An interview with Yale graduate student, Michael Miller.
1. How did you first determine that you wanted to study architecture?
Since I was quite young, my favorite activities involved building, in every form of play that I could find. My afternoons were filled with the construction and destruction of massive empires in blocks, LEGO, K’Nex, mud, really anything around me. I often think that the academic and professional work I do now has many parallels to this patient and methodical play. My parents and family friends suggested that I should pursue architecture. I took the few courses that my high school offered in basic drafting and design. The first time I drew a straight pencil line on a drafting board, I was astonished at its beauty. I had the opportunity to enter a design competition; I did well, reinforcing my personal interest in architecture and suggesting some potential talent.
2. What factors did you look at in selecting an undergraduate school?
Despite my leanings towards architecture, I still was unsure whether it would be a major and a career. My main criterion was programmatic flexibility. If the architecture program didn’t fit, I wanted to be able to switch to an alternative path like engineering. Thus the quality and opportunities that the school overall had to offer was more important to me than the specifics of the architecture program alone. Other important factors that solidified my decision to attend were its beautiful campus, mid-sized city setting, and in-state scholarship program. Evaluating the return on my investment is a key factor when choosing a school, major and potential profession because an architect’s rewards are not usually monetary.
3. How did you determine the list of graduate schools you wanted to apply to?
I drew up a matrix which listed schools with their strengths and weaknesses. Then I talked to professors and friends. I progressively pruned the list.
4. What criteria did you use to evaluate each school and compare it to the others?
The first matrix categories were general facts: program length, location, program size, application requirements, tuition and the like. Though quite general, these categories are important. Length affects cost. Location predicts your likely region of residence. Schools tends to draw professors locally and the students often take jobs at firms in the region. Yale draws most of its faculty in practice from New York City and through those relationships, many students work there afterwards. The program size is a big factor as well because it determines the feel of the school and the type of relationships that you will likely make with your classmates.
More complex criteria concerned the culture and philosophy of the schools. The four main resources that I used to determine the institution’s culture were the dean’s letter, the required course/studio focus, the elective options, thesis versus non-thesis programs, and the interests of the professors that taught there. I recommend reading the dean’s letter closely and noting its main points. These points create interesting contrasts within a comparative matrix. The elective options indicate the variety of interests that the school has to offer. Research the writings of your potential mentors. Though time consuming, a careful comparative assessment goes beyond the more shallow criteria of ranking and celebrity faculty and allows a deeper understanding of the schools.
5. Why did you ultimately choose Yale?
When I was writing the personal statement portion of the different applications, it became clear that Yale was my first choice because of the genuine ease with which I was able to articulate my intentions for applying. I had very clear ideas about my interests and how the school’s philosophy and trajectory would help me foster my academic and professional goals. It’s the school that felt right and ultimately, with so many unknowns, that unquantifiable feeling may be your best compass.
6. How does the reality of Yale compare to your expectations?
Yale’s been even better than expected. No matter how deeply you research the program and attempt to understand an institution from the outside, you can’t really know a place until you’re in it. Personally Yale’s pushed me to explore aspects of myself as a designer that I never knew I had by exposing me to the depth, complexity, and variety within the discipline. I hoped for and discovered a friendly social culture, in the studio and at the famous cocktail hours. Additionally Yale’s network has afforded me opportunities that I never expected through its alumni network and friendships with other graduate colleges.
7. What do you know now that you wish you had in mind when you were looking at schools (undergraduate or graduate)?
I wish I had a better understanding of the different undergraduate degree options. Make sure to determine whether a Bachelor’s, Bachelor’s of Arts, or Bachelor’s of Science is best for your goals. I thought that my Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture would give me advanced placement into a two year program for graduate school. While this is true for some graduate schools, it’s not true for all of them.
8. If you had one piece of advice for someone applying to an architecture undergraduate program, what would it be?
Choose a school where you can gain a rich general education. Architecture overlaps with so many other fields that a diverse undergraduate education can bring more interesting architecture later. Also many people don’t end up liking architecture school, so give yourself a back-up plan.
9. If you had one piece of advice for someone applying to an architecture graduate program, what would it be?
Do your research and trust your gut.