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How to Choose an Architecture School That’s Right for You

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When choosing what architecture school to attend for your studies, it’s a choice that begins with you. From your personal goals and work ethic to where you live, choosing a school is influenced by a multitude of factors.

Consider why you want to study architecture. Where do your interests lie? What do you want to get out of a program? Where do you want to go afterwards? Don’t lose sight of why you’re applying to study architecture, and as you learn and grow, you’ll find your own way to practice as you carve out a unique path.

architecture school

John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design – Toronto, ON

Accreditation

Usually, choosing to study architecture means that you hope to become a licensed architect. This is an important distinction in the United States, because not all schools of architecture provide a NAAB accredited degree. Hundreds of colleges and universities offer classes in architecture and related fields. However, schools may offer a 4-year unaccredited pre-professional undergraduate program, after which you can still go on to get licensed with a 2-year NAAB accredited Master’s program. If you’re not interested in pursuing licensure, you can study architecture and still go into a range of fields, from industrial design and construction management to real estate development.

Consider your end goals and what path you may want to take after your degree. With few exceptions, the path to becoming a licensed architect starts with earning a professional degree. Remember, it’s never too late to study architecture, but be aware of the differences among degree paths and enroll in a program that is appropriate for your interests and long-term career plans.

architecture school

University of Miami School of Architecture Thomas P. Murphy Design Studio Building, Courtesy Robin Hill

Degree Paths

There are more than 140 universities offering ‘professional’ architecture degree programs in the United States and Canada. These degrees are either the Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) degree, the Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) degree, or the Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch.) degree. Having a professional degree is important for meeting the educational qualifications necessary for architectural licensure.

For up-to-date requirements on these requirements in the United States and Canada, contact the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the Committee of Canadian Architectural Councils (CCAC). There are three typical paths to obtaining the professional degree in architecture:

architecture school

Vol Walker Hall and the Steven L. Anderson Design Center

The professional Bachelor of Architecture degree is often the most direct way of obtaining the professional degree required for licensure. This route normally takes a minimum of five years of study. Many Bachelor of Architecture programs begin with a concentration of architecture courses, and the range of electives may be narrower with a limited exposure to other fields. Remember that most professional degree programs accept transfer students at the designated break points, but transfer credit is usually evaluated on an individual course-by-course and case-by-case basis.

The 4+2 Route consists of a pre-professional degree plus professional Master’s degree, normally requiring six years to complete and offering more flexibility than a single five-year degree path. At the end of four years, the student has a pre-professional undergraduate degree in architecture. From that point, the student may decide to complete the Master of Architecture degree, spend a year or two fulfilling experience requirements, or change disciplines and pursue study in another field.

architecture school

School of Architecture and Design at the University of Greenwich

The 4+3 Route is made up of a non-architecture degree plus professional master’s degree. This route normally requires seven-and-a-half years of study (a four-year undergraduate degree plus a three-and-a-half-year Master of Architecture degree) and is usually taken by those who have embarked on a career other than architecture and later decide to study architecture.

Since 2015, over 25 NAAB-accredited programs at 21 schools across the country have established an Integrate Path to Architectural Licensure option, providing their students with an education that connects to real-world practice while shortening their time to licensure and expanding their career opportunities.

architecture school

John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design – Toronto, ON

Location, Studios & Facilities

Location has long been one of the greatest factors for deciding which architecture school to attend. While the coronavirus moved many classes and studios online, location is still a major consideration. Whether a school is close to where you live, in a city with architects you admire, or simply located in a place you’d love to be after graduation, location means a great deal.

Location is important not only for how you’ll get to school and what’s near you, but also what the local industry looks like and the kind of firms you may end up working with if you choose to stay after graduation.

architecture school

Milstein Hall at Cornell University

As new schools of architecture are built around the world, classrooms and studios are being reimagined. Designed as architecture for architects, the best school designs can motivate, encourage, and inspire the next generation of designers. These buildings often adopt the very vocabulary and ideas being explored in contemporary practice and academia, expressing the dynamic relationships being taught within them: theory and praxis, tectonics and space, as well as community and technology.

If you’re able to, it helps to visit schools and talk with admissions counselors, faculty and students within a school of architecture. While most schools have a series of maker spaces, digital fabrication labs or wood shops, try to understand what facilities are offered and the studio spaces. Then you can make a better comparison to see what physical spaces better match your personal goals and how you’d like to study and work. You can also use resources like StudyArchitecture to help you find a school. You can also find Accredited Architecture Programs through NAAB.

architecture school

John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design – Toronto, ON

Professors & Curriculum Delivery

While it’s not always a major factor, it can help to look into who is teaching at a particular school. Are there professors working in industries, fields or firms you’d like to work in? Are they developing a body of research you’d like to exlore? You can look into who the professors are, as well as the dean currently heading the program. Remember that building relationships with faculty can lead to internships or job opportunities in the long run.

For course delivery, you can also consider low-enrollment or online classes, as well as certificate programs and executive degrees. Although you probably won’t be able to earn a degree entirely through online coursework, some colleges do offer flexible programs. Look for accredited architecture programs that offer some online coursework, weekend seminars, summer programs, and credit for on-the-job training.

architecture school

Kent State Center for Architecture and Environmental Design

Scholarships

There’s no way around it; higher education is becoming more and more expensive. At the same time, the long progress toward a degree in architecture can add to that expense. Try asking a guidance counselor or university admissions for more information about student loans, grants, fellowships, work-study programs, and scholarships.

Check scholarship listings published by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA). One major step that can go a long way in helping you earn your degree is meeting with a college’s financial aid adviser early on.

architecture school

Kent State Center for Architecture and Environmental Design

The Shortlist

After you have an understanding of your goals, you’ve looked at accredited schools and have a better understanding of degree path, it helps to make a list of schools you’re interested in and compare. Your shortlist can be based on researching websites, attending open houses, as well as speaking to past and current students.

Look at the facilities, scholarships offered, professors, as well as the amount of time you think it will take you to complete your degree. It helps to identify your options and be clear about your personal circumstances, goals and priorities.

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