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Is an M.Arch from a top-tier school necessary based on my interests/background?

derekluu

Intro: I'm currently attending UCLA, doing my undergraduate thesis on architecture as it relates to gentrification in minority neighborhoods. My goal in life is to do a PhD, become a professor, and teach architectural history/theory.However, I don't feel ready to jump straight out of undergrad into a PhD program. So I'm wondering if I should do an M.Arch.

Why I think I want to do an M.Arch:

I was working on the non-acreditted B.A. in Architectural Studies for a year, but decided to drop it because it wasn't what I expected and I wanted to focus on the social/historic aspects of Architecture instead of the aesthetic/technical. Since I'm not majoring in architecture anymore, I feel completing an M.Arch will prove I have some competency in the subject before a I apply to a PhD in Architecture.

My faculty mentor and the TAs from the architecture department all recommend that having experience with studio culture in an accredited program and some time in the field will be "enriching". It can expose me to topics that I might wish to pursue for research.

The M.Arch will give me a safety net as a more tangible career path, assuming I no longer want to pursue academia. Aside from researching and teaching architecture, I wouldn't mind designing for commercial/retail spaces or even public institutions like libraries/schools/community centers.

I really like architectural education, haha.

Why I dont think I should do an M.Arch.

I'm only slightly interested in the profession, I don't really see myself at a firm designing for the rest of my life.

I can avoid unnecessary debt, especially since I don't plan to use the professional degree for its "primary" intended purpose. I most likely will loathe preparing for licensure and the ARE.

I assume the skills I will be learning from an M.Arch will prepare for licensure rather than tenure. if my goal is to teach architectural theory/history, maybe I should consider doing a masters in art history or some other program that is academically heavier.

I won't have time to work on my research. Yes an M.Arch looks good on paper, but ultimately what matters in academia is your work and I won't have a good writting sample while trying to balance the conventional architecture school workload.

I'm more interested in Architecture as it relates to Urban studies and Historic Preservation than I am in just pure tectonics. I feel that very few M.Arch programs provide these areas of focus since they have to be regulated and standardized to

ulfill  NCAARB requirements. 

The programs I'm considering: 1. CalPoly Pomona (CPP) 2. UCLA 3. UC Berkeley (Cal) 4. MIT 5. Columbia University (GSAPP)

Deciding Factors:

Locality - I've lived in Los Angeles all my life, and I would like to stay home to take care of my parents, save money, and continue doing my research which is very much tied to the city. Therefore CalPoly Pomona and UCLA are my top choices for the M.Arch, but a small part of me wonders if I should move from home for the three years to "grow" and "broaden my horizon", hence why I included Cal, UBC, MIT, and GSAPP.

Affordability - I'm lucky to say that I'll graduate debt free and I want to avoid acruing huge amounts of debt. so I'm very wary against doing a Master's program in private schools, hence  why I didn't mention Sci-arc or USC.

Fit vs Prestige - This is the main thing I struggled with. There's this split between...

oing what makes you happy vs. doing what makes you "sucessful") In this case, doing a program at CPP will make me most happy since it's a program that's more down to earth and more socially concious than the "floating building-type" education common in higher tier programs. But there is a reason that the top tier programs are considered as such and therefore attending them will hold more weight/advantage when I apply to a phd program.

However, my experience at UCLA has been bittersweet because I felt like I was blinded by the brand and didn't really consider whether the school actually fit me when I was applying as a highschooler. While UCLA isnt an Ivy league, it's ranked high enough for me to understand that prestige is BS but sometimes that's how life works and prestige affords a lot more convenience and opportunity. But still, I dont want to make the same mistake.

Conclusions: CPP makes the most sense, as I will finish it with only 30k in debt, I will have decent enough exposure to the studio culture and it happens to be the most employed architecture school in LA. I'm  also a first-gen college student, so CPP will be a nice change in social climate for me compared to UCLA. The program also gives a concentration on historic preservation which is something I'm very interested in and related to my research. The only drawback I see is that it's not the most well equipped program to prepare me for research and it isn't as well respected compared to the other programs I listed.

UCLA is a compromise where I can continue to work with my faculty mentor and attend a school with a good name. But with prestige I trade off a better fitting curriculum and the opportunity to explore a new school. The program also costs about 50k of debt.

I chose Cal, MIT, and GSAPP because they are all perfect places to prepare me for an academic career. With curriculum and faculty that fit my interests, I don't doubt an M.Arch from these schools will introduce to me to the right ideas, people, and opportunities. However, attending them is a guarantee that I will drown in debt from tuition and cost of living. Debt that a professor's salary will barely chip away.

