6th Dec 2022

Masters in Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

Top 32 schools in the US offering MS in HCI along with step-by-step direction to select the best school for you

What is Human Computer Interaction?

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is a rather new academic field – the space where humans and computers come together. It has a variety of names including User Experience (UX), User Design, User Interface (UI), Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Human-Centered Computing.

To add to the confusion, HCI programs are housed in a number of university departments and integrated into more established disciplines (e.g., Design, Information Science, Computer Science, Business).

According to the User Experience Professionals Association, “User experience design as a discipline is concerned with all the elements that together make up that interface, including layout, visual design, text, brand, sound, and interaction. UE works to coordinate these elements to allow for the best possible interaction by users.” What it boils down to is this: there are a number of computer scientists, designers, and engineers who are primarily concerned with how human beings interact with computers, and how they, in their role as creators, can make that process more seamless, efficient, and productive.

Most Master’s program in HCI are intended for those with basic computer programming or coding knowledge, but being an emerging, interdisciplinary field, HCI programs are filled with graduates from all kinds of majors, from business to engineering to the humanities.

How to select the right school for HCI?

CHI (The ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems) is the most prestigious and top ranked conference in the field of Human Computer Interaction. Number of publications in CHI is a good indicator of a school’s strength in HCI. In addition, ROI, reputation, and fit to your own goals and interests are also things to consider when choosing a school.

Following are the top universities based on the number of their publications in HCI -

  1. Carnegie Mellon University
  2. Georgia Tech
  3. University of Washington
  4. Stanford University
  5. MIT Media Lab
  6. University of Michigan Ann Arbor
  7. University of California Berkeley
  8. University of Maryland
  9. Cornell University
  10. Indiana University
  11. University of Calironia Irvine
  12. University of Colorado Boulder
  13. Penn State University
  14. Virginia Tech
  15. Northwestern University
  16. University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
  17. Derexel University
  18. University of California San Diego
  19. Texas A&M University
  20. University of Maryland Baltimore County
  21. Oregon State University
  22. Tufts University
  23. University of Minnesota Twin Cities
  24. Harvard University
  25. University of Illinois Chicago
  26. Northeastern University
  27. University of North Carolina Charlotte
  28. Arizona State University
  29. Columbia University
  30. Clemson University
  31. Michigan State University
  32. University of Wisconsin Madison

Now I am going to look at some more details of some of the universities -

University of Washington

HCI Publications - 500 Publications

Ranked - #3 above

Average GRE (Quant) score - 163

Annual tuition fee - $30,153

Program description - The program is is offered by four departments: Computer Science & Engineering, Human-Centered Design and Engineering, the Information School and Division of Design in the School of Art + Art History + Design. It is a non-thesis full-time program where students will engage in capstone project studio courses as well as other general and elective courses to build up their strengths.

Unlike University of Washington’s HCDE MS degree, MHCI+D focuses more on User Research, Ideation, Design and Prototyping. The students also have the opportunity to take part in ongoing research at the DUB lab.

Shortlist type - For a GPA of 3.5+, GRE Quant of 160 and a bit of research experience, I would shortlist this school as a Dream school i.e. around 25% chance of getting an admission.

University of Calironia Irvine

CHI Publications - 200+ publications

Ranked - #11 above

Average GRE (Quant) score - 163

Annual tuition fee - $30,243

Program description - MHCID is an inclusive, interdisciplinary academic community geared towards highly successful professionals in user experience. Graduates of MHCID will be prepared for a variety of careers, including user experience (UX) research and design, systems analysis, design research, product design, project management, usability evaluation, web development; and more. Students will attend intensive accelerated in person classes on the beautiful UC Irvine campus in Orange County, CA as well as courses online.

All of the students take same courses throughout the two year period to build up skills and friendships. Although there aren’t much flexibility in course selection, all of the courses are fundamental and necessary to become successful professionals. During the final six months of the program, students form teams to work together to solve a variety of user experience challenges in nearly any domain (education, the environment, healthcare, retail, and more) working with an external client. Iterative research, design, development, and evaluation.

Shortlist type - For a GPA of 3.5+, GRE Quant of 160 and a bit of research experience, I would shortlist this school as a Reach school i.e. around 50% chance of getting an admission.

Tufts University

CHI Publications - 90+ publications

Ranked - #22 above

Average GRE (Quant) score - 162

Annual tuition fee - $50,520

Program description - The program offers specialized courses, training, and research opportunities in the human-centered aspects of engineering activities such as: medical devices and systems design, product design, computer-interface design, ergonomics, and workplace safety.

The students are required to complete courses like: Human-machine Systems Design, Analytical Methods in Human Factors Engineering, Inventive Design and Human Factors in Product Design. The purpose of this requirement is to expose the student to the connections between the various sub-disciplines of human factors. Students are required to take the design course after the first semester. All core courses will have an analytical component that is taught as applied to the subject area, a project component, and a software component.

Shortlist type - For a GPA of 3.5+, GRE Quant of 160 and a bit of research experience, I would shortlist this school as a Safe school i.e. around 75% chance of getting an admission. One drawback I see is, this is an expensive school with an annual fee of $50,520. Given that average MS tuition fee is around $22,000, I am sure I can find a similar school with lower tuition fee as a safe school.

I recommend finding 4-6 Dream, Reach and Safe schools as above.

Once you figure out your schools, you would research a bit about professors and alumni in those schools.

You should reach-out to some of the professors whose areas of expertise match with your interests and ask them for feedback on your interests, trends and future goals.

Similarly, you should reach-out to alumni from your shortlisted schools and ask for their experience at their schools, how that helped in there career, what was their academic and campus life experience etc.

Hope this helps in shortlisting your target schools.

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