So You’re Thinking About Going Back To School” – Part 2
Reality 9 years ago No Comments


contributed by Maike C., RID, LEED AP BD+C [design consultant / twenty-something / blogger]

EDITOR’S NOTE: Haven’t read PART 1 of this cautionary tale” Then do so quickly because we’re going to jump right in…

Time’s A Tickin’

grad_school-2.gifSo you’ve done your research and decided which schools you’re applying to – what next” The application process itself is comparable to the TBAE application process, so be forewarned. Most schools will require at the minimum: an online application, GRE scores, statement of intent / objectives, transcripts from ALL post-secondary schools you have taken a course in, three letters of recommendations (from employers or instructors), an application fee (typically $50-75), and a portfolio* showcasing your work. Many schools also require an additional application to the department or other school-specific records or forms.

The application process is one that should not be rushed. Give yourself a solid month to do a stellar job. As I’m writing this article, I am actually in the application process again. (More on this later.) It’s a stressful process because there’s so much to coordinate, but it’s just like any design project. After all, design is only 5% design and 95% coordination and execution, right” Try to keep that in mind.

After completing the application process, there’s a 3-4 month wait before you get your results, much like the NCIDQ Exam. So shift your focus on something else because there is no point in worrying for the next 3-4 months. Many applicants actually get overwhelmed by the application process and never submit their applications, so congratulations on getting this far!

*Portfolio Flow

A quick note regarding your portfolio, which is an integral part of your application process…

The key to a successful portfolio is to keep it simple, concise, and organized. Remember that most schools have hundreds of applicants every year but will generally accept 20-40 students per incoming year. The admissions committee does not have time to flip through a 50-page portfolio with complicated diagramming and crazy colors!

Even if a school does not specify portfolio requirements, the general rule of thumb is a bound portfolio of no bigger than 8.5”x11” with a maximum 12-pages of material [not including cover, table of contents, etc.]. Label every project [project name, studio name, studio semester, media type, mediums used, project size, physical size, etc.], keep all pages running in the same orientation [portrait or landscape], and keep the portfolio design uniform.

The portfolio itself is another design project, and how you choose to execute it also showcases your abilities. When you are done with your portfolio, I recommend having a non-design friend look over it to see if it makes sense. If a project is hard to understand, you may reconsider including it. The review committee at every school is different and may not always comprise of departmental faculty. Make sure the projects you choose can be universally understood.

Congratulations Grad Student!

Hopefully you got in to your top picks of schools and are excited to start school. Now, let me share my story with you:

I was accepted into a California school that seemed too good to be true, but I was anxious to get back into school and didn’t think twice about my situation. The school I attended is the largest private design school in the United States. That should have been the giveaway. They were an all-for-profit school and enrollment grew so much that they had to change the name of the school from “College” to “University”.

The Architecture Department was in its 5th year and disorganized beyond belief. The instructors were amazing and genuinely were there for the students’ education. The administration, however, had dollar signs in their eyes.

To be honest, I was miserable during the two semesters that I spent there. The director of the department had a personal problem with Interior Design backgrounds and made my life less than enjoyable. So instead of spending the rest of my graduate career in frustration, I decided to take the year off, move back to Texas, and reassess my goals.

I realized that I still want to complete my Master of Architecture, and I now know what to look for in a school. I am currently applying to four schools in California, Massachusetts, and Washington.

So if you ask me if I regret this past year, I will tell you, “No.” My experience with this school may have been my greatest nightmare and California may have permanently broken my bank account, but I had the opportunity to meet some amazing instructors and classmates.

With Every Ending Comes A New Beginning

The moral of my story is this: Don’t get too comfortable in anything that you do. And don’t be afraid to realize when you’re stuck in a bad situation and to know when to get out and start over. Don’t let other people make you feel bad about wanting to get out. This investment is for you, and you alone know what is good for you. And if you meet a department head that thinks Architects should only study architecture and nothing else, it may be time to move on.

The best designers out there are the ones who are open-minded and are able to take in all facets of life and incorporate it into their design. Architecture and Interior Design cannot exist without the other and anybody who tells you otherwise is in need of an intervention. Everything will work out in the end, even if you can’t see a resolution at hand.

Oh, by the way, that school just lost their NAAB accreditation. See, everything DOES work itself out! Remember to enjoy yourself and laugh [at the most inappropriate times]. Graduate school is a time where students get to dictate the work that they do and what they want to learn. Don’t let anybody take that experience away from you.