17 Things to Prep for Architecture School (for New Students)

For a budding architect, commencing your journey as an architecture student is exciting.

Preparations took a long time before you got to this point.

You focused on selecting high school subjects needed for architecture, and you went through the arduous process of preparing for and applying to the architecture school.

But architectural studies are quite unlike other college programs. Starting year 1 of an architecture degree requires you to have many tools and equipment, but they do not concern students in other programs.

Some you already have – bought or inherited – others you need to set aside funds to buy.

These 17 things comprise items you need to have and tips on preparing for architecture school so that you start focused and ready to excel:

how to prepare for architecture school

1. Laptop (or desktop computer)

It is hard to think of a student who does not have a personal computer, but this is an absolute must for architecture students.

A low-spec computer no longer suffice. Studying architecture involves using design and graphics software that require top-end hardware performance from your computer.

You must choose optimal hardware specifications ideal for architects (as much as you can reasonably afford) so they ably support your needs.

If budget is a concern and you are unsure what specifications to settle for, hold off the purchase until you commence the first graphics-related assignment using your old computer.

Alternatively, ask friends or fellow architect students. You are bound to find one tech geek who is perfectly aware of an architecture student’s computing needs.

A laptop is portable but the desktop gives you more processing power at the same price. When push comes to shove, the desktop computer is probably the better choice considering the work you need it for.

If you can afford both, go for a higher-spec desktop to do the heavy lifting in graphics rendering and a lower-spec laptop for basic and light operations while you are out and about.

2. An external hard drive for backup

Having a backup of your digital work is essential.

Drawings, renderings, and animations take a massive amount of time to produce – not to mention the time spent designing. Losing your work could mean many weeks of lost time, seriously impact your progress.

Back up your work and do so consistently. Make it a habit if it isn’t yet.

The size of the external hard drive matters. With large graphics files shrinking available space quickly, avoid settling for a small capacity backup drive that will require an upgrade soon and cost more money.

If you have an external drive that is more than five years old, its risks of failure increase.

Yes, storage drives do wear out.

3. Common tools for architects

The tools an architecture student may need can make a very long list; start with the basic but necessary ones and buy the rest only when you need them.

Buy these now (or once you settled into your new accommodation):

  • T-square (or you may choose to buy this together with a drafting table)
  • A1 portfolio case (or A0 if you are tall enough not to be dwarfed by it)
  • Drawing storage tube
  • Set of pencils and pens
  • Architect’s scales – you need more than one
  • Gridded cutting mat, cutting tools, and a steel rule.

4. Drafting table

An architect’s drafting table is a large item. Carefully consider where you want to place it before buying.

Pay particular attention to the ergonomics and other drafting table buying criteria when purchasing the table and the accompanying chair.

You will spend massive amount of time with them, so optimal settings keep you comfortable for longer.

Consider if you will use the drafting table provided in the studio or if you’d prefer a personal one at home. You can also decide after you commenced the semester.

A drafting table is still valuable and useful for an architecture student despite the increasing use of computers and design software.

5. Quality DSLR camera

A quality camera is a necessity for architecture students.

From the initial design to completion, you need to document your work progress – especially architecture models.

Plus, you will be visiting buildings and places – for leisure or assignments – and your camera is your new best friend because of how much it can do for you.

A quality DSLR camera is truly an investment for the long term.

Fortunately, the photography world transitioned from the traditional film roll to digital memory cards. You can now snap away mindlessly without worrying about costs.

6. Travel light (if studying away from home)

More students will be from out of town or abroad than those near the campus.

When moving into your new accommodation, only bring the essentials.

They include clothes in the suitcase, the essential tools for an architect, and a few things that remind you of home. They are just about all that you need to get started.

You will spend most of your time in architecture and less on time-consuming hobbies.

7. Subscribe to an architectural journal

Although optional, it is useful to have an up-to-date dose of architectural inspirations delivered to you periodically.

Designing and getting inspiration for concept ideas are a big part of an architecture student’s life – your creative ideas don’t usually appear out of thin air.

Architectural journals and magazines can help immensely in this regard.

