I went to Georgia Tech as a grad student.
If you are interested in getting into design RESEARCH only, as in working with spreadsheets, writing papers, crunching numbers, and making design recommendations etc., then Tech’s grad program might be great for you. The last person to run the program was much more interested in cranking out people like that than producing the next Raymond Loewy. For a time there was not even a dedicated drawing class in the program! (that has since been changed, though) They have a new person running the program now, and I’m not sure what direction he’s taking the program. But while I was there, lots of our projects were much more focused on mechanical problem solving through research, rather than having the form development, drawing ability, and exceptional Alias and Solidworks skills that seems to get you most ID jobs.
Let me tell you from experience though, that getting a MID in general could set you up for some uncertainty in the future. Prospective employers sometimes don’t know what to do with you. Are you a creative or a researcher or what? I worked for two years in research and found in pretty unpalatable, especially after experiencing months of grueling travel schedules, and realizing that much of the best research/ethnographic work was reserved for the PhD anthropologists and psychologists, and that in that role the DESIGN skills that I had worked so hard to develop were not needed or appreciated at all. (Of course this was just my experiences) I have since left design research, now use my design skills for employment, and have never been happier professionally. : ) It was a LONG, hard road though.
Anyway, do NOT go into the program (or any program really) thinking that they will MAKE you into a great designer and you will be practically guaranteed a job. While there are several very dedicated and talented people on staff there who can point you in the right direction, you HAVE to have the drive and develop the skills to become a great designer yourself. If you want to be a designer (not a researcher) work like mad to learn to draw better than 90% of the people you go to school with. You have to do it. Honestly, it appears that most people with ID degrees do not get work in ID, so you HAVE to be in the upper echelons to get noticed. It’s not good enough to be adequate, you have to be exceptional. This is different than most jobs in that your degree and your grades mean VERY little compared with your portfolio. You live and die by your portfolio. Start getting freelance jobs as soon as you possibly can, be absolutely sure to get some kind of internship, even if you have to work for free. Both are really important.
Depending on your ability level and experience you may already be behind the curve competing against 19 year old sophmores. I went in as a grad student without a degree in ID and found myself having to play catch up in a lot of things (particularly model making and sketching).
I also thought that getting a masters in design was “better” than getting an undergrad degree. I’m not sure now whether or not that’s true. It certainly won’t hold more water or get you hired at a better salary with some prospective employers, particularly consultant firms, many of which are often already stretched to the breaking point financially themselves and seem to be looking mainly for INCREDIBLE drawing skills and fantastic Alias/Soildworks ability, and innovative ideas from young people who can work on the cheap until they are proven. I’m talking about typical firms here, not those that do JUST research and do NOT the more creative aspects of design. I think these firms respect research, its just that most don’t have the finances to hire a dedicated researcher or are not designing where it’s a priority.
I found myself out of school with a master’s degree at 27 competing against recent undergrads who were 21-22 and willing to work for much less money. I applied for more than 300 positions before I was hired. This is not at all uncommon.
The three things that I wish I’d learned better at Tech were professional level marker rendering/sketching/Wacom skills, more emphasis on Alias and Solidworks (this was not stressed nearly as much as I think it should’ve been) and more time spent on creating an EXCEPTIONAL portfolio. I’ve since improved dramatically on all three, but it took a lot of hard work.
I got a lot of help from some of the staff there even after I finished school, for which I’ll be forever grateful. It’s taken a long time to get where I want to be, I went more than a year after graduation unemployed, and as far as know most of my fellow grad students are either not working in design or working in a related business. I don’t know anyone who, say, got hired by Apple. : ) That being said we ALL had a lot to learn and there might have been some students in the program who just didn’t have the talent and/or drive to work in design. There are some great people at Tech who are very dedicated to helping you become the best designer you can, but they can only take you so far. The rest is up to you. It seems that working in this industry is a good mix of skills, preparation, professional contacts, timing, and luck.
Before you go anywhere, right now you should really take a hard look at your ability levels, your interests, and your motivation to decide whether or not you want to pursue this knowing that there is a good chance you might not ever get hired to work in ID and that if you do, it might not be in location or industry you are most interested in. Make no mistake, it is very, very competitive.