HCDE: the elusive engineering major

HCDE stands for Human Centered Design & Engineering. Cool, huh?

tl;dr — I was in a research group a quarter before I applied, I love people, got A LOT of help with the writing, was stressed & tired, was super busy, had some extra stuff going on in terms of extracurriculars, my grades were pretty ok. ALWAYS ASK FOR HELP! 👋

The Beginning / How did you find HCDE?
The short answer: I came into UW wanting to study architecture, but I found that it wasn’t really my passion. A friend found HCDE and suggested I look into it.

The long answer: After spending two quarters in architecture classes, I took a break from the architecture classes (because I didn’t think I was a very good fit). I took a couple of random classes, which included CSE 142 (the intro Java class at UW). I spent the summer working on campus and in the last month, my friend told me about HCDE and I registered for an introductory HCDE class.

Why did you choose HCDE?
I read the department’s description and thought it would be a good fit for me! I liked the idea of working for people by listening to and empathizing with them. 
I decided to pursue the major, but I wouldn’t know if I got in until after I applied (more on this later!).

How did you get in? (generally what I tell people)
I applied for Spring admissions in November of 2015 and heard back in February 2016. I asked for feedback on essays, had all of my pre-requisites done, and participated in a research group. I wrote about my experience in HCDE 210 (Introduction to HCDE) and the research group.

Behind the scenes (a lot more details)
For my essays, I asked about 5 friends to review my essays, went to workshops on campus, and talked to HCDE faculty and the adviser for tips. I had a close friend who helped me write and helped me manage my stress. I also happened to be working on another essay for a scholarship that was due in the same week (that I didn’t get, darn).

I was pretty familiar with the principle of HCDE, which is key in writing the essay. I talked a lot (like, A LOT) with the HCDE adviser, Alex Llapitan, and HCDE 210 professor, Andy Davidson, to get the best understanding of what HCDE actually meant. To me, HCDE meant helping people get access to information, making things usable, and understanding how people interact with technology.

I wrote about my research, what I learned, and how my interest in the research topic motivated me to better understand people. I asked for so much critical feedback and refined the essays until two hours before the deadline. I couldn’t afford to not get into this major and did everything in my power to get in.

🔑🔑🔑 MAJOR KEY ALERT 🔑🔑🔑
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from anyone ESPECIALLY if they offer it to you. Most of the time/in my case, I’m offering my assistance because I want to help you! There’s no point in being shy/being scared of people judging your writing because someone on the admissions committee is going to be reading it (and better I/we read it first and offer revisions before them).

Outside of class: orchestra (off the record/not on my transcript), working 7hrs/week (I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds up), quartet rehearsals, managing/creating a website (bless Wordpress) for a research group, & *trying* to keep a social life.

Left: coffee meme my friend made for me. Right: Quartet!!!!

I was extremely stressed during the two (three?) weeks leading up to these deadlines. I was taking 18-credits, commuting, going to late-night tutoring sessions while watching the clock before the last bus home left campus. Generally, my day started at 7:30am (or at 8am depending on whether I hit snooze or not) to catch a bus to make it to an 9:30 class, and I didn’t make it back home until about 11pm. Almost every night that quarter, I passed out on my desk until I woke up at 4 or 5am and just crawled into bed to catch about 3 hours of sleep in bed. (s/o to Google Calendar for keeping me on top of things!!!!)

Left: a calmer week, month before finals. Right: finals week!!

My cumulative GPA was at a 3.48.
My grades for the pre-reqs, CSE 142, MATH 124, an English class, and a stats class:

  • CSE 142: subpar. Message me if you need details…
  • MATH 124: got AP credit; I later took MATH 125 (not my favorite, sorry!)
  • ENGL 131: got a 4.0!!! woop
  • STAT 311: got AP credit for this, too

This admissions cycle took around 30% of the applicants, but the next (Fall) cycle took only 11~12%. When I got the admissions email, I screamed in Red Square and I had to stop and take a moment for myself.

One of the best emails I’ve ever received!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I guess, the point of this whole story is that people don’t really talk about everything they do to get into this major and often times that leads to a false sense of security. There’s a lot more to my story than I mention in passing when people ask me about getting into my major.

I hope this helps shed some light on what I had going for me and what I went through!