Masters or Undergrad?

So maybe this question seems silly, or maybe it’s been asked a lot. Either way, I already did an undergrad in engineering. That’s where I realized my mistake of doing engineering and realized ID was ‘the way.’ Either way, I joined the peace corps and will be done soon and so I’ve started looking at schools.

It just seems like theres a lot I don’t know and jumping straight into a master’s might be over my head. I would love to visit the schools and talk to people but I’m in Africa and don’t really have computer access except sporadically week to week, month to month. Calling is too expensive for vague conversations. Any suggestions would be great. Also, do you guys know where I can find a list of ID grad schools. I couldn’t sort out the ones without a grad program on this site. thanks.

I reckon you could go straight to a MA if you have a good creative streak in you. Have you considered doing a MA in industrial design at the RCA in London?

check out the site, strictly American schools but the general information should be applicable to help your search.

strongly consider a 2nd Bachelors, as you read the debates here take note of the relative advantages and disadvantages to see where you fit.
The Bachelors is intended to prepare you for your 1st job in a new feild, the Masters, although appealing, has no career benifits in ID except for tenure-track teaching positions in universities.

not that old argument again…

you CAN get a job with a master’s instead of an undergrad.

Do what’s best for you, your situation in life, and your current skills.

But first do a search on the boards, this has been discussed so many times its not even funny. Then go talk to someone in person at a school, and show them some samples of your ideas, sketches, etc.

If I were in your shoes, I’d look into programs, grad or undergrad, in scandinavia- you can go almost for free, and in some rare cases, you might be able to do it for free.

he’s right.

However something that’s changing is that in N.America, Universities are realizing that there’s traditionally been little difference between the 2 degrees. Both are intended to get someone into a career - a vocational focus.
the academic prestige for a graduate program with a vocational focus is pretty small, so they are upping the standards for admission and changing the curricula to reflect a research focus.
so for many programs you can no longer be admitted without a design bachelors, and you’d be required to teach an undergrad course or do research for publication.

my point is, to exclude consideration of a 2nd bachelors (increasingly reduces the number of programs you can apply to. the notable exceptions are PRATT and IIT - they excell in taking non-designers into grad school.

This is an interesting thread since I was looking at the option for daughter. She is majoring in Digital Design. She might want something different afterwards such as animation etc.

The masters programs generally do not seem as in-depth as taking another undergraduate program. In addition, they are usually one year shorter, which means less courses. Finally, as noted above, there is a different focus in many masters programs.

For example, you can major in character animation at CalArts, which is very job focused. However, their masters program only deals with experimental animation,which seems a bit less job focused. RISD and other schools have a thesis requiement for their masters program which takes up a good deal of the program ( roughly 10% 20% of the credits)…

One bit of good news about taking another undergraduate program is that many of these schools will waive the gen ed requirements if a student comes in with an undergraduate degree.

A friend of mine who is an accomplished architect feels very strongly that a bachelors in architecture, for example, gives better skills than a masters since you get only 48-60 credits of training with a masters but 4 years with a bachelors (although some programs might be longer). He would argue that the same can be said of any design field masters program.

Bottom line: you really need to evaluate the BFA vs Masters programs carefully, In many cases, you will get better skills taking another undergraduate program.


Keep in mind that you can extend the master’s for a semester or double up on classes and pick and choose the undergrad classes that you might benefit most from. eg If you’re an engineer, you might really need to work on your sketching.

You’ll have extra credits (which also cost a little more) but should be cheaper and shorter than taking classes for a second undergrad that you probably don’t need, all the electives, etc.

Also, the thesis should be something you really want to study in depth and work on things that you need to and explore further.

It really depends on your background and needs, and where you are in life. One might really highlight skills and knowledge you already have, and the other simply reinforces them or at the least offers more flexability than the other in terms of deadlines, class schedules, etc.

The most important thing is to realize how competitive the field is, including teaching, no matter which degree. You don’t really learn how to design until you’re working, and to work, you need to be great, period.

to taxguy- kudos for helping your daughter. all the same points apply, but the fields are very different, as well as each student and their needs, so to make a general statement is a disservice. FYI- not all the schools will waive the gen ed stuff. Get it in writing.

