Veronica Wickline 12 min read College Lists

10 Best Undergraduate Architecture Colleges

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If you’re thinking of becoming an architect, you’ve found a rewarding career where artistry and technical knowledge go hand-in-hand. In this article, we explore which schools are best options for future architects, depending on their focus area. Keep reading to learn more about what to look for in undergraduate architecture programs.

 

This article’s focus is how to choose the right college, but if you want to learn how to become an architect, check out CollegeVine’s post How to Become an Architect: Steps to Take from High School.

 

What is Architecture School?

 

The goal of any architecture program is to give you the academic foundation needed to create an effective environment. Whether that’s building a skyscraper, designing a garden, or retrofitting a hospital, there are a few basics any architect needs to learn. 

 

You can think of everything you need to know as falling into three buckets: artistic, scientific, and administrative. The artistic skills are what many people associate with architecture: sketching blueprints, adding cornices, and incorporating picturesque windows.

 

While these talents are critical to making a beautiful environment, they have to be supported by a scientific understanding of the space. Are the materials strong enough to support multiple floors? Can two walls that come together at a certain angle remain free-standing? Is the land underneath the building dense enough, and will it remain stationary?

 

Finally, students must learn to evaluate the logistics of any project they undertake. Understanding building ordinances in your city, for example, could have a huge impact on when construction can begin.

 

Every architecture program will tackle these considerations. Choosing the right program for you depends on your academic profile, level of experience, and degree of certainty that architecture is the field for you. Here are all the academic pathways available to people who want to become architects.

 

Pursue a B.A. or B.S. in Architecture or a related field, followed by graduate school in an M.Arch. program. Earning a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in Architecture is a great way to gain exposure to the field while still building a strong foundation in mathematics, science, and the humanities. Students who want a well-rounded education should consider applying to these programs, even if they do not want to make architecture their life’s work. If they are interested in pursuing a related career, such as becoming a historian, designer, or interior decorator, the B.A. or B.S. is a great way to learn the basics of Architecture without going down the path to become an architect.

 

Similarly, some students pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Architecture (B.F.A. Arch.) or a Bachelor of Environmental Design (B.Envd. or B.E.D.). These programs allow students to focus on the artistic and ecological dimensions of architecture respectively.

 

Graduates with any of these degrees who ultimately decide they do wish to be architects must go on to obtain an M.Arch. later. This applies to students who majored in Architecture as well as to those who had a different major, but now wish to pursue Architecture full-time.

 

Pursue a 5-year B.Arch. degree and enter the field as a licensed architect upon graduation. This is the fastest way to become an architect for someone new to the field, and B.Arch. programs are generally considered to be quite prestigious. Unlike a B.S. or B.A., the B.Arch. contains coursework exclusively focused on preparing for a degree in architecture. These programs are quite rigorous and tend to require long hours of preparation for each class.

 

Attend a program for those with extensive in-field experience to prepare for licensing exams. There are a lot of pathways into Architecture, including landscaping, construction, and interior design. Many professionals work in the field of Architecture for years before deciding it’s time to earn a formal certification. Three schools offer certificates that open doors for working professionals without requiring that they go back to school for a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. 

 

Drexel University’s Architecture Experience Program awards credit to those who have been in the industry. Boston Architectural College also offers certificates that do not require undergraduate degrees. Their available certificates include Urban Landscapes, Visual and Landscape Patterns, Digital Design and Visualization, Landscapes and Ecological Systems, and Principles of Interior Design. The NewSchool of Architecture and Design offers undergraduate certificates to high school graduates in Neuroscience for Architecture, Healthy Urbanism, Creative Advertising, Interior Design for Architects, Product Design, Digital Architecture & Fabrication, and Construction Management.

 

The rest of this article focuses on programs for degree-seeking undergraduates because that is the most common path for CollegeVine’s readers. However, these certificates represent a great, well-respected way to bring your career to the next level if you know that an undergraduate is not for you, but you still want to make an impact in the field of architecture.

 

Earn your doctorate, either a Ph.D. in Architecture or a D.Arch. Some architects go on to earn their doctorate. This is a good fit for those who want to join a niche subfield within architecture, such as building hospitals in the Asian Pacific. It is also a good fit for those who plan to have a career in academia.

