The 20 Best Video Game Design Degree Programs

The video game industry is on the rise, reaching sales of over 6 billion dollars in 2013. The industry is expected to grow and will need qualified video game designers to enter the workforce. The salary for a video game designer can vary depending on location and employer, but most can expect an average salary around $60,000 with an increase with more time spent in the field.

To prepare students to enter this growing workforce, more colleges are offering video game design majors and programs. These programs require classes in computer science, with a particular concentration in computer graphics. The following 20 schools offer some of the best four-year video game design degrees for prospective students to consider. We chose the schools based on the rigor of the program, student's employment history after graduation, rankings in the Princeton Review, and additional features that make the program stand out.

Although Cornell University does not offer a bachelor's degree in game design, it does have the game design initiative and a minor in game design, which has helped many students secure a job in the field. Cornell recommends majoring in Computer Science or Information science in combination with the minor in game design and building a portfolio to be able to show to potential employers.

Some of the courses students have the option of taking include Introduction to Computer Game Development and Analytics-driven Game Design. Students also have the option of presenting projects at the Game Design Initiative showcase.

Although Michigan State University only offers a minor in game design and development, it is only open to those students majoring in computer science, studio art, and media and information so that students will have a thorough and interdisciplinary education in subject matter relevant to game design. Students will still have the opportunity to build a strong portfolio showcasing their game design skills.

This minor will take two full years for students to complete, in addition to their major requirements. Depending on the student's chosen major of computer science, art, or media, there will be prerequisites they need to complete before applying for the game design minor. Students will take classes such as game design studio and collaborative game design to complete this minor.

Full Sail University, located in Winter Park, Florida offers two Bachelor of Science degrees in Game Design. These programs are unique in that students can study year round and take classes on a monthly basis, instead of on a semester schedule, and finish the degree much quicker than a typical B.S. program. There is a 20 month Bachelor's program offered on campus and a 32 month Bachelor's program offered online.

Students will take classes in discrete mathematics, design and development analysis, game design production, game balancing, prototyping, and game systems integration. There are also seven 1 credit career modules that students are required to take throughout the program.

Game Design students at the Cleveland Institute of Art will take classes such as 3D Texture, Mapping, and Digital Lighting, four classes in game media production, game testing and level design, Intro to 3D Modeling, and Serious Game Design: Theory and Applications. The program's faculty members have extensive experience in the gaming industry. For example, adjunct professor Michael Wu has a decade of experience working for AAA games where he has been an artist, designer, and development director. In addition to transcripts and application forms, applicants will need to submit a portfolio.

The unique advantage to Champlain College's game design major is that it favors an "upside-down" curriculum which allows students to take relevant classes such as Game History and Development and Introduction to Game Design within your first year in the program. This gives students the opportunity to begin working on their portfolios and internships as soon as possible. In addition to game design, students can major in Game Art and Animation, Game Programming, and Game Production Management.

There is also a sonic arts specialization which gives students the opportunity to focus on the technical aspects of the field. All students can work on their projects in the collaborative game studio.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute has one B.S. program in interactive media and game development and one master's program. Students can also major in another subject and minor in interactive media and game development. Worcester Polytechnic Institute was one of the first colleges in the country to offer a gaming program. One of the great things about this program is that students can enroll in the BS/MS option which allows you to take courses towards both degrees simultaneously and complete the program in five years.

Students can choose to focus on either the technical or artistic side of the field and pick their classes accordingly. WPI also emphasizes project-based learning that gives students the opportunity to solve real-world problems.

DigiPen Institute of Technology offers a Bachelor of Arts in Game Design that covers topics such as game history, game analysis, game mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics, 2D and 3D level design, as well as character design and play-testing. Additionally, students will take art courses in drawing, modeling, and animation, and technical courses in computer science and mathematics. Students applying to this program directly out of high school will need to have taken precalculus and received at least a B.

Applicants are also encouraged to take calculus, physics, and computer science before applying. DigiPen's classes are unique in that they emphasize semester-long projects giving students the opportunity to build their portfolios.

The unique thing about Hampshire College's major in game design and development is that it gives students a lot of freedom to design their plan of study and focus on building a successful portfolio. Hampshire has two labs for students to utilize; the Game Lab and Game Library, and the Hampshire College Cluster Computing Facility. The game lab is equipped with a projector and surround sound, as well as modern gaming consoles, and older consoles, such as an Atari 2600, and development consoles, like Oculus Rift with dev kit 2.

The location of this college may also be appealing to many prospective students. Hampshire is located in Amherst, Massachusetts, which was recently voted as one of the best college towns in two independent surveys.

The Interactive Arts and Media game design major at Columbia College in Chicago have the option of further specializing in one of the concentrations, including game art, development, and sound. One of the great features of this particular program is the senior capstone project which requires students in their senior year to work together as a team to produce a working game, giving them insight into what it is actually like to bring a game into production in the industry.

Students at Columbia College first complete course in the Interactive Arts and Media core, before embarking on their gaming studies. Some of the courses students in all of the concentrations will include Digital Image Design and Game Culture. Most schools do not give students the option to concentrate in sound design, making this program particularly unique for those who want to go into that niche field.

