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Frequently Asked Questions for Prospective Future School of Design Students

  • The portfolio you submit on SlideRoom is the most important part of your application. Even if other parts of your application are strong, you need a portfolio that shows potential for success in our first-year program to be admitted. After the portfolio, your application essays and the answers to other questions, especially those on SlideRoom, are the next most crucial part. We want to see how you plan to use a Design education from CMU in your future. Other elements like GPA, test scores, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities are also considered. We are particularly interested in how you plan to use design to improve your community and the world.

  • We aim to enroll around 40 students every year in our new cohorts. Most admitted students to the School of Design choose the Bachelor of Design (BDes) degree as their first choice on their Common App. We admit very few BXA students for a variety of reasons detailed in the questions and sections below.

  • Design studies refer to the non-studio courses that address the theory, ethics and practice of design. These courses are ‘about design’ rather than ‘how to design’. They examine the context within which design happens and introduce designers to related fields and disciplines. Design studies courses ask questions about the past and future of design, examines the ways designers work in different parts of the world and discusses the responsibility and ethics that are involved in designing in and for changing environments.

    Our new curriculum is based upon a robust sequence of Design Studies courses that teach students to conduct thorough research and think strategically in complex situations. In contrast to traditional Design Studies courses that are often involve lectures and term papers, our courses involve creative projects and applied research.

  • BDes students benefit from a focused and rigorous design curriculum, high-quality studio courses, and access to a network of leading design professionals. Plus, they can participate in Confluence, our annual job fair, where over 70 companies come to recruit our graduates for top design roles. You can find more information about what CMU Design Alumni are doing here.

  • Graduates of the design program are in high demand by organizations of all kinds. They can work as interaction, information, communication, or product designers in design firms, multinational corporations, or business consultancies. The career possibilities for designers are expanding exponentially as organizations recognize the value of design.

    Below is a list of areas that graduates of our program might work within:

    • Book and publication design
    • Type design
    • Multimedia, video and motion graphics
    • Web design Interaction design
    • User experience design
    • Design of apps and interfaces for mobile devices
    • Service design
    • Environmental graphics (signage and wayfinding)
    • Product design
    • Communication design
    • Information design
    • Corporate identity and brand strategy
    • Package design
    • Exhibition design
    • Design of physical and digital environments

    If you would like to find out more information about where our alumni work, you can do so by looking at our Post Graduate Outcomes page.

  • No, because of the sequential and interconnected nature of our curriculum, transfer students with rare exceptions are only considered for first-year admission. Despite your previous studies and coursework, a BDes from CMU will take 8 semesters of study (4 years). You can read more about this in the transfer application section.

  • No, you cannot because IDeAte is not a major. It is a way for students at CMU to minor or take courses in something outside of their major. For example, you may start your journey as a BDes student but realize you want to know more about beginning a start-up. In this case, you may take part in IDeAte to learn more about entrepreneurship by taking courses at Tepper through the “Innovation & Entrepreneurship” minor.

  • The BXA program might be the perfect blend if you're equally passionate about both. It allows you to integrate your artistic side with a rigorous computer science education. However, consider what kind of career you’d like after graduation. A BDes degree will prepare you to become a Designer, and a BXA degree will prepare you to become another sort of professional or researcher with Design knowledge AND other expertise, BUT not necessarily a Designer.

  • In such a case, the BXA degree may be right for you. However, other options exist for obtaining such knowledge, such as a double major, doing a minor, or seeking a graduate degree after your bachelor’s. Alternatively, you could study for the BDes degree and take elective courses in your secondary subject. There are many opportunities within Design courses to use subject matter knowledge to enhance your coursework without doing a BXA.

  • Industrial Design falls under our Products track at the School of Design. You can find more information about our tracks here.

  • You can switch from BXA to BDes, not vice versa. Once you're in the BDes program, you're set on a path that focuses deeply on design. The BXA program is only open to first-year high school applicants. External or internal transfer students CANNOT apply for the BXA program. At the School of Design, each undergraduate cohort has 40 students. The majority are BDes students, with only a select few BXA students. Please think carefully about which program suits your interests and aspirations.

  • The BXA program seeks students with a strong foundation in the arts and their chosen secondary field, such as humanities or sciences. Applicants must demonstrate a capacity for creativity and interdisciplinary work in their high school coursework and extracurricular activities. Applicants must be accepted for entry by the School of Design AND the CMU college corresponding to their secondary field. To learn more about BXA, please visit their website.

  • Both the BXA and BDes programs are highly selective due to their small sizes and academic rigor. However, the BXA Design program is much smaller than the BDes degree program. For BXA applicants, we look for students who show exceptional promise in blending their artistic vision with other academic interests. On your application in Slideroom, you can indicate whether you would like to be considered for the BDes program if you are not accepted to the BXA program. The Admissions Committee asks that you think carefully before checking both boxes. The School of Design seeks individuals driven to change the world through design and pursue meaningful careers as Designers.

