Students hard at work at a UX design school.

The 7 Best UX Design Schools (and How to Choose One)

Emerson Schroeter

Maybe you’re new to UX design and you’re ready for a deeper dive. Or perhaps you’ve got some experience under your belt and it’s time to take it to the next level. Whatever the case may be, finding the best UX design training can be quite a challenge. There are so many questions to consider!

Should you get a full-on university degree, or is a certification enough? Should the certification be through an accredited institution, or does that not matter? What focus should the program have: direct skill development or thought leadership? Whatever your answer might be to these questions, we’re here to help.

We’ve compiled a list of our top seven picks for the best schools with UX design programs. The programs we’ve selected run along the full spectrum: From skill development (with a focus on getting you into the job market) to thought leadership (with a focus on strategy and innovation); from fully accredited graduate degrees to non-accredited certificates.

You’ll find that there is a great deal of variation in how schools approach their curriculum, modes of instruction, mentorship and support. In this guide we’ll provide some preliminary thoughts and guidance to address some questions you might still be wrestling with, then we’ll dive into our top seven picks for UX design schools and the most important details to know about them.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What kind of UX program are you really looking for?

  1. Accredited vs. non-accredited UX design schools
  2. Job-focused vs. strategy-focused UX design schools
  3. Mentorship
  4. Curriculum design

Our top 7 picks for UX design schools:

  1. One-Year Immersive at the Austin Center for Design
  2. UX Design Program at CareerFoundry
  3. Interaction Design Program at George Brown College
  4. Media Arts and Sciences Program at the MIT Media Lab
  5. User Experience Design and Development Skills Certificate at OCAD University
  6. User Experience Design Certificate at University of California San Diego
  7. Professional Diploma in UX Design at the UX Design Institute 

Key takeaways

What kind of UX program are you really looking for?

Before we dive into all the juicy details about the schools and their programs, let’s talk briefly about a question that you might still be wrestling with: What kind of UX program do you really need? We’ll keep it simple and sweet.

Broadly speaking, there are four primary considerations you’ll want to take into account: accredited vs. non-accredited, job-focus vs. strategy-focus, instruction and mentorship, and curriculum design. The program you choose should meet your needs and goals in each of these categories.

1. Accredited vs. non-accredited UX design schools

If you’re a person who places high value on the formality and (sometimes) prestige of an academically accredited education, you might want to focus on programs through accredited universities. Likewise, if you’re in an area that requires some kind of official, accredited certification (sometimes the case for expats, or soon-to-be expats in some countries—such as Germany), looking into an already accredited program is the most straightforward path.

That said, prestige and accreditation can come with a price tag, and there are ways of documenting and verifying the quality of whatever program you choose to complete—so perhaps accreditation doesn’t need to be a deciding factor.

Typically, non-accredited programs can also be completed more quickly and cost significantly less money than their accredited cousins. Non-accredited programs also often afford the school more freedom and focus to design a curriculum that addresses what they see as the most important areas of practice. As a result, your studies can be more focused and tailored toward your career goals—whether you’re job-focused and ready to kickstart that new career or you’ve got some experience and you’re interested in the more strategic side of things.

2. Job-focused vs. strategy-focused UX design schools

Job-focused programs gear all of their learning materials, instruction, and projects towards helping students develop the very specific skills they’ll need as UX designers. They teach students how to think like a UXer, how to conduct user research, how to create wireframes and prototypes, user personas, and other key UX processes and deliverables. These programs are typically shorter; the non-accredited versions of these often come with some degree of job preparation or career guidance as well.

Strategy-focused programs are great for people who are either already in the field, have some experience in the field, and/or are committed to becoming thought leaders—both on the job and in the field as a whole. These programs are typically more expensive and/or selective, and they don’t usually focus solely on UX design (or even related fields such as UI design). They broaden their instruction to include courses to help students develop as leaders in strategy, innovation, and shaping the intersection of culture and design.

As you decide your focus on this spectrum, remember that one doesn’t have to preclude the other in your work as a UX designer; you can become a really amazing UX designer who learns the thought-leading and strategizing approach as you go along. However, one focus does tend to dominate the focus of the curriculum and vision of individual programs. So it’s good to have an idea of what you want your learning to be geared toward.

3. Mentorship

There’s also a great deal of variation in how schools provide mentorship, guidance, and support.

Some programs leave you to work independently, allowing you to check in occasionally or as you see fit—or they’ll schedule a periodic group Q&A led by an instructor or mentor.

