too old for grad school?

So I have been contemplating going back to school for my M.Arch, but am wondering if I've waited too long.  I'm 34 yo, have been working in architecture for the past 12 years, and recently finished my ARE and attained licensure.

I have a 4-year pre-professional degree (B.S.), which is causing me to consider getting my M.Arch finally.  It is something that I have actually considered for a while...  but, I put myself through undergrad (student loans), which is why I have put off grad school up until now.  I have a few reasons for considering grad school:

- obtain my professional degree, which would give me more credibility in my profession, as well as allow me reciprocity anywhere

- get back into studio and refine and expand my design skills

- an M.Arch would allow me the chance to teach in the future, which is an interest of mine

I'm a little hesitant mainky because of the financial aspect. I am finally almost finished with paying off my undergrad, so going back to school would just mean accumulating more debt again.  And of course there is the time involved.  I am considering BAC, just because I would be able to balance the financial aspect a little better, even though it means a longer program (3-4 years).

Anyway, I was hoping to get some feedback from my peers, which is why I have started this thread.  Thanks in advance!


Apr 28, 12 3:54 pm

Dude, if you have a licence and all that experiance you should just do some self learing and save the 100k for grad school.  Make your own schedule and work on made up projects on your free time.  Read all the books that are part of the M-arch program.  Self learning can be much better anyway.  Save that cash and start your own firm when you feel ready!  good luck!

Apr 29, 12 12:37 am

Have you considered applying to 1 year architecture fellowship programs like Harvard's Loeb Fellowship or the nine-month Knowlton's Emerging Practitioner Fellowship? 

Your lack of student debt is an amazing gift that you should hold onto. I'll say it again: Your lack of student debt is an amazing gift that you should hold onto.

Have you considered applying for adjunct faculty studio positions for a term or two? Great way to stay within the profession and explore your teaching aspirations. Don't go to BAC, teach at BAC. You'll feel like a student all over again and will learn an enormous amount. 

Start networking by getting onto the good crit panels for final reviews in the places you may want to teach. Propose a studio course via your firm. Co-teach it with a principal or partner. The principal/partner will most likely be busy and will "drop-in" on the studio while you act as the primary studio instructor. Its also a great way to reach out and network with other professionals during review time when you need to pull together a quality review panel.

I've done two adjunct faculty studios at my local architecture school this way. It was an amazing amount of work while working FT but it was an absolutely amazing learning opportunity as well.

I echo jia-x. Save your cash and focus on your professional development in other avenues. There are lots of options out there.





Apr 29, 12 2:33 am
Dani Zoe

How can you have your licensure or have taken the AREs with only a pre-professional degree?

Apr 29, 12 2:13 pm

unless you're planning on moving to another state where you'd need the professional degree for licensure, i don't understand why you would want to spend all that money.

"obtain my professional degree, which would give me more credibility in my profession"

12 experience years isn't enough credibility?  sounds like a really expensive credential when all you were missing was probably a couple naab bullet points in a class syllabus. if you have a license i don't see the need.  unless you really have a really strong goal that depends on a masters degree besides "i wish i'd got one" i wouldn't do it.  for most that don't necessarily want an academic career in the future or a position at a specific firm that prefers them, that need is usually the license, and you already have one.

i mean if you've got money to spend, do it.  but most education is attainable without going into debt, despite what society tells you.



Apr 29, 12 3:15 pm

Some good points being posted here. Although I, for one, would encourage erdeblieck to apply. First and foremost, follow your heart. Returning to an academic environment and pushing yourself to learn new things could open up many new doors for you, professionally and creatively. Second, while the cost of an education is important to consider, there are also many scholarships out there, and with your experience you may very well stand out among the applicant pool. 

After 12 years in the field, do you have a specific interest that you'd like to focus on in your studies? 

Apr 29, 12 5:28 pm

Dani Zoe, in some states, if you work for a certain number of years, you can have the accredited education requirement waived. An accredited degree is more convenient if you're trying to get licensed in more than one state though.

Apr 29, 12 10:48 pm

I too am going to chime in and suggest that the forecasted financial difficulty of going to graduate school shouldn't be too much of a determining factor, after all, it is an investment in yourself. besides, if the only thing we were interested in about this profession was money, none of us would be here on this forum right now.

don't know about bac though, i'd shoot for a 2 year program somewhere. I think somewhere like U of Cincinnati would be a great choice if you're looking for a co-op

Apr 30, 12 1:27 am

These are some great comments- thanks for taking the time to post your feedback.  Honestly, I never really considered some of the avenues that have been suggested in this thread, such as fellowships and such.

