Applying for Architecture School

Sep 16 '13 5 Last Comment
Sep 16, 13 1:10 pm

I am a 19 year old international student from Singapore, graduated from school (equivalent to Grade 12 in the US) with UK A levels, taking a gap year to work before applying for US university admissions for next fall. While looking up on universities offering accredited degrees, a few questions have began floating in my mind.



Presently I am considering to pursue an architectural education to become a practicing architect in the future. My interest in hands-on craft work, for instance festive card-making and origami, during my early years has since developed into an interest in the design of buildings, the urban plans of housing estates (involving blocks of apartments and amenities such as parks, playgrounds, carparks, and greenery) and how ingenious design and spaces can both influence human interactions and activities, as well as impact the environment. I know for certain that i am not looking for an Art degree, i would say that I am more of a problem solver than an expressive person. However, I have not taken any art or design-related courses in school. The focus throughout my education was mostly on more critical skills such as English, math, the sciences and humanities. Thus, with regards to the portfolio required for most admissions, I have recently started to pick up drawing skills on my own, and began creating pieces of work. And admittedly, my sketching skills are poor, although I believe I may possess other relevant qualities such as spacial awareness and perceptiveness. What I want to ask here is, are my motivations aligned enough to pursue an education in architecture? There is a lot of self-doubt as to whether architecture is suitable for me, or rather, if I am suited to read architecture, as compared to perhaps the majority of other applying students who would have had a strong background in art or design, who possess strong relevant skills as well.

In addition, browsing through the student works from various schools, I came across different concepts and ideas, some of which have puzzled me. For instance, students from Cooper Union had this as part of a course brief:

Social Space: An embodied experience of representation.

5A. From absorbing to projecting: project the film. Turn on the two projectors and continue to absorb footage with the cameras, at the end of each day add the day’s footage to the projecting film.

5B. From projecting to absorbing: absorb the room.

Using descriptive geometry and perspective the entire first year drawing studio is absorbed into the cylinder. Each student locates their desk within the cylindrical picture plane and constructs the intersection of the cylinder with the axonometric constructed from each individual montage mounted on the desk.

The representation is the social space

Working individually within a group, construct the following drawings:

(1) Locate your individual axonometric projection on the surface of the cylinder.

(2) Construct four critical vertical sections and one critical horizontal section of the first year studio space.

These drawings are cut through the cylinder and are absorbing the individual specified axonometric. Scale: 2"=1' (3) Two critical vertical sections and one critical horizontal section cutting through the cylinder. These sections locate the individual specified axonometric. Scale: 6"=1'


Working together as a class, each group according to its self-defined area of inquiry will LOCATE A BODY OR BODIES within the site. Each intervention will ‘create a situation’ of passage and inhabitation within the site.

The interventions must anticipate passage of light, passage of the vision, passage of the body. These interventions are relational; they at once crystallize the existing conditions and propose architectonic responses anticipating a body or bodies within the site.

Taken from:

Looking through the brief as well as the end-result, I have not been able to comprehend even to the smallest degree what they aim to convey (read - illogical). In comparison, looking at the student works from Carnegie Mellon has made more sense to me, such as configuration of spaces (link: which is also why it is on my list of schools I intend to apply for. My question would be, how common are such abstract (really, really abstract!) content present in architectural education today? If I am not able to comprehend such, would this mean that I am not suited to read the degree? Is there any action I can take to mitigate this issue?


To find out more information on the different universities, I have had to begin my search based on the top schools ranked by Design Intelligence, those that offer accredited programmes. Reading through the different threads here as well as other forums, I've gotten a major information overload and too great a scope to handle. In addition, reading through the course briefs of the schools, they generally convey the same message that they prepare student for the profession by providing a holistic, well-rounded education. Is there a better way to look for and discern schools that suit me in the US?

I am looking for schools that have a good balance of both theoretical concepts of space, ethics, and practical, up-to-date aspects of technology, sustainability and design. For instance, taken from CMU, "What is unique at Carnegie Mellon is its commitment to architectural design excellence linked to environmental, social and technological innovations and its strong link to graduate research in architecture.", that which seems to closely align with what I am looking for in my future architectural education. I understand that art-related skill sets are essential, but I also want focus on more underlying analyses in critical thinking and design processes.

I heard that SciARC is mostly about the drawing/design/abstract aspect, while RISD seems so too from its strong focus on art and design. Both Rice and Syracuse seem to have generic and similar programme introductions on their websites as well. Any opinions? (At this point in time, let me exclude other considerations such as location, student population demographics or cost for now.)

Any sharing or advise would be really, really appreciated.


Sep 20, 13 6:54 am

Sorry guys I realised I wrote too big a chunk, but anyone can offer experiences on RISD/Syracuse/Rice/Cornell/Carnegie Mellon? 

Lian Chikako Chang
Sep 20, 13 3:09 pm

Can't answer your larger question about whether a-school is the right choice for you. But I wouldn't worry too much if you don't understand a project brief. In school, these are presented with a fair amount of conversation and context in order for them to make sense.

But certainly, many architecture schools (and some more than others, as you're aware) will expose you to a fair amount of conceptual and abstract thinking!

Sep 20, 13 9:00 pm

Whether you will have a more conceptual or a more practical experience varies significantly depending on which school you choose. I can't type much right now, but probably the best thing for you to do is to look at the student work.

Sep 21, 13 11:36 am

19 and applying for architecture school... I would say don't do it. DON"T APPLY TO ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL. That will probably be the be advice you would and could hear at the moment. I was 17 when I was accepted to KSU, and it was ranked 6th in the nation for architecture. Sadly, architecture is not a viable career path for the "common 99%ers". Unless you have tons of inherited wealth, or a big foot in the door with very successful architectural firms, you will only suffer in the latter after graduation.

Nowadays, saying that I want to be an architect is the equivalent of saying, I want to be in the Olympics, or I want o be an actress... it can happen, but even with a go-getter attitude and tons of zest in life, if you can't support a family, much less yourself, you will regret your ambitions to be an architect.

I advise all in your position to "PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!"

I actually just left the profession. After graduation in May of 2006 I was off to a so-so firm that had hired me right out of college in Dallas, TX for $36,500 annual. I learned tons, more than any school can teach, then the recession hit in late 2008. I was let go after the 2nd rounds of lay offs. Only middle management and the freshest and cheapest Cad monkeys where kept. I looked and looked for 3 months but nothing. Started serving food at a 24 hour diner for 4 months. Moved to Hawaii with the girl I was dating. Found a job working for a local architect that did high end homes, though this is great! Then his Japanese clients started pulling the project's plugs. Tried selling Kirby's & solar panels to ppl's front door steps, Caught my girlfriend cheating on me. Left Hawaii immediately. Now I was really LOST. Back to Texas and surrounded with friends, apply at the last minute for my M.Arch just to keep myself busy and in the industry. I find job doing Section 8 work at a local firm in Ft Worth, Tx. I get accepted to the masters program at UTA. Graduate at the end of 2010 with my maters and still working for $16 an hour at the Section 8 Firm. I notice that all the older guys at that firm, which there was only five of, never made more than a little over $40k and their skills where antiquated from not pushing themselves when they were younger. I left to see if the grass was greener in Colorado, where I was born & raised. I moved in to my mother's basement and tried to do a start up with an old HS friend that has been a licensed contractor in the area for 6 years. This was at the beginning of 2011. End up mostly doing manual labor and a few construction details here and there for the business. Then my business partner broke up with his GF and wanted to leave Colorado Springs to go to Vail and escape his past. Great, whatever. Now it is the middle of 2012. Completely feed up with the dead ends I had come to I just started blanket mailing my resume and a well crafted cover letter (explaining how I was a single individual w/o kids willing to move to wherever they where) to every architecture firm in Colorado. Archiplanet listed about 600. Yep, I sent out roughly 600 emails, 1/3 of them sent back to me due to them closing their doors. Then I would say about 12 ppl email me back and said your stuff looks great but at the moment we are not hiring, and the rest I never heard from. One firm did send a psychical letter in the mail, ONE. As I waited to see if anyone would bite I flip'd a house for my family which took 6 months, and lived in it while doing it. Then finally a local hiring agency called and said, "we found a job for you at a IT company using Revit @ $14 an hour for 4 months!) YEAH! Four month came and went, and so did my $14 an hour, as I lived in my mother basement now that the house I flipped was rented out. Then with luck I picked up another job with a local architect in town. He was young (37) and did stuff I liked architecturally. Again I was feeling really good! Hired me on for $21 an hour and we worked on a new house design that would go into the Waldo fire burn area. It was great for 7 months until he ran out of work to keep me aboard. So he said he'd have to let me lose. Another blow to my very bruised architecture ballz. Then miraculously a month and a half later I get an email from an architect in Denver asking if I'm still looking for a job... why...YES I AM. I go do the interview, and get an offer for $14 dollars an hour. At this point (the end of 2012) I really start to roll my eyes... $14 an hour with 8 years of industry experience.... really. In actuality I just shouldn't have taken the job. I write back that I would only do it for $18 an hour. We settle on $16 an hour with the promise of a 'performance assessment' review 3 months in, and if I do well I'll go to salary. So 4 months go by at this firm, and at my review he low brows me and basically says that "all you're good for is drafting". So be it, but this was the kick! He wanted my salary to be $2750 a month before taxes and all the shit. And my apartment was $750 a month for a 450sqft place. And then insurance, food money, gas money. I wasn't even about to make ends meet. So at that review I asked if the $2750 a month was negotiable? He said "yesss?!). So I asked if he would be willing to raise me to $3000 a month. That is a super modest request for someone that is 30 year of age with 8 years of industry experience, that isn't even $36,000 annual. He was stupid enough to reply with a smile that, "he didn't pay anyone that in the office", not even the guy that has been working at the company for 6 years, that you laid off in 2008 only to rehire for pennies on the dollar. I was very DISCUSSED.

Luckily I have a friend that has been making art for the past 3 years traveling all over the country to art festivals to sell his art. I quit that job 2.5 months ago, and moved in with my friend to make art. I'm am leaving for Florida in 3 months to sell my stuff as a sole proprietor, and I am not certain how I will fair, but am at the point that I am willing to try anything to get out of the redonkulus rat race in architecture.

Sitting in a cubicle all day, and then the strife of no ladders to climb, and the dismal building economy has only made me feel like a loser in life. Just now am I getting out of this grave I have dug for myself... do yourself a favor and don't dig one!

Sep 22, 13 9:37 am

^ Well yes I understand the generally-not-so-great (or rather, bleak) prospects of the profession, and the potential depths of making this choice, but I think I'll stick to my interests and see how things go further down the road. And I hope life for you gets better as the economy, and country, recovers slowly as a whole. 

@Chang - Yes I certainly hope so. And honestly speaking, no I actually haven't got much of a clue, besides the general vision and brief-est of course outlines from school websites. Could you enlighten me on the different areas of focus of schools that you're informed of? 

@snail - Definitely, that is perhaps the only alternative way of learning more about of schools that I know now. Would you know other ways of finding out more about the areas of focus of a school?

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