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We Get Letters...from Colombia
by Katy Purviance on 10/24/10 @ 12:48:59 am
Categories: Applying to Grad School, Grad School | 997 words | 1163 views

Hi, I suffer also of architecture addiction, love the name of your blog.In fact many people think am boring speaking all day about architecture.

I would like to ask you about grad school. I am in the process of applying to top Ivy league schools in the us: Harvard, Columbia and Yale. I am Colombian (South America) with an American father, so I am also American but the reality is I’m Colombian and I did my BA of architecture in Colombia. I’ve always wanted interesting programs in Chile and Spain, countries that have an architto graduate from a school like the ones I mentioned you before, but now I’m very confused and terrified with the idea of starting my professional life with such a huge debt and not knowing if its worth it. I’ve seen other programs in Chile and Spain, countries that have an architecture I deeply admire and the programs are quite cheap, but again I have the idea ivys and top schools in the US are so much better. What do you think about this? about putting on my back a debt I don’t know how I’m going to pay or for how long I’m going to pay it. Should I struggle and try to get into that schools and pay the many millions is worth wearing the “ivy hoodie” ha ha or should I spend the money traveling, buying books and attending programs that cost 1/10 of Harvard? It may sound as if have set up my mind, but when I see the programs, the great professors, the facilities, the prestige I get son confused. Can you help with your opinion? I know its a decision I have to take, that depends on many variables (getting in) etc but I would love to hear an insight from someone who knows more about education in this top schools!

Bye, sorry for all this confused thoughts and my Latino English!

[Name Withheld Upon Request]

Thank you for writing. I wish back in 2007 when I was applying to grad school I had asked somebody exactly what you asked me.

Third: I have mixed feelings about having gone to Harvard. First, I should say that I was awarded a grant for about half of the tuition and expenses. Even with that grant, I gained an additional almost $30,000 in debt for the year I was at Harvard. That would’ve been almost $60,000!!! if I had not received the grant. I was very disappointed with the education I received at Harvard. I attended the University of Idaho for my undergraduate degree, which, at the time I left, cost me less than $3,000 for one year, no grants. In other words, I could have attended the U of I for 10 years for the same price of Harvard (with the grant) or for 20 years (without the grant).

Aside from the expense, I felt the quality of the education was very poor. I had better professors at Idaho.

Two good things came out of my going to Harvard. One: my fellow students were some of the most amazing, talented, creative people I’ve ever met. I am glad to know them. Two: if I hadn’t been so disappointed with Harvard, I probably would never have founded VERB. I wish I could tell you to just apply to VERB, but it doesn’t exist yet. It is a radical departure from traditional architecture schools. Whereas at most schools you graduate with a piece of paper and a mountain of debt, at VERB you graduate with a business, a network of building and design professionals, and three years designing and building experience, AND NO DEBT. I am in the process of getting funding so that we can open out doors and let students like yourself in.

So what advice do I have for you? Let’s begin with the end in mind. What is it you hope to accomplish as an architect? I didn’t know this when I was applying to grad school, but I discovered that, since all I wanted to do was residential architecture, I didn’t actually need to be licensed in some states! I wish I had known that before I got another $30,000 in debt!

If you too just want to design houses, and you intend to practice architecture in a place that doesn’t require a license for that, I suggest that you get to know architects and builders in that area. Find one or two you like and offer to work for them for cheap, or free, so that you can learn from them. Travel as much as you can so that you can learn more
about the buildings, the places, the spaces that really move your soul. Draw as much as you can. In this process, you’re not only becoming an architect in the true sense of the word, but you’re also refining your personal and professional interests. You are refining yourself.

Let’s say that you want to design much larger buildings, things that would require a license. I would say, find your heroes. Find the living architects who are doing exactly what you want to do. Chances are they also teach. Go to those schools. If they don’t teach, apply to the same schools they attended.

I’ve come to realize that the Ivy League brand name only really means something to all those people who have never been there. It’s a marketing gimmick that sounds good on your CV, and a very expensive one at that. Buy the hoodie used off ebay. They’re $80 at the student store!

Please keep in touch,
All the best,


Hi I received your answer to the doubts I expressed to you about going to grad school and all its’ financial implications vs. its’ benefits. Thank you so much, It was so kind of you to answer in such a responsible way! Again thanks a lot for your advice, it’s great to know the opinions of people who attended this type of schools.

[Name Withheld Upon Request]

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places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school

Know of some others I can add here? Let me know. Have you already visited some of these places...or planning on it? Let me know and I will feature your story and your photos here!

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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