What is the First Year of Architecture School Like?

Unlike students about to study a history or science degree for example, architecture students are completely unaccustomed to what lies ahead...

Attending architecture school especially for the first time can be a daunting prospect, particularly as most new students have never studied or had the option to study architecture before.

So what is the first year of architecture school actually like?

What to expect from your first year of architecture school…

Unlike students about to study a history or science degree for example, architecture students are completely unaccustomed to what lies ahead and enter into the subject relatively inexperienced and completely free of expectation. 

The thought processes and projects that lie ahead of you (although very exciting) will likely present a whole new way of working and thinking, particularly in terms of the learning structure and techniques required to successfully pass them. 

…so what can you expect?

Independent study and learning

Transitioning from high school to a college or university program, especially in architecture, necessitates a shift towards self-directed learning. Your choice to attend an architecture school is fully voluntary – no one is forcing your attendance or monitoring your every step.

In the initial weeks, tutors may reach out if they notice your absence in class, but with large-scale architecture schools housing hundreds of students, personal accountability becomes crucial.

The onus falls on you to organize your schedule, attend classes, and complete assignments. You need to instil discipline and consistency in your daily routine from the very beginning. It’s crucial to map out what needs to be done, when, and how you plan to accomplish it.

Course load

Expect a substantial workload in architecture or any other design school, likely heavier than the course load of friends studying business, science, or other fields.

You may notice peers in other fields skipping classes or hastily preparing assignments hours before the deadline. Such strategies rarely work in architecture or design disciplines.

To excel in these fields, you’ll likely have to go beyond the recommended workload and dedicate more hours. It’s not uncommon for architecture students to spend nights finishing drawings, using weekends, breaks, or holidays to complete a project or learn a new software.

What is the First Year of Architecture School Like?

Interactions with peers and competition

In architecture school, you’ll find a diverse group of students from various backgrounds and experience levels.

Your first year may feel overwhelming. Some classmates may excel in drawing, design, graphic presentation, software, or documentation. Others may commit to intense work schedules, while some might take it easy.

Some students might decide that architecture isn’t for them, whereas others may immerse themselves completely, living and breathing architecture.

Architecture and design disciplines can be highly competitive. Students may find themselves comparing their skills, knowledge, abilities, ideas, and grades with others.

It’s essential to understand that everyone brings unique skills to the table, and over time, the skill gaps may close. Architecture offers myriad opportunities to leverage your unique skills.

Whether you excel at understanding construction processes, project management, or another area, the choice is yours to focus on areas that intrigue you and integrate that passion into your work.

Learning styles

Architecture school offers a diverse range of learning styles.

While traditional subjects often follow standard patterns of study, assignments, essays, and exams, architecture is primarily a design discipline. As such, you’ll need to tap into your creativity, critical thinking, analysis, problem-solving skills, and experimentation.

You’ll also have the opportunity to collaborate with peers to research, analyse, explore ideas, or review and critique work, both in and outside the classroom.

Much of architecture involves learning through testing, experimenting, and exploring, and the process of gaining understanding is as vital as the result itself.

Types of classes

One of the first things you’ll notice about architecture school is the breadth of classes offered, many of which may introduce new and unfamiliar content.

Design Studios: This will be a large focus of your degree, and you can expect to have a design studio every semester. For each design studio, you’ll be given a project(s) to design an architectural or spatial structure.

Be prepared to iterate, test, refine, and possibly fail as you learn through the creative design process.

History and Theory Classes: These classes will provide foundational knowledge and skills, including architectural styles, buildings, and principles. The insights gained in these classes will prove vital in your design projects and future career.

Communication Classes: These will equip you with various tools to express your architectural ideas. From analog to digital communication tools, these classes will help you improve your knowledge and skills in architectural communication.

Construction Classes: These classes will teach you about building systems, materials, and the process of bringing your design ideas to life. As you progress, these subjects may also touch on broader aspects such as sustainable design or more complex building systems.

Other Classes: Alongside these, you may also have other classes like professional practice and a range of elective subjects focusing on specific areas of architectural practice.

Remember, you’re not just preparing for exams but building a foundational knowledge base that you will draw upon throughout your career as an architect and designer.

Hot to survive your first semester of architecture school

Following on from this, here we want to share with you 12 tips to surviving your first semester of architecture school, that we hope you can also take and use throughout the rest of your time studying the subject.

For quick reference:

  • Spend Time in the studio
  • Be sociable
  • Volunteer
  • Have the right equipment
  • Learn from others
  • Look after yourself
  • Attend
  • Join a sports team of club
  • Party
  • Read
  • Don’t be afraid of the workshop
  • Don’t wait to be shown

Do you find design projects difficult?

Have confidence in your design process.

Spend Time in the studio

Spending time in the studio can be incredibly beneficial to your success at architecture school.

This can be hard at first when you don’t know anyone, but as a first year student, this almost forces you to get to know the other students, most of whom you will be studying with for at least the next five years.

