Friday, February 25, 2011

Student tips - College applications & Design Portfolio

I spoke about selecting the right college in a previous post. Find out which schools are the best architecture schools in the USA in 2011 here.

The next step I went through was to apply for colleges. Some things to bare in mind:

1) Submitting the application well ahead without waiting till the last minute. Some schools require an essay. Make sure you have someone else proof read it and revise before submitting.

2) Ask for recommendation letters wayyyy ahead. I would say, at least 2 - 3 months before the deadline. When asking for a recommendation letter:
  • first politely mention to the professor that you are thinking about asking for a recommendation letter from him / her and if they can write one? Most of the time, almost of them will say yes.
  • Then make sure to print out the recommendation letter format from the school, fill in your information
  • Make sure to waive your rights to access the letter of recommendation. This will give the professor more confidence in saying the truthful academic and other assessments about you. Also this shows you trust them.
  • Give the signed & filled format, along with an addressed envelope (or a label) and a stamp to the professor you are requesting the letter of recommendation.
  • These should be with the professor at least 1 - 1.5 months ahead of the deadline.
3) Submit transcript requests at least 3 weeks before the deadline. Some schools do overnight electronic transcript transmission but some schools only do it the old fashioned way.

4) Make a nice resume. Sometimes you can submit it with the application. If not, submit it along with your supporting documents.

5) Most important part of an Architecture student's application is the portfolio. Portfolio requirements from school to school differs. However, there are certain guidelines one should follow. Here are some the general guidelines + some tips to create an excellent portfolio.
  • Take a portfolio making / presentations class if you must. Polish up your graphic design skills much ahead of time.
  • Start working on the portfolio months ahead
  • Document your work - take photographs of your models, scan your drawings. make a database of your work. From experience I found out, no matter how many photos you think you may have, you will find yourself wishing for that specific shot from a specific angle. So take many, many photos from different angles, different light settings, different distances. Keep your models as safe as possible at least until you have a great portfolio. Take high resolution photos.
  • When scanning drawings, make sure to scan them at a 300dpi or higher resolution.
  • Make it personal. Add a lot of your personal work. Add sketches and anything that will make you stand out - in a positive way - among the other applicants.
  • Show process of how you arrived at a final design. The best way to do this is to show progression using a combination of sketches, drawings, process models, graphics, etc.
  • One of the comments I got when a professor from SciARC reviewed my portfolio is that they want to see details. So put photos of different scales of your models, photos that show details.
  • Most schools don't want you to spend a lot of time/money on fancy covers and packaging. Keep it simple, professional and original.
  • Have a strong letter of intent or a statement of purpose. One of my professors always say that we architects are no great readers or writers. So always have someone else proof read.
  • Depending on your choice, you could also include your resume in the portfolio.
  • Personal work - you can add photography, travel, artwork, poetry and anything that shows that you have additional skills you bring in to help succeed in your career.
  • Some schools give a limit of how many pages they want you to submit in your portfolio. When they don't, its ok to call them up or better yet go and visit the school and ask how many pages they think is OK to have in the portfolio. Most schools will say, bring everything you have and more the merrier. So include all your work - as much as possible.
  • Make sure you leave enough time to get it from the printer and have it checked. You will see small details that need to be adjusted. Show the portfolio to your design and or presentations professor before printing. Show the portfolio to at least 3 professors / professionals before turning the final version into the school. The portfolio - most of the time - decided if you get into the school and if you get any scholarship money. Put your best effort into it.
6) Supplemental documents - Some schools require extra paperwork other than the above list. For example, University of Miami won't even open the file until they have received the form from the dean of student services. Make sure to check with the schools you are applying to. Ask them for a checklist.

7) Financial Aid - again, different schools have different requirements but all schools will require you to fill the FAFSA. Ask your schools for their FAFSA Codes, take your Tax documents and file the FAFSA as soon as possible.

8) Scholarships - Most schools have some scholarship opportunities for both 1st year (Freshman) students and transfer students. Be sure to check with the respective financial aid offices / scholarship offices in the schools you are applying to. Put your name down for scholarships. Don't be shy to ask for the money that is available out there. Every year so much money in scholarships go unused.

I'm still in the process of applying to schools myself. So I will keep you posted about the many exciting opportunities and challenges up ahead.