I know a number of people with engineering undergrad and ID grad degrees, including me. The biggest challenge is the mental one of completely putting what you know about the engineering process out of your head so you can learn design. That, and unless you already have fierce sketching and modelmaking skills you will be at a huge disadvantage in a Master’s program without ID undergrad. If there is a way to have a summer introduction or skill building, or auditing undergrad classes or maybe one year undergrad, then switch to grad, or something to get you up to speed before entering the masters program it would be a big advantage. (that is also what I did)

Yeah, I wish I could go talk to some people at a school; I can’t really though. Right now I guess I’m leaning towards doing the masters and taking extra classes, probably undergrad, or seeing about the three year programs some schools offer. I am definitely going to read as much as I can, I just don’t get much internet time in the bush.

alright so I’ve been reading and it really seems like undergrad you get more of the basics. From what it seems though grad students get treated better and if I am motivated enough I could get atleast the same if not a better education through a masters program, it would just depend highly on my motivation.

Motivation to take undergrad classes and do a lot of extra cirricular work. However, does anyone know how rigorous masters programs usually are? Would I have time to pursue more depth in random interests, like laying carbon fiber for instance?

I say treated better I mean, where I went for my undergrad I just didn’t feel cared about. The professors seemed more interested in their grad students and their research. I don’t know about art schools though, is this the case? Also, as a grad most cases I think I get my own private studio. That sounds real nice, but I guess maybe it could be a hinderance? I assume the privateness is better but I guess it might not be, what do you all think? I honestly have almost zero experience with this.

Grad tuitionis a bit more but it seems pretty similar for out of states, which is what I’ll be everywhere.

I was reading somewhere that Yo said he doesn’t know too many ID’s working with MID’s, how many do you know with two undergrads, ID and another? How do employers view two undergrad degrees? Overqualified? I never understood that term. It seems like it comes down to salary. When I expect to get a job I don’t think salary will be much of an issue, I can live cheaply, I don’t care, and after I get that first job it seems the overqualifications become moot. Am I right?

Also, after gettin’ one undergrad and livin a little wouldn’t most people, myself included, feel there’s a little too much hand holding? Or do they give breathing room and means of doing indpendent things?

Just as an aside. I don’t really care about the cost or the name or the degree. I care about the education. I want to be around people that can teach me all kinds of good stuff. I’ll ask professors, students or random people(as now), I don’t care. I just need to know. I need to learn. I don’t need a party.

I started out as a 2nd undergrad student and moved to grad, so I am familiar with differences (at least at my school, Pratt).


–Teaching is oriented more toward entry-level design positions
–Teachers occasionally actually lead students through material-world specifics… i.e., how to make things
–For some schools, the schedule is locked down and it will take 4 years to complete no matter how many general ed classes you transfer
–Discussion is at a lower level
–Many people respect a second undergrad, but you may still get questions about why you got a second undergrad rather than a grad degree

–Career path is unclear
–Some students will get entry-level design positions the same as the undergrads
–A few will become entrepreneurs
–Skills are taught, but in many ways it is up to you to make sure you can draw, make models, use software, and understand manufacturing – you must seek out the classes/profs you need, which some students do not
–More emphasis on concept
–You may feel spread too thin to learn new skills
–Toward the latter half of your time in school, your experience will be more self-directed

In addition to the ability to teach mentioned earlier, research is another possible career path that a masters provides, but it is a relatively new career path, and how many jobs are out there is a little unclear to me. Also, Pratt doesn’t really have it’s act together in terms of design research yet (profs vary from semester to semester, classes are very open-ended and lack methodology and rigor).

Here is my take: If you know how to draw and can make things reasonably well and you have been exposed to design ideas grad might have some advantages for you. If you consider yourself weak in all these areas, you should either look into shoring up your skills first or look into an undergrad, because you will have more time to learn.

In the end, the difference between the programs at Pratt is less important than the individual. People who will succeed in one will succeed in the other and come out with a good portfolio either way. The decision may also come down to time and money.

I am worried about being spread too thin, but how locked to a schedule are you? Is it possible to just extend a year or two and go slower and have more time to pick up more skills or shore up my failings? Like I can draw ok, but I’ve only made one model I guess. It was a fuselage for a plane.
I’m not so worried about time, as in how many years it will take. I would appreciate research options a masters would afford.

Another question is how benefitial is sharing a studio space with others? Or is it just personal prefernce which is better?