 

What to Look for in an Architecture School

 

For students of architecture, we recommend finding a program with great academics, exposure to contemporary issues, and access to hands-on experience. 

 

A theoretical and technical framework of the industry. Most of what you will do in a great Architecture program is hone the skills you will need in the field. This includes learning the basics of design, building materials, systems integration, and environmental technologies. It also means gaining an understanding of the history of architecture for lessons learned and a source of inspiration. To build a successful structure, you have to integrate art, physics, and logistics, so look for a well-rounded program that strengthens your artistic, scientific, and administrative capacities. Your course work matters, so be sure to pick a program that challenges you.

 

Exposure to the issues at play in your interest area. Every geographic region and specialization within architecture poses unique challenges. In some sectors, creating sustainable structures are difficult based on the available resources. In certain places, qualities of the landscape make it difficult to build. Urban development comes with a host of zoning restrictions that savvy architects must navigate. Regardless of your area of interest within architecture, it is important to choose a program with many professors who have worked in that area previously. In a great program, you will learn to problem-solve with scenarios specific to your interest area.

 

Access to hands-on professional opportunities. Only a small fraction of Architecture can be learned in the classroom. It takes being on hundreds of construction sites before you know exactly how a blueprint will come to life. Look for programs that value hands-on experience. Many firms hire interns for the summer. More specialized fields such as historic preservation and sustainable development will offer on-the-job training to round out your formal education. Since architecture is a fairly small field, finding employment can be challenging even if you have strong credentials. Whether your program’s prestige attracts employers or your career services department is well-stocked with connections, look for a program that will give you the hands-on experience you need to secure a full-time position upon graduation. 

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Top 10 Architecture Colleges

 

All of these programs’ B.Arch. degrees are accredited by the National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB). Unless otherwise stated, all enrollment figures are for both undergraduate and graduate students combined. The acceptance rate given is for undergraduates, and for each school it is specified whether that figure is overall for the Architecture program specifically.

 

1. Rice University School of Architecture

Location: Houston, TX

Enrollment: 7282, with 200 students in the School of Architecture
Acceptance Rate: 16% overall, no rate given for the School of Architecture

Undergraduate Degrees Offered: B.Arch. or B.A. in Architectural Studies

 

We think Rice has the number one Architecture program in America because of how well it integrates the values of academic foundation, exposure to real-world issues, and access to hands-on opportunities. Rice applies a studio-based model for its coursework, which means students complete their coursework in spacious work areas where nearly every lesson is meant to be applied to specific ongoing projects in the studio space. Rice’s program is designed to facilitate collaboration, with its studio set-up and many communal spaces on campus.

 

As for academics, Rice offers the best of both worlds. The B.Arch. option allows students to hit the ground running in the field, while the B.A. gives students the space in their schedule to draw inspiration from other disciplines as well. Cross-department and interdisciplinary work is encouraged in both programs, so students graduate with a broader perspective on their area of interest. The 5:1 student-to-faculty ratio means students have great support as they pursue their passion for architecture.

 

Because of its stellar reputation, most Architecture employers do what they can to hire out of Rice’s undergraduate pool. Students have access to great internships, practicums, and professional connections as Architecture students at Rice.

 

2. Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Location: New York, NY

Enrollment: 24,027 overall, with 753 students at the AAP

Acceptance Rate: 5% for AAP

Undergraduate Degrees Offered: B.Arch.

 

An extremely close second on our list, Cornell offers one of the premier architecture programs in the U.S. It has the distinction of being the only Ivy League school to make the list, and the only one that offers a B.Arch. Cornell produced such architecture titans as Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, and Susan Rothenberg.

 

Students begin with three years of conceptual coursework, then progress to more applied learning. Unlike most of Cornell, this school is located in the heart of New York City, giving students access to invaluable work opportunities and connections in the heart of an architectural hub. Cornell is a great fit for students who want to live in a big city and have a prestigious career. It’s also a better fit for more academically-minded students, who do not mind long hours spent on establishing a solid theoretical framework.

