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4 Steps for Choosing an Architecture School

I recently received an email from a high school student asking me if I would attend my alma mater if I had to do it over again. My answer was probably but my methodology on selecting the right architecture school would be entirely different. I went to college in the 70's and only applied to one university. Granted, I grew up in a small town in Tennessee and college advisors were unheard of at my  public high school.  So like most of my friends, I selected the university because:

1. The school was a public college and the price was right;

2. The major I wanted was offered; and

3. I was a legacy.

Over the past 8 years I have had the opportunity to serve on visiting accreditation teams for the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB). I have a new appreciation for how unique each architecture program is and how different students excel in different environments. If I was selecting an architectural program today, I would do the following four things. The steps are important but the order is flexible.

Determine what type of degree you want to receive. There are three different paths to obtaining the first professional degree in architecture.

1. A Bachelor of Architecture is typically a five year professional program. The curriculum is tight and there are not many opportunities for electives. These programs are usually the quickest path through school.

2. A 4+2 program consists of an undergraduate degree in architecture with a 2-year Masters of  Architecture; and

3. A 3-year Masters of Architecture is designed for students who have an undergraduate degree in something other than Architecture.

Make sure that the program is NAAB  accredited. The following explanation of accreditation is from NAAB's website:"Architectural accreditation is the primary means by which programs assure quality to students and the public. Accredited status is a signal to students and the public that an institution or program meets at least minimal standards for its faculty, curriculum, student services and libraries. The accrediting process is intended to verify that each accredited program substantially meets those standards that, as a whole, comprise an appropriate education for an architect.  Since most state registration boards in the United States require any applicant for licensure to   have graduated from a NAAB-accredited program, obtaining such a degree is an essential aspect  of preparing for the professional practice of architecture." NAAB's website has a searchable data base on programs by degree and state.

Research the unique offerings of programs to determine the best fit for your educational goals. For example, Syracuse and Clemson both have excellent fluid campuses with study abroad programs; Auburn has the great hands on design build Rural Studio;  Kansas State has a great internship program where you work in an architectural office for a semester; and students at Boston Architectural Center work during the day and attend classes at night. Consider that some programs focus more on practice while others are strong in theory.

Finally, I would read the Visiting Team Report  (VTR) created by the NAAB visiting accreditation team. The VTR outlines the architectural program's mission and the visiting team responds to how well the mission is met. The VTR also review the programs compliance with the conditions for accreditation. This document is very valuable in highlighting the strengths and unique qualities of programs, as well as potential problems. Starting with the 2010 visit, NAAB has posted the reports on line. Reports prior to 2010 can be found in the program's library.

There are several helpful websites about becoming an architect: a joint website by the American Institute of Architects and the American Institute of Architects Students The American Institute of Architects Students The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture