Human-computer interaction once sounded like a far-off sci-fi ideal, but now that it’s 2020, it’s become an omnipresent element of our daily lives. The fact that you’re even reading this article right now on the internet from a device shows just how integrated human life is with computers. The concept itself often uses the word “interface,” denoting that there is communication that goes on between us and our screens.
It’s the job of developers to formulate this entire process, from usability to safety and entertainment. It’s also up to them to consider how these information systems will affect humans in the long run.
What Is an HCIM Degree?
To become part of this emerging field, you need to have the right degree. The Master of Human-Computer Interaction (sometimes called the HCIM or just HCI) is the education that brings all the necessary elements to the table. An HCIM degree is multidimensional and, as a result, these students are well-rounded and well-prepared. Most applicants are expected to have some prior experience in computer programming, although some programs are more lenient.
What you’re exploring through the HCIM are the vast ways in which we are forming relationships with computers. This involves studies outside of just computer technology. Understanding human psychology, behavior, and linguistics are also essential pieces of knowledge for HCIM roles. Design, too, will be a staple portion of many of these programs.
Even in our digital age, computer language isn’t one that’s widely recognized, so it’s up to designers and engineers to develop programs and devices that are understandable, easy to use, and attractive to end-users. This is considered user experience (or UX) and HCIM programs will all teach this in some shape or form.
Careers for HCIM Majors
The human-computer interaction exists in more places than you may even realize. It’s influenced the way we communicate with loved ones and apply for jobs. The cars we drive are equipped with computers to map our routes. Even the way we vote for our country’s leaders has been put into the hands of computers. The “internet of things” is expanding to virtually every industry, and it’s brought plenty of jobs along with it.
HCIM students commonly look to jobs as UX designers, engineers, and researchers. It’s become so popular and so lucrative that UX Designer has moved into the #9 spot on Glassdoor’s Top 50 Jobs in America.
It’s the role of these professionals to cater to the end-user, creating functionable and comfortable computer interactions. There are also plenty of other areas that involve a human-centered, computer-based knowledge. Search quality analysts and project managers get a chance to look at and approve programs before they’re released into the population.
HCIM Salary Potential
Getting a master’s degree always comes with a time and money commitment that, ideally, will be repaid in spades. Since HCIM professionals can find work in so many areas of the industry, the earning potential is highly varied. However, given the nature of our computer-culture, these jobs are certainly in demand and can have a considerable monetary output.
Software developers, for example, is the blanket term for engineers who design the way you’ll interact with a device. This can include anything from apps and websites to video games and databases. They are also some of the highest-paid professionals in the field. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics lists the median salary of these professionals at $105,590 annually. Software developers within manufacturing, specifically, can earn some of the highest salaries in the field, with a median of nearly $120,000 annually.
Research scientists earn around the same. Other roles, like computer systems analysts and web-developers, also have the opportunity to earn six figures. The lower end of the spectrum is still a reasonably high salary; for instance, web developers earn a median of about $70,000 annually, which is well within the realm of what research shows is the optimal salary for happiness.
What Are the Best HCIM Degrees?
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University of Washington–Seattle
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You can get a little bit of this and a little bit of that at University of Washington-Seattle. Much like the state itself, which offers a bustling city amidst access to splendid American nature, the Master of Human-Computer Interaction and Design teaches forward-thinking technology along with design skills to assist you in creating attractive and user-friendly software programs.
As a student in this program, you aren’t within just one school of education. Four departments–Science and Engineering; Human-Centered Design and Engineering; Information, and Art; Art History, & Design–all bring elements of their core to create this interdisciplinary program. Creative design by hand and by machine is just as important to this program as quantitative data and human-behavioral research.
Each cohort joins 33 students with a proven creative ambition and analytical capacity. The program is intensive, lasting just 11 months but requiring 46 credit hours. Courses include many hands-on studios, like prototyping and ideation. The final capstone isn’t an after-thought, but a project built into the curriculum. You choose your “‘future of’ topic” early on and continue to research it as you progress through the curriculum.
Electives also exist to help guide your goals. Some options include Interaction Design, Visual Information Communication, Usability Studies, and Qualitative Research Methods. In the end, students will not only be able to build and design systems, but also to manage projects and lead teams.
University of Maryland-College Park
College Park, Maryland
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The University of Maryland-College Park offers a 30-credit Master of Science in human-computer interaction. The program is formatted to span two years and be attended full time. Curriculum is largely based in Information Technologies, but provides plenty of avenues for you to find your own goal-specific track. This program offers opportunity and flexibility through an elective-intensive schedule and access to UM’s impressive six research centers, among them the world-renowned HCIL Research Lab.
