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Grad School Personal Statement

Oct 30 '12 18 Last Comment
PBC8
Oct 30, 12 2:42 am

Hey I'm in the middle of applying to grad schools right now and just finished the rough draft of my personal statement.  Let me know what you think.

 

I recently had a discussion with a close friend about our lofty goals and aspirations in life that were quickly becoming a possibility.  We spent most of the time talking about “what” it is we longed to achieve, until he asked me the simplest possible question that required more thought than I could have imagined: “why”?  This question forced me to think in depth about it beyond our enthusiastic conversation.  Why have I chosen to pursue architecture?  Simply put, it exemplifies a creative passion that has continuously rediscovered me throughout countless points of my life.
The year was 1997 and I was sitting at my usual desk in Mrs. Sandkuhler’s Second Grade classroom.  Everyday there would be a period where the teacher would read a portion of a certain book out loud.  During this time, students were allowed to choose between listening to the story and taking a nap.  I chose neither.  What I chose to do during this time is as vivid of a memory that I have, while the story that was being told couldn’t be more unmemorable and vapid.  This was my time to create something tremendous in my eyes. 
My desk was stuffed with carelessly stacked computer paper, multiple pairs of scissors, and enough Elmer’s Glue to last a lifetime.  As I drowned the story out in the background, I meticulously began to cut and fold pieces of paper, hunched over with my face no more than two inches away from my desk.  The excitement and pleasure I got out of making something such as a house that could float on water, or a futuristic boat that could turn into an airplane, would be almost euphoric.  For that period of time, I was lost in my creativity and nothing else mattered.  When the school day was finished I would carry my models through the chaos that ensued once the final bell rang.  While most eight-year-olds couldn’t wait to go home and play video games, I couldn’t wait to go home and explain to my mother about the purpose and functions of my models that I had created.
As a freshman in college, I was a member of the soccer team and still couldn’t decide on a major.  I had played my whole life up to this point and enjoyed every second of it.  The summer after my freshman year was when I signed up for my first studio course as an architecture student.  To be honest, the task of completing my undergraduate degree in architecture seemed incredibly intimidating at the time.  However, sitting at my studio desk, surrounded by drawing boards, chipboard, and glue for the first time made me realize something.  I was in second grade again doing what once brought me so much joy.  I knew then and there I was where I was supposed to be.  That same summer I grew the courage to confront my coach about my plans for the future.  I couldn’t go on playing soccer anymore.  After fifteen years I parted ways with the thing that everyone I know identified me with.  Now, after years of hard work and dedication, I am proud to say that I am still identified by my passion: Architecture.
Architecture is what shapes the world we live in.  Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe said; “Architecture is to make us know and remember who we are”.  It transcends space into meditation, light into peace, and the impossible into the possible.  It is unlike any other profession and the reward that comes with it couldn’t be greater.  We are now faced with a new challenge, a challenge that includes creating a sustainable world for a better future.  It is up to the architects of today and tomorrow to claim responsibility of this great test.  This idea is what drives me.  I look forward to pursue my dream while challenging myself mentally and intellectually at ____________, as well as beyond.  I will seek more knowledge than I ever thought was possible to contain and use it to create beautiful, sustainable architecture that will hopefully one day inspire another young second grader to begin creating something magnificent.

 

avengeradventure
Oct 30, 12 8:21 am

Truly intriguing story, bro.

I'd add some more specifics on what exactly it is about architecture you want to pursue. I think right now the statement is way too general. Why all of a sudden are you interested in sustainable architecture? Did playing soccer bring you to this conclusion? 

PBC8
Oct 30, 12 12:55 pm

Yeah I was thinking it was a bit general myself.  I'll be sure to add some specifics.  Thanks for the input, man.

spills
Oct 30, 12 2:56 pm

If this is for grad school, you gotta narrow it way down. Anecdotes can be nice, but unnecessary in this case. What you really have to get across is where your interests lie within the field of architecture, what issues you are confronting, what questions you are asking, etc. Essentially what will make you a good fit with the target school and its methods. 'Seeking knowledge' to create 'beautiful, sustainable architecture' doesn't say anything at all about how you're going to do that or where you position yourself and your work in the discourse.

tuna
Oct 30, 12 4:13 pm

your statement seems short. but regardless, i couldnt finish reading the entire thing. there was nothing there to gave me the enegry to read it. at this stage, you should already know what drives you; what your interests are in the field and how that school can help you master those skills. just like spills mention above. its great that you referenced some childhood memories and stories about your undergrad experience but the committee will look down upon that. be creative. you did spend serveral years designing and being creative, did you not? and talking outta your butt during critts and reviews, right?

