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Architectural studies vs. wallet affluence

22 of April '24
w skrócie
  1. Studying architecture involves huge expenses, from the cost of preparatory courses, to semester-long expenses for printing and design materials, to the need to purchase expensive computer equipment.

  2. Parentalfinancial support: Nearly 60% of students are financially supported by their parents; only 7% support themselves.

  3. Emotional and financial burdens: Architecture students experience stress from having to meet high standards and financial demands.

  4. For more interesting information, visit the home page of the AiB portal

Going into architecture, I didn't think it would be so difficult. No, it's not the sheer number of projects, but how much it costs. I studied in Silesia, leaving my native Cracow. For me, and for many people, it was mostly about learning to budget and choosing between lunch and printing materials for a review.

I have been studying for a while now, but the situation is not any better now. And it's especially acute for those who have to face the high costs first of preparing for the entrance exams on their own, and then the semester expenses for printouts and mock-ups or the need to buy expensive computer equipment.

Costs of studying architecture: Higher than you expected

When starting their architectural education, students need to invest about 5,000 zlotys for entrance exam preparation courses. This is just the beginning, as the costs do not stop. An average semester brings further expenses[1] of about 800 zloty for printed projects and educational materials. The biggest financial challenge, however, is the purchase of the necessary computer equipment, which costs an average of 8,000 zlotys. And that's not all. On top of that, there are expenses related to renting an apartment - only 30% of architecture students live with their parents, while more than 60% change their place of residence due to their studies. The Polish Economic Institute 's report "Analysis of the housing market. Q4 2023" shows that in the capital city one had to pay on average more than 4400 PLN to rent an apartment. The next places are occupied by Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk, where prices are between PLN 2900 and PLN 3000. Of course, everything depends on the location, square footage. I asked my observers how much they spend on average on an apartment or a room - more than PLN 1,000 per month was indicated by 60 percent of respondents.

Średnia cena najmu mieszkania w 17 największych miastach w IV kwartale 2023r.

The average price of renting an apartment in the 17 largest cities in Q4 2023. - Lubasinski, J., Wise, T. (2024), Analysis of the housing market - Q4 2023, Polish Economic Institute, Warsaw.

Polish Economic Institute, Warsaw.

Data shows that almost 60% of architecture students are supported by their parents, not surprisingly. Without them, it is difficult to cope with such expensive studies. Only 7% of students support themselves completely on their own, while 34% manage partially on their own. This financial burden means that half of the students do not have the opportunity to work professionally, although 48% of them work in the industry, but it should be taken into account that in this field of study one has to do an apprenticeship, while studios are eager to accept those who have extensive experience. Everyone who has the opportunity wants to gain valuable experience.

A survey of people studying architecture confirms this thesis.80% of those studying are compelled to work because of financial needs, 53% seek professional development, and 30% work for their own satisfaction.

The enormous amount of time students devote to their education cannot be overlooked either. On average, they spend more than 49 hours a week on classes, projects and self-study.

„Zawód na A” — badanie kondycji psychicznej w środowisku akademickim architektury — jedna ze stron raportu pokazująca sytuację zawodową i finansową osób studiujących

"Profession at A" - A study of the mental condition in architecture academia - one of the pages of the report showing the professional and financial situation of students


I asked several students what their attitude to costs was, I heard, among other things, that "two years ago, when I was defending myself, the cost of printing 6 boards + 2 mandatory copies of the thesis was about 800 PLN (on foam). As someone wanted to have his work in addition "for the shelf" or to show the family is an additional hundred hundred. Cosmos! The price almost like renting a room! Maybe a partial solution, though, would be a university print shop, albeit somewhat subsidized, or (controversially!) presentations from an overhead projector."

There are more such statements. Students complain about the need to print literally everything and the lack of electronic consultations. "One lecturer held consultations where plans could be shown on the computer - he was considered 'progressive'". - I hear in response.

Students' financial challenges: The reality of living on the edge

At a time of widespread education, the words of lecturers, who are often unsupportive, are particularly hurtful, with a lack of understanding of the unglamorous financial situation in some students. "Lecturer's texts sounding like 'if someone can't afford to study then they shouldn't study' are not something you want to hear, at the time of grading your boards in front of everyone." One graduate recalls to me. "In college, I was aware that I was less well off than my classmates - this was evident in things like my approach to making mock-ups. My mock-ups made from what I had on hand strongly differed from those made from shiny, white cardboard 3 mm thick cut by laser, with LED lighting. The same was true of the boards - in my case, printed on the thinnest paper, most preferably black and white, I was eager to use the next time I consulted the project. In others, color, foam, woweffect."