Northeastern University, located in Boston, Massachusetts gives students the opportunity to choose from one of three majors in the game development field. There is the BFA in games, the BFA in digital arts and game design, and the B.S. in computer science and game development. There is also a minor in game design available, as well. Additionally, there is a master's program in game science and design and a graduate certificate in game analytics available.

BFA students will take classes that focus on art and graphic design, while B.S. majors will take a variety of computer science classes. All students in one of the game departments will have the option to take classes such as Games and Society, Experimental Game Design, and the Business of Games.

The University of Pennsylvania offers an undergraduate degree in Digital Media Design, in addition to a Master's degree in Computer Graphics and Game Technology. The University of Pennsylvania is one of the eight Ivy League schools in the United States, so although admissions are competitive, you can be confident you are receiving an excellent education. Students in the program are required to spend at least one summer working in the multimedia industry. Applicants are encouraged to submit a portfolio.

Students are required to take six math courses, four natural science courses, 12 computer science and engineering courses, nine communication and fine arts courses, seven social science classes, and two electives. Alumni of this program have gone on to work for DreamWorks Animation, Disney Animation, Electronic Arts, Zynga Games, Microsoft, and Pixar.

The game design program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts is a BFA program and looks at game design as a creative art form. Students begin by taking courses like Games 101, which covers the history of video games and the industry before delving deeper into the subject matter by choosing to take classes that closely reflect their particular interest in the field. All students must complete a senior project that might involve creating a game, writing a research paper, or curating an exhibition.

In addition to the common application and the fee, students will need to submit a creative portfolio at to apply to this program. This portfolio must contain a personal statement, a creative project, that can be a game, video, website, or other creative endeavor, and a 1-page critical analysis.

MIT offers an undergraduate degree in Comparative Media Studies with a concentration in Games and Interactive Media. Students will take courses in video game theory, game design methods, and design interactions, in addition to other studio and design courses, and electives. This program has been highly ranked by the Princeton Review. Students have the opportunity to participate in research through the MIT Game Lab that focuses on developing new games and players' experiences.

Georgia Tech offers a B.S. in Computational Media, as well as an M.S. and Ph.D. in Digital Media. There are several labs and studios for students to work in including the Augmented Reality Game Studio, the entertainment intelligence lab, the Adam lab, and the Experimental game lab. Georgia Tech researchers are also involved in cutting-edge research and have been using big data algorithms to customize video game difficulty which has the ability to change the industry. The B.S. degree is offered as a joint venture between the College of Computing and Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

The New School offers a BFA in Design and Technology where students have the opportunity to concentrate in either Game Design or Creative Technology. The program is part of the School of Art, Media, and Technology and is very design focused, as opposed to technical heavy programs at some of the other schools on the list. One of the benefits of attending this school is the location. New York City is home to a thriving game development community, and The New School is the host school for the Northeast chapter of the Independent Game Developers Association.

Rochester Institute of Technology offers a B.S. and M.S. in Game Design and Development and a B.S. in New Media Interactive Development. There are also several minor options within the School of Interactive Games and Media. There are several labs equipped with the resources students need available seven days a week to work on assignments and independent projects. One of the unique features of this school is the co-op program which gives students the opportunity to gain career skills and experience what it is like to work in the gaming field.

Drexel has been ranked in the top 10 programs for video game design by Game Pro Media and the Princeton Review. The school offers a B.S. in Game Art and Production, a B.S. in Game Programming and Development, as well as an M.S. in Digital Media and a graduate certificate in game-based environments. Drexel shows its strength in the success of its students who have won First Place at Game Developer Conference's Intel Student Showcase, First Place in the Microsoft Imagine Cup, the Unity Awards, the GDC's Narrative Review Competition, and the Adobe Achievement Awards.

The program offers various gaming devices and game engines for students to work with, as well as an 80 seat 3D theater and a 3-screen stereoscopic VR CAVE.

The Savannah College of Art and Design offers a BA in digital media with a concentration in game development and a BFA in Interactive design and game development, in addition to two master's degrees. This program has won the top prize in the E3 College game competition for two years in a row. Students are encouraged to have a portfolio of their work put together by the time of graduation to show to prospective employers, giving them a leg up in interviews. The freshman application takes about 20 minutes to complete, and there is a $40 fee.

The University of Utah, located in Salt Lake City, has also been highly ranked by the Princeton Review and offers their students valuable internship experience that give them an idea of the artistry and technical skills required to make it in this field. The application process is selective and the admissions committee interviews each and every candidate to get to know them and their interests on a personal level. This program also has a diverse student body, so if you're looking to meet people from all over, this might be the program for you.

The University of Southern California offers two Bachelor's degrees and two Master's degree programs that prepare students for a future in game design. The Interactive Media and Game design program are offered through the school of Cinematic Arts, while the Computer Science program with a concentration in games is offered through the School of Engineering and is more technical in nature. Additionally, USC offers several minors that are relevant to video game design.USC's program has several distinguishing features that make it our top pick.

It has been recognized as one of the game design programs in North America by the Princeton Review. The program offers hands-on experience and the opportunity to be taught by impressive faculty members, such as Tracy Fullerton, who has won both a Games for Change "Game Changer" Award and Time Magazine's Best of the Web award.