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Boston Architectural College (Albert)

 

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Feb '09 - Oct '09

 
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    Entry 1

    AlbertWang Feb 16 '09 20

    Welcome to my blog. I chose to start writing about my experiences at the Boston Architectural College for a number of reasons. First and foremost to give back to the Archinect School Blog project—Nicholas Ng’s blog about the BAC was a huge help for me when I was trying to determine what school to attend, and even whether or not I wanted to pursue architecture as a career.

    I’m 27 years old and I’ve done a plethora of different things in my life. I wanted to be a photojournalist in high school, decided to do my summer internships as a newspaper page designer. After college I worked at a special education high school for students with emotional/behavioral problems. I then worked for three years in real estate, and as the real estate bubble burst, I was up for yet another change. I had narrowed the decision down to school but I was faced with deciding between getting my MBA, or going for the much more lengthy, less promising (in terms of salaries), and less astute in my family’s eyes, MArch program. I chose architecture.

    I give you my life story because it’s relevant to why I’m at the BAC as opposed to other schools. The BAC is an open enrollment school—yes that’s right, they accept 100% of applicants. For the Masters program you need only have a bachelors degree in any subject. The fine print however, says that there is an 80% drop out rate. The program follows a concurrent learning philosophy—the typical student works at an architecture firm during the day, while attending classes at night. There is a certain emphasis given on the idea that the student learns how to be an architect in practice, and academic classes work concurrently to produce well rounded architects that upon graduation are able to enter the workforce, and sit their licensure exams having fulfilled their IDP hours.

    The obvious drawback to the program is that it doesn’t allow the student to concentrate on their academic studies and studio projects. You also miss out on that particular studio culture that is a trademark of architecture schooling. The benefit is that for a student with my background, it’s perfect. I’m at a stage in my life where I don’t have the luxury of taking years off of work to attend school. I also don’t have the architectural/design experience to put together a portfolio worth of applying to a more traditional program. (In fact, 3 years ago I visited UC Berkeley’s admissions office—they showed me the portfolio’s of previous applicants and I was blow away.)

    Currently I am now in my 2nd semester of the AOP program—that means for 1 year I’m taking day classes instead of working. Think of it as sort of a boot camp for design students, which I really appreciate because it allows BAC students to experience the studio culture that is absent from the typical BAC student’s experience. Plus, I’ve now developed certain applicable skills that will put me ahead of the competition in the job search.

    So far, my thoughts on the program are mixed. I’ve had good and bad experiences with teachers. Most of the full time – AOP instructors are great. A lot of students might disagree with me, and here’s where I think the disagreement stems from—This is a graduate program. We are expected to have some degree of independence, self-reliance, self-motivation, and a desire to learn. I feel like there are some students who need constant direction and instead of understanding the value in discovering concepts and ideas for themselves, they would much rather have the instructors tell you exactly what to do. What’s the point in that? I have however, experienced in certain classes a lack of care on the instructor’s part—especially in the night courses which are geared towards students who work during the day. Since focus on academic work has to be negotiated with office work, students and instructors alike can have the tendency to accept less than acceptable work. The good news about this though, is that does lighten the workload on an already hair-pulling, sleepless schedule. It puts the responsibility of learning on the student.

    Resources at the BAC are ok. Since it’s not a full time academic school, we do not have individual studio spaces/desks like most schools. We all work from home, and bring in our projects for class crits. This makes commuting on the train the most horrible experience EVER! East-coast morning commuters just don’t have any sympathy for a sleep deprived architecture student carrying a tub full of models, an oversized t-square, and art-bin box! That aside, the BAC does have pretty good computers with all the software you’ll ever need. They have 2 laser cutters, platters, drum roll scanners, a photo lab, woodshop etc etc. All basic stuff. The biggest problem is that the school closes at 10pm every day. Don’t they know that students do their work throughout the night?!

    Some students have knocked the library as being insufficient—it’s an ARCHITECTURE library guys. It’s going to be smaller than your university library b/c we don’t particularly need to have books on liberal arts, sciences, etc etc. I’ve been to the architecture library at Harvard GSD, Illinois Institute of Tech, and Berkeley, and guess what, they’re all about the same size.

