UX Design

Frequently Asked Questions

Prospective Student Questions

► General Program Questions

Is it possible to complete the HCIM on a part-time basis?

Yes. Some of our students choose to attend part time, taking 1 - 2 classes per semester and completing the program in 3 (or more) years instead of the typical 2.

Can I complete the HCIM coursework online?

No. While the iSchool does offer some online courses, most coursework, including HCIM core coursework, must be completed in person, on campus.

Can I complete the program in under two years?

No. Due to constraints of course sequencing and class scheduling, it would be extremely difficult for students to complete the degree in under two years.

Is it possible to work while completing the program?

Certainly. Many of our students hold part-time and even full-time positions during their studies. While we cannot guarantee when courses will be offered, we do our best to schedule classes at times that can accommodate professional students' schedules.

Do I need programming experience or a computer science degree?

No! We accept students from a wide range of academic majors, and some come in with no programming experience at all, while others have a significant academic or professional background in computer science. We feel strongly that students with all kinds of academic background and experience levels have valuable knowledge to bring to the conversation about HCI, and we are committed to developing an intellectually diverse cohort of students in our program.

Students who are admitted with little or no programming experience are required to take a programming class their first semester in order to establish their skillset. Students who come into the program with a strong computer science background may apply to waive this requirement once they have been admitted. All students, regardless of previous experience, will develop their skills through class projects, internships, and their final capstone or thesis project.

Do you prefer that applicants have work experience somewhere before applying?

We don't have a preference regarding work experience. Some of our master’s students have recently obtained their undergraduate degrees, while others come after working in their field for several years.

How can I find out more about the HCIM program? Can I visit campus or sit in on a class?

Prospective students are encouraged to attend one of our periodic virtual information sessions. The schedule of information sessions is available here. Applicants who live in the DC Metro area are also welcome to attend the iSchool's annual Open House in October. To arrange an individual campus visit or to inquire about visiting a class, please contact the HCIM program manager.

Questions About Faculty

► General Questions

Will I get to work closely with faculty?

Yes. Most graduate courses in the iSchool have a student-teacher ratio of 9:1. Students who pursue the thesis option will work one-on-one with a faculty advisor in their second year, and many students work on faculty research projects, through independent studies, or as graduate assistants or volunteers.

Do instructors have experience in today’s business environment?

Yes. Your instructors include both full-time faculty members who serve as consultants in business and government and professional faculty who are professionals currently employed in such areas as usability testing and graphic design. Their client lists include Microsoft, Google, Facebook, the World Bank, and federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation.

I’m interested in studying with a particular faculty member. Will I get to do research with faculty?

If there are particular faculty you’re interested in working with, you are welcome to contact them directly. If you do so, please be respectful and take the time to inform yourself about their work in advance. While most faculty are happy to hear from prospective students, keep in mind that they are not admissions advisors and will likely not be able to answer questions about program requirements.

Please keep in mind that the faculty member you’re hoping to work with may not be available. Faculty may be on sabbatical, or may not be teaching in a given semester. It’s a good idea to apply to programs with faculty you’re excited about working with, but pinning all your expectations on one faculty member may not be productive.

► Tuition and Financial Aid Questions

Tuition and Financial Aid Questions

How much does the program cost?

Current tuition and fees by credit hour for in-state and out-of-state students may be found on the web page for the Student Financial Services and Cashiering.

Does the program offer scholarships?

The HCIM program does not offer scholarships to students upon admission. A limited number of assistantships (which typically include tuition remission) are available to students once they have enrolled. More information about financial aid is available here.

Are there employment opportunities on campus?

Many students do wind up working on campus, either as graduate assistants or in hourly positions. The ejobs.umd.edu portal provides listings of some openings.

► Career Questions

What is the career path for someone pursuing an HCIM degree?

Graduates occupy a variety of research and design roles within major companies. Some of the possible job titles include User Experience Designer, User Interface Designer, Interaction Designer, Usability Analyst, User Experience Researcher, User Researcher, Product Designer, and Visual Designer. Some of our graduates also go on to PhD programs.

Where do students from this program go on to work?