Other programs are made up of courses that instructors lead—so the quality and frequency of the feedback and communication will depend on the individual people in charge.

There are also programs that pair you individually with a mentor who you can reach out to at key points in the program for guidance and support.

The best program for you will give you the kind of input from a seasoned professional (and access to communication with that expert) that best suits your learning style and your confidence in (and knowledge of) the industry.

4. Curriculum design

UX design schools take any number of approaches to the shape and quality of their instruction.

Some might have pre-recorded lectures with structured assignments, while others might have live classes (in person or online) for students to attend; some might gather existing, open-source learning materials and structure them into a learning experience, while others create their learning materials from scratch. The program that’s best for you will be one with learning materials in a form that best suits the way you prefer to learn.

We recommend asking schools for a program summary or course outline so that you can get a detailed look at the topics that will be covered. Ask what form the learning will take! Is it videos? Live classes? Reading materials? This will affect your learning process, so have a good understanding of this before you enroll and start the program.

As you can see, it’s all largely a matter of what you want to do at the end of the UX design program you choose, what type and quality of instruction you prefer, and how much mentorship and guidance you’d like to glean from.

Our top 7 picks for UX design schools

Now…let’s dive into the program details! Here are our top seven picks—and they really do run the gamut in each of the four categories we’ve discussed. Please note that we’ve focused more heavily on programs that can be complete for less than $10,000 and in under two years (with some intentional exceptions).

1. One-Year Immersive at the Austin Center for Design

Study format: In-person (based in Austin, Texas)
Duration: 1 year
Price: $18,000 USD

Who’s it for?

This program is ideal for people looking to learn design from the perspective of social change and entrepreneurship—and who are open to completing an in-person (based in Austin, Texas), non-accredited program. It’s a high quality, intensive program that culminates in a non-accredited completion certificate in “Design Strategy and Social Innovation.” If you’re passionate about a more strategic and social/humanitarian approach to design, and you’re able to carve out a year of full-time study, this could be the perfect program for you.

How does it work?

This program is fairly unique in the market for its clear and dedicated focus on connecting interaction design and social entrepreneurship. The program normally runs in person and is based in Austin, TX—it’s unclear whether the program has been adapted for remote study.

The classes are small, so you’re likely to have plenty of face-time with your teachers. While there’s no specific course list available on their website, it’s clear that student will work with world-class and thought-leading faculty, and focus heavily on research, interaction design, design strategy, and social entrepreneurship. You’ll study and practice design research; social, political, and ethical considerations; service design; designing systems; communication in design; project management; and portfolio development.

How long does it take to complete?

The program is a one-year immersive with 480 course hours. While there’s no course schedule available on their website, this would average around 9 hours per week—which likely doesn’t include the time you’ll spend studying and completing course projects outside of class. If the standard academic rules apply (2-3 hours of work outside of class for every hour spent in class), it’s definitely a full-time program.

How much does it cost?

The cost is $18,000 (USD) in tuition. Whether this includes any required books, materials, or tools is unclear. If you’re accepted into the program, however, they do have tuition assistance available.

Resources

2. UX Design Program at CareerFoundry

Study format: 100% asynchronous, online
Duration: 5-10 months
Price: $6,555-$6,900 USD

Who’s it for?

This program is excellent for beginners and anyone who’s looking to kickstart a new career in UX, who need a lot of flexibility to work around life’s other obligations, and who want detailed, individualized mentorship from an expert in the field. This program provides well-rounded immersion in all things UX—from the basics to specialized knowledge in key areas—with flexibility and the added assurance of individualized mentorship and a special focus on breaking into a new career (and a job guarantee if you’re eligible). You’ll also receive one-on-one mentorship along the way, and end the program with a job preparation course to provide guidance and support as you land that first job in UX.

If you’re looking for a flexibly-paced, fully mentored, job-focused program, and you don’t require university accreditation, this could be just the program you’re looking for.

How does it work?

Once you enroll, you’ll have access to all the learning materials and projects you’ll need. This program offers a set course of study with some room for you to explore through the projects you complete and in the specialization(s) you choose. To complete the program, you’ll work through four courses: Intro to UX, UX Immersion, a specialization course (students choose from UI design, frontend development, and voice UI design), and a job preparation course (which is one requirement for the job guarantee) designed to help you fine-tune your application package and find a job in the field.

The intro course covers a broad range of topics, including: design thinking, user research and personas, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, and usability testing. The immersion course covers these topics and more in far greater detail, but also goes into visual design principles, some coding basics, designing for accessibilty, and a portfolio review.

