Selecting a Program

How do you select an architecture program?  After learning of the different degree programs, choosing an appropriate program may seem daunting.  However, if you analyze the criteria that are most important, you can narrow the search and manage the process.

In this process, strongly consider the following: 1) Ensure that you pursue the NAAB accredited degree program; 2) Understand the possible paths – BArch, MArch, and DArch; and 3) Learn the coursework offered by architecture programs – design studio, structures, systems, graphics, architectural history, professional practice, electives, and general education courses.

As you search architecture programs, consider the following attributes in these three categories:


To find the best program for you, think about your level of confidence in pursuing architect, your personality type, the proximity of the program to your home – do you want to be close or far away from home? And, finally, what is your budget for attending a program.

Consider the following attributes prior to selecting a school and an architecture program:

Level of confidence: What is your confidence level in becoming an architect? Do you want options as you progress through college, or do you want to dive right into architecture?

For example, if you are not completely confident in becoming an architect, you may consider a program that offers the pre-professional four-year bachelor of science; this way you can begin to explore architectural studies but not in full force, as in a professional B.Arch. program.

Personality type: What type of person are you? Will you feel more comfortable at a large school or a small school? This is a difficult criterion to nail down but also a critical one. Ask yourself, “Will I be comfortable here?”

Closeness to home: How close do you wish to be to home with respect to miles or time? Proximity to home is typically a top reason for selecting a school. If it is important to you, draw a circle on a map around your hometown indicating your desired distance from home.

What schools are inside the circle you have drawn? However, challenge that notion and select the school that is best for you regardless of its location. You should consider each of the over 135 accredited architecture programs. Narrow the choices later based on other criteria.

Budget: Do you have a specific budget for college? Obviously, with college costs increasing at a rate greater than inflation, cost is an important criterion. However, recognize that your college education is an investment in your future. Remember, once you have your education, no one can take it away.


Just as important are factors related to the institution – what type of institution is it?  What about the locale of the institution – rural or urban?  Is it private or public?  What is the overall enrollment of the institution?  What is the cost of attending the institution and what amount of financial aid (grants, scholarships, and loans) are available?

Attributes to consider when selecting an institution include:

Type of school: While most individuals refer to all post–high school institutions as colleges, there are different types from which to choose. Most probably consider the university, typically a cluster of colleges under a single administration. However, just as possible is a four-year college, which is usually smaller and places less emphasis on research. Other choices include an institute of technology or polytechnic institute; these focus primarily on engineering and the sciences. Another choice is a two-year college or community college—a viable option, but one that will require transferring to an accredited program to complete your undergraduate degree.

Locale: Where is the institution located? Is it in an urban or a rural setting, or somewhere in between? To what extent is the location of program important to you? Architecture programs located in cities such as New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia consider this urban location an asset, as it gives proximity to architecture to be studied and to architects and other professionals.

Institution size: How many students attend the institution? What is the faculty-to-student ratio for courses, both in the major and in other fields? How much do class and institution size matter to you? For example, a small number of architecture students may be an advantage of a small school, but a larger institution may have more robust resources to offer.

Public versus private: Is the school private or public? Public institutions tend to be less expensive than private institutions because of the support they receive from the state, but they may have higher student enrollments. For international and other out-of-state students, tuition differences between public and private schools may be insignificant.

Cost: What is the overall cost of tuition and fees, room and board, and other expenses? Be careful about using cost as the primary criterion for your initial selection (see Financial aid, below). Cost is and always will be an important consideration, but do not eliminate an institution because of the advertised tuition rate alone. Be sure to obtain complete cost information that includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, travel, and personal expenses.

Financial aid: What amount of financial aid will you receive in the form of grants, scholarships, and loans? Financial aid should be an important consideration, especially at the beginning of the search process. Realize that at a given institution, a large percentage of students receive financial aid. Many schools have full-tuition scholarships that save you as much as $100,000. You will never be eligible for such scholarships if you do not apply to or consider these schools. Also, do not only consider financial aid upon entry to the program; ask what financial aid is available for upper-class students. Many programs award scholarships on a merit basis.

Architecture Program: 

As you will spend vast amount of time within the academic unit, you may wish to strongly consider aspects of the program. What is the overall academic structure of the academic unit?  What degrees are offered?  Consider the philosophy or approach of the program; what is the tradition or reputation of the program?  What about enrollment?  What resources, facilities, and special programs will be available to you as a student? Who are the faculty and student body?

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. — Architecture 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 appear 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? 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.

Thus, as you choose an architecture program, review the criteria listed above to determine which program is best for you!

In researching programs, connect DesignIntelligence with StudyArchitecture; read NAAB’s independent reviews of architecture programs; converse with students and recent alumni.