Working in the studio creates a collaborative environment that opens up debates and discussions on the projects you’re working on, and provides a team working atmosphere where you will work together with your friends to overcome difficult aspects of your projects.

It also ensures that you don’t miss anything, such as design brief changes, rearranged tutorials, project developments …just being there helps greatly.

Get to know your fellow student

Closely linked to spending time in the studio, is getting to know the people on your course. You will be working with them for at least the next five years (all being well), and forming close relationships will make this all the more enjoyable. 

Being able to work with friends is an incredibly fortunate position to be in, and one that will help to pull you through even the most difficult sides of studying architecture.

A lot of the friendships created in architecture school continue into professional practice, with many opting to start practices together.

Volunteer to help other people

Volunteering can be anything from offering to help people within your group, to being the year representative, all the way through to being the school president.

The purpose of this (other than helping people of course), is that it will expose you to alternative sides of the architecture school that you may not otherwise see. It may also allow to you integrate with the more senior students and members of staff.

Have the right equipment

In architecture school having the right equipment can be crucial, and this can be anything from needing the right pen and having a enough power in your laptop to having a compatible drawing tablet. So do some research and identify what you will need to be as successful as possible.

There is nothing worse than not being able to start or finish something due to the wrong equipment. 

We have a list of everything we believe you will need here, but a quick Google search may also summarise a few additional items and back up what we have already suggested.  

It’s worth noting that a lot of the items you will need to initially buy should last you your whole time in architecture school, and so this  helps to justify the initial outgoing costs. 

Architecture is an expensive course!

Learn from others

Learning from others brings us back to the collaboration ethos of a studio environment and working with your friends and peers … don’t shut yourself off from the rest of your class and work in solitude.

Your initial thought processes can be private if you choose, but once developed, sharing them with the people around you will invite discussion and critique, that will only strengthen your design process and highlight areas that you may have not seen.

Opening up your work to effectively public scrutiny can be difficult to get your around at first, as nobody likes negative feedback (if people are honest, there will be some).

However this is excellent practice and experience for when you eventually start to work within the profession. 

Secondly, offering your opinion to others will also benefit you, in both your critical thinking and understanding, plus also experiencing alternative methods of thinking and working. 

What is the First Year of Architecture School Like

Look after yourself

For most students it will be the first time you have left home, and with the social side and benefits of student life it is very easy to forget to eat and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

A simple way to help keep yourself well is to take a vitamin.

This should however never substitute a healthy diet and as you progress through university or college your cooking abilities are likely to improve, but until they do, a good all-round vitamin will keep your levels up.

Attend

We cover this here also, but keeping your attendance up is vital to your success.

For most new students, architecture school is the first time they have experienced self-directed study and whilst an extreme amount of absence will not be tolerated, it’s very easy to skip the odd lecture, seminar or tutorial each week. 

By doing this however, you will miss valuable parts of the course and its content, so make the effort to attend everything …even if you need to go back to bed afterwards!

Join a sports team of club

Architecture school can be an intense environment and one that is easy to be absorbed by. Joining a sports team or any other sort of club, will offer a welcomed break and provide the opportunity to create friendships outside of architecture school.

This is not only beneficial to your studying but also to your general experience of being a student, it will be over before you know it …so make the most of it!

Party

Believe it or not this is very important and follows the same thinking behind the above …don’t take it seriously all the time!

A lot of architecture students believe that they need to be in the studios 24/7 and sacrifice sleep, eating, socialising, and general normality. This just isn’t true and all comes down to time management and efficiency of the student.  

Go out, and have a drink with your friends, it’s supposed to fun too!

Read

There are people that read and there are people that don’t, most people who do however are not reading architecture literature, but if it comes naturally to you then it’s a lot easier.

If you don’t, it can be difficult to “find the time” and justify sitting down when you could be physically doing something else.

Try to find the time even if it is just for 30 minutes, reading is the best and most efficient way to learn and we have several book lists here to get you started.

Don’t be afraid of the workshop

When we were first year students at architecture school, I remember being really hesitant of entering the workshop …there were bigger kids in there!

But the workshop is where you learn to work and create with different types of materials and forms, and is vitally important.

Physically modelling something is far more effective than creating it in 3D and also a far quicker method of testing concepts and ideas.

So get in there early and get experimenting, it’s one of the best places to be in architecture school!

Don’t wait to be shown

Although you are going to be taking in a lot of information on all aspects of architecture, don’t wait to be taught, especially if it can put you ahead.

For example, learning how to use a 3D modelling package and render software will enable you to start producing architectural visualisations for your projects, a lot of architecture schools only teach the basics, and so pushing yourself outside of this will give you the edge.

Enjoy it

Being an architecture student is likely to be the freest learning experience you would have had and likely will ever be to have, and so enjoy it. Every new project provides a new challenge, method of thinking, and areas to learn, with very little limits. It’s fun! 

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