Where to start
Finding the right architectural school is in most circumstances the first and most important initial step towards being an architect, and given that it will also be where you will be spending the majority of at least the next three years, it needs to be as close to the perfect fit as possible.
However what you firstly need to consider is, are you 100% committed to studying the subject? Because as we describe here, it does require a full level of commitment, and if you are unsure it might be worth taking the time to investigate a taster or open entry course to architecture first.
Or alternatively ensure that the program provides the opportunity to move onto other areas without losing your first year.
A good starting point is to create a broad list of the architecture school’s that you initially find interesting (list them all), and start to compare them. This can be based on researching websites, attending open days, and/or speaking to past and current students.
List all your options, but be sure to be mindful of the courses directions and time it takes to complete, some have a slightly less direct path than others.
Following this, there are a number of key factors that we feel are then important to consider and that will ultimately help you to make your choice:
- Architecture school ranking
- Location – where to study
- The school program and course
- The schools College and University
- Opportunities outside of architecture
- Attending open days
- Your own goals & priorities
Architecture school ranking
With so many architecture schools available, a good place to start your research is to look at the school ranking system. Every architecture school should be part of a national system, with many of the top ones also being part of a global system.
Nationally, there are a few school tables to look at and so if a school you are considering is missing, then try to find it on another table. But if it’s still not there, and it’s a long standing established school, it should probably be avoided.
However if it is a new school, then it simply hasn’t had the time to build up a ranking and given the chance may soon be ranking highly.
Given the different tables available, you should not be looking at and using just one, and should take an average across two or three independent rankings.
A final consideration to bear in mind is that these reports may not rank all the aspects that are important to you, such as social opportunities or technology resources.
So overall the architecture school ranking tables should just form a part of your research, backed up by the areas to follow.
Location – Where to study
To a lot of us one of the most important factors in deciding where to study is the location of the town or city the architecture school is based in.
This isn’t surprising as an important element of student life is the social aspect, lifestyle, and the opportunities the living environment can provide.
Fortunately, most architecture schools are based within areas that can offer a good quality of living and amenities, and so it’s more of a question of how large you want your town or city to be?
Some students who would have grown up in cities may find towns too small, but others may be looking for a quiet alternative, and vice versa. There are a huge variety of locations to choose from and more or less a place for everyone.
It is advisable however to spend some time in each of the locations of your choices before you make your final decision, as first impressions can be deceptive.
The school program and course
It may not be obvious, but each architecture school despite having the same overall outcome, will offer a different course structure and program. Some will be more design originated, or concept based, some will have a strong structural emphasis, or be focused on narratives as appose to a finished physical building …there are curriculums for everyone.
So it’s important to do your research and not just base your decision on the above location influence or ranking. The best way to do this is to go to the school end of year shows, or at least look at the previous years’ work through either online records of awards and competitions or through the schools open days.
For predominately UK universities, there is an excellent website called The Precedent medals, that showcases the best of each year’s work here.
Additionally, some architecture schools will break the year groups up into units or studios that have a primary focus on climate control or urban living for example. So it’s also important that you are aware of what’s on offer to you and that you will find it interesting.
Again this can be found out during open days or simply asking the course leaders.
Lastly, to become a registered architect, you will need to meet the educational needs of your professional and governing body. In the UK these are RIBA accredited programs and in the USA and Canada, you should attend a school that is approved by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) or the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB). For other countries, a simple Google search will highlight what to look for.
These set out strict areas of the curriculum that need to be taught and passed by the students for professional licensing and accreditation. If a school does not have these in place then it can make even harder to become qualified.
So before you enroll onto an architecture course, please always make sure that it meets the criteria established by your country or state (USA) where you plan to live and work.
The College or University
With one or two exceptions few architecture schools are their own entities, and are commonly attached and part of a larger college or university.
This can have a strong influence on how you choose your architecture school, as it is this that will contribute and supply a large part of your student experience.
