Architecture Applicant?

How to prepare for undergraduate architecture school interviews.

How to jump that last hurdle in architecture school admissions.

If this happens to you in your interview, it’s time to leave.

What are they

This post is geared towards undergraduate interviews, since there is generally such little information about these. 

Interviews are a structured chat. Don’t panic. Interviewers are not going to be testing you – they’re simply a chance for the school to meet you and see your work more closely. It’s a chance for you to open up and share, and there are no wrong answers, since your answers and conversation should be focused on you. This is not the time to crack open divisive and contrarian beliefs about the wider world, because a rabbit hole will form and you may end up going right down it. Keep your conversation anecdotal and personal – it’s just a chat. 

In the UK, most RIBA Part 1 programs require an interview. They’re usually conducted anywhere between Autumn and Summer. Since the pandemic it’s highly likely that these will be online, though sometimes they’re done in-person at the school. You may be interviewed by just one person or by a group – it depends on the school. Your interviewer could be a faculty head, a design tutor, a professor – it depends on their schedule, but either way, each interview will be geared towards a chat. If you end up being interviewed by the Dean, it does not mean you will have a more challenging interview per se.

In the US, interviews are sometimes required if you’re applying for BArch programs. Cornell, for instance, requires an interview and these are normally done in Spring of your entry year. They will often be conducted by an alumnus, and they could be online, in college, at a coffee shop, etc. They’re much looser than UK interviews in that way. If you’re applying to liberal arts degrees with the intention of choosing architectural studies as a major (Yale, Harvard, etc.), your interview will be geared towards the college and not the architecture school. Meaning your interview will be fairly generic, unlike BArch interviews which are more architecture specific. This post focuses on BArch and RIBA Part 1 interviews.

In most countries, the format is fairly similar. The interview will usually begin with your interviewer asking you to go through your portfolio in 5-15 minutes (depending on the school), and the last 20 minutes or so will be for follow-up questions to your portfolio as well as extra, more general questions. At the end there will be a chance to ask a question or two, and even get feedback on the work you’ve brought with you.

What to bring to interview

If online

It’s likely that the school would have asked you to submit your portfolio beforehand, so your interviewer should have the file ready to review on screen share. However, make sure your portfolio is open and on your screen before the meeting starts to account for technical errors. They may ask you to flick through your portfolio, or they may flick through their own copy – it depends on the interviewers preference. If it’s not clear how the interviewer wants to do it, feel free to ask and/or offer to screen share your own copy. Apart from the portfolio, just make sure you’re in a quiet place with a good internet connection and a non-distracting background. 

If in-person

As with online interviews, you will also need to bring a portfolio. However, in cases such as these, your portfolio will have to be physical. If you’ve made a digital portfolio, print it out. But don’t stop there. Go through and find all the pages with work that you could show as originals, and then bring those originals with you to the interview (if they can fit in your luggage). Ideally these would be in an A1/A2 portfolio case. If you can bring 3D work, even better. If not, photos in your printed portfolio are fine. Your printed portfolio would likely be an A4/A3 book of 20 or so pages. If you’d like to make the book yourself, that’s fine and in lots of cases this is recommended as it allows you flexibility for how you want to show your work. You can have more options with paper types, fold outs, types of binding, etc.

Conversely, instead of printing out your digital portfolio, you can bring an A1/A2 portfolio of sheets of paper. These sheets can be loosely based on your existing digital portfolio, and would allow you to paste down your original work in place. This kind of portfolio is recommended if it’s easy for you to travel to your interview location. You’d have no excuse to show off your lovely original work! Here is a link to an example of a portfolio such as this.

This is actually a Bartlett Year 1 portfolio, not an application portfolio, but the premise is the same. Portfolios such as these are encouraged for applications to the Bartlett. It’s a chance to show that you can format your work and think similarly to their existing student group. You’d fit right in. Don’t overdo the formatting though – keep the focus on the work itself. 

Plying your interviewer with wine is a proven strategy.

How to talk through your work

The interview will begin with a chance for you to talk through your portfolio. Make sure to practice this. Begin your practice by just blabbering. Get it all out there – blabber it all out. See what comes to mind to talk about. See what rabbit holes are perhaps opening up.

Now make a short list of keywords – things you want to remember to talk about to steer you clear of the rabbit holes. 

Now try talking through your work again, in around 10 minutes. Set a timer on the second or third go.

Now start to polish your presentation. Begin by spending a few moments just describing what is in this portfolio. Hold your interviewer’s hand (metaphorically..!). These are busy, burnt out people. Talk to them like they’re babies. Make them glad that this is going to be a straightforward chat with a presentation of lovely, highly skilled work. You know your work, and they don’t. They’re not going to contest you, they just want to learn what’s in your portfolio. So, begin with something like:

‘This is my portfolio of work from the last two years, it contains a mix of school work and independent work, and it’s all kind of loosely based around my interests in the theater.’

Now everyone is on the same page.

After this little intro, talk through each project with a similar kind of format. How did it begin, what did you do, what did you learn, where did it go? Something like:

‘This project began as a brief set by my school. We were asked to look into the human condition. I took this as an opportunity to document the gestures of stage actors. It resulted in a series of drawings and a painting of a figure. Because I’ve always been interested in theater itself, I’d actually quite like to develop the painting into a series with more of a focus on how stage lighting renders the body.’

At this point you’ve identified what happened in the project in simple enough terms, and you’ve also added a personal reflection so we can learn more about how your mind works and your background. That’s the goal with talking through a portfolio for architecture school applications – you need to chat through skilled work, while also expanding on your personal interests and background so we can learn about you, the applicant, through your work. Simply repeat this format for all the projects. 

Extra questions

The remainder of the interview will be a follow up on what you brought up in your portfolio. The interviewer may ask you about techniques, concepts, personal interests, etc., to do with your portfolio work. They will likely shift into a more generic chat about your interests. They may want to know what you get up to on the weekend, your favorite subjects in school, if you’ve visited the school, etc. Ideally, you have visited the school! If you haven’t, make sure to show an interest in the school’s summer shows, exhibitions, online events, etc. 

You will then be asked if you have any questions yourself. This is not a trick question. Keep it simple. Where is the field trip this year? How much time is normally allocated to studio? Ask a question you’re genuinely curious about, and keep it grounded, otherwise it might come off insincere. 

Interview practice can be tough! The interview is the last hurdle to admission, so the pressure can feel intense. Getting to a point where you feel you can authentically and loosely chat about your work takes time, and that’s why we offer one-to-one guidance specifically in this area. Send us a message today and we can get back to you with how we can help.

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