Master's Programs

Program Questions

  1. What is the format of your masters programs?
  2. What is the difference between the MA/MPS/MDes?
  3. What's the difference between the MDES and the Ph.D.?
  4. How are the Master's programs in the School of Design different from MHCI and MIIPS, which are also offered at Carnegie Mellon?
  5. How does CMU's Design for Interactions program compare to interaction design programs elsewhere?
  6. Is there interdisciplinary collaboration on campus?
  7. What are the demographics of the MA program? Do students generally have some sort of design background?
  8. How old are students in the masters programs?
  9. Are the MA, MDES and MPS STEM-eligible programs?
  10. Can I start the program either in the Fall or Spring semesters?
  11. Can I pursue a graduate degree fully online?
  12. May I create a joint degree with Business/Arts Management/whomever?
  13. Can I apply to both the School of Design and HCI programs?
  14. Can I transfer between the School of Design and HCI programs?
  15. If I just want to take a class or two, do I need to apply to the program?
  16. Do you accept transfer credits?

Admissions Questions

  1. What are the deadlines for the fall and the spring admission processes?
  2. Will you waive the admission fee?
  3. What is the SoD acceptance rate for each program?
  4. How many students are brought into the masters cohort?
  5. What constitutes a design background (for MPS/MDes)?
  6. My background is in a field other than design. Can I apply?
  7. What should I do if I don't know which program (MA/MPS/MDes) is the best fit?
  8. Can I apply to the MDes/MPS if I have experience but not a degree in Design?
  9. What constitutes one year of experience?
  10. Why do you require two years of experience?
  11. I want to join a masters program as soon as I complete my undergraduate degree. How heavily does professional experience weigh into the acceptance process?
  12. I have work experience, but not in design. Will this experience be considered on my application?
  13. Can I be accepted without completing my undergraduate degree? I do have work experience.
  14. As an undergraduate student, how can I prepare to apply to the School of Design's masters programs?
  15. What if my undergrad grades weren't stellar?
  16. I have a degree/diploma that I got in a three-year program abroad. Am I eligible to apply for the MDes program?
  17. Is an on-campus interview required for admission?
  18. Can I defer enrollment?
  19. What is the process of application for MA to MPS/MDes program?

Financial Questions

Application Questions


PROGRAM QUESTIONS

What is the format of your masters programs?
We have a mixed curriculum of studios, seminars, and lab courses. Most of them combine theory and practice, integrating a mix of hands-on experiences with reading and writing activities. In combination with the intellectual grounding of design, we believe that making skills—prototyping, tinkering, iterating are critically important to the practice of design. We also strongly value design research and communication skills as core components of the design process. As a result, you'll see these topics woven into all facets of our curriculum.

What is the difference between the MA/MPS/MDes?
The MA is a one-year program geared towards people who are interested in taking a first step in transitioning to design from another discipline or seek to add a design complement the their existing profile. It focuses on introducing students to fundamental principles, approaches, and tools that are essential to designing for interactions, including visual communication, prototyping, and human-centered practices.

The MPS caters to those who want to deepen practical knowledge in design for interactions while learning approaches and theories that are at the forefront of design and innovating with technology. It is typically suited for those currently working in various design fields for whom the redirection to interaction design would be a modest turn. It is a one-year intensive consisting of required course work, with a single elective.

The MDes is still considered the "terminal" degree for design practice and university-level teaching. The key difference between the MDes and MPS is, in addition to the required coursework of the MPS, the MDES program includes a thesis project that combines research and design practice, which students conduct primarily in their second year of study, alongside a set of three electives, one additional seminar, and a series of four thesis prep courses. Students also typically secure an internship between the first and second year of the MDes program.

What's the difference between the MDES and the Ph.D.?
The MDes is the terminal degree of professional design practice. The Ph.D. is a research degree for students who want to investigate fundamental problems in the nature and practice of design.

