Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina
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Entering the creative world of architecture and design is exciting, especially when international students are planning to attend one of the top schools in the US. But how do you choose the best architecture school for you? What are the requirements for international students wishing to enter one of the best schools in architecture?
General Requirements for all Top Architecture Schools
As an international student there will be some extra work for the application process that you’ll need to complete. To help you out, here are some general requirements for most schools to ensure that applicants are prepared and have what it takes to be a successful architecture student:Evidence of creative abilityThe best schools want to see your demonstrated interest in the field of architecture. If you were able to complete projects in high school or have already obtained an internship in architecture, these architecture schools will want to see what you have done and are capable of doing in the future.PortfolioIf you are just beginning to pursue your undergraduate degree, it would be helpful to have teachers or others professionals speak directly to your ability. However, if you are a transfer student, most top schools in architecture will require a portfolio of your current accomplishments.Strong academic
credentialsIt is important for international students and domestic students alike to have a high GPA, at least 3.0 (or the equivalent in your home country). This will reflect very positively on your application.InterviewThe best schools in architecture will want to learn about you and possibly even meet you in person to assess whether you are the ideal international student for their program. You will also want to ask questions and decide whether they are the best for you as well. In some cases exceptions can be made if you are not yet in the US. An example of this is Cornell University. This university will accept a written interview in lieu of a personal interview if a potential student is unable to travel to campus prior to admittance.
Now that you have some of the general requirements, here are the top undergraduate architecture and design schools in the US and a little information about each one.
The Best Architecture Schools
According to ArchDaily.com and Design Intelligence the top architecture school for 2013 is Cornell University located in Ithaca, New York. Cornell has long stood as the most accomplished and desired university for architecture. They offer three different baccalaureate degrees: a Bachelor of Architecture Professional Degree, a Bachelor’s of Science in History of Architecture and a Bachelor’s in Architecture Curriculum. International students in these programs will find an emphasis on design, education and history, but there is also a great deal of theory, structures, history and technology included as well.
The second top school in architecture is the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCIA) in Los Angeles, California. This school offers one undergraduate degree and it focuses on personal interaction and reflection within its program. They look at contemporary architecture and the use of “intelligent materials” as well as “sustainable practices.”
The third best school for architecture is Rice University in Houston, Texas. This school offers two undergraduate degrees. The first is a Bachelor’s of Architecture and the second is a Bachelor’s in Architectural Studies. In addition, Rice offers a “preceptorship” which provides students with a year-long experience with top architectural firms around the world. They focus on a global education that will prepare architecture students with a well-rounded and international focus.
There are many architecture programs available to international students, and it’s important to think about what area you want to specialize in after graduation. While there are many top tiered colleges and universities, it’s important to think about it holistically. Many schools offer both undergraduate and graduate programs that prepare students for a career in architecture including landscape architecture, urban design, exhibition design, interior design, environmental art, and other fields. Ask yourself what you want to concentrate on, what areas interest you, and where do you want to pursue your degree.
How to Decide?
Choosing from one of these three top architecture schools in the US requires careful consideration. It is essential as an international student to know where you want take your training and degree once you have successfully completed your education. Continue to research and learn about the schools that have interested you and contact those schools for better information.
1. VIRGINIA POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE AND STATE UNIVERSITY, BLACKSBURG, VA.;School of Architecture + Design; College of Architecture & Urban StudiesDirector: Scott Poole
Prominent Alums: Suzanne Lovell, Lee Polisano (president, Kohn Pedersen Fox)
Bragging Rights: At Virginia Tech, freshmen in architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, and interior design are intermingled in studios where together they learn basic design for the entire year. Furthermore, Poole says, “We put our most experienced teachers with the freshmen.”
2. CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ITHACA, N.Y. College of Architecture, Art & Planning
Dean: Mohsen Mostafavi (outgoing)
Prominent Alums: Edmund Bacon, Peter Eisenman, Arthur Gensler, Richard Meier
Website Buzzwords: “simulacrum,” “evocation”
Bragging Rights: Cornell’s four-year course in architecture was the first in the nation when it was established during the 1870s, and the current five-year program dates to the 1920s.
3. SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY, SYRACUSE; N.Y.School of Architecture
Dean: Mark Robbins
New Building: The Warehouse, Gluckman Mayner Architects, 2006
Prominent Alums: Bruce Fowle, Richard Gluckman, David Rockwell
Website Buzzwords: “rigorous,” “dialogue,” “integrated”
Town and Gown: Fourteen building projects are currently under way in the 140,000-person city of Syracuse. Last summer there was enough going on for students to stick around and work with faculty. “That was an old tradition of the school that hadn’t happened [in many years],” according to Robbins.
4. CALIFORNIA POLYTECHNIC STATE UNIVERSITY, SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIF.; Architecture Department
Department Head: Henri de Hahn
Bragging Rights: A recent, unrestricted $60 million bequest by an anonymous donor who once attended (but did not complete) the architecture program figures to transform it in as-yet-unknown ways.
5. UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI, CINCINNATI, OHIO.; College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning
Interim Dean: Robert Probst
Notorious Building: the Aronoff Center for Design and Art, Peter Eisenman, 1996
Bragging Rights: UC’s co-op program puts students to work. When you call the college and are put on hold, a recorded student enthuses, “Having real work experience will look so sweet on my résumé!”
6. UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, AUSTIN, TEXAS;School of Architecture
Dean: Frederick Steiner
Prominent Alums: Michael Dennis, Reed Kroloff, Craig Dykers
Bragging Rights: While every school is jumping on the green bandwagon, Steiner notes that Austin was an early incubator. “The Austin Green Building Initiative laid the groundwork for LEED and involved our faculty, students, and alumni,” he says, adding that first-year architecture students have the best academic credentials of all incoming UT freshmen.
7. CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, PITTSBURGH, PA.;School of Architecture
Head: Laura Lee
Prominent Alum: Roger Duffy (design partner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)
The Campus: Carnegie Mellon’s architecture school shares a turn-of-the-century Henry Hornbostel building with art, design, drama, and music. The newest venture at CMU is a six-story structure dubbed “Building as Power Plant.” “We’re proposing a building that’s not only zero-energy, but will actually provide power to the campus,” says Lee. It’s slated to finish in 2010.
8. KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY, MANHATTAN, KAN.;Department of Architecture; College of Architecture, Planning and Design
Department Head: Peter Magyar
Bragging Rights: The college’s quarter-century–old, award-winning journal Oz proves that there’s whimsy in the heartland.
Expiration Date: K-State’s time on this list will be short-lived. The undergraduate architecture program is being phased out as of 2011.
9. PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY, STATE COLLEGE, PA.;Department of Architecture; School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
Department Head: Daniel Willis
New Building: Stuckeman Family Building for the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Overland Partners, 2005
Bragging Rights: Visiting lecturers often comment on the high level of craft in student work, according to Willis.
9. PRATT INSTITUTE, BROOKLYN, N.Y.
School of Architecture
Dean: Thomas Hanrahan
New Building: Higgins Hall Center Section, Steven Holl Architects, 2005
Website Buzzwords: “conceptual possibilities,” “flexible typologies,” “complex ecology of interests”
Snack-Food Disaster: In 1996, a vending machine caught fire during a renovation of Pratt’s existing, Victorian architecture school building, prompting Hanrahan to hire Holl.
The Campus: Hanrahan recently put his own stamp on the Pratt campus, designing the brand-new Juliana Curran Terian Design Center Pavilion with his partner, Victoria Meyers.
we have defined an architecture school as one that offers a Bachelor of Architecture (BArch), which is the minimum degree required to become an architect; however, there are actually several different architecture degrees. You will need either a Bachelor or Master of Architecture (MArch) to be able to work as an architect.
The minimum degree to work as an architect is a Bachelor of Architecture. These programs are usually five years (rather than the four years it takes to earn most other undergrad degrees), and by the end of it you’ll have the coursework and experience you need to pass the Architecture Registration Exam and begin work as an architect. Architecture majors learn about architectural theory, construction methodology, drafting, and structural design, among other topics.
Some schools also offer Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees in Architecture. These four-year programs similarly teach you about the basics of architecture, but, on their own, they don’t provide enough coursework or work experience for you to begin working as an architect.
Some students get these degrees because they want more of a liberal arts education, they want to work in the architecture field but not as an architect, or they couldn’t get into a Bachelor of Architecture program but want to be well prepared for a Master of Architecture degree.
If you don’t have a Bachelor of Architecture, another way to become an architect is to get a Master of Architecture degree. Master of Architecture programs typically take one to three years, depending on how much background you have in architecture.