Zrzut ekranu z ankiety przeprowadzonej na moim profilu na Instagramie @pieing

Screenshot from a survey conducted on my Instagram profile @pieing - survey "financial situation of people studying architecture vs. parental support", survey of n=800 people

© Magdalena Milert

Those studying are looking for various solutions to meet exorbitant standards. For example, they take a dean's leave, which,however, does not necessarily look good on a resume afterwards. One person shares her experience with me:

"During my studies, I was able to use a computer that could barely handle visuals. Fortunately, by the fourth semester it was sufficient, as I could focus mainly on drawing. I was only able to purchase better equipment after the end of the fourth semester, when I decided to take a year off to earn money for college and avoid having to work after classes. This, however, cost me a year of working for a corpo on an earpiece, after which I felt that my organizational skills were being undermined at the university and afterwards. During my job search, I was asked why my studies took a year longer than anticipated. I was concerned that this would cause me to be seen as a person who (ironically!) doesn't know how to handle life. At the time, however, I had to make a choice: get funding for my studies and finish them, but a year later, or opt for the FREE internships offered by companies that could provide me with valuable work experience, but... without being able to finish my studies."

Emotions and financial difficulties: Everyday life of architecture students

What is most striking is the lack of understanding from people who, after all, once studied themselves, too. I hear a lot from my observers about scholarships, where every penny counts. It's not a matter of moving money from account to account or asking parents for support. Lack of money is lack of money. Many have had to, and still have to, contend with the reality where money does not go to luxuries, but is needed to survive.

Printing a diploma required having to go to work. My promoter left no illusions that he liked it.

"During my studies, most of my social stipend went to basic needs like food at home, not to colorful charts or other fancies like a tablet." - another person reports to me. "Printing the diploma required having to go to work. My promoter left no illusions that he liked it. For him, studying was a priority, and additional gainful employment was a fad." Interesting that in such a creative profession and imagination can fail.

I myself met in college several professors with such an attitude. I well remember a lecture in which the instructor was directly amazed that we did not visit the famous capitals of Europe, significant buildings on our continent, but also... did not go to New York. The same was true of the workshops. I myself was only able to participate in the free ones, which is probably why, reading a recent interview[2] with Magda Wypusz, the originator of the Mood for wood workshop, I was frozen by a statement in which the words "from the very beginning I was very keen that money should not be an obstacle for students. The premise of the workshop is to create an opportunity for everyone to participate, so the entry fee was to be as low as possible." In 2015, the entry fee was €70, then it rose to €100. In recent years it has risen to EUR 150 for the June edition and EUR 200 for the August edition. Of course, workshops such as these have huge costs, amounting to as much as 3,500 zloty per person. The creators of the venture try to get funding and keep the participation rate as low as possible, but further on these are high amounts. They do not seem attainable for everyone, especially bearing in mind that the minimum wage in Poland in 2015 was PLN 1286.16 net.

I shared the aforementioned excerpt with a request for reflections from student people. I did not have to wait long for responses. "For many of us, 200 euros for anything seems like an unattainable luxury that we can't afford. This is not a matter of whimsy, but a real choice between basic needs such as food," I received in response.

The most luxurious meal,
I could afford, was a bagel

Another graduate recalls that since leaving high school she has had to support herself. She paid for a drawing course, apartment rent and food in Krakow on her own. "When I got to college, I couldn't hold back tears of happiness," she recalls. Throughout her studies, she financed herself by working abroad during vacations. She studied full-time, so theoretically free of charge, but the cost of living was not small - she had to pay for food, an apartment in Krakow and all other expenses. "The most luxurious meal I could afford was a bagel. When friends from the department went 'for pasta at restaurants,' I had to refuse, saying I wasn't hungry." - She adds. Plotting an exam session was a real financial drama, and away workshops were never an option - she simply couldn't afford them. "Besides, I spent my vacations working to earn money for the next year of study," she concludes.

The financial difficulties of studying architecture are real. Perhaps they are indeed not for everyone. However, it seems that a little empathy on the part of instructors or a controversial move to allow term papers to be turned in electronically would have already lowered the financial bar somewhat. I myself am grateful that there was an available dormitory in Gliwice, where I studied - without it, I wouldn' t be where I am, I wouldn't be able to afford an apartment. Without affordable housing, there is no way to have accessible studies. Without the right support and solutions, many talented people may have to give up on their architectural dreams. And that's probably not what we want when thinking about the future of our profession, right?

Magdalena Milert

[1] Data is from the report "Profession at A"

[2] M. Wypusz (in conversation with M. Stępień), Experiencing Reality, "Architectural Quarterly Project , " 2023, no. 35, p. 26.

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