Top 3 questions from architecture school candidates

Every year in the fall, I reconnect with the school where I received an Architecture education through emails.

Those emails describe the students I would interview as part of the admission process for applying to the architecture program at Cornell University.

After the move back from New York City years ago, and wanting to reconnect with my school, I decide to sign up to be an alumni interviewer for the admission process. 

Since then, I met many Canadian high school students from different parts of Canada and shared my experience being an architecture student from my old days.

Learning about these outstanding and well-accomplished students has been interesting.

Flipping through their portfolio and seeing their accomplishment well organized on their resume has been an enjoyable experience.  

However, the most fun part of the interview starts when I ask if they have any questions. It was their time to grill me for all their worries, concerns, etc.

Here are the top three questions I have been getting over the years.

What is my chance of acceptance?

This number one question usually comes at the END of the interviews with uncomfortable facial expressions, slow speaking, and never uttering the A (Acceptance) word.

Here are the various formats of the same A questions: 

  • What do you think about my portfolio?
  • Anything I should correct/add/remove in my portfolio?
  • What should I highlight in my admission applications?
  • How many students got accepted from the students you interviewed?
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

All these questions are trying to find the “answer” to their chance of acceptance; they are all asking the can I get in? question without uttering those four words. 

Students recognize the difficulty of acceptance rate considering Cornell Architecture is considered to be the top school in the world.

ALL of the students I interviewed over the years said they selected Cornell as their number one choice (also make sense to Cornell Evaluator!), and with that, I sense their uneasiness while waiting for my answer. 

It is an uncomfortable spot to be in being the person to predict what the outcomes would be.  

As an alumni evaluator with years of experience, one definite answer is that there is no answer. 

Meeting some outstanding students and predicting their chances while filling out the evaluation forms has been a somewhat unpredictable and disappointing experience.  

Over the years, there have been many surprises along the way for me as an evaluator. Some students who I thought had a great chance of getting accepted did not… It was surprising to learn about the result, especially in my early junior evaluator times.  

However, getting the information about the “nearly impossible” acceptance rate, I learned to embrace my role as a cheerleader rather than a predictor to students I interviewed.

On the other hand, learning about the acceptance of some students I interviewed has been a joyful (ego-boosting) experience in my evaluator journey. 

What is it like being a student at Cornell?

This question invariably takes me back to my Cornell First Year, especially the early few weeks when I started architecture school back in the ’90s. 

Walking back to the dorm after pulling in all-nighters, watching strange dance moves of my classmates during crazy working hours, or even late lunch /early dinner at dining halls to avoid lunch and dinner crowd (in the name of saving time)….so many memories to share with the students.  

While trying to answer the question with more helpful tips (instead of talking, reminiscing about my past life), I came up with two words to perfectly sum up my experience: military training. 

Yes, Military Training

Although I have never been or seen (OK I saw them in movies) those training, I can only describe my first-year architecture school experience as such. 

It was the most intense mental and physical experience I have ever had; a sheer number of all nighter’s due to unreal( in a bad way) project deadlines, spending 24 hours together with my classmates working, eating junk food as food, and binge coffee drinking….

Ok, maybe it wasn’t military training…but felt like one. 

What are the job prospects/ future career options?

This particular question comes up more often in the last few years. 

Considering the unique 5 years of the professional degree – not needed for graduate education in architecture – offered from Cornell, it seems a logical one to consider.

Recent experience of a student asking such a question reminds me of the sophistication I lacked when I was her age.

She wonders the possibilities of other career choices besides the obvious one, being the architect. It was not that she was against being one, but she wanted to have more career options to consider in this fast-changing world since she is “still young”

I was beyond belief how analytical and thoughtful she was planning for her education and beyond.

With the student, this particular question was not about typical job prospects or career planning, but rather it was about her life planning! 

Guess what my evaluation for the student was like!

Final Thought

Being the Cornell evaluator has been a great learning experience. 

It is not only about interviewing and evaluating students, but it is also about my own learning experience from these students. 

Trying to answer the questions for students has brought unexpected benefits I did not anticipate when I signed up to be an evaluator years ago.  

Sharing “our” experiences together through the interview process has been both a compelling and rewarding experience.  

I wonder what other questions are waiting for me from future candidates.  

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Life Outside of Design Studio and has been updated for accuracy and completeness.

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