Importance of which school you go to for M.Arch?

I am graduating this spring with a BFA in Architecture and am currently deciding on grad schools for fall 2014. In figures, Cornell University will cost me $171,750 in loans when I get out in 3.5 years. Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) will cost me $245,500 in loans when I get out in 3.5 years. California College of the Arts will cost me $123,000 in loans when I get out in 3 years. Each of these figures is give-or-take a few thousand depending on future scholarships, TAships, etc. So, my question is, is it more important to go to a big name school like Cornell or SCI-Arc, or to come out with less debt?

Apr 22, 14 12:45 pm
On the fence

Oh God.  Not again.

Apr 22, 14 2:29 pm

I wouldn't say TA-ships are "a few thousand". At many schools they cover tuition and sometimes add a stipend. I know Cornell and SCI-Arc have B.Arch students you'll be able to TA. Does CCA have undergrad archies?

Also, while there is such a thing as national "name", regionally popular programs may be just as recognized as national powerhouses. Are you looking to work in California?

My short answer is go for money and fit, not name. When you attend a program and hate it, or when you graduate and can't afford to live without roommates, the name on your diploma won't save you. Your starting salary will not be affected by where you went to school. Any jobs after that will even more certainly not be affected by the name of your school.

A subjective opinion: Anyone who really cares what brand name is on your diploma -- vs what your work looks like -- is probably not someone you will enjoy working for. 

Apr 22, 14 2:58 pm

Big name schools get you jobs at big name firms. That's how I got my job at BIG in NYC making 24k. 

Why would you take on so much debt?

And.....Would you base any major life decision on an anonymous forum?   

Apr 22, 14 3:02 pm
Non Sequitur

No degree is worth $100K+

da fuk they teaching kids now'adays in undergraduate programs?

The school's name is far less important then portfolio you build. That's what employers need, not just a penniless sap with a fancy piece of paper in a glass frame.

Apr 22, 14 3:16 pm

Haha , exactly,  don't base any life decisions based on Archinect blogs, or listen to any of the crap on here. 


Anyways how is Sci-arc $245,000 and somehow more expensive than Cornell(45,000 yr).  Im going there and the tuition is about 40,000 a year.  Perhaps if you include living expenses but youll face that regardless anywhere school or not. Plus I thought San Fran (CCA) was the most expensive place to live. 


Apr 22, 14 3:20 pm

I'm not blindly basing my decisions on this forum...I'm looking for advice from those more experienced than I am.

The numbers I've given are the loans I will be taking on in each case, which are based on each school's total estimated expenses.  I'm trying to weigh my options here, with as much info as I have, not knowing how much money I will make when I graduate with and M. Arch degree. 

Apr 22, 14 4:44 pm

I think California is where I want to be in the future, so those schools are more appealing to me now.  CCA has undergrads too, so this could be a great opportunity to make a dent in costs.  I'm just trying to leave with an M. Arch and be able to afford to live.

Apr 22, 14 4:50 pm

What you should do immediately is get precise information out of each school's chairs/faculty as to how many TA posts there are each year and how likely you are to get them.

The general rule is don't leave school with more debt than your first year salary. You will make no more than $50k your first year. I left B.Arch school with ~1/2 of my salary in loans. Even that's not fun.

I am transitioning into landscape arch and starting an MLA program this fall. Chose a full ride at a very solid state school program over partial money at the fancy names. If you're wondering -- no, it doesn't feel like "settling". Once the dust settles, you will be glad you made that choice.

Apr 22, 14 5:34 pm

go do your masters in Canada.. Some of their schools like Toronto and Waterloo is well respected I hear, and you'd probably only pay 1/5 of the cheapest school in US even as a foreign student

Apr 22, 14 5:55 pm


SCI ARC AT $245,000.  JFC.  Unconscionable.

Go work for a year.  Get out and experience the world.  Do not ruin your life with that kind of debt.  

Apr 22, 14 8:10 pm

The most kafkaesque thread topic. This same conversation appears every year, multiple time a year. You might as well search other threads and find the exact same conversation happening, over and over.

And yes, a quarter of a million dollars for a degree in a profession that pays maybe one fifth of that amount a year would be financial suicide.

Apr 22, 14 8:35 pm
All those are silly prices. You won't get paid enough to make it worth your while. Why are you bad at math? Just do the math - loan payoff per month vs expected pay per month vs expected living expenses after graduation & you will discover that even $30k in loans is an onerous amount to borrow.
Apr 22, 14 11:05 pm

Does that include any incurred debt from your undergrad?

250k really is unconscionable... you will owe more each month than you will make after taxes... I really don't think 120 is much better. I mean, you can't even take out that much on a governmen loan, where is this money even going to come from? No bank in their right mind would give it to you.

Moving on...

I am not optimistic about TA options either, if they money isn't there in the offer it's hard to move with any assumptions of future aid.

Honestly, if you're set on going to grad school take a year or two off and try to find something in the field to hold you over and then come back. Apply to schools and take something that offers you good scholarships. Defer the offer a year and try to get in-state tuition (if offered). You got to do what it takes to get those numbers down!

Apr 23, 14 2:34 am

loan shouldn't exceed projected first year earnings (if you want to have a reasonable life style), so look to limiting to $30k~$45k (or get them high enough to kick your loan repayments under IBR/IBC where the repayment is set at 15% of your salary max).

Schools can matter in the network they would open you up to - most alumni will help you out a bit with job searches, career counseling, etc.  It's not to say it's worth hundreds of thousands more, but it is helpful when moving around geographically.

Pick the school where you won't drown in debt, but also will give you the best chance to succeed as a budding architect.

Apr 23, 14 9:59 am

"Honestly, if you're set on going to grad school"

What other options do I have coming out of undergrad with a BFA in Architecture? I've been under the impression that it's almost a necessity to have a professional degree.

I'm coming out of my undergrad (a state school for which I got a good amount of scholarships) with $80k in loans.  How do people even pay for this stuff??  You're talking about $30k being a lot and that's not even in the ballpark for me.

Apr 23, 14 10:03 am
On the fence

Ok.  I think people are trying to help you not commit hari cari ten years after grad school here.

80K in loans already.  Plus 100k-250k for a masters????

My advice is for you to go find a job asap for a few years.  Hopefully save some money.  Then, with a greater understanding of your situation, make your decision as to a masters program.

Apr 23, 14 10:54 am

Not to be alarmist, but you're already in bad shape loan-wise.  Get a sense of what it takes to pay back the debt you already have and then decide if you truly want to incur more-- or if you actually want to spend your life in the poorly compensated universe of architecture.  You have your ENTIRE life ahead of you-- do not handicap yourself like this right out of the gate.

Apr 23, 14 12:04 pm

i would also read this thread for a taste of practicing architects' gripes re: beind underemployed and underpaid --

Apr 23, 14 12:20 pm


This is random, but you won't believe this! Upenn got back to me after I declined their offer and gave me a full ride scholarship! Isn't that amazing??? I'm so happy!

@Bryany Burke

Now back to the main topic of this thread lol I originally turned down Upenn because of the amount of debt I would incur (in the 200k range like you mentioned earlier). Even so, the state school I was going to attend was going to reach almost 100k so I do feel where you're coming from. I would suggest going to the least expensive school and then working your butt off and applying to as many scholarships as you can. I will be doing the same since I need to pay for living expenses on my own. This of course if you really must go to grad school right now. Good luck! I hope it works out for you like it did for me. 

Apr 23, 14 2:09 pm

This is random, but you won't believe this! Upenn got back to me after I declined their offer and gave me a full ride scholarship! Isn't that amazing??? I'm so happy!

Are you serious? I didn't know they were allowed to do this. I'm happy for you (congrats!) but that kind of pisses me off. I am accepting their offer on a smaller scholarship and would have loved priority on any full-rides that become available...

Apr 23, 14 2:16 pm

Not surprised about this, either!  Lucky you held out.  They would have taken that cash from you had you agreed to it.  