  • Both BDes and BXA students receive personalized guidance from faculty advisors who help tailor their course selections to fit their interests and career aspirations. Advisors are dedicated to ensuring students get the most out of their education, blending disciplines or diving deep into Design.

  • While taking elective courses in Game Design at CMU is possible, the School of Design’s curriculum does not explicitly teach Game Design. It is recommended that applicants to the School of Design demonstrate their potential for success in at least one of the established tracks within the School’s curriculum. Portfolios with excessive pieces related to game design may not result in a favorable admission outcome. That being said, if your journey to pursue Design as a career led you to Design games, we would love to see a few of those pieces. We love applicants with a variety of skills and curiosity.

  • No, this major is offered through the College of Engineering, and it is an additional major exclusively offered to students enrolled in that college. You can read more about it here.

  • The School of Design’s curriculum does not explicitly teach set design or art design for productions. If this interests you, an application to the School of Drama or another CMU college would perhaps be a better fit. Portfolios with excessive pieces related to Set Design may not result in a favorable admission outcome. That being said, if your journey to pursue Design as a career led you to Set Design, we would love to see a few of those pieces. We love applicants with a variety of skills and curiosity.

  • The School of Design’s curriculum does not explicitly teach automotive design. Portfolios with excessive pieces related to automotive may not result in a favorable admission outcome. That being said, if your journey to pursue Design as a career led you to look at how cars are designed for functionality, we would love to see a few of those pieces. We love applicants with a variety of skills and curiosity.

  • Although elective courses can be taken in illustration and drawing, this is not a focus in core studio courses. Students will need to have design skills in other areas to succeed. If illustration and narrative storytelling through visual art are your main interests, an application to the School of Art would be a better fit. Portfolios with excessive pieces related to illustrations, anime, or cartoons may not result in a favorable admission outcome. That being said, if your journey to pursue Design as a career led you to illustration, we would love to see a few of those pieces. We love applicants with a variety of skills and curiosity.

  • The School of Design’s curriculum does not explicitly teach fashion design. Students at the school do some projects where they construct garments, but the focus on those projects is often more on functionality and problem-solving than designing for fashion. Portfolios with excessive fashion-related pieces may not result in a favorable admission outcome. That being said, if your journey to pursue Design as a career led you to try out fashion design, we would love to see a few of those pieces. We love applicants with a variety of skills and curiosity.

  • Yes, you still have a chance to get in. Our program places emphasis on the ability to visualize concepts, but we believe everyone can learn to draw. Many students come to us with no previous drawing experience and there are many different styles of visual notation and drawing.

    Our First- Year curriculum helps students find their own particular style or vocabulary for representing their ideas in visual form. As you prepare your portfolio, begin to practice drawing and diagramming. A good book to look at is Drawing Ideas: A Hand-Drawn Approach for Better Design by Mark Baskinger, who teaches in the First Year program.

  • Drawing by hand is considered a fundamental skill at the School of Design. Even BXA students must take core classes in Design Drawing and Illustration.

  • Ideally, applicants will have a mix of traditional and digital arts skills. We highly recommend showing your aptitude for both in your portfolio. Students take two required design drawing courses during their first year in our program.

  • Your portfolio is your first assignment as a future designer. How you create it is entirely up to you. That being said, the faculty are looking for students they think would succeed in the program. As a Design student at CMU, you would need to undertake courses where digital tools would be required throughout your studies. This is true for both the BDes and BXA degrees. Ideally, applicants will have a mix of traditional and digital arts skills. We recommend showing your aptitude for both in your portfolio.

  • You do not need to edit your video at all. You can simply “talk to the camera” if you prefer. However, if you want to edit your video, feel free to do so. We want to get to know you and know more about the journey that led you to seek to pursue design knowledge or design as a career. We would also like to know what kind of future you envision for yourself in the context of Design.

  • Having only class projects in your portfolio won't necessarily hurt your chances. We like seeing various kinds of projects but understand not everyone has the ability or privilege to do projects independently or outside of school. One of the reasons we like to see things done outside of the classroom is because we want to see what kind of work you can do without a teacher, tutor, or professional guiding you through a project or giving you feedback. To evaluate a candidate holistically, we look at each person’s individual context. Sometimes, students’ personal situations limit their time or resources to work on projects outside of classwork. Please tell us in your essays or answers on Slideroom if you have not had the opportunity to do Design projects or formally learn about Design as an academic subject as a high school student. Suppose you DO have the privilege to explore Design projects outside the classroom. In that case, we highly recommend including some personal projects in addition to work that you completed under the supervision of a teacher or Design professional.

  • Our undergraduate design program offers a track in communications. Communication design is often used interchangeably with the term graphic design. Both refer to the design of visual and graphic communications but graphic design is more closely associated with print materials, whereas communication design encompasses the design of messages and their delivery within a range of both analog and digital media in a globally connected world.

