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What to look for in a UX Masters Program

The number of people who enter into the field is rising. Enrolling in a user experience Masters program can help distinguish you from an ever growing field of designers. As the field grows, so does the number of programs. Before you make the investment, think about how you can determine which programs are right for you and frankly which programs you should avoid.

A User Experience Masters Program with industry connections

Faculty with connection to the industry

When looking into a program it is best to study who will be responsible for helping your education. Who is on the faculty and what is their experience? Are they currently working in the field? What is their reputation? What does their work look like?
Too often students who are looking to break into the UX field are being taught by faculty who have never entered it. Once students get a grasp for the material, the questions about type of work, jobs, and career paths come up. I commonly hear from newly minted designers that the lack of recent work experience from their faculty left them starved for direction. This was especially true when their attentions turned to internships and first jobs.

Carnegie Mellon’s HCI Alumni Page.

Complimentary degree programs

Is there only one degree path such as UX? Are there other paths such as HCI or Interaction Design? If there are, this shows that the school is building a robust degree program. You will have the ability to add different courses to broaden your skill set. This is will strengthen your education and your understanding of the design process. Here are some great examples from Carnegie Mellon and School of Visual Arts.

Alumni who are moving in the direction you want to go

Kick butt portfolios

Start the Googling or LinkedIn trolling. Find alumni. What do their portfolios look like? Where do they work? I’ve met so many graduates of from a wide variety of Master’s program who did not graduate with a solid UX portfolio. While the program you chose will give you the tools to build a portfolio, it will not do it for you. What the school should do is support and guide you through the process. What should be a motivating factor is the caliber of the students’ work.

This last part came out of many conversations about the value of going back to school for a Master’s. I found a great piece from Jessica Ivins, “Should I got to Graduate School to learn UX.” Part 1 and Part 2. If you’re looking to get started, then I feel that getting a Master’s may be a heavy handed approach for an entry level job. Getting a Master’s in UX may not be worth it if you consider the other cheaper alternatives.

To start research the average salaries versus the cost of tuition. For example, how much does an entry level Interaction Designer make? How much does that salary change for a mid to senior level? If you look at the pay scale for different designers in software (UX Researcher, Visual Designer, Interaction Designer, Product Designer, etc.), think about how do these differ over time?

Maybe a Master’s in UX is a little too much to think about for now. If you’re starting out check out my posts on online courses and bootcamps.



Matt Eng

Product Designer at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, Polycom, Symantec and Pebble. Volunteers with AIGA Austin and teaches at Austin Community College.

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