During year one, you’ll take three core courses in the first semester, covering research methods and fundamentals. The last core course required is taken in the second semester, but this is the time you’ll also start introducing electives into your schedule. The summer course is strictly for the internship requirement.
The remainder of the coursework will cover electives. These can include courses in data visualization, analyzing social networks, advanced usability testing, and several other HCMI courses. The second year is also when you’ll carry out your capstone project or thesis.
The capstone is done alongside a cohort of students. You’ll work in a real-world setting, learning project management and prototype design for a client. If your career goals include are research-based, you can choose the final thesis project which helps prepare you for that. They recommend making your selection by the end of the first year so there’s time to prepare.
Iowa State University
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Iowa State University offers a Master of human-computer interaction (MHC) that extends throughout the entire university. Students get to engage in virtually every department, helping to broaden their knowledge base needed to succeed in the ever-evolving tech world.
Throughout the program, you’ll learn to evaluate systems and choose design approaches that best suit the end-user. You’ll also take time to research emerging technology and trends and learn to understand theories and models of the field. All of this is taught through an interdisciplinary lens.
This is also one of the few MHCs that is offered as an online degree. The online option allows you to work at your own pace without having to adhere to a uniform schedule. Most students end up completing the program in two and a half years.
There is only one start date, and so only one chance each year to submit an application. Every student is required to submit transcripts displaying a GPA, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation.
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At Indiana University-Bloomington, designers with a vision of the future can build their career with the MS in human-computer interaction. This program is multi-faceted, teaching elements of new media and interactive systems that will help develop a designer’s skills to meet the world’s growing demands.
There isn’t a concentration, but you can pick a theme that will guide the curriculum toward your personal goals. These themes include UX research, interaction design, design strategy, and academic strategy & creative activity. Depending on your end goal, be it research, academia, or professional management roles, there are opportunities for you to gain the necessary tools.
There are several core courses that all students will take together. In addition, elective courses will help to guide the curriculum toward your career goal. Many of the electives are in emerging topics specific to advanced technology. You can explore AI and the Future of Work, Sustainable Interaction Design, Design Entrepreneurship, and several other topics pertinent in the field.
The program is considered intensive, situated at the crossroads of research and design skills for working in the industry. Everyone works toward a capstone, which is built into two semesters of the curriculum. It takes two years to complete the total 48 required credits of the program.
Georgia Institute of Technology
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Georgia Institute of Technology offers a Master of Science in human computer interaction (MS-HCI) to a cohort of 90 able and eager students each year. Through this interdisciplinary program, students will gain skills and explore theories through coursework, research, and industry experience.
When students apply, they can do so through one of the four schools that help bring the program to life. Your application to either School of Industrial Design, Interactive Computing, Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC), or Psychology, indicates your interest. Where you apply will also function as your chosen area of specialization. About half of all students opt for interactive computing, while a quarter choose industrial design and the last quarter is split between a focus on digital media or psychology.
Regardless of your track, all students in the program will take the same set of core courses. These three courses are in Human-Computer Interaction, Psychology Research Methods for HCI, and Professional Practice Seminar. The group of 90 spreads out in the next stage of courses. These will include specialization, electives, and a final project. There’s also the option to add a Management of Technology Certificate to your diploma and transcripts.
Electives span a wider set of subjects, including aerospace engineering, international affairs, psychology, public policy, and music, among others. Students in all tracks are tasked with completing 36 credit hours.
California State University-Long Beach
Long Beach, California
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The Master of Arts in human experience design interactions (MA_HXDI program) is a multi-disciplinary program. It’s based in theory but teaches practical skills focusing on design as a strategy. After 33 credit hours in design and an understanding of quantitative data and qualitative research, graduate students will be well equipped for human-centered design careers.
The program is competitive and can be applied to only after you’ve been admitted to the university. Program applications are sent directly to the Department of Design and should include a resume, a digital portfolio, two letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.
If admitted, you’re responsible for bringing your own laptop to class. It’s important that it can support necessary design software that will be used throughout the program. Students can also enjoy campus labs and workshops which are open 24 hours a day.
Required courses include Applied Design in Contemporary Society and Designing for User Experiences, as well as labs and seminars. Your education isn’t limited to campus. Partnerships with local businesses in a multitude of fields, from education to entertainment, open opportunities for internships and career opportunities.