So Penn it is?  MAKE SURE that the scholarship they've offered is for THE ENTIRE program without some hidden stipulations where they can take away the scholarship during the second and third year-- SCHOOLS PRACTICE THIS TYPE OF SKETCHINESS.  You don't want to get there and then have them pull the rug out from underneath you.  GET IT IN WRITING.

I would recommend looking for scholarships on Fastweb to cover the living expenses.  Also, there are zero-interest loan programs available to certain religions and minority groups.  Tap those.  I used them to cover living expenses and have found them invaluable.  Also-- be sure to make an excel spreadsheet to budget and stick to it!  Going in debt for living expenses is dumb.  You'll live like a pauper while in school, but you'll be happy you saved once all is over.

And yes, Roshi, they're allowed to pull scams like the one they pulled on you.  

Apr 23, 14 2:24 pm
pale shelter

150k+ loans my fckn godd ... starting pay architecture: $45k if you're lucky. Avg home in my midwest city: $205k...$280k in my neighborhood for a single bedroom condo. You'll be asking yourself, wtf the instant you're 5 years into the profession, making $800 - $!200/monthly payments for your arts degree while drawing bathroom elevations or detailing windows .. thinking; wow; that $1000/month could almost pay my mortgage .. of which I can't afford, because I earn 1/4 the cost of a home when you should never pay 2.5x.

I had only $10k in school loans and I still feel poor; ranked #6 undergrad arch school and cost me $65k total 2003-2007 in state.. Don't forget, you should have $100k in retirement by age 30 if you want to live past 65 on more than peanuts... (of which I can't even get close to as an architect)

Doctors take on $200k loans because they earn $140k+ when they start and $300-400k after 10 years. You see that? That's an ok ratio of debt to earnings. Your 1:3 or even 1:4 ratio is not.

Don't expect a business or finance class in your architecture education... I'd recommend personal finance as an elective. You'll learn things like compounding interest and maybe supply+demand economics... and how you would make more lifetime earnings as a product manager at the grocery store vs. taking on 200k in loans as an architect.

-College cost is fcked up ... architecture cost in this market... is majorly beyond fcked up... it's actually humorous its so absurd.

Apr 23, 14 2:29 pm

Thanks Roshi, it was truly a blessing since Upenn is my dream school and I was truly saddened to not be able to attend for financial reasons. 

Apr 23, 14 2:31 pm
pale shelter

*produce mgr not product mgr .... dairy mgr whatever

Apr 23, 14 3:23 pm

I am not going after a masters degree.  I have a BFA, like OP and I think I gained more value from working than going back to school.  What they teach at school holds nothing to what you will learn in an office... even if you start as a CAD/Revit monkey.

Apr 23, 14 4:24 pm

I should also add that you should check your state's jurisdiction.  Something like 13 or so states do not require a professional degree to obtain a license.  In my case, Tennessee, all I need to do is finish my IDP, have three years of interning experience, and complete the ARE.

Here's a handy URL:

Apr 23, 14 4:33 pm


I did get everything in writing and it does cover all three years, including a fourth year if I do a dual-degree! I will look into those zero-interest loans since they sound like a great option. I've also made a list of scholarships that I can apply to in the near future. Do you think I should a meal plan since I'll be on campus most of the time? I doubt I'll have time to be cooking and packing lunches. I also need to account for health insurance costs while I'm in school too. So far I applied for a minority scholarship that I'll find out from in July so I'm planning on taking out a loan to pay for my room and board and continue applying for aid throughout the program. This is definitely intense but exciting nonetheless!

P.S. I don't mean to distract from the main topic of this thread but I feel that this information could be helpful to Bryany as well. 

Apr 23, 14 4:54 pm

This is all wonderful news.  Congrats, Hp.

Meal plans are overpriced.  On the other hand, you'll be chained to a desk all the time.  What are the prices for meal plans?  I'm inclined to say just suck it up and pack your meals.

If you're a minority in any way (black, Jew, gay, tall, what have you) I would Google "[minority category] + scholarship" and see what comes up.  

Just keep prices low.  People kind of go loan happy on living expenses and then forget that they have to pay those back too.  