  • We have changed our undergraduate degree designation from a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) to a BDes (Bachelor of Design). Design programs around the world are moving to this distinction which acknowledges that Design has become a discipline that is separate and distinct from fine art. Just as Architecture offers a Bachelor in Architecture (BArch), design degrees are designated at the undergraduate level as a BDes, the master’s level as MDes (Master of Design) and professional doctorates as DDes. The academic accreditation of the BDes is the same as the BFA with the same number of credits awarded.

  • In our undergraduate program, students study Design for Interactions, which takes a large, inclusive view of design. Our curriculum focuses on the quality of interactions between people, the things we design (products, communications and environments) and the natural world (as the larger context for everything). These interactions are situated in both analog and digital contexts and frequently involve both.

  • At Carnegie Mellon University, the School of Art and the School of Design are separate and look for very different things in applicant portfolios. Most high schools do not yet offer classes in design, so it is not uncommon for students who apply to the School of Design to have art-based portfolios. This is perfectly acceptable. Here, we have tips and inspirations on what to include in your portfolio. Here, we have suggested prompts if you're stuck about what to make for your portfolio. Design portfolios generally contain examples of concepts for solving a problem or meeting a ‘need’ instead of examples of artistic expression. We like to see examples of your creative potential and understand how you think, so it is a good idea to include examples from notebooks or process books that show the evolution of an idea or concept. Designers frequently ‘sketch’ in a combination of drawings/diagrams and notation, so if you have examples like this, it would be a good idea to include them.

  • You don't need design projects for your portfolio submission to the School of Design, but you MUST follow the instructions on our website to apply.

  • We primarily look for “design potential” versus someone who feels ready to become a professional designer before completing a Design education. If you have yet to do design projects in high school, show us your traditional and digital art skills. Explain your access to opportunities OR your lack of opportunities to explore Design in your CommonApp essays and Slideroom answers. This would be essential in our ability to read your application holistically.

BDes & BXA Comparison

The Bachelor of Design (BDes) and the (BXA) Interdisciplinary Degree Programs are two distinct educational degree programs offered by Carnegie Mellon University that cater to different student interests and career goals.

Below is an overview of each program to help you understand their key differences.

Bachelor of Design (BDes) Degree:

  • Specialized Focus: The Bachelor of Design is a more traditional yet versatile design degree that offers a focused education in specific areas of design, such as graphic design (Communications), industrial design (Products), or environmental/experiential design (Environments). This program is tailored for students with a clear interest in pursuing a Design career related to one of those tracks within the design industry. Upon entry into the School, students can have a clearer idea of what kind of Designer they would like to be. Students only choose which track they specialize in in the second year of study. They spend their first year solidifying their knowledge of design as a theory and trying out projects that prepare them for success in any field.
  • Structured Curriculum: The BDes program typically includes a core set of design courses, studio work, and electives within the chosen specialization, providing a comprehensive foundation in design principles, methodologies, and practical skills.
  • Career Paths: Graduates of the BDes program are prepared for various design-centric roles, including industrial design, graphic design, brand design, and other creative industries where design is a central component.

BXA Intercollege Degree Programs:

  • Interdisciplinary Focus: The BXA programs are designed for students who wish to combine a deep engagement with the fine arts (in this case, Design) with a strong foundation in the humanities, sciences, engineering studies, or computer science. This interdisciplinary approach allows students to blend their interests across different fields.
  • Customizable Curriculum: Students in BXA programs have the flexibility to craft a personalized course of study that bridges their chosen areas, facilitating a unique blend of creativity, technical skills, and theoretical knowledge.
  • Career Paths: Graduates of BXA programs are well-equipped for careers that straddle their chosen disciplines, such as digital arts, technology and design integration, arts management, or interdisciplinary research roles. BXA graduates may also choose to become designers.

Key Differences:

  • Interdisciplinary vs. Specialized: The BXA programs emphasize interdisciplinary education, combining arts with other disciplines, while the BDes focus on specialized design education according to their tracks.
  • Flexibility vs. Structure: BXA students have more flexibility in customizing their curriculum to include diverse subjects. BDes students follow a more structured, design-focused curriculum but are also open to taking courses outside the School of Design as electives. Design students are also free to pursue their choice of minors or second majors.
  • Exclusive Opportunities: Participation in Confluence, where many companies and some School of Design Alumnus come to recruit for top design jobs from the School of Design, is an opportunity exclusively available to BDes students and BXA students who are registered for the senior studio within the School of Design, showcasing their specialized skills to leading industry partners. Due to the program's dual focus, BXA students may not logistically be able to take part in key curriculum components within the School of Design during their four years of study due to having to take courses in more than one college at CMU. Due to the program's interdisciplinary nature, BXA students MAY need to commit to either prioritizing academic coursework OR taking studio courses in their junior and senior years.
  • Diverse Career Outcomes: BXA graduates may pursue careers that integrate their dual interests and are not strictly confined to traditional design roles. In contrast, BDes graduates are typically highly sought after in the professional design field, entering various roles from product design to UX/UI design and more.

Post Graduate Outcomes

For a deep dive into post-graduation outcomes for our students, the Career & Professional Development Center offers an interactive table to see what our graduates have gone after they leave CMU.