General information

MFA Applications in Design
Priority Deadline for MFA Applications is January 15; The Rolling Deadline is May 1

Please carefully read through the UC Davis Graduate Studies Admission Process Overview page for complete information on the application process. When ready, please use the links on the right to access the Graduate Admissions Application.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to our MFA should hold an undergraduate degree with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA, preferably in design or a related field such as art, art history, or architecture. They should show excellent promise in design, as demonstrated by portfolio review, and have had suitable course preparation in foundation areas such as two- and three-dimensional composition, drawing, media, computer graphics, design history, art history, and related social sciences, as well as in the area of study they wish to pursue. Undergraduate studies should include a minimum of 20 units of university-level design on topics related to the areas of design taught at UC Davis.

We seek applicants who are highly motivated to study in our interdisciplinary program. Some flexibility in the stated requirements is essential to incorporate candidates with broad experiential backgrounds. Students who are deficient in background academic preparation, but are otherwise well-qualified, may be admitted with the strong suggestion to complete appropriate undergraduate courses at UCD to provide the necessary background for success with graduate studies in Design. 

Application Requirements

The official application process takes place on the UC Davis Graduate Studies application portal. The Department of Design will specifically look for the following within the official Grad Studies application:

  • Communication

If you have communicated with a UC Davis program or faculty member(s) concerning your plans for graduate study, please name the program or individual(s) and briefly summarize your communication.

  • Website Link

If you have a personal or professional website that documents your design background and work, please submit the URL at the website link prompt. Providing the URL is NOT a substitute for the portfolio requirements listed below.  You are still required to submit a portfolio as a part of your official application submission. The URL provided here is only viewed as supplemental material reviewed when needed at the discretion of the review committee.

  • Letters of Recommendation

The application requires three letters of recommendation. Design recommends including letters from former professors, colleagues, or professional designers who can speak to your qualifications. You may input this information and send links to your recommenders before you have completed your full application, to give them more time to submit your letters by the deadline of January 15.

  • Essay Describing Your Research or Professional Interests (max 4,000 characters). 
  • Paragraph describing the potential research topic and objective that you might pursue at UC Davis. 
  • Paragraph describing how you might go about conducting this research and articulate a plan of activities while at UC Davis. Be specific about identifying relevant resources, classes, faculty, and lab equipment that might support this research. 
  • Paragraph describing how you think the MFA experience might contribute to your development as a designer or researcher in your relevant field of endeavor. 
  • Statement of Purpose (max 4,000 characters)

Please highlight your academic preparation and motivation; interests, specializations and career goals; and fit for pursuing graduate study at UC Davis. This essay should complement but not duplicate the content in the “Essay Describing Your Research or Professional Interests.”

  • preparation and motivation may include your academic and research experiences that prepare you for this graduate program (for example: coursework, employment, exhibitions, fieldwork, foreign language proficiency, independent study, internships, laboratory activities, presentations, publications, studio projects, teaching, and travel or study abroad) and motivation or passion for graduate study.
  • interests, specializations, and career goals may include your research interests, disciplinary subfields, area/s of specialization, and professional objectives.
  • fit may include how your preparation, experiences, and interests match the specific resources and characteristics of your graduate program at UC Davis. Please identify specific faculty within your desired graduate program with whom you would like to work and how their interests match your own.
  • Writing Sample

Please upload a writing sample. The writing sample can be of any subject and in the form of an undergraduate term paper, a design brief, a thesis, a publication, an article, a book chapter, etc.

  • Personal History and Diversity Statement (4,000 characters)

The University of California Davis, a public institution, is committed to supporting the diversity of the graduate student body and promoting equal opportunity in higher education. This commitment furthers the educational mission to serve the increasingly diverse population and educational needs of California and the nation. Both the Vice Provost of Graduate Education/Dean of Graduate Studies and the University of California affirm that diversity is critical to promoting lively intellectual exchange and the variety of ideas and perspectives essential to advancing higher education and research. Our graduate students contribute to the global pool of future scholars and academic leaders, thus high value is placed on achieving a diverse graduate student body to support the University of California’s academic excellence. We invite you to include in this statement how you may contribute to the diversification of graduate education and the UC Davis community.

The purpose of this essay is to get to know you as an individual and potential graduate student. Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. You may include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, community service, outreach activities, residency and citizenship, first-generation college status, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within a campus community and your chosen field; or how you might serve educationally underrepresented and underserved segments of society with your graduate education.