TL;DR

Should I do an M.Arch if I want to become a professor?

If so, does the school's prestige matter or should I choose solely based on my needs and interests?

Do you have any other suggestions for what to do in between undergrad and a PhD?

 
May 20, 20 12:28 pm

1 Featured Comment

All 7 Comments

Featured Comment
Non Sequitur
  1. Should I do an M.Arch if I want to become a professor?
    1. Yes. An accredited one.
  2. If so, does the school's prestige matter or should I choose solely based on my needs and interests? 
    1. Absolutely
  3. Do you have any other suggestions for what to do in between undergrad and a PhD?
    1. Work in the field.  We have enough students who go straight to teaching without ever seeing what architects do. Even if it's a historical/conservation type gig given your research interests.
May 20, 20 12:41 pm  · 
2  · 
square.

i strongly second point 3

1  · 
thatsthat

If you want to become a professor in architectural history/theory, I suggest looking at M.Arch programs you'd want to teach at and see where those profs went to school and what their path was. 

You can get a PhD in Architecture, but there are PhD and Masters programs in Art and Architectural History that may be better suited to your interests.  These programs are research, reading, and writing heavy; there is no drawing, studio work, designing component. (I came from a BS Arch program, hated studio, and got a Masters in Arch History instead with the intent to get a PhD in Arch History as well. Chose to pay off my masters instead and got licensed.) Society of Architectural Historians has a list of arch/art history graduate programs in the US that may help you: https://www.sah.org/docs/defau...  This is what I used to start my grad school research.  You may also want to look into Masters programs in Historic Preservation as they may give you a more employable outlook while still allowing you to do the research you're interested in.  Many preservation programs require an internship/work experience in the field which also helps you understand the what the field requires, types of jobs available, and future employment.

Another consideration is that it is extremely hard to get a job in academia after PhD. There are a lot of PhDs and not a lot of jobs. It is advisable to get another skill that will help you whether it is architecture, historic preservation, drafting/modeling, etc. 

May 20, 20 12:51 pm  · 
3  · 
Andó

Hi OP,

based on the information provided, it seems like a 2/3 year professional degree doesn't appeal to you. And that's fine. Actually it could be great. You've already identified specific interests - these areas of interest may change - but it comes across that you are more interested in cerebral thought processes and theory, that doesn't necessarily mean the production of buildings. Good! We need more of this. Architecture is a relatively well established and stable profession- like Medicine - but unlike Landscape Architecture. A profession is really a fiction. It's a system of ideas about competencies and requirements built up around something so that there can be a general consensus about how one should go about doing things. But you're not interested in this are you? Don't let the structures of one profession limit you because you are interested in the discipline. The discipline of architecture, and the profession of architecture are two separate things. You don't want to be a professional architect: that's fantastic! Focus your energy only on where you think you can contribute the most.

I'd recommend exploring the History and Theory courses of good schools, and get a sense of the background and path the individuals who taught these courses took. Many of them may have studied architecture. But you don't need to study a professional degree in architecture to be a professor in the discipline of architecture. Maybe you don't even need to teach in a school of architecture to talk about architecture? Broaden your references a bit, look at liberal arts programs (like Nature Culture Sustainability Studies at RISD), look at Fine Art, Design and Landscape Architecture programs. Don't jump into doing a masters. It's a huge step. Take enough time so that when you've made a decision, you're certain.

May 20, 20 1:06 pm  · 
 · 
Volunteer

"Another consideration is that it is extremely hard to get a job in academia after PhD. There are a lot of PhDs and not a lot of jobs. It is advisable to get another skill that will help you whether it is architecture, historic preservation, drafting/modeling, etc. "

Tatoo this on your forehead. 

May 20, 20 7:35 pm  · 
3  · 
square.

yes, it's why i would actually recommend potentially going through the licensure route; it would make the op a better academic, but also serve as a solid back-up plan or income supplement to those adjunct positions that seem to be the norm these days.

1  · 
midlander

you really should be looking specifically at who are the contemporary architecture writers and thinkers you admire and focusing your plans on studying in programs and schools where you can work with them. your interest is already quite specific; an m.arch from a geographically convenient school might not help at all.

May 20, 20 7:38 pm  · 
2  · 
midlander

also given your background you should try to speak to someone working as a professor in the area your interested to get some general advice on the career. it's a very difficult niche and even being an outstanding student wouldn't guarantee a stable career following this interest.