Some institutions are campus based where everything is based within the same area and others can be positioned and spread across a city, it comes down to personal preference.
The college or university also may or may not have good sports facilities and teams, bars or clubs, or generally have bad amenities. So it is very important to look beyond the architecture school and walk around and view the greater aspects of where you will be studying.
Opportunities outside of architecture
This is strongly linked to the above choice of college or university, as it is this that will provide the vital break from architecture school, which as described here is an important factor to your success.
Colleges and Universities will offer a full array of sports teams and hobby clubs, generally the bigger the institution the more variety there is, and if say your sport relies on being by the coast, then this is where you should find the larger and better clubs.
It is however also possible to look further afield outside of the college or university for sports teams for example, so you can do some additional research here also.
Your student experience should and needs to extend past architecture school, and having a completely separate and different group of friends will provide a welcomed break.
Visiting your potential architecture schools isn’t always an easy task, especially if they are at different ends of the country, but it’s extremely difficult to make a choice without physically experiencing the environment first.
Schools with have allocated open days where students and tutors will give guided tours and have examples of work on hand to show, and this is also an excellent opportunity to ask questions and speak to the students currently there.
These open days are also usually combined with a universal open day across the whole campus, and so make the time to go and experience the other aspects that will be available to you.
Combining your visits into a city break will also give you the chance to experience the city or town you could be potentially be living in, also making the trip more justifiable if you are traveling far.
Your own goals & priorities
Your personal goals should also play a large role in helping you to make your decision, as for example if you have an interest in architectural visualization, and want to develop this alongside being an architect, then it is important to find a school that can offer you both.
Equally if you are interested in sustainability or housing, then you need to make sure that your chosen architecture school offers the space to develop this.
As mentioned above, a lot of schools divide the year groups up into units and studio’s that specialize in specific areas of architecture, and so researching these will help to answer whether the course is right for you or not.
Lastly cost, and if there is one area that should not be overlooked it’s the cost of attending architecture school.
Certain areas of this are out of your control however, as for example the cost of the course itself is a set non-negotiable price, as are in many ways the costs of printing, material’s and model making.
These are what they are, you simply spend what you need to, to achieve the best possible outcomes for your projects.
However the cost of living is something you can control, so consider the area you are looking to move to, and don’t just look at studying in isolation, take into account, rent, food and bills also.
The top ranking architecture schools
The next three tables provide a general overview of the current school ranking systems, and should be used as a guide to help select your prospective choices.
Top 20 Architecture Schools in the World
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – United States
- UCL (University College London) – United Kingdom
- Delft University of Technology – Netherlands
- The University of California, Berkeley (UCB) – United States
- Harvard University – United States
- National University of Singapore (NUS) – Singapore
- ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology – Switzerland
- Tsinghua University – China
- University of Cambridge – United Kingdom
- The University of Tokyo – Japan
- Columbia University – United States
- The Hong Kong Polytechnic University – Hong Kong
- The University of Hong Kong – Hong Kong
- Politecnico di Milano – Italy
- The University of Melbourne – Australia
- Tongji University – China
- The University of Sydney – Australia
- The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – United States
- Seoul National University – South Korea
- University of British Columbia – Canada
Top 10 undergraduate architecture schools in the US
- Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
- Rice University, Houston, TX
- Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (SLO), San Luis Obispo, California
- Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
- Cooper Union, York City, New York
- Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island
- Pratt Institute, New York City, New York
- Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
- Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Los Angeles, California
- University of Texas (U.T.), Austin, Texas
Top 10 architecture schools in the UK
- University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England
- University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England
- University of Bath, Bath, England
- UCL Institute of Education, London, England
- University of Nottingham, Nottingham, England
- Manchester School of Architecture, Manchester, England
- University of Lincoln, Lincoln, England
- University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
- Coventry University, Coventry, England
- UWE Bristol, Bristol, England