Master's vs. bachelor's for career-changers?


I’m hoping to switch career paths to industrial design, but am unsure of the best way to do so – the way that will be both the most intellectually fulfilling and skill-building but also the most appealing to ID employers.

I could get an MID degree in three years (extra year for those who weren’t ID undergrads), or get a bachelor’s degree in industrial design in four years (unfortunately, my two prior bachelor’s degrees wouldn’t equal a reduction in the amount of time required).

I’ve heard from a college advisor that some employers (who mostly have bachelor’s degrees only) look upon MID-only candidates as being trained in the academic side of ID and not being as strong in practical skills as undergrad ID candidates.

Have you found this to be the case – both in terms of employer opinion and in reality? Do MID grads have a hiring disadvantage due to perception, or lesser skill set, or both?

Any advice/opinions much appreciated. Thank you!

Welcome to Core77
you should find lengthy debates on this exact subject here if you try the search function, they could help you decide.

If you still have questions, or want more specific school recommendations, come back and tell us more about yourself. what are your previous degrees? what about design got your interest? How do you envision your new career?

Thanks for your response; I did search before I posted and found one thread that helped a little, but still left me wondering about skills training and employer marketability for master’s vs. undergrad graduates.

I have undergraduate degrees in sociology and journalism, and worked in journalism for a few years before going back to school for a master of public health degree (halfway through the 2-year program now). I’m interested in design as a concrete way to solve all kinds of problems (including public health ones). I’ve done a good bit of amateur art on the side as a student and journalist, and have always had ideas for product inventions but never had a concrete way to test, build or exhibit them. I’m not sure if I want to do design research as a career, but I do know I’d like to be well-prepared to enter the design workforce as a practitioner (in a design firm, or to start my own firm).

Thank you in advance for your help!

there are some lengthy debates here, keep searching.
if empoyability upon graduation is your primary goal, there’s no substitute for the bachelors. There are some good grad programs targeting career change but I’m not sure you will save yourself any time/money.
The Master’s itself doesn’t hold a lot of credibility if you’ve never worked in the field before.
Go visit the nearest school, and talk to students and faculty to gain a better understanding of what you’re considering signing up for.

I agree with nospec. There have been some pretty heated at times debates on this. I think the general consensus is what you can do and what your portfolio is like is much more important than if a piece of paper says masters or bachelors. I know successful and failed designers with both… and neither… either way, you will be competing with fresh graduates, so your pay rate upon graduation may reflect that, at least initially.

That was really helpful, thank you. I’m really interested in the successful “neither” people with no ID bachelor’s or master’s. By next spring, I’ll already have two bachelor’s and a master’s, so I’d love to go the non-academic route to ID. Do you know how these people with no ID degrees built their portfolios and skill sets? Were they able to get their foot in the door at ID firms for internships? Or did they start school, learn how to sketch and use the computer programs, and then leave?

In most cases they came from tangental fields, architecture or graphic design, so they knew industrial designers, and they worked their asses off to build a portfolio that was good enough to get some spec work, and then went from there. In very few cases do I know of people who had no formal deign training, who are just really good. In both cases they worked in pretty low paying jobs, file clerk, janitor, in a corporation that had design and hung out with the designers as much as they could, sketching all night long, and showing their work… until they were literally asked to be on the design team. That is a pretty high risk approach.

Thanks again for your response. That makes sense re: the ID-adjacent career-changers, and that is dauntingly risky re: the janitor scenario. I’m wondering if a good path may be to do the first, catch-up year of the three-year MID for non-ID undergrads, get those skills and connections and start building a portfolio, and then see if that’s enough to get an entry-level start at a design firm. Does that seem realistic?

I honestly don’t think that is not realistic. I would instead see if I could knock of the first year of a bachelors.

Yeah, you should maybe take some classes, before you lay it out in front of you, or lay it all on the line. Where are you located at? I’m guessing the 3-year program is from CCS, and then you might be doing Com-Health at like Wayne State? What I am getting at is that Art Center and CCS (and others too) offer night classes. You could take some of them, work; pay on your huge student loan debt, and get some skills. Then look at going into a program, or working your little fingers to the bone, and hooking up with some people and developing something. You could also develop your own thing to. Or apply the Design side you want to Com-Health and go be an awesome Com-health person.

Thanks to both of you, I really appreciate it. The MID 3-year program is at Ga Tech, and I’m doing public health at Emory (you were right about the huge debt). I’m not sure about night classes at Tech but it’s worth looking into, thank you. I would love to gain design skills and take it back to public health, that would be great.

Tech’s undergrad program first year is a common first year, so all engineers and architects are taking the same, more general classes (Fundamentals of Design I and II, Intro to Design, with no studios), but the first year of the master’s is jumping right into ID classes – the same ones that the undergrads are taking, but a different mix and farther along than the first year (one year of undergraduate industrial design studios, Advanced Sketching, History of Industrial Design, Industrial Design Computing I and II, and Professional ID Practices).

What are the most important courses/skills that I would be missing out on if I went with the first year of the grad degree vs. the first year of undergrad? Further thoughts? This is much appreciated.

if the jump in and start swimming appeals to you (and if not, just to get more practice) go over to designboom and take one of the design aerobics courses. they are very broadly scoped and a great way to explore your approach to a design problem - and start building a portfolio!

Thank you for the suggestion; I just read through a sample designboom lesson and it was great. Will plan to sign up. Thanks again!

I’m a current Undergrad ID student at Tech, and can hopefully lend some insight:

Chances are you’d be more comfortable jumping directly into the MID path, rather than suffering through some of the introductory BSID material. The Common First Year studio (commonly known as CFY) you mentioned is something that all undergrad ID, Arch, and Building Construction majors have to take. It’s a broad introductory class that is exactly as you described “Fundamentals of Design”—it’s important to note that it’s biased towards Architecture and isn’t very useful for ID. It’s not until your second year of BSID that you start doing ID related studios and supporting material.

I’m not as familiar with the MID path, although I do know that students come from all over with very different undergrad experiences (frequently, it’s not art or design related at all).

Thanks for your post, that definitely helps. I do feel like the MID is well-suited to my background, but just need to see what kind of a portfolio and skills you come out of the MID program with (vs. the BSID), and the types of jobs MID graduates are getting (vs. the BSID). Or maybe just take some classes and apply it to my current career path.

Thanks to all for comments, it has been very helpful. I’d be interested in more comments as well if anyone has them.