Frequently Asked Questions



For additional university-specific grad admissions inquiries, please visit the Stanford Graduate Admissions FAQ page here.

What qualities does the Stanford MS Design Program 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.

What is the difference between Stanford’s MS Design Impact program and MS Design program?

To meet the evolution of design, our Master’s program has transformed over our 50+ year history.  We recently broadened the program requirements from being a product design program, with a focus on physical design, and into a program with focuses around physical, digital, and human behavioral design.  We currently have two degrees active in this transition:

  • MS Design Impact currently has enrolled students who began their studies prior to academic year 2023-2024.  This program will conclude with the last cohort graduating in June 2024.
  • MS Design began in the academic year 2022-2023.  Current enrolled students could choose this program or stay with MS Design Impact.  All new cohorts beginning in the academic year 2023-2024 will be required to take MS Design.
Can I apply for the Stanford MS Design Program if I do not have an engineering background?

Our program results in a Master of Science in Design, so having an undergraduate science or engineering degree of any kind would be the most straightforward and desired preparation for our program. However, we consider for admission any students who apply with a B.S. 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. 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.

What degree do I receive upon completion of the program?
Masters of Science in Design
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?
For program-specific admissions questions, please email our admissions team at Office hours hosted by our admissions team in the month of November to address admissions inquiries will be posted here on our website under the How to Apply section.

For general university-wide admission requirements or troubleshooting technical challenges in the Grad Admissions application portal, please email

When do applications open and close?

The online application will open in late September 2023 at the Stanford Graduate Admissions site for students entering Fall of 2024. It will remain open until our application deadline on Friday, December 01, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time

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

GRE scores are not required by the Stanford Design Program for the current 2023-24 Grad Admissions cycle (students entering Fall of 2024). 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.

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.

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.

Where can I find information on how to apply as an international student?

International applicants follow the same application process as domestic applicants. Two areas to be aware of:

  • If you attended an undergraduate institution outside the U.S., refer to our Eligibility page for the minimum level of study required for international institutions.
  • If your first language is not English, you are required to submit TOEFL scores or demonstrate that you qualify for an exemption/waiver. Refer to the TOEFL section for details.
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.

This is a forward-looking essay no more than two pages in length, addressing your plans for Stanford and beyond. This essay should not dwell on past experiences. The place to show us about your past experiences is your application website. Instead, in the Statement of Purpose, past experiences should be mentioned to bolster your plans for the future.

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

Yes, a digital application website is required. Provide the full webpage URL (Uniform Resource Locators) when prompted in the online application portal.

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. Some of our current students’ websites are available here on our program site and each one is unique.

There are no specific guidelines on the kind of website you submit or how many projects should be part of this website. Think of the website as your vehicle to demonstrate who you are and how you think. Your website is our window into your creativity. It also shows us what kinds of design problems are important to you, so make it personal.

Passwords to projects that must remain confidential can be submitted via the online application portal also. However, we strongly recommend only doing this if the projects are highly confidential.

What is the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship?

Join dozens of Stanford Engineering students who receive up to three years of funding and valuable leadership skills as Knight-Hennessy Scholars (KHS). KHS admits up to 100 select applicants each year from across Stanford’s seven graduate schools, and delivers engaging experiences that prepare them to be visionary, courageous, and collaborative leaders ready to address complex global challenges. As a scholar, you join a multidisciplinary and multicultural cohort, participate in up to three years of leadership programming, and receive full funding for up to three years of your graduate studies at Stanford.

Candidates of any country may apply. KHS applicants must have earned their first undergraduate degree within the last seven years, and must apply to both a Stanford graduate program and to KHS. If you aspire to be a leader in your field, we invite you to apply. The KHS application deadline is October 11, 2023. Learn more about KHS admission.

What is the cost of attendance?
The MS Design Program falls under the Graduate Engineering, 8, 9, 10 unit rate on the Stanford Graduate Admissions- Funding Graduate Study page. Our two-year program takes six quarters to complete, three quarters in the 1st Year and three quarters in the 2nd Year. The program is not in session over the summer. Reference this Estimated Expense Budget for a more complete view of average estimated costs for Stanford graduate students.

MS Design students are offered Course Assistantships upon acceptance to offset the cost of attendance. Offers do vary each year.

How long does it take to complete the program?
The Stanford MS Design Program is a full-time, two-year program that spans over six academic quarters.
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. There are also courses that allow for individual self-expression. It depends on what courses you choose to take.
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.
Does the Stanford Design Program have a PhD option?
The highest academic degree offered through our program currently is a Master’s degree. However, the coursework structure of the MS Design program is such that you can smoothly transition to another Ph.D. program in the science or engineering field if you choose to continue your education.
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, 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.