Virginia Tech vs University of Cincinnati

I’m a high school student looking to study ID. Two programs that have really caught my eye are the ones at VT and UC. However, I was hoping for the opinions of some practicing designers on which school is “better”. I know a lot of this is opinion based, but if it helps, I’m interested in creating consumer electronics (e.g. printers, phones, and tablets), medical devices, education-related objects, and other things in the realm of ‘useful’ design.

I have visited the VT campus, and I absolutely love everything about the school and the program. I think it is my first choice; however, I keep reading so many things on this forum about how great UC is. I don’t really like the look of the school, at least from what I’ve seen on their website. (Not exactly an accurate representation, I know- I would end up visiting if I decide I’m really considering it- but still). I realize they have the co-op program, which is definitely an advantage. However, is the co-op program always set up with the same companies year after year? I feel like that could be limiting, and could also end up making your resume look too similar to the other UC grads. How much of a choice do you really have about which companies you intern at?

I wouldn’t have a problem going out and applying for summer internships on my own if I ended up at VT. But is it a lot more difficult to get internships when you’re working on your own, versus when your school is partnered with companies? I’m really interested in interning at independent design firms, not corporations. Is this an option at UC?

Thanks so much for your help and any information you can provide me with. I really appreciate it!

If you do good work, you will get internships - that simple.

Both are very good programs, but college is as much about where you’re going to be for 4 years of your life as it is the program. So if you’ve visited VT and liked it, it’s certainly worth visiting Cincy and seeing if you feel the same.

I’m a VT alum so I’m certainly biased. :wink:

I’d say UC. I didn’t go there, but maybe I would have if I did it all again.

I was accepted to both and faced the exact same decision about 5 years ago. I chose Virginia Tech – with absolutely no regrets. The program has made really exciting advances in recent years. There’s always inter-major collaborative projects going on and a cool initiative is topic-specific classes (History of Automotive Design, Bicycle Design, Portfolio Building, etc). Great faculty too.

As far as getting an internship as a Tech student, it’s definitely going to be self-driven and will mostly hinge on your portfolio and how well you can market yourself. It is probably more tough going through the job search on your own, but I think it’s a good skill to have regardless. We’ve have had plenty of success with finding internships/jobs all over the country and world (many of which are in consulting/independent firms as you asked about).

What I found encouraging was the motivation and non-competitive attitude of the students there. You won’t be fighting the guy next to you for an internship, you’ll be helping each other along. The IDSA chapter is awesome and reflects the collective enthusiasm that you’ll find among students.

All that being said, UC is a really great school. It wasn’t an easy decision for me, either. As Cyberdemon mentioned, definitely get a feel for both campuses and the surrounding areas.

Good luck with your decision!

One question you may want to ask yourself is, do you want to be out in the countryside or in the middle of the city? (albeit it is Cincinnati)

On UC’s co-op system:

Each co-op quarter requires you to find an internship, which does not have to be with the same company each time. UC has relationships with a number of companies, ranging from Fortune 500 to small consultancies, that often (and sometimes always) plan to take on UC co-ops. These relationships are an amazing tool, but you are in no way bound to work for only these companies. Students are encouraged to reach out to whomever they wish. My final co-op, which resulted in a job straight out of graduation, was a cold call on my part.

From my experience, the biggest advantages of this system are the variety and quantity of professional work you will do and your access to that professional work extremely early in your design career. I worked for five completely different companies over my co-ops and was really able to define where my professional strengths and weaknesses laid and what types of design made me happy. With a traditional program, you only have one shot at an internship to discover wether or not you actually enjoy the work. After that it’s time to find a real job.

Also, I know for a fact that when I got my first co-op my portfolio was not anywhere near competitive with those of older students from other schools. But, because of UC’s relationship with that certain company, they took me on the basis of the promise I showed. And don’t ya know it, my first project made it to market. I never would have had a shot at that level of responsibility without UC on my side.

I didn’t even want to attend UC because I grew up near Cincinnati, but I have absolutely no regrets about my choice.

Another thing that was making me feel a little ‘iffy’ about UC was some of the projects I’ve seen created in studio classes. Many things seemed to be really unrelated to ID, like paper masks and artsy sculptural structures. Do you do a lot of conceptual work like this, or after freshman year do you move away from those kinds of things and really focus on your specific degree?

Paper mask and projects of that sort are some of the very first projects you do at UC in order to get a better understanding of basic Industrial design concepts. Paper mask is meant as in intro to 3D thinking. Strong emphasis on flat to form. Those projects while everyone might not like them are there because they are easily digestible. After sophomore year you get into traditional product studios. Im sure most programs have similar projects at the start of your education.