HCIM students have been recruited by companies such as American Airlines, Broadsoft, Capital One, Citrix, Deloitte Digital, The New York Times  and IBM, among others.

Admissions Questions

► Application Requirements

Is the GRE/TOEFL required?

The GRE and the TOEFL are required for international applicants only. For complete details on the University's TOEFL requirements, please see the Graduate School's page about international applications. The HCIM program no longer requires GREs for domestic applicants, though they may submit scores if they wish to do so.

What kind of GPA/test scores are you looking for?

The Graduate School requires that applicants must have earned a minimum 3.0 average GPA (on a 4.0 scale) in all prior coursework. Competitive GRE scores are typically in the the 40th percentile or higher for Verbal scores and in the 60th percentile or higher for Qualitative scores. TOEFL scores should be a combined score of 100.

While we give serious consideration to applicants’ test scores, they are only one part of the application. The application review committee considers applications holistically, weighing all of the application materials carefully. In short, test scores matter, but they are only one part of your application.

What are you looking for in the portfolio or application essay?

We want to give you a chance to tell us more about yourself through what you have created or how you think about a design issue. You may choose either the portfolio or the essay option. Please follow the guidelines and instructions for the Supplementary Application regarding what to include for either. If you choose the portfolio, remember to describe what you want the committee to know about each piece you've chosen to include, and make sure your portfolio doesn't require a password or any other permission. If you choose the essay, make sure you incorporate images in whatever way you feel is most appropriate. Most applicants insert images into the text of their essay, but you may also use an appendix in your essay, if you prefer. Please keep in mind that this field in the online application only permits users to upload one document.

I think I want to submit a portfolio instead of any essay, but what should go into it? What if I don't have prior UX experience?

What your portfolio contains depends entirely on the kind of work you want to highlight, and what your prior experience has been. Even if you don't have prior UX experience, you can still put together a portfolio that shows your talents to their best effect. While UX portfolios typically include examples of projects you've worked on (apps you've designed, for example), there are many other kinds of work you may want to showcase. For instance, if you've conducted user research, you might not have a final design to share, but you can talk about your research process and findings. Publications, scholarly research, and visual art might also have a place in a portfolio, depending on your background and skillset. Think about the portfolio as an opportunity to showcase the work you've done (not just the positions you've held, as in a resume), and to demonstrate your sensibilities. What is your style? How do you approach problems and iterate on your work? These are the kinds of details a portfolio can provide, and prior UX experience is not the only way to convey these aspects about yourself. 

Can someone from the HCIM program review my materials before submission? I would like to know my chances for admission before I submit?

Last year, we received a record number of applications from highly qualified candidates (+63% growth from the previous year) and were able to extend acceptances to only 1/3 of the applicants. Given our size constraints (cohort size of approximately 35) and our desire for diversity of skills and backgrounds in the accepted cohort, we simply cannot estimate chances ahead of time or provide individual preliminary or post-application review.

► Application Troubleshooting

What am I supposed to enter in the second GRE field?

Nothing, you can leave this field blank. Applicants who are required to submit GREs only need to submit one set of scores.

Can I upload an encrypted transcript?

Please do not upload an encrypted transcript to the application. It will upload as a blank document and the program will not be able to use it for our evaluation. If you only have access to an encrypted transcript, please print the document out, scan it, then upload a scanned version.

What if my transcripts are in a language other than English?

Please submit a single combined PDF, including English and native languages together. If your institution does not issue records in English, official English translations must be provided/uploaded, and the original language records must be submitted/uploaded, as well. Only translations issued by the institution or a professional translating service will be accepted. Translations must be literal.

I submitted my standardized test scores but my application is still marked incomplete. What happened?

Because standardized test scores must be manually processed by the University, it can sometimes take a little while for the scores to be marked as received on the application. If it has been more than two weeks since your scores were sent but your application is still marked as "incomplete", you can contact either the iSchool Student Services Office or the HCIM program manager and we can check the status of your scores.

How can I confirm my recommendations have been submitted?

The online application will indicate when each of your recommenders has submitted their recommendation. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that recommendations have been completed, so please make sure to check that each of your recommendations has been received.

► If You Didn't Get Accepted

The applicant pool for the class enrolling in Fall 2019 was more competitive than ever before. We received applications from many more qualified applicants with strengths in technology, design, and/or social sciences than we could admit. We understand that it can be discouraging to receive a rejection letter. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of applicants, we are unable to provide any individual post-application reviews or debriefings . Because our review process is a holistic one, there is no one determining factor governing a decision to accept an applicant; rather, we are looking to shape a class with diverse strengths and perspectives.

We wish all of our applicants well in their pursuit of an advanced degree. Applicants who wish to be considered for the following year should note that the University of Maryland's Graduate School will begin accepting applications for the HCIM class starting in Fall 2020 this summer. Please check back to the Graduate School admissions page periodically to see when the portal opens.

New Student Questions

► Acceptance and Enrollment

I was recommended for admission to the program, but I haven’t received an official acceptance letter yet. What does this mean?

The HCIM program can only recommend applicants for admission. Final admissions decisions are made by the University of Maryland Graduate School. You will receive official notification of your admissions decision from the Graduate School.

What is the Graduate School looking at when they review applicants who have been recommended for admission by the program?

While the HCIM review process involves assessing whether applicants will be a good fit for the program and have the qualities and skills necessary to be successful in the program, the Graduate School is mainly checking to confirm that information submitted by applicants is correct and that it meets the Graduate School’s requirements (i.e., a GPA of 3.0 or higher, a degree from an accredited institution, etc).

I’m still waiting to hear from the Graduate School about my admissions decision. When can I expect to receive my official notification?

Depending on the volume of applications being processed at the time, it can take the Graduate School several weeks to review applicants who have been recommended for admission. The Graduate School processes applications from all across campus, and this can be an extremely busy time for their office, so please be patient as they work to review your application. However, if it has been more than three weeks since you received your recommendation letter from the HCIM program, you’re welcome to contact the HCIM program coordinator to check in on your application status.

How do I respond to my offer of admission?

Your official acceptance letter from the Graduate School should contain information about how to respond to your offer of admission. Please follow the link in your acceptance letter to accept or decline your offer of admission.

Can I defer enrollment to the HCIM program?

Admitted students may defer enrollment for up to one year. Students may defer for any reason, at any time before the start of the fall semester. To defer, you should first formally accept your offer of admission following the instructions in your acceptance letter. Then, you should fill out this form to request to initiate the deferral process with the iSchool.

► Getting Started

How do I set up my University ID (UID) and campus email?

Information about setting up your UID and campus email is available in our New Student Checklist.

Where can I find my University ID (UID) number?

Your UID number is listed on the bottom of your initial acceptance letter from the Graduate School. If you’ve misplaced your letter and have not yet set-up your UMD email account, you can call (301) 405-2038 or email ischooladvisors@umd.edu.

Why do I need to get a student ID?

Your student ID serves as your library card, and is required for access on-campus resources, such as the University Health Center and the free UMD shuttle system.

Where do I get my student ID?

You can get your ID on the first floor of the Mitchell Building on the College Park campus, 8:30-4:30 PM Monday – Friday. Call (301) 314-8240 if you have additional questions.

Do I have to submit my official transcripts by mail?

You may submit your official transcripts by mail, but you can also drop them off in person once you arrive on campus, as long as they are in a sealed envelope.

Are there any technology requirements? What kind of laptop/software should I get?

You should be prepared to bring a laptop to class, but whether you use a Mac or a PC is up to you. You should be able to complete your assignments regardless of the kind of operating system you use. There is no standard software students are required to purchase. Software requirements vary from course to course, and instructors will inform their students if specific applications are required for a course. UMD also provides software licensing to students through TERPware. Various products are available for download and use by UMD students, faculty, and staff, including Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office.

What books/software/programming languages should I be familiar with before attending?

The HCIM program does not have prerequisite coursework, and there is no required reading ahead of the start of the semester. However, if you are interested in getting a headstart on the tools and theories you’ll encounter during your studies, here are some recommendations.