 

3. The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture

Location: Austin, TX

Enrollment: 51,832 overall, with 663 in the School of Architecture

Acceptance Rate: 10% for the School of Architecture

Undergraduate Degrees Offered:

  • B.Arch.
  • B.Arch. in Architectural Engineering
  • B.Arch. in Plan II
  • B.S. in Architectural Engineering
  • B.S. in Architectural Studies
  • B.S. in Interior Design
  • B.A. in Plan II

 

Our favorite thing about the UT Austin program is the variety of ways it provides for students to explore their interest in Architecture. For students interested in pursuing Latin American Architecture, UT Austin is one of the leading communities in understanding this subfield. Interdisciplinary work is common, and several joint programs with other schools are available. In particular, the Plan II Honors Program offers a unique curriculum for students who want to integrate a depth of knowledge in both the arts and sciences.

 

UT Austin’s School of Architecture has the resources of a flagship state school with the focused attention of a small department. The alumni network to which graduates have access is one of the strongest in Texas and the Architecture industry as a whole. For students looking for both flexibility and vitality in their academic coursework alongside a well-respected degree that opens doors in their career, UT Austin is a great fit.

 

4. University of Southern California School of Architecture

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Enrollment: 47,310, with 420 undergraduates in the School of Architecture

Acceptance Rate: 11% overall, no rate given for School of Architecture

Undergraduate Degrees Offered:

  • B.Arch.
  • B.S. in Architectural Studies
  • B.S. in Geodesign

 

As an academic program, the USC School of Architecture emphasizes creative problem-solving and provides a rich intellectual foundation for its scholars. Study abroad is a main priority for USC Architecture, with upcoming undergraduate trips to Barcelona, Japan, China, Italy, and Mexico. Additionally, the school offers several travel fellowships that allow architecture students to focus specifically on their craft in other countries.

 

USC is another school with a great alumni network that connects students to hands-on work opportunities after they graduate. The School of Architecture in particular has the funding to support unpaid work opportunities in school and helps students connect with industry leaders so they can build a lifelong career. This is a great pick for someone who wants to develop a global perspective, work in California, and benefit from the resources of a large university.

 

5. Rhode Island School of Design

Location: Providence, RI

Enrollment: 2,501 overall, no number given for Architecture students

Acceptance Rate: 20% overall, no rate given for Architecture

Undergraduate Degrees Offered:

  • B.Arch.
  • BFA in Interior Architecture

 

As a design school, RISD prides itself on creating rigorous curricula for creative fields. Graduates of this program have great mastery over their technique, understanding of building materials, and the ability to creatively resolve concerns of multiple stakeholders. Additionally, they learn how to research architectural projects and think critically about each design choice.

 

RISD graduates are well-respected within Architecture as well as a host of other creative fields, so the prestige of your degree will take you far. The complexity of problems students are asked to manage gives them an advantage over schools that merely focus on honing technical skill. This is a great fit for prospective architects who like to emphasize the artistry of their craft. Students who are interested in the science or logistics of architecture should consider other programs.

 

6. Cooper Union, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture

Location: New York, NY

Enrollment: 841 overall, 118 in the School of Architecture

Acceptance Rate: 6% for the School of Architecture

Undergraduate Degrees Offered:

  • B.Arch.

 

Cooper Union offers an intensely specialized experience in the bustling metropolis of New York City. This college is much smaller than others on the list, which means students do not have access to as many opportunities, but do have a focused, dedicated faculty giving their students all their attention. Additionally, the facilities include lots of studio space. Every student gets their own dedicated work table, which can be hard to find in some larger programs.

 

The academic coursework required for this degree is straightforward and traditional, with a heavy emphasis placed on technique rather than conceptual understanding. Because only a B.Arch. is offered, students should only consider Cooper Union if they are certain of their career path. Otherwise, you should explore programs that offer a B.S. or B.A. in the event that you no longer want to pursue Architecture.

 

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Location: Cambridge, MA

Enrollment: 11,574 total, roughly 250 students in Architecture

Acceptance Rate: 7% overall, no rate given for Architecture

Undergraduate Degrees Offered:

  • B.S. in Architecture
  • B.S. in Art and Design

 

The overall environment at MIT is great for aspiring architects. Intense, intellectual, and highly-involved, this campus instils the work ethic required to excel in the field of Architecture. The friendships you forge at this academic powerhouse will serve you for your entire career, as your peers and professors continue to make notable contributions in all sectors of Architecture.

