Rejections, Decisions and Debt

Mar 13 '13 56 Last Comment
Mar 13, 13 2:15 pm

Hello everyone,

I'm hoping to gain some insight as to my situation, and help others that might be feeling the same thing.

As with everyone else populating the "commiserate 2013 applicants" thread, emails have been trickling into my inbox over the past three weeks and I have been riding the subsequent waves of emotion.

I took a lot of time to apply to many diverse programs knowing full well the subjectivity of the graduate application process. I applied to ten schools and diversified programs that would allow for me to have a variety of good fall back options. Whereas I am very blessed and happy that I have so many great offers to 8 of the schools, I'm finding the rejections to YSOA and the GSD to be very difficult; far more so than I ever imagined it would despite my full knowledge upon applying to these programs that they are very hard to get into.
My own reaction is even taking me by surprise, because I'm very rational and I know that I have a lot of great offers that I'm not giving attention to being excited about shadowed by the feeling of, "not being good enough"..

In light of this, and my other offers, I want some input on the value of a degree from an Ivy League school for Architecture vs other programs.

Is a degree really worth it from YSOA, the GSD, or Columbia? I see some of these posts about people that seem happy to take on 100K in debt to make it happen, but that kind of debt to me just seems crazy, especially since I've been working in a very large, corporate firm for a year and I see that out of grad school, you can expect to make around 55K if you're lucky. Do they realize that they're going to pay around 1000 every month for 12 years to pay that back? Or does an Ivy League degree somehow equate to more compensation in our profession, and I'm just not aware of it? (Many of the top leaders of my firm come from Ivy schools)

I have an offer from Columbia GSAPP, though with very little funding. I guess I'm trying to post rationalize this process, why even I feel victim to this "aura" of guilt by not being accepted by the others, and yet all along wondering the value of what to expect out of it to begin with. I also have very competative offeres from Berkeley, Brown, RISD, Clemson, Maryland, Arizona State, and the University of IL.

Any thoughts?


Nicholas CecchiNicholas Cecchi
Mar 13, 13 2:30 pm

A degree is worth what you put into it. You could go to a great school and get not much out of it or go to a mediocre school and get an excellent education.

Look beyond the ratings and reputations and compare your aims and goals, your personality and ambitions with the focus of the various programs you have applied to.

A degree from Columbia or RISD or Clemson will have some differences, but 5 years, 10 years down the line, the reputation will likely not matter nearly as much as how engaged you were with the educational process.

Mar 13, 13 2:40 pm

^ You are completely right. I know that what you put in is what you'll get out regardless. I just wonder if the reason so much hype is placed on these Ivy league schools has a measurable pay off down the road? Or is it all just about prestige?..

Someone said the connections you make are worth the money you pay, but is that really true?

Mar 13, 13 2:46 pm

Part of the problem is the "neighborhood" here on Archinect.  There are a lot of folks who seem to worship at The Altar Of The Ivies.  In other words, a few schools are so dominant in the discourse here that all the other schools (with their various strengths) tend to be drowned out.

(Nb: this is not an indictment of Ivy League programs, but of slavish devotion to them.  There's an important difference.)

So, get out of here for a little while and talk to some other folks.  Get some perspective.  And enjoy the (I'm sure) well-deserved acceptances to the other institutions.

Mar 13, 13 3:45 pm

Somber. I appreciate the absolute honesty in this thread. Let this not turn into a bash Ivies by those that did not get in, or a praise Ivies by those that did. I have much to say about this topic, when perhaps I have more time tonight.

Before I get to that. Do not feel bummed about not getting into an Ivy. There are many people out there who got rejected to all of the schools they applied to, or all but 1 (with no choice). Think forwardly into what your future has ahead. What you want to do. Evaluate these 8 schools against each other...

More on this in a bit.

Mar 13, 13 4:12 pm

@Mtt9999 - I really hope that this didn't sound like a bitter jab at the Ivys, because it really isn't. I got into Columbia and Brown so it's not as though I'm not "Ivy material" and wanted to complain. I even was hired to work for Harvard against their own applicants at one point. Also I know that you and others have been admitted to the same schools and I'm so happy for everyone that did. Truly, I am.

I think I'm just really questioning everything and trying to rationalize my reactions, offers and the reality of our profession after going through this process of applications.

I just got a call from Clemson today and I have a full scholarship plus a stipened. But again, even still I find myself in a paradox both upset that  the GSD and YSOA said no so again I just raise the question about the true value and pay off of an Ivy vs the prestige that we all fall for? (I did, and still do) Should I turn a full ride offer like that down for the price of Columbia, (everyone makes it sound Godly and if you're offered a place at GSAPP, GSD or YSOA you just go no matter what the consequence) and what exactly is the pay off?

