So you’re thinking about grad school… A few years ago, I found myself in the exact same place. Having gone through the process of researching, applying to, and even completing a UX master’s degree (UW MS HCDE class of ’17!) I thought I’d put together a post that might help others who are in the same position.
To give you some context on where I’m coming from, let me tell you a bit of my story:
I graduated from SJSU in 2013 with a double major in Behavioral Science and Psychology. Out of school I spent about a year and a half working at a biomedical device start up based out of Los Altos that was creating an iPad application to measure blood loss during surgery. I spent my first 6 months in hospital operating rooms talking with doctors and nurses while collecting data for a study that the company was submitting to the FDA. At around month 7, the company was re-designing their app and since I had spent the last 6 months talking to users every day, I became really involved in the re-design. That was my first taste of UX work and I liked it a lot. Fast forwarding a bit – UX tasks at the company dried up (they were a pre-commercialization startup and more focused on selling product than designing products at that point) so I decided to leave.
I was applying to UX jobs and did get a few interviews but at this point, I had only a very small amount of UX experience. I was always interested in graduate school so at this point it kind of made sense to just go for it. With my educational and work background I felt like I had good research skills and understood a user centric perspective, but no real training in design or tech. So what I was most looking to get out of school was an opportunity to develop/hone design and coding skills, and build out a portfolio.
Without further ado, here is “Spencer’s non-exhaustive guide to HCI masters programs.”
There are a lot of programs out there and a lot of factors to consider. If you’re interested in pursuing further studies/ a graduate degree in HCI / UX etc. I would strongly encourage you to ask yourself:
- What skills do I already bring to the table?
- i.e. research, design, coding, copywriting, understanding of business needs, people skills, team management skills, etc.
- What do I want to get out of a program?
- For me this was “I know research already but I want to become a capable designer and programmer, and I need to build out a strong portfolio.”
- What are my (specific) career goals after finishing a program?
- UX Designer? Interaction designer? Motion designer? UX Researcher? Project manager? Product Manager? UX Writer? Teacher?
- What type of program will best suit my needs?
- One year programs get you up to speed and out working more quickly but are typically so packed with stuff that you can’t really do much work outside. Some of my friends who completed similar programs felt they were a bit rushed.
- Enrolling in a multi- year program means potentially more time to absorb content/develop skills, plus you will have a summer break -> internship opportunity! Also, depending on the program, opportunity to work while in school, etc. Tradeoff is more time spent in school.
- Bootcamps/certificates are lighter on content but much faster and cheaper, and in some cases may be all that you need.
I did a bunch of research of different graduate programs in HCI/ UX related fields but on a high level – there are a few different types of programs out there:
- “Professional programs” like MS HCDE, CMU MS-HCI, UW MHCID. These are mostly skills/professional development focused and are typically 1 year full time (ex: CMU-MCHI, UW-MCHID) because they are for people who want to do a career change/level up skills and get working quickly. They give you opportunities to network and get a portfolio built fast so you can get back out there. These are what I would call “terminal” degrees.
- “Theoretical programs” such as Stanford MS Symbolic Systems, U-Mich I-School. These are typically 2 years+. While these are also good for people who want to work in industry, I think they are more geared towards those who are thinking about a PhD at some point. A lot less applied, less portfolio focused, more theoretical, and with a “pure research” bent. (*Bear in mind this is my outsider assessment.)
- Non degree programs such as bootcamps, certificates. General Assembly offers a lot of these, UW also has a certificate in User Centered Design. These are similar to the professional programs mentioned above but on a much more accelerated timescale, and with lower capital investment.
Some breakdown info on programs that I researched (also available as a spreadsheet – and updated with some international programs that may be free, even to non-EU citizens ). I can’t guarantee any of this is accurate now but it was in 2015:
|School Name||Location||Website||Program Title||Degree Type||Duration||GRE Required?||Application Date (2015)||Application Requirements (2015)||Total Estimated Cost of Tuition|
|University of Washington||Seattle, WA||http://www.hcde.washington.edu/ms||MS Human Centered Design & Engineering||MS||2 years||No||1/15/15||Prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree, one college statistics class. Application: Personal statement, 3 letters of reccomendation, current CV/Resume, optional portfolio, questionnaire, unofficial transcripts PDF from all schools||$46,416.00|
|CSULB||Long Beach, CA||http://www.csulb.edu/colleges/cla/departments/psychology/ms-human-factors/#Overview||MS in Psychology, Option in Human Factors||MS||2 years||1/15/15||Pre-requisites: GRE (institution 4389, department 2016), Psychology undergrad. Application due on CSU mentor by Jan 15, Application due to department by Jan 15. Official transcript due to department by Feb 5. Letters of reccomendation, statement of purpose|
|University Of Michigan||Ann Arbor, MI||https://www.si.umich.edu/academics/msi/human-computer-interaction-hci||Master of Science Information, HCI Specialization||MS||2 Years||Yes||1/15/15||First Consideration for Financial Aid: Apply by 1/15/15, Final Deadline: 5/1/15. PreReq: 4 Year Degree, Transcripts, GRE (Institution code: 1839), Statement of Purpose (4-6 pages), Personal Statement(1-2 pages), 3 letters of Rec, Resume|