2  · 

Yes, in your situation, you should do an M.Arch.

Fewer and fewer architecture schools have faculty members who do nothing but teach history and theory. Many expect those faculty members to be able to teach studio as well. An M.Arch. will assure future employers that you are qualified to do that. Spending at least a couple of years working in architectural firms will help, too, while broadening your ideas about architecture.

However, it doesn’t sound like there’s any point in you taking the AREs or becoming a licensed architect. Getting licensed would simply help you keep a foot in the world of practice after you start the PhD.

For most universities, the M.Arch. is considered the “terminal degree” in architecture. This is important because it opens up possibilities in terms of what academic positions you can fill and how much you are compensated. From their point of view, a PhD would just be a cherry on top, even though for your own sake it is necessary if you’re serious about history and theory.

Many M.Arch. programs offer merit scholarships that can pay for all of your tuition and fees, and sometimes even more. You could graduate will little to no debt, even after accounting for living expenses. 30k debt is a lot. With a scholarship, you may be able to attend a top-tier East Coast school and owe less at the end!

Depending on the program and its electives, you can take lots of history/theory classes as part of your M.Arch. degree. If the program includes a thesis component, you may be able to do a written thesis that would lay the foundation for your future research and writing.

The only sensible alternative to doing an M.Arch. before you do the PhD is to change routes completely: go into a humanities or social sciences PhD track (anthropology, sociology, etc.). You could even study architectural history within the field of art history. Yet each of these options is a totally different world compared to the world of architecture schools. Many architecture schools won’t even hire someone with that kind of background. lnstead, you would be preparing yourself to teach in either art history departments, anthropology departments, sociology departments, or liberal arts colleges.

Family and finances are understandable reasons to want to stay in LA. However, if you are willing to consider leaving, then look at many more programs in other states. You want a program that will give you lots of access to a greater number of top minds doing work in history/theory, especially the kind of history/theory that you’re into. MIT and Columbia are good places for this. So are Princeton, Cornell, Yale, and Harvard. Look into the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. It’s true that finding the right “fit” is important.

One last thought: you can’t know what will make you happy until you’ve tried it. My opinion is that, if you can get into them, top-tier M.Arch. programs would be very gratifying, better prepare you for a PhD, and put you in close contact with leading historians/theorists that will also propel you toward your future work.

May 22, 20 9:29 am  · 
1  · 
square.

Many M.Arch. programs offer merit scholarships that can pay for all of your tuition and fees, and sometimes even more. You could graduate will little to no debt, even after accounting for living expenses. 30k debt is a lot. With a scholarship, you may be able to attend a top-tier East Coast school and owe less at the end!

some good advice overall, but my experience (and that of colleagues) has been anything but what you describe in this paragraph. state school tend to offer generous scholarships, as often their tuition is much cheaper, but very few students who are admitted to ivies or "top-tier" as you describe receive any if little scholarship (i attended one myself and received a half-tuition scholarship, which was incredibly generous compared to my classmates). a full-tuition scholarship is almost unheard of for the majority of students in these programs (i think princeton being the exception?) and reserved only for the most exceptional students in each program.

1  · 

Thanks for the clarification. Yes, most schools only give a full-tuition or even full-ride scholarship to only a small percentage of applicants. The is quite generous about scholarships, even though most of the ones given out do not pay for everything.

 · 

(Can’t edit my own post; let me try that again!) Thanks for the clarification, square. Yes, most schools only give a full-tuition or even full-ride scholarship to a small percentage of applicants. This is true for the GSD, too. Yet, at the GSD, merit-based scholarships and need-based financial aid combine to eliminate tuition for a large minority of domestic students. Rice and Princeton are also good at combining scholarships with financial aid to make an architectural degree very affordable or free. In the past ten years, elite schools have gotten a lot better about this than they were in the past. It’s important to clarify that state schools generally do not give bigger scholarships than top schools with deep pockets. As you explain, it’s the low tuition for in-state students that makes public universities advantageous. Thus, for an average student, it’s always more affordable to go to an in-state school. For an exceptional student, however, it can be the same cost or even less expensive to go to a top out-of-state school.

1  · 

By the way, yes, it’s a good idea to have an M.Arch. to fall back upon if the academic route doesn’t pan out for you. Academic jobs are getting more and more competitive every year. There are way too many people who are highly qualified for these positions relative to how many of those positions are available. (See The Professor is In by Karen Kelsky.)

May 22, 20 10:37 am  · 
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