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MFA Graphic Design Programs


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Hey guys,


I'm applying to 3-year Graphic Design programs.. 

Coming from a background in Art History, I'm pretty new to this field.

I was wondering if anyone could tell me what any of these schools are like? 




Art Center




California College of the Arts



I'm least familiar with CalArts and MICA. All I know is that CalArts is a very small school founded by Walt Disney and that Ellen Lupton teaches at MICA and MICA has a bigger focus on print design than other schools.


If anyone has anything to add to any school on this list, it'd really help me get a better idea and narrow down my list.


Thanks so much! 

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Hello junicorn,


It seems as though you've selected some of the "brand name," private-school MFA programs. Are you aware that there are plenty of public universities, some with excellent funding, that have 3-year graphic design programs for those without a formal design background? UWashington and ASU come to mind, as well as Carnegie Mellon and NCSU (I think). Some of these have programs that seem very solid and worth your time and money. Some do not.


Unfortunately, none of us can really tell you what these programs are "like," as we don't know what you want to know. The best advice I can give you is to look through each department's website as throughly as possible--which includes seeing what kind of work students are currently doing, as well as tracking down the sites of alumni and seeing their current work and employment. That's the only way you'll be able to get sort of intuitive feel for what each department is up to. Of course, "lurking" on forums devoted to design and design education, such as this one and Core77, is also a good way to do research.


For instance, I was not impressed with MICA's student work, nor did I find SVA very appetizing. RISD and Yale both seem exceptionally devoted to print and web design, sometimes with experimental media/digital flairs, while CCA and Art Center seem to take more of a holistic approach to design (CCA's program, after all, is simply an MFA in "Design") and attract business-minded folk and architects as well as people who want to make masturbatory booklets, like they do at Yale (you can begin to see my biases here). CalArts has hardly any funding, and seem to be making the most extreme and involved kinds of designs, very complex stuff. Yale seems to be making a lot of theory-driven, deadpan design, and a lot of the student work looks alike, which can be good or bad depending on what you want. 


These are all only impressions I've taken away from their websites, programs, and bodies of work, and I'm sure that a lot of my impressions are simplifications or are outright incorrect. You can only know for sure by researching for yourself. If you're unwilling to do so, and instead want people to tell you what each program will give you, perhaps you aren't quite ready to take on the responsibility of a graduate education.

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Thanks Space Ayn Rand for taking the time to reply and for your insights. 


I have, of course, been doing research on these schools on my own. I recently joined this forum and thought it would be helpful to know what other people think. 

I liked SVA's studio environment and their stellar faculty, some of whom I got a chance to meet. 


I'm very interested in Art Center at the moment. I really enjoyed talking with the director there, and their Field Track sounds fascinating, as cause-based/social design is one of my interests. 


Happyland, I can tell you a little bit about RISD from my conversation with one of the professors there. They seem to be a lot more "artsy" and geekier than other schools. The prof told me she was tired of seeing commercial work (she had been reviewing people's portfolio all day). You know, the stuff you'd expect to see in the market. They're more interested in typographic experiments and theory-driven work, which I like. Hope this helps

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Not all the schools. I visited CCA, Art Center, and SVA. Art Center has a real interesting studio setting, where all graduate students are work under one roof in a gigantic former supersonic wind tunnel. I imagine it should provide ample opportunities to see what others are doing, get inspired and possibly even collaborate. For CCA, the location is great in my opinion. San Francisco is very design-friendly, liberal, and home to countless start-ups and Silicon Valley.


Good luck!

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I am glad that you have been able to visit programs in person. That's far more research than I have been able to do  :P. Best of luck with your application, you and I might be in the same circles in a few years.




junicorn's assessment of RISD seems to be spot-on. They used to have a pretty big gallery of student work and there was some outright hilarious stuff on there (hilarious in a good way, not a bad way). Unfortunately, they seem to have moved or deleted the gallery, so you only get a few bare-bones examples of work on their site, which I don't quite like.

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It seems like the power is shifting away from the established schools in the East Coast. It's been this way for at least a decade, but it's interesting to hear feedback from others. Nice to see that we have a good spread here. If only we could get more information from other schools like Cranbrook and VCU. 

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Current first-year MICA graphic design MFA student here.


Last year I applied to MICA, RISD, Yale, and MIT (media lab). Got rejected from Yale and MIT, but interviewed and accepted at both MICA and RISD.


As for what it's like here... both of the GD MFA directors — Ellen Lupton & Jennifer Cole Phillips — are awesome mentors, critics, and people in general. Our studio space is pretty great, taking a big chunk of the Brown Center's 4th floor, and it can get kinda noisy when everyone is in there at the same time though we try and keep the noise and mess to a respectable level. Everyone has their own space and computer so we're generally not stepping on each other's toes.


The classes I took this past semester were pretty awesome overall: Design Studio 1 (required), Graduate Typeface Design*, Advanced Publication Design**, and Aesthetics & Critical Theory. Additionally this past semester I was a "graduate student intern" (TA basically) for two classes where I mostly helped out students (undergrad and grad) in class but I did have the opportunity to teach class on occasion as well as run a workshop or two.


I wouldn't say we have a bigger focus on print design than the other GD MFA programs out there. Generally for projects each student is able to find their own solution be it print, interactive, or whatever (when applicable at least). When the GD MFA cohort is put together Ellen and Jennifer try very hard to put together a group of individuals that come from varied backgrounds and bring different skills to the table so that everyone can learn from and play off each other, but I'm sure that's the same thing you'll find at a lot of MFA programs out there. In my class (of 15 students), three of us come from web design/dev backgrounds.


Comparatively with many other graphic design MFA programs ours is quite young, barely a decade old having been established in 2003, whatever that's worth.


If you've got any specific questions, ask away here or PM me. Applying to grad school is definitely a pain, and it feels like just yesterday I was in your shoes; pulling work together, applying, waiting to hear about interviews, etc.


*Taught by Tal Leming, TypeSupply (previously of House Industries).

**Taught by Kim Walker, Pentagram

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