Many of us don’t really know any architects or students who are studying architecture in our daily lives even though architecture is a crucial part of our lives; it’s also a subconscious part for some of us. So here’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the field through an interview with an extremely passionate and knowledgeable undergraduate architecture student, Jared Freeman, at a top-rated architecture program at the University of Michigan.
Q: What is your year and major?
A: I’m a rising junior, and I’m a dual degree student at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the College of Literature, Science, and Arts. I’m pursuing a Bachelor of Science in architecture and a Bachelor of Art in international studies.
Q: What are your career goals?
A: My goal is to pursue architecture because it’s my passion. After my undergraduate, I, hopefully, will go to graduate school for architecture and receive my masters for architecture. Afterward, I’ll pursue the process of becoming a licensed architect, and from there go work at a firm.
Q: Can you explain the process of becoming an architect?
A: In the field of architecture, you’re not truly considered an architect unless you’re licensed. Licensed means that when you’re drafting a plan for a building, you can actually sign off on those plans; you’re the top-dog. Otherwise, you would need someone else above you to sign off on those plans.
The process of becoming a licensed architect is fairly lengthy. You first have to get a professional architecture degree. There are two processes for this: you can get a combined undergraduate and graduate degree, called a BArch degree, which is a 5-year-program. Other schools have a 4+2 program, where you have a 4-year undergraduate program and then a 2-year masters program.
Once you have that professional degree through one of those ways, you then have to complete a certain number of hours working in the field under different types of work like construction or planning. Those are called AXP hours and when you’ve achieved those hours, you have to take architecture licensing tests, AREs. After you’ve gone through that process, you can truly call yourself an architect. From here, you can go join a firm or maybe even start your own firm.
You can definitely get a job without all of this, so just out of the 4-year program, but you won’t receive as great of a job since it’s such a competitive market. You also don’t necessarily even need to go into architecture with an architecture degree. I know people who’ve received their undergraduate degrees in architecture and they went on to graphic design or sustainability or planning. That’s because a lot of the education you learn in architecture is really training you to think in a critical way and how to combine lots of different subjects into the way you look at the built environment.
Q: Why did you choose to go down this path?
A: In high school, I always knew I wanted a creative profession, but also not be restricted to being just a fine arts student because I have interests in other subjects, like history and science and math. I saw architecture as a way to combine my interests into one where it was mainly design and creative based, but I’m still able to learn about my other interests.
Q: What did you do in high school to help with your architecture interests?
A: I took several art classes in high school, like graphic design, sculpture, and mixed media. That took me down my interest in creative art. I was also the editor of our school yearbook, which was a lot of work, but I really enjoyed it and received some experience in project management. That helped me learn more about other interests I have and how they’re applicable to a professional field. Extracurriculars are beneficial in helping you contextualize where your skill sets can apply to outside the classroom.
Q: Can you talk more about the process of applying to architecture programs?
A: At Taubman, you apply right out of high school as a freshman, and there are a number of requirements. Of course, essays, test scores, but in addition, you need to submit a portfolio of work. It could be any type of work– not necessarily architecture-related.
Most colleges won’t require you to have architecture work in your portfolio because you’re just now going into that field. But rather, they’re looking for a desire to be creative, in whatever field that is for you. I included a lot of sculpture work, photography, and mixed media works that weren’t architecture focused. Taubman did ask for a separate more architectural assignment, called them design assignments, where I had to design a bus stop and draw my house from different perspectives. Some schools had interviews as well.
My biggest advice is that you definitely should do your research beforehand on the schools. Not all schools have programs for architecture. If they do, make sure the program is accredited by checking with the NCARB, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. From there, look into what type of program it is. Some might be a 5-year program, others might be a 4+2 program. See what you want. The 5-year programs are more intensive while 4+2 programs give you more opportunities to take classes outside of architecture.
Most colleges will require a portfolio; it’s a really big part of the admissions process. All of them will have different requirements, for how long they should be and what they should include. That means you have to make different portfolios for each program you apply to. Therefore the key is to get started early. Especially because you might have to end up doing extra work that you haven’t done yet, which you definitely don’t want to rush. Portfolio deadlines depend on the school thus do your research.
In addition, make sure you have quality photographs of your work. The admissions department will be seeing the photographs, so no matter how good the work is, you need to have photographs reflecting that quality. Ask a teacher to take them or borrow a camera to help make your portfolio stand out.
Lastly, don’t feel pressured to apply. College is about exploring and you can always transfer into the programs. For Taubman, you can transfer in as a junior.
Q: What skills should someone who’s interested in architecture have?
