Graduate Feasibility


How is it possible that graduate students can afford elite architectural education? I don't see any evidence in support of undertaking 150+k in debt.

Can someone provide evidence, as narrative or hard evidence that this amount of debt is manageable?

Is this amount of debt a political tool to force graduates to want to be principals and prestigious people in their firm?

There exists the income-based repayment plan which is not often discussed that lowers payments substantially.

Is architecture school the new scam graduate school? How did famous architects who dean these schools and graduated from these institutions do it without their family? Eisenman, Stern, Zaera-Polo, Stan Allen, etc.

What kind of rational 22-year old decides to lock themselves into a certain future of 60-80 hours/week, climbing corporate ladders in order to alleviate the 150k in debt? Is this pathological?

Cynics not welcome in this discussion. I think people should act responsibility, knowing that future architects will be reading these threads in an attempt to guide themselves.

tl;dr what do about ivy league debt?

Mar 25, 13 9:39 pm

I think many students born in the states had parents who invested in an RESP plan for their university education the moment they were born.  Add the fact that they're citizens and have cheaper tuition fees compared to international students, plus scholarships from the university and ones awarded by other organizations, donations from grandma/pa, and they likely won't have to go into debt at all. 

Mar 26, 13 12:03 am

Going to an ivy league <> accruing over 100k in loans. Myself and a few others this year have received relatively generous financial aid packages and/or scholarship - 30-40k per year for Harvard GSD, full tuition to MIT, etc. I don't plan on graduating with more than 30k in loans (my 5k undergrad loan included), and I would definitely not attend any school if it meant more than 80k in loans.

Also: I paid 1/3 of my ivy league undergrad tuition, and won't be receiving any financial help from family members for graduate school. Worked my ass off then, and will continue to do so through grad. Teaching assistantships can run for up to 10.5k a year, and working over summers + ascetic lifestyle => potentially next to no debt for me when I graduate. 

Mar 26, 13 2:03 am

^same, except I wasn't as successful in the process tho. Not everyone gets 30-40k a year for sure, but if you get in there is always opportunities. I got 12k a year for the first year at GSAPP and plan on taking on some more stuff to get that aid bumped up. I plan on living dat ascetic life too.


Mar 26, 13 3:14 am
Alan D

While not attending an "Ivy", I will be that far in debt by the time I graduate with my M.Arch in 2 years from a world class institution. 

I am graduating this spring with a BA in Arch. from UC Berkeley and will be continuing there next fall as an advanced placement student. Because I am a high achieving, low income EOPS, first generation college-bound, etc.. student my undergraduate education was covered with grants and scholarships. As a graduate student I will be receiving full-funding, fellowships the first year and fellowships / teaching positions the second.

Why will I be so deep in debt? So while my tuition and fees are covered, material costs (which add up as we all know) and living expenses (medical, rent, food, etc..) for a family of four are what's putting me so deep in debt. But the answer as to why I am doing this is simple, even if it takes a lifetime to pay off. This is what I want to do (academically and professionally), and I've spent enough years (I'm 29 and have been working "real" jobs, manufacturing, labor, etc, since 16) on the other side. This is what it costs to climb castes, so to speak, and to live as an example to my sons that quality education and the pursuit of your passion is possible despite how it appears on the surface or in the bank account.

And, to the OP, even if I am making loan payments my take home will be on par with what I would have probably been making if I never pursued higher education, plus I'll be doing something I enjoy. Plus, when I'm done my wife's going to med school, so maybe she can pay back both of our loans :) 

Mar 26, 13 3:14 am

150+ K dollars in debt is literally too much to handle by a young architect (even if  the architect posses top academic scores). The simple reason being the low salary that a young architect would get after graduating, which isn't fair at all.

Mar 26, 13 8:04 am

Alan D.:  Your last sentence says it all.

Mar 26, 13 10:13 am

I can completely understand Aland ,

I was stuck working as debt collector ,customer service , taking jobs that I absolutely hated,
But when you have a child you need benefits , income , so I can empathize and understand how taking on debt to pursue your dream job is worth it , the sweet is never as sweet without the sour

Mar 26, 13 10:27 am

I, too am wondering the answer to this question. I've been really mulling this over for quite sometime now. I have been accepted to GSAPP, and though I dream of attending, I am just so torn up and sick at night about the prospect of being in my early 20's and taking on over 150K in debt.

How is this even managable? Is it? Is it worth the ivy leage education?

I really want to attend, I just don't understand how to afford it and would do so in a heart beat if I knew 100% coming out of school that my life wouldn't be miserable trying to pay back loans.

Mar 26, 13 10:33 am

I graduated in 2009 from a 4yr with over 100k in debt. However I split it with my parents (God bless em') so my portion was like $67k. I took a non-arch job in DC making decent money and lived at home till 25. I now owe 21k. Was paying $1200/month. However I quit that job to pursue architecture in another city so I been on-again-off-again unemployed since Oct so my student loan payments have been minimal. Once I'm back working full time and steady I plan on paying off the last 20k shortly. I actually have that in the bank but need to keep it since I'm not really working.

IDK how so many people got scholarships. I was a minority with good grades and I got one $1200 scholarship and like 2 $1000 grants on my 100k tuition.

Mar 26, 13 11:37 am

Carrying around $150K of debt will probably prevent you from buying a house, possibly getting married and/or having kids, saving for retirement, etc.  All for the priviledge of (maybe) getting into a profession of low earnings punctuated by periodic bouts of unemployment (who makes the payments then?) and tedium doing the 90% of architects' work that doesn't involve creativity or design.  And you're having doubts???

