Are you a gamer who dreams of one day getting paid to create video games? Have you ever played a video game and thought that you could do a better job coming up with the characters, dialogue, or rules? Maybe you should consider studying game design and entering a growing and lucrative field.
In this article, I'll explain game design, provide a list of the best video game design schools, and let you know how to use the list to help you find the right college for you.
What Is Game Design?
Game design is the field of making video games. Game designers help imagine and create the characters, plots, rules, interfaces, and environments for video games. The field of game design combines computer programming, creative writing, and graphic design.
Just because you like playing video games doesn't necessarily mean you'd like designing them. I really enjoy eating, but I don't like to cook. Game design combines technical and creative skills. You need to be skilled in math, art, and writing to be a competent game designer.
The Best Colleges for Video Game Design
Game design schools are colleges where you can study game design. At some of these schools, you can get a degree in game design. At others, you can study game design, but you'll get your degree in a related field like computer science or interactive media.
For each school that made the list of the best video game design colleges, I linked to its programs that are most closely related to game design. Some of these programs are majors while others are minors or concentrations in related majors. Click on the link to read about the program, the school's facilities, the program requirements, and the course offerings for the program.
Also, I wrote a few sentences on what makes each program unique. The best programs have extensive facilities dedicated to game design, provide thorough instruction in game design, and have a history of helping undergraduates land a quality job when they complete the program.
There are very few rankings of game design programs. The most referenced rankings come from Princeton Review, so my list comes from the Princeton Review rankings.
More than 60 data points were weighted to determine the rankings. The criteria to determine the rankings focused on curriculum, facilities, technology, and career services. Results were determined based on survey responses from school administrators on topics such as academic offerings, faculty credentials, graduates' employment history, and starting salaries. Speaking of salaries...according to PayScale (a salary listing website), Video Game Designers make an average of $67,604 a year.
But one of the first steps to having a career in video game design is getting a game design degree! Below you'll find the top 20 undergraduate schools to study game design in the United States. The Princeton Review list included international schools like The Art Institute of Vancouver in Canada and Abertay University in Scotland, but I excluded them from this list so that it focuses on the best programs in the U.S.
Game design grads can make good money. (Steven Depolo/Flickr)
About the Schools on This List
The schools that made the list are from every region of the U.S. and represent diverse types of colleges. There are large public colleges like the University of Utah and Michigan State, smaller public colleges like Shawnee State, tech colleges like Worcester Polytechnic, small private colleges like Hampshire College, larger private colleges like the University of Southern California and Drexel, and a small for-profit university, DigiPen Institute of Technology.
The 21 Best Game Design Schools in the United States
From my research, USC and the University of Utah have the most prestigious programs, but all of these schools have well-regarded game design programs and impressive facilities where you can play and design games.
#1: University of Southern California
- Acceptance Rate: 12%
- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 20,047
USC's location in Los Angeles gives it a distinct advantage in helping students gain employment after graduation because many of the top game design jobs are in LA. Students who want to focus on design and production can pursue the Interactive Media and Game Design degrees through the school of Cinematic Arts. Those who are more interested in the technical aspects of designing and developing games can pursue the Computer Science (Games) degree through the Viterbi School of Engineering. The breadth and depth of game design offerings separate USC from other game design schools.
The USC marching band. (David Yu/Flickr)
#2: New York University
- Acceptance Rate: 12%
- Location: New York, NY
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 29,700
NYU initiated its game design program in 2015. The program is already well-regarded because NYU offers its students access to advanced technology, it has a reputable computer science department, and the game design program is located in the famous Tisch School of the Arts. Not only does NYU offer a game design major and minor, but there is an entire department dedicated to game design.
#3: DigiPen Institute of Technology
- Acceptance Rate: 38%
- Location: Redmond, WA
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,084
- Computer Science and Game Design
- Game Design
DigiPen is a for-profit school that specializes in preparing students for careers in the video game industry. It began enrolling students in 1994, and it has received substantial support from Nintendo. Class sizes are small with a faculty to student ratio of 1:13. Students from DigiPen have won more awards at the Independent Games Festival than those from any other school. DigiPen's Redmond campus is near more than 96 game development studios.
#4: Rochester Institute of Technology
- Acceptance Rate: 74%
- Location: Rochester, NY
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 14,055
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) incorporates cooperative education into its game design program. Cooperative education is a full-time, paid work experience that provides students with an opportunity to learn on the job in a real-world industry setting. Graduates of RIT's game design and development programs have gone on to work at top gaming companies including Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Vicarious Visions, and Nickelodeon.
