5 TIPS ON HOW TO DEVELOP THE BEST ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL PORTFOLIO
By Architecture School Review Staff
If you are planning to apply to Masters of Architecture programs this fall, you have about 9 months left until you reach the dreadful month of December. When you hit December 10, your architecture school portfolios should be 100% ready, your architecture school essays should be triple checked, and your recommenders should have already agreed to recommend you by the deadline.
The time between now and December 10, is extremely valuable, and it goes by too fast. In fact, most of our students here at Architecture School Review have this problem. No matter how old, mature, or organized they are, they always get frustrated at some point by the amount of work ahead, which in most cases causes them to switch to â€œprocrastination modeâ€.
EXCUSES WILL NOT BUILD A COMPETITIVE ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL PORTFOLIO
â€œI will get started with the portfolio as soon as I am done with schoolâ€… Then, they are done with school, and you hear â€œI will get started as soon as I am back from a quick vacation – I have to refill my batteries after all, donâ€™t I?â€ Then they are back, and two weeks later you hear â€œmy friend is getting married in North Carolina and I HAVE to go. I will begin working on the architecture school portfolio as soon as I am back. Donâ€™t you fret though, because I am taking my sketchbook with me and I will be doing work constantly. Iâ€™ll be working on the plane, in the taxi, on the beach, on the kitchen-table, in front of the TV – Any chance I get, I promise I will work and work and work â€¦.â€.
Then they get back, and lo and behold, there is not a single sketch in their pad, not a single new idea in their head, and plenty more stress clouding their mind. 90% of the time we manage to prevent this from happening of course, by telling the architecture school applicants that we coach the truth, which is that while they are hiking, dancing or swimming, their competitors, some of whom have much better records and architecture school portfolio content to begin with, are working tirelessly, day and night, trying to make sure that they do not waste any opportunity to improve their portfolios, or develop their architecture school essays a bit more.
The truth is tough to bear for many, but the fact of the matter is that just for this year, no serious architecture school candidate should waste a second. You literally have to Â dedicate every last second to your application. Part of the reason is that â€œYou Never Knowâ€
1. YOU DO NOT KNOW THE COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE UNTIL THE RACE IS OVER
First of all, YOU NEVER KNOW how good your competitors are in this particular year. Since 2002, the level of competition at some of the most popular programs has fluctuated enormously according to many admissions officers that we have spoken with.
This fluctuation is completely random. There are years when it just so happens that the most talented people from all over the world have for some reason decided to apply to your favorite architecture school. This is particularly true in the case of well known, highly-ranked programs, like Harvard Graduate School of Design, Yale School of Architecture, Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, MIT School of Architecture and Planning, Cornell School of Architecture, Art and Planning, and many others.
Usually, this effect is transferred to other, less popular programs as well. It is not unlikely to see a huge spike in competitiveness at schools like Washington University in Saint Louis College of Architecture for example, or the Rhode Island School of Design, or Prattâ€™s School of Architecture, or even schools like the School of Architecture and Design at the New York Institute of Technology, simply because the same pool of super-competitive students, has decided to apply to many lower-tier universities in an effort to a) secure an acceptance, and b) get as much merit-based financial aid as possible to pay for their overpriced architectural education.
One of course may say, no problem, all I have to do is avoid these years. The problem is of course that no one knows when or where this spike in competitiveness will take place.
2. OTHERS MAY GET LAZY – USE IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
YOU NEVER KNOW how BAD the candidates will be. Yes, there are years, when the guy with a 2.8 GPA makes it to Columbia GSAPP, and you are sitting there and wondering how this ever happened. The answer is that he or she (letâ€™s say she) worked her tail off on whatever she could control during the last few months, and this sacrifice paid off, because combined with a year of low competitive levels, it allowed them to stand out and make it to some of the best schools in the country. It all happened while others were procrastinating.
3. EVEN IF YOU DECIDE NOT TO GO TO A TOP 10, GETTING INTO A SECOND TIER ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL IS NOT AS EASY AS IT SOUNDS
Letâ€™s say that you either have low expectations of yourself, so all you care about is making it to a top 30 school, which you consider to be relatively easy, because you have a 3.9 GPA (this never happens of course, because people with 3.9 GPAs are in my experience usually the most driven and the ones with the highest expectations.) First of all, top 20 or top-30 universities are in many cases equally competitive, and often more competitive that some of the top 5 architecture schools. This happens for a few reasons, including the fact that some architecture schools are much more affordable and yet offer an excellent architectural education to some really good architecture students, or that they are primarily serving people from a specific geographical area. For example, UC Berkeley School of Environmental Design (Berkeleyâ€™s School of Architecture), which has appeared in ranking tables at number 11, or 13, is consistently more competitive than a school like Cornellâ€™s School of Architecture, Art and Planning, even though Cornell School of Architecture has been ranked in the top 5 for the past few years.
The reason is that UC Berkeley School of Environmental Design combines all the factors mentioned above. (a) It is an excellent school. (b) It has a great and prestigious name to go with it, (c) It is much more affordable than Cornell School of Architecture, (d) as a State school in California, it gets much more affordable for Â local residents, which means that Californianâ€™s tend to prefer it to schools in the North-East. (e) Geographically, people from the middle to the west of the United States prefer it because it is closer to them. (f) People from other states like it too, because by living in California for about a year they can establish residency, and can also claim the local discount – plus, it is actually affordable (relatively) to begin with. Finally, letâ€™s not forget that it is located in the second trendiest city in the US after New York. San Francisco is a large and exciting city, full of opportunities for jobs and fun. Ithaca (where Cornell is located) with all its charm (a lake, hills, waterfalls, etc), mostly appeals to the â€œover-50â€ demographic, not your average Architecture school candidate.
4. THE BEST FINANCIAL AID PACKAGES GO TO VERY FEW ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL CANDIDATES
All Architecture Schools reserve their financial aid for about 7% of the accepted students. This means that, for example, in the case of Columbia GSAPP, where acceptance rates are about 5%, less than half a percentage point of the total pool of applicants receives any financial aid. Therefore there is no guarantee that you will receive a financial aid package, unless you really stand out. Now, winning the top financial aid packages, like the MIT Presidential fellowship is the toughest, which means that you had better present yourself as if you are an excellent candidate.
5. HOW GOOD ARE YOU?
Finally, donâ€™t you want to know how good you really are? When was the last time that you heard Mike Phelps take even one day off in the year prior to the Olympics? Even a day counts. This is a race, and everybody has an equal chance.
So, forget about vacations, apologize to your friends, sell your tickets, and trade your sunglasses for pencils and sketch pads, because you have a lotta work to do!