12 Criteria for Choosing an Architecture School (Explained)

The only thing between you and your dream of being an architect is education and hard work.

Where you decide to invest your time is an important consideration to make, but it can be overwhelming to drown yourself in data and succumb to decision fatigue too soon on your path.

There are many options for getting that degree that will land you your dream career, but there are methods you can follow to make the process exciting instead of arduous.

You might be wondering exactly how to choose an architecture school. But before you dive into the list of considerations below, ask yourself: “What’s important to me specifically?”

how to choose an architecture school

1. Specialism of School

The mistake many applicants make in choosing a school is putting more focus on a college or university’s reputation than the school’s specialization.

If your dream is architecture, then your local community college is probably superior to Juilliard. Above anything else, pick a school that will support you and connects you to peers and professors with a similar focus.

The bragging rights obtained from attending a prestigious university are nice to have, but they are far from the be-all-end-all of your decision.

2. Accreditation by the Architects Board (NAAB)

The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredits several professional degrees in architecture in the United States.

They adhere to a particular set of standards to determine if a school is worthy of their accreditation, such as if that school offers a Bachelor of Architecture, Master of Architecture, and/or Doctor of Architecture degree program.

Generally, if a program is NAAB-certified, it has met the board’s rigorous requirements to be considered the right choice for those seeking degrees in architecture.

Their website offers a PDF of each accredited school in the country, sorted by States – this is a useful place to start your search (source).

3. Types of Architectural Study Programs

Are you aiming for an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate?

What are the differences between the various types of architectural study programs?

The journey from student to practicing architect takes many years.

An associate degree typically takes two years to complete and is offered in community colleges, a good place to begin if you plan on transferring in the future.

An associate degree is unlikely to land you a job on its own, but it will provide the crucial framework in topics such as drafting, building materials, and graphics techniques.

A Bachelor’s degree is offered in NAAB-accredited universities as a 4-year plan and serves as the step before the master’s degree program’s training.

A Master’s degree prepares students for becoming career architects and emphasizes practical applications of learned material in a real-world, hands-on design approach.

This program usually encompasses the last two to three years of an architecture student’s plan before official employment.

A Doctorate is an option for architecture students interested in a research-oriented approach, such as those who opt to become professors. It is not necessary for those who simply desire to be architects.

For those less fortunate, there are still jobs available without an architecture degree.

4. Prestige/Reputation/Rank

Attending schools with a high rank and good reputation is always a favorable option, as well-regarded schools tend to offer superior instruction to back up their graduates’ success.

However, it is vital to recognize that the importance of prestige in a university is often significantly overstated.

According to an observation by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, the CEOs of the ten most prominent companies in the Fortune 500 (at the time) attended state schools for their undergraduate education (source).

So, as an architect, don’t worry so much about the prestige of the school you attend; worry about giving it your all at whichever school you do end up attending.

5. Facilities/Campus Infrastructure

It is easy to overlook, but infrastructure plays a vital role in how up-to-date a college campus is. As with most students these days, you will rely on heavy computer usage as an architecture student.

Most universities know this, so whichever you choose, you should not have to look too hard to find an adequately-equipped computer lab with optimal hardware specifications to match.

If an architecture school offers facilities like drafting studios, that is a bonus you should not overlook.

6. Location

You probably don’t want to spend every waking hour on a college campus.

The area surrounding a university – be it urban or rural, and the proximity to your hometown if you have obligations to your family and friends – is a pretty important component.

The location primarily pertains to your plans outside of school, including family, hobbies, and a potential part-time job. Reflect on your character to decide what type of location suits you.

If you are a party animal who wants to network (useful for when you graduate), attending a school in a big city would be a better fit than going somewhere where the nearest source of attraction is a cow pasture.

On the other hand, you might prefer some quiet so you can focus on architecture without the hustle-and-bustle distractions.

Attending an architecture school abroad is also an opportunity you should not pass up if you can afford the costs. But you must check its accreditation status by the Architects Board in your country.

If you are in the US, note that NAAB does not accredit programs or schools abroad.

The education you obtained will be evaluated against the NCARB Education Standard through the Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) for licensure.

7. Hostel Facilities/Dorms

Living in a hostel or dorm is undoubtedly an adjustment for many, either looked forward to in eagerness or dread. You won’t get a lot of work done if the place in which you reside clashes with your style.

So, with each school you research, find out about the residence halls. You can search the web for reviews to see what types of students have said what kinds of things about each hostel to better understand what to expect.

If possible, research the preferences of those in the same study program as you so you can surround yourself with other architecture students, making it easier to form study groups.

8. Living Cost

Don’t worry; you should be able to pay the debt off if you land a career as an architect. However, the less you have to spend on your education, the better.

Apply for all the grants/scholarships you can, but be prepared to make a fiscally-influenced decision on where to go to school.

If money is a factor, either seek an in-state NAAB-accredited program if possible or declare residence in a different state.

Since the latter may present too giant a leap for many students without a great deal of discomfort and uncertainty, the former is a reliable option for most.

Suppose you live in Delaware, New Hampshire, Wyoming, or Alaska and do not have any NAAB-accredited schools in your state.

In that case, you can opt for an associate’s degree at a community college to keep expenses down for the first two years of your schooling. That way, you will have some time to decide if you are ready to make the investment to transfer.

You may also want to consider the cost of rent in the town or city the school is located if you decide to live off-campus.

Further, there are always ways to make side income and save as an architecture student.

9. Program Fees

Any fees you incur are generally going to be based on the number of credit hours you take. A bachelor’s in architecture will usually result in approximately 27 hours in general studies and 26 in electives.

The fees are going to, of course, vary between different university programs.

10. Scholarship Availability

You can seek scholarships either directly through a university or an external sponsor.

NAAB-accredited universities are likely to have a plethora of scholarship opportunities for incoming students enlisting in their programs.

Apply to as many as you can, stating your case for why you are a worthy applicant, and you may get lucky.

Don’t sell yourself short, even if your current GPA is not what you feel it could be. If there is an upward trend, make sure the evaluator reviewing your application takes note of that.

11. Ease of Application: In-State Versus Out-of-State/International

The further you are from where you plan to attend, the more paperwork you will probably have the misfortune of contending with. However, if your dream school is out-of-state (or out-of-country), don’t let this intimidate you.

Colleges and universities tend to favor in-state students through a broader selection of grants and more inexpensive tuition. However, you can still apply for financial aid if you opt to go elsewhere to balance the costs.

But getting information on application requirements should not be too difficult; check their official websites or get in touch with the schools you have shortlisted.

12. Make a Shortlist

Hopefully, you’ve got a good idea of what goes into choosing your ideal architecture school so you can start applying to your school of choice and prepare for life as an architecture student the best way you can.

Do not limit yourself to a single option though because there is no shortage of suitable options for pursuing a career path in architecture.

Even if you have your heart set on a specific school, having a Plan B and Plan C enables you to keep marching forward in the unfortunate case of rejection.