Whether it is an HCI program, political science, or any other major, college admissions are competitive. One reason is that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrollment increased from 35% in 2000 to 41% in 2018. From 2000 to 2010, enrollment increased at 2-year and 4-year schools; however, it declined 3% from 2010 to 2018 at 2-year institutions.  Conversely, there was a 3% increase in enrollment (from 28-31%) at 4-year colleges and universities during the same period.

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The more elite schools, like Ivy Leagues, can be very selective in their admissions. Also, the requirements are typically more stringent – with higher GPAs and SAT scores needed. Schools like Harvard can set the sights high for first-year students. Forbes magazine reported in 2015 that about half of Harvard’s admissions are for academic potential. About 20% are recruited for athletics, and 12% to 13% are sons and daughters of alumni. Another criterion for acceptance is money. The rich and famous may attend, particularly if the parents endow a building or equipment.

In 2017, 37,268 students applied to Penn State: 3,787 accepted.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reported in 2019 that approximately 66% of first-year applicants receive an admission offer. About 80% of colleges accept 50% or more students. From the latter statistic, it seems plausible that your chances of acceptance are 50/50. Not favorable odds! Flagship state schools had acceptance rates (most recent data: 2017) as follows:

  • Stanford:  4.7%
  • University of Southern California:  16%
  • Georgetown:  15.7%
  • University of California-Los Angeles:  16.1%
  • University of Michigan:  26.2%
  • Virginia Tech:  70.1%
  • George Mason University:  81.3%
  • Quinnipiac University:  73.9%

As you see, acceptance varies considerably. These percentages may decline with expanding applications- 4.9 million in 2002 and 10.2 million in 2017. You may query – if the applicants rise, don’t the admissions keep pace? No. Taking institutions that accept 50-59.9% of applicants, there was an increase of 123.7% in applications and only an 89.1% increase in undergrad admissions.

Clearly, from the above statistics, colleges and universities are a competitive environment. How do you elevate your chances of acceptance? One way is to apply to several schools – the consensus is six to eight schools after narrowing your list from about 12 to 15. Research each school’s admission requirements to see if it’s realistic to obtain an offer. If your SAT or GPA does not meet the requirement, then eliminate that one. Grades are just one component; what else will help your cause? Letters of recommendation, extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, high school class difficulty, and a personal statement are essential.

What about HCI programs?question

We’ve established the competitive nature of learning institutions and the admission obstacles. HCI is a multidisciplinary field comprised of psychology, cognitive science, computer science, information technology, mathematics, programming languages, and more.  To be more competitive, begin your quest during high school by taking calculus, statistics, probability, and mathematics. If some of these are not available, self-study might be a consideration. Students will encounter algorithms, mathematical foundations in computer science, calculus, regression analysis, and data science at the bachelor’s degree level. The curriculum at Carnegie Mellon’s Bachelor of Science in HCI affords a representation of courses.

Some students earn a baccalaureate in computer science or computer engineering and then proceed to a master’s in HCI. If you opt for the former, there are classes in algebra and statistics and many covering programming, data mining, networking, and software engineering. To demonstrate your passion for these subjects, a background in them may catch the admission staff’s eye. Educational psychologists recommend parents to encourage the interest in childhood using electronic games and computer usage. Some students outside of formal schooling take classes in elementary school to use a basic language like Scratch. Individuals well beyond elementary school can still catch up by enrolling in evening or weekend computer-related courses. Volunteer work and school clubs might be another avenue to pursue learning opportunities.

Computer science (CS) programs, of which HCI is a member, are highly competitive. Carnegie Mellon, mentioned above, accepts 22% overall, but only 5% into their CS program. The University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign takes 62% overall, but only 15% into CS. A strong foundation in math, science, computer science, robotics, and software, might inflate the number of college offers of acceptance.

You could avoid the competition and opt for a college with 100% acceptance; however, it may not have an HCI program. Examples on this list, according to U.S. News, are Broward College, Dixie State University, Dickinson State University, Glenville State College, Cameron University, Montana State University-Billings, and more.

Additional Resources: 

Top 50 Highest Paying Master’s Degrees

What are the benefits of Human-Computer Interaction? 

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If Human-Computer Interaction is so important, why isn’t the expected job growth better? 

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Can I expect cutting-edge material and programs if I study Human-Computer Interaction? 

What areas outside of programming will I study during an undergraduate degree in Human-Computer Interaction?