This is the second of twelve installments in a column, which will explore her experience of combining both worlds that seem so close, yet so far: Interior Architecture and Business. Read the first installment here.

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Some instances have given me immediate flow of positive energy, and the moment when I decided to go to design school is definitely on top of the list. However, it also brought an underlying fear of failure – fear of wasting time, energy, and hopeful spirit. At the moment I made up my mind, several concerns and questions constantly popped up and haunted me. I tried discussing it with some of my closest ones, and here are the initial reactions:

“Wait – what? Are you serious? You threw that job offer and decided to go for another round of education? You should just continue doodling over my notebook and stop thinking about design school.”

“Well let’s see… I know you are good at drawing, but I can’t really see you being a designer. You’re born for some management work, I’m sure of it!”

“No, you are not going to be a designer. You play with production processes and Six Sigma implementations, not model making, space planning and color matching.”

“Eh, just settle down here. You’re just about to enter your comfort zone, yet you’re so eager to abandon it.”

“You can give the school application a shot, but don’t beat yourself too much if you happen to fail. You’re still creative in my eye.”

Those responses were expected. My closer friends and families have always identified me as “the doodler who fills up half of my notebook headers with random scribbles that looks nice anyway,” “the eternal ‘Majalah Dinding’ girl,” or simply the go-to person when it comes to something creative. Throughout high school, I was directed to love science and businesses – not saying that I am hating it. I’ve always been driven by how disciplines intersect with each other, and how they work together to create solutions to everyday problems. Design, however, is an overused buzzword across all fields, making me question its definition and boundaries. This curiosity continued to flourish, as I often spent my spare time designing whatever I can think of, ranging from consumer products to spaces where I’d live or want to be in.

Long story short, I decided to deliver this message to my parents, to which they spent a moment of silence, digesting my considerably mad decision. Perhaps it was like a time bomb for them: they knew this was bound to happen, and it was finally here. The first couple of weeks were definitely not easy as they seemed to approve but still encouraged me to sign the job offer. I got tempted at times too – picking up a pen and making few strokes on that contract sounds a lot easier than figuring out how in the world am I going to get into a notable design school outside the country. Simultaneously, I was left inside a vacuumed bubble as well – it appeared that time had stopped, yet nothing meaningful took place. I judged the situation and concluded that perhaps the best way is to prove my solid intention to tackle this challenge and dash through the finish line. So there I took off, going after each of these steps and ended up being accepted at a Masters Program in Interior Architecture.

1. I know nothing about design school experience, so I am going to talk with those who’ve experienced it before.

From the very beginning, it was crystal clear that I needed to humble myself despite the freshly obtained undergraduate degree that I received a couple of weeks prior. I need not hesitate to talk to those who were well-versed in the design industry and ask about its the pros, cons, challenges, valuable lessons, ease of finding a job post-graduation, working opportunities across the globe, as well as opening own practice and work-related stress. Basically anything that comes up to mind is eligible to be questioned. If there is a single answer that created doubt on me, I would re-evaluate my decision and think about this seemingly major change, again.

 2.    I asked how they prepared themselves and ensured that I’d do the same thing, with a touch of customization. 

Once I was clean of doubt, I asked each of these people to describe their application process – what needs to be satisfied, prepared, and presented to the admissions board. Now that I have passed it, I can make a safe bet that most design schools in the U.S. are divided into two major categories: i) Schools that do not accept those without prior Architecture/Design experience or an undergraduate Degree in Architecture/Design (Most Masters in Architecture do this,) or ii) Schools that welcome students with various background and various levels of experience in the world of design. Obviously now I know that my targeted schools should be on the category number two. At the same time, I also began thinking of ways to present myself as an appealing candidate, considering that my competition can be anything from an Aerospace Engineer (yes, one of my classmate has her undergraduate degree from MIT) to a Museum Studies major.

3.    Extensively research on target schools and adjust according to personal skills

Globally, numerous top schools offer Design and Architecture. Some places that came up to my mind include Japan (who doesn’t love their modern, simple approach to buildings and spaces?), Italy (just because they’re masters in furniture making, duh,) and Germany (best known for their forward thinking on building construction & engineering techniques.) For the sake of language barrier and cultural change issues, though, I decided to stick with where I earned my undergraduate degree: the U.S.. For a list of design schools across America that you might want to consider, check here, here, and here.

I, then, narrowed down those rankings to create a list of priorities, by asking these questions: Do I want to go to a big city (San Fransisco, Chicago, New York for example) or does place even matter so long as I get the experience I wanted? How much is the annual tuition, as well as living costs? How is the ease of travel? How big is the school and how reputable citi-wise, state-wise, or nationally? How is the program structured – is it 100% class & studio-based or does it involve an internship? Do I click with the school’s approach to design and style?

