June 19, 2013

Good Grades does NOT a Good Designer Make

I have been waiting to write a post about this for a while. This post is for the architecture student that has struggled and perhaps had their setbacks. I hate to break it for the top dog design students, but A’s does not a great designer make. From attending workshops and talking to practitioners and even professors a great disconnect lies between what you have been learning and mastering in architecture school versus what happens in the real world and where you will go after graduation.

Of course, grades do matter for a lot of those who wish to go to graduate school....and is true for those who have to pursue their M.Arch. However, once you step out of the Womb of Academe, prepare to have your hearts crushed. It does not matter if you were a keener or not, but rather are you getting the job done and do you have the skills and personality to fit into a firm. I remember I heard from online forums and friends that A’s will stick to Academia, B’s will go into practice, and C’s will be come CEOs (I also heard A's are Assholes, B's are Bothersome, and C's are CEOs). I somewhat agree with this gross generalization, It shows that greatness does not necessarily come to the best students.  Graduating a year ago and looking back, my A-grades did not land me a job, all it did was provide me a piece of paper and a decent GPA to be considered for graduate studies when the time comes that I want to apply for masters.

Now I am not saying that straight A’s means a bleaker future, I am just saying that in the real world the rules have changed, the priorities are different, and everyone – even those students that struggled can make it in the field. It's a different game outside of college and so many factors come into play.

I do not believe grades are indicative of an individual’s design ability and potential. Even some of the best designer friends I know have had their setbacks. I know one friend who took longer to take his degree working in architecture firms during undergrad when he fell behind, and he is performing exponentially well in Masters. A few other friends I know did not necessarily click with their professors for thesis...rather their ideas and personalities clashed and I have seen students drop thesis year, get low marks, or even failed their studio course. Today, I see those students enjoying life and working in a design firm as valuable team members.

I would not lose hope if you failed studio and fell behind. Ultimately, if you have the discipline, persistence, and dedication I believe there is still a shot at making it in a firm. I feel that failure is the ultimate test of vulnerability, a tempering of maturity and capabilities to push beyond. It is one thing to be naturally talented versus honing talent by working your butt off and always progressing each day. The latter may not receive praise and that forces them to constantly strive for better.

Personally, I fell behind 2 years in university and saw other people that slid through the cracks easily. I was excessively worried and diligent about my work compared to them. What I  acquired from this humbling experience is the dedication, maturity and commitment needed in your professional life which is what I carry onward to the present. After convocation, grades is not a true determining factor of talent, diligence, and ability – especially for a subjective and opinionated discipline like Architecture.

So in closing, here is a word of advice for the broken-hearted, the failures, the passionate ones, and those that still keep trucking through  architecture school: There is still hope – A’s just mean that you managed to work through the system of grades and learning, and probably learned how kiss up to your professors and stroke their ego. Your undergrad is not a true measure of your capabilities in practice and in the architecture industry and, most importantly, in life.

Renderings Part II: In the real world. Outside of fantastical Academia
Traits Architecture Students must have
The Underdog Architecture Student's "10 Things" Response


  1. This is an interesting article, but I think you are missing out on the fact that "hard work" alone won't necessarily help you land your dream job at a firm. You need those grades to receive that paper those employers trust so much. At least in our country, education is still highly regarded.

    On another note, those who are well connected and active in networking, regardless if they did well in school or not, will often surpass those "hard workers" you are supporting. It is a tough industry, and people can be cruel. Employers know what they want, and if you ain't got it, there's always the next employer and the next. We can almost say there is also chance and luck left for those who have been "falling behind".

    However, I agree with your statement that learning valuable skills and getting the job done does make for a good employee, its just not the only factor.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      I'm not trying to disregard education, I think it is highly valuable and there is a lot to gain as design professionals. I do feel, however, that there is subjectivity and favoritism that can skew the marks and even provide those students with more extracurricular opportunities that a vast majority of students do not get. With these factors, I feel that the grading system cannot be a true measure of a designer's ability and what they have learned.

      Yes, networking does make a big difference and can surpass the diligent and hardworking students - and that is not a measure of grades at all. This does not mean that students with good grades are always networking while others are not. I do not describe the "hard workers" as just students that haul their butts and feel entitled to be hired for working hard to get their degree - it involves all the efforts required - not just staying in your job, but also hauling your butt to look for work in this craptacular economy.

      Unless you were not one of those students who had an architect in the family or as a family friend to get you into the field - you will have to put the effort to networking and sending off your applications. In my opinion, that's just part of what the hard work involves.

      Students that fall behind should not be equated as a slacker - this blog actually condemns those types of students. Some students may other reasons why they took longer than others and are legitimate. This blog is about passionate students that are hungry for this and have the persistence to shape up and mature and get to where they want to be. Talent can be built and may take longer than a prescribed curriculum sequence. Talent is the fruits from hard work and what you learned (and what you learn is not necessarily measured by grades). At some point even the students with good grades have worked to get where they are - I`m just saying that those, like me, that fell behind and struggle can still make it if they are hungry and willing to bank the effort

  2. Nice article - good points! Reminds me of this:

    “There is the old adage that the ‘A’ students become professors; the ‘B’ students become judges; and the ‘C’ students make all the money.” In design, some have argued that the A students teach, and the B students work for the C students."

    From this article: http://www.architecture-wiwik.com/architecture-school-doesnt-only-have-to-lead-to-architect/

    1. Thanks Anonymous for the link! Will tweet this out and share with my readers on facebook!

      I've ran into those ABC lines on archinect forums and even my vegas trip to do the drawing workshops during my Christmas break.

  3. Hi Underdog (and readers),

    Great post, and I love what you're doing with the blog!

    I graduated 3 years ago, and recently got registered as an architect. I was never an A student and there were plenty of other students more talented at drawing, 3D modelling/rendering etc than me.

    What I've learned, however, is that in job interviews, the interviewees just want to see how well you communicate your ideas, rather than what the project is. And in the workplace, presenting your ideas effectively is such a valuable skill to have, and one that is completely underrated.

    This is why I've started a podcast dedicated solely to this topic!

    So yes, don't stress about the grades. Passion, drive and tenacity will get you further than numbers and percentages :)

  4. Thank you so much for saying this! I have been feeling miserable for so long, in the beginning I was good at design and got good grades, I even left medical school to pursue architecture, and then last year I failed my studio paper and am now repeating and feel just as lost. I've even considered whether I have the natural ability to be an architect, but you've just reminded me that even without natural ability I have the strength, patience and passion to be just as good as anyone who does. I hope you know how much you've made my day!
    Many thanks