What is it about these schools that instigate these reactions, because even my own is confusing me.

Mar 13, 13 4:14 pm

Remind yourself that the Ivy League is a sports league. That's right, just like the Pac 12 or the SEC, only worse at football.

Then figure out what you are actually specifically looking for in a school. What sort of curriculum, what sort of teachers? What region or city do you prefer? Who had the best studio space and best study abroad opportunities? Which ones gave you that "wow" feeling when you visited?

I'm firmly in the camp that says, there's no best school in an objective sense. There's only the best school for you. The one that best capitalizes on your strengths and helps you overcome your weaknesses and puts you in the position to get where you personally want to go in life. That may or may not be any of the schools discussed here.

Nicholas CecchiNicholas Cecchi
Mar 13, 13 4:18 pm

Those of us who graduated between 08 and now know that value is more than a secondary consideration. The market is looking up, but if we were to go through these past 4 years again, you would see plenty of graduates from ivies have difficulty finding quality work, and I can imagine it is pretty nice to be able to take a job you love over one that pays well because you don't have to worry about massive loan repayment.

Mar 13, 13 4:28 pm

@ e.m.g.

by no means did i think you were bashing ivies. I too, am having these same internal conflicts right now...

Mar 13, 13 4:29 pm

I'm fortunate enough to be in a situation where I graduated my undergrad with no debt. That came from hard work, scholarships and chosing a state school knowing that (at the time...before the recession) when it came my time for graduate school, my sacrafices hard work and debt free life would allow me to afford somewhere big.

However it's also allowed me to work and save, not pay back anything, a freedom that I really am going to have a hard time giving up after experiencing. I work at a top firm on the east coast with grads that do the same thing as me coming out of Harvard, pick. This is a freedom I know I'm blessed to have, and I see them struggle with debt. However they still have the aura of "Well, I went to Harvard." And a part of me (to be brutally honest) believes that they still have something that I've always wanted, or grew up believing was "what made success" in our field.

Mar 13, 13 4:30 pm

@mtt999 Im really looking forward to your perspective on this. Thank you for taking the time to write. It really means a lot.

Mar 13, 13 4:38 pm

As someone who has been exposed to both Columbia and Yale, let me say that GSAPP is a great school, and if I were you I would strongly consider it. I know some people who turned down Yale in favor of GSAPP, and there is a compelling argument to be made for their reasoning. New York has lots of resources for architecture, you will be exposed to many leading-edge contemporary thinkers, and their history and theory sequence is in some cases more rigorous than some courses at other schools. I feel like it's a very good place to be if you are interested in a conceptual approach to architecture, or in the implications of new technologies and global cultural/economic shifts. Yale, GSD, and GSAPP are different enough from each other in terms of their philosophy and culture that I would not only look at which school sounds the most prestigious to you, but also look at what type of approach to architecture you want to explore further, since you will have a significantly different experience, and find significantly different philosophical approaches, between some of those schools.

Mar 13, 13 4:43 pm

It depends on the kind of work you want to do in your professional career. If you are interested in smaller to medium sized projects with a lot of construction detail, and want to get to build something quick, I would go for a smaller firm, and for those, an Ivy degree really does not matter (some would argue its detrimental to have an Ivy degree for those offices)

If you want to work in the corporate atmosphere, and work on broad strokes of design, international projects, go to seminars etc, I think a name-brand college would help. Of course if you want to work for the stars doing cutting-edge stuff, the Ivies would definitely offer a path in.

Mar 13, 13 4:55 pm

I think in the end, you will be the architect that you are, regardless of your education. If you want to educate yourself and expand your knowledge, you will find a way to do it (With, or without an Ivy League education- because there are many ways to learn).

In terms of going to an Ivy League school, or more accurately, a well known-brand name school, the difference that I see is that people do not question your overall capabilities. You do not have to go into interviews and prove that you can do the basics. Your education answers the questions that many employers ask- is this person smart/capable/hard working? There are of course many other questions, and many other ways to have these questions answered. In the same way that a great job experience/personality/skill can open doors, a great education (reputation) can as well. This does not mean that every job you interview for you will be offered, but it does make somewhat easy to get a foot in the door. 

I am only speaking from my experiences. I have an AB from an Ivy League school, and it has been relatively easy for me to jump from job to job, even in this economy. I have left a few jobs very quickly for a variety of reasons, and have never been unemployed for more than 1.5 months. Please note, that I have mostly been at early career jobs, and I am sure there is a difference as you get older and have an established a career, mainly that you have other experiences that speak to your capabilities. 


Just my two cents...