How are the Master's programs in the School of Design different from MHCI and MIIPS, which are also offered at Carnegie Mellon?
SoD & MHCI
There are several differences. While both programs are one year, our MA (and MPS) are one academic year, two semesters (our MDES is two academic years). The MHCI is one full year, 12 months, with two semesters followed by a summer intensive capstone team client project. The client basis of the capstone tends to focus on implementable technology solutions for today, in contrast to some of the work we do in design, which can be future-speculative and often conceptual.

The MHCI is housed in the school of Computer Science, and therefore has a technology-first emphasis. It takes a three-pronged approach that focuses on cross-training in technology, behavioral science, and design, and tends to recruit students from those backgrounds. The faculty is primarily comprised of technologists/computer scientists, and behavioral/social scientists/psychologists, with a handful of designers. As a result, they tend to have a more scientific, empirical model of research in methods, process, outcomes, and publications than the School of Design.

The School of Design addresses technology, but we are design-led, with an emphasis on human-centered design for interactions and design that doesn't harm living things, including our planet. Our research and education is focused on understanding people from a holistic viewpoint, addressing personal, social, and societal needs and positioning design as a catalyst for positive change. This may result in a technology solution, or not. Our research is not exclusively qualitative, but it certainly leans that way and employs design-based research methods.

The vast majority of our 18-20 full time faculty are designers of one stripe or another. Some come from professional practice; many are rooted in history, theory, and philosophy, and some in both. Most are active design researchers, and some maintain professional practices as well. Your education here is firmly grounded in design principles, methods, and practice, with an emphasis on both a rigorous design process and strong visual and verbal communication of research findings and solutions.

We find that many people are looking for a complement to their existing backgrounds, so applicants may find it helpful to seek a modest contrast in their studies (e.g. designers who layer on HCI studies; computer scientists seeking a more robust design component to their career). Others are looking to deepen an existing career, and therefore choose to continue from design through design, or from tech and science backgrounds though HCI.

SoD & MIIPS
The MII-PS program recruits students primarily from Industrial Design, Engineering, and Business, and offer cross-training in all three disciplines in a collaborative course and project-based one-year program. You can find more information at this link. https://www.cmu.edu/iii/degrees/miips/9.html

How does CMU's Design for Interactions program compare to interaction design programs elsewhere?
We take a very broad view of design and intentionally differentiate between "Design for Interactions" and interaction design. Design for interactions encompasses how people interact with each other and with the world (environment, artifacts), and the role design plays in mediating and enhancing these interactions. Whereas some programs focus almost exclusively on digital products (screens and devices), we see these as one of many possibilities within design for interactions. With the emphasis on the quality of interactions, design may leverage multiple touchpoints including products, systems, environments, and services.

We are also differentiated from other programs through our reputation in human-centered research and design, which now includes a mindfulness for design's impact on all living things, including the planet. We are a process-oriented school, meaning that we care as deeply about how solutions are developed as the final form they take. We ground creative and visual/aural/temporal decisions in a rigorous approach, combining primary and secondary research methods. Being situated in a university setting also provides access to multiple disciplines, including sciences and social sciences, business, policy, and unique institutes such as Human-Computer Interaction, Language Technologies, and Robotics, among others.

Is there interdisciplinary collaboration on campus?
Interdisciplinary collaborations on campus happen in a variety of ways. First, you will often encounter students from other disciplines in your required courses and those you elect to take. Second, many students fulfill their elective course options in other schools or departments on campus. In some cases, faculty are specifically looking for design students to join classes or teams. Third, there are often research projects, and sometimes competitions, that specifically recruit or look for an interdisciplinary cohort of students to participate. In general, CMU is an interesting place to work and study because of the diversity of schools, departments, and institutes on campus. For a relatively small university, there are world class schools of business, computer science, humanities and social sciences, and public policy and arts management, along with entities such as the Robotics Institute, the Language Technologies Institute, the Tepper School of Business, the Integrated Innovation Institute, and the Human Computer Interaction Institute. While it is sometimes challenging to gain admission into specific courses, there is generally a spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration on campus.

What are the demographics of the MA program? Do students generally have some sort of design background?
Demographics for our graduate programs vary year to year, but because the MA explicitly caters to non-designers, we work with a wide range of students with backgrounds in such disciplines as engineering, sciences, social sciences, arts, and business. Former students have included a photojournalist, an anthropologist, an ethnographer, an engineer, someone with an MBA, a college English teacher, a former kindergarten teacher, and someone with a math and sciences background who had taken some design courses.

