Let's face it, we live in a world filled with name-brands and high-end desires. Some of us can afford it, others not so much. These thoughts usually are brought up in light of products or things, something that has a materialistic quality to it, but recently I've put that kind of thinking more towards the degrees we all garnish in our fits of glory. That piece of paper may be the most expensive parchment you ever receive in your life. But it's all worth it, you have a sense of pride and accomplishment after striving to that end goal. And most of the time (barring the past six years in probably one of the worst economic downfalls in our short modern history) that degree will get you a job that pays fairly well, somewhat in your field and doing what you like - please don't always jump to conclusions that all college graduates face misery. I've come to find that a lot of places, no matter the name, usually produce a decent body of students after graduation. This ranges from the ivy-leaguers to state schools around the country, if you pay attention and have good professors you will be just fine no matter where you go. But now as college becomes more imperative and even more un-affordable, the name of your college seems to overtake your personal identity and work effectively replacing it with their own, whether good or bad.
I want to preface anything farther as being focused solely on architecture and interior design degrees since that is what I'm most familiar with. I still think the first paragraph stands as a blanket statement to most degree programs with a few exceptions, but thee next few are definitely more in line with the degree I got (B.Arch).
The Education of an Architect
Design programs are rigorous no matter where you go. Even smaller schools that you may never have heard of are churning out designers that will still amaze and dazzle some of the most hard-to-please clients. Will you hear of everything or even anything that school is doing? Probably not if they aren't fueling some kind of public interest or garnishing adoring nerdy fans from all around the globe. I went to a small school much like this. Philadelphia University is a small, private institution about 10 minutes outside of center city Philadelphia. With a Fashion Design program that is top ten in the world and Industrial Designers working anywhere from Dyson to Mercedes, the school has a reputation for spitting out some great designers. In the early 90's the School of Architecture was instituted. A small and intimate program, it quickly grew to a reasonable size giving way to an expansion in the offerings even eventually starting an Interior Design program that now ranks in the top ten in the nation. I know all of this because I was a proud member of the school (and a proud alumni now), but to many outsiders they hear the name and think it may just be another community college or my personal favorite: "Is that the old Textile school?". Yes, yes it was.
I believe I was a pretty good student through the program. I really saw my skills grow (since I literally had no architecture or art classes leading up to my first day there) from nothing to what I consider to be above average among other graduates from different schools. As a matter of fact, my work stood out with some of the best at U.Penn during an exhibition my senior year of school. But still, as I made my way back to my beloved Pittsburgh, I knew several potential employers were scratching their head at where I went to school and if NCARB even knew it existed.
I paid a decent amount of money to attend a private school and work one-on-one with my professors. I wouldn't take it back either because I see how my skills match up against the "name brands" around and I know I'm right there. Hell, I think I'm past right there, I continue to advance myself to be better and better because I know I can. But it can get tiresome to look around and see that the "name brands" get a job based on their school. I'm not so sure it happens in this small city because interviews usually are a lot more intimate, but in regards to situations with larger firms such as your SOM's, BIG's, Hadid's and so on, there's not a chance for somebody like me who doesn't have the "Gucci" label on my degree. Unfortunately I didn't know I had to shop for colleges the same way I did for clothes when I was an aimless 18 year old.
As I am just embarking on my career, I really have no idea where I will eventually end up. I may get lucky and get a job with a big time starchitect (I know this is so cliche of me, but yes I'd love to work for one for the experience as well as the ability to work on some truly whacky projects) or I could never see the light of day as I struggle between different small-time firms that may or may not be doing what I want to do with my life. I know that my school continues to grow in popularity and more people are starting to see the quality that comes out of the studios there, but I can't help to wonder if it will ever gain even half the notoriety of some of these bigger name institutions. I chose to go to a smaller school for the relationships and experiences I needed to succeed. I got that and now have those tools to do what I need, but how can I use them if somebody won't even look at me because my resume boasts an education that isn't a Harvard or Columbia. I may not have that kind of name on my diploma, but I bet I can still keep up with anybody from one of those schools, I just need the chance.
A Call to Firms Everywhere
I wasn't going to wrap this entry up like this, but I can't think of a reason why not to. I'm calling out to every employer out there that is in the architecture field. Don't look away from a student simply because they are not from a "heavy hitting" school. Take a look at their work, talk to them and get to know the person that they are because it certainly isn't fair to judge a person by where they came from. If an interview takes place and that candidate doesn't meet the criteria for your studio, that's fine but it's important to at least give them a chance at first. I do not have an ivy-league degree, I probably couldn't have afforded it, but that makes me no less of a valuable asset to your projects, your company and your image. I think most of the time these "name brand" schools end up being such a hit because they have innumerable resources whereas smaller schools such as mine may not. So give us small-time kids a chance, sometimes you think you're getting quality when you're really only paying for a name.