Transitioning Into UX: Why I Chose to Pursue a Master's

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Isabel Georges
January 13, 2021

As I’m sitting here reflecting on my path into UX I realize that it wasn’t too long ago I was working as a prosthetist, feeling apathetic about my current line of work and simply feeling lost.

It wasn’t until I discovered the field of user experience design through my brother, Alexander Georges, that I felt a spark of passion ignited in my soul.

I remember spending days engulfed in endless google searches trying to absorb as much about this field as I possibly could. I also remember exhausting all of Reddit’s threads that mentioned any trace of transitioning into UX design, trying to learn from other people’s experiences and advice.

Well, here I am now … a few years later and entering into my second semester at The University of Texas School of Information with a concentration in UX design. I’m hoping my experiences will help somebody else out there in the same situation.

So here is how I came to the decision to pursue a Master’s degree.

Understand your options

After doing significant research, I realized that there were 3 main ways to enter into UX:

1. Bootcamps

A UX bootcamp is an immersive education program that claims to take motivated individuals from beginner to job-ready in anything from 3 months to a year.

There are countless UX design bootcamps that are offered in cities across the country and also online. General Assembly, CareerFoundry, and Springboard are a few that come to mind.

The incredibly long list of options makes the decision even more complicated and overwhelming, especially because different bootcamps vary in length, intensity, quality, and cost.

2. A Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree Program

A Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in UX design is exactly what it sounds like. It requires applying to and enrolling in a program where you can learn in-depth material about user experience design.

Even with UX degree programs, every program is different in cost and quality. For example, I am attending the University of Texas’s School of Information, and I love it so far, but I have noticed that the offered UX courses are not as comprehensive as other programs like The University of Michigan.

I know that this is something UT is working hard to address; they just added a quantifying UX course, a UX accessibility course, and a product/project management course to the curriculum list!  In my case so far, the classes that I HAVE taken are amazing and the professors I have worked with are fantastic as well… which makes the program well worth it in my opinion.

Because UX design is still a relatively new field and changing at such a rapid pace, you should do some research about the program itself to determine if it is up to speed with current practices and offers a comprehensive selection of courses. You can ask questions like:

  • Are the professors currently industry experts?
  • Where have the teachers worked previously?
  • What kind of UX course load does the school offer?
  • Are there course options for both research and design?
  • How varied is the course offering?
  • Do they offer project-based courses?

3. Self-Study

This one is pretty self-explanatory. There are so many online resources and books available for UX now that you could technically take the self-study route into UX.

This route undeniably takes a lot of discipline and hard work. It’s best for people who can create a plan and stick to it, people who are self-motivated and goal-oriented.

On top of teaching yourself UX principles, you would also have to create a portfolio on your own. This would involve being self-motivated enough to find projects for yourself to complete, and you wouldn’t have the guidance of instructors or the collaboration of classmates.

Lastly, you would need to find some way to network. Unfortunately with self-studying (obviously), it would be more difficult to network. Going this route would require diligently attending as many UX networking opportunities as possible through meetups or conferences perhaps.

I knew off the bat that this was not a good option for me; I work best when learning from others, and I value collaboration and relationships with a team. This was an easy decision for me, but it’s something you would have to be not only introspective about when making your decision but honest about as well.

Write out your priorities & weigh them against your options

Once I understood the different options and realized it would be between a bootcamp or degree program, I then tackled my decision by writing out the priorities affecting my decision from most important to least important.

As you write out the variables by importance, you can begin to eliminate options that will begin to make your decision less overwhelming.  

Every person is going to be in a different situation, with different variables that will affect their ultimate decision. Some people want to transition as quickly as possible and are not hindered by cost, therefore attending a bootcamp might be a great option.

Other people are working and don’t have much flexibility and money to spend, therefore a self-paced bootcamp or even a flexible UX degree program may work. In my situation, I was primarily worried about the following:

1. Virtual vs In-Person

There are so many virtual UX bootcamps available; there are even some virtual UX degree programs available too. Looking introspectively though, I realized that I was too extraverted to really be able to enjoy a virtual program.

I look fondly at my other degrees and value the in-person relationships I was able to build there. I was looking forward to doing the same in UX.

I also realized it would be easier to make connections and network if attending an in-person program as well.

PLOT TWIST… the pandemic hit right before I attended my program and all my classes became virtual anyway, adding another layer of complexity and challenge to pursuing a career in UX.

2. Location

I was working in Waco, Texas at the time and knew I wanted to stay in Texas because my fiance was planning on attending medical school in Texas too. We weren’t exactly sure where in Texas he would be accepted but this at least narrowed my decision to all the bootcamps and degree programs available in Texas.