    So to conclude my first blog entry, I’ll say that I’m pretty happy with my experiences so far. There’s a bit of a mish-mash of student types—but it adds to the whole uniqueness of the program. There are students with art/history backgrounds, MBA's, industrial designers, teachers, ex-lawyers. I feel like a lot of us are taking advantage of the open enrollment policy to figure out if architecture is the right choice for them, and that’s ok. In fact, that’s what the BAC is all about. To level the playing field given the huge gradient of experience, our first few studio's are foundation studies. I've been blown away at how much students have progressed--seeing someone who has never drawn before able to have an entire portfolio of freehand and hardline drawings, good drawings, after 1 semester is pretty cool.

    From here on out, I’ll keep you informed on my studio projects, classes, job-hunt (which isn’t looking good in this economy!!!), and any other rants/raves about BAC life. I appreciate comments from anyone and everyone and look forward to the next 5 years of blogging.

     

     
    • 20 Comments

    • Nicholas NgNicholas Ng
      Feb 17, 09 10:00 am

      hey albert- i hope both you and tom can continue with the blog for the next few years at the BAC. It's nice to see another student's point of view other than that of mine.

      AlbertWang
      Feb 18, 09 9:37 am

      Hey nicholas, hope the Thesis is treating you well. Keep us updated...I'd love to see your work at some point

      ChrisBeck
      Mar 3, 09 10:24 pm

      Hey Albert, thanks for taking the time to share your experience so far at the BAC. It was really encouraging to hear your point of view especially as I am considering the MArch program at the BAC as well.

      I always have been interested in architecture and design but it took several years for me to commit to making steps toward architecture as an educational and career goal. In my undergraduate years I found my interest in architecture progress from being engineering driven in my freshman year to more socially driven by my graduate year. I was enrolled in a pre-architecture program which was heavy on architectural history and theory but weaker in the studio. I graduated with an interdisciplinary BA degree in 2006.

      Since then I have done a variety of things including a four month internship with an architecture firm in Colorado, two years working as a lightning rod installer on the east coast, and most recently working two part time jobs in the not so great state of Michigan. I got married in June and was set to attend the BAC in september of '08 but decided to delay entry for just a while longer.

      Currently I find myself really wanting to get immersed in the practice and I considered the BAC to be a great place to do it. I am about 90% sure that I want to attend the BAC but there are some questions that I still have that have me thinking twice.

      First, how intense is the work load? As I understand it, BAC students are like full time workers and full time students. Do you find it very difficult to manage that? Also, as a couple, I am wondering will this be a huge burden, working on design projects night after night in a tiny Boston apartment?

      Second, how are students finding jobs? The work aspect of the program sounds great in a growing industry but what about our current situation? Are architecture firms hiring inexperienced students? Do these jobs pay enough to cover living costs? What is the outlook there? What do you think?

      There are more questions but these are the biggest for me right now. Anyway, it was great to read your blog and I hope that you do keep up with it. It will be good to read of your experience in the program. I am trying to do as much as I can to educate myself so that I can make a good decision hopefully soon!

      Nicholas NgNicholas Ng
      Mar 3, 09 11:35 pm

      Hi Chris. I have a few friends who are in your situation, married, with kids and are at the BAC during the evening. It seems to me that they are handling it okay, however some have took breaks between semester and some I haven't seen since they had a child, but it's tough (even for me who is single) and you really need to find a balance between life, school and work. Sometimes you notice your studio have gone downhill because there was a deadline at work you couldn't get out of it or that your boss was not understanding enough to know that you're still in school and have classes to committed to, adding to the fact that you need to gain some sanity once in a while and you missed your social life and have not seen the light of day for weeks. Or as some people may say - that's the life of an architect. Then again, it's really up to you and how far you're willing to push and take yourself to.

      When I began my term at the school 5 years ago, it was really difficult for someone like me with no architecture background and experience to find a job at a firm and I wasn't familiar to the architecture scene in Boston as well, which made the situation a lot more harder. But my patience paid off and after 6 months of job hunting, I was able to find one and have since then gained interesting experience (to say the least) throughout the years. I'm in my third architecture firm right now.

