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I'm already starting to dress like a Harvard student
by Katy Purviance on 03/17/08 @ 11:49:19 pm
Categories: Class Notes, Applying to Grad School | 893 words | 1239 views

I’ve just returned from LAIAD where I shared my tale of intrigue and adventure, yes, my tale of applying to grad school, with the current class. When I walked in, one of my professors told me that I was already starting to dress like a Harvard student.

Some things I told the class:

The Portfolio

1. When deciding what to put into your portfolio, you probably don’t have too much in the way of experience, so you’ve got to showcase your potential. My portfolio included all kinds of things not directly related to architecture. For example:

  • quilting
  • illustration
  • pop-ups
  • spray paint art
  • ceramics
  • wood sculpture
  • stained glass
  • nude model drawings
  • a bowl made out of a record
  • a large paper sculpture inspired by something I saw in a book about the Bauhaus
  • [et cetera]

2. Don’t just write a description of your work. Write about how you came to the design decisions that you did. Take the admissions officers by the hand and walk them through your thought process.

3. You don’t want to fill up your portfolio with too many words, but you want to have enough words to explain your thought process, so then challenge becomes finding a succinct way of explaining yourself. Think of it as a game where you’ve got to get the most meaning into the fewest number of words, while at the same time avoiding unnecessarily complicated words.

4. Categorize your projects. For example, I categorized mine into four categories: Art, Craft, Drafting, and Architecture Projects. Arrange your portfolio pages like you would arrange acts in a performance. That means: save your very best piece for last, and lead the portfolio with your second best piece. As you progress through the portfolio, alternate a “strong” piece with a “weak” piece. This gets a little subjective, but go with your instinct here. By alternating your strong pieces with your weak pieces, the admissions officers are never more than one project away from something great. It prevents the sense of disappointment they might experience when suddenly faced with a weaker piece after a long string of “strong” ones. In the same way, it keeps them from wondering why you put a bunch of crap in your portfolio when they finally get to something good after a long string of “weak” pieces. Always end a category with a “strong” piece.

5. Don’t be afraid to show who you really are. My professors pointed out that I took a big risk with my cover. Let me describe it to you: I have two handmade fabric dolls in a boat (the U.S.S. Whoa Nellie). One of looking far out ahead with a telescope (made from a piece of rolled-up paper) while shouting my name in a huge “talk bubble.” When you open it up, you see four land masses, like a map. This is the table of contents, and each land mass bears a category name and the page number. I knew it was risky. But I also knew that I wouldn’t want to go to a school that didn’t appreciate what I have to offer. And this kind of stuff is what I have to offer. Like one of my professors said, You can’t see a portfolio like mine and not want to open it up.

The Personal Statement

When I started thinking about what to write for my personal statement, I had this idea that admissions officers wanted to see stuff like, “I’ve been wanting to be an architect since I was two.” This isn’t me.

I didn’t know what I wanted to be for a long time. I was an advertising major for two years at Franklin Pierce College before transferring to the University of Idaho where I earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology (with minors in religious studies, chemistry, creative writing, art, and…maybe one or two more?).

I graduated. Joined the Peace Corps. I was in the Merchant Marine. The Navy. I moved to Savannah. I took short term jobs all over the country. I moved back to Idaho and finally took some career aptitude tests and finally “discovered” architecture. So I definitely couldn’t say that I had “always” wanted to be an architect.

Since I obviously couldn’t hide this, I made a big deal of it in my essay. I wrote about all of the places I’d been, and all of the experiences I’d had, and through them, I discussed my observations regarding design, order, logic, arrangement, order, scale, and urbanity.

When I get to the part of my personal statement where I finally become an architecture major, I wrote about how what I was learning in class just wasn’t enough, and I listed all the books and authors I read on my own, as well as the conferences I took the time to attend. What I was doing was assuaging any fears that architecture was “just another major,” while demonstrating that it was, indeed, a true passion.

I concluded by telling the class about the field trip to Machu Picchu.

I was just looking at my blog stats – Today was the day I made the reservation form available, and about two hundred people more than usual visited the site today. This is why I strongly encourage you to get your reservation form in as soon as possible before our seven remaining departure dates sell out.

Reserve now

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I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

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