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UX university programs: Pros & cons

Colton Schweitzer
November 18, 2020

More and more U.S. universities are starting to offer dedicated UX/human centered design programs. If you have the time, will, and money, a program like this can be a great option. They offer in-depth study and projects that help build your portfolio and your design chops. These programs are quite competitive and it can be tough to get accepted. All the master’s programs require a bachelor's degree to be considered.

As you might expect, like many university programs, some of these can be a bit theory heavy at times and less focused on applying design in the real world. Regardless, you can learn the breadth and depth of knowledge you need to succeed in a UX career.

Unlike some bootcamps, there isn’t a single UX undergrad or master’s program out there that will offer a job guarantee. Just like anything in life, you get out what you put in.You have to put in the time and effort to make it worthwhile and land a job afterward.

Here are a few of the top master’s programs in the U.S.:

University of Washington

Masters of Human Computer interactions and Design (MHCID)

Duration: 11 months

Class size: ~33

Estimated tuition: $52,704

M.S. in Human-Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE)

Duration: 2 years

Class size: 120+

Estimated tuition: $43,622.40

Carnegie Mellon

Master of Human-Computer Interaction (MHCI)

Duration: 1 year

Class size: ~60

Estimated tuition: $72,000

Master of Design (MDes)

Duration: 2 years

Class size: ~10

Estimated tuition: $84,000

Northwestern University

Master of Science, Engineering Design Innovation (EDI)

Duration: 15 months

Class size: ~20

Estimated tuition: $80,042

As a quick side note, if you want to be a user researcher and not a UX designer, you typically need to go to a university.

There aren’t many options for getting into user research from scratch. The only other way that we have seen work is by becoming a UX designer first and then transitioning to full-time research after you’ve proven your skills and have gotten the “okay” from management.

There are a few more things to consider when thinking about going back to school.

It's unclear if in-person college experiences will become a thing of the past, as most colleges and universities are conducting classes remotely. Harvard's only allowing 40% of their undergraduates on campus to learn in fall 2020. The majority of their classes will be taught remotely, and for the same price, I might add. So not only do you not get the same experience, you’re still paying a premium.

The worst part is that the majority of college grads don’t even get a return on their investment or feel prepared for the future. Don’t believe us? According to an article published in early 2019 by The DO-IT Center at the University of Washington, “53% of college graduates are unemployed or working in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree.”

Unfortunately, we can’t speak to the job placement percentages of students that go through university UX programs.

Regardless of any downsides, if you do decide to go this route, be excited. If you put in the extra work and don’t give up, you’ll build a solid foundation for your UX career.

Back to vault

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Back to vault

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