With the May 1st national reply deadline fast approaching, consider the following resources as you make your decision.
PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS, VIDEOS, CATALOGS, AND WEBSITES
The first resource you are likely to receive from any school is the promotional materials that accompany the application for admission. Be sure to contact the architecture program as well as the central university admissions office. In some cases, the program provides additional information or materials. All of these materials are helpful in learning more about the university and its architecture program; however, recognize that they are designed to persuade you to select the institution. Review the materials alongside materials not produced by the program or visit the campus to see for yourself.
Published by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), the Guide to Architecture Schools is a valuable resource for researching programs. Its primary content is a compilation of two-page descriptions of the over 100 institutions offering professional degree programs in architecture.
ACSA launched a companion, online version (archschools.org) to the Guide to Architecture Schools, providing the same information as the book but with the added ability to search the institutions and programs by a number of different criteria, including location (school, state, region), degree, population (female, minority, international, and out of state), curriculum (related disciplines and specialization), and financial factors (scholarships, tuition, residence, and degree level). While both resources provide valuable information, recognize that the programs themselves write and report the information.
CAREER DAYS IN ARCHITECTURE
While many high schools host annual college fairs, these events do not focus specifically on the discipline of architecture. However, there are a few annual events that do.
Typically held each October, the New England Career Day in Architecture is a great opportunity to learn more about a career in architecture by interacting with professionals; attending workshops on selecting a school, career options, and financing your education; and meeting with admissions representatives from over 35 programs. For more information, contact the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) (architects.org).
Another event is the Chicago Architecture + Design College Day (CADCD) (chicagocareerday.org) also typically held in October. Similar to the event in Boston, the CADCD attracts close to 50 programs interested in both high school students and college students interested in architecture. A third similar event is 2B an Architect sponsored by the AIA Dallas.
Held during AIAS Forum over the winter holiday break, AIAS hosts the College and Career Expo (archcareers.org) connecting students with architecture programs.
CAMPUS VISITS/OPEN HOUSES
A very helpful resource is the campus visit. Campus visits are an absolute must, especially for your top choices. When arranging one, consider spending the night with a current student to get an inside feeling about the institution. If possible, request that you stay with an architecture student. In addition, visit with a faculty member or administrator within the architecture program, ask for a tour of the facilities of the program, and attend a class.
In the fall, most schools host open houses as an opportunity for prospective students to meet with faculty and students and to learn more about curricular opportunities. While these are excellent opportunities, recognize that they present the campus at its best. In addition to these planned events, visit unannounced to see the campus, including the design studios, in its normal setting. Many graduate programs in architecture host an open house in the fall for prospective candidates and a parallel one in the spring for admitted candidates. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn more about a program and make an impression.
In the spring, schools again host open houses but they are reserved for admitted students. Visit again if your schedule allows, but sometimes visiting on your schedule may be more helpful.
ADMISSIONS COUNSELOR / ADMINISTRATOR
As you narrow your choices, one of the best resources is an admissions counselor or an administrator (director, advisor, or faculty member) from the architecture program. Remember, the task of these individuals is to assist you in learning more about their university and the architecture program. Develop a personal relationship with them to obtain the information you need to make an informed decision. Do not hesitate to keep in touch with them throughout the admissions process.
STUDENTS, FACULTY, ALUMNI, AND ARCHITECTS
An often neglected but important resource is conversations with individuals associated with the architecture program—students, faculty, and alumni. During campus visits, ask for an opportunity to speak with students and faculty. Request the names of a few alumni in your area, both recent and older graduates, to ask their impressions. Finally, seek out architects in your area and ask them their opinions about the schools you are considering for admission. If you are unable to visit a program, request the email addresses of students or recent alumni to ask questions.
NATIONAL ARCHITECTURAL ACCREDITING BOARD (NAAB)
As noted in the appendix, the NAAB is the sole agency that accredits architecture programs in the United States. Their website (www.naab.org) provides a simple search for accredited architecture programs by degree program, state, or region. Each listing provides contact information for the program as well as details on the program’s accreditation.
ARCHITECTURE PROGRAM REPORT (APR) / VISITING TEAM REPORT (VTR)
As part of the accreditation process administered by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), a team representing the profession, educators, regulators, and architecture students visits each program in architecture every eight years, assuming that it has received a full term of accreditation. As part of the accreditation process, each institution prepares a related document called the Architecture Program Report (APR). The APR can be an excellent resource as you make your decision. It provides details of the program and describes the institutional context and resources; the document is public information and available from the academic unit on request. It may be too long for the institution to send to you, but it should be available in the library of the program or may be listed online.
Another useful document, the Visiting Team Report (VTR), also should be available to you upon request. The VTR conveys the visiting team’s assessment of the program’s educational quality as measured by the students’ performance and the overall learning environment. It includes documentation of the program’s noteworthy qualities, its deficiencies, and concerns about the program’s future performance.
While all this information may be overwhelming, these documents may be helpful to consider because they provide both an overview of the program from the academic unit itself and a review of the program by an outside group.
RANKING OF ARCHITECTURE PROGRAMS
While rankings are a popular method of assistance in selecting an architecture program, be cautious. Do you know what criteria the book or magazine article uses when ranking programs? Are the criteria used important to you? You should use your own set of highly subjective criteria when determining which program is best for you. Consider that none of the associations involved with architectural education attempt or advocate the rating of architecture programs, beyond their term of accreditation. Qualities that make a school good for one student may not work that way for another. You should consider a variety of factors in making your choice among schools.
Although few would argue that certain programs, particularly those at the Ivy League schools, are excellent, the fact is that if a degree program is accredited by the NAAB it is valid for you to consider.
One resource, DesignIntelligence (di.net), attempts to assess the best architecture schools each year by asking practitioners to comment on how recent graduates from different schools fare in the marketplace. This report provides valuable information but also urges critical evaluation of the research results.
Here’s hoping that these resources help you in your decision; if you still need assistance, consider contacting Dr. Architecture at firstname.lastname@example.org.