Apr 23, 14 5:15 pm

So for the most expensive meal plan the cost is 4780 for the academic year. That will basically get you 3 full meals a day. That averages out to about $478 if you divide it into 10 months which is a rough estimate of the academic year. That is a very generous amount if compared to the amount of groceries I could get with that. But It would be convenient to the studio, good for allnighters, and I could actually have healthy food options. Thoughts?

I also was thinking about getting a studio and I found one for about $540 plus electric, heat, and internet. I don't think it's bad and it's a bike-able distance from campus. I found some roommate options, the lowest being $450 plus utilities, which ends up coming very close to the studio price and it would consist of living with about 6 people; utilities also tend to be higher for houses that large. Im not sure if it's worth the $100 difference. What do you think?

I'll definitely look for minority scholarships since several of those categories apply to me. It seems that a lot of them are catered towards undergrads but I'll keep searching. 


Apr 23, 14 5:49 pm

I do have thoughts but it might be more appropriate to correspond via private message.  Feel free to PM me.

Apr 23, 14 5:57 pm

Sounds good!

Apr 23, 14 6:35 pm

What other options do I have coming out of undergrad with a BFA in Architecture?

@Bryany. I think you've answered your own question. incurring 203-325k in total debt is NOT an option!

You're not wrong that going into architecture is pretty tough without a professional degree, I mean, you can't actually become an architect without one. However, if not getting that deep into debt means you don't become an architect, then that is an option you have to consider. Unless you have some kind of external windfall you will be in some serious ****. I don't mean to be a downer, I just really don't think it's feasible and want to help you avoid lifelong financial ruin.

I think my initial point stands, which is that you need to find a way to wrap up your education without going much deeper in debt, if that requires you to take time off, then so be it. I feel like 100k should be a hard limit on debt for someone in the arch profession. I don't think it's even remotely healthy, but it's possible. Remember bankruptcy doesn't get rid of student loans.

Apr 24, 14 10:18 am

I honestly think that passing up Cornell is hard to do. It has a small class size and very difficult to get into.  That being said, you probably have a better chance for a TA position because of the small class size, and since there are alot of undergrads, there is probably more opportunities but I would check with admissions or current students about that .  Another option is to just be a bad ass in your first year and try to be in the top of your class and get a continuing student scholarship. 

If you do take time off, just remember that tuition costs rise every year and some more than others.  (scary) And some schools wont re-accept you if you decline them, maybe defer if you are unsure. 


Good luck 

Apr 24, 14 11:38 am

DO NOT LISTEN TO ROB4 WHO IS ADVISING YOU TO INCUR 170,000 in debt for an architecture degree.

Apr 24, 14 11:45 am
On the fence

But it will be cheaper now.

Next year it will be $190,000  So it would be well worth it right?

Apr 24, 14 2:06 pm

It's not worth it on the fence, too much money. that's over 1,500 a month in loan payments. Totally unmanageable. 

Apr 24, 14 4:29 pm

An important factor to keep in mind when taking on education debt is that you can spread out the payments for 30 years and when you do that you end up paying back what you borrow in inflated dollars. With inflation $200,000 will seem like very little in ten years and in twenty to thirty years it will be like pocket change. There is such a thing as good debt and bad debt. Fancy designer clothes is bad debt. The best education you can give yourself is good debt. 

Apr 24, 14 9:24 pm




Loan Calculator 

Loan Balance:$200,000.00

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Apr 24, 14 9:28 pm

Don't listen to harukl.  At going interest rates, $200,000 in student loan debt paid over 30 years would cost you $469,386.44.

Apr 24, 14 9:33 pm

If you cant budget how to pay for it in a 10 year payment plan you shouldn't do it.

Apr 24, 14 11:54 pm

Why do some of you bother replying? If someone is not swayed over by the first five posts against large loans, then let them sign the papers. It can't be discharged and sure, taxpayers might foot the bill in like ten or twenty years, but a cruel unforgiving adulthood seems to be the only way some understand the burden of debt.