University of Michigan Ann-Arbor
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Human-computer interaction takes many forms. At the University of Michigan Ann-Arbor, they deliver an HCI specialization through a Master of Science in Information. The program targets the emerging roles that are a result of the digital age and welcomes students from all types of backgrounds.
If this program sounds right for you, you’ll also have to choose from a range of study options. A full-time student can complete the program in two years, while part-time will take up to four. You also must choose between a thesis or a non-thesis track. The thesis option spans two semesters, during which you’ll work with an advisor to broaden and discover new knowledge in a chosen topic.
The alternative to the thesis is the mastery course track, where students will gather information, identify and assess problems, and resolve the problem with high-level thinking. All students, thesis or not, also get to learn outside of the School of Information with cognate courses. These allow you to explore interests and develop skills that are unique to your personal goals.
Students can also choose to double up on their areas of expertise with a dual degree. UM presents several popular options, like public policy, social work, or business administration, but there’s flexibility here, too. This is one program that truly lets you shape what your degree–and career–will become.
University of Kansas
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The University of Kansas combines a focus on interaction and on user experience to develop students that are effective designers. This program isn’t based in computer science or engineering. Instead, it’s a Master of Art in design with a concentration in interaction and user experience design.
The program requires 31 credit hours. Students will explore the core curriculum through 12 credit hours, involving theory, methods, and practice of UX design. The remaining 19 give you the chance to explore your own interests.
Core courses include Advanced Human Factors in Design, while options for electives can include Design Cognition and Management. Throughout this curriculum, you’ll apply analytical and creative problem-solving skills to better understand the needs of users and simplify complex systems in use. Every student in this program will complete a thesis based on personal research.
The application process involves the full package of graduate-level requirements. Instead of the traditional statement of purpose, they’ll request a statement of design philosophy and approach. In addition to the resume and three recommendations, you’ll also be expected to submit a portfolio of design work.
University of California-Irvine
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The University of California-Irvine offers a one-year, interdisciplinary program in human-computer interaction and design. Understanding both how computers work and how to effectively design programs is essential to success in any HCIM career. To help guide you through this comprehensive program, you’ll get to learn from faculty with all types of expertise relating to designing computer software and programs.
The program is set up in a “mixed format,” meaning it’s partially online, partially on campus. The on-campus visits are in an accelerated format—intensive courses in the tools and experience you’ll need to be successful in the online portion.
The curriculum is set up to adhere to a particular schedule, although it does provide the flexibility to continue in your professional work. You’ll learn UX design and concepts on your own, and then later apply them to a real-world capstone project. You’ll work alongside fellow students for a client who truly relies on your education and expertise to make a difference in their business.
The application process is equally extensive, calling for transcripts, a statement of purpose, resume, letters of recommendation, and a work portfolio. If you don’t yet have a professional portfolio, you can send GRE scores instead. Students leave the program well-equipped, well-connected, and ready for the professional world.
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
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The Indiana University/Purdue University in Indianapolis is a joint university that offers a singularly impactful Master of Science in human-computer interaction. This program defines this connection, predominantly, as user experience design. The 36 credit hour program is research-focused and ultimately teaches students how to enhance the growing engagement people have with technology.
During your two years of study, you develop expertise on “the internet of things.” Keeping all of our devices interconnected calls for exceptional user design, and IUPUI builds this understanding through a human-focus. It’s very hands-on, bringing research to light with projects exploring social computing and design-methods alongside industry leaders.
The program recommends electives like interface design for business innovation and informatics research design, but they also open it up to other possibilities. Health informatics, data science, game design, digital media, and video production are areas that all offer electives that can fit into the overall degree.
You have some say in how it all wraps up. A capstone project involves two sections of professional practice. You can also choose to complete a traditional thesis. The emphasis on this degree is the human aspect of the computer relationship. You’ll enter the workforce with a network of alumni behind you who understand the importance of continued enhancement in our experience with devices.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
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Michigan State University also presents its human-computer interaction focus through a Master of Arts. The program’s focus is on interactive design for a human experience and the importance of information architecture for designing it. Classes will explore interaction design, user research, and HCI theories of media and technology. Human Computer interaction courses look at the experience through everything from traditional media and networked environments to mobile computing and virtual environments .
To truly get the hands-on human experience, project experience is integral to the success of the program. In total, there are 30 credit hours required of the program. Half of these need to be at or above the 800-level. This leaves plenty of opportunity to explore other elective options of your choosing.
Gamers, rejoice! Many of the opportunities within this degree are focused on game design. You can even opt for a certificate in Serious Game Design and Research. It only requires three courses: Theories of Games and Interaction for Design, Understanding Users and Foundations of Serious Games.