This essay should complement but not duplicate the content in the Statement of Purpose.

  • CV – Please attach your current resume/curriculum vitae.
  • Fellowship Application

The fellowship application is something that all students should complete in order to be eligible for any fellowships that the Office of Graduate Studies may award. It includes listing any fellowships you may already have as you apply to graduate school, a Diversity Statement of 3,500 characters that describes any aspects of your personal background, ethnicity, upbringing, experiences, and/or research interests that promote diversity within the university and make you a unique contribution to our student body. This statement should be an expanded version of the shorter diversity statement that you include in your “Personal History” section.

  • Transcripts

UC Davis requires academic records from each college-level institution you have attended. You will be instructed to upload scanned copies of your transcripts after you have submitted your online application. For more details visit the Grad Studies page, Submitting your Transcripts.

Portfolio Requirements and Guidelines

Your portfolio is one of the most important components of your application. It should support your application by demonstrating strong conceptual approaches and ability to experiment and devise methods to carry out creative practice.  

Please make sure that images are well photographed and clearly labeled and explained. Consider showing process as well as outcome, and clearly describe your role in each project.

The portfolio must include 20 images either uploaded as separate images annotated according to text field prompts or as one PDF with text explanations on each page of the PDF. You may also upload audios and videos of no more than 3 minutes in length each.

Your portfolio MUST be submitted at the same time as the submission of the application. 

TOEFL, IELTS and Duolingo Scores

For International Students, you must have a TOEFL score of above 90 (speaking must be 26 or above) or a minimum IELTS score of 8.  Duolingo is also accepted and a minimum of 115.

Because it generally takes several weeks to complete an application, it is strongly recommended that you prepare the materials early to ensure completion by the deadline. Only applications fully completed by the priority deadline of January 15 will receive full funding consideration (this includes TOEFL scores, if you are an International applicant). Applications received past the priority deadline may not be eligible for funding and will not be reviewed until May 1.

The UC Davis Department of Design’s Graduate Admissions Advisory Committee will submit its recommendations to the Dean of Graduate Studies, who makes the final admission decision. The Office of Graduate Studies will notify you in writing of your acceptance or denial, usually in late March through your Apply Yourself account. No decision can be given out over the telephone.

International Student Information

Once admitted, University policy requires international graduate students to take the English as a Second Language (ESL) test and the SPEAK test of oral English proficiency before they begin duties as teaching assistants or associate-ins. All international TAs and AIs must meet this requirement and they must pre-register in person at the Center for Excellence in Teaching, 1350 Surge III, in order to take the exam. Click here for more information on the ESL test; visit the CEE site for information on the SPEAK test.

FAFSA Required for Domestic Students

FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid
Submit applications to the link above before March 1.
All Graduate students who are U.S. Citizens or Eligible Non-Citizens (permanent residents) are required to apply for financial aid by completing the FAFSA. UC Davis will use the information you provide on the FAFSA to determine your need and to provide you with financial aid (if you are eligible).

Information about California Residency

It is crucial that you accurately declare your California residency status on the Graduate Studies application in order not to be surprised with costly tuition charged to out-of-state and international students.

US citizens must prove their residency in California in order to pay California resident tuition costs (see If you are a resident of another state and are admitted and choose to attend UC Davis, even before classes begin your first quarter, you should immediately begin the process of becoming a California resident so that during your second year of the MFA program, you can be classified as a California resident for tuition purposes.

If you are a citizen of another county other than the US, or if you are a permanent resident of the US with a green card, even if you have lived in California for more than one year “with an intent to become a California resident,” you must still prove your residency for tuition purposes, or else you will be charged the Non-Resident Student Tuition costs of thousands of dollars per year.  To learn more about how to prove your residency in order to avoid paying Non-Resident Student Tuition, read more at

We strongly advise that you do not call yourself a California resident on your Graduate Studies application unless you have already contacted the Residence Deputy and learned that you are classified by the UC Davis Registrar’s office as a California resident. We have some fellowships that cover Non-Resident Student Tuition, but if you declare yourself a California resident (when in fact you are not considered that by the UC Davis Residence Deputy), you will not be considered for these fellowships.

If you have questions regarding residency, please contact Barbara McLaughlin (Residence Deputy Assistant) at or Phone 530-752-5029.

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