Friday, January 14, 2011

Paying for an Architectural Education

First I want to say that I own your book and it has been very helpful! I have always known that I want to be an architect but I made the bold choice of majoring in Art History & Visual Culture (Studio Art minor) as an undergrad at an expensive college because it is something I am also passionate about and I didn't think I was ready for architecture school right after high school. I now know that I want to pursue architecture but my question for you concerns money...

I am currently in my third year of undergrad and I already have a tremendous amount of student loan. Do you recommend that I pay this debt off before applying to grad school for architecture? OR do you recommend that I just pursue my dream now, and aim for grad school right after i graduate (and possibly accumulate more debt)? 

I am currently working 30 hours a week (with school full time), but I will still have a lot of debt when I graduate. My undergrad GPA is also kind of low because of personal problems during my first year, which concerns me in terms of getting scholarships. I have read that it isn't really possible to work and attend architecture school. Is this true? Is there a way I can attend and pay for architecture school even though I'm already in a ton of student debt?
With due respect, decisions where finances are involved are best left for experts on money, of which I am not one.  However, I will provide some insights.

First, there is actually more financial aid in the way of merit-based scholarships, research or teaching assistantships, etc available at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level.  When contacting graduate architecture programs be sure to inquire about what they have available and how you apply.  For example, with your Art History degree, you may be a perfect candidate to be a TA for the Architectural History courses that a program offers.  During my graduate studies, I was an out-of-state student, but out-of-state tuition was waived because of my academics and the assistantship I received almost covered my full tuition; all I paid was living expenses and books.  I had almost little debt from my graduate studies.

Also, inquire about continuing scholarships and award programs that a program may have; where I work now, we provide almost 500K to new and continuing students.

As for working and attending school at the same time -- it is possible, but it depends on the program, where it is located and if positions are available; plus, what impact with working have on your academics.  I once had a former student who worked about 30-40 hours as a shift manager at a fast-food restaurant because he could work nights and attend school during he day, but his time towards work meant less time for studies.  Almost needless to say, his academics suffered.

In addition to merit-based financial aid, be sure to be in touch with the Office of Financial Aid at each school about need based aid.  This may increase your debt, but you must decide how much you can take on and whether it is worth it.

Finally, be honest about your academics from your first year.  Many programs only truly look at your last 60 credit hours.  Any aid you receive may be more based on your portfolio and letters along with your transcript that a course during your freshmen year.

Best to you and feel free to contact with more questions if you wish.
Dr. Architecture

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