Two-Year Graduate Program

Program Philosophy

The M.A. in Design at Cornell centers on a concern for the individual. Both the faculty and the students believe strongly in the power of design to nurture the human spirit and support the health and well-being of individuals and organizations. Design is art in the service of humankind, and as such, is a profession of innovation as well as accountability. Designers have a social responsibility to the people for whom they create, and with each design decision must strive to ensure the ethical, sustainable, and informed role of design in society.

Program Focus

The M.A. program in Design has two concentrations: 1) Interior Design, which focuses on understanding and defining the expanding role of interior design as it relates to business strategy, environmental sustainability, health and well-being, advances in virtual reality, as well as the theoretical and historical issues which underpin these emerging concerns and 2) Sustainable Design Studies, which examines developing a new worldview founded on a skeptical, critical approach to reasoning, a deep sensitivity for things living, and a broad understanding of the historical and cultural contexts of the human/nature relationship.

The program brings together faculty and students with expertise in the fields of interior, industrial, and graphic design, architecture, art, design history, planning, building technology, environmental psychology, human factors and ergonomics, economics, and facility planning and management to work on problems related to the interior environment.

The M.A. in Design rests on the following basic premises:

  • Development of the knowledge base guiding the design and planning of physical settings requires systematic, empirical research.
  • Individual and organizational behaviors are affected by the form of the environment.
  • The users of environments are diverse and have different needs. Individual characteristics such as gender, stage in life cycle, family structure, role or task affect our environmental needs. In addition, organizational characteristics such as organizational culture, goals, and structure help shape building form and use.
  • That the professional practice of interior design should be based on enhancing the human condition. Issues of central importance include how the qualities of the interior environment (i.e., interior architecture, building systems, lighting, furnishings, equipment and finishes) affect human behavior, comfort, and well-being.
  • How the goals and ideals of both the individual and the organization are translated into physical form; and what the designer's responsibility is to society.


In addition to the two concentrations within Design (Interior Design and Sustainable Design Studies) there are also three interdisciplinary specializations at the Master's level. These were developed to fit a range of interests in design. Each degree program varies in its requirements and content depending on the academic and professional background of the student.

Interior Design (student must choose an area of study)

Sustainable Design Studies

    Who should apply?

    The M.A. degree is a two-year, post-professional degree program intended for students with an undergraduate degree in interior design, architecture, or product design who want to do advanced study and research in interior design. The program culminates in a formal research thesis in which students are encouraged to systematically develop and test research-based design solutions, theories, and methods.

    M.A. candidates must also select a minor from fields throughout the University. Students should identify their minor committee members early on in the program to ensure they have time to take the minor's required courses, typically 1-2 courses total.

    M.A. Requirements

    See requirements above for each concentration.

    Application Requirements

    In addition to the online application via the Graduate School website, the following required documents must be submitted online:

    • Statement of Purpose (we recommend ~2 pages)
    • Three letters of recommendation
    • Official transcripts
    • Portfolio (see guidelines below)
    • GRE general test (The desired combined score should be greater than or equal to 310—for the new scoring system effective November 2011—or, a combined score of 1200 for the old scoring system.)
    • English Language Proficiency Requirement, As an international applicant, you must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by taking a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. (See exceptions)
    • TOEFL - test for International students (DEA overall minimum: 105, plus Graduate School minimums must be met for each section: writing: 20; listening: 15; reading: 20; speaking: 22)
    • OR IELTS - The Graduate School requires an overall band score of a 7.0 or higher on the IELTS

    Application Deadline: December 1. Applications are accepted for Fall Admission only.

    Any questions, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant:

    To find out more, visit the Graduate School web site.

    Costs and Funding

    Please refer to the Graduate School web page for information.

    Portfolio Submission

    The portfolio should communicate your design background and abilities in an understandable, organized manner following the guidelines below:

    • A digital portfolio is required.
    • Submit your portfolio in the online application system under supplemental materials. Note: there is a file size limit of 20 MB.
    • Design work should be represented by prints and/or photographs accompanied by a statement briefly describing your design projects.
    • Indicate professional work (versus student work).
    • Indicate personal involvement in group projects (professional or student).
    • The demonstration of conceptual sketching ability, analytical sketches and travel sketches are very useful to us in assessing ability and assigning assistantships.