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Graduate Admissions FAQ

Get answers to your questions about Stamps Graduate Program Admissions here. For additional information on our programs, please see the MDes and MFA FAQ pages. If your question isn't answered here, let us know.

Graduate Admissions

  • What if I have additional questions?

    Request information, schedule a visit, and learn about information sessions for our MDes and MFA programs.

  • How competitive is the admissions process?

    Admission acceptance rates are similar to other selective programs - around 10%.

  • How can I check the status of my application materials?

    As long as you officially click "Submit" by the deadline, Rackham will continue to process application materials (transcripts, recommendation letters, etc.).

    The best way to check to see if your materials have been matched to your application is to log into Wolverine Access, select the “Students” tab, then click on the “New & Prospective Business” link. Due to the high volume of documents received by Rackham, we ask that you allow 10 business days to view your application and materials.

    You can confirm the receipt of the following via Wolverine Access:

    • Test Scores

    • Transcripts from institutions that awarded the Bachelor's, Master's, Professional, and/or Doctoral degree.

    • Recommendations can be tracked through the online application system, ApplyWeb Account, activity page, or in your Wolverine Access account.

    Documents that will not be confirmed in Wolverine Access are:

    • Application PDF forms

    • Written Essays (Statement of purpose, creative statements)

    • Resumes / CVs

    • SlideRoom Portfolios

    • Transcripts for Community or Junior college, non-degree study, and/or study abroad coursework.

  • Will application materials be processed after the deadline?

    As long as you officially click "Submit" on your Rackham application by the deadline, Rackham will continue to process application materials (transcripts, recommendation letters, etc.) after the deadline.

  • Is an English proficiency test required of non-native English speakers?

    Yes. The University accepts scores from the following organizations: TOEFL, MELAB, IELTS and ECPE. If you are an international student who has completed an accredited undergraduate degree in the United States, you are not required to take the TOEFL. For more information, visit the Rackham website.

  • Can I visit the campus?

    In alignment with public health guidelines, campus information sessions, open house events, and tours will take place virtually: sign up for upcoming virtual events here.

  • Is the GRE required?

    No. If you have taken the GRE and would like to submit your scores, please feel free to do so, but they are not required.

Graduate Admissions: MDes

  • Do I need to have experience or knowledge of the umbrella theme or wicked problem?

    While each cohort’s curriculum centers on a particular theme and topic, it is not necessary to have any prior proficiency with either. With such expansive and complex issues, one’s relevant expertise would represent only a small fraction of the possible subject matter. The cohort must decide how it will research, define, reduce, and approach aspects of the topic within the scope of the umbrella theme. The “beginner’s mind” offers a valuable perspective, and it is not uncommon for a designer to be immersed in a completely new arena where they have to figure out how to navigate through it.

  • Is the program right for me if I already know what I want to design?

    We want students to be available to harness their existing passions and skills. If prospective students have a very strong idea of what specific artifact (product, service, interaction, graphic, experience, system, etc.) that they wish to design, they may be missing out on two key components of the program. First, the MDes is team-based and collaborative, and as such major decisions are made in concert as opposed to unilaterally. Individual students will have to work with the team to determine the team’s output and how best to achieve this. Second, knowing what artifact is going to be designed before knowing the problem is an adulteration of an informed, humanistic design process that demands significant work in understanding and framing before designing and doing. If a student is passionate, for example, about designing cars, the team’s suite of design solutions may not include a car (indeed it may be antithetical). But, if the student can understand their passion more broadly as “transportation,” then it is likely that this could be addressed to some extent as part of the design solution.

  • Is the program right for me if I want to work independently?

    No. The program is team-based and collaborative. There will be some independent coursework, but mostly in the seminars. Studio work is completed mostly as a team, where individual efforts contribute to the whole. Depending on the nature of the group and individual interests, students may petition faculty for specific independent activities and projects, though these would be seen as a way to later connect with overall group efforts.

  • Do you accept students without undergraduate degrees in design?

    Yes, under certain conditions. We may consider qualified candidates with education and experience related to the specific umbrella theme where candidates have design experience in a professional setting, and wish to expand their knowledge of design while building on their prior education.

  • Does the committee have a notion of the ideal candidate?

    Rather than an ideal candidate, the committee is looking for a strong team. As such, admissions decisions are dependent upon the makeup of the entire pool of applicants. We are seeking potential students from diverse backgrounds across the design disciplines (e.g., product designers, visual communication designers, architects, user-experience designers, interaction designers, etc...) that wish to transform their career path. It is crucial that candidates already have specialized skills that they want to integrate with those of others to deliver design solutions for complex problems. We may consider qualified candidates with education and experience related to the specific umbrella theme where candidates have experienced the design process in a professional setting, and wish to expand their knowledge of design while building on their prior education.

  • English is not my native language; how important is language proficiency?

    It is important to be able to speak and write well in English, as the MDes program is team-based, integrative, and user-centric. Students must effectively communicate with each other, subject-matter specialists, and the individuals that will ultimately inform the design problems and solutions. Coursework demands that students discuss theoretical and technical readings, as well as offer critique of fellow students’ work. In our experience, passing the language exams with minimum scores is barely sufficient to fully engage with the required reading, writing, and discussions. The most competitive international candidates exceed the minimum scores. In addition to written essays for seminar classes, all graduate students are also expected to write a substantive thesis paper in English.

