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How Does the NDSA Work?

By ANGLE Staff posted 06-20-2016 11:15 AM


This is the second of a series of guest posts by members of the AIA's NDSA Coalition. Stay tuned each week in June for more! 

So you have graduated from college, and now you are saddled with $26,450 in student loans. As as aspiring architect, you now know you have a few options: you can continue onto graduate school, work for a few years and then return to school, or meet your state’s licensing laws by working for a certain number of years without attending graduate school. In the 2015-2016 school year, ACSA saw an increase in graduate M.Arch applications and enrollment. So you, like many other graduates, choose to pursue a Masters of Architecture from an accredited university.

Two to three years later, you have an incredible portfolio and a greater breadth of knowledge about the architecture profession. You are ready to get a job! When you examine the possibilities, you see a few Architectural Intern positions at various private firms. In preparation for interviews, you know the median Architectural Intern salary for someone out of school is $42,000. Based on some of the coursework you took in school, you would love to do social impact design. In addition to the private sector firms, you’ve most likely found a few opportunities with Habitat for Humanity, IDEO or a Community Design Center. When it comes down to it, you realize that maybe having the job that gets you NCARB experience, salary and benefits is the secure route and you accept a position in a private sector firm. Six months in, you get your first student loan repayment bill. And then it hits you. In addition to the $26,450 you have from undergraduate school, you have now accumulated anywhere from $42,000 to $100,000 of additional student loan debt from graduate school.

According to, Americans have over 1 trillion in student loan debt, 40% of which is attributed to graduate and professional degrees.

Let’s return to that job you started six months ago. You have learned a lot but you really wish you could  have more of an impact and provide more help to your community, and also relieve some of the burden of your student loans. You have examined the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and realized that it might be challenging to find a job that is suited to your skills.

This is where the National Design Services Act (NDSA) can help you out. On the surface, it looks similar to the PSLF program. When we dive a little deeper, we know there are some significant differences that will allow architectural graduates such as yourself the opportunity to work in underserved communities while receiving student loan relief. Let’s examine the key differences between PSLF and the NDSA. 

  1. PSLF requires ten years of employment within the governmental or non-profit agency before student loan forgiveness kicks in. The NDSA would only require one year.
  2. PSLF can only be applied to direct federal student loans. The NDSA is a repayment program and can be applied toward other types of loans, including private loans.
  3. Most importantly, the PSLF lacks a focus on the power of design. The NDSA brings design thinking to underserved communities. It allows us, as architectural graduates, to apply our unique skill sets to our communities and impactful local design. 


If you are interested in the opportunities that the NDSA might afford you, join the efforts to get this legislation passed! Sign up for the Legislative Action Network and join the NDSA Coalition today! You can also follow our efforts on Facebook.


Korey White, AIA, NCARB