#5: University of Utah
- Acceptance Rate: 79%
- Location: Salt Lake City, UT
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 24,643
For its undergraduate program, the School of Computing and the Department of Film and Media Arts offer interdisciplinary emphases in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Students with a computer science emphasis focus on the technical aspects of video games. Students with a film and media arts emphasis focus on the tools and techniques required for game design, drawing, and storyboarding. The program culminates with a year-long senior project where students build a video game from the ground up.
Michigan State University is a great school for students interested in educational game design.
#6: Michigan State University
- Acceptance Rate: 71%
- Location: East Lansing, MI
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 39,423
Michigan State offers an undergraduate specialization in game design and development. Michigan State is also home to the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab, an association of game research and design faculty and students at Michigan State whose mission is to "design innovative prototypes, techniques, and complete games for entertainment and learning and to advance state of the art knowledge about social and individual effects of digital games."
Bradley University. (Bradley University/Flickr)
#7: Bradley University
- Acceptance Rate: 73%
- Location: Peoria, IL
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,574
Bradley University offers a game design major and minor. At Bradley, game design is part of both the Department of Interactive Media and the Department of Computer Science & Information Systems. Bradley also offers concentrations in game design, animation, and computer game technology.
#8: Shawnee State University
- Acceptance Rate: 99%
- Location: Portsmouth, OH
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,304
Shawnee State offers a bachelor's degree in gaming and simulation, which is a computer science degree. Also, it offers a bachelor's degree in gaming arts, a Bachelor of Fine Arts program with a concentration in 3D modeling and texturing. Furthermore, it offers a minor in game design.
#9: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
- Acceptance Rate: 49%
- Location: Worcester, MA
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,892
Worcester Polytechnic's Interactive Media and Game Development program focuses on merging art with technology. Like many of the other top programs, WPI encourages a hands-on approach to learning that allows students to create their own games and collaborate with their peers.
#10: Drexel University
- Acceptance Rate: 75%
- Location: Philadelphia, PA
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 14,367
At Drexel, the game design program is a collaborative effort between the digital media program and the computer science department. Drexel's game design program offers some impressive resources including an 80-seat 3D theater, a green screen/motion capture studio, and audio recording studios. For the Tetris game he created in 2014, Professor Frank Lee was given a Guinness World Record for the largest architectural video game display.
Main Building at Drexel. (Tom Ipri/Flickr)
#11: University of Central Florida
- Acceptance Rate: 45%
- Location: Orlando, FL
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 60,075
Florida Interactive Game Entertainment Academy at UCF offers a video game production concentration. Students have the opportunity to study the main skills all game producers need. You'll learn about design, scripting, and project management. This major is for people looking to explore multiple facets of game production, including management, creative, and technical skills.
#12: Hampshire College
- Acceptance Rate: 59%
- Location: Amherst, MA
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 522
Students at Hampshire are given a great deal of freedom in designing their own course of study. Many game design and development students create their own games with the help of peers and advisers. Some game design courses you can take at Hampshire include pixel bending and analog game design.
One downside is that Hampshire has been going through a lot of financial struggles recently, making its future as an independent institution of higher education uncertain. Keep this in mind if you're particularly interested in the video game design program at Hampshire—you can easily cross-register at (and in the worst-case scenario, can transfer to) Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and UMass Amherst as a Hampshire student, but you won't find the same game design classes at these schools.
Champlain College offers three different types of game design degrees for undergraduates.
#13: Champlain College
- Acceptance Rate: 85%
- Location: Burlington, VT
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,078
Champlain offers a game design major for students. Also, Champlain has a dedicated Game Studio where students can collaborate and build their own video games. Champlain has new multimedia, 3D art, and game production labs. Furthermore, game design students are given the opportunity to study abroad in Montreal, home of the Montreal Game Summit and the Montreal International Game Developers Association. Courses in Montreal are taught by game industry professionals in collaboration with game faculty at the main campus.
#14: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Acceptance Rate: 57%
- Location: Troy, NY
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,283
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Games and Simulation Arts program focuses on combining theory and practice, which is great for students looking to continue their education in a Master's or Ph.D. program. Rensselaer's program is also interdisciplinary, so students get to explore both the technical and creative sides of game design. Also worth noting is that Rensselaer is one of the only game design schools to offer a concentration in writing, so if you want to develop narrative games, this might be the right program for you!
