Victoria Ereskina ’18 spent $900 on materials and equipment during her first semester as an architecture major. And she was hardly alone in shouldering this financial burden: Students and faculty across the major say it can be expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, as students are required to purchase materials to build multiple models throughout the semester.
A spring 2016 departmental survey of current architecture majors, which received 31 responses — more than half of the major — revealed that 83 percent of juniors spent between $300 and $500 on printing and materials during their sophomore spring, when they were accepted to the major. Likewise, 83 percent of seniors said they had spent upwards of $400 during their junior fall. Juniors and seniors in the major can receive a stipend of $100 dollars at the end of each semester from the department in order to help defray costs, but often the amount spent each semester far exceeds the reimbursement: 83 percent of juniors who responded to the survey said the stipend was insufficient.
As conversations about financial aid and the student income contribution continue to unfold across campus, students have often discussed how current financial aid policies create two Yale experiences with regards to extracurriculars or social life. But the implications can extend into the classroom as well, with some students unable to pursue their dream majors due to the financial burden.
“The architecture major is not possible if you are on financial aid,” architecture major Charlotte Smith ’17 said. “It would take serious determination to spend less than $500 a term.”
Students take different approaches to offsetting the costs. Julia Medina ’18 said she works extra hours at her job to make up the money she uses on the major. Thaddeus Lee ’17 said that he also balances out his major costs with money from his job, but he noted that not every student can work extra hours to make up the difference. Students on financial aid are already using their wages for their own student contribution, he said, and because architecture is time-intensive, students need to find a balance between their job and the major.
Ereskina now lives off-campus to alleviate the financial burden of the architecture major. She said the money she would have spent in order to live on campus is now being used for material and project expenses that she needs for her studio classes. She added that while students are able to buy materials from the School of Architecture, the costs are not subsidized by the school and are the same as at other stores.
Ereskina said the costs, while burdensome, did not affect her choice to major in architecture.
“Frankly in terms of dissuading me from the major, the costs did nothing at all because I knew I wanted to be an architect and major in it a decade ago,” she said. “The costs were something I swallowed because it’s not like I was on the edge of making a decision.”
But not every student was so lucky. Computing in the arts major Bonnie Rhee ’18 said she dropped out of the architecture major because of the high costs associated with it. Architecture is different from any other undergraduate field because there is not just one aggregate cost for textbooks at the beginning of the semester; rather, she said, architecture students have to make purchases throughout the term, often for expensive materials that they only use once.
Rhee said that while she enjoys architecture and would have preferred to stay within the major, she could not afford to maintain the expenses each semester.
Both the Yale School of Architecture and undergraduate faculty said they are aware of the financial challenges that the major poses to students and have already begun looking for possible solutions.
“I am passionate about the undergraduate architecture major and I want to attract more students,” School of Architecture Dean Deborah Berke said. “I know the cost can cause people to think twice about choosing the undergraduate major, but the school is looking at ways to reduce what those costs might be.”
Architecture director of undergraduate studies Bimal Mendis ’98 ARC ’02 said that beginning this spring, the department will extend the stipend, which came from an alumni gift, to include sophomores applying to the major as well. He noted that the department is also seeking alumni donations and working with the Yale Investments Office to see if the amount can be increased, so that students can be awarded larger amounts in the future. Mendis added that professors have also changed their junior and senior studio courses and removed or modified assignments in order to reduce some of the costs for students.
Students in the major are also given access to resources which help alleviate some of the financial burden. Mendis said undergraduates in the major are each given their own desk, with a computer loaded with the latest architectural design software. He added that the school also provides wood shops, laser cutting equipment and printers, though the latter two have an associated fee.
Both students and faculty interviewed said that the costs associated with the major often decrease as students spend more time in the field. For students just starting the major, there are a number of start-up costs, such as purchasing new equipment, which can make the major more expensive, Mendis said. But as students become more accustomed to studio projects, Lee said, they are able to better assess the necessary expenses and be economical in their purchases.
But there are consequences to using cheaper materials, School of Architecture professor Peggy Deamer said.
“At Harvard, they took a poll a number of years ago looking at architecture students who got awards at the end of the year and what their financial status was, and it was clear that those who didn’t have to worry about money got awards,” she said. “There’s evidence that there’s a relationship between being financially well off and being awarded in architecture.”