Because you will spend the largest portion of your college career within the architecture program you attend, consider the following factors as you make your decision:
Degree: What professional architecture degree programs are offered? Does the school have minors or joint degrees with other disciplines? The type of degree program varies from institution to institution. Many academic units have joint degrees with engineering, business, urban planning, and others. These opportunities may be attractive to you but not available at all schools.
Academic structure: Where is the architecture degree program housed within the institution? Is it within its own college, school, or department? Is it with other departments in a school of engineering, art, design, or other discipline? The location of the architecture program can have an impact on its culture.
During my graduate studies at Arizona State University, the School of Architecture was housed in the College of Environmental Design. Beside architecture, the college offered degree programs in interior design, industrial design, and landscape architecture. We had the chance to study in close proximity to students who would eventually be our professional peers in the workforce. In addition, courses in these other programs were easily available to us as electives. — Graduate Student
Philosophy/approach: What is the philosophy of the academic unit and of particular faculty? Some schools are technically oriented, while others are design oriented. Does the school lean in one direction more than the other? What is the mission statement of the architecture program? The approach of the programs you consider should be in concert with your own ideas of architecture. Learn about these differences in approach and decide which fits you. Below is a mission statement of an architecture program.
Prepare students for professional leadership and lifelong learning in architecture, urbanism and related fields.
Reputation/tradition: How long has the program been in existence? What is the reputation of the school among architecture professionals? Reputation is difficult to measure. Decide how important reputation is to you. Ask architects in the profession what they know of the school. If possible, contact alumni or current students to obtain their perspective.
Accreditation: What is the program’s current term of accreditation? Even though it may be the full six years, what was the outcome of the last accreditation visit? When was the last visit? If the program is fully accredited, accreditation may not be a strong criterion for you, but the program’s Architecture Program Report (APR) and last Visiting Team Report (VTR) may be helpful in providing your insight on the program.
Enrollment: How many students are in the architecture program or in each academic class? Just as institution size can affect your decision, so can the enrollment of the program itself. Consider the overall enrollment of the program and the number of students in each graduating class as well as the student-faculty ratio for architecture courses, especially the studio courses. The number of students in a program could be a reason to strongly consider or not consider a particular school.
Academic resources: What studio space is available to students? What other spaces or resources exist for students—resource center (library), shop, computer labs, digital fabrication lab? Because you will be provided a personal workspace in a studio, the quality of the facilities must be considered—more so than for many other majors. The culture of the studio and access to it can directly affect your choice. What are the hours of the studio? Investigate the other facilities—shop, architecture library, and computer labs.
Special programs: What opportunities beyond the classroom does the architecture program offer its students? lecture series? study-abroad programs? joint degree programs? minors? experienced-based programs (co-ops, internships, preceptorships)? What special enrichment programs appeal to you? Do you wish to study abroad during college? If so, attending a program with a required study abroad program might be essential. How about a lecture series? Although not a formal part of the academic coursework, an engaging lecture series can be a plus.
Faculty: Who are the faculty? How many are pure academicians versus practicing architects? Are they new to the profession or seasoned faculty? What is the diversity of the faculty? Faculty brings academic courses to life. Read the faculty biographies and seek to attend a class or meet a faculty member when you visit the school. Do the faculty seems like they would inspire you, motivate you, help you learn? Pay attention to how many faculty members are practitioners first and educators second. What difference does that make in the quality of teaching?
Student body: Who are the students? Where are they from? What are the demographics of the student body (gender, age, ethnicity, etc.)? In searching for a graduate program, consider the educational backgrounds of your future classmates. What proportion are international students, and from what countries do they come? Attending a program with international students can enhance your architectural education. You will spend a great deal of time with your fellow students, and you should be comfortable with them. Consider that many institutions have more than one architecture degree program, which means you may interact with students in degree programs other than your own.
Career programs: What programs/resources are in place to assist you in gaining direct experience in the field? cooperative education? internships? exposure to practicing architects? What programs are in place to assist you in gaining direct experience in the field during summers or after graduation? How does the program connect with the professional community and its alumni? Some schools, including the University of Cincinnati; Drexel University; University of Detroit, Mercy; and Boston Architectural College, have cooperative education programs that require students to work in the profession while in school. For more details on these school/work programs, refer to the next chapter.
Postgraduate plans: What happens to the school’s graduates? Where are they employed? How long did it take them to find a job? For those who graduate with the pre-professional degree in architecture, do the graduates continue with the master of architecture degree? If so, what institutions do they attend? Do they continue at the same institution at which they obtained their undergraduate degree? Ask the career center for the annual report on graduates or obtain the names of recent alumni from the alumni office and contact them.
So, now how do you make the decision after considering these criteria — You, Institution, and the Architecture Program.