Questions you should ask schools
Because architecture programs vary so significantly, students should look carefully at their options. Some factors to consider when selecting a school include:
- program type and length of study (described above)
- institutional context
- large university, small private college, religious affiliation, public, etc.
- program philosophy, emphasis, and curriculum
- tuition costs and fees
- financial issues
- work-study opportunities
- living costs
- teaching assistantships
- scholarships, loans, grants
- student–faculty ratios
- Expertise of faculty involved in the program
- internship opportunities or requirements
- off–campus and foreign study opportunities
- community service opportunities
- other special curriculum opportunities such as double majors or interdisciplinary connections
- facilities and resources, related to studio space, library, and digital support
- long term career options
- accreditation status of the program
- Each student should match all of these considerations with personal circumstances and goals.
Admission requirements are set by each institution. Typically, admission decisions involve a review of the student’s past academic history and test scores. Some undergraduate programs may require a portfolio or interview. Some programs may have “open admission,” with minimal entry requirements, but internal review processes for advancement in the program. Most graduate programs will require a portfolio, even if a college graduate’s background is not in architecture.
Because architecture is a visual discipline, an individual’s portfolio is often an important consideration in admission decisions and, later, in interviewing for jobs.
For admission as a beginning student in architecture, the portfolio should show potential as a visual thinker and personal initiative as a designer. Potential can be demonstrated in many ways, including drawings, fine art work, ceramics, sculpture, graphic design, photography or constructed projects such as stage sets or pieces of furniture. Probably the least significant component of such a portfolio would be CAD drawings from a high school course that tend to demonstrate technical drafting skills rather than potential.
Some programs have portfolio reviews periodically to determine advancement within the program, including the transition into the graduate component of a 4+2 program. Not only would these portfolios show potential, but they would document course work completed to date.
Almost all architecture firms review candidate portfolios in the interview process. In this case, they will be looking for accomplishments, potential, the ability to be part of a team, technical understanding, and communication skills, both verbal and visual. Free-hand drawing as well as digital expertise are typically valued.
While the portfolio has different purposes and audiences, it should be well organized. Labeling should indicate if work was for a course assignment or if it was completed independently; it is also useful to know when the work was completed and the approximate amount of time involved. Students should document and preserve their work. Submission of original items is not usually necessary, although different programs may have different requirements.
Visually, the portfolio itself is a type of design project, and will reflect the design personality and organizational capabilities of its author.
Advice to International Students
International students are welcome at American and Canadian universities. However, visas, licensure requirements, and accreditation requirements are quite detailed, and international students should understand these requirements well. The diversity of professional degrees and university programs can be confusing. In particular, when universities offer more than one type of M. Arch, it is important to understand the difference between a professionally accredited M. Arch related to licensure, and a non-accredited M. Arch intended for students with another professional architecture degree.
Advice to College Graduates
Because of the diversity of degree paths in architecture, it is not uncommon for architecture students to have a variety of educational experiences. Some students in 4+2 programs may change institutions after the bachelor’s degree, but should not assume that all of their undergraduate course credit will meet the architecture requirements of the graduate institution.
While many architecture students select an architecture program as an undergraduate, it is possible for individuals to make a mid-career decision to enter architecture by entering a graduate program. Portfolios are typically required for graduate programs.
Advice to Transfer Students
Policies for transferring vary at all institutions, and students should never “assume” that credit will easily transfer from one institution to another. Most universities accept credit of transfer students, but this does not necessarily mean that the transfer credit will meet professional course requirements. Often transfer credit will meet “elective” requirements, for courses outside of the architecture professional core requirements.
In a professional architecture program, transfer credit is usually handled on a case-by-case basis, and transfer students should be vigilant in maintaining accurate academic records, including a complete portfolio of course work and assignments.
Some community colleges may have an “articulation agreement” with a specific accredited architecture program to apply credits earned in an associate’s degree program. Unless this is the case, transfer students from community colleges should not assume that their prior course work will easily meet professional degree course requirements.
Undergraduate students who are not in architecture and want to transfer in should compare the degree options, especially if considering transferring into a five-year program. It may be just as easy to finish an undergraduate degree and pursue a three-year graduate M. Arch degree rather than start a new five-year program as a junior or senior.
Advice to High School Students
Successful architects are thoughtful, curious, self-disciplined, well-rounded, and intelligent, not just “talented.” They may have been at the top of their high school class, or may have been underperforming high school students who blossomed in a design-based educational program.
Ideally, the beginning architecture student will have a high school experience with a strong proficiency in oral and written communication; a breadth of knowledge in the humanities; a solid background in the physical sciences, including mathematics; an ability to “conceptualize” at an above-average level; and the ability to draw and sketch with ease. Many universities have entry requirements related to high-school languages, although few architecture program curricula require college-level language courses.
In general, high school students interested in architecture are encouraged to take challenging courses. Courses in the humanities provide a well-rounded educational foundation, ideal for a successful architect.
Students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses should take the AP Exam. While different universities have different standards for AP credit, receiving AP credit gives a college student much more flexibility to take other courses, to take a lighter load, or to graduate early.
Math and structures are important components in architecture programs, so advanced math courses in high school are recommended. Many architecture programs require calculus, which can often be met with AP calculus credit or by taking a placement exam. High school physics courses are strongly recommended as an excellent preparation for understanding basic principles in structures, electricity, heating/cooling, lighting, acoustics, and energy conservation.
In the same way that a student who wants to become a writer would not necessarily take typing courses, any student who wants to become an architect need not take drafting or CAD courses. Many drafting courses simply emphasize copying drawings neatly, and are not intellectually challenging. Understanding CAD software in high school may be helpful, but is not necessary.
Architecture involves visual thinking and composition that can best be developed in a good drawing or art course. Not all high schools offer these types of courses, and most architecture programs will include required drawing courses. Students who are in a high school that does not offer drawing could develop drawing skills independently by making a 15-minute freehand line sketch (from observation) each day in a sketchbook with high quality sketching pencils or pens. Local museums and evening schools often offer short non-credit courses that could be very helpful.
While “design” is the primary emphasis of study in most programs, the faculty do not expect students to be good designers when entering—only when graduating. Faculty welcome students who are above average in intelligence, have diverse skills, and are self-motivated, thoughtful, and interested in learning.
Self-Motivation, Work Ethic, and Time Management Design can be a time-consuming process, and the seemingly infinite possibilities of a design assignment are a new challenge to students familiar with traditional high school expectations. Architecture students traditionally work many long hours in the studio on architectural projects. The studio environment is not all work, however, and students develop close bonds with other students and faculty members.
Time management in professional programs is essential to maximize the college experience with its opportunities for new challenges, for extra curricular activities, and for new friends. Students should expect to work hard, in an efficient and effective way.
Financial Assistance and Working
Most institutions have an office of financial aid to assist students with the complexities of loans, grants, payment programs, scholarships, and work-study options. Tuition rates are a major consideration and the difference between in-state, out-of-state, and private tuition rates can be significant.
Students who plan to work during their college years should plan this carefully. With proper time management, holding a job should be possible and can even be a very gratifying experience. Some programs are structured to allow students to work.
However, in the typical undergraduate environment, students who need to work more that 12 hours per week may consider taking a lighter course load to maximize the college experience. Adding an extra year or two to the planned curriculum may be worthwhile in reducing stress and in maximizing involvement in a range of meaningful activities. Each situation is different, and time management is important.