  • Books: The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman; Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug
  • Articles: “Back Off, Man. I’m a Scientist” by Jennifer Golbeck; “8 Golden Rules of Interface Design” by Ben Shneiderman; “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design” by Jakob Nielsen
  • Software: Adobe Creative Suite, InVision, Sketch
  • Programming Languages: JavaScript, HTML, CSS

If you’re looking for some quick introductions or refreshers on topics, you may want to check out the tutorial site Lynda.com, which UMD students have free access to (requires UMD login). W3 Schools and Codecademy are also good, free options.

► Registration and Courses

How do I know what courses to register for?

The HCIM Advising and Resources page provides guidance about how HCIM students typically complete their degree, as well as links to resources like the program checklist, student handbook, and the iSchool two-year course plan. Most HCIM students register for INST 630 - Introduction to Programming, INST 631 - Fundamentals of HCI, and INST 710 - User Experience Research Methods (or another appropriate research methods course) in the fall of their first year.

How do I register?

Students register for courses via Testudo. For detailed information about registering, please consult the registration guide.

Can I waive any core courses?

Students who have relevant professional and/or academic experience may request to waive INST 630 - Introduction to Programming,  INST 631 - Fundamentals of HCI, and INST 717 - HCI Intership Practicum. If you wish to waive a course, please fill out this waiver request form and provide a brief (1-page) explanation of why you feel you are qualified to waive the course, along with either a copy of your transcript or your resume (as appropriate). Students who are approved to waive a course are still required to fulfill the credit requirement, and must take an appropriate 3-credit course to substitute for the waived course.

Can I transfer credits and apply them toward my degree at UMD?

Students may transfer up to 6 credits earned prior to enrollment from an institution other than the University of Maryland, College Park. To be eligible for transfer, courses must have a grade of B or better, be graduate-level, and cannot have been applied to a previous degree. They must be less than five years old at the time of the request. For more information about taking courses outside of the iSchool and transferring credits, please visit the Declarations, Forms & Waivers page.

How many courses should I take?

Most students take 3 courses their first semester, and 2-3 courses in subsequent semesters. International students are required to maintain a full-time status, which often means taking 3 courses per semester. More information about maintaining full-time status is available here. We strongly recommend that students do not register for more than 3 classes a semester, as three 3-credit courses per semester is considered a full course load for graduate students.

How much time should I plan on spending on coursework outside of class?

This will vary greatly from student to student, but a good rule of thumb for estimating workload for a graduate class is 2-3 hours a week per credit hour. So a 3 credit course would take somewhere between 6-9 a week outside of class time.

How do I know what textbooks are required for my course?

For every class you take, you should check the class Testudo listing to see if there are textbooks required for the course.

  1. Go to Testudo
  2. Find the listing for your individual course
  3. Select the section for which you are signed up
  4. Click the stacked book icon to the right of your section number.  This will inform you of any required textbooks.

Keep in mind, not all instructors list their required materials on Testudo. If you still have questions about required readings for your courses, feel free to contact your course instructor to verify.

► Tuition, Billing, and Financial Aid

Does the iSchool charge non-standard tuition?

Non-standard tuition is only charged for courses that are offered on the Shady Grove campus or online. All HCIM core courses and most electives are offered in person on the College Park campus and are billed at the standard tuition rate. Most HCIM students take the majority of their courses in person at College Park, though they may take electives at Shady Grove or online if they wish. Information about tuition and fees for Shady Grove and online courses is available here.

How much should I budget for the year?

The Office of Student Financial Aid provides cost of attendance estimates, which should give you a general idea of what your expenses will be.

What kind of financial aid is available to graduate students? Am I eligible?

Information about student loans and financing your education is available through the Office of Student Financial Aid.

Specific questions regarding financial aid should be directed to the Office of Financial Aid. Financial Advisors are available by appointment, which can be set up by phone at (301) 314-9000 or via email at umfinaid@umd.edu. For more information see the Financial Aid Office.

When will I be billed for my courses?

