How I got a Full-Ride to Parsons Design + Technology MFA program (MFADT)

SIX
7 min readJul 6, 2021

This fall, I will start my MFA in Design+Technology(MFADT) at Parsons University. When I was researching in preparation to apply, I found very on this specific program. I want this article to serve as a source for others looking to apply to this program. Here is a walkthrough of the application that awarded a full-ride to this program.

When applying for this program, I attended an info session by a few faculty members who teach the program. One of them said not to worry about the number of items in your portfolio and focus on telling your story. That resonated with me and was my guiding principle while I prepared my application. I was worried about having enough relevant materials, but I realized I had my own story to tell about my trajectory in applying to this specific program.

In my undergrad, I majored in English and had a minor in Graphic Design. After graduating in May 2020, I applied to a few Master’s Degree programs in Graphic Design. For these applications, I collected everything I had ever designed, which was about 25 projects. I got into these programs but with little scholarship reward. While considering whether or not I wanted to commit to a Graphic Design Program, I discovered the field of UX design. I decided to instead enroll in a UX Bootcamp and start that summer. After I completed the bootcamp I realized that while I received a lot of technical applicative knowledge, I lacked understanding in the background, theory, philosophy of UX, and design and technology as a whole. I stumbled across Parsons Design + Technology program and thought it was perfect for me. I decided to apply only to this program and go from there.

The deadline was two weeks away. I applied with seven projects in my portfolio, my cv, two recommendations (from my mentors), my undergrad transcript, a two-minute video responding to given prompts, and a statement of purpose. A few months later, two faculty members in the program interviewed me.

The projects:

I carefully selected the projects that I thought would best show my thought and design processes. I wish I could provide the captions I used in my portfolio, but I will do my best to recall what I presented and why.

Graphic design of a parasite and the words “Milk It” with a gray and black emboss/bevel effect
“Milk It” by Nirvana inspired cassette cover based on their debut album, Bleach + the lyric, “I am my own parasite”

Cassette Design Project — A personal project, to explore visual design through both spatial and qualitative constraints. I also think it represents my work as a digital collagist quite well. The challenge was to use the lyrics from one song in my library (by a favorite artist of mine) and create a single cover based on the visual elements of that artist’s first album cover.

Gif of on-screen use of prototype using virtual reality feature for a bike iOS website.
VR UX Design Prototype

Linus Bikes VR Conceptual Design — The only UX project I presented in my portfolio, which I found to be the most explorative, in-depth, and challenging. I included my full presentation with all the artifacts and findings from discovery to delivery.

Wide-shot photo of the band Alt-j playing music live.
Alt-J performs at the 2018 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival Source: ThorntonDrury

Is Post-Internet Post-Genre? : A case study on Alt-J — A piece I wrote that questioned the concept of genre as a classification and orienting system specifically for music, by presenting a case study of the genres the band Alt-J has fallen under. I argue that while the band may have some elements of these genres, the most valid and fitting genre is post-internet. I conclude with the notion that “Post-internet is Genre-defying Genre, as it breaks down and puts itself in place of [a genre’s] orienting frameworks, interpretative procedures, and sets of expectations”.

Graphic Design mock-up silkworm pupae in gold/yellow tin can.
Mockup of conceptual package design for “Beondegi Silkworm Pupae”

Beondegi Package Design — This was my final project as an undergraduate senior in graphic design. While it was not my best design work, it represents my methodology and approach to a creative task quite well. The brief was to create a package design for a foreign product that might seem uninviting to the western palate. I wanted to make something that looked “exotic” and engaging but also elevated and familiar.

Graphic Design mock-up of brochure with gradient from light to dark reading “ Got Earth? — what are we going to eat when nothing is left?” and images of a cow one vibrant and one dull.
“Got Earth” brochure mockup with filler text and image placeholders

Got Earth? Brochure Design Project — A simple project, but one with a lot of character and personality. Harkening back to the net art/ Y2K era, this was a design of a brochure with a doomsday-esque important message. A little pastiche, a little parody.

Infographic with a stylized dollar sign in the center and a question tree diagram.
“Fashion Investment Tree” Infographic, part of Unimethod Style Guide

Unimethod Style Guide — An earlier project, a personal style guide containing multiple infographics. It showcased how, for me, methodology runs deep from style to design, and there is usually a method to the madness (or the goodness).

Graphic design reading “helvet-icons” and the silhouette of six liquor bottle shapes.
Helvet-icons project cover page

Helvet-icons Design Project — One of my first ever graphic design projects, I presented this project to represent how far I have come in my design practice and how I approach learning my craft. The brief was to replicate the shapes of specific distinctive objects by only using the knife and scissor tools in illustrator.

In my introduction video, I identified the biggest problem I think my generation faces in using technology as creating and finding meaning in a world so over-saturated with opinions, content, and an audience.
I also identified the question I aim to ask, pursue, and (hopefully) answer during my MFA as a question that was asked before by Henry Dreyfuss, how can we fit the machine to the man and not the man to the machine?

I want to note that I recorded this video many times, trying to get it perfect. But the one I ended up submitting was filmed in my car and had a few trip-ups and stutters. I decided I need not seem like a perfect public speaker, just a human the reviewers needed to see and connect with.

I spent the most time making sure my story and intent were communicated clearly, through my statement of purpose.

It was organized in this general format: my background, my goals as a designer, my goals in the program, my goals as a person. Here are the highlights of these topics pulled from my statement.

Designer — My goal is to contribute to the technology that helps people create meaningful connections to themselves and the people and world around them, rather than technology that creates toxic and unhealthy relationships with its users.

Program — My goal for studio-based MFA is to be able to palpably explore technology as a medium, as well as the mediums it has created or enabled, through the dynamic of a creative and critical process.

Person — In this program, I hope to not only join the conversation (of designing for good) but to become part of a solution not perpetuate the problems. The MFA in Design + Technology will be where I can learn how I can best contribute to the effort to make technology the tool that improves the human condition and is not our demise.

During my interview, I was asked similar questions to the ones in the prompts I addressed in my statement, the main difference was the natural conversational aspect of speaking to someone (albeit via zoom). One of the questions I was asked that I had not previously addressed was whether or not I had applied to any other programs. When I responded that I had only applied to MFAdt they were flattered and asked why. This was my chance to say why the program was right for me as much as I am right for it. The program’s use of “art as analysis” and the symbiotic relationship between academic inquiry and creativity are why it was the only program I applied to. This is what I felt I needed to propel in my journey as a designer, and my career, and ultimately reach my full potential.

I hope that if you are interested in this program this article is helpful. Stay tuned for more about my journey through this program and more!

Hi there, my name is Christ. I am a Millenial/Gen Z cusp, UX/Visual Designer, Writer, Pseudo-Luddite, just trying to live my best life.

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SIX

Millenial/Gen Z cusp, Designer, Parsons MFADT Graduate, Writer, Pseudo-Luddite. The dreamer + the dream.