ViVaVoom how easy was it to move between undergrad to grad programs? Is it a feasible option or just too much work?

Also is there someone I could email at these schools that could help me as well? Someone whos answers would be tailored more towards their schools and my personal situation. Do you know their titles or position I would search for? It seems a professor wouldn’t be likely to reply and someone in admissions wouldn’t have those kidn of answers.

realisticaly, you need to post up a rudimentary portfolio here and ask for feedback on your skill level to get appropriate advice.
Perhaps the research angle is best/most interesting or perhaps it’s just working somewhere - you need to decide. But we can help guage how much work you need to get up to speed.

Most of my comments apply to Pratt. Some of the West coast schools have far more non-traditional students in the undergrad program. Art Center is basically set up for students who have already completed some courses elsewhere. Pratt is arranged so that most of the undergrad courses must be taken consecutively over 4 years. The grad program is either 2.5 or 3 years for students who do not have design undergrad. The first year of the grad program is what I am talking about when I say, “spread too thin”. If you are struggling to create graphics for project boards, draw, make models, it will make the whole experience harder. Figuring it out as you go along is OK, but takes more time. I’m not saying that you have to be completely proficient in all these areas, but time spent learning before enrollment will save you time later.

In terms of grad programs that regularly accept students who do not have a design undergrad, I am aware of Pratt, RISD, North Carolina, IIT. Because you have an engineering background there may be specific schools that will be more open. If you start looking internationally, you will have more options (I wish I had done this).

In case you don’t know (I didn’t) design research usually refers to primary observational research. Your experience in the peace core (living embedded in a culture different from that in which you developed, empathy, stepping outside your assumptions) should help here and make you an attractive candidate.

One more thing to put the grad-undergrad issue in perspective: at my school the undergrads tend to have slightly better skills than the grads. If you think skills are important, (and you may not after hearing some of the innovation rhetoric some of our profs give out) then either do an undergrad or do a grad and make sure you are in the top half of the class in terms of skills.

On the flip side the grads tend to be more articulate and better able to research and develop a strong rationale for a design. If you think this will fit into your career path then you probably want a grad. examples: If you want to be a footwear designer no one will give a crap about the ethnographic study you did for your thesis if your drawings are ho-hum. If you are looking for a job with a research-driven consultancy, a grad (esp from IIT) would be better. Pratt’s grad is actually broad enough to let you do both – if you work hard. It’s broadness is it’s strength and weakness because you are not lead through a highly thought-out process that really builds you as a designer or researcher. All the tools and knowledge are there, you just have to find what you want and then pursue it.

sorry… long winded answer (and sorry to those that are sick of hearing about Pratt grad on this board). I see these questions a lot, so I just wanted to provide what insight I can.

Call Rick Goodwin at Pratt – he is the admissions coordinator in the ID department (actual prof, not a person in the admissions office) and he will answer your questions.

good luck and PM me if you want to know anything else specific

Thanks that’s great stuff. I need to reread it but no time now. I will definitely pm if I need to thanks.

I have a portfolio but only as a pdf downloadable from my site. I don’t have anything on coroflot or anything like that and unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to make one soon either. here’s the site address., it’s 5mb though so it’ll be a pain to download. Sorry.

Dominic, you should really spell check your portfolio before you post it or send it off. Little errors will turn a lot of people away, as they allude to your attention to detail (or lack thereof). Good Luck.

Well, here’s a few thoughts off the top of my head.
1.your concepts are very good - quite approproate for someone looking to earn a living doing design, it seems less likely to be from someone interested in teaching or working as a researcher.
2.your presentation skill of the ID concepts is pre-freshman level. the graphics are a bit more advanced.
3.If you already have two bachelors degrees in Engineering, I can understand your desire for a Masters, but it’s not that uncommon for people to discover design later in life. so don’t rule out the Bachelors.

i was considering masters too(after my first bachelor-business). but i wanted to see the basics of ID(from scratch)… because I came to conclusion that I will be doing this for 40-50 years throughout my life… so I thought extra 2 years worth it to see everything from the beginning…i think masters is more about strategic design, whereas bachelors education gives you good foundation…i guess you should figure out what field of ID you want to be in…

Wow, that’s a bit embarassing. I totally agree about spell checking and am normally pretty anal about it for things like that. I’ll see what I can do. I appreciate the evaluation.