Your tuition bill will be available after you register for courses. Once you are enrolled, we send information with registration procedures. For planning purposes, Spring and Fall billing information and due dates can be found here. Summer courses have an alternate billing schedule than fall/spring. You can review the billing policies for summer courses here. If you have any questions regarding tuition or billing, please reach out to the Office of the Bursar.

Where do I view my bill?

You can view your bill through the Office of Student Financial Aid webpage. For quick reference, this page can be reached from the bottom of the Testudo home page by clicking on “Financial Aid.” Once on the Student Financial Aid webpage, click “Check Your Financial Aid Status Online” and log in using your university username and password. From there you can click “View Monthly Billing Statement” which will again prompt you to log in using your university username and password. You should now see your “eBill Menu” where you can view your bill by selecting the appropriate date from the drop-down menu, pay your bill, view your student account, and add email accounts to receive information about billing updates.

► Arriving on Campus

When should I plan to arrive on campus?

New students should plan to arrive on campus the week before classes start, as a number of events for new students take place during this week, including the iSchool Orientation, Graduate School Orientation, and International Student Orientation.

Do I have to attend orientation?

The iSchool Orientation is mandatory for all new students, except in extenuating circumstances. HCIM students are also required to attend one of two virtual information sessions over the summer. We do not require students to attend the Graduate School orientation, though they are encouraged to do so. International students are required to attend International Student Orientation, and should receive details about new student requirements for international students via International Student & Scholar Services.

Where do graduate students live, and how can I find housing?

Most graduate students live off-campus. Many live close to campus, in College Park or nearby Hyattsville. Others live in neighboring areas like Takoma Park, Silver Spring, or Bethesda, which are a short drive away. Some choose to live in DC or commute from elsewhere in Maryland and Virginia. Where students live depends greatly on their budget and available transportation, as well as personal preference.

UMD’s Off-Campus Housing Services provides information about housing in the area and maintains a database of housing opportunities and people seeking roommates.The University also owns two small apartment complexes called Graduate Hills and Graduate Gardens that are reserved exclusively for graduate students. Both are managed by Southern Management Corporation. Because of their convenient location and affordability, competition is strong for these units. For an application and additional information, contact Southern Management Graduate Hills and Graduate Gardens Apartment Homes, 3426 Tulane Drive, Suite #3, Hyattsville, MD 20783 (888-633-6173).

How do I get to campus?

If you’re flying in to Maryland, there are three airports in the region:

  • Baltimore Washington International Airport
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
  • Washington Dulles International Airport

The UMD campus is served by the College Park stop on Metro’s green line. Free shuttle service runs to and from the College Park Metro station.

Check out the UMD Department of Transportation site for lots of information on how to get around the College Park campus by free UMD shuttle, via the Metro, on foot, by bike, or by car. They also have a number of apps that you can use to help navigate to the campus.

► Graduate Assistantships and On-Campus Employment

How can I find a graduate assistantship?

Unfortunately the HCIM program isn't able to offer assistantships to students on admission. The program works to connect students to assistantship opportunities when they become available, but students are also encouraged to apply to positions across campus via the University’s ejobs.umd.edu portal.

What does a graduate assistantship entail?

Assistantships are typically either full-time (20 hrs/week) or part-time (10 hrs/week) positions, and can be designated as either a teaching assistantship (TA), research assistantship (RA), or administrative assistantship (AA). Masters students typically hold administrative assistantships, and, more rarely, RAs or TAs. These positions usually include a stipend and some amount of tuition remission; the amount varies depending on the assistantship, but a 20-hour GAship usually includes full tuition remission.

When are graduate assistantships advertised?

Most hiring for graduate assistantships tends to take place over the summer and at the beginning of the school year. However, graduate assistantships continue to advertised throughout the year, and a number of HCIM students who arrived without an assistantship have found them once they arrived on campus.

Keeping in Touch

When will I be added to campus listservs?

Incoming HCIM students will be added to the program listserv after the end of the spring semester. Students are typically added to iSchool listservs at the start of the fall semester.

Is there an official HCIM group on social media?

The program does not maintain an official Facebook group or Slack channel, though students may create their own groups. We do have an official program Twitter, which students are encouraged to follow.