Oct 30, 12 5:00 pm

"the story that was being told couldn’t be more unmemorable and vapid"

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Granted it is not easy to write a great statement for school apps but this is really weak.  All it manages to convey is that you are just another banal applicant going through the motions of filling out an application.  What school wants people like that?  You've got to find a way to gain the attention of whoever is reviewing your application and make them think, "wow, now this is an interesting person that I'd like to meet."  Maybe tell a great story.  Maybe share a vision for the future of architecture.  But whatever it is, it needs to be done in a much more compelling fashion than the posting above.

Yo!

PBC8
Oct 30, 12 7:16 pm

Thanks for giving me a smack in the face everyone.  I needed it.  I'll post my second version when I'm done.  But seriously, thanks for the feedback.

Stephanie
Oct 31, 12 1:02 pm

Having been on a portfolio review team, I can tell you that your letter is no different from the other 300+ applicants, plus or minus some variation of how he/she loved lego/copied house plans from magazines/built forts in the forest near their house. Charming for your parents and friends, not so much for anyone else. That story gets old and it's not original, nor is it indicative of a real grasp on what architecture and design means to you.

It's a good starting point (like, the first draft of many) for yourself and it's always useful just to write down everything you are thinking on and are inspired by. But your personal statement is not really supposed to be anecdotal.

Think of it more as something you would submit to an arts counsel if you wanted them to give you a $50, 000 grant to work on your lifelong passion. It has to be professional, direct, and convincing.

Lian Chikako Chang
Nov 1, 12 12:17 pm

I agree with most of the above:

Write a bit less about what architecture brings to you, and discuss what skills and experiences you bring to the profession or discipline (and about whether you think of architecture as a profession or discipline), as well as each school. Yes, you do bring a specific background, and set of experiences and insights--or you wouldn't be applying to grad school. Also: what trajectory do you anticipate taking after school? Of course there's no way to know for sure, but everyone has their own intuitions and aspirations about this, and those matter.

Spackle
Nov 1, 12 8:36 pm

Im going through the same process, so my opinion may not mean much. However, having interviewed and worked for some awesome companies as well as having reviewed resumes and cover letters for potential hires, I have to strongly agree with HandsumCa$hMoneyYo.

Sentimental stuff is soooo 1995. A new approach and perspective may be needed.

First, you have more leverage than you think. Schools want promising and driven students. If you think you're a bad ass then put dat shit down on paper. Not arrogant but be bold and confident.

Second, realize that you're getting ready to shed a whole lot of cash as well as valuable time to go back to school. That's a major commitment. Schools are not different than any other business out there. They want your money.  Remember that and relax about trying to kiss their ass too much. They should kiss your ass. Thats my opinion. When I interviewed with some folks at Yale, they were so unpretentious and amazingly accommodating, it seriously blew my mind and gave me a great boost of confidence.

Sounds like your are already a creative person. What is it about A school that is going to give you the tools you need to change the world? Tell them that. Then specify things about each respective program to demonstrate you're in the know with regards to the professors, tracks, studio equipment...

Take it to the next level. You got plenty of time! Keep posting updates and good luck!

Sergei MikhailenkoSergei Mikhailenko
Nov 2, 12 3:39 pm

interesting post stephanie. can you give an us an extract  from a letter which is professional, direct and convincing or something which caught your attention while reading the letters please?

accesskb
Nov 3, 12 6:34 am

sorry, but that sounds like a letter for an undergraduate application, not a graduate program.  I haven't applied to grad school yet, but I'd think the committee would be more interested in specifics, what exactly you want to research, investigate and explore in architecture during your studies, and what you bring to it and have done towards it so far.  Unless you're coming from a different field of study, they'd expect an architecture undergrad to know a lot more about what they want to focus in.  Understandable, it may not be exact and will need a lot of guidance, turns and digressions during your study, but you need to say more than just 'sustainable architecture' or other general statements. 

I'd suggest you to look at your letter as a thesis statement/proposal instead.  You might have to spend some more time to do a little research.

