The Real Challenges of Architecture School and the Profession Beyond

Every day I wake up thankful that I chose architecture as my career path. Does that make me a bit of a masochist, as they pointed out in the documentary Archiculture? I wouldn’t necessarily think it does, but then again the satisfaction I get from persevering through intense physical and mental hardships can’t be beat.

I recently spoke about why I loved architecture school, and also communicated my satisfaction in finding how architecture school compares to working. However, I don’t want to paint a one-sided picture for aspiring architects. So, let me tell you a bit about the realities of architecture school and working afterward. Read through and consider if these are challenges you are ready to face.

Expect an outrageous amount of work. Don’t be surprised if you end up putting in anywhere between 80 to 130 hours per week. This will vary between schools, and even between years within the same school. It will also depend on your level of experience coming in to the program. As I have said before, design doesn’t end unless you decide it does, so you can push your hours far. Learning to balance successful design with the rest of your life is a part of the process.

You will likely not sleep very much. Based on the above number of hours that you might be working, obviously sleep is the first thing to go. I’m not saying this is anything to be proud of, or that the culture of sleep deprivation is just something to be accepted, but be prepared for the possibility of experiencing many sleepless nights.

Relationships often take a hit. Considering all of the time spent working and not sleeping, there will be little time to spend with friends or family. On top of this, stress and sleep deprivation can make for a fairly confusing emotional time in your life that may wear away on those relationships even further. It can be hard for some people to understand why you are investing so much of yourself into architecture school.

Physical and mental health may suffer. Little time to devote to sleep, exercise, or cooking your own meals will have an impact on your health. Compound that with the stress of meeting deadlines and facing constant criticism and you’ll find that there is a potential for disaster. I would like to provide some of my strategies for prioritizing health in the near future.

Criticism is a part of the job. Be aware, criticism is a part of the job and will occur every day. It is usually constructive, but not always. You will need to learn how to deal with it in whatever form it takes. It starts right away in school through peers, instructors, and guest critics. It will then continue through into the profession, both within your office and from the public. Criticism from the public can be especially harsh.

There is no shortage of competition. Throughout the semester your work and the work of your peers is constantly being reviewed publicly. Everyone sees each other’s work, as well as the feedback it receives. A definite hierarchy of students will be established with a constant jostling for the top positions. Some studios may have a more supportive environment, while others are less so. Competition can have a toxic effect on interactions between students, so if you find yourself in a supportive atmosphere, count yourself lucky!

You must be confident with public speaking. Public speaking is a part of architecture just as much as design is. I would say, at least if you really want to excel, you need to be comfortable getting up and speaking. In fact, its not just about speaking, but speaking well – marketing yourself, your teams, and your projects. If you’re not comfortable with public speaking now, that’s ok! Just be open and ready to learn that confidence over time.

The financial burden of school is higher than you think. Tuition is one thing, but there are a lot of costs associated with the program that you may not think about. Art supplies, printing, and especially model making can all be very pricey. Costs can be as high as a few hundred dollars to print a single set of final project boards or build a more complex physical model. There might be a couple of these major jobs per year, not to mention the accumulated costs of other smaller models or print jobs. On top of these direct expenses, considering there is little time for cooking your own meals at home, you may find yourself spending more money on eating out and things like that.

Don’t expect to make a lot of money. Architecture is not averagely a high-paying profession. Especially not for your first few years of work. You will likely spend a lot of money to get your degree and then face relatively low payment during your years of work as an intern. It will depend upon your location and the firm you’re working for. In Canadian dollars, interns may make anywhere between $35,000 to $60,000 while registered architects may sit somewhere between $60,000 to $100,000 per year. More senior roles will start to see salaries breaking $100,000 and may climb all of the way up to around $250,000. Keep in mind, these are just averages and there are always exceptions.

Being hired out of school can be challenging. The job market is just as competitive as the academic environment and it may take some time before you begin your career. I provide a variety of strategies for improving your chances of being hired here.

The first few years of work may be mundane. This will vary greatly from firm to firm. Some will provide the support for you to dive head first into all aspects of projects right away. Others might keep you detailing minor parts of projects leaving you hungry for more challenge.

So there you have it, some of the realities of architecture school and the profession beyond. It may be daunting, but if this is a career you are seriously interested in, then I dare you take the plunge! I know I didn’t regret it and I hope the same for you.
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