    Click here for detailed information on Required tests for Non-native English Speakers from U-M's Rackham Graduate School.

  • What if I have team-based projects that I want to include in my portfolio?

    Having experience working in teams is valued, as collaboration is a focus of the program. The committee adamantly requires that any portfolio project that was part of a group effort be labeled as such along with the specific role that the applicant played. Presenting a team-based project without appropriate attribution is ethically problematic.

  • Must I know what my thesis project will be when applying?

    No. MDes students are required to complete a thesis project and paper in their final semester, but the specific choice of emphasis within the umbrella theme is not expected upon application. Given the complexity of the problem and the rich collaborative environment of stakeholders, faculty, and peers, it is hoped that students will gain new understandings and perspectives. It is certainly possible for students to enter with very strong passions in specific arenas—and the admissions committee wants to know these—but in the spirit of a collaborative, team-based approach, there should be an intellectual openness to new possibilities.

  • How important are the applicant’s Creative Work Statement and Personal Statement?

    The MDes Creative Work and Personal statements are just as important as a strong portfolio (and for career-changing applicants without extensive portfolios, they are probably even more important). While the successful portfolio demonstrates that an applicant has sufficient technical capabilities, the content of the work could be quite different from current interests, especially if graduate school is understood as a chance for new directions and exploration. The Statements are the opportunity to communicate what the applicant cares about, what concerns they have for the discipline and society, what special insight or inspiration they bring to bear, and what contribution they wish to make to the field. Unlike undergraduate education, which can be relatively homogenous across institutions, successful graduate education hinges upon a good fit between the applicant’s specific interests and the concerns and capacities of the faculty and institution. To this end, the Statement should address why Stamps is believed to be a good fit for the applicant and his or her interests and professional trajectory. What we do not want in the Statements are merely recapitulations of your resume and background; the Statements should point forwards rather than look backwards.

  • What is the faculty looking for in an applicant’s portfolio?

    The MDes portfolio should demonstrate, at minimum, fundamental design skills. The projects selected for portfolio inclusion should help convince the committee that the applicant can “hit the ground, running.” While a breadth of projects may be shown, the committee suggests that applicants include at least one project that begins with an idea/problem/opportunity and where each stage toward a final design solution is shown. This helps convey the thinking and design process, rather than just the final outcome. If all stages are not shown within a single project, it is encouraged that as many of those skills as possible that are associated with the stages are visible somewhere in the portfolio. The committee is aware that undergraduate- and corporate-projects do not always best represent the applicant’s specific design interests, so projects similar to the desired thesis topic are not necessary. While students may include non-design projects like portraiture, photography, and sculpture, these definitely should not be included at the expense of projects illustrating fundamental design skills.

    Applicants without undergraduate degrees in design should demonstrate in their portfolio what they can contribute to the team in terms appropriate to their prior education and experience related to the specific umbrella theme and cohort topic.

Graduate Admissions: MFA

  • What kind of work would you like to see in my portfolio?

    The content of the MFA portfolio is entirely the decision of the applicant. The application committee looks for a strong body of completed work demonstrating a thriving, developed studio practice as well as potential in innovative areas of inquiry. As a general policy, due to the number of applications we receive, we do not provide individual online feedback or critiques of application portfolios.

  • What constitutes an established creative practice?

    Exhibitions, residencies, art commissions, site-specific work, performances, screenings, studio assistantships, grants, community projects and teaching experiences all constitute evidence of a creative practice.

  • The MFA application asks to describe outside interests and name external faculty. Please explain.

    As far as the Creative Work Statement essay is concerned, we are interested in learning about your interests outside of the Stamps School. The outside cognate is an important part of our program. As an art & design school within a major research university, we want to ensure that students take advantage of the extraordinary engagement with external departments and areas of study. All the external academic units at the university have faculty biographies listed on their web pages. Your selection of an external area of study and external faculty member does not constitute a "contractual" obligation. Your description should demonstrate an interest in an area that has connections with your work whether in a general nature or as a specialization. In our two year program, MFA students begin work with their outside cognate during the first semester.

  • Do I need to contact the three faculty I name in my application?

    It is not a requirement that you contact your potential faculty advisors. Some applicants are in touch with faculty and others are not during the application process.

  • Where can I find information about the MFA faculty?

    Information about our MFA faculty can be found online.

Graduate Programs: Finances

  • Can the program be completed while working full-time?

    No. The MFA and MDes programs are designed to be completed through full-time study for two years.

  • Are there teaching opportunities for graduate students?

    Yes. Stamps has a variety of positions open to graduate students. Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) positions are teaching positions. Graduate Student Staff Assistant (GSSA) positions are administrative in nature and may include work with our galleries, international programs, shops, or communications department. Graduate Student Research Assistant (GSRA) positions are academically relevant research based work pairing graduate students with full time faculty or staff.

  • Are there fellowships or teaching assistantships that defray tuition costs?

    Yes. Financial assistance is merit-based and very generous in comparison to many other graduate design programs. Students can receive full tuition, discretionary funds and other support through any combination of: Rackham Fellowships, Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) positions, Graduate Student Staff Assistantships (GSSA), and Graduate Student Research Assistantships (GSRA).

  • Can international students receive financial support?

    International students are eligible for exactly the same financial support as domestic students.