I attained licensure in NY, which doesn't require an NAAB-accredited degree.  You just need a couple of additional years of work experience beyond IDP.

While having a license and 12 years of experience are considerable accomplishments, I feel like not having an NAAB-accredited degree is a bit of a weakness on my resume.  Especially in this economy, any postings that I seem to find stress the requirement of a B. Arch or M. Arch, with the M. Arch being preferred.  Competition is intense at the moment,and I feel like I could be at the bottom of the pack, even despite having a license.  Honestly, In hindsight I wish I had just pursued the B. Arch and I wouldn't even be in this situation.  But, what are you gonna do.

There is also the added bonus of additional education, which I feel like is never a bad thing.  One of the reasons why I considered BAC, is because of the ability to work a bit, but also because I would be able to start in the fall.  The deadlines for most programs has passed, which would mean that I need to wait until fall 2013.  (I'm also looking to stay in either NYC or Boston)  I am applying to Northeastern as well (2 year program), so we'll see if that goes anywhere.  But again, we'd be talking 100k.

Ehh, I guess I have some decisions to make...

Apr 30, 12 2:55 am

My story starts just like yours, erdeblieck.

I started my MArch at 34, after 8 years in practice, getting licensed along the way.  I went back for just the reasons you list.  The masters was a very good investment in every way for me: time, money, intellect, friendships, professional connections, you name it.  Yes, I had to borrow.  Yes, I also was not earning much during that time, which doubled the economic cost.  To offset extravagant negative consequences, I was smart: I went to the best program available locally, allowing me to stay put and work part-time.  The program also happened to be at a state school, so tuition (and borrowing) wasn't cosmic in scale.

This was one of the best things I've ever done for myself, and opened many new doors I didn't even know existed.  In my case, I caught the academic bug and decided to go on for a doctorate.  That was far more costly in terms of finances, time, and energy.  I have quite a bit of debt to deal with for that degree.  Still, I'm very glad I took this path.

You sound thoughtful and circumspect, which is how you need to approach this decision.  Balancing costs and benefits in your own personal ledger is very important, and you're clearly doing that.  Warnings you read here about massive debt down the road are wise, and should be considered carefully.  But, as someone wrote, at least part of this decision is about investment, and consequent tradeoffs.

Good luck!

Apr 30, 12 12:13 pm

Thanks for the words of encouragement, Citizen.  This has really been a tough decision- I've been racking my brain a bit, hoping for a clear answer and direction.  There's a part of me that thinks I'm crazy for considering going through all of this again.  Do you mind if I ask where you ended up going for your grad degree, and how long the program was?

Apr 30, 12 12:51 pm

I did the MArch II at UCLA.  At that time it was four academic quarters (1-1/3 academic years), but I took a full 2 years because I was enjoying myself.

Apr 30, 12 2:14 pm

It all depends on what you think you're lacking.

If you're lacking tools+techniques, just take some classes in Rhino/GH, prototyping etc. and save yourself the financial and emotional pain.

If you're lacking intellectual stimulation, focus and intensity, work for someone you admire for free for 6 months - it's cheaper than school, more of a reality check, and who knows, at the end of 6 months, they might hire you.

If you just want to make cool stuff, take a break, enter some competitions, make something small with your hands every day, and try think of some products you can develop to make some money.

I'd think no one cares about the NAAB accreditation, but I could be wrong. I've always though that just making kickass stuff would open doors for you, but I guess I could be wrong...

Apr 30, 12 11:52 pm


I can speak directly to your question because I did it. I received my pre-professional degree in ENVD from CU-Boulder in 1996. My original plan was to work for a few years and then return for my M'Arch. Well two years stretched into 9 years. By that time I had been married a week after getting my B'envd, worked, moved across country, got licensed, and divorced and decided to go back because I wanted to and it also helped. Believe me, all the tools at your disposal in this economy help to set you apart from the riff-raff with lots of rhino experience.

I faced the similar issue you face with regards to reciprocity and if you have the desire to teach...well a pre-professional degree doesn't cut it. I wrestled with the option of going back for a year and getting the B'Arch or two years for the M'Arch. The M'arch, I have to say was the slightly more expensive route, but for my own personal benefits as well as making many more contacts professionally, the M'Arch was the way to go for me.

