Frequent Questions
We know you may have questions, please read below before contacting us.
1. What qualities does the Graduate Admissions Committee look for in an applicant?

We are looking for someone who is a good fit with our program and its philosophy, and someone who will make an impact in the world through design and design thinking. The ideal candidate believes that understanding people and what they value can lead to innovation and significant breakthroughs. Ideally, the candidate combines design and technical skills and business understanding with a desire to build upon the human-centered design process that we teach. They have the potential to develop their creative confidence and understanding over the course of the program. And finally, the Committee will select candidates whose outlook and areas of expertise complement those of the other students admitted to the program for that particular year.

2. Can I apply for the Design Impact Program if I do not have an engineering background?

Our program results in a Master of Science in Engineering, so having an undergraduate engineering degree of any kind would be the most straightforward and desired preparation for our program. However, we consider for admission any students that applies with a BS degree. The program no longer accepts students with a background in Art. We do not have the resources necessary to respond to inquiries that ask if a particular degree is equivalent to a B.S. or undergraduate engineering degree. To answer this question yourself, please consult with the institution that granted the degree and attach official documentation from the institution supporting that your degree is a B. S. equivalent under the Supplemental Materials section of your online application.

3. I want to apply to the “d.school” – how do I do that?

This is a pretty common question, and the answer is that you cannot apply to the d.school.  The d.school, formally known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, is an institute for teaching design thinking that is open only to  enrolled Stanford  students. The d.school does not grant degrees. OUR program grants an MS in Engineering, Design Impact. Once admitted to our program, you would be a Stanford graduate student, and as such permitted to take classes at the d.school along with your other courses.

4. Who do I direct my questions to about the online application system and the specifics of the various pieces of information requested as a part of the application process?

The ME Student Services Office handles the collection of application materials required by Stanford Grad Admissions for Design Impact. Please contact ME Student Services at mechanical@stanford.edu with any questions or problems you might have regarding the online application system or the various pieces of information required as a part of that process.

5. When do applications open?

The online application for 2021-22 will open in late September at the Stanford Graduate Admissions site for students entering Fall of 2021.

6. Do you have a GPA and/or GRE requirement for admissions?

Please note that Design Impact is not accepting GRE scores for the current Grad Admissions cycle (students entering Fall of 2021).
Stanford is a highly selective university and we expect that all graduate students will be able to demonstrate academic excellence prior to admission. We do not have a specific GPA requirement for admission, and during the admissions process, the committee casts a wide net, considering your overall academic preparedness; your career and life experience; and how your interests relate to the current themes of the program.

7. Do I need industry experience before I can apply to the program?

Successful applicants will bring maturity, self-efficacy, and unique skills to the program. Thus, many successful applicants have some industry experience.  Our program is very self-directed and students need to have sufficient experience to be successful – typically one or more years of professional employment. And you will be put in leadership positions in a variety of your classes – it helps to have some previous experience leading teams before you arrive at Stanford. The Loft, which is the facility where our students live and work, is a learning community where students teach each other. We expect you to teach what you know to your peers. In order for the Loft to “work”, we rely on mature graduate students who are self-confident enough to teach and learn from each other.

8. How important is the Statement of Purpose?

The statement of purpose is as important as your application website. Everyone on the admissions committee reads it before we view your work.  A strong, clear statement sets up the review, and it is a critical element in the admissions process.

9. Do I need a design background to apply?

We are looking for a balance of design potential and design experience in incoming students.  No specific design experience or employment is required. The admissions committee evaluates your statement of purpose, portfolio website, academic preparation, recommendations, and previous life experience in conjunction with each other.
That said, you do not need anyone’s permission to be a designer. Design can be a philosophy, a viewpoint, or a unique way of framing and tackling a problem. The best candidates cannot help themselves; they are always trying to improve and change the world around them. If you want to change something, you have to design.  Show us what you care about through what you work on.  One of our favorite professors used to say, “Use design to design.” We still agree.

10. Do I need to submit a portfolio like other design programs?

Yes, but please submit a digital portfolio – typically with a link to your portfolio website.

We are a masters-level program that teaches design thinking, creativity methodology, a human centered-ethnographic approach to design, strategic innovation, and design leadership. Once a basic mastery of these proficiencies is obtained, they are applied to solve problems that will benefit the world.  Therefore, students who enter the program should have already mastered basic skills that they can bring with them as a toolkit for the program. For example, they could bring design skills such as quick idea sketching, product rendering, and prototype building.  Or, they could bring skill sets in coding, storytelling, or manufacturing. Your website is intended to help us assess the toolkit you are bringing to the program: your underlying visual and creative abilities.