The program is not accredited through a university, but the quality of the curriculum and the learning experience is high. The courses are made up of expert-authored reading materials and supplementary videos, and the projects are designed to help students develop job-ready UX design skills and a professional portfolio. You’re free to work through the materials and projects at your own pace, though you’ll have some intermediate deadlines to help make sure you complete everything by the 10-month completion date.

Unlike many online, asynchronous programs, this one offers plenty of guidance, interaction and support, and a job guarantee.

The program boasts an active Slack community of students and grads who share ideas and resources, as well as student advisors and career specialists who help with everything from adapting to an online learning environment to helping you craft an interview narrative and develop the job-finding and career-advancing skills you’ll need.

Once you enroll, you’re assigned both a mentor and a tutor who you’ll keep for the duration of the program. The mentor is a seasoned UXer who provides broader advice and insight and gives feedback on the portfolio projects you complete; you can schedule calls with your mentor to discuss any questions you have about the field and how to craft your career as a UXer. The tutor works in UX and knows all about the individual lessons and smaller assignments and interacts with you more on a daily basis.

Following graduation, you are assigned a career specialist to help you refine your application package and land a job within six months.

How long does it take to complete?

How long this program takes to complete will depend on how much time you’re able to devote to it each week. If you’re working around other obligations (job, family, etc.), you can work 15-20 hours per week and complete the program within the allotted 10 months. If you’re able to carve out around 40 hours per week, you can complete it in as little as 5-6 months.

How much does it cost?

CareerFoundry offers different payment options that affect the overall price of the program. If you have the cash and pay upfront, it’s $6,555. If you pay in monthly installments (with $1,400 upfront), the total comes out to $6,900. This includes all required learning materials and the required tools are either free to use or free for when and how you’ll use them in the program.

One nice benefit to this program is that there’s a two-week trial period where if you enroll and pay, then start the course and find it’s really not for you, you get a full refund of anything you’ve already paid.

There’s also a job guarantee that offers a full refund if you meet the eligibility criteria and don’t land a UX job within six months of graduating from the program.

Resources

3. Interaction Design Program at George Brown College

Study format: Possible to progress online (in-person may be necessary—based in Toronto, Canada)
Duration: 3 years (full-time)
Price: ~$27,000 (for domestic students)

Who’s it for?

This is a top-notch program that’s more affordable than it’s legacy cousins (Stanford, Rutgers, Harvard, etc.) and therefore worth mentioning. It’s an excellent program for anyone, beginner or experienced, who wants a deep and formalized dive into the world of interaction design (UX design is included in this). It’s possible to take some courses online, but it might be necessary to relocate for in person classes. It’s a traditional academic program, so full-time study and higher tuition is something you’ll need to factor in—but if you’re looking for top-notch education with a reputable name behind it, this could be the program you’re looking for.

How does it work?

First, you’ll need to apply for admission to the university and to the program itself. If your application is accepted, you’ll begin by enrolling in the courses required for your first year.

As with any traditional academic program, there’s a set course of study with flexibility in your electives. This program requires courses in a broad range of subjects: information architecture, usability testing, device development, immersive media, data visualization, and even college English (yes, it’s true) and technical drawing. Instruction methods and feedback will likely vary from one instructor to the next—but this can be useful in learning to adapt to various work situations.

How long does it take to complete?

This program takes three academic years to complete (Fall and Spring semesters, with summers off or optional). Given that the program is full-time (for two semesters each year), expect to devote at least 40 hours per week to class time and assignments outside of class.

You’ll finish the program with an accredited diploma from a respected university.

How much does it cost?

This program isn’t cheap, especially if you’re not a Canadian citizen. The total (domestic) cost runs around $27,000 CAD (roughly $20,000 USD). Unlike many academic programs, this one lists a total cost that includes tuition, fees, and required materials.

Resources

Aspiring UX designer sitting at a laptop researching UX schools

4. Media Arts and Sciences Program at the MIT Media Lab

Study format: Online and in-person
Duration: 2 years
Price: Free

Who’s it for?

This is an excellent program for people who have some experience in the field (the program application requires a portfolio), want to shape the future of design, and are able to commit to two years of full-time study. MIT is a prestigious school with a track record in industry-shaping thought leadership and innovation, and they only accept 50 applicants each year—so it’s selective. You’ll need to be on your A-game and ready to dive in and be excellent.