4.      Contact these schools and make a comprehensive list on what to submit and when it is due.

Rhetorical. Stick to the given deadline – always.

 5.      The Holy Trinity of design school application: Portfolio, portfolio, and portfolio. 

Read here and here for a comprehensive explanation by another IM contributor. Additionally, I think it is very important for us with non-design background to show the admissions board how we see design in relation to our current major or field. It does not have to be necessarily directly related to the specific design major we are about to apply – what matters is how we see design incorporated to almost all aspects of daily life and how we can contribute to the design industry through our fresh perspective as a newcomer. Our considerably different points of view will give our design school community some fresh insights. I know it won’t be easy to translate our personality through portfolio, but this is an excellent place for us non-design majors to show how both our artistic and logic side fuse together and create a strong personality up front.

6.      Find ways to sharpen my art & design skills 

Magic does not happen overnight except if you’re Cinderella, therefore I knew my portfolio won’t sufficient, unless I sharpened my design and art skills. In order to compose a presentable application portfolio, there are several ways to improve my knowledge on what’s good and what not: I can take art classes or tutor under someone at my town (Know a friend majoring in design or architecture? Ask whether he/she wants to teach you some basic art skills or not!) or even enroll in a part-time design certificate programs at a local design school. Some of these classes might be challenging to keep up at first as it can be time-, financially and energy-consuming – but trust me it is worth the investment. Allow some time to learn as much techniques as you can, as this translates to better work that can be presented in the portfolio.

7.      Diligently work through it, paying close attention to application deadlines and constantly asking for reviews from professionals, peers and experts.

Do not be shy to show our seemingly amateur design work to experts and ask for brutal, honest feedback. They are the ones who have been through the application process, submerged in the design school environment for countless hours, or even dedicated their entire professional life to the industry. This point of view helped me feel better: they have done it the hard way, too! Take in their comments and suggestions, revise your work and improve it as much as you can. One of my favorite professors in the school told me that “continuous hard work is the only thing that will make someone excel in this field.” I truly agree, as I often believed that design and architecture industry are filled with sick perfectionists.

8.      Write my personal statement honestly and sincerely. 

Although it is no secret that portfolio is the most important part of any design school application, some schools require its applicants to write a small statement of intent in order to find out what drives them to pursue the particular Masters degree. That being said, I put my knowledge on ‘this being minor requirement’ aside and try to reflect on myself. The goal is to convince admissions board on why I am a good fit for this school. Hence, I needed to set myself visible and seemingly close to them. Do not be afraid to expose your innermost thoughts on why design intrigues you; why it compels you so much you are eager to pursue for another higher education degree. Remember that pursuing this path is no easy feat, and people behind the admissions would like to know how driven you are to dash through the program. Be sincere, but not overly flowery.

 9.      Finally, I submitted my work to those design schools, wait, and pray for the best.

It took me about four months from the beginning of school search process til the day I submitted all my application requirements. I waited for about a month or two before I started hearing back from most design schools, and I was thankful that the sleepless nights of conceptual planning, sketching, and revising had finally paid off. One offer came with a sweet bonus: a considerable amount of Merit-based scholarship. Out of all schools that welcomed me to be part of their community, I am proud to say that I am currently a graduate student at one of the Top 10 Graduate Interior Architecture schools in America.

The entire journey told me several important lessons: no hard work will go to waste and nothing will ever, or even should ever stop anyone when it comes to passion! I gleefully said yes to this particular offer, and I toasted myself for the upcoming exciting life as a graduate design student.

Picture belongs to the Author. It is part of what she included in her Interior Architecture Masters Program application portfolio.


  1. hai alicia, salam kenal
    nama saya rizky pongdatu.
    Kebetulan background pendidikan saya adalah non-design.
    Boleh minta emailnya? Saya mau berdiskusi tentang program Master Architecture/Interior Design. Terima kasih.

  2. Hai Mbak Alicia. Salam kenal. Saya Ilham. Pertama-tama saya merinding abis baca (baru 2 artikel, belum semua) tulisan Mbak ini. Seketika, semangat saya untuk kembali serius untuk melanjutkan pendidikan master ke jurusan arsitektur, walaupun major S1 saya gak linear, Sastra Inggris. Well, is there any way to connect with you? I need to ask some questions (or even, perhaps, have a discussion) regarding this. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks in advance Mbak Alicia 🙂


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