I started grad school the year I turned 33. That time away from working full time and having purposeful focus on my own idea for two years was worth it. The practical experience I brought to grad school was helpful but I also had to unlearn all of that to relearn how to think imaginatively without recourse. Along the way, I worked part-time and took out loans only necessary for tuition costs.

And you don't have to spend 100K to get your m'arch. Anyone who thinks that deserves to live their life in poverty. Look for the right program. I ended up at VT's grad program in Washington D.C.. Lovingly known as WAAC. It's a consortium of international students - undergrad, grad, arch, landscape, phD candidate. Ages ranged from twenty-something NBs to retired Navy officers. 

I personally know people who have practiced for 12 years without a license and they do hit a ceiling professionally, it also limits their ability to negotiate if they're competing against someone with better credentials. And if you only want to practice in your neighborhood and not have the flexibility to practice anywhere then don't worry about reciprocity. forewarned. Reciprocity these days without a NCARB certificate is getting harder. Few states waive that requirement. NCARB won't issue IDP credentials very easily for reciprocity applications if you don't have a professional degree. I know from experience before I had my m'arch.

As I said above, the choice at this point in your career is whether or not you're ready to make the lifetime commitment to architecture. If you do go back for a M'arch, couple it with business classes. Get the most out of it for yourself. But if you think you might want to do something else in 10 years, think hard before making that commitment to just the M'Arch.

May 1, 12 4:49 pm


Perhaps it is that Iamus and I are fellow WAAC alum's, but I agree with his statement.  My only suggestion would be to consider where you want to practice.  Stay in Boston, I guess the BAC is good.  Want to live in DC, I would consider VT (Blacksburg or the WAAC), or UVA.  Also, state schools can give you good funding. 

I worked in the wood shop at the WAAC as the GTA, and it payed for most of my schooling.  I only had living expenses.  Which in DC is not small, but it is something.

And go visit the programs, talk to the faculty.  If you can see learning from them, then go for it.  I picked the WAAC becuase of a few of the faculty members.  If you're only there to get the degree, it may not be worth the money.  It really should be about the who you want to study with, and what you want to get out of it.

May 1, 12 7:31 pm

I am currently experiencing the same dilemma, had 10 years experience working abroad. Took my Bachelors years ago and just finished my M.ARchII. I plan to go to New York and reboot myself, get settled  and all. Contemplating whether I should:

a. go back to school, take a NAAB accredited M.Arch 1

b. pursue another M.Arch II specialization - GSAPP or Suprastudio

c. look for decent work (this is the hardest task to do honestly)

Goodluck and keep us posted...

May 1, 12 10:37 pm

Just graduated with M.Arch I and have been looking for work for last 8 months, finally left to China.

May 2, 12 7:42 am

Well, the plus side of going to grad school later in life is that you're more mature, and you can actually pull in some decent bucks working part time. I took a 3-year hiatus between undergrad and grad; where I worked professionally and learned a lot. The thing you will find is that you expect more out of your education and are smarter than some of your professors, and that will tick you off. I'd consider your current job situation heavily, though. The economy is still such that you are fortunate to have a job, and the old economy is not coming back anytime soon. This is the New Normal. Being able to "do what you love" and "follow your passions" is a luxury these days.

May 2, 12 7:49 am


I have read citizen’s and iamus’s story.  Mine is very much the same.  I experience is listed below.

Before grad school:
I have reached the ceiling at my job, doing dull routine work with the lack of intellectual stimulation. I went to an in-state university; I didn’t have any debt when I graduated.  I was looking a way out of my situation.  I was looking forward to invest in myself.  I took the 100K loan and enter a 3 yr program at an Ivy League school.

During grad school:
I was very clear to me and to my professors that I have more experience in architecture than they do.  The professors and I were both very frustrated at my 1st year.  There so little they can teach me, and so little I can learn from them.  Jyount10 had also made this point.   My 1st professors are not architects, they are teachers.  These guys make sexy renderings, write theory papers and publish them online.  They never built.  We were doing a lot parametric design, not buildings, instead its sci-fi theoretical designs.  Most classmates are at their early 20’s, just finished their undergrad, a lot of them did not study architect during their undergrads.  Some are history majors, some are art majors.  While most of my professors at their late 20’s and early 30’s, just finished grad school themselves with very little working experience.  When my class were explaining about line weights and asking where is the entrance to this blob at our final review?  I realized I had made a mistake and did consider dropping out at one point.  What I did during my 1st year was to unlearn all the construction details and design standards and down the rabbit hole I went with these speculative designs. 