How old are students in the masters programs?
Are students tend to be career professionals who vary in age. However, the majority of our students are in their late 20s or early 30s. We appreciate a diverse student population, differing each year, that bring a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to our programs.

Are the MA, MDES and MPS STEM-eligible programs?
They are not.

Can I start the program either in the Fall or Spring semesters?
We accept students once a year, for Fall admission only. The application deadline is January 15.

Can I pursue a graduate degree fully online?
The graduate program is intended to be in-person (projected for 2022-2023), please apply with this policy in mind.

May I create a joint degree with Business/Arts Management/whomever?
We do not offer joint degrees. In the School of Design, as is typical of Carnegie Mellon's other graduate-level programs, courses may be counted towards multiple degrees.

Can I apply to both the School of Design and HCI programs?
Yes, you may apply to both graduate programs in the SoD and HCI. Please keep in mind that admissions committees and application requirements are completely separate as they reside within different schools within Carnegie Mellon.

Can I transfer between the School of Design and HCI programs?
No, students may not transfer between graduate programs. However, you may take electives in another program and explore research opportunities to interact with a range of professors and students.

If I just want to take a class or two, do I need to apply to the program?
If you simply wish to take a course, whether it be for credit or audit, you need not be a matriculated student. You will have to pay a one-time fee to register as a non-matriculating student, and then pay tuition (tuition is charged even if it's an audit). Before paying the registration fee, it's best to email the instructor to see if you can gain admittance into a course. Very popular courses and those that are degree requirements give preference to Carnegie Mellon students.

Do you accept transfer credits?
We do not accept transfer credits because our graduate program is quite short, and most studios, seminars, and courses are specific and sequenced for the degrees we offer.


ADMISSIONS QUESTIONS

What are the deadlines for the fall and the spring admission processes?
There is only one submission deadline per year (January 15) and applicants are notified of admissions decisions on or before March 15. There are other admissions events throughout the year to help those interested in our programs learn about them and meet with SoD faculty/students. For more information on these events please email the graduate program coordinator.

Will you waive the admission fee?
The admissions fee is required for all applications. Please contact the graduate program coordinator directly with any additional questions.

What is the SoD acceptance rate for each program?
Acceptance rates vary among our programs and from year to year, depending on the number of applications we receive and the amount of open spots we have for new students. Nonetheless, we typically accept about 40% of our applicant pool.

How many students are brought into the masters cohort?
Each year, we strive to bring twelve students into each of our masters program—MA, MPS, and MDes—and welcome twelve returning MDes students to complete the second year of the program, for a total of approximately 50 students across the masters cohort.

What constitutes a design background (for MPS/MDes)?
We define a design background fairly broadly, including but not limited to degrees in Communication/Graphic Design, Industrial/Product Design, Interaction Design, Fine Art, Multimedia, Architecture. We are looking for you to have a a strong command of foundational design knowledge and skills and a deep understanding and practice of design processes. In the event that you apply to the MPS or MDes and we believe you are better suited to the MA to gain a strong foundation in design we may recommend entry into that program.

My background is in a field other than design. Can I apply?
We review applications from a wide range of undergraduate degrees and professional backgrounds. Our programs are designed to accommodate students with design experience, as well as those looking to transition into design careers from other disciplines or add a design complement to their existing professional profile. Students applying from non-design backgrounds should apply to the MA in Design program.

What should I do if I don't know which program (MA/MPS/MDes) is the best fit?
We encourage you to review program guidelines and based on your experience apply to the program that you believe is the best fit. However, when the Admissions Committee reviews all applications, they may make a recommendation for another program depending on your background.

Can I apply to the MDes/MPS if I have experience but not a degree in Design?
We will look for your portfolio to demonstrate a background in visual design (ex. communication/graphic design, product design, architecture, art) and a clear understanding of design processes, iteration, critique, and prototyping. If you think you have those, you may want to apply directly to the MPS or MDES program. However, if the committee believes that you would benefit from courses that teach foundational knowledge and skills that are needed for advanced study in interaction design, they may recommend admission into the MA program as a first step.