Some recent studios at UC range from.
Power Tool Redesign
Assisted Mobility Devices (Walkers)
Low Tech Medical Devices
Helmet Redesigns,
Airplane Interiors (Sponsored)
Electric Bicycles (Sponsored)
HP Computer Studio (Sponsored)
Eyewear (Sponsored)
Footwear Studio (Sponsored)

Those are just the few ones I can think off the top of my head.

My curriculum at UC (2010 grad) was as follows (note that it is now slightly different because UC will be changing from quarters to semesters):

1st year - Gen Ed (including art history) and Design Fundamentals. All design students (industrial, graphic, digital and fashion) are grouped together in studios to learn the basics of color, form, space, tradition drawing, design drawing, digital tools, etc.

2nd year - Break off into Industrial Design specific studios and lectures. One studio is specific id projects, while the other is “design communications” (drawing, rendering, etc.) Lots of sketching, and design projects that first teach individual design fundamentals (as mentioned above), culminating in a sophomore capstone (traditionally the power tool.)

End of 2nd year - Begin co-op

3rd and 4th years - Switch between school and co-op. Projects cover a wide range (see above) with the 4th year ending with a chair.

5th year - Usually a sponsored project in the fall and your thesis in the spring (research in the fall/winter.)

You still do that at VT and almost every college I’ve seen. The VT first year is a shared foundation year with the architecture students, so you will spend lots of time designing stuff out of paper, doing color theory stuff, things that seem un-fun and useless but some will help you better understand making design decisions. On the other hand, some were just incredibly labor intensive projects designed to break your soul and make you realize you would need to spend some nights in the studio til 3am just to get things done. (it depends on who your first year professor was - I know both professors I had for first year were never supposed to be teaching first year).

VT is in the country, but with 30k+ students and staff just at the university, it does have a pretty substantial and diverse population. And if you like driving, hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, any of those sort of outdoorsy things Blacksburg is an amazing area. Oh yeah - and it will become mandatory to like football at VT even if you hate sports. :smiley:

UC has established relationships with a ton of companies and our network of alumni expands across almost everywhere in the design community. In terms of that meaning you’ll have similar portfolios to other UC grads, that’s not exactly the case. You’ll have more work experience than most graduating ID students from other schools and you’ll have anywhere between 3-6 companies you’ll co-op with. You’re resume won’t be that similar to anyone’s and your work will obviously vary.

In terms of choice of where you can work…it’s solely based on your skill level. You start co-oping as a sophomore and most likely won’t be working at any independent design firms (your skillset won’t be that developed yet). Sophomore co-ops are usually at places like Hasbro, Fisher-Price, Dicks Sporting Goods, Ethicon Endo Surgery and other companies we have a consistent relationship with. It’s a range between medical jobs, toy jobs, packaging jobs, etc. As you move further through the program you’ll get better and be able to start getting jobs at design firms. That can happen as early as 2nd/3rd year or you might have to wait until your 4th or 5th year. It’s up to you and your skills. There’s no real restriction on where you can apply to or work, so don’t think the program is limited in that regards.

My co-op experience was…
Swimways Corp.
Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company
TEAMS design
Smart Design

Another thing that was making me feel a little ‘iffy’ about UC was some of the projects I’ve seen created in studio classes. Many things seemed to be really unrelated to ID, like paper masks and artsy sculptural structures. Do you do a lot of conceptual work like this, or after freshman year do you move away from those kinds of things and really focus on your specific degree?{/quote}

Like others said, your first quarter sophomore year is foundations. You do work to build essential skills and design thinking. After those initial projects (which are common in all programs) we worked on power tools, assisted mobility devices, electric bicycles, workstations (I did ski patrol toboggan), chairs, and now a sponsored studio with a big corporate client.

If you want an idea of some of the stuff we’ve done or where we’ve worked here’s some of our semi-recent portfolios. I tried to give you some variety plus the two of us who responded.

ELCE | Home Page | University of Cincinnati > (that’s me)
ELCE | Home Page | University of Cincinnati > (that’s sain)
ELCE | Home Page | University of Cincinnati
ELCE | Home Page | University of Cincinnati
ELCE | Home Page | University of Cincinnati

And obviously if you got specific questions about UC you can ask us and it looks like you got some VT grads to ask questions to as well. Best of luck.

One other question I had about UC: do you really feel like you’re getting a traditional ‘college experience’? I really like the look of the ID program and the co-op program, and the student work is incredible. But I’ve read that UC is mostly a commuter campus. I’m interested in attending a school that has a good campus and student life. Did any of you who attend(ed) UC feel like you missed out on that at all? Is the campus really spread out? That’s one thing that I really loved about VT- how close-knit the campus is and the sense of community throughout. Everything is withing walking distance if you live in the dorms, and all of the buildings just really feel like they ‘belong’ together. Does UC have a very unified campus?