Mar 13, 13 5:01 pm

I completely agree with citizen on this. Many in the commiserate thread seem to only have one goal in attending graduate school: get into an Ivy. I've seen little in discussion about how the programs actually differ, how each person would fit in better and such and such school, etc. I think those discussions are also very telling about the environment you may be stepping into with those programs. There may be benefits to going to schools that aren't populated with folks who  and are only concerned with status.

Again, not to hate on those schools.. they are obviously great programs with nearly endless resources, which is their biggest advantage. And there are obviously great people who are there for the right reasons. But to echo what others have said, you really need to figure out which program is the best fit for you, and if that isn't an ivy, than that is perfectly OK. Infact, it's probably better to go to the place that you're interests align with most, rather than being miserable in a school that is ranked higher. You will still receive a great education, and like you said you may be able to do a lot more with your life because you're not piled in debt.

Mar 13, 13 5:32 pm

Another perspective I've heard on grad schools is: go where the money is. This shows that a school thinks you'll be a great fit for them, and they'll be more willing to invest additional attention and resources in you when you get there if they consider you one of their top students (which a great financial package is indicative of).

Mar 13, 13 5:41 pm

I think the question should be is a grad degree really worth it at any university if you have to endure all that debt?  How many years have you been out of grad school?  Perhaps to make it really worth your money and time, you could try applying to GSD or YSOA again next year.  I know many who go on to grad school atleast 5, 6 or 7 years after they finished their undergrad.

Mar 13, 13 5:45 pm

@sameolddoc: when ur doing cutting-edge stuff for stars you might actually doing cutting stuff for them

Mar 13, 13 5:46 pm

Thank you all so much for your insight. I guess another question is, then, if all I'm really hearing that the benefit of coming from an Ivy is about the potential to work with "star" architects or the name power behind assuming competency, what else would warrent 100K + in debt for that, and why are we so programmed (myself included) to think that we've somehow failed the system if we accept anything less than that in a school?

Does an Ivy League degree (I know little about this topic other than what I've witnessed working..) pay off in terms of salary in the long run? Or not really?

What is the real return on the investment? Would I be crazy to turn down Columbia in favor of, say, a full ride at Clemson..and why is it that we are so programmed into believing "Ivy league is Ivy league"... Again, with this is probably just coming from my uncategorized and at this point probably irrational disappointment about somehow not being good enough for the GSD or Yale... Maybe this is just me needing to face and get over rejection (tough but true)...

Sorry for all of the confusion and emotion here.

Does anyone out there regret not taking on the debt and challenge in order for that, "dream school", and on contrary, does anyone regret going to a place like GSAPP because they feel financially limited with a mountain of debt in an uncertain economy?

Mar 13, 13 5:53 pm

@accesskb Yes! I agree. And I am 2 years out of school, and I earned both a Bachelor of Science (4 year) in Architecture in additon to a dual BFA degree in Graphic Design.

Part of the reason for posting and gaining insight is because I wondered the same thing about if I should reapply next year, or take one of these offers and go back now (and like I said, I'm grateful for these offers too because I'm aware that a lot of people wanted some of these schools too that I'm not giving justice at the moment because I feel so rejected and honestly im surprised with myself for feeling the way that I do.)

(Which opens up another can of worms for me because I could also just leave architecture altogether and have a successful career as a graphic designer...haha..but it's not where my heart is.)

Mar 13, 13 5:54 pm

Again, with this terrible disappointment about somehow not being good enough for the GSD or Yale...

relax, emo dude!

harvard and yale get enough 'good enough' applicants probably 5x over .. you got into 8 schools and you can't let go of the ones you didn't get into?  full ride to clemson and you're looking for an excuse to graduate 100k (+) in debt?

crazy times we be livin' in i say ..

Mar 13, 13 5:56 pm

@FRaC - haha... the truth only hurts if it should. :) Maybe you're right.

Any other day I'd be telling myslef the same thing gladly. I don't know what has come over me about this topic, but it raises some larger questions I have about the value of the degree and pay off in general.

Thanks for your input!

Mar 13, 13 6:45 pm

Wow full ride to Clemson , thats awesome emg, be proud and just remember that those other applicants will have to fork out half their paycheck to pay back their debt. My friend from who graduated from Yale is now stuck with huge student loans just recently had to sell her car.  

Mar 13, 13 6:49 pm


I would suggest you to accept your limitations, as a sign of self respect.

Architecture is a very competitive field, and the process of entering Ivy schools is not entirely democratic - graduates of other ivies or other well connected schools have an easier way in. It says nothing about who you are as an architect. Just accept, and quit thinking about it.