      We're (architecture) in a really bad situation right now. For the past few months, I have known people and friends who were laid off and it's tough, I would be lying if I said firm were hiring inexperienced students during this harsh period. But if the situation was better, some bigger firms usually like to hire BAC students through staffing agency for CAD works. And the pay is usually enough to cover living costs, however, like any big cities, Boston has a very high standard of living. (i.e. a studio within the Boston proper starts from $1000+). I'm not sure how this recession will play out, I just hope it ends really soon, like right now soon.

      I'm not sure what your decision will be, and I'm certainly not discouraging any reason to stay away from architecture because it's a challenging and rewarding profession to be a part of, but it's also a profession which needs a lot of dedication and patience as well as a lot of optimism.

      As a tip, if you have time, I would suggest educating yourself in any CAD or BIM software (i.e. Revit/ArchiCAD etc.)

      lisaletostak
      Mar 16, 09 6:25 pm

      I'm planning on starting the MArch at BAC in September this year (originally January of this year but I postponed too) but I second guess every major decision I make so I'm still only 99% sure.

      Nicholas, what staffing agency or agencies have hired BAC students for CAD work before? I'm hoping to have a job lined up before I move, although that seems unlikely in this economy and with my limited skills/experience.

      Albert, thanks for writing this blog!!! Also do you (or does anyone) know when that 80% who drop out tend to drop out? I'm guessing mainly between the first semester and after the segment 1 review, but if a lot of people drop out in segment 2 for some reason, that would be a good thing to know.

      lisaletostak
      Mar 16, 09 6:51 pm

      Sorry to bogart the comments section, but...

      Chris: If you haven't already, check out how many transfer credits you will get (academic and practice). They gave me credit for 2 classes that I didn't even ask for credit for (an architectural history elective and a design media 4 elective), so I bet with your background you could cut that 5 years down.

      Also if you apply for admission and transfer credit and send your transcripts and portfolio for any studio/drawing/CAD classes, they will tell you what transfer credits you will get and then you can defer admission until you're ready. Or if you decide not to go you're only out $200 (application fee and intent to register fee).

      You can also go to orientation if you haven't already, which might help you decide. Then you'll still have a couple weeks to defer or withdraw if you decide to.

      Nicholas NgNicholas Ng
      Mar 18, 09 11:23 am

      Lookup Dakota Staffing or Aerotek. Both are the two big ones around Boston.

      lisaletostak
      Mar 18, 09 7:00 pm

      awesome thank you!

      ChrisBeck
      Mar 18, 09 9:13 pm

      Thanks for your help and comments. Perhaps we will meet in September!

      AlbertWang
      Mar 21, 09 12:28 pm

      Chris,
      Sorry for not being able to get back to you earlier. It's been a pretty hectic couple weeks. In any case here's my take on the work load and job hunt thus far.

      The work load is tough, no doubt about it. I'm also in the AOP program, and am taking 5-6 courses/semester (some courses are half semester long). That's a lot of classes to keep up with, especially considering that a student could easily devote 40 hours a week strictly to studio if they so wanted to. It's a tough balancing act. I definitely give studio more attention than my other classes. And I try to prioritize according to what I need to learn. For example I give structures a lot more attention than History of Architecture. On average I pull about 2 all nighters a week. I'm not sure everyone does that, but I would say that the majority of students don't get to bed before midnight, and most of us have 9am classes mon-thurs.

      Apartments in boston are expensive. Some students choose to live outside the city but sacrifice proximity to school. It does make commuting to school difficult, especially when you have large models to bring in. You should know that everyone does their work at home and brings it in for class. The school closes it's doors at 10pm on weekdays and i believe earlier on weekends. there is also a limited amount of lockers or places to store things at the school, so plan on giving your proximity to school a good amount of consideration.

      As for the job hunt, i haven't started yet but i'm dreading it. Everyone I ask seems to be getting laid off. I went to a panel discussion with three former AOP students who currently have jobs. They said they honestly don't know why they have been retained as opposed to other people in their office. Sounds like lay-off's are across the spectrum from entry level associates to senior level.

