Are you in the 92%, or the 8%?

This month, Architectural Record includes its annual ranking of America’s Best Architectural Schools. Categories including best Graduate and Undergraduate programs, as well as Dean’s Assessment and Skills Survey include programs at schools that we all recognize. While I found the information in the article a good read, the statistic that actually made me laugh out loud is listed in the middle of the green box on page 58. According to the article, 1,659 students registered their opinions to statements, including this one:

“Believe they’ll be well prepared for their profession upon graduation”

Yes……………..92%
No………………..8%

Really? Would 92% of those of you that are still in school agree that you are being well prepared for the workforce? For me, the more interesting statistic would be to ask those that have recently graduated. How well did your school prepare you? Would we see that 92% drop through the floor?

In my opinion, our education is what we make of it. Studying at one of the Top 10 ranked institutions does not guarantee you a successful career. And we all know incredible designers that have never set foot inside of an architectural school. Additionally, people choose different schools for a myriad of reasons. People may choose a school that is closer to home in order to plug into a support network of family and friends or choose to stay in state in an attempt to control costs. There are the schools that we all recognize for their name, and then there is the ever changing menu of visiting professors at less well known institutions. Perhaps someone you admire deeply is teaching at a university that you have just now begun to investigate.

The issue is not where we choose to study, but what is being covered once we get there. Our education cycles haven’t gotten any longer (or shorter, for that matter), but it seems that there are ever more complex and time consuming subjects that our institutions are all but required to address. Perhaps the most obvious of these are the changes in software instruction, digital modeling and digital fabrication techniques. In particular, the rigors of digital technology proficiency have become so great that some schools, like The University of Michigan, have separated the more intensive DigiFab classes from the standard curriculum, creating a separate Master of Science specialization in Digital Technologies major. With all of the time spent with these new technologies, traditional drafting techniques are rarely covered with the intensity that they once were, and one has to ask the question; What else has been supplanted to make room in the curriculum? I would guess that the vast majority of us have left (or will leave) school with just a single semester of Professional Practice study.

In closing, I would like to pose a few questions for you. If you are still studying, either at the undergraduate or the graduate level, what is it that your school does really well? Conversely, what could it improve upon? To those of you that have recently graduated, what do you think you professors excelled at, and what do you think your respective schools may have missed. How well ARE you being prepared, or how well WERE you prepared for the realities of work within our profession?

5 thoughts on “Are you in the 92%, or the 8%?

  1. From reading similar articles before, it seems that most schools do not focus on the professional aspect. However when you’re in school, at least in my case at Syracuse University, we were never given a true impression as to what professional life would be. I think they assumed you’d know from internships. Professional Practice course was not as good as it could have been and focused more on owning your own firm and vague generalizations of the different ‘jobs’ in a firm than what to expect as an intern or how to network effectively, among other things.

    In hindsight, I’d of preferred a year long course with internships or “shadow” days at local firms. At least that would have given most of us a better idea and some connections to real life application.

  2. Having spent 9 years teaching professional practice, and serving as a Principal in a major architectural firm, I can attest to the inadequacies of education in preparing the student for the real world. The issue is not poor instruction, but rather the demands of a changing profession and the need for the architect to assume a much broader role in the built environment. Instead of taking on this more global perspective, the architect continues to move further down the food chain, replaced by specialists in design build, development, finance, and law. Architects fail to understand and accept the real risks in building, and as such, are left out the equation when it comes to major decision making. The role of architect is becoming one of “decorator” of buildings that are really designed by the proforma, or by the bankers who provide financing. If we expect to be of continuing validity as a profession, we need to seriously engaged in a discussion as to what we teach and how we teach it. It is interesting that the University of Colorado is currently going through just this sort of investigation, looking both inward and outward as to the state of the curriculum and the portential to make it more relevent for the future role of architects in our world.

  3. That is an amazing and perplexing statistic. I have long been out of school, but as a professional who is supervising interns, I wanted to weigh in. I didn’t know much when I was set free from the graduate program I went through. What I had going for me is life experience, yes I had age on my side. As I work with student interns and recent graduates I find myself saying, ‘what are they teaching you?’ I am often surprised when they don’t know how to find information, who to ask, where to look and how to try. These are the first generation of ‘tech savvy’ emerging professionals. It appears that the schools are keeping up with technology, software programs, etc., but I do not see students entering the profession prepared on so many basic levels. I do not believe that a program should teach students about appropriate office attire, but I do believe that programs should be giving students information about materials, terminology, and basic concepts of the practice. I had many great mentors and people who were patient with me and I feel that is an important thing to give back. We practice architecture at a much faster pace and we need these young professionals to be ready.

  4. This was an interesting read… the topic of students being prepared for the profession has come up over and over in the 15+ years I’ve been practicing. Mostly the commentary has suggested that students aren’t prepared and that schools should focus on the technical and management aspects of the profession. I’m always amazed however, that practicing architects believe that a student would learn design in a practice. I, for one, am glad that schools focus on design. While I believe one can fine tune their design aptitude within a professional practice I do not believe that a practice will provide an intern with any design training. We would end up a profession with no vision, no aspiration… but we would be able to draw the hell out of a lot of mediocre buildings and places.

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