Free Ride vs School of Dreams


Hey all, 

I canceled my MArch I apps last year and now regret it.  I did a mad email blast this spring to schools seeing if anyone would take a late applicant. 

Only a few schools got back. After long discussions about the programs and sending my resume, transcripts and portfolio, I have a few offers to attend. Two have even offered a full ride. Free tuition for all three years, including an MRED! 

The catch is non of these schools are exactly what i had in mind when I decided years ago that I wanted to do my MArch I. I worked hard to align myself for a top tier school like UPenn, MIT, Michigan and so on but now I feel a bit guilty that I am selling my self short. However, I know those schools will give me very little money and I will end up with huge debts. 

So, in the end, I am a bit torn. Free money to go to a smaller lesser known school right now or delay another year (29 years old now) and go through the whole intensive application process again. 

Thanks in advance for the feedback!

Jul 14, 13 11:07 am

A lot of these "smaller lesser known" schools have solid regional reputations.  If they are in the region that you ultimately want to live and work, than it is definitely worth some consideration.

Rather than digress into another discussion on  the value of names and ranks, I'll offer an approach based on time.  Let's say you take the free ride.  Now rather than saying that you're saving yourself a year, move that year to the end of the M.Arch I free ride.  Many top tier schools offer a one year post-professional M.Arch II or an MS.  Now you've spent the same total amount of time, get you're brand name label, and only paid for one year.

The thing that you need to look at, and do some soul searching on, is why do you want one of these brands?  Is it name recognition?  Employability? Is it a research focus?certain faculty that you want to work with?

Jul 14, 13 1:51 pm

JW - Sound advice! 

Brand name schools have had my interest for a few reasons, such as resources and facilities, breadth of curriculum,  degree options and obviously marketability. I didn't go anywhere fancy for undergrad and felt like this was my opportunity to branch out into the "big leagues."

However, after speaking with some alums from the "lesser known school", I think I am going to give it shot after all.  

I want to go into development and this school has the staff and education track to get me to where I want to be. The savings will only allow me to do my own projects, that much quicker. 

I am still interested in hearing what others have to say. 

Jul 14, 13 3:07 pm

No matter what school you attend, you're making 42-45k at graduation. Isn't that easier to swallow without 100k in debt? 

Jul 14, 13 3:08 pm

even with an mred and 5 years of experience in business development and urban planning and design?

Jul 14, 13 5:05 pm

VoN Lee....only if you start making a statement with your name.  People will notice.  I you don't believe me ask, "PRINCE."  The big name schools are great, that is if you already have money in your pocket, cause you have most likely grown up with kids with financial resources, gone to prep school with kids with financial resources, gone to a top flight undergraduate school with people who come from families with financial resources.  So you most likely have a lot of contacts outside of the profession and  those are the people going to be hiring you as their Architect after you put in your intern time in most likely a firm who depends upon those people  who have the financial resources, to get you in the door. Best of luck.

Jul 14, 13 6:02 pm

i f you are thinking to get a license all those years of experience in other fields will not lead to increase in pay over others most likely - because it won't make you any more productive as an architect.  Unless you plan to do the same job you used to do but inside an arch firm, in which case, why bother getting march?

it's an annoying profession when it comes to pay.  then again so are most jobs out there...

ivy school will give you great connections along with large debt.  backbench school will give you connections too, possibly better ones if you want to focus on money rather than design. That said, even if you do want to become design-led sort of architect it isn't necessary to go to fancy school. It's possible to do that regardless, if you are ambitious enough.  On other hand you may feel out of touch with your teachers and classmates if what you are after is nothing like what everyone around you is interested in.  That's a pretty soul-crushing environment to spend any time in. I'd worry more about the cultural match than the financial one if all else was equal...

Jul 14, 13 10:40 pm

I agree with what everyone is saying. I think that the reality of situation is that studying to become a traditional architect is no longer a means to an end, without a lot of luck and undeniable talent.

I know for a fact that I am not the next Bjarke Ingles or Herzog & de Meuron... Rather than try to be a revolutionary architect, I'd prefer to be a great urban designer and even better real estate developer.  I don't plan on logging endless hours on cad as an intern. I do plan on building my own projects and I believe an architecture education can only compliment my future business endeavors.

While I'm sure it is easier said then done, the goal is to follow the Johnathan Segal and Ted Smith model, Architect as Developer, which is taught at the school offering me scholarships.  

The real estate aspect is the most important aspect of the education for me. Being in the studio, building furniture and learning the creative process is something I always wanted for myself.  But at the end of the day, I realize that I am better at business than design. 

Jul 15, 13 9:23 am
boy in a well


but you know yourself I guess....

Jul 15, 13 9:29 am
Go for the free ride at the best school that offers it to you. Every. Time.
Jul 15, 13 10:37 am

^ Yes. 100k+ in debt is far more than it sounds... it's crushing. You're also quite confident that you'll get into these schools; not guaranteed. You're extremely fortunate to apply late and get into a school at all... just do it. 

Jul 15, 13 12:10 pm

Square - I completely agree. :)

Jul 15, 13 1:02 pm
Why go to high end school if you dont want to be next BIG thing? Sounds like you answered yourself.

My biz partner is developer and architect. He didn't study business at school just learned on the way. It has nothing to do with architecture really.

Putting good architecture together with making money takes a lot more effort and means you build for people with crazy money cuz medium money will never pay for anything worth looking at twice. If that's your goal it might be better to get an internship with the Related group (not sure if that's their name, but they do high end apts with pritzker architects,etc, see the latest zaha project on the high line) or similar.

As an aside If a license is a goal for you then you will do stupid cad at some point. IDP will ensure that you do quite a lot if it. There are no real shortcuts unfortunately. Not sure why you would like to skip that anyway. Lots of learning to be had while cadding.
Jul 15, 13 6:18 pm

I graduated with an MArch and MSRE degree last year and am around $90k in debt. Trust me, GO TO THE FREE SCHOOL. $90k debt is ridiculous for anyone (yes, even if you are in the real estate development world like myself). Lesson learned. 

Jul 15, 13 11:09 pm

n_ are you happy with the dual degree path? 

Even if you are not using the architecture side, did you enjoy the education and do you find it helpful?

interested in hearing what you are doing now, where and anything else you would like to add. 



Jul 16, 13 9:19 am

I would like to say that I very much use my architecture side, although I don't work at a traditional architecture firm. I am constantly used as a resource for design, construction, building massing, FAR requirements, general code information, zoning questions, etc. In fact, I'm positive that one of the main reasons I was hired post graduate school was because of my unique education and previous experience in architecture firms. Get this, I even draw out stuff on AutoCAD sometimes. Who knew! The developer/owner side still needs these resources, along with the business/financial side of making projects work.

And, yes, I was happy with the dual degree path. I'm not going to lie- it's difficult. Architecture grad school is ruthless. And add a business-minded degree on top of that removed any sense of sleep for a few years of my life. However, I recommend it if you are sure this is what you want to do. I had my normal challenges- one program is very left brained and the other is very right brained. Sometimes it was hard for me to sit in front of an Excel file and create a proforma when I knew I had two section cuts, four elevations, and an unresolved site plan waiting me in my studio. However, I would argue that these concurrent degrees benefitted my projects in both programs- I easily had the most developed schemes in all of my real estate classes and often designed with a better understanding of context and demographics.

Jul 16, 13 12:19 pm

thanks for the thoughtful response n_.

given your past experience and new shinny MArch + MRED education, can you share how this impacted your job search and ultimately your salary re-entering the market?

Do you feel that your are in a better position in terms of job security and growth within the firm than before (ie. senior management...) and were you able to leverage the MRED into a high salary?

Jul 16, 13 12:40 pm

Having both degrees surely made me a more unique candidate in the job search. It definitely helped me in the interview process when I was able to talk about FAR requirements while simultaneously discussing how it impacts the investor's ROI. The real estate development side is definitely my weakness because I had no professional experience and I certainly didn't try to hide it. All my knowledge on the subject was academic and not professional so made sure that I was still looking for entry-level position in real estate development.

I am at a small developer + construction start up so growth possibilities are great. I was their 4th employee. However, it is a young start up so job security always remains on the back of my mind. We are busy now (and I hope to remain busy). I know that the experience I'm learning now is invaluable which will help me grow within the company or do my own thing when/if I'm ready. Typically, the real estate development profession is paid higher wages than the architecture profession. I don't know if the MArch degree helped me achieve a higher salary but it certainly made me a more unique candidate.

Jul 16, 13 12:58 pm

N_ ...if you are still around, how important is the brand name coming out of school? Did you come out of Columbia GSAPP, MIT or somewhere like that or ASU, Maryland..

Upon graduating from your program, what made you feel like you couldnt jump right into doing your own projects? Money? know how? lack of resources and unfamiliarity with that market?

Jul 25, 13 2:45 am

Yes, go to a free ride at the school you consider the best.

Jul 26, 13 9:43 am

If you want a job for a well known developer say in NYC, a school with a 'name' may mean more than a lesser named school. It really depends where you want to live, where you want to work, and what you want to do with your degree. I've notice that real estate is much more about networking. I feel it's who you know that's more important. 

There is NO way in hell I would jump into my own development project right after graduating. Some people may take that risk but it doesn't interest me at this time. Just because I have the academic background and understanding of the process of real estate development, doesn't mean I have executed or understand all the hiccups you'll experience along the way. I'd much rather learn that on someone else's dime, then do my own thing with that knowledge a number of years from now. Also, trying raising equity for a project by telling people you have zero experience but a fancy piece of paper. 

Jul 26, 13 7:58 pm

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