Apr 25, 14 1:27 am
pale shelter

"There is such a thing as good debt and bad debt"

-I've heard this nonsense preached before; then you grow up and critical think for a moment...gain some wisdom... and realize how bogus a theory that is. This saying has been a catalyst to defend rising education costs; especially for young college-goers thinking education will equate to high pay.. (next crisis will be student loan debt).. and people overspending on home mortgage loans for the past 10 years; like 3-7x their income!! (crash already occured)

As a rule of thumb... debt is all bad. Common sense realizes there's a narrow window of which reasonable debt is ok; and what this OP is talking about in terms of paying for education is beyond absurd; unless he/she is going to be a anesthesiologist.

Your educational debt should equal your first-to-third year average salary upon graduation. In terms of an architect; that equals $45k +/-.

Apr 25, 14 11:39 am

I agree with everything said on here with regards to staying away from huge loans. Another thing to take into consideration is the sacrifices you're willing to make to get that far in debt. If you feel that it's necessary to attend said program/school and incur that much debt, then just be aware that you will be living like a college student (or worse) for a while trying to pay your loans as quickly as possible. For example, If you're family happens to live in a bigger city then you might be able to avoid rent and pay that full amount towards your loan. With a salary like 39K (my current salary as a designer in Chicago) you make about 2500 a month after taxes. So if you keep 1000 to live on and pay the rest towards your loans then you're contributing 18000 a year, paying off 90000 in 5 years. The question is, would that be a situation that you're comfortable living with for over 5 years? Will your particular situation allow you to live on a budget of 1000 a month? (location, roommates, cutting back on activities, etc.) Keep in mind that people working minimum wage jobs and such manage to still live in bigger cities, however you'd be limited to living in certain neighborhoods, etc. In the end, it's your decision. 

Apr 25, 14 12:25 pm
pale shelter

...just recently, nearly breaking up with my long-term g/f brought a daunting reality to me. Because we were splitting rent in a $1500/month place - a nice place - very 'affordable' in my midwest city for location ... the reality of being single again and able to afford $900 for a 1 bedroom and what shit that gets you around here - scared me - I'm 30 now and I'm not going back to living with roommates...and I'm not going to live in a shithole.

that shock of what I can afford, as a single, as a registered architect in a major metro... is the catalyst of me leaving the traditional architect role and changing professions this year. Too bad this awareness did not hit me sooner...

Apr 25, 14 12:41 pm

paleshelter - agreed.  I only stay in the profession and expect to be well-paid.

All those old neanderthalls who think that we don't deserve to get paid anything can seriously suck my balls.  they are the ones who destroyed this profession.

Apr 25, 14 1:58 pm

Als no one should ruin their lives with debt.  I went to a really good public U for grad school and escaped there with under 60k debt which I still thought was high but also managable.  Also do NOT go crazy with credit cards and do not get a very expensive car.  Just keep it real and you might be able to cruise by this thing.  Just make sure you go to a firm that pays well.


To hell with working with a bunch of fucking clowns who think they are hot shit but pay you with being a whore for their firms.

Apr 25, 14 2:01 pm
On the fence

Looks like its Friday.  Again.

Apr 25, 14 2:35 pm
pale shelter

med: lol totally agree; my education cost around $65k but my parents starting saving for my college when I was born - so I escaped with only $15k from Iowa State Univ (ranked 6 when I was there for undergrad) -  perhaps the best arch degree in the midwest. I've worked in top firms since graduating alongside yale and columbia grads with masters degrees - we all make the same money and have the same skill set and responsibility. I just paid $65k and they paid undergrad plus $100k for theirs ($150k +/-)..... Many of our professors were from Yale... age 45 typically ... and commented on how they're still paying off their Yale architecture loans...

I have yet to find a good mentor or someone I look up to in the 6 offices I've worked in with good business ethics and employee mgmt skills, hiring/firing, incentives, etc. They pay us peanuts because they are finally in a position to manage the books and finally themselves make o.k. money.... and then defend the poor pay I make because they say shit like "well i was paid $15k out of college and worked 70 hour work weeks".... and the perpetual excuse to pay poorly moves on...of which they defend since they went through it...

Apr 25, 14 2:40 pm


Apr 25, 14 6:16 pm

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