A: You don’t need to have prior architectural experience. The key is to have a creative desire and the desire to learn and make stuff. It’s beneficial to have a background in drawing, even with just a basic drawing class.
Q: Favorite and least favorite parts of this field?
Favorite: it’s an exciting field because you get to be creative. A good portion of your work will be in a studio format, so you’ll have your own space and your own projects. This makes it an open format where you can work with your peers and interact with professors one-on-one. You make numerous personal connections that help you create your best work. It’s truly rewarding to see your work develop.
Also, a large part of architecture is that it challenges you to think in new ways because you’re changing the way you think about how you produce work and how you look at the world and how you can contribute to the world through architecture. It’s an intellectually stimulating field hence you can take your work to the next level and make it the best it can be.
Least Favorite: It’s definitely not a major for the faint-of-heart. It requires a ton of work and dedication. You can put in as much work as you want, but in order to get the most out of the program, you need to put in the time and diligence. It’s also valuable to remember that it might not work out so great every time. There’s always that process of trial and error.
My advice for people who are feeling overwhelmed by the program is to give it time. That transition period will always be tough. The best tip I have is to immerse yourself more in the world of architecture. Read books, go to lectures, look up works on architecture. As you become more invested in the actual field, it assists in making you feel like you belong in the field more. Immersing myself in the field has really helped me grow more passionate about the work and move past the fear of not fitting in.
Q: What extracurricular activities contribute to your interests now?
A: I’m the president of Alpha Rho Chi, a professional fraternity for architecture. I have the opportunities to talk with alumni, do firm visits, and work on my portfolio and resume. Being president gives me the chance to be a leader in the school community and to work with the administration and other school leaders, which are useful skills to have.
I’m also a part of a club called the Initiative for Inclusive Design. We work to bring in speakers, do research, and bring accessibility to the forefront of design. It provides me with the opportunity to learn more about what architecture can mean to the world. I’m still trying to figure out where my skill set applies the most, and this is a chance for me to figure out what types of architects are out there and how to combine a social component with architecture. Architecture is such an interdisciplinary field and so this initiative helps me widen my view as to what architecture can do and its place in the world and role in social issues.
Q: What classes are you taking right now as an undergraduate?
A: The classes for architecture definitely vary school by school, but the main bulk of your classes are your studio courses where you have all your tools. I’ve taken basic drawing courses, classes on how to use tools, and design fundamentals. Also some not-so-design based classes like architecture history, calculus one, and physics.
Types of architectural programs range from solely design-based to a heavy engineering focus. Taubman is mostly design-based and MIT would be on the other side. I’m more interested in the design than the technical focus. People seem to have the misconception that you have to be excellent in math and physics in order to make it in the architecture world, but don’t worry about not being good at math. Rather just have that be a guiding way to see which schools to apply to.
I don’t have a lot of room for electives because it’s a rigid schedule which is why I’m taking a fifth year with my extra major. Your classes for architecture will demand a lot of your attention so make sure you don’t overload your schedule. You want to have quality work. Your GPA is semi-important for grad school, but your portfolio will define you.
Q: How does architecture fit in with your other interests?
A: I’m also an international studies major and architecture fits in with that major well. International studies is a broad field and right now, I’m set on a sub-plan called CCI- comparative culture and identity. It helps to learn about what architecture means in other cultures and countries. I’ve always been interested in learning about things I don’t know about. I see international studies as a way to combine architecture from a more international perspective. With this major, I’ll be able to take other classes in history and sociology and Spanish to bridge those gaps.
College is still a place to explore interests, and I don’t want to lock myself in the architecture world. Often architects can get close-minded in terms of the work they do, which is ironic because that’s the whole point of the work we do– to be connected to the world around us. This major will help me connect to the world more and give me a more well-rounded architecture background that will help me when I go into the professional world and begin practicing.
Q: Any advice for people wanting to pursue this career?
A: If you’re interested, expose yourself more to the world of architecture. Look into architectural tours where you are. Also, reach out to architects! Most of them are eager to talk and teach about their field. Also, as mentioned earlier, research architecture programs early and thoroughly look at the requirements.
At the end of the day architecture is a really rewarding profession. I would highly encourage anyone who is interested to check it out and explore it to see if it is something you are interested in. It’s a career path that provides you with the skills to think critically and gives you the opportunity to use your creative mindset to work across almost any discipline you can think of. Not to be cliche, but you are quite literally building the change you want to see in the world, and I think that’s pretty cool.
Thank you so much to Jared Freeman for taking the time to talk to me about his passions for this niche field! Best wishes to him and everyone else wanting to pursue architecture!