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!

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  1. 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

    1. Hi Tonya, Wits Tech merged with RAU University on 1 January 2005 and became the University of Johannesburg. Their contact details:
      Department of Graphic Design
      Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA)
      Tel: +27 (0)11 559 1098/1117
      Email: eldam@uj.ac.za or web-fada@uj.ac.za

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

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

      1. Hi Erica. My daughter is grade 10 and want to study graphic design after school. Can you please help us with what subjects she should take in school we are not sure if she has the correct ones.

  5. Hi Erica, i have found this blog very informative, my son is doing Physical Science,EGD, Life Science, Maths Core and 2 languages, now he is in interested in doing Graphic Design after school. He’s in grade 10. Would you plz recommend best institutions as i dont want him to struggle to get job after finishing his degree. Plz help

  6. Hie Erica thank you so much for the information it has helped a lot . My daughter took a gap year last year because of financial problems she also wants to study graphic design next year,this blog has helped us to choose where to study.

  7. Hi Erica dankie vir jou waardevolle inligting. My seun het Graphic Design NQF Level 6, maar na baie jare wil hy graag sy BTech doen – enige plekke wat dit moontlik aanbied aanlyn of na-uurs. Hy werk bedags
    Het probreem ‘google’ maar kan niks optel nie

    1. Hi Erika I don’t have any queiries but I really loved how informative this blog post was Thank you so much. Keep up the great work.

  8. Hello Erica, my niece is currently studying Degree in Graphic Design (1st year) through Pearson Institute. In case she moves to a public institution e.g Peninsula, what will be an impact as she will be studying for a diploma? Is the standard the same or better?
    Furthermore are private institutions offer a better chance of getting a job?

    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Esther, your niece will have a better chance at getting a job if she has a degree. If she prefers to move over to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, she can do the BTech degree once she has her diploma.

  9. Very informative blog, learning more about graphic design as my son is interested in this field post matric. He will be in matric in 2019, will definately encourage him to check this out. Good starting point for research on this field. Just need more information on private colleges if they offer opporrunities for internship& better employability as compared to public universities. Will definately be visiting some early next year

  10. Good morning
    Thank you for your valuable advice and assistance.
    Are you familiar with Vega School? I would like to know whether this is a good college as there’s been some negative reviews. My son is looking at Graphic Design and they apparently offer a 3 year degree.
    Many thanks

  11. Hi , i have heard that people say that north west uni is the best in the whole country when studying graphic design… is that true? .. i have friends there at the moment and they are have complications so I’m stuck

  12. HI Erica,
    My daughter is looking at graphic design. Which one of the 3 institutes would you personally prefer, Vegas / Inscape or Open windows? We are so scared of making the wrong choice.

  13. Hello I am in grade 12 and I want to apply to a university and study web design but I don’t which course to take in University of Pretoria. Should it be in (BIS) Multimedia or BA(Information Design)

  14. Good morning. My son is currently Grade 10 and struggling to choose between Core maths and Maths literacy. Could he study graphic design with maths lit?

  15. Hello I would like to know I passed matric in 2014 and went straight to doing small jobs due to financial constraints, is it possible if I could get admission from any of the universities offering arts & design. Thanks in advance

  16. You need to update the independent schools section cause those are not the only institutions, there’s Vega School of .. and CTU.

  17. And one other thing.. is there really a difference between graphic design and visual communication?

  18. Hi Erica , Kindly help, my son is currently doing grade 11 doing EGD , design , maths lit CAT and other subjects now he wants to do an Automotive design course but don’t know which university that offers the automotive design.

  19. Hi Erica, I do not think Mac is so important, I was on Mac for 10 years and then switched to PC since 2003, which I found could handle fonts way better, with less hassle of loading/activating and less “freezing”. Adobe Creative suite cc works just as well in Windows on a good PC i7 or AMD Ryzen laptop, which costs much less for the same performance power.

    Thank you for an informative blog!!! I studied a Diploma in Graphic Design & Advertising Art at AAA (old Rosebank campus) completed in 1993.

    It has been a tough 27 years, but I am still a practicing designer (now 53) and was a visiting lecturer at Open Window in 2003 – 2004. What would I need to become a permanent lecturer in Graphic Design as most institutions including Damelin requires a Degreed lecturer.

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