If you prefer frequenting the library, save the money for other more pressing needs.

8. Read books by your favorite architects

You probably came from a good couple of months partying between the end of high school and the start of architecture school.

It helps to get into the right frame of mind to start school by getting more into architecture and not letting the sudden influx of workload overwhelm you.

Browse books on your favorite architects’ work. Who cares if you don’t read them; look at the pictures.

Architecture books are famous for being big on images and small on words.

9. Bring a sketchbook wherever you go

You are likely having a short vacation before commencing the new semester.

Bring along a sketchbook and pencil when visiting impressive buildings and unfamiliar places.

Learn to sketch on paper any idea that comes to mind when you experience thought-provoking things or events.

Freehand sketching is a habit that trains your ability to transfer ideas from the mind onto paper with just a pencil in hand.

You will discover this an increasingly important part of being an architect and a useful skill to have when working.

10. Have a moment of introspection

Time spent alone in thought – once in a while – can be beneficial as a budding architect.

What was the reason you chose architecture instead of engineering, or medicine, or industrial design?

What is your motivation to become an architect?

Was it money, social status, or because personal fulfillment matters more to you than anything else?

Perhaps you desire to shape societies around you as a creator?

It would be best if you are clear on the Why you chose architecture and hold on to it resolutely. There will be situations that require keeping things in perspective when the going gets tough.

No good things come easy.

11. Spend time with family and close friends

Spare time is a commodity in short supply during a semester studying architecture.

Before you begin that journey, spend more time with the family and people dear to you. You will have less time for them – at least until the semester breaks.

You will miss them – you’ve been forewarned.

12. Get familiar with your new surrounding

Check out the shops and facilities around the campus and your new accommodation before the semester starts. If at all possible.

It helps to know where the nearest craft store is to get your model-making supplies, or the shop where you can get a last-min assignment printed when your printer broke down, or the cafes that students frequent for cheap food.

You get the drift.

It isn’t necessary, but it is reassuring to know you have vital information you can put to good use when the needs arise.

13. Get your finances in order

When you move to another place for an extended period, there will be affairs needing alternative arrangements.

Financial-related matters are chief among them.

Look to reduce or make alternative arrangements for any on-going financial commitments in your current location.

You want to minimize burden so there is less impact when you take on new obligations in the place of study.

Your banking needs are another matter to consider.

14. Be prepared to be challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally

It may sound cliché in architecture, but it is good to prepare yourself mentally that you have to put in the hard yards now to enjoy the fruits of your labor later.

Students who go into architecture with the wrong motivations often find themselves overwhelmed by the perceived imbalance of effort vs. reward.

15. Prioritization matters

You yearn for the thing that you cannot or find hard to get – that’s human nature.

In the years preceding architecture school, you wished you have more freedom to do what your parents or teachers forbade. But when you enter college or university, you have new-found freedom you never enjoyed before.

Attendance in lectures and classes are (mostly) not compulsory – you choose what to attend, and nobody cares – as long as you can pass and proceed to the following semester.

Beyond that, you also have many activities that could distract and steal time away from your primary focus of getting trained to be an architect.

With increased freedom comes greater responsibility to yourself.

Always prioritize the more important tasks over distractions you can do without.

16. Criticisms cannot hurt you

An architecture student’s life involves many rounds of design presentations and, thus, countless critiques.

Critiques – both positive and negatives – can come from the academic staff (mostly tutors) or fellow students.

Don’t let the bad ones pull you down.

Look for the positives within them and keeping building on your design concept.

Listen to your tutors; they are not always right, but good tutors know how to nudge you in the direction to get you to explore an idea in greater depths.

Some are worth ignoring.

17. You only become an architecture student once – make it count!

Studying and graduating with an architecture degree is no walk in the park.

More crucially, however, remember that the degree is not the be-all and end-all.

It is a just phase in your life from which you move on to develop yourself professionally and hopefully lead a fulfilling life.

You are only going to be a student for so long. All challenging phases will pass, and new, exciting ones are probably just around the corner.

Enjoy your life as an architecture student – dull is not a word in its vocabulary.