Natalie Ramirez is a graduate of the Masters program at University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. She used WeFinance to refinance her student loans. We got to catch up with Natalie to discuss her time at UT Austin, her advice for architecture students, and her experience using WeFinance.
Graduate Corner with WeFinance is a regular series that looks at alumni, their experiences, and what they’ve learned.
Looking to refinance your student loans or cover living expenses during your graduate program? WeFinance is the fastest way to crowdfund a personal loan for any purpose.
What was your experience at UT Austin for the Master of Architecture program? How did it compare to your experience at Stanford?
I attended Stanford for my undergraduate degree and I loved it there. When I was looking for graduate schools, my goal was to find a similar environment as Stanford — specifically a collaborative environment with warm people.
Architecture school can be super cut-throat. While I enjoy doing well in school, I don’t want to do it at the expense of others. I was didn’t want the additional stress of a overly competitive environment for myself or my peers. I was looking for an environment that I would love.
I loved my time at UT Austin but it’s hard to compare your graduate school with your undergraduate experience; you’re older with different priorities. I loved the collaborative nature of UT Austin and the amount of resources to support students.
Another reason I loved the program was the opportunity to get involved with different activities and go abroad.
Where did you go abroad?
I got to spend a year in Chile!
When looking at graduate schools, one of my main priorities was going abroad and exposing myself to different cultures. One of the biggest draws for UT was that it had a professional residency program. It’s not guaranteed though; it’s an honors program where you give the school a list of firms you would like to work for and they try their best to get your foot in the door.
What other deciding factors made you pick UT Austin?
What really influenced my decision for UT was their open houses. After talking to students, graduates, and facility, they all seemed amazing.
Another reasons is UT Austin has a very big focus on social impact architecture — my area of interest. I really liked their holistic approach to social impact design, so it seemed like the perfect fit!
You went from California to Texas. Was it hard to adapt culturally?
It was quiet a culture shock for me. One of the things Stanford and California has is a certain level of diversity.
With that said, it’s something I adapted to. People in Texas are super warm and very friendly!
What advice would you give to incoming architecture students at UT Austin or Stanford?
For design, it’s a very broad topic when you enter into an undergraduate or graduate program. The key is to explore the different sectors of design and find your passion. Design goes from people centric, to performance oriented, so it’s a wide range.
Architecture is very broad, so treat your experience as an opportunity to discover your passions within the industry.
Internships were also key to “get your hands dirty” and it was actually how I found my interest in social impact work.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?
I wish that I took advantage of more opportunities outside of the classroom earlier in my program.
It wasn’t until I left the country that I realized how amazing the experience was. There were times I skipped hearing from a famous Brazilian architect because I felt that I needed to finish an assignment. In the long run, going to the talk would have had more of a lasting impact for me.
I wish I went in thinking that there’s more to grades. It’s really about discovering your interests and getting input from as many professionals as possible.
Do you think there are any big personal financial mistakes graduate students make?
I think one of the biggest mistakes is not knowing the typical salaries that a profession ultimately makes is one of the biggest mistakes. I saw a lot of my peers take on more debt than is realistic, given the salary expectations of architects.
When I was looking at schools, this was something I was super cognizant about. I wasn’t going to attend a school that had a higher ranking but would increase my student loans by 200% or 300%. I’m trying to be realistic and the last thing I would want is for my graduate degree debt to be something I have for 20 or 30 years.
What was your experience with WeFinance?
I’ve been incredibly happy with the process and the product. I love that it’s really transparent and that you know where the money is coming from. All the conditions and terms are very clear.
WeFinance has a lot of flexibility that other companies don’t offer.
What do you look for when you consider financial products?
Stability and transparency. I need to know that the lender is going to be there for me long term and that there’s little risk of a total bill being due tomorrow because of some extraordinary event.
Do you think you would ever use WeFinance in the future? For trips, rainy day expenses, or a mortgage?
Definitely! I think WeFinance is powerful because it focuses on relationships and the individual, not just on numbers.
Would you lend to friends or other UT Austin or Stanford students?
Yes, after I pay off my loans. I think WeFinance is a powerful tool to connect communities and empower them to help each other.