This is the only named option within the Human Ecology, MFA. Students interested in the Human Ecology, MFA should apply directly to this Human Ecology: Design Studies, MFA named option.

The focus of the MFA degree is on creative performance in design. Its goals are to promote strong and creative conceptual thinking, exploration, interpretation, innovation, and overall excellence in design execution.


Students typically focus their work in one of two general areas:

  • Textile and Fashion Design (TFD): TFD students focus on the conceptual, technical and aesthetic possibilities of textiles and clothing. 
  • Interior Architecture (IA): IA students typically concentrate on the innovative application of aesthetic, conceptual and expressive design strategies in interior environments.

There are many students who may work across these areas or have an even more idiosyncratic integrative focus. In every case, students formulate a plan of study to suit their individual needs.

The course of study requires the completion of a minimum of 60 credits and includes a substantial studio work component. The curriculum seeks to create a foundation with flexibility to fit student needs. Interested students can view course requirements on this page. 

Applications are accepted once per year for fall admission and are due by the first Monday in January of the same calendar year for which the student is applying.

Applicants must apply online and pay the required application fee to the Graduate School. Applicants must meet all Graduate School requirements including a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale). 


  • Online application indicating “Human Ecology MFA–Design Studies” as your program selection
  • $75 application fee
  • CV/resume
  • Unofficial transcripts or academic records from each institution attended (official transcripts will be required for students who receive an admission offer)
  • Official TOEFL or Melab score (International students only)
  • Three letters of recommendation (submitted electronically through your Graduate School application)
  •  Uploaded Statement of Purpose/Reasons for Graduate Study

Submit to the School of Human Ecology:

  • Portfolio
    • All MFA applicants must submit a digital portfolio for review. The portfolio should contain no more than 20 images/pages and there is a 5 MB file size limit for each image or page. Applicants will be able to upload portfolios to the University of Wisconsin’s Box cloud storage system. Digital folders will be created for applicants within 48–72 hours after their electronic application has been received by UW–Madison’s Graduate School. Please contact Eric MacKay,, for more information.

Additional information is available here.

Graduate School Admissions

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic degree programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet requirements of both the program(s) and the Graduate School. Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.  

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and processes related to funding.

Program Resources

Funding opportunities for Human Ecology graduate students are available and made possible, in large part, by generous donations to SoHE. Every year, these funds are used to fund teaching or project assistantships, award academic excellence scholarships, and provide students doing their masters or doctoral research or final MFA project with conference travel scholarships and graduate research scholarships. See the School of Human Ecology Enrollment Policy on Funding Eligibility and view current funding opportunities on our program website for more information.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Named Option Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions


Minimum Credit Requirement 60 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 24 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement Half of degree coursework (30 credits out of 60 total credits) must be completed graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements The Graduate School requires an average grade of B or better in all coursework (300 or above, not including research credits) taken as a graduate student unless conditions for probationary status require higher grades. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.
Assessments and Examinations Before beginning substantial work on their thesis, all MFA students must receive approval of their thesis proposal from their MFA committee after satisfactorily completing at least three full-time semesters of coursework and passing the MFA Interim Qualifier. The thesis proposal is intended to describe the creative work or project that will be at the core of the thesis, to demonstrate the student’s broad knowledge in areas that relate to their thesis, to explain how their work or project relates to the work of other designers and artists, to demonstrate their awareness of relevant theories and methods as reflected in their literature review, to explain their methods and materials, and to outline a detailed schedule for the completion of the thesis.

Upon approval of their thesis proposal, students are expected to register for 9 credits that will represent thesis writing and production. These credits are generally research and thesis credits, independent studies, or required seminars; they must be at the 500 level or above.

All MFA students are required to present their work at least once per academic year in a Group Review Session attended by faculty and the other MFA students. First year students can present their work that they submitted for their application, or work from a course that they have taken. Second year students should present work from their Focus Area student work, or their advanced General Studio work. Third-year students should present their thesis work in progress.

The Group Review Sessions have several goals.

*Enable MFA students to see what other MFA students are working on.
*Enable the MFA faculty as a whole to see what all of the MFA students are working on.
*Enable MFA students to receive constructive review of their work.
*Enable MFA students to gain experience critiquing and receiving critique.
*Enable MFA students to gain experience presenting their work.

All MFA students are required to successfully prepare and present a thesis that includes a studio component, a written component, and an oral defense. These are Research and Thesis credits with the student’s advisor.
Language Requirements Contact the program for information on any language requirements.
Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements All doctoral students are required to complete a minor.

