PhD Program Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to have GRE scores?
Yes. Everyone who applies for the HCII PhD program MUST have taken the GRE General Test. If necessary, unofficial scores can be accepted at the time of application, but the official score record must be supplied prior to final admission.

Do I have to take the GRE subject test?
No. Applicants are not required to submit a GRE advanced subject exam score.

Do I have to take the TOEFL?
The TOEFL is required for students whose native language is NOT English. We cannot guarantee that your application will be considered without it.

What is the recommended TOEFL score?
A successful applicant will normally have a total iBT score of at least 100 with no subscore less than 25. Applicants may be admitted with slightly lower scores in exceptional circumstances.

How high do my GRE scores need to be?
Most of our students have GRE scores near the 90 percentiles, and in general that is what we expect to see among our students. However, we do not preclude people based on low GRE scores. If there is a good explanation and/or we have other reliable data to indicate that it does not matter, then we can (and have) ignored poor scores. For example, there are historical cases of admitted students with scores under the 60 percentile (but not many).

I’m only applying to the HCII at Carnegie Mellon. Is that a good idea?
No. If you are serious about doing PhD-level research in HCI you should apply to other good HCI programs. (See Our resources are limited and we are forced to turn away some very good students each year.

What are my chances of getting in?
For the fall 2013 term, we admitted just over seven percent of applicants. Our historical admittance rates hover between five and 10 percent.

I don’t have a strong programming background. May I still apply? Will I have to take a lot of programming courses?
We expect and encourage applicants from a wide range of HCI-related backgrounds, including technical, social science and design fields. While it is important for HCI researchers to have some understanding of the technical aspects of their work, and at least one technical course will be needed in your program of study, we do not expect all  applicants to have strong programming or other technical skills.

Should I visit before I apply (and will that help my chances of being admitted)?
Typically, no. We normally do not encourage people to visit before they apply because it does not generally improve one’s chances of admission. We do, however, invite all admitted students to visit at our expense during our Open House in March. The Open House provides the opportunity to meet with faculty and current students, and to explore the university environment.

Can I apply for admission starting in the spring instead of the fall?
No. We only process admissions once a year. Applications are accepted in December for admission the following fall.

Can I work on my PhD in HCI part time?
No. We expect all our students to work full time on their PhD studies for the duration of their time with us.

Is financial aid available?
Yes. Exact details of our financial aid package will be spelled out at the time of admission. We do, however, intend to provide full support (including tuition and a stipend) for all students so long as they remain in good standing within the program.

Do I need to fill out an application for financial aid?
No. All students admitted to our program receive aid without applying.

Should I apply for externally funded fellowships (such as the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship?)
Yes. All PhD students are required to apply for at least one fellowship before they graduate. Students interested in the learning sciences should consider applying to the Program for Interdisciplinary Education Research.

I just finished my undergraduate work. Should I apply for the Masters of HCI program first as preparation for my PhD work?
The MHCI program is not intended to serve as preparation for our PhD program (or generally to prepare you to be a researcher). It is intended to teach the skills necessary for professional practice in various HCI-related careers. The PhD program, on the other hand, is designed to prepare you to be an HCI researcher. Because of the different emphasis of each program, applying to the MHCI program with intention to later move to the PhD program is normally not a good idea.

If I am not accepted for the HCII PhD program, will I be automatically considered for admission to the Masters of HCI program instead?
No. Because each program has different educational goals, their admissions processes are separate and people are not moved from one to the other. As noted in the previous question, the two programs are designed to address different goals. Therefore, we normally don’t expect students to apply to both the MHCI and PhD programs.

How many students are currently in the program?
Approximately 40.

If you have questions that are not answered here or on the applyweb (online application) website, send inquiries to hciiphd [at]