Mar 26, 13 12:44 pm

really guys? I mean If you graduate form harvard or columbia, how much money / year r u gonna make?

I'm international and I have no idea

Mar 26, 13 1:33 pm

I offer you this perspective (previously posted on a dead-thread). It is relevant, and may offer some insight:

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 26, 13 7:13 pm

These schools are only as good as the people in it.......i.e... yourselves.

Academia is an investment, yes, and I'm 100% for everyone getting the best education they can.....but I foresee the academic institution (at least the architectural/design professions) undergoing a major paradigm shift as for the talents they attract. It's simply uneconomical for a young architect (or a smart one at least), to take on any more debt than their entry level salary. (Which varies of course, but for those who don't realize: somewhere in the 35K-55K with a masters degree).

I've seen GSD, GSAPP, PENN, UCLA...etc...graduates come out at the end of their studies with the same position as a non-brand, lower tuition school student. And here's the secret folks: these school's won't make you any BETTER or WORSE of a designer. Yes, the faculty and city you're exposed to during your studies may vary, and let's say even the networking may be greater. But theses are only opportunities for you to enhance yourself; they are not inherited, "Get out of Jail Free" cards, where you can expect a higher salary, or somehow, all your debt will magically disappear once you brush shoulders with "X,Y, or Z architect."

Please, everyone, who is looking at schools: Sit down for 30 minutes, do a cold-hard breakdown of the costs of your school options, and look at the possible loan repayments for 10-20 years. If you're really serious about your profession as an architect, you need to see the long-term affects of your decisions you make now. See it as a design exercise, and then choose the best school for the value you will be paying.

I guarantee you, that if future architects that are looking at schools took the 30 minutes, we would find quality students coming from every school. With less debt!

Wouldn't that be fabulous?

Mar 26, 13 7:25 pm

@mtt9999: your post is really insightful and very logical. Thanks for sharing to someone like me in my mid 20s who's about to go to grad school for Pratt. First choice was GSAPP but I didn't get in. crap! No funding as well. So all of your questions are so useful for me figuring out where would I wanna be after grad school. Thanks!

Congrats for the Harvard acceptance! 

Mar 29, 13 9:18 am

I'm going to have to work my ass off. I probably won't be able to start a family until way later, if at all. I understand the financial implications. I have a little scholarship which is like, the equivalent of 3-4k off at a cheaper school. I'll try my best to mitigate them with a TAship or RAship, and by working in the summers and during school. But I know I'll graduate with a lot of debt. And it's going to require unearthly discipline, patience, and maybe some ramen.

But GSAPP is amazing. The environment, the studios, the work to be done. And the history of the school are simply phenomenal. The precedent-as the first to reject Beaux-Arts, the first to really push digital tools into architecture.

I am interested in the unusual, not for the sake of being avant garde, but for the purposes of a better architecture and being a better architect. GSAPP is critical of themselves continually in a brazen, rigorous way, more so than any other school I have encountered. David Benjamin is doing real good work. The design studios are furious. I'll be exposed to every relevant software and have access to the biggest architectural library in the US. My urban background is NYC, with all its relevant practicioners, professionals, and professors.

If I can't find a job with all this, it's on me, not on my school, as can be seen by the GSAPP report.

Whether GSAPP's innovation is relevant, is a misplaced question. The research is relevant because at GSAPP there are people trying to build connections to make architecture relevant and powerful. They are trying to do something different, and that makes the biggest difference.

Mar 29, 13 10:42 pm

architecture tution costs should be proportional to the job market and the pay in this profession ><

Mar 29, 13 11:19 pm

Help from parents, partial scholarships, working 20-25 hrs./week; living cheap. Now that jobs are so scarce, I don't know how people do it. I got indefinitely furloughed one week before the end of my last semester, my job lasted just long enough to get me through. Go state school for the first 4 years, save money. Once you know what you're all about architecturally, pick the school that best defines you and pay what you think it's worth. Thats the degree that will follow you. Get a job during school to cover living expenses. Avoid loans for living expenses at all costs, only use it for tuition. Live cheap. Assume no monthly payments besides phone, utilities & rent. You won't have time for cable TV. Cars are handy, if they're paid off and parked for free.

Mar 31, 13 11:52 pm

Wutiswut, thanks for starting this thread. The feedback that everyone has given so far is great. I am in the final stage of deciding which M. Arch (3.5 years) program to attend. Financial aid is a main factor in my decision - in fact, at this point it's more like the main factor. I'll admit, part of me is hesitant to more affirmatively state that because I worry about declining schools whose design philosophies I may be leaning more towards because their costs would be higher. I know there's the potential of qualifying for more scholarships/grants/fellowships from various sources as I matriculate during a program, but the practical side of me would rather be safe than sorry. I also know that a degree doesn't guarantee a job, and I don't want to put myself in more debt than necessary. The "what do you plan to do after graduation and throughout your life" angle gives me something to bring into the forefront of my consideration as well.

On another note, what would you all say is a reasonable amount range of loans to take out during the first year?


Apr 2, 13 7:42 pm

whoa what? 150k in debt?

Just got accepted to Harvard, was given a substantial amount of grants that is based on my income level. After that the loan amount is very small and nowhere near 150k. Who is being asked to pay that much? Why? No I don't many students could ever afford that much in loans.

Apr 2, 13 9:40 pm

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