Sustainable Design FAQ

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What is “sustainable design”?

In MCAD's Sustainable Design program, we define sustainable design as traditional design (i.e., graphic, industrial/product, services, fashion, furniture, interior, building, urban, etc.) that takes a truly integrated systems thinking perspective. This means balancing the important factors of environment, ethics, and economy in every design. It means designing in a way that is appropriate for the system the design will exist within for its entire life cycle, from raw materials to production to disposal. It means designing with global and positive changes in mind: where the design leads to more opportunities, better conditions, and more innovative solutions, no matter what the design challenge may be.

Who should apply?

Why should I study Sustainable Design online?

Studying sustainable design online allows students to interact with a variety of professionals from diverse areas of the design, business, and government communities through a medium that provides flexibility for students who are balancing education, work, family, and other responsibilities.

Do I need to be a designer to apply?

Absolutely not! In fact, one of the best aspects of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program is that it brings people from traditionally disparate industries and professions together to work toward collective change.

About the program

What are the defining features of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program?

MCAD's Sustainable Design program was designed for emerging and working professionals who practice sustainability in their own work. Our unique program was collaboratively designed by leaders in the field of sustainable design. At the heart of the program lies the goal of helping people create real change now, while generating strategic plans for long-term change.

MCAD’s Sustainable Design Online program was the first sustainable design education program developed for and offered completely online. We continue to be pioneers in online education with our rigorous and accredited program.

Is MCAD’s Sustainable Design Online program accredited?
When does the program start?

Students may start this program in the fall or spring. Find out what the application deadlines are.

How do I apply?

Learn how to apply to the MA in Sustainable Design program.

I have already taken some of the Sustainable Design Online courses before being accepted to the program, will those credits be applied toward the MA degree?

Up to 6 credits from MCAD’s Sustainable Design program may be taken before applying for the program and still be applied to the final credit requirements.

How long do I have to complete the MA degree?

The 36-credit Master of Arts degree must be completed within four years.

About the courses

Can I enroll in just one course?

Students may enroll in singular courses for college credit or non-credit. However, to qualify for MCAD’s Sustainable Design Online certificate and degree programs, students must apply and register for a program and take all courses for credit. You do not need to fill out the application form to enroll in individual courses.

How are classes typically structured?

As students participate from all over the world, our classes are asynchronous. The content of the course will have some due dates throughout the week, but there are no specific meeting times for chatting or commentary, and you may complete and post an assignment any time you wish before the date and time it is due. Topics, discussion, and questions about the week’s material are posted to the discussion board. You can post your comments and questions, and interact with your peers when you’re online. In turn, your classmates and instructor will respond to you when they’re online.

What is Blackboard?

Blackboard is a free of charge web-based learning management system. There is no special software required, aside from a properly-configured web browser (we strongly recommend Firefox). When you go to:, you are “on Blackboard.” Blackboard requires all faculty and students to enter an MCAD-provided login username and password. Users must be enrolled in a course in order to access the corresponding Blackboard classroom.

What does “asynchronous” mean?

Asynchronous means that there’s no specific time for the course to meet. Students choose the time of day they wish to work on projects and interact with classmates via Blackboard.

Are there ever lectures or synchronous classes?

Occasionally a course will have a specific online meeting time. This is strictly up to the individual instructor. More likely, lectures will be recorded and streamed at a later date online.

How often do instructors require paired or group interactions?

This is strictly up to the individual instructor. Several of our upper-level Sustainable Design program courses require collaborative group work to foster and practice innovative and collaborative design.

What is the average class size?

There is a maximum of 18 in a single class.

What is the typical workload of an online course?

Students should expect about 8-10 hours of effort per course per week.

How many courses do I need to take to qualify for financial aid?

Only U.S. citizens enrolled in the MA are eligible for financial aid in the form of Stafford Loans offered by the United Stated Federal Government. Eligible students must take 6 credits (equivalent to two three-credit courses) each semester to qualify for Stafford Loans.

About online learning (e-learning)

I have never taken an e-learning class before. What advice do you have for me to prepare for and succeed at this type of education?

We encourage people that are new to online education to take one of our introductory courses to gain an understanding of what class content is like and what it means to learn online.

I have heard that online classes are less work than traditional classes. Is this true?

Many people have the mistaken impression that online learning will be easier and/or less demanding than traditional in-person classes; this is simply not true. Our online programs are vetted by exactly the same reviews and must meet the same accreditation standards as all U.S. institutions of higher education.

How familiar do I need to be with a computer?

All online students must be very familiar with operating a computer as well as software programs including word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation building programs. Also, students must be familiar with navigating the Internet have access to the Internet throughout the duration of their courses.

About the students

In what ways are the students of the Sustainable Design program diverse?

In a single class you'll have students logging in from around the world; we currently have students from across the US, China, India, and Europe. Aside from cultural differences and geographic location, students represent the various stages of careers, life, and professional disciplines as well.

How will I communicate with my instructors?

Instructors are typically reached via online meeting programs (i.e., Skype, Google Chat), email, or telephone. Most instructors designate “office hours” when they are near to their communication platform of choice, otherwise, they can be reached by scheduling an appointment with them outside of “office hours”.

How much contact will I have with other students?

Sustainable Design program courses take place mainly in Blackboard (MCAD’s online learning website) which is designed to allow students and instructors to interact with one another via email and discussion forums. Depending on your instructor’s expectations, you may be interacting often or very little with your classmates through the “discussion board”, or other mediums, in your class.

I am an international student (live outside the United States). Am I eligible to enroll in the Sustainable Design Online program?

Yes. Our program strives to foster a diverse student body that crosses disciplines, cultures, geographic boundaries, ages, gender, and perspectives. All courses are taught in English. All international students must demonstrate a standard level of proficiency in English (TOEFL). Minimum scores required for admittance to the program are: 550 (paper), 213 (computer), 79 (IBT).