So you are thinking about starting architecture school or looking to study architecture. What are your options for schools? Are you just weeks away from starting your first semester of college architecture school? What’s it going to be like? How hard is it? What am I going to do? What’s with all these acronyms? Well, no matter your situation; we’ve got you covered today with all the introductory info in Episode 131: Starting Architecture School Part 1.
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The Various Paths of Architectural Education jump to 1:25
As a person just starting to think about architecture school, there are a few paths that can lead to graduation from architecture school and into the profession of architecture. There are essentially two main paths that a student can choose for an architecture degree. First, there is a 5-year path which is a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree. Secondly, there is a 4+2 path, a four-year undergraduate bachelor’s degree, plus a two or three-year Master of Architecture degree. These are further explained later in this post, as is the third option, which is basically a subset of path 4+2.
Regarding the breakdown of these types of programs in the United States, they are not evenly distributed in the higher educational system. NAAB, the National Architectural Accrediting Board, is an organization that accredits architectural education programs. The reason this is important is that a majority of states in the US require a degree from a NAAB accredited program in order to be able to take the architectural licensing exams. The process of accreditation is critical for many architectural programs. But it is not always essential for your path to becoming an architect.
So here are some numbers to start this conversation. As of this post, there are 175 NAAB-accredited programs being offered by 139 higher education institutions. This stat includes both Master’s and Bachelor’s programs. There are 121 accredited Master of Architecture Programs (M-Arch) and 59 Bachelor of Architecture (B-Arch) programs. (Yes, these numbers do not add up, but this data was taken directly from NAAB, so I am unsure of the discrepancy.)
The M-Arch programs require a student to have a Bachelor’s degree already. This does not have to be in any architecture-related major. This little bit distinguishes between the two or three-year Master of Architecture path. So, typically, if a student has a design-related degree (especially architecture related), they can usually complete an M-Arch in two years. If, for example, the student has a psychology degree but has now decided to study architecture, they would most likely end up in a three-year M-Arch program, possibly a “special” “career-change” program that is one year, including summer school. Then upon completing this program, a student may simply fold into the school’s M-Arch program. This path varies a bit from school to school, of course.
Accredited or Non-Accredited, is this the question? jump to 8:58
Now, yet another organization, ACSA, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, is the professional organization for schools and teachers of college architecture. It’s kinda like the AIA for professors. But this group states that 450 colleges in the US currently provide some type of architectural education. This is all degrees from an Associate’s degree in architectural drafting to a doctorate (Ph.D.) in architecture. Of those 450 schools, there are 220 that offer a Bachelor’s degree in some type of architectural study. This tells us that over 160 colleges or universities provide some type of Bachelor’s degree in architectural studies that are NOT NAAB0-Accredited. What does this mean?
Well, this means there are more options for in the 4+2 pathway than in the straight 5-year path. The critical condition to remember here is that this allows students more opportunities to get into architecture than by directly entering a NAAB-accredited program as their first college degree. I think this is important because it can provide a student with more flexibility in the pathway. For example, a student may have an academic scholarship to a school with a non-accredited architectural studies degree and not to a school with an accredited program. But it may ultimately be financially more beneficial to take the scholarship and only pay for two years of graduate school than for all four or five years of undergraduate school. This is just but one possible scenario. So a student should not feel as though they cannot be an architect if they choose not to start their college education at an NAAB-accredited program.
Does it Truly Matter which Path to Follow jump to 26:47
I’m going to say no. Bob and I agree on this issue. Once you make it to the profession, there is very little concern about the path taken. I can honestly say that I have many professional architect colleagues with whom I have no clue about the educational path that led them to become a licensed, practicing architect. It is not a common topic of discussion. Each person has to choose the best path for them and their situation. In this day and age, finances play a significant role. So that may help make the choices for you. Receive a scholarship to an unaccredited school that still has an architecture program? That may be what you need, and then you are on the 4+2 path. But it ultimately saves you money because of those scholarships. So just keep in mind that ALL of the paths end up in the SAME PLACE. So, just like architecture itself, there is no one correct answer.
Pros and Cons of the Chosen Paths jump to 32:59
The differences between these paths are not too drastic, in all honesty. Below is a quick list of pros and cons for each path to architecture. While there are certainly more considerations for every individual, these hit the hot points, in my opinion.