Regarding your decision, evaluate carefully the plus and cons of each decision. I would suggest you go to select the two or three schools that interest you most and attend their open houses. When you go, I would try to assess the quality of education and interest you put towards the topics tackled regardless of the cost. Then I would spend some time thinking about what you want out of your carreer: do you want to work for other people, do you want to direct projects more independently? An Ivy degree will allow you to mobilize people and funds more easily if you feel like carrying more idenpendent projects like starting your own firm, publishing research, etc. 

After attending all the open houses, thinking about what you see youself doing in the future and gathering the financial information, I would look at the whole picture and decide. 

Mar 13, 13 7:09 pm


Here is a little food for thought. Went to GSAPP. Got hired at a large corporate NYC firm within a 1.5 months after graduation. GSAPP's reputation/networking didn't get me the job though. My undergrad education, prior work experience before grad school and the connections/recommendations of former work collegues helped me get my foot in the door and land that job (and of course my tenacity contributed as well). GSAPP was a great experience and I would do it all over again, but learning and living in NYC was high on my priority list for my motivation on accepting GSAPP.  Like Snail said above, NYC has so many other resources and institutions, the city becomes an extension of the classroom.  You won't necessarily find that dynamic level of engagement and integration on the streets of New Haven or Cambridge.

Mar 13, 13 7:36 pm


The discussion of the debt being worth the brand will be different for almost everyone.  As someone who is probably of similar age and thinking, we share a similar sentiment that perhaps the premier education is worth the squeeze.

Above all, like many others on this thread, I believe it comes down to your individual goals.  In looking at the GSAPP, they are heavily reliant on New York as a testing ground for their students and philosophy, and rightly so.  Knowing this, I believe you must be fully committed to utilizing NYC's benefits.

Additionally, although only in undergraduate, I attended Clemson.  Should you have any questions about the program, I'd be more than happy to offer any answers I can give.  Although for the MSRED program, I have also heavily considered Columbia.

Whatever your decision may be, good luck!  And finally- make sure you know you did a kickass job in applying to schools.  Something to be truly proud of.   

Mar 14, 13 10:44 am

Thank you all for your support and input. It's a tough process to go through, and these are important things to bring up. :)

Mar 14, 13 12:43 pm

In terms of reputation for job seeking, a CV with "Clemson with full ride" could be as bright as "GSAPP (with no $$$)" ? How about including info about your admission into GSAPP to tell the recruiter that "this guy could be as good as a Columbia graduate because he was admitted there"? :))

Mar 14, 13 1:11 pm

columbia and clemson are totally different schools. if you can't decide which you're a better fit at you don't really know yourself, or you don't really know the schools.

gsapp is way overrated. it will teach you to be a talker, thinker, and technologist. in my opinion, clemson will teach you to have a better eye and be a better architect. 

another reason u should go to GSAPP over clemson is if you want to work and live in nyc after you graduate. but that's about it.

Mar 14, 13 1:41 pm


Thanks for the input. The post wasn't to decide between the two which to go to, but more to compare and contemplate the return on investmet, the high value/pressure that is placed on places such as Columbia. ALso to help post rationalize the process of tough admissions decisions, because it's a grey area to try and understand the true value of the degree compared to the enormous amount of pressure we put on obtaining acceptances to places such as the GSD or YSOA..ect.

I think a lot of time (myself in this case completely included) when we're "rejected" from the "Ivys" that we have lost a chance at "making it"..though admittedly this is a completely distorted wya of thinking, it seems to be the viewpoint of a lot of people and the general attitude regardless. I know people that have turned down great offers because they had a chip on their shoulder for not getting into the "best of the best"... I also know people that, once they get into Harvard decided that "to hell with loans and paying it back...100K is SO worth it.." but then are paying that back forever.

Forgetting, of course that Architecture school is a business. As if somehow that admittance meant nothing else in the world mattered but going because, "It's Yale," or "It's Harvard"... (Not that that is bad, of coures that is a personal decision. I'm just relenting the idea that it seems the "glory" of getting in or out shadows the entire logic behind the process? Perhaps?)

Hey, I was really upset for days after YSOA. Also because it was my first rejection from a school anywhere. But I couldn't even get excited about other offers because I fell part of that same belief system, and it confuses me..

Why is it that this is an ingrained way of thinking about schools? (Or it seems to be from what i've experienced?) and, is the actual degree really that enviable and is the payback truly worth it what we expected it to be to begin with?

I guess that was the general idea behind the post.. I think I'm having a hard time asking a specific question! haha Just throwing out general ideas!

Mar 14, 13 1:43 pm

Calculate how much debt you would have at GSAAP, and look at the amount that would go into interest.  An opportunity to get a free ride may look way more appealing.  It opens up your opportunities after graduation because you don't need to chose your job based on the pay.  Therefore, you may be able to take a more interesting job or less stressful job that pays a little less.  Dont forget that Clemson is also well known and respected.

Mar 14, 13 2:44 pm

Hey everyone. Debating lost of the same issues here.  My main question is to better understand how well regarded University of British Columbia (UBC) and University of Toronto  are int he US.

I am Canadian and have been accepted at the following schools:

-UBC (only 5K a year tuition for Canadians)

-Cornell (12K offered but still would be tons of debt 100K+)

-Penn (5K offered... too much debt but will see if I can get more funding)

-Wash U (no idea about funding just yet)

-Still waiting on University of Toronto and rejected GSD.


I I were to go to the US I am leaning towards Cornell but just wanted to get a feel for what people think of UBC and if I would have the same job opportunities after graduation.

So excited to have such amazing options considering I have no arch background but a little overwhelmed at this point.

Mar 14, 13 3:20 pm

As everyone here knows and accepts, you can only be a successful architect if you graduate from an ivy.






I'm kidding of course and rolling my eyes.

Mar 14, 13 3:23 pm

Seriously kid, you got some amazing offers so let's dispense with the "woe is me" mentality.  If you truly believe that Yale and Harvard were the schools for you, decline all the other ones and wait until next year.  You can also give both of those schools a call and have a "conversation."  You never know, they might offer you a provisional acceptance or even better.  Otherwise, wait til next year.

Mar 14, 13 3:39 pm

Let me put it this way - you are screwed as an Architect, which ever school you go to. So choose the one that screws you less!

Mar 14, 13 3:52 pm

Does an Ivy League degree (I know little about this topic other than what I've witnessed working..) pay off in terms of salary in the long run? Or not really?


not really - unless you're planning on studying under and developing relationships with specific people within the program and/or have a good idea of how you'd use the strengths of that school to your advantage in your career.  If you're just trying to get a decent paying job in architecture then it depends a little more on the location and regional stature of the program - but you could pretty much go anywhere if all you're looking for is a job.

Mar 14, 13 3:53 pm


woe is me mentality? I am beyond excited with the schools I got into.  My question was pertaining to the view of Canadian schools such as UBC in the states! Could not care less about GSD and did not apply to Yale... maybe you weren't talking to me?

Mar 14, 13 4:36 pm

"Harvard takes perfectly good plums as students, and turns them into prunes." Frank Lloyd Wright

Mar 14, 13 4:54 pm

"A Harvard Medical School study has determined that rectal thermometers are still the best way to tell a baby's temperature. Plus, it really teaches the baby who's boss."  Tina Fey

Mar 14, 13 6:40 pm

In terms of Canadian schools, I've heard that if you want to get hired, go to Waterloo.  If you want to teach, go to McGill.  If you want to become a starchitect, go to UofT.  UBC.. never heard of that place before.


e.m.g: You're not alone in feeling what you're going through.  I guess most of us are trained (even in the arch work we do) to keep pushing for the best, not settle for seconds and live in uncertainty.  The way I see it, being rejected once doesn't mean you're not good.  It just means you aren't at the level just yet, should go back and keep working and reapply when  you're ready.  Architecture is a profession that takes long to master.  I think it isn't like computer engineering or other sciences where a year off is a big deal.  There seems to be a rush in those fields to start applying what you learnt in school immediately or else you run the risk of forgetting or being left behind with new grads coming out of school.  Architecture seems to be one of the rare professions where you become more valued and have a deeper understanding of the profession as you age, unlike many other fields where a few years from now, old methods/knowledge become obsolete.

Mar 15, 13 9:01 am

Just my 2 cents.

From experience i dont think ivy league education matters as much as portfolio and the right timing with getting a job with the 'stars'. 

Very few full time staff in starchitect offices are from Ivies.  Although there are a lot of ivy interns. haha.

Get an ivy league degree if you ever want to have clients in China.

Mar 15, 13 11:53 am

After reading the various viewpoints expressed on this thread, I'm left to conclude that it would be a lot more healthy for our profession if we were to abandon the primacy given to the Ivies. It leads to a kind of harmful subservience to a self-anointed elite that does nothing to make architecture more relevant to everyday people and situations.  Instead, the cloistered nature of these ivy-league programs makes them captive to the latest radical orthodoxies that are often disguised as "the leading edge in architectural innovation and debate". The faculty and their graduates indeed come up with some wizbang solutions to global problems, but it is often never asked whether they actually work, nor if the research used to justify their solutions are valid. Remember, much of the last century's worst experiments in architecture came from these elite programs, even if it was parting of the cutting edge thinking of the times.  As far as I can tell, the Ivies have never innovated in the things that truly matter to most architects: how to create a viable business model, how to create greater social awareness and regard for what we do, and how to engage with the public to promote quality design everywhere, not just in the few institutional projects promoted by our own professional magazines. I find Auburn's Rural Studio  and U of Houston's design build program a much more inspiring model than anything coming out of GSD.

As others have already said, the further you go into your career, the less it matters where you went.  11 years after getting my MArch at top 10 school (of which I'm still paying dearly for in terms of debt), no one ever asks where I went to school, and it never comes up when staffing teams for projects.  Most of my colleagues come from state schools in the Midwest and the Plains, and they are pretty solid architects all the way around. We are answerable to clients from around the world, leaders of their industries, and they do not care that their project architect went to Kansas State and their lead designer is a graduate of the University of Nebraska. We get a trickle of people from the Ivies (mostly Columbia, a couple from Harvard), and strangely, they do not last long. They are indeed recruited for their design talent, but they have a tendency to work poorly as team members.  It's worth remembering that one of the world's biggest architecture firms, HKS, was founded by a UT-Arlington graduate.  I had the privilege to work under Adrian Smith, an A&M and UIC alumn. My current CEO is a graduate of North Dakota State.

What I'm really trying to say is that unlike Law School or Business, or even the professor track, it really doesn't matter as much where one goes to school for Architecture.  The portfolio in some sense is the great equalizer, and it's a good way for most firms to find diamonds in the rough. It's quite liberating if you think about it, and your success as an architect depends mostly on you, not your school.  The self-motivated will thrive in any situation, and personally, if you can avoid the debt, you will be miles ahead of the indebted legions of Ivy grads working for peanuts in the country's most expensive cities.  Connections matter a little a bit, but really, what can an one architect offer you over another? It's still the same crappy salary range whether one works in New York City or in Boise, Idaho. 

Mar 15, 13 4:20 pm


well said. amen.

Mar 15, 13 5:19 pm

Whoever got that full ride to Clenson...If you're debating whether to take that or not, what made you even want to apply in the first place?

How much do you actually know about the programs you applied to? Did you simply apply to these institutions based on Design Intelligence rankings and the prestigious legacy that surrounds them?

Have you seen the schools or spoken to alums? If you've done you're research and know what and where you truly want to be, then these rejections from GSD and wherever are a good thing. 

Keep working (or start), save more money and reapply next year.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting the best for yourself. Push yourself. Make it happen. Don't settle, go to the effing school you want. 

If you don't give a shit about legacy or a specific professor or approach to design then sounds like you have some mighty fine options to choose from.

Guaranteed fact, take that money from Clemson and you will be designing your own projects and exercising greater independence far sooner than a ivy kid going broke over reputation. 

Mar 16, 13 5:01 am

IN: GSD (27k), Penn(5k), UVA(3k), Parsons(8k)

OUT: Princeton, GSAPP

Princeton and GSAPP were my dream schools, mostly because my focus is on NYC urbanism and because I want to stay in the city. I'm really disappointed and I'm even considering taking the year to intern and reapply. 

I'm not so excited about GSD or living in Cambridge for the next three years. 27k is a lot of money but with the added expense of relocating I'm not sure if it's even that good.

Am I crazy for wanting to go to Parsons, where I can live at home and inevitably accrue as much debt as I would at Harvard? The program at Parsons really treats the city as a laboratory, and their design-build workshop seems amazing and is totally nonexistent pretty much everywhere else. That being said, it's a relatively new program and so there aren't many established alumni out there.

The only other place I'm drawn to is UVA because of its social and cultural focus. It's a small program and just as prestigious as GSD in my mind. But it's in the middle of nowhere.

I don't know what it is about Harvard that doesn't click with me. It feels sort of generic. Am I wrong? Anyone definitely accepting their GSD offer and care to offer their reasons for going?

Garam Hann
Mar 16, 13 8:21 am

@e.m.g. Thanks for bringing this up. It's such a relief to see that there's someone else who's having a hard time with similar issues, especially on how to navigate their personal career at this stage of life. I'm in no state or position to give you any advice about the issue (cause I'm struggling too) but I thought some empathy would help.

I'm not sure if you saw any of my posts at another thread; I also have received admission from GSAPP but got rejected from several Ivy schools including Harvard and Yale. I know now that it was naive and even stupid of me to aim only for the so-called 'big dogs', but as an international applicant I thought getting into a globally renowned school would be the best case scenario for me, giving my resume a big boost. 80% of my undergraduate schoolmates headed for non-architectural jobs (which illustrates how stagnant the architecture design field has become here and how difficult it is to get a decent architecture-related job in my country) so I thought I was the smart and lucky one.

Guess I've been misjudging many things. Now I came to realize where I stand among so many talented, aspiring architects all around the world. These past few weeks have been terribly stinging but also made me get a grip of my life and start thinking about my 'realistic' career. And suddenly realized how lucky I am to be even accepted to Columbia. Plus you're in a better situation than me cause I have Columbia as the only option.

As for the program I highly admire GSAPP and agree to the fact that it's the best match for me, but the money issue is of course a big turn-off. Speaking of the tuition: I'm thinking of applying to several in-country scholarships provided here and if they don't work out - I'll give up Columbia and get a job in a small artsy firm right away. People like us - we're just getting started.

Mar 16, 13 11:56 am


Congratulations on your acceptance to Columbia, as it is quite an accomplishment for someone regardless of their country of origin.  You are indeed the smart and lucky one, but  I hope you realize that you have plenty more options than simply going for the 'big dogs' or bust.  I am very familiar with the situations that afflict architecture students in national economies that cannot employ them very well, since I have worked and continue to work with so many people like you. They often come from non-Ivy league programs that I mentioned in my previous comment (though one did go to GSAPP ) and are doing well at my firm, taking on important responsibilities on large commercial projects with clients throughout the world.  Often they ended up going to any American program that would have them, which in no way gave them much of a disadvantage in the job market, provided that they stayed away from the hyper-competitive cities such NY, SanFran, Boston & LA.  If you are willing to be open to it, there is a wealth of opportunities for foreign-born professionals in other major cities such as Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, Saint Louis, Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Nashville, Omaha etc.  

I know this might infuriate some people on this forum, but I would suggest that you don't fall for the romantic image of the aforementioned "coastal capitals".  Although they are home to some great universities and top-flight firms, they have become highly unaffordable for people who earn modest incomes like us architects.  Though the city leaders of NY, San Fran, and Boston espouse and even implement progressive policies in-line with the supposedly most enlightened urban planning principles, these cities have accelerated their level of social inequality and exclusion, as they have become enclaves for the very rich and well-connected, while the middle and lower classes have been forced to flee further away where it's affordable. I have close colleagues with awesome degrees who have fled those very cities due to their high cost-of-living, and the detrimental effects of having to compete with too many architects for a limited number of slots available in those markets. I would venture to say that employers in these coastal capitals take advantage of the excess of supply and allow themselves to be more sociopathic towards their employees than necessary.

Mar 16, 13 1:07 pm

Though I'm Post-Professional applicant, Same exact sentiment. I had my mind set to go to Columbia after my B.Arch and have been saving since graduating for a few years now for it.

Recently accepted to GSAPP with little $, Penn with even less, and Pratt with no money at all (don't know why but I expected Pratt to be more generous with an offer than Columbia and Penn). None of which are affordable at this point without substantial loans, and it's impossible to gauge the ROI in this market to rationalize taking on that kind of debt. I don't think deferment is even an option for these programs. With about a month to decide, I honestly have no idea just yet.

Mar 16, 13 1:29 pm

I have some quick comments, and can really only speak from my experience and goals.

The decision of which school to attend can be impacted by many factors - many of which have been posted on this thread or throughout Archinect boards. There is one factor that I want to hit on that played a major role in deciding where I will attend school this fall: What you want to do after graduation, and throughout your life.

Much has been said on these boards about finding the right school for your interests, finding good connections to land a job, faculty, not paying too much, etc... These are all valid. However you have to ask yourself what you want to do after, and not just what part of the country or firm you want to work for, but what are your realistic goals as an architect in life?

To illustrate my point I want to briefly discuss my position, and then tie it back to you (and others pursuing an MArch I or II).

I am 32. I graduated with my BArch from Kansas State University, an excellent and under appreciated architecture school, in 2007. Since then I worked for a small design firm in New York, and a large and successful corporate architecture firm in Dublin, Ireland. I started my own small office 2 years ago after moving back from Ireland - and we have designed and built award winning projects. I almost have my license, and for the last 6 years have been fully employed within the profession. Why would I go back to architecture school? I'm not. At least not in the traditional MArch II fashion. As many of you may know I have applied to research-based thesis degrees. This is the result of my circumstance, my future.

I want to teach, sooner than later. I taught 2nd Year Design Studio at Kent State University on an adjunct basis, but to become tenure tract you have to at least have a Master's (and within 10 years you will probably need to have a PhD to compete for these jobs). If I want to teach and do research I should probably apply to research-based degree that may/will ultimately result in a PhD. Here is where it gets good.

The quality of the professors at the big 3 aside, if I want a PhD, I will have more options and more likelihood (generally speaking) if I get a Master's from Harvard. Plus, as part of my firm, my partner and I have already begun applying for research grants, fellowships, and travel grants - with no success thus far. But again, if I get this research-based degree with a well-composed and thorough thesis, I will be SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to receive these grants, ultimately improving the work and stature of my firm. If you don't believe me look at the winners of the LeBrun Grant over the last 20 years, and where they went to school.

