The M.A. in Design at Cornell is a two-year program centering 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 health and well-being. Design is art in the service of humankind: 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.

There are four concentrations within the Design major:

Design for Interaction focuses on how people experience the designed environment, with particular focus on interior spaces and the people and things they envelope.

Emerging Technology for Design explores the development and application of various technologies – from virtual and augmented reality to architectural robotics – to foster the creation of beautiful environments that support and enhance human activity and well-being.

Design + Health focuses on the many ways that designed environments affect human physical and mental health, and health-related behaviors. These explorations span various settings, from home and community, to schools, workplaces, and healthcare settings.

Sustainable Design Studies examines the development of 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 design, industrial design, interaction design, graphic design, architecture, art, design history, planning, building technology, environmental psychology, human factors and ergonomics, geography, engineering, 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 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.
  • Design should be based on enhancing the human condition. Issues of central importance include how the qualities of the environment (i.e., interior design, 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.

M.A. Requirements

Curriculum requirements for each of the four concentrations within the M.A. in Design.

See the graduate student handbook for a complete program description.

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 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 in the program to ensure they have time to take the minor's required courses, typically 1-2 courses total.

For more information, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant at

Applications are due December 1st. Applications are accepted for Fall Admission only.  

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

  • Academic Statement of Purpose (within 500 words)
  • 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

For additional information on how to apply, please visit Graduate School Admissions.

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.


Funding is not provided for the M.A. degree. Please refer to the Graduate School Tuition and Cost web page for information.

Prospective Masters Student Application Requirement FAQ

No, you must make a choice at the time of application

Yes, the Graduate School can help with this, but you must still adhere to our requirements and deadlines. 

No, we only have one admission cycle, applications are due in December for Master’s; students start in the fall semester.

All application materials are submitted online via the Graduate School’s application system.

A portfolio is required for the M.A. in Design (both the Interior Design concentration and the Sustainable Design Studies concentration), but not for the M.S. degree.

Funding is not provided for the M.S. or M.A. degrees.

D+EA does not provide assistantships to Master’s students.

No. Academic letters of recommendation are valuable; however recommendations should be from people who can best assess the qualities, characteristics, and capabilities of the applicant. 

Cornell’s institutional test code for ETS is 2098. D+EA’s department code is 4499.

D+EA recommends a combined verbal/quantitative GRE score of 310 but this is not an absolute cutoff. Candidates with strong applications, but scores below 310, may be considered. You may submit scores to D+EA more than once if you re-take the test. Your scores may not be older than 5 years.  Please plan to take the GRE in time to submit your scores by the application due date. 

Yes, scores need to be submitted.   GREs can be retaken, but scores must be submitted by the application deadline. 

We strongly encourage you to take the GRE and TOEFL/IELTS tests early enough that your scores will be received by our application due date. We may allow some latitude, however. If your official scores have not arrived by the due date, but your unofficial scores have, we may hold your application if approved by the DGS. Your scores are automatically reported to Cornell by the testing service (ETS) as soon as they are ready, and the Graduate Field Assistant will automatically add them to your application packet.

The answer to this question depends upon the degree and concentration to which you apply. 

  • For the M.A. in Design, a prior undergraduate studio based degree in design (e.g. interior design, architecture, product design, etc.). For the M.A. in Design, Sustainable Design Studies concentration, a prior degree in a design-related field is preferred, but not required. 
  • For the M.S. in Human-Environment Relations, no specific prior degree is required for any of the concentrations. Students often have undergraduate degrees in Psychology, Architecture, or Interior Design; but sometimes in English, Economics, Anthropology or other fields.

D+EA recommends a GPA of 3.0 (minimum), but this is not an absolute cutoff. 

The online application requires you to upload an unofficial copy of each official transcript from each college or university previously attended. To prepare your transcripts, follow the steps below:

Admitted students who accept the admission offer are required to submit an official transcript prior to matriculation.  For more information visit the Graduate School transcripts page.

It is advised that you periodically check your application on line to see if your application is complete, especially if you are waiting for letters of recommendation to be uploaded. D+EA’s Graduate Field Assistant may, as a courtesy, send you a reminder if you have missing information when the committee begins to review applications. If you have questions, please contact D+EA’s Graduate Field Assistant at

Yes, we allow deferments up to one year, but this must be decided when responding to the department’s offer.  To request a deferral, by the "reply by" date (typically April 15) an applicant must first accept the offer of admission and then request (and provide a reason for) the deferral.  Applicants cannot defer admission after declining our offer; instead the applicant must re-apply.

If you would like to schedule a visit, you should first make an appointment with D+EA’s DGS. If you would like to meet with other D+EA Faculty, you could also schedule meetings with them while you are on campus. Many students also enjoy taking a walking tour of campus while they are here.    Other useful links include the campus map and the Visit Ithaca website.

Master’s Program FAQ

The career trajectories of our graduates are quite diverse.  Some work as designers or design researchers, as design educators, as ergonomists or environmental psychologists.  Some go on to pursue Ph.D.s in psychology, architecture, gerontology.

No, D+EA does not offer online classes for the Master’s Program.

Yes.  Both the M.A. in Design and the M.S. in Human Environment Relations are STEM certified.

Yes, M.A. and M.S. students are expected to be on campus for the duration of the 2-year degree. For more information please see Cornell Living.

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide Teaching Assistantships (TA’s) to our M.A. and M.S. students. Occasionally, our students are able to find TA positions in other departments.

Note that for the M.A. in Design, there are 4 concentrations:

  1. Design for Interaction
  2. Emerging Technology for Design
  3. Design + Health
  4. Sustainable Design Studies

For the M.S. in Human-Environment Relations, there are 5 concentrations:

  1. Environmental Psychology and Human Factors
  2. Facility Planning and Management
  3. Sustainable Design Studies
  4. Emerging Technology for Design
  5. Design + Health

To be your “chair” (advisor) the faculty member must be a member of the D+EA graduate field AND be among the faculty specified for your concentration.  For this information, please see the Cornell Graduate School D+EA page.

Yes.  As long as the faculty member is a member of the graduate field you would like to minor in.

Yes, but this is on a case-by-case basis, and the D+EA Graduate Faculty (and the faculty member who teaches the required course) will make decisions as to what waivers are allowed or not allowed. Typically, you will need to provide a syllabus for your prior course(s).