 

The two distinct tracks allow students to pursue a more traditional path via the B.S. in Architecture, or to stretch their design capacity and creative problem-solving in the more flexible B.S. in Art and Design. Since MIT offers no B.Arch., students who choose this program must plan to pursue graduate school after college if they want to become licensed architects.

 

8. California Polytechnic State University—San Luis Obispo, College of Architecture and Environmental Design

Location: San Luis Obispo, CA

Enrollment: 21,812 overall, roughly 1900 in CAED

Acceptance Rate: 28% overall, no rate for CAED

Undergraduate Degrees Offered:

  • B.Arch.
  • Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA)
  • B.S. in Architectural Engineering
  • B.S. in Construction Management
  • B.S. in City and Regional Planning

 

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo offers a highly integrated curriculum, so you will get exposure to many aspects of Architecture even as an undergrad. With the option to pursue a B.Arch., B.L.A., or B.S., students can go on from Cal Poly to just about any subfield. The campus is known for its warm and welcoming demeanor, making students feel right at home.

 

Cal Poly also emphasizes developing a global perspective, with extensive coursework available on Asian, Latinx, and Native American contributions to architecture. Like many schools in the Golden State, it has demonstrated a commitment to sustainability, so this is a great school to consider if you want to focus on projects that are gentle on the climate. This is a great pick for someone who cares about sustainability and hopes to build their career on the West Coast.

 

9. Syracuse University School of Architecture

Location: Syracuse, NY

Enrollment: 22,803 overall, no number given for School of Architecture

Acceptance Rate: 48%, no rate given for School of Architecture

Undergraduate Degrees Offered: B.Arch.

 

Students begin with a foundation in the art of seeing, with ample opportunities to hone their drawing skills. From there, the curriculum moves on to more complex techniques and tools. Syracuse in particular does a great job of exposing students to the real-world constraints that their projects will have to overcome, especially in urban environments. Students also complete advanced studio coursework and independent research projects at the end of their degree, giving them a taste of the freedom and responsibility that will be theirs in their profession.

 

While the campus itself is not located in a major architectural hub, Syracuse tries to give its students an international perspective. Upper-level students can do just that through their Global Campus Study. With programs in Florence, London, New York City, and three cities in Asia, Syracuse gives students exposure to a wide array of inspiration. This rigorous program with lots of travel opportunities is a great pick for anyone who is certain architecture is the path for them and wants that traditional B.Arch. experience.

 

10. Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design

Location: Blacksburg, VA

Enrollment: 34,850 overall, no number given for School of Architecture and Design

Acceptance Rate: 65% overall, no rate given for School of Architecture and Design

Undergraduate Degrees Offered:

  • B.Arch.
  • Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA)
  • B.S. in Building Construction
  • B.S. in Industrial Design
  • B.S. in Construction Engineering and Management (School of Engineering)
  • B.S. Residential Environments and Design (College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences)

 

Few schools have the breadth of offerings that Virginia Tech provides to its Architecture students. All first-year students interested in architecture enroll in the Foundation Program then get to specialize as soon as they know which of these subfields is the best fit for them. One great thing about attending a technical school is that your curriculum jumps right into building the practical skills you need to excel in your career.

 

This is not the best program for students who like to spend a lot of time exploring the conceptual background of their field, but is a great fit for someone who wants to learn as much as they can to hit the ground running as an architect. Keep in mind that only B.Arch. and B.L.A. graduates will be ready to start working as architects immediately after undergrad. Many of these B.S. programs have the advantage of showing students a dimension of the field in more depth, but they will have to pursue graduate school before becoming licensed as an architect.

 

Still not sure which school is the best fit for you? Sign up for your CollegeVine account to use our chancing engine. We have accumulated data from thousands of student applications and can tell you where you have the best chance of getting in, plus give you tips on how to improve your application. The best part is that it’s free, so create your account today.

 

Whatever path you pursue, remember that building a solid academic and technical foundation is key. After that, you want to look for programs that expose you to real-world issues and give you hands-on experience to practice your craft. The career of an architect is rigorous but rewarding, so we wish you the best of luck on your journey ahead.

 

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Veronica Wickline
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Veronica is an alumna of Harvard College, where she earned her A.B. in History and Classics. After graduating, she joined CollegeVine serving as the Curriculum Development Manager. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA and is writing her debut novel.