How does it work?

This is a traditional university-accredited program, so you’ll take courses on MIT’s schedule and have a variety of instructors and mentors, as well as the opportunity to work in-person with other future thought leaders and designers.

How long does it take to complete?

Two academic years. Like most traditional academic programs, this is at a full-time pace. You’ll want to plant life accordingly—but the payoff (credentials from a highly-regarded institution) could be well worth your trouble.

How much does it cost?

This program is unique in that it is absolutely free. MIT is selective about who they accept into the program (they accept 50 students per year), but they offer full funding that covers tuition and provides an annual stipend to help cover your living expenses while you devote your time to studying. Pretty sweet gig!

Resources

5. User Experience Design and Development Skills Certificate at OCAD University

Study format: Possible to complete 100% online
Duration: As little as 3 months (with a maximum completion deadline of 3 years)
Price: Varies (see example)

Who’s it for?

This is a great program for anyone who wants to study remotely, doesn’t mind some scheduled class times, and prizes some flexibility in the courses they select as part of their training.

How does it work?

This program takes place with an accredited university, so there’s some flexibility in what courses you can take and when—dependent on the university course schedule. From the current schedule, it looks like students can take a fairly steady stream of courses to reach their desired completion date. The courses are instructor-led and capped at 5-8 students—this means that there’s likely to be more individualized attention and feedback from the instructor, though there may be some variation depending on the instructor and their teaching and communication styles.

You’ll be able to pick just about any combination of qualifying courses, but you’ll need to take at least 5 courses to be eligible for the certificate (see the example course load in the next section). Contact hours (hours spent actually in class) range from 12 to 20 hours over 3-5 weeks per course, not including any time you’ll need to spend completing assignments outside of class.

How much does it cost?

Price ranges from 345 to 675 per course, not including materials. It looks like the school is making an effort to use free tools or tools with free trials. Some courses require software that you’d need to purchase for yourself, though, and you’ll need to pay your tuition in full in order to secure your seat in each course.

If you want a better idea of the total cost, possible duration, and what kinds of courses you might take, here’s an example course load we compiled (assuming full-time study and based on the university’s course availability as of this writing). Bear in mind that if you’re concentrating your studies into a shorter period of time, there will be overlap—in other words, you could end up taking 2-3 courses at a time:

Course 1: Intro to UX and UI Design (18 contact hours, $445, five weeks long)
Course 2: Inclusive Design for Digital Media (18 contact hours, $445, five weeks long)
Course 3: Intermediate UX and UI Design (18 contact hours, $445, five weeks long)
Course 4: Introduction to Web Design (18 contact hours, $445, five weeks long)
Course 5: Empathy + Social Insight for Human-Centred Design Micro-Certification (20 hours, $675, 5 weeks)
Total cost: $2,455 (not including materials or any administrative fees)
Duration: 3 months

Resources

6. User Experience Design Certificate at University of California San Diego

Study format: Currently 100% online
Duration: 15-21 months
Price: ~$5,400

Who’s it for?

This program is great if you’re looking for a certification that is accredited through an American institution, you’re somewhat flexible on your pricepoint (the price is an estimate and there will be variation), and you want to choose from a broad range of electives.

How does it work?

This program is usually offered online and in-person, but (due to covid-19) is currently 100% online with some variations in how the classes are conducted. Some classes are asynchronous (requiring no scheduled meetings), made up of pre-recorded lectures and guided assignments. Other classes are hybrid, meaning that they’re still 100% online, but with live classes to attend via Zoom. All classes use the Blackboard learning system and most use a combination of theory and practice (hands-on work).

The program runs on a quarterly basis, so you’ll sign up for and complete 1-2 courses every three months until you complete the full curriculum.

As with most traditional academic programs, the person teaching and providing feedback on assignments will vary from course to course. The advantage of this is that you can learn from a variety of viewpoints, personalities, and approached; the downside is that the type and frequency of communication, as well as the quality of the feedback, could also vary from one course to the next

The core curriculum covers the basics of UX and responsive design, and your electives (you get to choose two) will allow you to dive into topics like UI design, various conforms of coding, and even analytics.

When you finish the program, there are some academic processes to go through (including a certificate fee), and then your certificate will come to you in the mail. Done and done!

How long does it take to complete?

How long this program will take to complete depends on how many courses a student takes per quarter. You could finish this program in as little at 15 months, but you’d officially have up to five years to finish your coursework. According to their website, most students finish the program within 15-21 months, taking 1-2 classes every three months.