Let me put it to you this way. I have no desire to ever work for another architecture firm the rest of my life. No desire to work for (or as we justify it - under) another architect. Thus, the choice to go to an excellent Ivy League architecture school makes sense, from my perspective. If I want to teach after my Master's, and continue to build my architecture practice through research, essays, and small but excellent built work, then going to an Ivy is a better choice for me. I mean lets be honest, there is a reason these schools have been some of the best in the country, and world, for the last 50 years...

How does this relate to you, or others pursuing an MArch? This becomes more complex, because I venture to say that 90% of those accepted to these programs have less than 3 years professional experience, no architecture license, and little actual knowledge of how to run (not just draw) a project from inception through completion. Thus, your post-grad school life will probably be going to get a job for a firm, building this experience over the next 10 years at multiple firms in a few cities, all while trying to pay off this debt. The pay will suck, you will struggle to pay bills. In this case, it may be advantageous not to spend $80,000+ more to go to an Ivy than another school where you may get a similar experience. This may hold you back in your young life.

Lets talk money. The degree I am applying for is 1.5 or 2 years, as opposed to many of you who are looking at 2-3.5 years. That is significant increase in the financial commitment or burden. I heard someone on these boards mention that Cornell will cost $240,000. That is crazy. With the grant that Harvard has offered me, and the shorter program, it will be roughly $90,000-$100,000 for my degree including living expenses. Break that down over 15 years and my payments will be around $650 per month ( or $8,000 more per year). I certainly expect that my salary and income will increase by at least that amount after I graduate with a Master's from an Ivy.

Plus, with the grant that Harvard offers, the cost to go to Harvard is the same per year as it was at McGill  -a relatively cheap school to attend. Note that a significant part of the cost to go to grad school is living expenses, which are roughly the same everywhere ($20,000 / year is a good budget number). The question you should ask yourself regarding money is not how much it is going to cost to go to Ivy, but rather how much more it will cost to go to Ivy than your other schools. If you got a nice scholarship or some grant money and your tuition is less than $15,000 per year at another school, then you should seriously consider this.

I also offer you another perspective. Some people on these boards have said how crippling it will be to incur this type of debt. This may be true. Let's look, however, at how much money it costs to raise a child, let alone multiple children. There are many estimates that say it will cost around $1,000,000 to raise a child through college. Let's be conservative and say only $500,000. Getting my Ivy League Master's is 1/5 what it would cost to have a child, and even at Cornell it is only 1/2! I am not going to have children, thus for me the financial burden of grad school wont be as impactful as it would on someone who has 1, 2, or 3 children.

The whole point of all of this is to say that you have to have ask yourself these serious questions, the ones that are difficult because we may be afraid of the answer. Objectively and honestly, ask yourself what you really want to do after graduation, and with your life. The answer to those questions should help you answer the very difficult question of where to go to grad school.

Take this all with a grain of salt, this all may be my post-rationalization to convince me to go to Harvard... but for me it makes sense. It may not for everyone.

Mar 16, 13 4:45 pm

mtt9999: I was under the impression that you need a master's degree to get licensed and  practice in US.  how does it actually work in the States?

Mar 16, 13 5:07 pm


I very much appreciate your point about knowing what you want to do in life after you graduate from school. It should be repeated over and over when talking to people deciding which school to attend, since I suspect most young people have no idea and really don't know what lurks just beyond the horizon. I get the feeling that many smart people make decisions about their career without realizing that having done so precludes them from experiencing other possibly more rewarding outcomes. 

This is where the skyrocketing cost of higher education, including architectural grad schools, comes in. Nowadays, going to the best schools often means accruing an insane amount of debt, which will delay going through the traditional milestones of adult life: buying a house, having kids, and being able to finance the education for the next generation. Unlike previous generations, who could 'have it all' with education, kids, house and leisure,  it appears that there are now major trade-offs to be considered. In your case, Harvard degree versus having kids. Since you are further into your career than most,  you have a better idea of what you want in life, but it must not have been easy to decide on this path knowing that you are forgoing a whole other realm of experience (ie. family life). I worry about those who go after the top degree regardless of cost, only to realize later that there's no money left to do other things that are important to them, such as having a family or a relaxed quality of life. 

Since you made it very clear what your career goals are, your pursuit of the GSD degree makes sense. If you want to do research, get grants, teach and publish, then yes, the better the degree, the better your chances. If it's simply to practice architecture in the traditional sense, the debt will never be worth it.

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