UC has over 50,000 students. While a good majority of these student might commute. You’ll hardly ever come into contact with these students. They are usually in more traditional major. I’ve never noticed a lack of students on campus.

UC like VT is a public school, that attracts a large variety of students. So you’ll be able to mix with a diverse amount of people if you choose too. The Bearcat Football/Basketball/Soccer teams are all very good and bring in a lot of attention. Fraternity and Sorority scene, (if your into that) are pretty big at UC.

The Main Campus is actually fairly compact and dense. Takes about 10 minutes to walk from side to side. Architecture is pretty awesome. UC has won a few awards for it. Also the football stadium is in the dead center of campus. You’ll prob walk by it everyday your at UC. Pretty cool too, because your allowed to walk down to the field anytime you want.

Life outside the campus isn’t the greatest. I’ve vistied a few campuses and UC never really kept up with the other big colleges in big cities. Texas @ Austin, Osu @ Columbus, CMU @ Pitt, all those cities are awesome and have great opportunities to explore outside the campus. Cincinnati, not so much. But not sure how it compares to VT.

I definitely recommend taking a campus visit and seeing for yourself, talking to students, professors. You gotta remember that this choice will affect the next 5 years of your life and tuition. In 20 years you wont even remember that $400 plane ticket. But you can be sure you’ll remember your college choice.

Just to build upon Sain’s response…

The breakdown for our 5 years is rough 3 at school 2 on co-op. In my 5 years at UC I’ve spent 3 in Cincinnati, 6 months in Virginia Beach, 9 months in Chicago and 3 months in San Francisco.

Just to build upon Sain. UC is a fairly typical public university. The biggest difference, the one that effects your college experience the most is the co-op program. You’ll be alternating semesters between school and work. That’s a very different experience not only in terms of where you may live and the people you’ll meet, but it also means there will be semesters where you miss out on a lot of the “college events” like sports games, concerts, etc. Sain and myself are only on campus during the summer and the winter so we largely miss all the campus activities which take place in the fall and spring. It’ll be different for you since the school is switching from quarters to semesters, but just remember that you may/may not be on campus during the active times of the year.

Also our definition of “student life” is fairly different than a normal student, that goes for just ID majors in general. Long hours, lots of effort put towards school, we spend everyday in studio during school. If you have any specific college life questions, like greek life, bars, sports, student living, dining, etc. just ask.

Do I feel like I missed out on anything? Absolutely not. Take Sain’s advice, visit.

Those of you who go/went to Virginia Tech: Do/did you ever have sponsored studio projects?

Also,think about the kind of place you want to work after school. VT and UC attract different kinds of recruiters in my experience.

What kinds of recruiters usually go to VT and UC, respectively? What kind of job could I expect to get coming out of one school versus the other?

Well, UC typically is on the radar for large global firms and corporations. Both my last employer, Nike, and current, frog, recruit there. Someone more familiar with VT will have to answer about VT.

There have been sponsored studio projects. Off the top of my head the only one I remember was from Eastman Chemical during my time, but I remember seeing some other sponsored projects - most of them came after I graduated, so some of the younger guys on here would probably be better to chime in. A lot of projects are also competition driven, and I know recently VT has had some strong/winning finishes in some of the bigger design competitions (LG, Microsoft, Dell, etc)

As far as recruiting, VT grads have ended up all over. I recruit from VT (Motorola Solutions), a recent Coroflot poll of some of the guys on here are interning or working at frog, Addidas, TTi/Ryobi, Insight, P&G, etc, so the network of connections continues to grow around the country.

VT also tends to represent pretty well at IDSA conferences and events which are always good places to get your foot in the door when it comes to contacts.

I think both are also pretty much identical when it comes to tuition costs (both being fairly affordable these days), and the cost of living is probably pretty similar as well. I had a mansion of an apartment for almost nothing when I lived in Blacksburg.

Both have similar costs on the surface, but it looks to me like there are a lot more scholarship opportunities at UC. At least, UC is a lot more explicit about how much money they’ll give you and how you can get it. For example, at UC they tell you that if you are a National Merit Scholar, you automatically get a 4-year scholarship equal to the cost of in-state tuition. At VT, they have a vague description saying that ‘an award may be offered’ to you if you’re a NMS, and they don’t tell you how much it’s worth. From what I’ve heard, though, it’s only around $2,000.

So I’m not entirely sure, but I feel like cost-wise I could end up better off at UC. Does Virginia Tech offer many scholarships once you’re enrolled? It looks like as an incoming freshman, you won’t be getting much. I’m hoping to be a part of the Honors program if I go there; do they offer any significant scholarships?