#15: Cogswell College, University of Silicon Valley
- Acceptance Rate: 42%
- Location: San Jose, CA
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 524
Cogswell College offers a Bachelor of Arts in Game Design Art for students looking to focus on the creative elements of game design, and a Bachelor of Science in Game Design Engineering for students who want to focus on the technical elements like development. The program is big on hands-on experience, and encourages all students to work on teams that create and develop their own games.
The University of Texas at Dallas has state-of-the-art facilities for game design students, including a motion capture lab and a sound design lab.
#16: University of Texas at Dallas
- Acceptance Rate: 79%
- Location: Richardson, TX
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 21,383
The University of Texas at Dallas is a relative newcomer to the list of best game design colleges in the U.S, but it's made a big splash with its BA in Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication degree. Students can choose from four educational concentrations: animation, critical media studies, games, and design and production. Students enrolled in this program have access to state-of-the art facilities, including a 3D studio, the Motion Capture Lab, render farms, and even sound design studios.
#17: Laguna College of Art and Design
- Acceptance Rate: 83%
- Location: Laguna Beach, CA
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 782
LCAD's BFA in Game Art focuses on getting students ready for the gaming workforce. Students get hands-on experience working in the programs that they will use throughout their career, and get to work with teams to create games from scratch. LCAD students also benefit from the many industry experts that teach at the college.
#18: University of Wisconsin: Stout
- Acceptance Rate: 90%
- Location: Menomonie, WI
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,631
The BFA in Game Design and Development offers top-notch equipment and professional tools as students learn the ins and outs of game design. Students work with computer science students and professors to get the most out of their degree, and to ensure that they have a well-rounded base of knowledge as they go out into the workforce. UW-Stout was the national co-champion at the E3 College Game Competition.
#19: Ferris State University
- Acceptance Rate: 82%
- Location: Big Rapids, MI
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 9,929
At Ferris State, all students in the Digital Animation and Game Design program are required to complete an internship to get real-world experience and make connections to help them professionally after they graduate. Ferris State also offers a Peer Mentor Program where sophomore, junior, and senior Digital Animation and Game Design majors serve as role models and help first-year students succeed academically.
The Digital Animation and Game Design program is focused on helping students reach their career goals. Students are given instruction on how to prepare a professional portfolio and demo reel and how to find a job in their chosen field.
#20: Miami University
- Acceptance Rate: 92%
- Location: Oxford, OH
- Undergraduate Enrollment: 16,522
Miami University's Interactive Media Studies program is an interdisciplinary major that allows students to study design, business, and technology. Students can declare a concentration in applied or digital interactive media studies, with the aim of positioning themselves as digital experts in their fields post-graduation. This is a highly competitive program with limited openings for applicants. Miami University is also working to launch a Games and Simulation major, which focuses on all aspects of creating and interpreting games.
#21: Savannah College of Art and Design
- Acceptance rate: 73%
- Location: Savannah, GA
- Undergraduate enrollment: 11,789
The Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD, is one of the most recognized art schools in the U.S. It also boasts a robust game design program that has two concentrations: interactive design and game design. SCAD students compete (and win!) at the highest levels in prestigious competitions like E3 College Game Competition, the Blizzard Entertainment Student Art Contest, the Intel University Games Showcase, and The Rookies. And because SCAD is a dedicated art school, students are encouraged to double major in other artistic areas, including animation, visual effects, and motion media design.
How Should You Use This List?
If you want to go to a top game design school, you should research the schools on this list that interest you to determine if they're schools you should apply to or attend. Figure out whether you prefer a program that focuses solely on game design or if you want to attend a school that will offer you a broader, more interdisciplinary education. What aspects of game design interest you the most? Which schools offer you opportunities to reach your specific academic and professional goals?
Even if you know you want to pursue game design, there are many factors to consider to help determine if a college is a good fit for you including size, location, selectivity, and cost. Look at the school's website and game design programs and use guidebooks, college finders, and other ranking lists to help you in the college selection process. If possible, consult with teachers, counselors, parents, current students, and alumni.
Also, keep in mind that many students change their majors or career goals while they're in college. Even though you may be determined to pursue game design now, after taking game design classes in college or an inspiring course in another field, you may change your plans.
Therefore, you should consider attending a school where you'll be happy, receive a good education, and be able to pursue your interests even if you eventually decide not to study game design.
Want to dip your toe into the world of design? Learn about the 7 principles used in design across many different fields (including game design!) here.
If you want to go to a school that focuses on art, check out the 10 best art schools in the United States. Also, you may be interested in the 17 best fine arts colleges in the US or our walkthrough of how to draw contour line art.
If selectivity is an important factor for you in choosing a college, take a look at the colleges with the lowest acceptance rates.
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Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.