SUNY College at Oswego
Oswego, New York
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At SUNY College at Oswego, those with a passion for design and technology can fuse the two with a Master of Arts in human-computer interaction. You aren’t restricted to a once-a-year application timeline. Students enjoy the flexibility of rolling admission and start dates throughout the year, starting you on your course to a master’s when you’re ready.
The program itself offers its own elements of flexibility. You can choose from the typical thesis or project tracks, but there’s a third option. The professional track also requires 33 credit hours, but builds in business courses to prepare you for professional roles. The project track gives you hands-on experience while the thesis track prepares you to immediately step into a role. All tracks take two years to complete.
Communication technologies are at the core of this program. You’ll explore methods of computer science and graphic design and how they are integral to creating software for websites, apps, and games. A few of these required classes are in graphical user interfaces, software design, and contemporary topics in HCI. Electives span other topics like conceptual science, web design, artificial intelligence, and systems simulation.
To apply, your package needs to include transcripts, a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. It’s recommended to submit GRE scores. It’s expected that you have upheld at least a 3.0 GPA in prior coursework.
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Stanford’s School of Engineering offers several different areas of concentration for their Master’s in Computer Science, including human-computer interaction. During your first quarter of study, the program expects you to have completed courses in logic, probability, algorithmic analysis, and principles of computer systems. These courses help to pave the way for lessons in UX design.
Design Thinking for User Experience Design, Prototyping & Evaluation, for example, is one of the classes that will help teach you how to optimize the experience for nearly any user. Courses outside of the computer science major will also help round out these concepts. Students have the opportunity to enroll in art, history, design, mechanical engineering, and psychology to improve their thinking for designing user experiences.
The focus here is the user. Stanford’s program highlights collaboration and visualization of human-computer interaction throughout the spectrum of massive computer screens to the virtually invisible.
Stanford’s program and efforts as a whole are anything but invisible. The staff here, like professor James Landay, are active within the industry. The podcast The Future of Everything is released by the Stanford School of Engineering. As its name suggests, it often tackles the ways that technological advancements will further, and ideally improve, the human experience.
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At Drexel, you’ll build on topics of human-computer relations while also looking into how systems can be designed to maximize user experience. The program is aptly called human-computer interaction & user experience (MSI-HCI/UX), which is part of the Master of Science in Information (MSI). Collaboration with MSI students and related departments builds a strong community of peers with similar principles.
The MSI-HCI/UX involves eight courses that develop the foundation and core of the work, plus five electives and a final capstone project. Coursework will guide you through everything from user design for social and collaborative systems to data analysis skills and ethics training. The capstone can be completed either by conducting research or a “production-oriented” project.
Drexel is an outstanding place to learn these progressive concepts. Attendance here provides access to research labs and internships with impressive partners in the arts, healthcare, and industry. You can also hone into your specific interests and career goals through a certificate in human-computer interaction & user experience, applied data science, or computational data.
Carnegie Mellon University
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Carnegie Mellon holds the superlative of the “longest-running and most impactful Master of Human-Computer Interaction in the world.” As educators that recognized the increasing reliance humans have on computers, this degree prepares students to become professionals in the field.
To be a true professional, your understanding of technology has to be as heavily focused on computers as it does on humans. As a result, this program teaches cognitive psychology and behavioral science in conjunction with computer science. All of this is taught by faculty who are seasoned professionals in the field.
The program kicks off with seven core classes. These courses explore foundational methodology of HCI. The interdisciplinary aspect follows as students choose elective courses to fulfill the requirement. There’s no specific number of credits necessary, but students need to complete a minimum of five electives to graduate.
The options of electives span various industries. Some notable favorites are in art, architecture, and psychology. The opportunity to choose electives helps to customize your education towards your specific career goals. The capstone is a shared experience among students. It’s a hands-on project working with an external client using research ability and design to produce results. This is part of the curriculum, and spans seven months.
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At Rice University, you can earn your Master of Human-Computer Interaction & Human Factors. Students of this program explore many ways that the relationship between human and computer is integral to the success of our civilization. Voting, driving, and healthcare are just a few primary examples of how we, as humans, put our faith in computing to make our decisions, store our data, and keep us safe.
You’ll learn about human attention and memory, dive into the study of speech and reading, and explore human behavior in the workforce. You’ll also take courses in artificial intelligence, usability, and other computer applications in relation to psychology.
The format is full-time and it takes two years to complete the necessary training in research and application. This program is presented through the Department of Psychological Sciences proving just how important it is to monitor the human side of computer interaction. Of course, it still heavily pertains to computer technology.
Rice University is based in Houston, Texas, where this human-computer relationship flourishes. The city is home to the world’s largest medical center, Texas Medical Center, and NASA’s Mission Control, to which astronauts report both problems and successes. These out-of-this-world advancements in technology serve as strong examples to students of just how far we’ve gone, and how far there is to go. Furthermore, Rice maintains relationships with these institutions, opening the door to possible internships and careers to graduates.
MIT Media Lab
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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is practically synonymous with technological advancements. Programs here aren’t just intended to educate students, but the students are held to a standard of developing breakthroughs that enhance the human experience. The Media Lab, in particular, is devoted to purposeful research.
The Media Lab, ultimately, is for people who want to find ways that new technologies can transform our lives. To enter the program, you first opt for the research group that fits your goals best. It’s about exploring how connections between several fields can birth beautiful ideas. Essentially, it’s the ideal place to explore human-computer interaction.
Classes explore how to engineer interactive technologies, multimodal user interfaces, and interactive data visualization. Seminars are important, drawing on expertise from successful and devoted members of the field. Inherently, research groups help to push your exploration further and bring you to the apex of an emerging technology.
The program is called “Media Arts and Sciences,” and allows you to take your interest in human-computer interaction and give it legs. You design prototypes for software based on existing technology and developing theories. Most importantly, you’ll be part of an international team of researchers devoted to the same common cause.
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DePaul University offers a traditional Master of Human-Computer Interaction in a non-traditional way. Though it still covers the range of disciplines necessary to become a successful professional, the program is strongly rooted in user research, interactive design, and prototype development. Unlike most others, it can also be completed entirely online.
The three pertinent disciplines involved are computer science, graphic design, and the social sciences. Courses covering the computer science element include Statistics and Data Analysis, Foundations of Human-Computer Interaction, Information Architecture and Content Strategy. You encounter these classes throughout introductory, foundational, and advanced sections.
An example of graphic design courses include Web Site Design for HCI, Introduction to User-Centered Design, and Digital Design. Psychological theory inherently crops up throughout many classes. It helps to illustrate the way that decisions based in theory and translated through design improve the end-user experience.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, offering four start-dates throughout the year. The program breeds successful UX Designers. The school reports that it took six months or less for 93% of 2017 HCI graduates to find a role or an advanced program to continue education.
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Tufts University is known to exist on the cutting edge of technology. They have several programs that help to advance our human relationship with advancing technology. The Master of Science in Human Factors Engineering falls in line for students looking to learn about engineering psychology or ergonomics.
Ideally, students with a background in math and science will enter this program equipped for what comes next. Courses include Human Machine Systems Design, Inventive Design, Behavioral Statistics for Engineering, and Visualization. You can opt to choose the thesis track, or you can take professional development credits as a capstone.
This program also presents the opportunity to earn a certificate in human-computer interaction. It requires four additional courses. Introduction to Engineering Psychology or Human Factors and Human Computer Interaction are both mandatory. The last pair of classes can be chosen from options including Human-Machine System Design, Computer Interface Design, and Human Factors in Product Design.
Tufts has also taken the traditional study of computers and evolved it into something with a more human face. The MS in computer science: human-robot interaction combines computer and mechanical engineering with sociology, psychology, and philosophy to see what makes these connections work and how they will evolve over time. It’s easy to foresee how much more prevalent human-computer interactions are going to become, and both of these programs put you in position to be part of this landscape.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, New York
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Desktops are now practically antiques. The new ways we use technology introduce vast new ways in which we interact with it. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction is all about emerging technologies, and even affords you the opportunity to learn online.
Interactive computing takes two to tango. Both human experience and program design are essential to successful interaction. Every student in the program begins with core courses covering fundamentals concepts and methods of HCI. The program builds from this foundation with two required courses in application domain, program electives, and a final project.
You can fulfill the applications domain option however suits you best. Available topics cover eLearning technologies, geographic information science and technology, smart device application design and development, and web development. Electives help to further individualize your experience. These can touch on everything from biomedical informatics to geographic visualization–and plenty in between.
The program wraps up with your choice of a capstone project or a thesis. If you choose the thesis option, you’ll devote your entire second year of study to this. The capstone option involves hands-on experience designing a solution to a problem and presenting the outcome, in addition to an elective. The program can be self-paced, but you must finish the program within seven years.
If you’re interested in pursuing higher education, then you should check out The 20 Best Masters in Educational Technology and The 20 Best Online Masters in Information Technology Programs!