by Aaron Larkin
Based on our latest survey of admissions reviewers, the portfolio carries over 65% of the value of an M.Arch or an MSArch application. In undergraduate programs, portfolios carry over 50% of the overall value. This means that your college gpa, your GRE, your essay, your reference letters and your entire profile, carry 35% to 40% of the overall value of the application. It therefore makes you rethink the entire way of seeing this process of applying to architecture schools.
Having said all this, based on an evaluation of our students from the past 5 years, only the top 7% to 10% of the applicant pool will succeed in gaining admission to schools like Harvard GSD, Columbia GSAPP, MIT SAP, Cornell AAP and Yale (These have been the top 5 M.Arch. schools for years by the way) … Therefore, even if you have the best portfolio this world has ever seen, you probably won’t make it to these schools unless you have a somewhat digestible record from college (for those applying to Masters programs) or from High School (for those applying to undergraduate architecture programs).
To be more specific, let’s begin by setting the minimum standards that these top 5 architecture schools are likely to accept if you have the perfect portfolio:
VALUE OF GPA WHEN APPLYING TO ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL
GPA: In all my years of coaching students I have never seen a student with less than 2.7/4.0 gpa gain admission to a top 5 program. There have been several students with a GPA of less than 3.0, and even a 2.8, who made it to these schools, and some of them even gained fellowships or scholarships. I have also had students with less than 2.5 make it to top 15 and top 20 schools, but based on my experience, if you have less than a 2.7 you can forget it.
VALUE OF THE GRE WHEN APPLYING TO ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL
GRE: My recommendation is that you do your best to get a 150 in both tests. Schools like Columbia GSAPP make it clear from the beginning that they will simply not even allow you to apply if you do not have a minimum of 150 in verbal, and I know for a fact that most other top 5 schools will look very unfavorably at an applicant who has scored less than 150.
VALUE OF ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL STATEMENT OF PURPOSE AND REFERENCE LETTERS
Interestingly enough, based on our research, the statement of purpose and reference letters of architecture school applicants carry around 20% of the value of the application. Based on experience, I also know that in most cases, when working with students, we spend less than 5% of our time on these two elements of the architecture school application, simply because our main concern is the portfolio. Statements of purpose are less time consuming, and their development can stretch over months, so that in the end you do not even notice that you worked on them. Aside from this, embedded in the essays, are the strategy of the entire application, and the theme of the portfolio, which are essential if the applicant wants to build a successful package with a clearm cogent message.
DON’T WORRY! HIERARCHIZE YOUR TASKS BASED ON THE VALUE THEY BRING TO YOUR ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL APPLICATION
So, what am I am telling you here is that you need to hierarchize your tasks, not based on what you think is more important, but based on what actually brings most of the value to your application. The elements that bring the most value per … hour, are the statement of purpose, and the reference letters. Therefore, you should begin by working hard and exclusively on the statement of purpose for a little while, to get your ideas on the table that will allow you to build a good strategy. Then, you can slowly refine the statement until you reach your architecture school application deadline. Secondly, begin approaching your recommenders immediately after your essay is completed. First analyze them, decide who are the best to make an argument that supports what you are saying in the essay, and then write a letter and make a first contact. As soon as you have done these two things, the stage is set for success, because all you need to do is transition to maintenance mode for the rest of the time.
After you are done working on these first two elements, you then need to move to the third and most daunting element of all, the portfolio. There are several articles on our blog that offer advice on how to develop a successful portfolio, and you can always contact us if you need some advice. However, the point of this article is that you do not need to obsess over an imperfect GPA, or a low GRE score. You still have a great chance for success. You can still make it, as long as you focus and work methodically on the things that matter the most.