11. Are there alternatives to submitting the link to my portfolio website that demonstrates my work?

No, this is required.

12. I’m an engineer or scientist and not yet a designer so I do not have a body of work to make up a good design website.  Are there classes I should take to build up my website before I apply to the Design Impact Program at Stanford?

Let me repeat myself: You do not need anyone’s permission to be a designer.  Design can be a philosophy, a viewpoint, or a unique way of framing and tackling a problem. The best candidates cannot help themselves; they are always trying to improve and change the world around them. If you want to change something, you have to design.  Show us what you care about through what you work on.  One of our favorite professors used to say, “Use design to design.” We still agree.
However, if you are the kind of person who learns best in a structured environment, feel free to take any courses that will help you develop your design, ethnography, and visualization skills. You might look for classes that fall into the following rough categories:

1. Classes in leadership or entrepreneurship. These might include courses covering business plan writing and strategic thinking--or classes that involve you in team-based project work where you can hone your leadership skills and come away with evidence of success.

2. Classes in design research, ethnography, user-research or marketing.

3. Sketching/drawing/animation/filmmaking. As we design, we primarily use sketching and storytelling as a way to communicate our ideas to ourselves, to other designers, and to people we're designing for. Any class that helps you get confident in your ability to get your ideas down on paper is great. Look for classes that cover things like quick sketching, storyboarding, animation, or filmmaking.

4. Other classes to develop a toolkit of skills that you can bring to the program.

13. I have read/heard that there are two themes associated with the Design Impact program. What is this about?

The Design Impact program will focus our attention on two themes in order to make the greatest contribution over time. The themes over the next few years will be:

Empathic Heathcare:
Personalizing healthcare in the digital age
Empowering Power: Giving people control of their own resources

This is a new approach for us, and our hope is that our focus will lead students to greater satisfaction through our genuine impact in these areas. We will also work with students to structure their second year of coursework so that it provides a depth of understanding in one of the two areas, which will be applied directly to their second-year design project and also, we anticipate, to the career they pursue after graduation.

14. What are the typical backgrounds of students in the program?

Each year, we will select a cohort of students for admission with a diverse and complementary toolkit of skills. Therefore, it is not possible to specifically answer this question, except to say that each year will be both diverse and different.

15. Is all the coursework team-based or is some of it independent?

We believe that design thinking is a team sport, and therefore most of our core classes are project-based and students work in teams.  However, the second year of work is designed by the student and his or her advisor, and this work can be independent or team-based. There are many courses that allow for individual self-expression.  It depends on what courses you choose to take.

16. What do students do over the summer?

Students have a variety of summer experiences between their first and second years in the program. Many get internships at local companies and consultancies, and others use the time to travel and enjoy the freedom they have before starting their careers. There are also research opportunities working with professors in their labs on campus.

17. What is the cost of tuition?  Is there opportunity for fellowships / teaching assistantships?

Please refer to the "Apply" section of this website under "Cost of Attendance" and "Assistantships".

18. How long does the program take to complete?

This is a full-time, two-year program. Students take classes during the Autumn, Winter, and Spring quarters each year, for a total of 6 quarters.

19. I’ve heard about Stanford’s Design Program, sometimes called the Product Design Program or the Joint Program in Design. Can you tell me more about the program?

Reading these FAQs and looking around the website will help you to understand our program. Our program has had several names in the past including “Product Design” and “Joint Program in Design.” The title and focus of the program is currently  “Design Impact.”

After reading all of our web materials, the best way to find out if our program is right for you is to visit the campus for an information session specifically designed for prospective design students. These sessions are offered in the Autumn quarter and offer the opportunity to meet professors in the program and visit with the current graduate students in their design space known as the "Loft." Information regarding the dates of these sessions and how to RSVP are on the website under “Events.”  We strongly recommend that students interested in applying plan to attend one of these sessions prior to applying to the program.  

20. Does Stanford have a PhD option in Design, Design Thinking, or Product Design? I would like to apply for this if possible.

Although our Master's degree is a terminal degree for most students, there are opportunities to continue for a PhD. The coursework structure of the Design Impact program is such that you can smoothly transition to a PhD program through the School of Engineering.  For example, if you were accepted into Professor Follmer’s labs for PhD research, you could receive a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

21. What degree do I receive upon completion of the program?    

Masters of Science in Engineering, Design Impact.

22. What do students do after they graduate?  

Based on the breadth of our program, students end up working in a very broad spectrum of jobs. Recent graduates ended up far and wide, from New Zealand to Silicon Valley. Typical paths include working at  Silicon Valley tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple, as well as joining or founding startups. Students also work for design consulting companies. Focus of work includes engineering, business, human factors, UX, and project management.