Stephanie
Nov 4, 12 12:53 pm

@ Sergei: Sure, here's a good start:

"I have a long-standing interest in architecture developed during my travels and undergraduate studies in subject x and subject y. I have now decided to pursue architecture as a professional career, and X University’s Master of Architecture program will be the ideal preparation to help me reach this goal."

This, followed by 2 or 3 main topic paragraphs (areas of interest, research intentions, and/or method) makes a pretty good recipe for a professional sounding letter. It shows you have an interest in something specific and an idea of how you'd like to get there. It also gives you a chance to say how the school's pedagogy itself will help you follow through.

I fully expect the next 100 applicants who read this thread will have the exact same opening statement in their letter of intent now, ha.

Nov 4, 12 3:58 pm

Hmmm, maybe it's just me, but even Stephanie's sample paragraph above sounds rather banal.  It may be professional (and that is not necessarily a bad strategy and I do like the idea of approaching it as a grant application) but I'm willing to argue that with an architecture school app that you can take some risks.  The worst that can happen is that you try again next year.

Obviously, much of it depends on what school you are applying to, what your personal idiom is, and what kind of career that you hope to have.  Still, it's a personal statement so you needn't be afraid to make a statement.  Just to offer an example, admittedly vulgar, but your first two words could literally be Fuck architecture.  If I was reviewing that application, I may disagree but at least you'll have caught my attention enough that I'll want to continue reading and I'll likely at least remember your. And isn't that half the battle?  And who knows, maybe you do make a good argument for why architecture should be fucked.

Another idea that I'd be tempted to do is just submit a blank sheet (especially if I had a strong minimalist portfolio and style).  Or maybe a sheet with that old "This space intentionally left blank" line.  Or maybe even just a few pointed sentences or paragraphs.  As you know, lots of ways to skin a cat.  Granted, it's not about being gimmicky either, but crafting a holistic presentation that starts to define who you are as an architect/designer/person.  Anything could potentially work but it's really not too soon to start asking yourself tough question about who you are and who you are trying to become.  And if that sounds a bit too heavy, then keep in mind that you can totally change directions after you get in school.  But for now at least, you need to make a strong play to clear this hurdle.

Good luck, yo!

paintitblack
Nov 6, 12 9:39 pm

It's a good start... I am working on my statement as well, and I will say that this sounds a LOT like my first draft that I wrote earlier this year.  Like, A LOT.  Even some of the cliche sentences are the same ("Architecture shapes the world we live in")...

So I'm willing to bet that there are a lot more personal statements being sent in that sound exactly like this one and my previous one.  Maybe try a different angle other than the one that involves 2nd grade aspirations.  

chadhdiep
Dec 15, 12 3:35 am

So more about what we want to do with architecture and less about what architecture means to us? Sounds good to me. I've always hated writing personal, sentimental essays. 

Sergei MikhailenkoSergei Mikhailenko
Dec 15, 12 5:02 am

Stephanie, how would you react if one of the letters said "Fuck Architecture" as the initial statement and then went on to make a case for this statement?

I actually agree with HandsumCa$hMoneyYo. If I would be on the reviewing team, that letter would definitely catch my interest.

Stephanie BraconnierStephanie Braconnier
Dec 16, 12 3:17 am

Really? What would impress you about it? I think it only takes a few micro-seconds of thought to see the flaw in this statement.

I would look at it with disgust, thinking 'what a trite, pseudo-intellectual stunt.' Architecture is not a sentient being with its own agenda. It makes no sense to condemn it. If you think 'Fuck Architecture' is the beginning of a discussion or argument, you're wrong. Let's put the blame squarely where it belongs: People.

If it said 'Fuck Architects' or even better, 'Fuck Architecture School' instead, I might be interested. For me, architecture is not the problem, but those responsible for implementing it. Yep, if it said 'Fuck Architects' then I would definitely feel a solid kinship with the fine soul who wrote it. I would much rather see chronic dissatisfaction with the state of the profession and education system then with architecture itself.

Sergei MikhailenkoSergei Mikhailenko
Dec 16, 12 5:52 am

"fuck architecture" is an EXAMPLE of an initial statement one can say to catch the interest of the reviewing team. you can say whatever you want, "fuck architecture", "fuck architects", "fuck architecture school" as long as you have a good argument to back it up.

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