|5 Year Path (B-Arch)||4+2 Year Path (Bach + M-Arch)|
|o One less year of school that other path||o It is one more year than the B-Arch path|
|o Is over in one fell swoop with a five year||o May complete four years and decide to do architecture-adjacent careers|
|o May not allow for personalized courses of study/interests||o Allows some freedom in studies or choices (esp. for graduate degree)|
|o No possibility of a “break” between degrees||o Allows a break and work in the profession to determine your interests in the field|
|o There are fewer options for this path||o May allow you to explore more design than just architecture (esp. in undergraduate)|
|o Need to know with more certainty that architecture is for you||o May allow you to determine if you genuinely want to choose architecture|
|o May be financially better options – could be cheaper||o Graduate school typically has more expensive tuition|
|o Will be focused solely on architecture as a profession||o The undergraduate program may not be as strictly architecture focused|
So You are Starting Architecture School Soon jump to 43:36
As someone who has already chosen the college and path to pursue architecture, are you about to begin the first year of architecture school in just a few weeks? There are some things to discuss and others that would just be helpful to know before you begin. So, here are a few tips. That first semester or possibly even the first whole year, you might not be doing what you, as a student, consider “architecture.” Many programs start with basic design principles during the first year of study. These are typically universal design concepts like scale, proportion, hierarchy, positive/negative, alignments, theories, etc., related to almost any form of design. From my teaching experience, this can be mildly difficult to highly excruciating to some students as they do not think this is what they signed up for or should be learning.
The reality of this situation is that most schools are attempting to establish a foundation of knowledge for the students in their program. Think of it as a baselining exercise. The school wants every one of its students to have the same knowledge, skill set, and theoretical foundations before they start to move off in different directions within the program. So if a student finds themselves in this situation, patience is critical. As a student, you need to understand basic design concepts, principles, theories, and ideas. As the old saying goes … You must learn to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. It may seem like this information does not matter or relate to the ideas of architecture, but they certainly do, at least that of “good” architecture.
Also, depending upon the school, there is a bit of “weed-out ness” to the first year. This cutting is not so much about punishing students by overworking them or being overly critical. It is more about testing students about their “openness” and ability to stretch their brains. There is an attempt to make you see the world differently and then piece it back together in new ways. Students should learn to look at almost everything from multiple perspectives and seek out commonalities and differences, then to create new connections or synthesis. Much like how we discuss our silliness at the end of this show, a student will hopefully start to imagine every possibility for a condition or situation.
It will probably be pretty abstract, weird, out there, and awkward during this first year of study. Again, most of the beginning class work is about stretching your imagination and retraining the student’s thought processes. If a student can realize this while still taking the work seriously, it could make all the difference. This time in your life may be the only chance to freely explore the weirdness of creative thought and possibilities. Embrace it if you can.
Not All Schools Are the Same jump to 54:04
While this seems like it should be obvious, not all schools will similarly approach the first year. The First Year varies from school to school to be sure. They are ALL DIFFERENT. There will even be a subtle difference between the 5-year B-Arch and a 4-Year Bachelor of architectural studies. The B-Arch may become architectural much faster, and some schools may even start this influence in the first semester or year of the program. Others may stick to basic design principles for the entire first year, and you may be solely working in the abstract. Also, every school is also different in its approach and the amount of theoretical emphasis in the programs. Some programs are heavily theoretical in their approach to architectural knowledge, learning, and application.
One of the keys to note here is that prospective students now have the internet and almost too much access to information to help decide which school is right for them. Part of the reason for this episode is that it can also be a case of data overload. And if you do not have someone in your life/network to help decode some of this, this episode and post can help. Every prospective student and parent should research the programs and look at what the school’s website says, how it feels, and how it looks to them. You can definitely learn some of the basic information from visiting their websites.
Would you rather? jump to 58:30
We are taking on a Would you Rather on today’s episode the question:
Would you rather be the smartest person in the world, or have all the world’s knowledge in your head?
Basically, this one is about being the smartest person living or being a human encyclopedia or Google. You could be a Nobel Prize winner or the longest-running Jeopardy champion. Which would you choose? We initially thought this one was an easy decision and were quick to make it. Then once we began to run down some of the differing scenarios, the answers started to shift considerations. But in the end, we both stuck with our original choice but not strictly for reasons we initially presumed.
Ep 131: Starting Architecture School Part 1
The decision to begin architecture school should be undertaken with as much knowledge as possible. This is not because it is a terrible decision to make, but rather one that may be quite confusing if you do not know what it all means. So we worked through the points of consideration for choosing this path of architecture and a bit about what it means to take those first steps in this Part 1 episode. We will continue to expand the explanations, evaluations, and expectations for architecture school in the following episode. About three-quarters of the way through this episode, we decided it required a second part. So this episode became part one, and part two will be our next episode (ep 132)! Make sure to check back!
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Other useful posts on this site:
Posts tagged with Architecture School – All posts we have tagged with architecture school, so it is somewhere in the post or episode
Studio Lessons 101 Series – Posts about various aspects/tips about Architectural School Studios
Knowledge vs Tools – A conversation about what and why you learn software in school
EP 072: Architectural Disconnect – We discuss the perceptions of being an architect
Helpful links outside LoaA:
NCARB Licensing Requirements – An interactive map from NCARB that shows the requirements to be a licensed architect in every state.
Study Architecture.com – Useful info for those searching where to go to study Architecture
ACSA List of Schools with Architectural Programs – A list of all the programs that have some architectural studies options
NAAB – the accrediting organization for architecture schools in the US (this could be too technical)