During my last year, I had the opportunity to study under some really great masters.  These guys are great architects that built really amazing projects.  Not until then, I was able to combine theory and building together.  After 2 years of jaded studios, my last year made the 3 years of grad school worthwhile.  Interesting enough, the students with non architecture background bring very different aspects of design into architecture.  I see architecture very different now.  The inspiration from a learning community and the support from the peer group something I could never get from self learning.  I received a few honorable mentions in open competitions with a few of my colleges as teammates. The knowledge and friendship I gain during graduate school is very valuable to me.

After grad school:
With the technical knowledge and building experience I have before grad school, plus the newly digital skills and theories I have gotten from grad school.  I didn’t have any problem finding work(s) even during the recession.  Very few people can wear both hats, design competitions and construction documents.  But I am doing now is more or less the same work now as I was before graduate school.  Most importantly, I am being paid more or less the same as I was before graduate school.  Less actually, with the years I spend in school, which I would have been gaining more field experience, plus now I am deep in debt.
Grad school is amazing.  I got to work on my own design, and develop my own architecture theory.  But as architects we simply do not make enough to cover the cost of private schools.  If I could do it over again, I would have still gone to grad school, but would have choose a less expensive school with less student loans.  Chingale’s post is right, and I quote “Your lack of student debt is an amazing gift that you should hold onto.”
I have unemployed colleges from both sides:Unemployed licensed architects with 10+ experiences with 4 yr undergrad, and unemployed master degree graduates from Ivy League school.  The degree doesn’t guarantee a better career, but it does guarantee personal growth and development.  That is more or less I got out of it.

Philip Johnson didn’t enter grad school until he was 35; while Tadao Ando never graduated college.  Best of luck in your decision.

May 6, 12 3:43 am

Don't have any experience regarding the problem you're facing, but I have been researching licensing requirements a bit for my own purpose.  There is only a small handful of states that don't accept NCARB certificates attained through the BEA (Broadly Experienced Architect) Program, which is how I am assuming you got your degree.  Those states are (source link below; scroll to #31):

Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, New York, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Wisconsin

Since you already have an NY license, you can obviously scratch that off the list.  You should honestly ask yourself how likely it is that you will need to get a license in any of these states.  I don't know about you or your life situation, but for me personally, the likelihood of finding that dream job in Mississippi seems exceedingly low.

May 6, 12 7:42 am


And no:

Or maybe just a vacation?  Or use that money to build something of your own?

If you have no debt, it is insane to take on debt to go to ANY school...

May 9, 12 3:25 pm

@2by4: thanks a lot for sharing your story.

May 10, 12 12:40 am

So? What's the outcome? Did you apply and get into and go to grad school? Such a cliffhanger!

May 28, 12 1:41 am

there are global advantages of applying to an accredited M.Arch grad school, some countries like Singapore allow people with such degrees to take their licensing exams (of course there are some few reqts too).

Im not sure how the reciprocity goes to other countries, but the degree could really elevate your status. 

May 28, 12 8:53 am

Its never too late... I'll be starting grad school when I turn 33.  If it was for money, I'd never go do it.  Heck, I'd probably not even be in this industry if money was all I cared about.  Its more about personal growth.  As hard as this journey has been and the fact that I'm still almost broke, studying architecture has been the best decision I've made in my life.  Its opened me up to areas I'd never have ventured to,  while it also pushes me every day and molds me into the well-rounded person I think I'm turning into.

good luck and don't hesitate... Would you want to look back 10 years from now and wonder what would've been different if you went for your masters?

May 28, 12 7:27 pm

Sorry to leave everybody hanging!  I wanted to wait until the decision was final, before I updated everyone.  First off, I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to post their own anecdotes and advice.  This isn't a decision that I took lightly, because I feel that it could have a very real impact on the direction of my career.

Anyway, you should all know that I have made the decision to start grad school in the fall.  I will be attending the BAC, and am actually looking forward to getting back into an academic setting for a bit (I'm sure my tone will change after the first year- HA).

Thanks again!  I hope this finds all of my fellow archinecters well.

Jul 14, 12 12:00 pm

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