I Still Recommend Avoiding Kent State’s UX Degrees

Posted By Debbie on Oct 25, 2016 in Business, Marketing


It has been nearly a year since my blog post about my awful experience in Kent State’s “MS of UX Design” program. I wanted to update you on what’s happened since then, in no particular order.

People have come out of the woodwork to thank me. Many people told me they had similar experiences, which is sad but validating, not that I needed validation.

One guy tried to belittle and minimize me while telling me he was empathetic and also wasn’t so sure about the program. OK, weirdo.

I get emails like this.

Just saw your post on Kent State – I had a similar horrible experience. I wish I had seen this post before taking the introductory courses – what a waste of my and my employer’s money!

I just started that program myself, and am definitely experiencing some of the things you had mentioned. I was curious on your advice for someone looking to completely switch careers into UX. I’m currently in the [non-UX] field and was excited about this program, but definitely am feeling like the fundamentals are lacking thus far and feel a little lost with some of the assignments because of it. I want to make sure that at the end of the program I am prepared for and capable of obtaining a job in UX.

Heartbreaking. People expect a certain level of quality not only from a known, accredited university but also from a Masters degree.

I was told that there were some staffing changes there and they are changing the program, but based on the full set of updates I received, I would continue to have no faith in this program or department at all. That’s my opinion. Yours may vary.

How can I tell if a degree will get me what I want?

Many of the people writing to me are transitioning into UX. They want to learn all the fundamentals, core concepts, approaches, and certainly everything they’d need to get that entry level job. They want to graduate with a strong and impressive portfolio.

1. How many classes are spent on actual design that will end up in your portfolio? Last I checked, the Kent State Masters degree was going to spend a few weeks on design out of a 2-year degree. That is NOT ENOUGH to learn about design or build a strong portfolio.

Remember that (good) UX job interviews will ask you to explain the thinking, approach, and methods behind portfolio pieces. You don’t just show them. You explain if not defend them. I have even been in interviews where someone looked at an old portfolio piece and asked if I would do that project differently now and what I would do differently.

2. What core fundamentals are you being taught? Will you be taught User-Centered Design (UCD)? Gestalt Theories of Perception? Read job listings in UX. See what they are asking for. Does your program cover those well and deep enough that you can tell a potential employer you get it and do it?

3. Ask for detailed information about courses, especially intro courses. When I took the Kent State classes, the intro class was week 1, what are some jobs in UX. Week 2, let’s write up a proposal and plan to do research on a fake project. Wait, what? That’s not even step one of UCD. If it looks like an intro class is dumping you right into pseudo real life deliverables without fundamentals, concepts, and approaches, get out of there.

4. Who are the faculty and who designed the courses? At Kent, nearly everybody there was/is a UX researcher. So a bunch of researchers created a Masters in UX Design that has nearly no design and, guess what, LOTS of classes on research.

Also check if faculty are full time or not. At Kent State, I had trouble getting the attention of people in the department because they were also UX research consultants/practitioners and were sometimes unavailable to do that work. Sure, I want teachers who do (and don’t just teach), but I’d want them to be available and have teaching as a priority.

5. Mentoring and networking. I found that Kent State not only offered me no mentoring but when I offered to mentor my classmates, I was told that was inappropriate. I was told the department would consider administrative action against me if I tried to mentor my classmates. Beware of petty power struggles passed off as administrative rules. Look for schools with strong alum networks, good personal attention, and if you’re new to UX, a school that sets you up for mentoring right away.

Don’t be fooled by claims like, “Lots of our grads got good jobs after taking our degree,” or anything like that. Anybody can say that. That doesn’t tell us enough. Were those people already in UX? How much help did the school give in finding or securing that job?

Off the top of my head, those are just a few things I would suggest you dig deeply into.

Who do I recommend?

I continue to recommend General Assembly. It’s a sort of trade school in various cities plus some online programs. Their UX certificate takes just a few months. It’s not cheap. But I have seen many people get entry level jobs after taking that.

You end up with portfolio pieces and good foundational understanding of certain aspects of UX. While I like the idea of teaching at General Assembly, I don’t work there and gain nothing from suggesting them.

You do not need a 4 yr or grad degree unless you are looking to be a researcher. Most research managers I know like to see candidates have a Masters related to UX research or even an MBA. But if you are looking at other areas of UX including IA and interaction design, you may not need a university degree for that.

When I am interviewing candidates, I am looking more at their natural talent, approach, thinking, decisions, shifts, and ideas more than where they went to school.

Good luck to all of you no matter what path you choose or which certificate or degree you attempt to get!

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