If you’re working full- or part-time on top of your studies, you may need to do some careful planning. How many classes you take per quarter will likely need to depend on the workload per course, which UC says will vary between 18 and 30 hours of class time per course; elsewhere they say that these online courses require an average of 8-10 hours total per week for lectures and coursework.

How much does it cost?

The estimated cost of the program is $5,400 ($595-795 per course), not including the cost of books and materials, or any required subscriptions and paid tools. Your tuition may vary based on the electives you choose (some cost more than others). There is also an additional $95 fee charged upon acceptance to the program, but whether this is an application fee or a certificate fee is unclear.

Since it is an accredited university program, you may be able to secure student loans or scholarships to offset the total cost. And tuition is the same for students regardless of where they live (in California, out of state, or abroad).

Resources

7. Professional Diploma in UX Design at the UX Design Institute

Study format: 100% online, asynchronous
Duration: 6 months or less
Price: €2550 (or around $2929 USD—depending on the exchange rate)

Who’s it for?

This is a great program for beginners and career changers who need a university accreditation to back up their knowledge and experience. This program teaches the basics of design thinking, UX design, and the key processes and deliverables you’d use on the job.

How does it work?

Once you enroll in the program, you can request early access to all the modules, learning materials, and project briefs—or you can wait for your cohort’s start date and follow along with the study plan. If you follow along with the study plan, to complete the course in six months, you’ll put in an average of 5 hours each week on studying and completing projects.

Most of the learning materials are recorded lectures that provide examples and instructions along the way, but there are clear instructions for each project, as well as monthly webinars with an expert in the field to answer questions and give feedback to you and others in your cohort. The type and quality of feedback may depend on how proactively you ask for feedback and vocalize your questions in the monthly webinars, but the flexibility of the program might be a good trade off—depending on your needs and goals.

The individual modules cover a broad range of topics along the UX design process: intro to UX design, user research, user goals, structure and navigation, interactions, design principles and patterns, designing for mobile, workflows, prototyping, wireframing, and how to build projects into a professional portfolio.

If you want to add on to your knowledge and experience, you can also choose from the institute’s specialization courses in user research, content design, visual design, or coding basics. It’s not clear whether these can be added on to your enrollment in the UX design course or if it is a separate enrollment.

Once you’ve completed all the learning modules and submitted all the projects, you’ll schedule a time for your exam. The exam also takes place remotely and is proctored. If you pass the exam, you’re sent your diploma (accredited through Glasgow Caledonian University).

How long does it take to complete?

You can complete this program in 6 months or less, depending on whether you decide to study at your own pace or at the same pace as your cohort (with project due dates that track well with the monthly webinars).

How much does it cost?

You’ll pay €2550 (or around $2929 USD—depending on the exchange rate) for the full course, unless you take advantage of an early-bird discount. Unlike many accredited programs, this includes all the learning materials as well as your first sitting of the exam (if you need to retake the exam, there’s a small fee). The UX Design Institute allows you to pay this as a lump sum or you can pay in monthly installments over the duration of your enrollment. The institute makes an effort to ensure that all required tools are free or only necessary for as long as a free trial will last. So no need to factor these extra costs into your budget!

Resources

Key takeaways

  • Know your budget (money and time) and whether relocation is possible for you.
  • Understand whether or not you really need an accredited certificate
  • Consider what type of instruction you prefer and what kind of mentorship and support you want to receive

Once you have these considerations clear in your mind, asses each program and don’t be afraid to reach out to the program administrators! They can answer any questions you may have about instructional methods, the required time investment, and payment options or tuition assistance.

If you’re still in the early stages of your decision making process, and you’d like to just learn a bit more about UX design before you invest a larger portion of your money and time, check out this free 6-day UX design course, this (also free) UX design tutorial, and check out these other articles:

What You Should Do Now

  1. Get a hands-on introduction to UX with a free, 6-day short course.
  2. Become a qualified UX designer in 5-10 months—complete with a job guarantee.
  3. Talk to a program advisor to discuss career change and find out if UX is right for you.
  4. Learn about our graduates, see their portfolio projects, and find out where they’re at now.

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Emerson Schroeter

Emerson Schroeter

Marketing Content Editor at CareerFoundry

Emerson is a New Mexican transplant to Berlin. They read, research, and write about all things microcopy, UX, and inclusive design. When they’re not writing, they’re tucked away in some corner of Berlin with a beverage, a book, and their guardian cat Clementine.