Getting a MFA/Masters in Design with a non-design bachelors?


I cannot seem to find a detailed thread specific to my question, so I thought it would be best to post here.

I have a bachelors degree in Business (majoring in Finance). I began in architecture, however, I left and went into Business and am now realizing the corporate world it is dreadfully boring (and I have zero passion for it). I am now looking to get into Industrial Design. I like to think I am a creative person and therefore I aiming at taking a Masters program. However, I don’t want to take a step back academically (i.e.: to take a bachelors in design; I would feel rather old in a class full of people just leaving high school - I am 25).

So my question is: Are there Masters programs that admit students with a non design based bachelors degree?

Any thoughts? Recommendations? Anything is greatly appreciated.

Welcome. You might want to read through some of these:

Hey Michael,

Looking through these (the second especially) it seems like you were very against the idea of a non-ID student going through an ID masters. However, that thread was 8 years ago, and programs change. I also noticed that no_spec mentioned a few days ago in another thread that Pratt does a good job in tailoring their masters program for a career change.

I’m wondering if your opinion has changed at all since then, and if it varies between types of non-design degrees? I see that coffeekicker has a bachelors in business, which, depending on internship experience, could provide a different perspective on design. Personally, I’m finishing my mechanical engineering degree before I make the switch, so I’m still working on building a portfolio and keeping my eye on the boards for advice in the meantime. I’m assuming these would be much different than say an english or chemistry degree.

Each individual is capable of different levels of achievement, so of course it is possible.

That said, looking at portfolios and interviewing candidates for the past 10+ years I’d say in general MFA grads without a prior design BFA are ill prepared for the professional design world. You simply can not learn what you need to learn in 2 years. 3 is pushing it. 4 barely. 5 with a bunch of internships and you are ready to get an entry level job where you will really learn something.

This is a generalization. There are always the rare exceptions that can be cited.

Yo’s right on all points.

I should’ve mentioned IIT wich seems to take non magors into their program and succesfully turn them into designers

I think NASAD has made it a priority to change the nature of design grad scool to be a more rigorous and research based curiculuum over the last decade. It’s filtering into undergrad programs in some places too. It’s certainly the case at DAAP.

I just posted that same question about getting a Masters vs. a Bachelor’s at Pratt since they offer a masters to non-design graduates…

What I have been thinking about is what kind of job do I want to get, a design-heavy job or more business design-management job. I looked at IIT and based on what I’ve read on Core boards seems like it’s a good program for business/design/strategy. I too have a business degree and it might help to decide what you really want from your education. Each school offers something different from another (otherwise there would be fewer school options I’m sure) and the best thing is research, research, research.

I recommend beginning with what’s most important for you and narrowing down from there. Master’s programs in any discipline at any school seem to me best for those who want take things to the next level…

I would’t say the next level. I’d say a different place. According to the semantic framing you used, you are inferring that getting a research or business based masters somehow slots you higher (next level) than someone who is more design focused. It doesn’t. It merely removes you and leaves the actual design work to those who are better suited to handle it.

Also, I’ve seen just as many people from those business/research/design programs not able to land a job. The success factor soely resides on what YOU can DO, not what program you have been through.

I meant a MBA vs a business undergrad. If anything it might add another element to a business undergrad. I didn’t mean to imply a business based design masters would qualify someone for a senior design position over a designer.

And with anything, you have to be good. You reap what you sow.

Exactly. Just clarifying.

Thanks for the discussion everyone, it helps a lot.

One thing that I can been reading, over different posts and looking at both an undergrad and graduate curriculum is this: Some graduate programs cater to those looking to switch industries, so in effect the graduate program is teaching you the foundations just as the undergrad would. After reviewing graduates curriculums (at some school, not all), a lot of the courses looked very similar to that of an undergrad. So if a graduate program can be done in 3 years (1 year design foundation and 2 years of the masters), I don’t see how it would be completely different that that of an undergrad (after removing elective courses that you can receive credit for, a 4 year undergrad effectively becomes 3 years). Again, this argument is assuming the graduate level program is based on people who are switching careers, and not an extension of an existing design-based undergrad.

So for someone in my position, wouldn’t it make sense to take the graduate level course? (Not because it is “higher” but because you would not taking a step back and doing a second bachelors. By taking a graduate degree, you would be with people who are relatively your age).

It seems like there are pros and cons to starting from scratch with a bachelor’s versus master’s. It might help to contact the admissions dept at schools you are considering and ask what they would recommend.

