2019 Guide to Starting Architecture School

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Introduction

Starting architecture school can be a daunting prospect and none more so than also leaving home for the first time, to live on a campus …in a brand new city …with a bunch of complete strangers …it can be get very (temporarily) stressful!

But the good news is that you’re to about start what should be the most exciting phase of your education so far, and if we could go back and do it all over again, we would in a heartbeat. 

But as there’s no sign of that happening, here we want to share our experiences and offer advice to prospective and new architecture students that are just starting or at least thinking about embarking on the journey to become an architect.

Which for those who are unsure if architecture is the right career path, then our article on “is architecture worth it” should be useful in helping with that decision.

In this post we will cover:

  • The things you need to know before starting.

  • Tips for getting into architecture school.

  • How to prepare for architecture school.

  • The things every architecture student should have.

  • What architecture school is like.

  • The things architecture students need to know.

  • How to be good, succeed and survive architecture school.

  • How to get ahead in architect school.

Architecture School Handbook

Before we begin and to provide further support, we have a detailed architecture school guide available here and below.

Available as an eBook publication, this guide provides a step by step guide starting from the very beginning with selecting an architecture school, through to preparing for your first design critique and successfully delivering a good presentation.

The things you need to know before starting

What is architecture school?

It can be confusing when referring to the term architecture school, and when looking at college and university courses, it can almost seem like you’re going backwards. But this is just simply another and more common way of saying architecture course or class.

The outcomes are same, but the methods differ when compared to other subject courses, which is mainly due to its relatively full time nature and so hence the ‘school’ ethos.

The architecture school itself normally occupies its own building on campus, where there will be separate studio’s for each year group (some can be mixed), workshops, lecture theatres, seminar rooms, media rooms, café, lounge, and offices. It is essentially its own self-contained unit …a small school.

This is quite unusual when compared to other courses on campus, which are likely to have lectures in a variety of different buildings and locations.

Pursuing architecture is based on passion

Studying architecture is not an easy course (but it is rewarding), and if you are looking for something that is, then architecture is probably not for you. There are plenty of other courses that offer a more part time study based scenario.

Architecture requires dedication and investment from its students, and this can only come from the student’s passion for the subject and the motivation to become an architect. As without this, you will not get through the level of work and invested time required.

Architecture school is not necessarily anymore academic than any other college or university course, and there are many that are more so, but it does require a huge investment of time and devotion.

If you have a passion for the subject, which is hopefully why you are reading this in the first place, then it’s also extremely enjoyable and rewarding, and will leave your non-architecture friends wishing they were also doing it …ours did!

A good salary takes time

This passion is also what gets you through what is professionally speaking, an initial slow climb to a good salary that’s worthy of the education process.

However salaries will still be comfortably above national averages, but it does take time to get significantly above this. For this reason it is your enjoyment of the subject and your eventual professional title, that gets you through and keeps you moving forward.

For more information on architecture salaries, check out our salary guide here: Architects salary guide

Enjoying your occupation is a privilege that not many have, and it is an incredibly lucky position to be in especially when compared to other professions.

Tips for getting into architecture school

These days for most architecture schools, it is not necessary to study the stereotypical extended maths and science subjects. As with advancing technology in the studio; architecture is much freer and less straight laced than it used to be.

So when in high school, pick creative subjects that you enjoy and build up a portfolio to show your drawing, making and design abilities. Architecture schools are looking for a passion and desire to create, they don’t expect you to be able to talk about and calculate steel depths and sizes using your maths and physics qualifications.

That said, if that’s your interest then great, maths and physics are still very relevant, it’s just not the only option for pursuing an architectural education.

The understanding of structure is taught, and in a real situation is part of a collaborative process with other professionals that specialize in this area.

We have a guide on how to choose an architecture school that discusses this in more detail here: Guide to Finding the Best Architecture School for You

Lastly, don’t just leave your portfolio to paper and digital presentations, get creative, and demonstrate your model making skills. This is a key part of student life, and if you are already doing this before you start, then it shows an increased desire and ability.

For more guidance on this, we have a full breakdown on how to prepare an architecture portfolio here: Architecture portfolio guide

How to prepare for architecture school

There is no secret to this, and we would firstly say relax, studying architecture is fun and it should not (for the most part) be stressful.

An excellent book to read that we recommend to every architecture student is “101 Things I Learnt At Architecture School”. This provides a wonderful and often light-hearted approach to talking about architecture school environments and outcomes, with quite a few really helpful tips.

This also features in our equipment list: Essential Tools for Architecture Students, which bring us onto the equipment you’ll need.

The things every architecture student should have

We have written an extensive guide here, covering everything you need to consider for your first year and the ones to follow. However we would advise that a good sketch book, set of pens and a scale ruler will get you through your first day, then as you progress, most of what is on our list gradually becomes a necessity.

Which whilst there are a fair few items to consider and buy, a lot of them will last you the duration of your studying and into your career.

What is architecture school like?

Architecture school is much more like a casual class room environment than many of your non architecture friends will experience, with their more formal timetable of daily lectures.

When working on a project (and in order to do well), architecture school requires a lot more time invested into it.

But don’t think that it’s all hard work, it is an immensely fun subject to study, that once you have gotten to know everyone, only gets better with the opportunities to study with friends.

In terms of the projects and assignments you will work on, Archdaily has an excellent little article here that breaks down the classic projects your professors will give to you.

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Things architecture students should know…

Backup your work

Easily forgotten but vitally important is backing up your work, learn to do this at the end of each day if you can, and carry an external hard drive to copy your files over to.

