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Monday, December 21, 2009

Dear Mr. Bradshaw -- I am the mother of a high school sophomore. She earns straight A's and would like to become an architect.

I'm not sure what the job prospects are for architects, but it is important to me that she follows her passion. She is very creative and loves to paint and draw.

I do not know any architects to talk to about career choice. Her guidance counselor encourages her to stay focused on becoming an architect. But employment information is hard to find, and I don't want to advise her to go into a profession that doesn't offer much of a financial future. Can you help? -- Worried Mom

Pursue Architecture, But Design A Plan B



Dear Mom -- Career advice is one of my most common topics. The world seems to have gone through a radical change that started in March. Until then, the economy was booming and jobs were plentiful, no matter what the profession -- except journalism, which has struggled for years.

The ensuing economic downturn has negatively affected nearly all professions -- except health care.

Architecture has not escaped the cutbacks. Major firms have reduced hiring greatly, and internships are harder to find.

In response to your question, I contacted a graduate of Crown Point High School (2000) and the Illinois Institute of Technology's College of Architecture (2005).

Regarding architecture jobs in Chicago, he said: "It's been gutted; nothing is going on. People are going everywhere to find work -- and not finding anything."

His old firm employed 350 architects when he joined in 2005. They worked on major projects in Chicago, San Francisco, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Today, he is applying to graduate school in New York City after losing his job. His old firm has been reduced to 50 architects.

"The company is a shell of its former self," he said, adding he considers himself lucky to have found a job at a four-person firm in Naperville, Ill., where he reverse-commutes from his condo in Chicago.

He said to make ends meet, some former architects are waiting on tables. Others have given up hope of finding a job in or near Chicago.

"The collapse of the financial markets has ended the dreams of a lot of my colleagues," he said. "Many are in their late 20s and early 30s. Several have families. They are either changing professions or going to grad school. Few hold out the possibility that things will improve."

To find out how Indiana is coping, I contacted our two schools of architecture, Ball State University and the University of Notre Dame.

Kara Kelly, director of communications at ND, told me that because of strong alumni support, most students are finding jobs and internships, but students had to be flexible in the jobs they select.

"Students may have to be prepared to work in areas that normally don't require training in architecture, such as interior design and theater construction," she said. "But because of our strong alumni support, most students this year are expected to find employment."

Starting salaries, on average, remain in the low to mid $40,000s, Kelly said.

"In 2009, we had 40 percent placement upon graduation; it's close to 80 percent now, with the remaining 20 percent going to graduate school or involved with service work," she said.

Professor Mahesh Senagala, chairman of the Department of Architecture at Ball State, told me most students are finding jobs in Indiana, traditionally the strongest market for BSU graduates. He said high school students should focus on "creativity" and "thinking out of the box." Standards for this year's freshman class included an average grade-point average of 3.75, a top-20 class rank, and a 1,200 SAT score out of a possible 1,600.

"Lots of students come to us with a 4.0 GPA," Senagala said.

Surprisingly, drafting skills no longer are sought in applicants. But art classes and drawing are vital.

Job interviews and internships are available, and Ball State participates in nationwide job fairs.

"It helps to be ranked among the nation's top 10 undergraduate programs," Senagala said, referring to Design Intelligence's "America's Best Architecture and Design Schools."

Should your daughter follow her dream of becoming an architect? I would say yes -- with a common-sense approach to the need to be flexible with expectations for employment in the short term.

Gerald M. Bradshaw of Crown Point consults with students on how to gain admission to selective colleges, universities and law schools.

Gerald M. Bradshaw of Crown Point consults with students on how to gain admission to selective colleges, universities and law schools. Contact him at www.bradshawcollegeconsulting.com or by calling 866-687-8129.

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