Long Gap Between Bachelor and Master degrees

good details

Hey all, I'm applying to M. Arch programs for Fall 2018.  I have a pretty large gap in my formal education and I'm wondering how to go about the application process.  I graduated with a Bachelor of Environmental Design in 2012.  Afterwards, I did small-scale design/build work for 2 years and then spent the next 2 years living/working abroad at a non-architecture related job.  My time from now until Fall 2017 will be spent traveling.  I'm feeling extremely excited and prepared to go back to school, but am wondering how this gap will look and what exactly it entails for my application.

I've roughed out my portfolio and as it sits it will have:

  • 2 or 3 school projects (one of which I totally revamped a couple of years after graduating)
  • 4 projects from my design / build job (a table, a standalone interior structure, and two interior renovations including custom designed and built fixtures). I plan to include construction process photos and sketches of these as well as final photos.  We (I was part of a 2-person team) did no computer work for these projects.
  • 2 competitions I've done in the last two years on my own while living abroad
  • Mayyyybe a bit of photography (I got into my bachelor program on a portfolio that was 100% photography so I feel its pretty strong).

I'm worried I'm not including enough school projects, but it was so long ago and I'm not too proud of many of them.  My more recent competition projects are much better.  I also want to show I know how to swing a hammer since the design / build projects were all designed and built by me and my coworker.  Does this seem like a good percentage of projects from each category?

Another issue I'm having is that I stupidly didn't stay in contact with any former professors.  As most graduate schools require at least 1 recommendation letter from a former professor, I'm at a bit of a loss as to going about this.  Emailing a professor 5 years later out of the blue doesn't sound like a way to get a good recommendation letter, if they even remember me at all.  Any tips from someone who maybe experienced this dilemma?


Cheers in advance!

May 10, 17 11:27 pm

Rule of thumb for gap years is to not extend beyond a 5 year window. You'll be fine.

Besides, you're needlessly worrying about grad admissions since they have a pretty steep folio criteria (not in terms of design): size; layout; pages etc. Pricks...

May 11, 17 2:37 am  · 
good details

Not sure I understand your second comment?

May 12, 17 10:28 pm  · 

The world is full of people who have gone to graduate school long after their bachelor's.  So don't worry about that.

Now, you're right that you should be able to explain this gap (via your application essay or an interview): what you've been up to, and what now brings you back to school for an MArch.  But the notion that there's an expiration date for this process is false.

As to potential recommenders: this is harder.  Would the admissions folks accept a letter from an employer or two?  Or, you could also try this: identify the 1-3 faculty from your undergrad days that are likeliest to remember you.  Write them a letter (better than an email, more respectful, less likely to miss), maybe include a photo of yourself, and explain your predicament.  Might they be willing to meet with you for 15 minutes so you could refresh their memory, and show them a few graphics from your class with them?  Then, hopefully, a letter from them?

That might work.  Good luck!

May 11, 17 3:02 pm  · 
2  · 
good details

Yeah, I think I have a pretty good idea of what to say in my application essay.

As far as meeting with former profs, that's not too possible unfortunately.  I live on the other side of the world now.  Great advice though, I'd totally do that if I could.

May 12, 17 10:29 pm  · 
K Way

Perhaps though, you could do a zoom meeting to talk about your undergrad experience and graduate intentions?

Aug 5, 22 12:04 pm  · 
Smile of Fury

I went to grad school about 7 years after undergrad. I think the "gap" in your education path is fine. It's part of your story as an applicant, and they definitely don't want every student to be coming directly out of undergrad.

As for the letter of recommendation, I had zero chance of connecting with an old professor. I took a few classes at a local community college before I applied and got a letter from one of those professors. Probably not ideal, but was good enough for my needs.

May 11, 17 4:01 pm  · 
good details

Hmm, sounding like I may just have to send a "hey, remember me?" email...

May 12, 17 10:30 pm  · 

I agree that your gap is definitely fine and might even be pros. And you are still on the same path of the profession, which is great. Many have to do unrelated jobs after Bachelor for years just to earn the tuition fees for their master degree, and many of them got accepted to great programs.

But what program/course are you interested? More theory side or construction or parametric? Some universities prefer excellent academic ability while others focus on your design/practical ability in general. This will affect the portions of your academic/practical projects in your portfolios, especially for those who require very limited pages/projects. 

May 23, 17 12:16 pm  · 
good details

Hey thanks for the reply! I'm interested in more construction / material based education. Not too interested in theory or parametricism, though I see the benefits of learning about them more.

I am planning to attend school in Canada (wayyyy cheaper tuition than the US).  Schools on my radar are UBC (my alma mater), Dalhousie (I'll need to do a bit of their undergrad prior to entering their Masters), and UofT.

May 24, 17 1:55 am  · 
K Way

Hey good details! I am in the exact same boat as you. Also very concerned about how to get recommendation letters. 

One idea I've had is to maybe only use one or two professors for a reference letter, which would be weak/bland given our lack of robust personal or academic relationship. And, instead, I'll lean on a letter or two from a personal or professional connection, like a friend or an old boss, who actually is a trained architect, designer, construction mgr, etc, and could speak to my thoughtfulness about the profession and demonstrated commitment to learning about the field. So for you, perhaps someone from your old design/build job or a mentor who you consulted with for your competition projects? Or a close friend who's an architect you've spoken with a lot about the field/design issues?

I'm applying for MLA programs and have worked as a farmer and landscaper under a master gardener, architect, and experienced farmer, etc. I learned a lot on the job. I realize recommendation letters from professors are meant in part to highlight your capacity to engage in academic, scholarly learning. But I also think schools recognize the value of experiential learning, and would find it acceptable for recommendation letters to come from folks who gave trained us outside of the classroom and have developed our skills and minds. 

But, I do not work in admissions. I would love for someone who works at a school or in admissions to chime in!

good details, if you get any more advice or decide how to approach this issue, please update this post! It would be a help to me and future readers. Good luck!

Aug 5, 22 12:20 pm  · 
K Way

oh geez.... just realized this original post is from 2017... anyways, advice is still needed!

Aug 5, 22 12:21 pm  · 

Hey funny seeing this old thread pop up (can't remember my login for the 'good details' account).

Aug 7, 22 4:49 pm  · 

The forum software for this website is so terrible...posted reply too soon and can't edit. Anyways, I wound up reaching out to an old prof that I enjoyed having who wrote one of my letters. The other was a former employee. Fwiw I finished my Masters in April and am now working at my dream office. Good luck in your educational pursuit K Way, life has a way of working out.

Aug 7, 22 4:51 pm  · 

I'm an architect with 10+ years of experience. I have worked on diverse scales and typologies of projects at all stages. I've always had a fascination for technologies in design and so I explored and have been proficient in quite a lot of softwares. All these years, I have been attending workshops and webinars often on various programs and design. I've also used them in my professional/personal works. Now, I'm planning to do masters in architectural computation. I'm aiming for ICD Stuttgart, Bartlett, AA or ETH Zurich. How difficult could it be for me to crack into colleges/universities?

Aug 11, 22 11:28 am  · 

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