      The BAC has started implementing alternative ways to get practice credits. You can earn credits now for working in related fields such as HVAC, electrical work, real estate, construction. Doing design competitions earns you credit now. You can even earn a limited amount of credits for doing volunteer work and travel. So there are ways around it...although not ideal considering one of the major reasons we all are at the BAC is that we earn IDP credits alongside practice credits, and these alternative things don't count for IDP.

      sheets34
      Mar 24, 09 5:38 pm

      albert. like everyone else my main concern is getting a job. Does bac assist you and help place you in jobs and are they mainly within firms? also very vague question but what would you say the average wage for a entry job when starting the program is?
      thanks
      john

      AlbertWang
      Mar 24, 09 6:34 pm

      Hi John,
      The BAC has a Practice department (PACE) which is devoted to helping you find a job. As an AOP student we do go through a Year One Seminar where we have mock-interviews, resume and portfolio reviews and at the end of the semester we'll have a job-fair with firms that have good relations with the BAC. The BAC offers seminars throughout the semesters for stuff like this, for all students too.

      The PACE center in particular has advisors that help guide you in the right direction.

      I don't know what your background is, but having worked several years myself, I didn't really learn anything new from these seminars. They're very helpful for students with limited work experience and especially those who have never been on an interview, or had to apply for a job before. What I took from it all was an extra opportunity to tailor my resume, and my general interviewing frame of mind towards design and architecture.

      As for connections, the architecture industry is pretty familiar with the BAC. Unfortunately finding a job is 80% on you, at the very least. We do have our own intranet where employers from firms large and small can post job opportunities not available to the outside public. Currently there are 28 postings.

      All the seminars, advising, the PACE center...they're all just tools for you to use. You actually have to go and figure out what firms you want to work for, apply on your own, and get the job on your own. People are around to help you, but you have to take the initiative.

      Anyone who has been job hunting in any industry will tell you that connections and networking are the best way to find a job. It's true. And I know of more people at the BAC that have found jobs this way than by mass-mailing resumes. This is probably where the BAC is best. I have a friend who works at CBT (arch firm in boston) and she informed me of an opening before it went public. (I interviewed, but then decided I wanted to do the AOP program instead). Since we're all in the same boat at the BAC, word of mouth and networking become very valuable. Also, most of the teachers are working professionals. The good thing about that is you automatically have an in. You just have to impress them with your work.

      As for pay...i wouldn't really know too much, Of the few friends I have working, entry level positions are paying between $30-40k at larger firms, with benefits. I couldn't tell you about smaller firms.

      Hope that helps

      sheets34
      Mar 26, 09 6:21 pm

      Albert.
      Thanks. that helps alot. I'm looking at starting the BA in arch. in the fall or spring. If you have any thoughts or info you feel like sharing feel free.
      thanks again.

      Holly Claudia
      May 8, 09 12:38 am

      One of the most distinctive characteristics of the BAC is the concurrent learning model. In addition to classroom study, student earn credits working in paid positions at design firms during the day, while attending in the evening, typically two to three nights per week. This educational experience connects the theoretical with the practical, and also often affords students the ability to test for license upon graduation. You may not have heard of DebtSki. DebtSki sounds like a pejorative nickname applied to an expensive personal watercraft, but it is an online video game wherein the player guides a pig on a jet ski (okay, a personal water craft is involved) through a field of income and expenditures. You try to make only the necessary expenditures and avoid the rest. You even set the income level. It's a great way to think about credit and spending. The game is on InDebtEd, a website devoted to debt education, where you can learn about debt, credit cards, and personal loans while playing DebtSki.

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      andrewblog
      Oct 30, 09 2:29 pm

      Hey, I'm in a similar situation as you are and I have a passion for Architecture. How do you feel the program is / was and how is the current economy impacting the need for architects? I'd really appreciate any help or guidance on this matter.

      ChrisBeck
      Oct 30, 09 6:21 pm

      Good News - I am finally able to make my first semester at the BAC a reality. I have secured a part time job. Now I am looking for temp housing for the month of December. Anyone have any ideas of where to look? Then I will be looking for a yearly lease hopefully by Jan01.

      tonyblog
      Nov 2, 09 10:38 am

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      es731
      Dec 13, 09 12:50 am

      I am a struggling student at the bac, I have failed the portfolio review and I have a final re-do coming up.. I was wondering if anyone on this blog lives in the cambridge/arlington area, looking to make some extra $ to tutor/help me get through this.. I don't have much time, so if you are interested email me at estark@partners.org thanks.

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