|University of Washington||seattle||http://mhcid.washington.edu/curriculum/||Master of Human Computer Interaction and Design||M-HCI+D||1 year||Yes||1/20/15||Prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree, 3.0 GPA in last 60 Units. Application: GRE (strongly reccommended), Portfolio of design or development work (optional), Resume or CV, statement of applicable work experience (optional), Statement of purpose, application questionnaire, 3 letters of reccomendation, unofficial transcripts from all schools||$45,770.00|
|Carnegie Mellon University||Pittsburgh, PA||http://www.hcii.cmu.edu/||Masters of Human Computer Interaction||MHCI||2 years -3 semesters||Yes||1/31/15||Prerequisites: GRE. Application: 3 letters of reccomendation (submitted online), current resume, transcripts from all schools attended (unofficial with application, official by mail) GRE: Institution code, 2074; Department code, 0402||$41,000.00|
|SJSU||San Jose, CA||http://www.engr.sjsu.edu/hfe/||MS Human Factors & Ergonomics||MS||2 years||No||2/1/15||Prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree, GPA of 3.0 or better. Application: online applicaiton, 3 letters of reccomendation,||$34,360.00|
|Georgia Tech||Atlanta, GA||http://mshci.gatech.edu/||MS-HCI||MS||2 Years||Yes||2/1/15||Prerequisites: Undergraduate GPA >=3.0, GRE (Desired >=80th percentile on all subtests). Application: Educational/professional background, statement of purpose, letters of reccomendation. Gre:Institute Code 5248||$88,104.00|
|Stanford||Stanford, CA||https://symsys.stanford.edu/viewing/htmldocument/14246||MS Symbolic Systems||MS||2 Years||2/17/15|
|Indiana University- Purdue University Indiana||Indianapolis||http://soic.iupui.edu/hcc/graduate/hci-masters/||MS Human Computer Interaction||MS||2 Years||3/15/15|
|Arizona State University||Mesa, AZ||http://innovation.asu.edu/degrees-programs/human-environmental-systems/applied-psychology-graduate||MS in Applied Psychology||MS||2 Years||4/1/15||Pre-Req: Bachelor’s Degree, Undergrad Stats course, 3.0 GPA. Application: Online Application, Transcripts, GRE, 3 letters of Rec, Resume, personal statement|
|De Paul University||Chicago, IL||http://www.cdm.depaul.edu/academics/Pages/MSinHuman-ComputerInteraction.aspx||MS in Human Computer Interaction||MS||Pre-Req: 2.5 GPA, Bachelor’s Degree. Application: Transcripts, BA, Optional Resume, Optional Letters of Reccomendation|
|Rochester Institute of Technology||Rochester, NY||https://www.rit.edu/programs/human-computer-interaction||MS Human Computer Interaction||MS||8/1/15||Pre-Req: Bachelor’s Degree, Undergrad GPA 3.0, GRE if GPA below 3.0, pre-existing skill in computing as demonstrated through work experience. Application: Electronic application, Transcripts, 2 recommendations, Curent Resume||$40,820.00|
|University Of Texas Austin||Austin, TX||https://www.ischool.utexas.edu/programs/masters||MS Information Studies||MS||2 Years||Yes||12/1/14||Apply by 9/1/15 for spring admission|
|University of Colorado- Boulder||Boulder, CO||http://www.colorado.edu/cs/prospective-students||MS in Computer Science||MS||12/15/14|
|University of Maryland||MS Human Computer Interaction||MS||Yes||12/15/14|
|Indiana University- Bloomington||Bloomington Indiana||http://www.soic.indiana.edu/graduate/degrees/informatics/hcid/index.html||MS Human Computer Interaction Design||MS||2 years||Yes||1/1/15||3 letters of reference, GRE Required (IU’s institution code for reporting your GRE scores is 1324, and the department code is 0404 for informatics degrees.) Statement of purpose, Transcripts|
|UC Irvine||Irvine CA||http://www.ics.uci.edu/grad/degrees/index.php?track=inf-ict||MS Information and Computer Science, Concentration in Informatics||MS||12/15/14|
|UC Berkeley||Berkeley CA||http://www.ischool.berkeley.edu/programs/mims||Master of Information Management Systems||MS||2 Years||Yes||1/6/15||Pre-Requirements: Bachelor’s Degree, GPA > 3.0, GRE Scores, Statement of Purpose, Programming Competency and Proficiency. Application: Statement of Purpose and Personal History. 3 professional letters of recommendation.|
|MIT||Cambridge, MA||http://www.media.mit.edu/||Media Lab|
What I did:
After carefully considering my needs, I ended up applying to 8 grad programs:
- UW HCDE
- UW MHCID
- GA Tech MS-HCI
- U Michigan Information school (they have an HCI specialization)
- CMU M-HCI
- SJSU MS Human Factors
- CSULB MS Human Factors
My top 3 were UW HCDE, CMU M-HCI, and GA Tech M-HCI. I got accepted to all of them but I eventually chose HCDE because:
- It’s a two-year program, which to me meant more time to think/develop ideas during school
- I wanted the opportunity for an internship
- Seattle is a really great place for networking in the tech industry.
As far as getting into HCDE: It sounds like admission is becoming more competitive each year. I took the time to read the research of a bunch of different professors etc. while I was applying and just made sure to follow the application instructions to a tee. I think it also helped me a lot that I already had relevant experience, a UX portfolio, really good undergrad GPA, and high GRE score. The program’s administrator Pat Reilly might have more info for you about what they are looking for these days. I’d also really encourage you to reach out to professors at the school.
At another point I may do a more complete write-up of my experience in the HCDE MS program but for now, here are some other links to check out:
- What is the ideal career path for an interaction designer?
- UX Degrees – A Global List of UX-related Bachelor & Master Degrees
- What is the best masters program to learn UX or Interaction design?
- Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- What are the best graduate programs for HCI in the United States and Europe?
- Graduate Degrees in Software Ergonomics
- Interaction Design Association
- How my HCI graduate education prepared me to be an Interaction Designer
- Tips on writing a statement of purpose
- What should be the flow of thoughts in a statement of purpose (SOP) for graduate admissions?
- Hiring a product designer: how to review portfolios
- What makes a great UX Design portfolio?