Returning school for ID, with an unrelated degree.

Super brief background: I graduated from college with a BS in Communication Studies, with a a focus and slant towards theory work. Fast forward to a few years later, I am finding myself heavily gravitating towards ID, building and prototyping products and furniture of my own (in my own time, in a completely non-professional setting…this is mostly experimentation). While I feel that creativity and concept aren’t things I actively grapple with, topics like actual construction, production, knowledge of materials, ergonomics, etc are things I gravely lack. So, I’m trying to get back into school for ID, but I’m having quite a bit of trouble navigating where, and how I should apply.

I never thought that having an undergrad degree would make life so difficult, but here’s what I feel that I’m up against:

Since a BS in Comm (especially with my emphasis) seems very far away from the Design world, I have been looking at Undergrad programs. Most of the schools I have contacted want me to apply as a Post-Baccalaureate, and are quick to inform me they have very limited space for such applicants, and favor non post-bacc. students in their programs. The schools requiring me to apply as a Post-Bacc. are suggesting that I apply for their MA or MFA programs…however, jumping from a BS in Communications, to a MA or MFA in Industrial Design doesn’t seem like a very intuitive, or practical jump. I am not at all hung up on titles really, it doesn’t matter to me if I end up with a 2nd bachelors degree, or an MA. I see lots of crossover with Mechanical Engineers and Graphic Design throughout this forum, but I’m having trouble finding information for people coming in from fairly unrelated fields.


General questions in a comfortable bullet point list-
-Should I be looking for graduate level, or undergraduate level programs?
-Am I misinformed as to the content and level of Graduate level programs? Is it more skills based than has been impressed upon me?
-What should I actively be doing to pursue education as someone with an unrelated degree?
-Is having a portfolio of undeniably rough work acceptable if presented well in applying to either undergrad or grad level programs?


If you’d like to contact me off-board to talk a bit more in depth about my specific situation, feel free to email me at
furnace DOT heart AT gmail DOT com

Thank you in advance, SO MUCH, this board has been so helpful in helping me find some direction in this whole process.

Short answer in regard to coming from an unrelated field:

Do you have the technical skills to be an industrial designer? If you don’t, it would be best to get a second undergrad. From your post, it sounds like these are the things you need to learn. Some of your liberal arts credits should count and you can probably finish in 3 years.

Undergrad ID is mostly learning all the technical skills and working knowledge. It was my understanding that MFA ID programs tend to build upon this foundation with a theory/business/process/science slant.

It doesn’t make sense that being from an unrelated field, schools recommend you enter as a grad student. What schools have you contacted? Anyone else have firsthand knowledge of this?

I can see them recommending you go to grad school if they offer a foundation year for non-id majors to transfer into the master’s program. So while you’ll end up doing 3 years anyway (1 foundation + 2 ID specialty), you can get a masters out of it instead of a second bachelors.

I am in the exact same boat. I graduated with an undergrad in communication, but now the degree is more of a hindrance than a help. I cant apply to schools as a normal student, I have to be a transfer student. And this really limits my choices, because my undergrad grades weren’t stellar. But I cant apply to most grad programs because I don’t have a design background.

Anyway, I’ve found that the best choice is to look for a Masters in ID, with a 1 year crash course for a foundation, then into the normal 2 year program. The only one I have been able to find so far (just started looking) is NC State University.

Does anyone know of any other design schools that offer a 3 year program for students from a non-design background?

Any help would be awesome.

Illinois Institute of Technology offers a 3 year MID with one foundation year. I’m sure there are a lot more with similar setups.

Don’t get too hung up on any ideological arguments about grad versus undergrad. I don’t think there are really any absolute answers here. It really comes down to your specific situation: money, where you are willing to relocate, etc.

There are essentially 2 types of grad programs: those that are oriented to career changes and those that are oriented to people with undergrad ID degrees or similar. Pratt is very much in this category – also some programs at IIT, Standford. These programs usually take 3 years, and are similar to a condensed undergrad in terms of courses, but are more analytical, less skills-oriented.

I don’t know as much about the selection process at other schools, but Pratt does not care that much about your undergrad degree – they seek a mix of people. You should stop thinking about how far away from design Communications is and start thinking about how they are related. Hone your story about how you became interested in design, and how your previous education can help you learn design.

If you decide to go the undergrad route, in general, west-coast schools tend to be friendlier to non-traditional students (at least in the private school). ACCAD has mostly non-traditional students. Schools that are not friendly to non-traditional students tend to have all the classes mapped out so that you will end up studying for 4 years no matter what.

Also, if you already have a bachelors, I believe you do not qualify for financial aid, but you will if you get a masters. But you will want to double check on that. I personally think it is better to do a 3 year second bachelors, but if you can do a 3 year masters, audit a bunch of the undergrad courses, and really focus (and get your financial aid) it can be just as good.

You can get financial aid from the federal government but it’s not much.