Major expenses

By Dana Rose Falcone

Art by Emily Watanabe

For many students at Syracuse University, college is more than exams, papers, and high tuition costs. For some, college also demands spending long hours in the studio and hundreds of dollars on supplies.

“Essentially it’s just eat, sleep, go to class, do work,” said Caitlin O’Hara, an architecture student. She’s in her fifth year as an architecture major, and she knows well the demanding lifestyle of one of the most challenging—and expensive—majors at SU.

The School of Architecture and the College of Visual and Performing Arts require students to spend major amounts of time both in and out of class working on projects, and major amounts of money on their materials. While students studying architecture, art, photography and fashion design ultimately end up with a top education in their field, many complain that the extra time and money they spend takes away from the overall college experience.


Jessica Migden, a sophomore architecture major, spends the majority of her time working on projects. According to Migden, she spends about 20 hours per week in class and 50 hours per week working outside of class, usually in studio. Most of the time, she can squeeze in some sleep, but sometimes she is forced to pull all-nighters, a sleeping schedule that is almost synonymous with the architecture major.

“When my professor changed my final project just two days before my final presentation, to be able to present a ‘completed’ version of my project, I stayed up working for 60 hours straight with absolutely no sleep,” Migden said.

Migden said most architecture students start studio work in Slocum Hall at around 5 p.m. and work until the next morning. Migden added that some students do not return to their residences until 2:30 in the morning.

O’Hara agrees.

“Any free time is spent tying to do work or getting food, then going to my class and doing work until all [my] requirements are finished,” O’Hara said.

Once the projects are complete, they are critiqued by professors. While the feedback is constructive, it does not always reflect the significant time architecture students spend on each assignment. On rare occasions, students receive positive feedback, making the hours worth it.

“During my final review, the visiting critic said he loved my project, which is a word you rarely hear in the field of architectural criticism,” Migden said.

Despite the time spent on projects, both girls manage to be involved on campus somehow. Migden and O’Hara both rushed sororities.

In addition to spending time on their projects, architecture students also must spend money on supplies. They must buy their own materials for each project, adding to the already high tuition prices. Migden estimates that freshmen spend about $500 each semester on supplies.

When students get further in the architecture program, they begin plotting. Plotting is large- format printing—some blueprints can run 100 feet long. According to the architecture school’s Web site, students are given $25 to start them off printing, but then they’re on their own. That price quickly surpasses the cost of materials.

O’Hara said that her costs in recent years depended on the amount of model making projects versus the amount of computer work. Many architecture professors condense the important parts of several full textbooks into one reader, but generally, the bookstore does not buy those back.

DesignIntelligence, the bimonthly journal of the Design Futures Council, ranked Syracuse’s undergraduate architecture program number two in the nation in November 2009—so the intense time commitment and high costs seem to be paying off.


Megan Skibiel, a freshman surface pattern design major, “thought art school would be pretty laid back, not intense, and just fun – not time consuming.”

This semester, Skibiel spends 13 hours in classes for her major each week, including two four and one half-hour studio classes. She is also required to spend four to five hours in studio each week outside of class. Like architecture majors, art majors spend their nights in the studio.

“[Ending at] 2:30 a.m. is a great night. Sometimes I go to bed at 4 [a.m.],” Skibiel said.

Upon admittance to SU’s art program, the school recommends that students buy an external hard drive. They also must buy a MacBook Pro with Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium. The Art Store on Erie Boulevard East puts together a kit of materials students need for certain classes, such as 2-D Design. Some classes make cameras and tripods available to rent and permit students to use easels, drawing boards, and drawing tools and materials in class.

Still, some students complain that the amount of materials available to borrow is not enough.

“They should provide us with more materials because we’re spending $50,000” to go to Syracuse, Skibiel said.

Skibiel estimates her costs for art materials this semester totaled $1,400, and that’s not including weekly pencil purchases or additional supplies for individual projects.

Even with the time and money, there are no regrets from Skibiel.
“The opportunities, the professors, the connections with jobs are totally worth it,” said Skibiel.

Art Photography

The exceptional professors and a comprehensive three-year program brought art photography graduate student Shimpei Shirafuji to SU. Shirafuji also teaches the class Introduction to Art Photography once a week for four hours. His students, like freshman Maggie Reilly, spend between five to ten hours working outside of class per week.

Reilly said she’s spent up to 20 hours working on one project.
“I spent 16 of those 20 hours at Lightworks, the community darkroom in Watson Hall,” she said.

In addition to the darkroom, SU provides art photography students with chemicals to make prints. But photo students must supply their own film, printing paper, photo sleeves, negative sleeves, and a camera. While there is an equipment cage in VPA, there are few film cameras, so professors recommend students get their own. Students buy materials, like film and photo paper, on an as-needed basis and must replenish their supplies for each project. Shirafuji assigns four projects per semester and estimates the cost of film and photo paper to be $200. He said students dropped his class because of the expensive prices.

“Thinking about how I am going to afford it all for the rest of the semester is going to make me cry,” Reilly said. “In order to get a good grade, though, I have to run out my debit card, while paying for tuition.”

Fashion Design

Freshman fashion design major Melissa Sack spends four hours each in four studio classes, with each class requiring five hours of additional outside work. While Sack gets most of her art homework done in her dorm room, she must finish her fashion design work at the warehouse. The working and traveling tends to affect students’ sleep schedule.

“I haven’t slept more than five hours each night,” Sack said.

Fashion design majors report spending up to $400 on books and art supplies each semester. SU sends a list to students over the summer informing them what supplies they need for the upcoming semester.

For seniors, the supplies include several thousands of dollars of fabric so they can complete their final collections.

“Seniors do sometimes take out loans for their materials if they are set on a particular look and can only get it with a high budget,” said Laurel Morton, a part-time fashion design professor.

“Upperclassmen buy their own materials, as this is part of the learning process … materials will best realize and communicate their designs and also work with the construction process they are choosing,” Morton said.

For Sack, no explanation for why students have to pay so much suffices.

“I pay for all the materials out of pocket,” Sack said. “I think the price of materials is absolutely ridiculous, especially because we’re already paying $50,000 a year to go here.”

Looking for a career in art and architecture? Get ready to spend the good part of your day and a heavy chunk of your bank account doing it. But even with all that time and money, many students, like O’Hara, are happy for it.

“We have a very demanding program, but it also results in a really great program,” she said.


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