearst Scholarship, awarded to students engaged in socially responsible art or design projects.
Parsons currently enrolls nearly 5,500 undergraduate and graduate students and the average class size is a neat 15 pupils. Click here to apply.
4. Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
The private Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), located in the state capital Providence, sits comfortably in fourth place for art and design. Founded in 1877, RISD offers a wide range of programs in fields of study including architecture, ceramics, film/animation/video, graphic design, illustration, photography, painting, printmaking and more. There are currently around 2,480 students across 19 courses, so plenty from which to choose.
RISD currently charges tuition fees of $53,800 per year for all courses, and offers its own scholarships, which are awarded based on a mixture of financial need and academic achievement, as well as special scholarships which are awarded to outstanding first-year students. Get more information about visiting the school or applying for 2020.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Coming in fifth place is Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT considers the arts a fundamental aspect of its core curriculum and it shows in it’s position among other top design schools, with 50 percent of MIT undergraduates enrolling in arts programs each year.
Tuition fees are $49,580 per year for all undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the mandatory student life fee of $312.
Founded in 1861, the MIT community includes more than 11,000 employees, 11,000 students, and 1,000 faculty members. The full list of courses and their application deadlines can be found here.
6. Politecnico di Milano
Politecnico di Milano is the largest technical university in Italy with around 42,000 students studying there at any one time. Founded in 1863, it is the oldest university in Milan and one of the best design schools in Europe.
It currently sits strong in rank six in the world for art and design. Tuition fees for laurea magistrale programs (equivalent to Master of Science) range from $1,100-4,800 per year for EU students, with non-EU students paying $4,435 per year.
Students who are lucky enough to gain a scholarship will have their fees disregarded and only need to pay an administrative fee of $250. For more information visit https://www.polimi.it/en.
7. Aalto University
Finland’s Aalto University, located in the capital city of Helsinki, was founded in 2010 and has six schools with around 12,000 students and 4,000 employees of which close to 400 are professors. While students from the EU/EEA study for free, if you’re not from the EU or EEA and want to study in English you’ll need to pay tuition fees of $14,100 per year for bachelor’s degrees and $17,600 per year for master’s programs.
Merit-based scholarships are available for non-EU/EEA students, which cover a whopping 50 or even 100 percent of the cost of tuition. Click to find out more.
8. The Glasgow School of Art
Joining the QS World Rankings for Art and Design again at 8th place, The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) is one of the older schools of art being established in 1845. Boasting five academic schools with roughly 2,285 students across this school, Scottish and EU students can expect to pay $2,300.
For UK students, this increases to $11,800, and international students fees to be $24,300 to attend this prestigious school. Aside from need and merit based scholarships, GSA also offers information for external scholarship funding and government student funding found here at http://www.gsa.ac.uk/life/fees,-funding-finance/scholarships/
9. School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the largest independent schools of art and design in the States, with around 3,650 students in attendance. Tuition fees are currently $50,900 per year, with the school estimating total expenses of $60,800. Thankfully, there are a variety of merit and need-based scholarships available.
Students impacted by COVID-19 may also apply for CARES and SAIC emergency assistance at https://www.saic.edu/tuition.
As their website explains: “Our students translate the most complex ideas into tangible forms—paintings, sculptures, films, performances, books, installations, inventions, buildings, community projects, and, more often than not, a combination of the above.”
International students aren’t eligible for need-based financial aid from the government, but can apply for SAIC’s merit-based awards. Check out www.saic.edu for more information.
10. Pratt Institute
Ranked in seventh place, the Pratt Institute is spread across historic campuses in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Utica. The schools of art and design are located in Brooklyn on the 25 acre main campus. Its art and design programs offer an integrated curriculum which combines studio thinking with learning theories and current research in the field.
The tuition fee for undergraduate art students is currently $51,700 per year.
Pratt Institute has also taken steps to ease financial burdens to students due to COVID-19 by not increasing their tuition further as originally planned in December. They have also waived certain costs for students choosing to complete their classes remotely.
Design is everywhere. Everything we use initially started as a design. From the way we connect to people to the way we listen to music; from the way our cities are designed and built to how a specific medical tool is designed to save lives; from the way we travel to the house we choose.
Even if you don't study at one of these top design schools, design is such an important, relevant and ever-changing subject that will take you far in the modern world is an exciting prospect. We hope you now have a better idea of where you can qualify in design if you want to be studying at the crème de la crème of international universities.