What constitutes one year of experience?
The School of Design recognizes full-time employment that is conducted after receiving an undergraduate degree (preferably lasting at least twelve continuous months) as one year of professional experience. We do not accept time spent conducting internships as professional experience.

Why do you require two years of experience?
In addition to personal maturity that usually comes with age, we find that students with work experience are able to benefit from the program because they have a context for design. They are able to relate their education to what they have experienced in the workplace, and, vice versa, and are able to contribute to the conversation in classes and studio projects in meaningful ways based on their past experience. We also aim for the cohort to be composed on experienced professionals because they are often comfortable working and collaborating with others who have a combination of solid education and experience in professional practice, which is a critical activity in design. We also find that mature students are often well-suited to undertake independent research.

I want to join a masters program as soon as I complete my undergraduate degree. How heavily does professional experience weigh into the acceptance process?
The School of Design requires all applicants to have at least one full year (preferably two or more) of professional, non-internship, work experience (with one or more years being in design-related practice for those applying to the MPS or MDes). We will not consider an application that does not fulfill our professional practice requirement.

I have work experience, but not in design. Will this experience be considered on my application?
Yes, non-traditional design experience is recognized. Students applying from non-design backgrounds should apply to the MA in Design program.

Can I be accepted without completing my undergraduate degree? I do have work experience.
We have a strict policy that all our graduate students must have an undergraduate degree.

As an undergraduate student, how can I prepare to apply to the School of Design's masters programs?
Equipping yourself with some prerequisite skills can help, but we recommend that you first put effort into really understanding the landscape of design, current conversations, trends, and careers. We also suggest investigating various schools and comparing what they have to offer. We have a 'pre-work' packet that we send to our accepted students at the start of each summer. If you would like to receive a pdf of our current packet to guide your design studies, please contact our graduate program coordinator. Lastly, you may want to keep an eye out for courses, workshops, etc. that may provide additional insights.

What if my undergrad grades weren't stellar?
Four admissions committee members will review submissions, paying attention to ALL of the application criteria, so you can play to your strengths. Along with your application, which includes a statement, resume, portfolio, official transcripts, and a list of work experience, you will submit three letters of recommendation, and ESL scores (if applicable).

I have a degree/diploma that I got in a three-year program abroad. Am I eligible to apply for the MDes program?
Yes. We accept degrees that act as an equivalent to a bachelor's degree.

Is an on-campus interview required for admission?
No, but we do recommend that you attend one of our visitor days. Information on those can be found here: http://design.cmu.edu/node/118

Can I defer enrollment?
We understand that current travel and study restrictions caused by the pandemic may prevent you from attending courses in person at Carnegie Mellon University. CMU's official guidance for Fall 2021 will be updated as conditions continue to change: https://www.cmu.edu/coronavirus/students/index.html. Nonetheless, we ask that if you do plan to join us for Fall 2021 (classes begin August 30) that you accept our offer via our website and pay your deposit by March 30 so we can plan accordingly.

We encourage international students to follow all steps to obtain an I-20 and visa to make attendance possible. You can monitor the latest immigration updates and U.S. government agency resources on the Office of International Education website: https://www.cmu.edu/oie/index.html.

If conditions have not improved as we near the middle of July, we will revisit our admissions policy, which currently does not permit applicants to defer their acceptance to the following academic year.

What is the process of application for MA to MPS/MDes program?
For internal applications, students will submit a "soft" application from the MA to the MPS or MDES, which consists of a revised statement detailing experience in the MA and motivation for advancing into subsequent programs, and a link to an updated portfolio. All other application materials, transcripts, letters, etc., are pulled from students' original MA applications, and the application fee is waived. MA students are asked to submit their application by January 15 via email to the graduate program coordinator and can anticipate receiving a notification of the admission committee's decision around February 15. Acceptance of an offer is due to the graduate program coordinator on or before March 30.


