[quote=But you need to make sure you know what you want to accomplish and find a program that allows you to move in that direction.[/quote]
I am currently in my first year MFA program and can give you a perspective on my journey.
I recently graduated this last spring from SCAD in Industrial Design. During the duration of my studies, I have been involved with multiple sponsored classes with a tremendous amount of client/student feedback. (more then most universities). I also was able to gain practical knowledge through a variety of internships… from small organizations and firm settings. Even had a chance to do a couple freelance design projects. So with all of the experience I was gaining in and out of my academic setting, I was positioning myself for a chance to be a contender in the job market.
But when I was in my senior year of studies, I was lacking the satisfaction of design itself. (It is weird for even my self to hear that ) Dont get me wrong, I was and still am inspired by design that I see, from the everyday to the coroflot pages. But I was seeking to gain a better understanding of the reasons/ theories on ‘why’ we design and what it meant to be a ‘design thinker.’ Something about the broader philosophical knowledge was appealing and was something that I lacked.
So I applied to 13 grad programs… yes 13! Partly was because I was engaged at the time (now married ) and my wife also was seeking her MFA in Painting/ Printmaking. So you can image the complications of trying to find a school that matched up and all that stress in incurred. Which is a different issue if you have a significant other. But will come up later on in life if you need to relocate for a job, etc.
I got into schools, like RISD’s ID program, Arizona State’s New Product Development, CCA, NC State, RIT, and Purdue. I was lined up to go to any school that I practically wanted, included the best ranked.
I chose Purdue for a couple of reasons.
Cost- I know that there has been several blog posts on core77 about is tuition costs worth the expense. I do agree with this, because there is one of the best investments you can give yourself. Both financially and as a lifestyle serving your passions/dreams. BUT I do not think it is the case for graduate school. Yes, RISD is the best ranked school, but is it really worth the 35,000 or so tuition for 2 more years? This being said to being on top of my student loans for undergrad from SCAD. (which you can defer the payments until you are done with school) Besides, grad school is about being independently driven. Purdue offered me a full tuition waiver, plus a chance to become a teaching assistant with a stipend. I am in charge of running a classroom completely on my own which is giving me experience such as managing a group, inspiring others, and project management. So grad school isnt only if I want to become an academic. There are only a few schools left that offer this type of deal… mostly I think in the Big10, which is something to consider when applying for grad school.
Change in Environment- Purdue offered a complete 180degree change from SCAD. I was looking forward to network with outside disciplines such as business, engineering, marketing, and computer science students. We often get so wrapped up in our own studies and think everyone knows about design, design methods, etc. But this is quite the contrary. Yes, it is frustrating to have to explain what exactly you do… I still get the “so you design industrial equipment” response. But when you can successfully communicate and share your processes, it leads to more well rounded and developed ideas. They are the users for the products we make of course! And in a corporate setting, each project you will have shareholders from each division that you must convince and satisfy. So the more outreach, the more credit design gets. The unfamiliarity and uncomfortableness from the setting forces a different perspective to drive creative thinking.
Idea Development- I already talked a little bit about this, but the ability to dive deeper into your design projects. The whole point of grad school, in my opinion, isnt to “sharpen your skills” but the time to sharpen your mind. Skills (sketching, CAD, etc) are of course important, but needs to be first learned in Undergrad and then continued on for the rest of your working career. If you are looking to become a better sketcher, let say, then start sketching! Post your work on coroflot and other blogs. Even professionals continue to “sharpen skills” post academia. Look at Spencer Nugents Sketch- A- Day for example. Coming to grad school is for you to develop a critical thoughts. On whatever research interests you have from form, materials, process, creativity, collaboration, etc. It is the ability to ask yourself the question of ‘why’ and then to test it after you developed a measurement criteria. You are developing your ‘voice’ in design.
Interesting enough, I actually changed my MFA focus to interaction design. (originally industrial). When I first came to this program, I thought I was essentially doing similarly the same things I was doing in undergrad. Same design process etc. And I asked myself why in the world would I put myself through more years of what I already accomplished? So I changed to ixd, where I am more focused on the ability to create around the user. Pretty broad, but it allows me to either stay are a theoretical perceptive or technical with individual projects. The point is, that you need to realize that many of the master programs are similar to the undergrad’s with more of a research focus. So keep that in mind when applying to schools.
Overall, grad school has not hurt me in my professional career. (Of course in hindsight this could be seen differently). Financially, it is not setting me back and i am able to further develop my design philosophy, while connecting with students and professors in other academic fields. It is important to gain in depth knowledge from other areas. (If you into design research, make friends from with an anthropologist, for example) So yes, knowing ‘what you want’ is an important reflection that needs to be done before applying. Working experience is greatly needed (and should be subsidized through outside experiences like internships), but I am only 23 yrs old. Adding 2 years to my educational journey over the course of my professional career should only exponentially fast track me by further building my foundation. The better foundation, the better building you will make.
Hope this helps in your academic and career endeavors.