The summer architecture internship

Last January, I embarked upon the most treacherous journey since college application season: applying for a summer internship. The journey lasted four exhausting months, and included my parents hounding me for updates every other day and a color coded excel spreadsheet that only fueled my frustration and disappointment every time I looked at it.

One day into spring break, I was at sitting in the dentist's office when I saw an email that I had been invited to the next round for a summer internship in Charlotte. After a short charrette activity, two weeks later I sat in a conference room at school at the break of dawn interviewing with the firm of my dreams. When the news finally came that I was offered a summer internship position, I was a mess of emotions that ranged from utter excitement to surprise to utter fear. What if I don't know enough revit? Will I be able to wear chacos at work?

Fast forward 12 weeks and I have survived my first architecture summer internship. The summer was full of lessons, and I would be lying if I told you I didn't shed a little tear when I realized that the architecture world was vastly different from everything they taught you in school, in the best of ways. I consider myself extremely blessed to have studied such a fantastic firm so early in my career, and I plan to return for as long as I can. However, the pain of applying for a summer architecture internship is still recent for me and in no way over, so here are some things I learned about the application process and the importance of the internship that I hope to remind myself of in the future and share with others who might soon be on the same path. 

1) Find firms that align with your interests and value systems. I know the feeling of applying anywhere and everywhere, of handing your application to anyone who is willing to put their hands on it with a pretty bow on it, and there is a ton of merit to this approach. However, you will be able to write a much more convincing cover letter (oh, btw, these aren't an outdated formality, but a platform you should use to your advantage) and have a much more successful interview if the firm and what it stands for align with who you are and what you stand for. 

2) It's okay to not know what you stand for and for your perspectives to shift. Internships are all about learning and asking questions. I went into the internship thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my degree. In fact, I've gone my entire life making plans and executing them. The internship exposed me to all these different facets of the architecture field that I never knew existed, and parts of architecture that I look forward to exploring in the coming summer. I am very type A, so I shocked myself when I realized I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do with my degree anymore. That's okay. In fact, as I learned, hardly anyone knew. All I know now is that the firm aligns with my interests and value system and that I couldn't see myself in any other community. 

3) Ask questions. Coffee dates are your best friend. This is so important. At first I thought this meant asking questions about revit or finish palettes, but it's incredibly important to also ask questions about how the people you respect got to wherever they are today. Did they go straight into the the architecture field, or did they take time off? How long did it take them to get their license? What is the biggest piece of advice they would give to someone entering the design world? 

4) The portfolio isn't everything. When I was applying for internships, I had nightmares that my portfolio would be the end-all-be-all to my internship dreams. I did well in school, but my portfolio was nothing short of just average in my eyes. I never spent more time than I had to in the woodshop and didn't lust for my own 3D printer. Instead, I focused on things like student government and baking cakes, and these are the skills that I focused on in my application process and interview. These are the things that make me passionate, so I used them to my advantage. At a firm that values community, a portfolio is only going to be a piece of the whole package. That's not to say to not make it a good one, but find a format that works for you and draw attention to what you are good at and enjoy, whether that skill is architecture related or not. Firms are looking for passion and drive, not just model building skills. 

5) Your mom was right - the summer internship is important. It kills me that not all university programs require a summer internship, and I think that is due to the fact that they can be so difficult to find. The process is anything but easy and definitely left me questioning if I had any skills that an architecture firm would ever value. However, I'm beyond grateful that I took my chances (and that this firm took their chances on me!) because if I hadn't interned, I would have had to wait to see all of the exciting opportunities available to me in the design field until after graduation. Take whatever opportunities you can get to ask questions and learn, and use these as lessons to determine where you really want to go in the future.