If you don’t already own one, then we recommend you read our buyers guide before you make your purchase: A guide to buying the best external hard drive

Make models

Do not underestimate the power of models, they are immensely engaging and often do a far better job of explaining a scheme than an image can.

Experiment with different materials, textures and methods; don’t just stick to white card models.

Don’t a let bad mark bring you down

We all get a bad mark now and again, and it’s very easy to let this affect your confidence.

There are however a number of projects throughout the year, so take the positives, learn from your mistakes, and use them to your benefit you in the next one.

Create freely and be experimental

Architectural school might be one of the most creative and free thinking opportunities to design within that you’ll ever have.

So experiment and test everything. There will be an abundance of resources and knowledge at your fingertips, use it all and absorb it!

Persevere

In or out of architecture school, architecture is all about perseverance and willpower; don’t give up when you find yourself struggling.

…A good architect learns, and moves on.

Work in the studio

One of the most beneficial things you can do as a student is to work in the studio with everyone else. Nothing compares to the studio atmosphere, from both a working point of view but more importantly socially.

Everyone in the studio is working towards the same goal, and so bounce of each other, and help out when and where you can, it will strengthen your work.

The below documentary (“Archiculture”) “takes a thoughtful, yet critical look at the architectural studio, offering a unique glimpse into the world of studio-based, design education through the eyes of a group of students finishing their final design projects. Interviews with leading professionals, historians and educators help create crucial dialog around the key issues faced by this unique teaching methodology and the built environment these future architects will create.”

How to be good, succeed and survive in architecture school

Attendance

As new students you are suddenly given the freedom of self-directed study, where you are in complete control of whether you attend your lectures, seminars and/or tutorials.

Obviously if you’re absent more than you are present, then this will cause alarm and really isn’t going to make it easy to pass.

However it is very easy to miss the odd day or two without any direct consequence, and this is what you need to try to avoid.

Even just a day can put you behind or cause you to miss some vital information, you need to make sure that you are on time and present at everything …unless there is a genuine excuse, in which case speak to your professors and try to get what you missed.

Just being there, can be really beneficial.

Be open to criticism

What you will soon realize is that architecture is extremely subjective and you will never get everyone on board with your work and opinions.

This doesn’t mean that it is the wrong solution, or that you have missed something that you shouldn’t have. It is simply someone else’s perception of what they think the architecture should be, and this should be used to your advantage.

Not getting irritated and upset by the eventual negativity is a real skill, and once you’ve got it, you should use it to further influence your design process.

Ask them why and what is it about your project that they don’t like …get specifics and use their comments to your advantage.

Healthy diet

For most students, college and university is the first time they are away from home and having to cook for themselves, and it’s too easy to not eat correctly.

Try not to survive on takeaways and energy drinks, eat right and you’ll find you perform better.

Be social outside of architecture

One of the biggest tips for surviving architecture school is to have time away from it, join a sports or hobby club and keep in touch with your other interests, and if you don’t have any, find some.

It’s surprising how much better you can do with a break

Pay attention

Paying attention is up there with attendance, it’s an obvious one if you want to do well.

Concentrate on what’s around you and listen to what is being told to you.

Journal subscriptions

Subscribing to a physical and/or online journals is an excellent way to stay in touch with your industry and remain up-to-date, not only with current design trends, but also new and amended laws and regulations.

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How to get ahead in architect school

Get Involved

It’s one thing turning up to the studio each day, but another to be involved and influence how it works.

Being a representative for your year group or being part of the architecture student committee can benefit you greatly, and also provide the opportunity to get to know your professors and tutors better.

As you move through the school you may also get given the opportunity to tutor the younger students.

Trips and study tours

It’s too easy to slack off and not attend or make time for these. But physically experiencing architecture in its place is incredible powerful.

It opens you up to the experience of scale, light and atmosphere. Buildings are designed to be used and so go and use them.

Bond with teachers

There are always a few students that go out of their way to “bond” with all the professors and tutors, we all know the ones!

Whilst this isn’t for everyone, these students, whether it is calculated or not, are quite often the ones that do well.

Not because of favoritism (although there may be a bit of that) but because there is a lot to learn from both the inside and outside of architecture school.

Having a casual conversation with a tutor over a beer, is completely different and often more useful than the formal studio environment.

Network

When we were students this never crossed our minds, and networking at this stage often just means your friends.

But architecture school is full of likeminded creatives and thinkers, and so talk and get to know everyone you can. You never know how it may benefit you in the future.

Drawing and sketching

Whilst you are a student it is the perfect time to develop your drawing and sketching skills, as first year students you will be strongly encouraged to draw everything, with many courses having a life drawing unit.

Being able to communicate with a drawing isn’t essential, but is extremely useful.

Avoid all nighters

You should avoid “all nighters” at all costs; you’ll find that in architecture school these are almost treated as a badge of honor.

However what they show is that the student or students who are in that situation have either not worked hard enough during the semester, or have grossly underestimated the level and amount of work required.

There are always the occasional situations where there have been some last minute design changes, and this just has to be dealt with, but on the whole they show a failure to plan and work.

This then also has a knock on effect the next day when you are required to present your work with no sleep. …which is a recipe for disaster!

Archdaily have a lighthearted article all about this here

Final word

The learning resources we provide on this website are here to guide and help you through what can be at times a very difficult process.

However these difficulties are often the result of the unknown, which is where we aim to fill the gap through shared firsthand knowledge, based on real experience and expertise.

We want to wish you good luck with your new architecture school, and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in contact.

…for additional reading, you can find our complete architecture school guide at the below link: