Saturday, September 24, 2016

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.


Fall has just begun, but you have already started researching your college choice; but how do you best learn about an institution and its architecture program?  Yes, you can visit websites, but they are impersonal and sometimes difficult to find what you want to know.  You can request information from the program directly, but the materials you receive may be more “sales” oriented.  And, while a website like is extremely helpful, it still lacks the personal connection.  Often overlooked, the best method may be to visit one of the career day/college fairs in architecture held throughout the country.

While many high schools host annual college fairs, these events do not focus specifically on the discipline of architecture; even if an attending institution has a program in architecture, the representative may not have any direct knowledge on the program. However, there are a few annual events (see list below) that are the answer.

Typically held in the fall, the Career Days/College Fairs focused on architecture is a great opportunity for you to learn more about pursuing a degree in architecture.  You can interact with representatives of the program and ask specific questions (see examples below); you will connect with faculty, program administrators, and possibly alumni and students of the program.  You can obtain a much better insight to a program through this connection by having a personal conversation.

During these architecture specific events, you can visit with between 35-50 programs in architecture allowing you to connect with more schools in a single day.  Granted, these events may not be near where you live, but the investment in time and travel may be worth the cost.

Aside from connecting with the programs, these events will often provide workshops on selecting a school, career options, and financing your education.  Some may have a keynote speaker who is an architect that provides you some insight on the discipline of architecture.

 Thus, while there are many different ways to learn about architecture programs, one of the best ways is attending one of the Career Days in Architecture this fall.  If you wish to become an architect, start you research by attending Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, or Dallas.

Questions to Ask School Representatives
About the School
What is the setting? Rural, Urban, Suburban?
What financial aid/scholarships are available?
What support services are available for students with special needs?
What degree(s)/major(s) do you offer?
How does your school assist students with post-graduation plans?

About the Academic Unit
What is special or unique about your program?
Does the program offer hands-on and/or workplace experience as part of the curriculum?
Do you have a graduate program?
What kind of professional experience does your faculty have?
Are there opportunities for foreign study?

Boston Career Day – Boston Society of Architects
Boston, MA - Saturday, September 24, 2016 – 10:00am – 2:00pm
BSA Space, 290 Congress St., Suite 200, Boston, MA

Chicago Architecture + Design College Day – Harold Washington College
Chicago, IL - Saturday, October 15, 2016 – 10:00am – 1:00pm

New York Architecture & Design College Fair – Center for Architecture
New York, NY – Friday, November 4, 2016 – 4:00 – 7:00pm

Philadelphia Design College Day – Temple University
Philadelphia, PA - Saturday, November 12, 2016 – 11:00am – 2:00pm

AIA Dallas – 2B an Architect 2017 – Latino Cultural Center
Dallas, TX – Saturday, February 18, 2017 – 1:00 – 4:00pm