How can I get into Harvard GSD


Interdisciplinary focused and well-versed, big-picture thinker, extremely knowledgeable about planning/built environment, obsessed with design.  

Graduated from the University of Denver with a 2.95 GPA in international studies (focus on economic development) and sustainability (urban studies). For the last year I have been a transit planner for a state DOT - excelled professionally (tangible accomplishments, and building my network at the state level) and served on several committees (including a governor appointed one). 

I am still probably a year (or two?) away from applying to planning/design schools. I do not yet have a portfolio or technical design background. If I was to set a goal of getting into a top design school two years from now, what can I do to make that happen? Is there anything I can do to off-set the poor GPA? Will professional accomplishments, relationships, or becoming active in planning industry organizations help?


Nov 28, 18 1:43 am
Non Sequitur

everyone and their grand mother think themselves literal popes of design. Self evaluation will not get you anywhere. 

Shitty GPA is often indicative of bad academic functionality and I would not be surprised if your application gets tossed simply for not making their minimum gap cutoff. 

What do you have available in terms of design portfolio? 

Nov 28, 18 7:13 am

Is there any combination of GRE


From previous experience in helping review graduate applications. GRE is almost at the bottom of things considered. You better have some excellent letters of recommendation and portfolio to go along with them


Starting from 2015 until now, GSD is easier to get into, at least according to my peer's (mostly Chinese) data. Here is a simple explanation for that: since 2013-2014, a new round rally of  architectural industry begin, which results a relatively fewer domestic students attend a master program. Meanwhile, schools need keep their funding at the same level, from students' tuition. How? One way, increase more international students; another, increase fee. 

Donimo effect is that, schools must balance the standard of admission and incoming students number (for their money). Now you know, why GSD is easier to get into recent years.

Then, to yourself: Portfolio always be the first, and essential factor to evaluate a architecture student. I had been a broad member while I was in my school, when I review applications with other juries, they always got attracted by portfolio, even though their GPA is lower than average. The fact is, we choose like 50 first round for final 20 admission by portfolio, then we look at all other things, refer letters (any strong connection/big names?), gre/ibt(especially for international student), and P.S, GPA.  So low GPA do offset your chance, but not the most important factor.

 So go to keep refining your portfolio.

FYI, choose a direction you are interested in and express it clear in letter of interest or Personal statement. Also do not put too many your professional works and group works. Connections can be used for recommendation, but professional works are mostly appearing in a job hunting work sample, not academic application one.

If you get any chance, try to have a gap year to work/intern in a big firm(SOM/HOK/KPF/GENSLER,blabla)/starchitect firm(BIG/OMA/UNSTUDIO blablabla), easier to got some referrals and good for job hunting after your graduate as well.

Nov 28, 18 9:59 am

speaking from experience, the gsd condenses a semesters worth of work at a mid to low tier design school into ~1 week.  you're expected to function at a high level over an 80-100 hour work week.  you aren't coming to the table with a 2.95 from CU boulder, which has the advantage of being a decent state school, you're doing it from CU denver, which...calling it a remedial feeder school for the CU system is the polite assessment.  adcom will take one look at the GPA+alma matter and conclude that, if admitted, you'll crash and burn in the first semester.    maybe you're some design genius and your portfolio will get you into the "chance applicant who pays full tuition" pool but no design degree is worth 60k/year.  consider applying instead to perfectly respectable schools like UW or UT Austin, where you stand the chance of being admitted and getting some financial aid out of the deal.  

Nov 28, 18 10:51 am

Thanks for your comment. With my current record as it stands, it is possible to get into UW or UT Austin with financial aid?


To be clear (and to move away from the value-laden critiques), my question is, based on what you know about me, how can I get in?

Is there any amount of time elapsed and contemporary achievements that can offset a poor GPA?

What do I need to achieve professionally? Who do I need to connect with and demonstrate my value to? Will it help if I take more classes and excel in them? How can I fix the GPA blemish and show that I am a worthwhile candidate?

I know there are no shortcuts and I will do whatever I have to in order to get noticed. Is there a formula for admission which overlooks the GPA challenges? 

Thank you all for the constructive responses and helpful recommendations.

Nov 28, 18 12:45 pm
Non Sequitur

Waiting it out will not eliminate a poor undergrad GPA as it is an easy triage method to eliminate folks who are academically challenged.  You're looking at a top 5 design school.  You want them to be very selective or else what's the point if you're just going to sit next to another sub 3.0 GPA chump?

No shortcuts and unless you take another undergrad degree or somehow boost your existing GPA to acceptable level (3.7 or better from what I hear from folks here), you're shit out of luck regardless of what "connections" you make in the real world.  

Take the advice above to heart and switch your focus to lesser schools if you want a fighting chance.  Do you draw, paint, sculpt? What do you plan on building your entrance portfolio with?  Most portfolios take years to assemble and show quality design and thought process.  This is not something a mere mortal can produce, with zero training, in a few months.

