Architecture personal statements can be challenging. Here's how to write one the admissions committee is never going to forget.
There are so many fantastic architecture schools out there -- check out our deep dives into Harvard and Yale for two specific examples -- but one thing that they all have in common is the requirement that all applicants write an admissions essay.
No matter what name it goes by -- statement of purpose, statement of interest, or plain old personal statement -- architecture school statements are challenging. They often want you to cover a whole lot of information in only 500 words. For instance, Columbia University’s prompt this year was: In a statement of approximately 500 words, describe your background, your past work in your intended field of study, and your plans for graduate study and a professional career. All of that in only 500 words or less? Oy.
“So…by ‘background’ do they mean my entire life story plus all of my work, school and internship experiences?” my candidate, Kara, an aspiring architect, asked. “It says ‘personal’ – does that mean I should tell them about my parents’ divorce?”
Here’s the thing: It is important that after the admissions committee has read your statement of purpose, they feel that they know who you are. They need to know what you want to do (your goal)—Kara’s was opening her own architecture firm one day—why this is important to you, what you have done thus far in regards to pursuing your goal or taking an interest in the subject matter, and what you still have left to learn and/or explore. And right there is the outline for your entire 500-word, statement of purpose.
BREAKING DOWN THE ARCHITECTURE PERSONAL STATEMENT
Paragraph 1: This is where you get personal. No, this doesn’t mean empty the contents of your diary. This means write about the moment you realized you wanted to pursue your goal. For instance, perhaps it was when your family moved from a sprawling home in Greenwich, Connecticut, to a 1200 sq. ft. apartment in Manhattan. Perhaps you found yourself wishing you could move the walls around, and reconfigure the space to be more open. There, you have your “ah-hah!” moment—the moment you realized that architecture would be a part of your life. Write about that. Be specific.
Why? Graduate programs want students who are passionate about what they want to do, not students who are just looking to avoid the real world for another few years. This is your opportunity to show them why you want it.
Paragraph 2: What have you done thus far to pursue your interest in architecture? Did you explore classes in college? Did you take art or art history classes? When you studied abroad, did you take an active interest in the city’s architecture? This is an opportunity to discuss specific classes you’ve taken as well as experiences—talk about a particular professor you learned from, clubs you started or joined. Discuss internships or observation hours. But do not simply list them; you don’t want to regurgitate your resume (remember, they have it!). Tell them what’s not on your resume. For instance, discuss specific moments within your internship where you learned something significant and how you plan to apply what you learned.
Why? Graduate school want students who have already been seeking knowledge; show them what you’ve learned so far.
Paragraph 3: Why do you want to go to grad school? What do you still have left to learn? Discuss skills that you need to obtain, improve or expand. For instance, you might be looking to strengthen your foundation and design skills with a Masters in Architecture. You might be interested in expanded your knowledge of technology and how one can use it in the design process in order to achieve greater innovation. Look at your goal, and then ask yourself, “What do I need to get better at in order to improve my chances of achieving my goal?”
Now here’s the part where Kara asks, “But don’t I want to appear confident? Won’t it make me look weak to admit that I still have stuff to learn?”
No. Schools want students who are self aware–they know their strongest and weakest areas. You want to show the school that you know what you need to work on and what experiences you need to gather in order to accomplish your goal. This also demonstrates that you actually will benefit from graduate school—and proves to the school even more that you are a serious candidate.
Paragraph 4: The school-specific portion of your essay. Why Columbia, specifically? Here, it is important to be extremely specific in order to show enthusiasm for a particular school. Research classes, professors and clubs, and discuss how they will help you accomplish your goal.
Why? You must prove that you want to go to the school. By getting specific about the school you also demonstrate your ability to research and gain knowledge—good traits for a prospective student. Additionally, when you get an interview—you’ll have lots to discuss.
Last paragraph: Your conclusion. A few short sentences about how Columbia is going to help you, and you are going to help them, change the planet (by using your masters in architecture).
SO, NOW WHAT?
Need more help? Just ask -- we're happy to answer any questions you have about your application.
Or, if you prefer, you can check out more details on the services we provide for graduate students, advising them on overall application strategy as well as essay prep.
This is my statement of Purpose to the Pratt institute, any comments are welcomed.
Thanks a lot for reading.
Statement of Purpose
I believe in the power of Architecture and Living Environment in changing human’s mood & being. To me Architecture is multi-scaled chain tensed by human, community & society. Space transmits information and stimulates sensation.
However starting from the computer age, the impact of space is demolishing, Computer started to establish another sense of distance and virtual space. We can perceive an amount of information outreaching the amount contained in the physical space. The technology revolution addressed a new kind of space: “The Tech-Dwelling”. “The Tech-Dwelling”, which could be a computer, a smart-phone or potentially in other forms, contains every undifferentiated function into a single piece of chip.
I am not denying positive impact of technology brought to architecture.
However rather just to focus on creating new space or forms in architecture, I see technology as a tool for every individual to create their own space. “Personalize” is an important word for this century as it addresses “Freedom” & “Power”. Thus I am interested in participatory design and furthermore I see the process of participating could bring architecture to a broader talk of social impact. I designed and built a school in Cambodia in 2011 IDEA Project by inviting the local children to participate into the design process of the school. The whole process raised the community’s awareness in architecture and education.
However in the process of Participatory Design, while architects are giving up part of their jobs to the users, the role of architects become more important in controlling and coordinating the whole architectural experience and process. In order to set up successful model with potential for user’s participation in the creation process, an understanding of “demand” and “sensation” is essential.
The word “demand” implies the ability of acquiring. The city I was born, Hong Kong, is famous for the insufficiency of space. During the different age of housing shortage, architects had proposed different modules to cope with the shortage. For example Karel Teige had proposed a minimum living space like Proletarian Abode and Collective Reconstruction of Dwelling. In a workshop I held in Hong Kong, I inserted Teige’s collective function model into Hong Kong typical housing plan, but reserving the freedom for individual to expand their dwelling size and allowing the potential of built-in private functions. The result showed that even with high price, there are someone who is willing to pay for the privacy.
Furthermore with the limited resource we have, I see this free will process of acquiring space as a relationship between “Private & Public”. I worked on the transformation between public and private space, in a car park tower design competition entry, the whole tower is allocated with car parking lots while after renting a number of car parking lots an individual perform the potential of transforming the lots space into different studio or exhibition space.
Therefore I am interested in “sensation”, instead of inserting a big piece of empty “public space”, the understanding on sensation is essential in architectural design in order to attract human to cultivate the space. “Sensation” also implies different ways of participatory, a human can contribute to a space by adding visual elements, producing sounds, or performing a movement.
Pratt provides a research driven education with a broad exposure on different cultures, art & science thus Pratt is a perfect institute for exploring new architectural movement in this age. I love Pratt as it actively introduces new designs to the society, like the Incubator. Thus I believe Pratt to be an institute for me to deepen the theoretical development, exploring new design ideas ,to execute and to experiment on new space.