General information

MFA Applications in Design
Due date is January 15

Use our link at right to the Graduate Admissions Application, or click Steps to Applying for complete information on the process at the Graduate Studies site.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to our MFA should hold an undergraduate degree with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA, preferably in design or 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 or topics related to the areas of design taught at UC Davis.

We seek applicants who are interested in design theory and human-centered design applications and 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

UC Davis Department of Design seeks applicants to its MFA program who are interested in design theory and human-centered design applications, and are highly motivated to study in our interdisciplinary program.

The official application is created by UC Davis Graduate Studies. 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. This is NOT the same thing as submitting your portfolio, which is described below and is REQUIRED and SEPARATE FROM the Grad Studies application, making use of a different software program.

  • 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. The link to input your letter writers’ contact information is near the bottom of the gold bar on the left of the application page. 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 (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 (4,000 characters)

The “Statement of Purpose” follows from the previous “Research/Specialization Essay” where you explained the area(s) in design in which you want to focus your research, noting the issues or problems that concern you the most. In the “Statement of Purpose,” please describe the kinds of questions you are asking as you enter this research area, including any approaches or methods you might use.

Be sure to also include why UC Davis is a good fit for you in this area, noting:

  • how you will benefit from specific aspects of the Department of Design at UC Davis and its relation to the interdisciplinary offerings of the graduate school;
  • why you want to come to UC Davis;
  • what you hope to achieve during the graduate experience;
  • where you see yourself within the Design field.
  • Personal History and Diversity Statement (4,000 characters)

The “Personal History” functions as a brief biography that explains your history of interest in design and how your experiences have prepared you to undertake graduate level research in design.

  • 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.

In addition to completing your application through the Office of Graduate Studies, you also must submit your portfolio through a separate website link which is offered below. Please click the link below to learn more about portfolio submission.

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 online with the application. 

TOEFL Scores

For International Students, you must have a TOEFL score of above 90 (speaking must be 26 or above) or an IELTS score of above 8.

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 January 15 deadline will receive funding consideration (this includes TOEFL scores, if you are an International applicant). Late applications will 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

The minimum score required for the TOEFL examination is 90; minimum score required for the IELTS is 7 on a 9 point scale.

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.

Helpful Information for the Application Process

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).

Special 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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