Nov 28, 18 1:22 pm

"based on what you know about me, how can I get in?"

Work on your portfolio. You'll find years upon years of helpful portfolio advice (including good advice for applicants from non-Architecture undergrads) by searching this forum's archives.

Without a portfolio, nothing else about you matters. A good portfolio will easily offset a not great GPA or lower GRE scores. A perfect GRE will not offset a bad portfolio.

Nov 28, 18 1:29 pm

I really appreciate this, thank you


If you have to ask, then you aren't qualified

Nov 28, 18 4:34 pm

Why do you need to go back to school if you already have a planning job and have been excelling / making great connections?  Eventually if you want to move up, it sounds like you have that opportunity to do it professionally.

Seriously, if you can learn on the job in lieu of going back to school for this, I'd say stick with it and keep learning.  I mean, if you go to school, for planning/design, wouldn't you just be applying for a job similar to the one you already have?

Not to say you can't go back to school, just curious what the motivation is if you're already working in the field.  

Nov 28, 18 4:46 pm

Thanks everyone for your comments, I am taking it all in. 

I understand how nauseatingly bright-eyed bushy tailed and naive this will sound so please bear with me - as this forum's comments have been (and I expect they will continue to be) very helpful.  

There are a couple of reasons why I want to go back to school. First and foremost, it's my life's goal (as I am sure it's the goal of many around these parts) to do everything I can to promote happier, healthier, more connected, and equitable communities by building better spaces. 

I am extremely passionate about the entire community development spectrum (public health, economic development, sustainability, etc.), and I want make my contribution by focusing on design. While I am currently a state planner and could continue my personal growth in that direction, I want to (and always have wanted to) segue into formal physical design.

The thing that overwhelmingly attracts me to GSD is the opportunity to learn with, interact with, and become connected with a wide variety of. interdisciplinary programs, experts, and stakeholders. The opportunity to collaborate with a diverse set of thinkers to work on solving problems is BY FAR most important to me. 

Are there suggestions of other schools that are structured in a way that could help me achieve these goals? Are there other non-academic routes to promote good design and break into big-picture public-serving problem-solving conversations? 

Nov 28, 18 8:32 pm

Once you get your first professional degree, you can always get a post professional degree at the GSD, which will have much greater flexibility and have more interdisciplinary opportunities.


The thing that overwhelmingly attracts me to GSD is the opportunity to learn with, interact with, and become connected with a wide variety of. interdisciplinary programs, experts, and stakeholders.

c'mon tandytb, this is either untrue (and what actually attracted you to Harvard was the word Harvard) or willfully ignorant of the fact that essentially all architecture programs offer those opportunities.

here's the reality: 2.95 is a low enough GPA that acceptance into a top- or middle-tier program is almost certainly not going to happen. you just don't have the tools to build an incredible portfolio, and even with an incredible portfolio you'd likely still be rejected from any strong program.

so you're asking the right kind of question here, one which probably deserves its own thread:

Are there other non-academic routes to promote good design and break into big-picture public-serving problem-solving conversations? 

but to answer your original question, I can tell you with near-absolute certainty that you will never attend the GSD, and that's okay. i'll never be an astronaut. some paths just require more forethought than others, and now you're facing the consequences of whatever you did in college that led to the 2.95. 

that said, there are lots of planning and/or policy graduate programs out there that would look very favorably upon your professional experience. the GPA is always going to be a hurdle in any graduate application, but architecture admissions committees just don't really care about your unrelated work experience. 

Nov 28, 18 10:50 pm

How long have you been out of UG? If it's been a while you can take some additional courses and build an alternate transcript, but you need to get As in each course. This is pretty common with MBA or MD applicants... And have a kick-ass portfolio. Good luck. 

Dec 2, 18 4:24 pm

I don't understand why you are so fixated on GSD. Let's consider for a moment that GSD is so strict about GPA (as some people have commented above), why are you not trying to go to other top schools, where you can get everything you'll get at GSD. I am at MIT right now with full scholarship, which is no less than GSD (if not better), and there are other top schools - UCL Bartlett, Berkeley, Delft, Yale etc, I got admitted to almost all of these schools and my undergrad GPA was 6.7/ 10 which is roughly equal to yours. I didn't apply to GSD because it required GRE. I had good internships (so some good recos), decent portfolio and a good SOP in my application. 

Don't pay attention to harsh comments such as Placebeyondthesplines's. GPA is NOT the most important requirement of most architecture schools. A good portfolio, SOP and reco letters can easily trump GPA. Super good grades in architecture school are no indicator of how good a designer you are (if you want stay in academia, do a PhD etc it might matter). Many great architects failed in architecture school. 

Start working on your portfolio, do some good internships (dont care about salary so much at this point), write a genuine, compelling and good story as to why you want to attend grad school. If you do all of this I am sure you'll get admitted to one of the top schools. You should definitely apply to all good schools. 

All the best

Dec 3, 18 4:16 am

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