This one variable reduced my list of options from overwhelming to manageable. After doing some research, I realized that there were a few bootcamp options I could choose from in Texas: General Assembly, UT Austin UX Bootcamp, and UTSA UX/UI Bootcamp to name a few.

There was also only one degree program available in Texas where I could obtain a Master of Science with a focus on UX design: UT Austin’s School of Information.

Now I only had to choose from 4 options, with the primary decision being between a bootcamp vs a degree program. The next few variables are really what solidified my choice to obtain a Master’s degree.

3. Cost

I started by setting a financial goal for myself that would put my options into perspective. This goal was very simple … don’t go into debt.

I had already pulled out a loan while working towards my Master’s degree in Orthotics & Prosthetics and had worked hard paying off that loan. I was really hoping to not go down that path again.

With this goal in mind, I looked at my options. As a Texas resident, I realized that the cost of obtaining a Master’s degree at UT would actually be very reasonable. The total cost of tuition as a Texas resident would only be ~$19,500.

I had saved about $40,000 over the course of working two years as a prosthetist and knew that if I received grant and scholarship money and worked part-time while attending school, I should be able to achieve the goal of graduating without debt.

On the other hand, looking at the bootcamp prices, I realized that the prices were still pretty expensive. The UT Austin Bootcamp costs $12,495 and the General Assembly program costs $14,950. All the bootcamp options were definitely cheaper by a few thousand, but I had to look at the next few variables and weigh what was most important to me.

In the end, all options would allow me to stay out of debt, so I didn’t want to eliminate the Master’s degree option just yet.

4. Time

One of my biggest hesitations about attending UT’s degree program was the time commitment. I would be 27 years old by the time I started school and pushing 30 years old by the time I could enter into the workforce.

I had already spent so much time and money on my other degrees and I wasn’t sure if time was something I was willing to sacrifice.

Looking at UT’s program, I realized that if I took 4 classes a semester instead of 3, I could graduate within 1.5 years instead of 2. This realization was definitely helpful for keeping UT’s program in the running.

On the other hand, the bootcamps ranged from 3-4 months. At this point, I still didn’t have enough information to comfortably make a decision, so I continued to look at the last two variables.

5. Other people’s reviews & opinions of bootcamps vs degree program

While doing extensive research on the two options, I looked at the reviews and opinions of other people online.

When it came to bootcamps I saw a lot of mixed reviews, with the negative reviews revolving around bootcamps:

  1. Not adequately preparing students for the workplace
  2. Only receiving a superficial understanding of user experience
  3. Sometimes having terrible instructors who didn’t care about their students or their students’ success
  4. Developing increasing negative reputations.

Looking online at anonymous opinion forums like Reddit, it felt like there were way more cons to bootcamps than there were pros. Every once in a while I would see bootcamp success stories in articles or even on Reddit, but I started to ask myself: do I want to risk it? That’s a lot of money that I’m only willing to spend once. I need to make it count.

On the flip side, pursuing a Master’s degree would allow me to curate my classes according to what I was interested in taking. I would also be able to graduate with a deeper understanding of UX principles and add in-depth projects to my portfolio.

There were plenty of project-based UX courses offered that would allow me to strengthen my portfolio and set myself apart from others. I wasn’t too sure what the professors would be like and I didn’t do too much research here; it was simply a risk I took that seriously paid off. If you ever attend, I highly recommend taking any of Eric Nordquist’s classes, he’s awesome!

6. Networking opportunities

This last variable was what pushed me over the edge towards pursuing a Master’s degree.

Having a great portfolio and thorough understanding of UX is great, but I realized that a lot of people actually get a job through their network. Taking a hard look at bootcamps, I felt that 3 months would not be a long enough time to develop meaningful relationships with instructors, or even develop meaningful connections at UX events.

By immersing myself in a degree program for 1.5 years, I would have the opportunity to take a wide variety of courses that I could curate to my liking.

I would also be able to network with those professors. During my first semester at school, I made sure to speak up in class even though I was uncomfortable.

I also made sure to volunteer for any opportunities that were presented to me and work as hard as I possibly could. Volunteering for a side-project for my professor led to two paid UX internships during my second semester which gives me real-world experience that I can now add to my resume/portfolio and will hopefully lead to a great summer internship.

So moral of the story… don’t be afraid to get to know your professors! Show that you are willing to learn and willing to work hard in your classes. It will go a long way!

Final thoughts

Having just finished my first semester of school, I am very happy with my decision to pursue a Master’s degree.

After weighing all the options again, the extra money and time I am dedicating to a Master’s degree are well worth the diverse course load, wonderful learning opportunities and insight from my professors, and diverse networking opportunities that the degree program has provided.

Of course, I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do in your life because I am not familiar with your life situation or constraints. All I can do is offer some insight from my personal experiences. Ultimately, the decision is yours.

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