Study Graphic Design: Universities vs Independent Design Schools

I have had a few queries regarding where to study Graphic Design – at Universities or Independent Schools. In my previous blog post, Where to study graphic design in South Africa, I listed a few noteworthy tertiary institutions in South Africa which offer graphic design, and basically left it up to you to decide for yourself, as I do think it ultimately comes down to personal preference . But there are a few things to consider when making that choice (you need to get a job after you have completed your studies after all).So what is the difference between a University and an Independent Design School? After some intense research this is what I discovered:

Universities of Technology


± R 20 950.00 per year


A National Senior Certificate or an equivalent qualification.


  • Communication Design I
  • Design Techniques I
  • Graphic Design Drawing I
  • History of Art and Design I
  • Professional Graphic Design Practice I

Cape Peninsula University of Technology

National Diploma: Graphic Design (3 Year Diploma)
Baccalaureus Technologiae: Graphic Design (4th Year Degree after National Diploma)

Tshwane University of Technology

National Diploma: Graphic Design (3 Year Diploma)
Bachelor’s Degree in Technology: Graphic Design (4th Year Degree after National Diploma)
Masters Degree in Technology: Graphic Design (1 – 3 Years)
Doctorate in Technology: Graphic Design (2 – 5 Years)



± R 35 000.00 per year


National Senior Certificate with full university exemption.


  • Information Design
  • Imaging and Visualisation
  • Visual Culture Studies
  • Computer Literacy
  • Academic Skills
  • Academic Literacy

University of Johannesburg

BA (Design) (Communication Design) (3 Year Degree)
BTech: Graphic Design (4th Year Degree after BA)

North West University

BA Graphic Design (4 Year Degree)

University of Pretoria

BA Information Design (4 Year Degree)

University of Stellenbosch

BA in Visual Arts (4 Year Degree)

Independent Design Schools


± R 65 000.00 per year


Appropriate combination of recognised National Senior Certificate subjects as well as certain levels of achievement in matric in these subjects.


  • History of Graphic Design and Advertising
  • Drawing
  • Rendering
  • Illustration
  • Typography
  • Perceptual Studies
  • 2D & 3D design
  • Graphic Design
  • Art Direction
  • Introduction to DTP
  • Principles of Marketing Communication

AAA School of Advertising

Diploma in Visual Communication (3 Year Diploma)
BA (Creative Brand Communication) (3 Year Degree)

Inscape Design College

Diploma in Graphic & Communication Design (3 Year Diploma)
Degree in Graphic & Communication Design (3 Year Degree)


Universities of Technology are well balanced between practical and theory.  You may feel that by studying design, theory is not important, but I can assure that it is. Universities of Technology only offer a 3 year national diploma with the option of a 4th year BTech degree.  They are also your cheapest option.

Universities are generally more theory focused. You need a national certificate to be accepted and in some cases a full university exemption is required.  Besides the University of Johannesburg, the degree takes 4 years to complete.

Independent Design Schools are very focused on the practical aspect of design; you start designing from your first year.  They give you a choice of doing either a 3 year diploma or a degree and cover all aspects of design.  They are however the most expensive.

Lastly, here is a list of things to check when looking for a place to study graphic design:

  1. Ensure that the course takes at least three years to complete.
  2. You need to be Mac literate, so make sure they teach you with Apple Macs.
  3. The best design software for today’s industry is Adobe’s Creative Suite, so make sure they use Adobe!
  4. Find out if they include an internship as part of their programme.
  5. If possible, visit the school and sit in on some of the classes – you’ll soon know if this is the right place for you.

Good luck and I hope this has helped you make that important decision.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated – so please leave a comment!

83 Responses

  • Hi
    I studied Graphic Design in 1986-1988 at what was then called WITS TECH. It was a 3 year diploma. I am now wanting to do a post grad at UTC and need to find out wat happened to that department so I can get some records. Could anyone assist me

  • Am from tanzania I have a diploma of journalism now I want to apply degree of graphcs desghn . What procedures should I follow ?

  • Hi, my son passed matric last year with varsity entrance to do a degree. He is interested in doing Graphic design. By now all varsities are closed for admission and maybe he can try technicons. As a new student where would you suggest he goes?

  • Good evening Erica
    I find you blog the most interesting read this year mostly because my son is interested in doing his National Diploma in Graphic Design. I find that all the smaller institutions offers a more one on one ratio to that of Universities and Technicons. However i am faced with another question. If you complete your National Diploma at the smaller institutions can you then go onto the University to complete your Btech Degree?
    Also can you please provide me with a list of registered institutions where this National Diploma can be done in Cape Town.
    Your assistance is greatly appreciated.
    Thanking you in advance.

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