I’m having the exact problem too and it feels like it depends on the program. Some like IIT welcome non-designers to their Master of Design program where others might expect you to have more of a design foundation. It also helps to have the work experience (which I do not have). It seems like going the masters’ route might be cheaper and save time but does it provide the skills to become a designer?? Is it the same experience?

Thanks a lot for your input guys! and for your advice on the other hundreds of threads I’ve read through as well.

Given what’s been said I wouldn’t go through the masters without some relevant design experience ahead of time.
I was lucky enough to secure an internship at a design studio in a CAD/engineering position, but was given the opportunity to help out on the design side of things as well. It wasn’t until then that I realized how horribly behind I was compared to the design intern.

If you still have some time before you make your decision, it might help to try and swing something similar at a large firm that has, for example, a marketing department. If not, the portfolio and project sections of the boards might be a good resource as well to gauge where you are. Make sure you try designing something first before you go comparing it though, good design seems so obvious in hindsight…

Somehow I missed this thread until now. I’m currently in my first year of an ID MFA program without a design undergrad degree, so some of my observations might be helpful.

The program I’m in currently has 3 grad students coming from non-design disciplines. I think this is kind of weird because the program itself is very traditional. I was admitted in the interaction design focus, presumably because my visual skills aren’t great. The IXD curriculum is the same as ID though, with 5 classes subbed out. Before being accepted into grad school, I took sophomore level courses in design sketching and CAD.

I have two weeks left in my first semester, and have some reflections:
It would have been better to get an undergrad in ID. Even with the groundwork in design that I did, It’s hard to be competitive in projects. I could liken it to trying to write a book in german after taking only one semester of german class. Sure, you could do it, but your output isn’t going to be great, which makes you wonder why you tried in the first place. Unfortunately for me, my financial/work situation prohibits me from doing an ID BA. I also felt like it would be dumb to get a third undergrad degree… Which I now think is wrong. I am finding that in design, it’s not about the piece of paper, it’s about the portfolio. If you can find an instructor to help you learn, forego school entirely and just practice until you can make a good portfolio.

Also, figure out what you intend to do with design. Over the last semester it’s really hit me hard that what I have been wanting to do all along isn’t as much Industrial design, as it is some form of system design, or some role tangential to ID. I like thinking more than drawing. lol. I’m still trying to figure it out. The program I’m in is straight up product design. Most of the ideas I have are of little interest to the faculty. I’m now far enough along, that I’m going to try to finish the program, but in doing so, I’m going to have a portfolio full of things that have nothing to do with the jobs I’ll be looking for.

I guess my overall recommendation to other folks looking to break into design from another background would be to start at the start. I think jumping in at the masters level is just a waste of your time. (unless you find a program that is designed to train you on the business or marketing of design or something) You’ll understand design better, but I don’t think that will really help your career.

You are at one of the more traditional programs, a very nuts and bolts ID. It may be trying to change that image by admitting non-traditional students like yourself to the grad school. Don’t expect much support from faculty, as a grad student your expected to be more on your own.
If your interests are truly tangential to ID, you can’t be in a better place than a large university. There are tons of great rescources to tap into there, but again it’s up to you to go find and make the most of them. Tap into the undergrad knowledge base of where to look.
I strongly suggest spending the next semester focusing on basic skills, and getting an internship next summer - take that year off working in the feild to improve your chances of getting that entry level job upon graduation. Then, do a thesis project that prepares you for the job you really want!

Thanks for the advice no spec! I hope to get more groundwork in next semester. I dropped my teaching gig so I’ll have more time to work on sketching and the like.

You’re very right about having resources around for interdisciplinary work. Before I started in ID, I did projects with several engineering disciplines and anthropology. Working those in to design projects is tough because we usually don’t get enough time in the project lifecycle to bring in extra material. Same with the thesis… my committee chair has already prescribed me a thesis project that she’d like me to do. I certainly have the option of striking out on my own, but I think it will be more of an uphill battle.

I’m starting to think about internships too. At this point, I feel like that’s going to be the single most defining element of my design education. Hopefully I can luck into something good!

It depends on the program, a large big name school will have lots of returning students as undergrads (how old are you?).
keep in mind that you learn as much from other students as you do faculty, and if they are mostly non-major ID grad students that could be a serious disadvantage. This means fitting in matters, but don’t eliminate undergrad programs because they’re half full of teenagers

no spec,
Hey, thanks for your response. I am 25. I have read some other posts on Core and it seems like there are people who go back, even after the realization of being the oldest in the class.

Definitely, I remember some people in their late 20’s and early 30’s in the program when I was an undergrad. I’m still friends with some of them and it was great to have them in the class because they took everything seriously, since it was their second time. I’m sure having us punks sometimes was a bore for them at times.