Expectations Vs Reality: What Doing An Architecture Degree Is Actually Like

It's not as easy as Ted Mosby made it out to be.

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The life of an architect seems romantic, sure. Who hasn’t watched an episode of Grand Designs or heard their inner Ted Mosby knocking? Who doesn’t want to learn how to design skyscrapers and build hospitals and conceptualise their own dream home from scratch?

But it’s not all sunshine and Guggenheims for the architecturally-inclined undergrad. Studying to be the next Zaha Hadid is an ambitious undertaking, so consider this an exercise in managing expectations, by way of a few solid reality checks. And remember, you got this.

Expectation: It’s All About Drawing And Designing Buildings
Reality: Kind Of, But Not Really

The word ‘architect’ often drums up images of an artist in a necktie, bent over a drawing table, pencil in hand as they sketch geometric masterpieces on swathes of butcher’s paper. While being able to visually communicate an idea is fundamental, this notion of the architect as a sketcher of buildings first and foremost is something of a dated myth.

Given that it’s 2017 and computers rule the world, it should come as little surprise that most of your work will be done digitally. CAD (computer-aided design) programs are your hot new medium of self-expression, while 3D printers and laser cutters will help you deal with the more practical side of things.

Expectation: It’s One Of The Most Difficult Degrees You Can Do
Reality: It’s Hard, But It’s Totally Worth It

Let’s get this one out of the way now: yes, architecture is tough. But is it the absolute toughest? Probably not.

What makes an architecture degree intimidating to a lot of people is how full-on the course can seem, with plenty of contact hours and assignments – but hey, designing buildings isn’t something you can master in a week.

Obviously, time management is key here. Prioritise the things that are going to get you those marks, and learn how to juggle or do away with the things that won’t. You’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress – and the rest will follow like clockwork.

Expectation: Doing A Degree In Architecture Is Competitive
Reality: Yes, It’s A Popular Course… But You’ll Make Some Of Your Closest Friends Here

When you choose to do a degree in architecture, you’ve got to face facts. There’s a reason the ATAR is high: demand, pure and simple.

Many people dream of being architects, so doing an architecture degree is full of people striving for a limited pool of jobs. The good news, though, is that because you’re all passionate about the same thing, you’re likely to make some really good mates.

Who else can you wax lyrical to about Frank Gehry’s designs or the homegrown architectural wonder that is the Opera House? Finding people who have the same interests as you is something you can’t put a price on, but we’re pretty sure it’s worth it. Plus, as you all rise up the ranks together, it’s likely your course-mates will be able to swing work your way or vice-versa.

Expectation: You’ll Walk Straight Out Of Uni And Into A Full-Time Job
Reality: Not Quite

It’s a given that getting that all-important piece of paper (AKA a university degree) is a great starting point for a career as an architect.

But the reality is that it’s not just about what you know, but yes, also who you know. To that end, you’ll probably want to get some internships and/or work experience under your belt and build up your network a little bit. Contacts are gold in this industry.

The upshot is that the architectural field is rich in creative, innovative and entrepreneurial possibilities: there’s more than one path to take, in other words, and plenty of chances to blaze your own trail along the way. Just hang in there, pay your dues, and climb that ladder one rung at a time. The view from the top is worth it, we promise.

Expectation: You’ll Be Working For Yourself By The Time You’re 30
Reality: It Might Take A Bit Longer Than That, But You’ll Get There

This whole ‘working for yourself’ thing has got to be one of the biggest drawcards of the architect’s profession. And with good reason: pick your own jobs; be your own boss – what more could a person ask for?

Just be careful not to put the cart before the horse. The path to success in this industry is more a marathon than it is a sprint, and after cutting your teeth for some five or six years in uni you can look forward to entering a rewarding but also competitive workforce. Expect to steadily climb your way up through the ranks before you can think about starting your own practice.

Stay the course, though, and the fruits of your labour will more than pay for themselves. There’s no reason why the life of an architect can’t be every bit as romantic as it’s made out to be. Just be aware that it’s probably not all going to happen overnight.

Great things take time, remember – and Rome wasn’t built, or designed, in a day.

Ready to get stuck into the world of architecture? Head straight for Curtin University, which offers a Bachelor of Applied Science (Architectural Science) and Master of Architecture (post-graduate). Find out more here.

(Feature image: How I Met Your Mother/ 20th Century Fox)