Seeking Advice on HCI / IxD Masters Degree Program Options

5 Nov 2013 - 12:28pm
2 years ago
6 replies
4775 reads

Hi everyone,

I'm about to start applying to graduate programs for September, 2014 and I would love to hear your feedback (and possible recommendations) on my selections. 

A bit of background information:

  • I have a B.A. in English and I'm completing a second B.A. (Honours) in Communication Studies (both degrees are from reputable Canadian institutions);
  • My career thus far has been focussed in the music industry, mostly in marketing and communications; 
  • I have worked on one enterprise level website design project for a national organization - I led the user interface design, which included everything from site maps, wireframes, style guides, front-end coding, etc.;
  • I have worked on several personal and professional websites for clients, mostly on the front-end using a CMS like Wordpress, Squarespace, or Microsoft Dynamics CRM (Web CMS). I'm more of a visual designer than a programmer, but I'm familiar enough with HTML, CSS and JavaScript to speak the language and ensure that the product functions properly;
  • My GPA is 3.89;
  • I'm currently writing my honours thesis on applied UX and conducting needfinding and usability testing on a prototype that I designed as part of my research;
  • I will graduate from my B.A. in Communication Studies this April, 2014;
  • I'm a Canadian citizen;
  • I'm also in the midst of taking the HCI course on Coursera taught by Scott Klemmer (this has helped me iteratively design my prototype and understand the basic principles behind UX/HCI). Taking this course has helped me realize that I would enjoy continuing my study of HCI/IxD at the post-graduate level.


Key factors related to my list of Masters program options:


  • The program needs to be well regarded by industry;
  • The curriculum needs to offer a balance of HCI theory and skill development, IxD theory and skill development, and include a major design project that we can include in a portfolio and use to attract employment in the end;
  • Funding options need to be available, otherwise I cannot afford to attend the program (i.e. the school needs to provide graduate assistantships (and tuition waivers) and/or graduate scholarships to eligible applicants);
  • Ideally 1-year in length, but 2-years is okay if it means I'll receive funding;
  • The program needs to be closely connected with companies who may be able to offer me work experience during the program and/or a paid position upon graduating from the program (i.e. companies like Google, IDEO, Cooper and the like need to be interested in graduates of the program);
  • At first, I was only interested in programs that didn't require the GRE, but now I'm planning on writing in mid-December to open up a few more reputable schools that offer funding packages. I only have a month to study though, so hopefully they will weigh my GPA, portfolio, and statement of interest above the GRE score;
  • The cost of living in the city where the program is located needs to be reasonable;
  • The city where the program is located should have a thriving tech scene with lots of local job prospects, in addition to attracting the interest of global companies who may wish to hire graduates of the program;


I want to pursue a graduate degree for a few reasons:


  • To further my understanding of HCI / IxD / UX principles and industry practices, while also developing more practical experience and enhancing my portfolio;
  • To become more competitive for work opportunities with companies that are considered leaders in the field of design, technology, innovation, and social impact;
  • To qualify myself for teaching and research opportunities in the field of HCI / IxD / UX later on in my career. 


And now, here at the graduate programs I'm considering applying to:



There are a few other great HCI programs in the U.S. that are only 1 year, but these programs cost around $40-46k and do not offer funding, so I can't realistically consider them.

Any feedback or advice you can offer about my program choices, as well as strategies for landing a satisfying and rewarding position in the HCI / IxD / UX field would be greatly appreciated!



2 Dec 2013 - 8:33am
Fred Beecher

Hi Jaquelyn,

Clearly you've done your homework! However, there are more options than just grad school right now. Here are several:


  • General Assembly: UXD Immersive
  • Jared Spool & Leslie Jensen-Inman's Unicorn Institute (although I'm not sure when exactly it opens)
  • Apprenticeship is another option. Imagine getting PAID to learn UX design! I know of at least two rigorous UX apprenticeship programs. 
  1. Fresh Tilled Soil in Boston, and 
  2. The Nerdery in Minneapolis (I run this one... next cohort starts in June)


If you're interested in applying for an apprenticeship at The Nerdery, here are a few resources I've put together to answer common questions people have.

Good luck!


3 Dec 2013 - 6:32pm

Hi Fred,

Thanks for replying and letting me know about the great apprenticeship options out there! In the time since my post, I was actually contacted by a recruiter via LinkedIn about a UX/UI Designer position with a startup company here in Toronto -- a few phone and in-person interviews later, I was hired for the position and started this past week. I couldn't be more thrilled, as it's a cool company with a great product and it'll give me a chance to really learn and grow as a UX/UI designer. I'm still putting my grad school applications though (since I'm so far along in the process), but I'll likely defer my acceptance to the best program (of those I receive offers from) and then re-evaluate in a year or so about whether or not it still makes sense to pursue my masters. I think it's good to keep my options open.

All the best,


3 Dec 2013 - 9:00am

Looks like tons of options for you. I am about 6 months away from graduating from RIT's HCI masters program. My first choice would have been Carnegie Mellon but they didn't offer it online. I couldn't move because I have a family and my wife has a pretty good job at Mayo Clinic. RIT grads are recruited by big companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft. However, being an online student is even tougher to get leads because job fairs are only local to the campus. The most famous grads at RIT include John Resig (inventor of jQuery) and Dean Kamen (inventor of Segway). If I had known about UX apprenticeships I might have gone for that instead of my Masters HCI. It would have been cheaper and I would have hands on work getting paid since I live so close to Minneapolis (where The Nerdery is located). I plan on applying there this upcoming June. So if you decide to also apply, that would be awesome as well. 

4 Dec 2013 - 1:28pm

Hi Jaquelyn,

Sounds like a great start to your UX career. Wish you the best!


10 Apr 2014 - 10:17pm

Just announced - new fully accredited Master of Arts Degree in Interactive Design - 100% online with minimal (one week) residency in summer. See the Louisville Center for Design at Lindsey Wilson College.


11 Apr 2014 - 8:07am
Susan Mercer

Hi Jacquelyn,

I graduated from the Bentley program 2 years ago, and it was great. The classes were challenging, faculty are great. They have a combination of full-time and adjunct faculty that work as consultants in the field and teach at night, so they have great real-world stories to share. I would recommend applying for the scholarship to work in the User Experience Center while you do your program. It takes an extra 1/2 year to finish, but you work 20 hours in a real UX consultancy while you learn - great for applying what you learn.

If you want to ask more questions, look me up on LinkedIn and send me a message.



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