Required COURSES

Pre-MFA Preparation Courses 1
Pre-MFA preparation courses vary by area of study and may include, but are not limited to, the following courses:
Textile and Fashion Design
Textile and/or Fashion History
Interior Architecture
Visual Communication I
Color Theory and Technology
Interior Design I
Interior Design II
Core Courses 218
As much as possible within their first two years, all MFA students will be expected to enroll in 20-21 credits distributed among the following Core Courses:
Methods and Theory in Design and Culture
Dimensions of Material Culture
Choose at least one additional course. Suggestions include:
Taste (Recommended)
Introduction to Graduate Studies in Art
Curatorial Studies Colloquium
Seminar Courses
Seminar in Design Studies
At least one additional seminar course
History and Criticism
Colloquium in Art
Choose from among the following courses:
Any Art History or Design Studies course focusing on history, 500 level or above
Historiography, Theory and Methods in Visual Culture
Visual Cultures: Topics in Visual Cultures
Non-Studio Academic Coursework-Graduate Student Instructor Course 3
General Studio Work 49
Required Courses (Interior Architecture concentration only. May be waived for students with substantial portfolios.)
Interior Design IV
Special Topics (Topic: Interior Design V)
Recommended courses include:
Digital Fabrication Studio
Art Performance
Installations and Environments
Advanced Topics in 4D Art
Art and Technology
History at Work: History Internship Seminar
Other courses at the 500 level or above in Art or Landscape Architecture
Focus Area Studio Work 515
Interim MFA Qualifier 63
Preparation of Final Thesis9
Final Thesis6
Total Credits60

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Named Option-Specific Policies

Graduate Program Handbook

The Graduate Program Handbook is the repository for all of the program's policies and requirements.

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count up to 20 credits of graduate coursework taken at other institutions or as a UW–Madison Special student (with a maximum of 9 special student credits as part of the 20). Prior coursework taken at other institutions may not be used to satisfy the minimum graduate residence credit requirement. Credits earned five or more years prior to admission to an MFA degree are not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

With program approval, up to 7 credits numbered 300 or above from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward degree credit; undergraduate courses must be numbered 700 or above to count toward the minimum graduate coursework requirement. No undergraduate coursework may count toward graduate residence requirement.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count up to 20 credits of graduate coursework taken at other institutions or as a UW–Madison Special student (with a maximum of 9 special student credits as part of the 20). Special student coursework must be numbered 300 or above for residence and degree credit and 700 or above for minimum graduate coursework (50%) credit.

Credits earned five or more years prior to admission to an MFA degree are not allowed to satisfy requirements. Use of Special student credit may require payment of tuition difference.


The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC, C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or in being suspended from the Graduate School.


Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies. An advisor generally serves as the thesis advisor. In many cases, an advisor is assigned to incoming students. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor.

To ensure that students are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects them to meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

A committee often accomplishes advising for the students in the early stages of their studies.


12 credits

Time Constraints

Master’s degree students who have been absent for five or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.



Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Program Resources

The School of Human Ecology Graduate Program values the professional development of graduate students and provides financial awards to those who are invited to present at professional conferences/exhibits. The purpose of the support is to encourage participation in professional development, scholarly research, and/or creative endeavor and to help cover expenses not covered by other sources. Students may receive a maximum award of $650 for travel ($750 for international travel) to support conference participation in a single academic year. 

In addition, each academic department within the School of Human Ecology may offer additional professional development grant opportunities. See the program Events Calendar for the most up-to-date information on professional development opportunities. 


Civil Society and Community Studies 

Professors: Cynthia Jasper (chair), Constance Flanagan

Associate Professors: Lori Bakken, Brian Christens

Assistant Professors: Kendra Alexander, Jennifer Gaddis, Leah Horowitz, Carolina Sarmiento, Shannon Sparks

Consumer science (consumer behavior & family economics)

Professors: Nancy Wong (chair), Judith Bartfeld

Associate Professors: J. Michael Collins, Clifford Robb

Assistant Professors:  Feneba Addo, Lydia Ashton, Dee Warmath

Design Studies

Professors: Roberto Rengel (chair), Jennifer Angus, Wei Dong, Majid Sarmadi, Mark Nelson

Associate Professors: Mary Hark, Carolyn Kallenborn, Jung-hye Shin

Assistant Professors:  Marianne Fairbanks, Marina Moskowitz, Kevin Ponto, Kristin Thorleifsdottir

Human Development and Family Studies

Professors: Janean Dilworth-Bart (chair), Charles Raison, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, Linda Roberts, Stephen Small

Associate Professors: Larissa Duncan, Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Sigan Hartley, Heather Kirkorian, Robert Nix, Lauren Papp

Assistant Professors: Kristin Litzelman, Margaret Kerr