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Find the Best School for Architecture

How to choose a degree or training program for your dream career

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Sage Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Sage Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Photo © Jackie Craven
MIT campus, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Baker House by Alvar Aalto at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Photo © Mary Ann Sullivan, Digital Imaging Project
Modern campus with elevated grass public areas

Republic Polytechnic in Singapore

Photo ©Dana + LeRoy on flickr.com, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Hundreds of colleges and universities offer classes in architecture and related fields. How do you choose the best architecture school? What is the best training for you to become an architect? Here are some resources and advice from the experts.

Types of Architecture Degrees

Many different paths can take you toward an Architecture degree. One route is to enroll in a 5-year Bachelor or Master of Architecture program. Or, you can earn a bachelor's degree in another field such as mathematics, engineering, or even art. Then go on to graduate school for a 2- or 3-year Masters degree in Architecture. These different paths each have advantages and disadvantages. Consult with your academic advisers and teachers.

Architecture School Ranks

With so many schools to choose from, where do you begin? Well, you can look at manuals such as America's Best Architecture & Design Schools, which evaluate schools according to a variety of criteria. Or, you can check general rankings of college and university programs. But beware of these reports! You may have interests that aren't reflected in school ranks and statistics. Before you choose an architecture school, think closely about your personal needs. Where do you want to practice? How important is a diverse, international student population? Compare world rankings with country rankings, analyze the design and technology of school websites, study curricula, visit a few prospective schools, attend free and open lectures, and talk to people who have attended there.

Accredited Architecture Programs

To become a licensed architect, you'll need to meet the educational requirements established in your state or country. In the USA and Canada, requirements can be met by completing an architecture program that has been approved by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) or the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB). Remember that architecture programs are accredited for professional licensing, and schools and universities are accredited as educational institutions. Accreditation such as WASC may be an important accreditation for a school, but it does not meet the educational requirements for an architecture program or professional licensing. Before you enroll in an architecture course, always make sure that it meets the criteria established by the country where you plan to live and work.

Architecture Training Programs

Many fascinating careers related to architecture do not require a degree from an accredited architecture program. Perhaps you would like to work in drafting, digital design, or home design. A technical school or an art school may be the ideal place to pursue your education. Online search engines can help you locate both accredited and non-accredited architecture programs anywhere in the world.

Architecture Internships

Regardless of the school you select, eventually you'll need to obtain an internship and receive specialized training outside the classroom. In the USA and many other parts of the world, an internship lasts about 3-5 years. During that time, you will earn a small salary and be supervised by licensed registered pros. At the completion of your internship period, you'll need to take and pass a registration exam (the ARE in the USA). Passing this exam is your final step toward obtaining a license to practice architecture.

Architecture is historically and traditionally learned by apprenticeships—working with other people is important in learning the trade and vital in being professionally successful. A young Frank Lloyd Wright started out working with Louis Sullivan; both Moshe Safdie and Renzo Piano apprenticed with Louis Kahn. Often an internship or apprenticeship is chosen specifically to learn more about a specialty.

Study Architecture on the Web

Online courses can be a useful introduction to architectural studies. By taking interactive architecture classes on the Web, you can learn basic principles and possibly even earn credits toward a degree in architecture. Experienced architects may also turn to online classes to expand their knowledge. However, before you can earn a degree from an accredited architecture program, you'll need to attend seminars and participate in design studios. If you can't attend classes full-time, look for universities that combine online courses with weekend seminars, summer programs, and on-the-job training. Read the blogs of architects such as Bob Borson—his Design Studio: Top 10 Things you should know helps us understand the design process in a learning environment.

Architecture Scholarships

The long progress toward a degree in architecture will be expensive. If you're in school right now, ask your guidance counselor for 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). Most importantly, ask to meet with a financial aid adviser at your chosen college.

Ask For Help

Ask professional architects about the type of training they recommend and how they got their start. Read about the lives of professionals, such as French architect Odile Decq:

"I had this idea when I was a teenager, but I thought at the time that to be an architect, you had to be very good at sciences, and you have to be a man - that it was a very male dominated field. I thought about art decoratif [decorative arts], but to do that I had to go to Paris, and my parents didn't want me to go to the city because I was a young girl and could get lost. So they asked me to go to the main capital in Bretagne where I am from, which is near Rennes, and studied art history for one year. There, I started to discover through meeting students in the school of architecture that I could have done my studies in architecture realizing it's not obligatory to be good at math or science, and that it was not only for men but women too. So I passed the exam to enter the school, I applied for the school and succeeded. So, I started like that."—Odile Decq Interview, January 22, 2011, designboom, July 5, 2011 [accessed July 14, 2013]

Searching for the right school can be both exciting and terrifying. Take time to dream, but also consider practical considerations such as location, finances, and the general atmosphere of the school. As you narrow down your choices, feel free to post questions in our discussion forum. Perhaps someone who has recently graduated can offer a few tips. Good luck!

Flexible Programs and Distance Learning

There are many ways to become an architect. 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 Schools and Your Special Needs

Beware of rankings. You may have interests that aren't reflected in statistical reports. Before you choose an architecture school, think closely about your personal needs. Send away for catalogs, visit a few prospective schools, and talk to people who have attended there.

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