FINANCIAL QUESTIONS

Are all applicants considered for financial aid through the university or do I need to submit a specific form for review? Is there a separate financial aid form?
We recommend that you review financial aid information online at: https://www.cmu.edu/sfs/financial-aid/graduate/index.html, paying close attention to the FAFSA form that you may want to complete. If you have questions please reach out to the university's HUB directly at: https://www.cmu.edu/hub/contact/.

Do you offer any type of financial assistance? If so, how much?
Although we do not offer full funding, we have a limited number of paid assistantships available to full-time graduate students, usually in the amount of $2,000 per semester, in exchange for approximately six hours of work per week for the School. All applicants are invited to apply for one of these assistantships. Limited conference reimbursements are offered each year, and research grants are available for thesis research through the University. Additional scholarships and funding may be available, but these are up to the individual student to seek out for application.


APPLICATION QUESTIONS

What does the admissions committee look for in an application?
A committee of four faculty members reviews applications. We look at them holistically, assessing the combination of all required materials. However, the design portfolio and the statement are critical components. We look for your portfolio to showcase your working process, the knowledge you have acquired to date,, and your creative skills. We review statements to gain critical insight into your background, your motivation for graduate studies in design, and why you see the School of Design as a particularly good fit for you.

What can I do to differentiate myself as a candidate?
We recommend that you focus less on differentiating yourself and more on describing your true interests and their alignment with what the School of Design offers. We think that it is important for applicants to seek programs that are well-suite to their aspirations, just as we are looking for applicants who we believe will benefit from our programs.

I am a graphic designer, and I currently work exclusively in print. Would it be a good idea to put together a piece of interactive design for my application portfolio?
Your portfolio should be an honest portrayal of your skills, thinking, and interests. If your best work is graphic design, showcase it. If you have some interactive pieces, or can produce some that you think would express your potential and interest in those areas, by all means certainly include them too.

Regarding the MA portfolio: it says online that you are looking for supplemental info that highlights one's interest in design. Should I show that I'm well-rounded and artistic, or that I have mastered another discipline (like photography, writing a short story, etc.)?
MA applications are reviewed based on a variety of factors evident in submission materials, including some evidence of creative work and/or creative potential exhibited in a portfolio, and a statement that indicates motivation for an education in design, trajectory to design, and a fit within the School of Design in particular. Your portfolio, as indicated on our site, can include anything from your involvement in a project with your role clearly identified; creative output such as photography, drawing, sketching, painting, ceramics; design work or design tinkering; and writing — technical, academic and/or creative. Please note that we review an MA differently than those submitted for acceptance into our MPS and MDes programs. If you believe your self-taught or self-motivated work effectively communicates your interest and heartfelt attempts in design we encourage you to include them along with an explanation of their how and why they were created.

What do I need to submit for my application to be considered complete?
All prospective students must submit an online application that includes: a statement of intent, CV or resume, letters of recommendation, TOEFL/IELTS or Duolingo proficiency exams scores (where applicable), official transcripts, a portfolio of work, a one-minute introductory video,  and your admissions fee. Detailed descriptions can be found on our website: https://design.cmu.edu/apply/grad. For portfolio specific questions, please view: https://design.cmu.edu/node/119.

Can I make changes to my application after I submit it?
Submitted applications should be considered final and will be sent to the admissions committee for review. You will be unable to make additional changes at that time.

How should I submit my transcripts?
Please request an official electronic transcript from schools you attended when completing your application in GradCAS. Select the appropriate electronic transcript vendor and follow the instructions for Sending Transcripts Electronically found in the GradCAS help center: https://help.liaisonedu.com/GradCAS_Applicant_Help_Center. GradCAS accepts electronic transcripts from Credentials Solutions, Parchment, and National Student Clearinghouse. If your school does not use one of these services, your transcript must be sent by mail from your school’s registrar to:

GradCAS Transcript Processing Center
PO Box 9217
Watertown, MA 02471

Request for official evaluations of transcripts from all foreign colleges or universities mus be sent to GradCAS as follows: 

  • Use the World Education Services (WES) or Educational Credential Evaluators (ECE) link in the Academic History section of the application to order your official WES evaluation

    -OR- 

  • Use the “Download Evaluation Request Form” in the Academic History section of the application to request an evaluation from an evaluation service other than WES or ECE.

Will you waive the English language testing requirement?
We require TOEFL/IELTS or Duolingo online test scores from all applicants whose native language/mother tongue is not English. Note, we occasionally waive scores if an applicant completed primary education (k-12) in the U.S or has a valid passport from one of these English speaking designated countries:

      • Antigua and Barbuda
      • Australia
      • The Bahamas
      • Barbados
      • Belize
      • Canada* (ex: Quebec)
      • Dominica
      • Grenada
      • Guyana
      • Ireland
      • Jamaica
      • Liberia
      • Malta
      • New Zealand
      • St Kitts and Nevis
      • St Lucia
      • St Vincent and the Grenadines
      • Sierra Leone
      • Trinidad and Tobago
      • United Kingdom
      • United States of America

Will you accept the ETS Tests at Home?
Yes. We will accept the ETS Test at Home scores.

Will you accept the Duolingo Online English Test?
Yes, We will only accept results from the current version of the Duolingo English Test on the 160 point scale with subsection scoring (new as of July 2020). You can learn more on our website: https://design.cmu.edu/apply/grad.

Who should write my letters of recommendation? Is there a requirement for someone in academia?
We recommend that references are people who know you well and can speak about you candidly on a wide variety of factors. References do not need to be from academia, but we recommend including at least one prior educator, if possible.

Since my professor is closely related to my previous major, not to design, how can their recommendation letter help my qualification to study in design in graduate school? Should their letter focus on my previous study and my learning ability?
We receive many letters from references who know candidates in various capacities. They should comment candidly on what they know about you — how they know you, your academic record in a program or class (in any field), interpersonal factors, and assessment of suitability for graduate studies. If they happen to know or can comment on your creative potential or design capacity, that's great; if not, we will focus on the other factors on which they feel qualified to comment.

One of my recommenders did not receive an email to complete my Letter of Recommendation. What should I do?
Please verify that you entered their email address correctly and ask your recommender to check their spam folder for the message. If the problem persists, contact GradCAS for help at: https://help.liaisonedu.com/GradCAS_Applicant_Help_Center.

How can I check my application status?
After you submit your application, your materials will be reviewed throughout January and February by the admissions committee. Decisions are rendered in late February or early March and the graduate program coordinator prepares notification materials throughout the first two weeks of March. You can anticipate receiving an email from the School of Design by March 15. In addition, GradCAS will periodically send you application status updates. If you have questions about your application or application status, please contact GradCAS Customer Service at (857) 304 – 2053 ext. 4025 or gradcasinfo@liaisoncas.com.

I submitted my score reports and transcripts. Have they been received?
Feel free to check your GradCAS application, which will indicate what has been received. You can anticipate receiving various notifications throughout the application process, which are described on the GradCAS site: https://help.liaisonedu.com/GradCAS_Applicant_Help_Center/Submitting_and_Monitoring_Your_GradCAS_Application/Before_and_After_You_Submit_Your_GradCAS_Application/02_Check_Your_GradCAS_Notifications_and_Status.

Can I schedule an appointment with an admissions representative to review my credentials?
We do not offer portfolio reviews at the graduate level. Nonetheless, you may find it helpful to review the portfolio guidance we offer online at: https://design.cmu.edu/node/119. You are also welcome to attend one of our Visitors’ Days that are scheduled throughout the year. Additional information can be found at:  http://design.cmu.edu/node/118.

Can I get feedback on my application before/after submission?
In an effort to maintain fairness among our applicant pool and be respectful of the time of our faculty and staff, we do not review applications or provide feedback to interested applicants outside of our formal application review process. During the review process, each committee member carefully reviews all parts of your application and collaboratively discusses its merits and fit within our program. Their decision is thoughtful, thorough, and conclusive. Unfortunately, the specific details that inform the committee's decision cannot be shared due to the collective nature of the admission review. However, if you do have questions about our program, please contact our graduate program coordinator, who will gladly assist you.