Transferring OUT of Stanford?

Hi all!

I’m an undergrad (rising sophomore), prospective Product Design major at Stanford University. Though I haven’t taken any product design classes yet – my freshman year was comprised of required classes for graduation and pre-requirements for engineering classes – I’ve fallen in love with the idea of Product Design. You see, I’ve always loved art. I took up digital illustration in middle school as a hobby/obsession, and I’ve always enjoyed doing design projects for friends and family (designing graphics for shirts, designing and producing my entire dorm’s yearbook). And seeing badly designed things (from the overuse of Comic Sans on street signs to products that just don’t work well or look good) actually hurts me.

After a quarter of pre-med induced angst, discovering the Stanford Product Design major seemed almost too good to be true. Classes where you were judged on creativity?? No papers, no problem sets – just sketches and prototypes? I thought it was the perfect blending of design, innovation, art, human factors, and technology. I still think it’s a pretty sweet deal.

After tooling around the internet researching ID/PD schools, though, I’ve read some criticisms of Stanford’s program that were a little troubling: too little focus on actual aesthetics and design; not enough experience in 3D modeling, sketching, presenting; too much engineering, not enough design.

MY QUESTION IS: is Stanford’s undergrad PD program so weak that I should think about transferring to a better program? My family recently moved to Ohio, and after hearing about the University of Cincinnati,'s ID program my parents have thrown down the proverbial gauntlet: “if you’re so into this ‘product design’ thing, and U of C’s so good at it, why don’t you drop out of Stanford and come here then? It will save us a ton of money.” I don’t like the idea of leaving a school I’ve come to love, but if it will truly benefit my education and career, and if PD is truly my passion and calling, I’ll strongly consider making the sacrifice and transfer.

Here’s a link to a Stanford PD student’s typical 4 year coursework. (this PD alum also has a portfolio on her site as well. I’m no judge of portfolios, but perhaps from that you can give me a good idea of the quality of the Stanford program as well.)

Thank you for reading, and for any wise words you decide to send my way! I apologize for my wordiness, but this IS something I feel strongly about. and maybe my friends are right: going to Stanford makes a person pretentious and wordy (and heavily in debt!). :slight_smile:

One of my professors graduated from Stanfords PD department, and she spoke very highly of it. University of Cincinnati also has a well regarded program (another professor of mine graduated from there as well, though many many years ago).

With that said, my school (Virginia Tech) was also very engineering focused. We had fewer engineering specific courses, but in the end we recieved much more of a technical education than you’d recieve at an art school. As a result much of our artistic core competencies (sketching, CAD modelling, appearance modelling) as a whole were lacking. We also had a full year devoted almost entirely to architecture basics, which in my opinion was a huge waste of time. But in the end I graduated and despite having areas that I believe I’m not strong in, still got set up with a good job (thanks to the same professor).

Whats my point with all this? In the end your education is about what YOU put into it. If you want to become excellent at sketching, DEDICATE yourself to it. Look at your peers and upperclassmen and see what you think they lack, and learn to excel in those fields. School can teach you 3D modelling, but you’ll only learn it and become proficient in it if you dedicate yourself to it.

School isn’t just about the course work. It’s about the atmosphere and your learning experience. Are you really happy at Stanford? If you aren’t, then I’d say consider transferring. It will most likely delay your graduation date, but very few people I know graduated in less than 5 years nowadays.

You make your education, your education doesn’t make you.


Which word appeals to you more:




2 different schools- 2 different flavors.

Just to get this out of the way, I went to Cincy, Love UC and think it’s the best design school in the country hands down.

That said, this is an interesting question. and the answer depends greatly on what you want to do… not how highly regarded Cincinnati is.

Stanford is certainly a great place to go to school (no matter your area of study). I can totally understand how you might have already “fallen in love” with going to school there. I’ve heard the same thing from co-workers that went to places like ND and Michigan… just being apart of the campus life at those colleges is exciting.

Standford’s curriculum is probably alot different than Cincinnati’s. Stanford’s co-oping program is probably not nearly as robust as Cincinnati’s. That said, you can still become a great industrial designer at Stanford. It wont be easy, but who said it would be at Cincinnati?

If you decide to stay at Stanford this is my advice to you (consequently this is the same advice i’d give to anyone that wants to become a great designer): keep your ear to the ground in the design community. when i was in school i was a sponge for all things design(i still am). i wanted to see what everyone else was doing so i could figure out what i wanted to do. this goes for aesthetics, sketching style, thinking style, how to tell a story, etc…

whether you go to cincy or to stanford you need to push yourself beyond the walls of your academic institution. this goes for internships too… be proactive about contacting places you want to work at. there is a misnomer about the co-op program at cincinnati.

people think that kids just sign up on a sheet and get awesome portfolios and great internships… wrong.

the kids at cincy that wait for shit to happen to them end up working at mediocre co-ops or not getting jobs all together. when i was at cincinnati i made it a point to find my next co-op while i was doing my current co-op. i never just checked a box and waited for something good to happen and neither did the other top students.

just to give you an analogous example… cleveland instituted of the arts doesnt have nearly as good a co-op program as cincinnati either, but their top students get just as many good internships as the kids from cincinnati. they might have to work a bit harder for them, but thats not a bad thing.

so… i think you need to decide where you’d be most happy. no matter where you go don’t allow yourself to be in an academic vacuum. pay attention to everything and everyone. dont just compare yourself to your peers in your studio, compare yourself to people on coroflot and anywhere else you can find student/junior design work.

good luck.

Me personally? Innovation. All the cool looking knock off cell phones in the world don’t appeal to me if they all have the same crappy design attributes that go overlooked because they look cool.

Of course I’m already out of college, so it’s too late for me. But you shouldn’t just switch schools because a couple people said they dislike your program or because one is cheaper (though money certainly comes into play when your parents are paying the bills). Our weekly happy hour was basically 2 hours of us playing pool, drinking, and complaining about our professors. But we used our complaints to formulate our own strategies on how to improve ourselves AND the program – set up student run sketch workshops, portfolio sessions, web design tutorials, etc. ]

I think the biggest difference is the more art-based schools hammer you into becoming a good artist…whereas our school cared less about the quality of your sketches and more about the content of the design…which let many people slip far behind the curve. We were still TAUGHT how to draw, but whether or not the students chose to fully utilize what they had in front of them was their decision. 2/3rds of the class chose not to, and needless to say the majority of them are now going to grad school or working odd jobs because they aren’t qualified to get a design position. Is it the schools fault for not preparing them, or the students fault for not caring about their education? Who knows, thats an entirely different subject, just my $.02.

These points should be hammered to the desks of every student.

You should difinitly check out UC for yourself on your next trip to Ohio.
Try to shcedule an appointment with a faculty member.

UC accepts 3-4 transfers a year, so show commitment when you’re there.

thanks everyone for all the advice!

I’m heading into Cincinnati sometime next week to check out the art museums. I’ll be sure to tour U of C’s campus. I find their co-op program to be really attractive, but after looking closely at yearly fees and all that jazz, found that there’s actually only a few thousand dollars’ difference between U of C tuition and Stanford tuition (post financial aid). Stanford provides opportunities that I will be sure to make the best of (the new, David Kelley, Ambidextrous design magazine, its focus on engineering and innovation, and summer design internship programs in Germany or Japan). As for its shortcomings, I’ll take extra studio art and rendering classes to hone my drawing and modeling skills, and try and get as much professional experience as I can.

Looks like I’m in for a busy sophomore year!

Don’t worry…it only gets harder. :slight_smile: Just keep pushing yourself and you’ll do well.