How We Made This List of the Best Schools for Architecture
You should never treat any list of school rankings—including this one—as an absolute truth. Instead, you can use lists as a starting point to learn about schools you might potentially be interested in.
To create our ranking of the best schools for architecture, we took four factors into consideration:
- Resources for Architecture Students: There’s been a lot of innovation in architecture and architectural tools in the past few years, so we gave extra points to schools that kept pace with the current technology and gave students access to cutting-edge architecture programs and resources.
- Class Options: There are certain core classes every architecture student needs to take, but the best schools provide a wide range of courses beyond these so you have the ability to focus on areas that are most interesting to you.
- Hands-On Opportunities: Not only is having professional experience under your belt before you graduate a huge boost when you start applying for jobs, but it’s also required for you to pass your licensing exam. The best schools make it easy for you to get the experience you need, whether that’s requiring an internship as part of the coursework, providing networking opportunities to help you find jobs, or including hands-on components in coursework.
- Alumni/Prestige: This is a more subjective factor, but a school that is known for having an outstanding architecture program and producing well-known alumni can make it easier for you to get a job after you graduate.
#1: Cornell University — Ithaca, NY
Cornell’s architecture program is one of the oldest in the United States, which means it has a large network of alumni and research that students can make use of. Well-known architects who graduated from Cornell include Richard Meier, who designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and Peter Eisenman, who founded the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City.
Academically, Cornell’s architecture students follow the same core architecture curriculum for the first three years, which gives students the comprehensive knowledge they need while still allowing them to take elective courses from across the university.
In their final two years, students concentrate on one of five areas of study: Architecture, Culture, and Society; Architectural Science and Technology; History of Architecture; Architectural Analysis; and Visual Representation in Architecture.
The architecture program at Cornell gives students the chance to work and/or study in the program’s NYC and Rome locations in addition to the school’s main campus in Ithaca, New York. Because of the architecture program’s reputation as a top school, students graduating from the program are often in high demand, especially for jobs in New York City, where the school has numerous connections.
#2: Rice University — Houston, TX
Rice is well-known for its top-notch architecture programs, and with a student-to-faculty ratio of 5:1, you’re guaranteed personal attention during your studies.
Architecture undergrads at Rice enroll in a six-year program. The first four years are spent getting a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degree. This is a liberal arts degree, and it gives you the opportunity to take classes in a variety of subjects during your first four years. This is great if you want to combine your architecture study with another area, and Rice encourages this with a lot of interdisciplinary study. The architecture school works closely with many other schools and departments at Rice, including business, engineering, and environmental science.
After four years, you’ll spend another two years studying architecture exclusively, at the end of which you’ll receive a second degree, a Bachelor of Architecture, which allows you to work as an architect. Students spend one year of this program as paid employees at architecture firms around the world, which is a fantastic way to get experience and make professional connections.
#3: Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo — San Luis Obispo, CA
Cal Poly’s Architecture Department has multiple programs in architecture, so you can focus on a specific area of interest to you. Its architecture department is one of the biggest in the country, and about one in 20 architects in the US (and one in five in California) graduated from Cal Poly, which means there are tons of alumni connections to be had.
That’s especially useful because Cal Poly offers a co-operative learning option for sophomore, junior, and senior students that allows them to earn course credit while working a paid job in an architecture-related field. Additionally, Cal Poly offers students the option to spend part of a year studying in Europe, Asia, or other cities in the United States.
#4: Syracuse University — Syracuse, NY
Syracuse was the first school in the country to offer a Bachelor of Architecture degree, and since then it has established itself as a top architecture school. Due to its reputation, Syracuse’s School of Architecture is able to get many well-known architects to give lectures at the school and is renowned for its exemplary faculty.
Although located in upstate New York, the School of Architecture has several working and teaching spaces in New York City for students to study the architecture of America’s largest city. There’s also a strong study abroad program, and most students spend at least a semester studying at Syracuse’s centers in Florence or London.
#5: University of Notre Dame — Notre Dame, IN
Notre Dame’s School of Architecture emphasizes both classical architecture and urbanism. All architecture students are required to participate in the school’s Rome Studies Program in Rome where undergrads spend a year learning about classical architecture. In fact, Notre Dame is the only school in the United States to require architecture students to spend part of the program abroad, which ensures all students have a more global understanding of architecture.
Notre Dame’s architecture programs are also known for their commitment to fundamentals, so much so that computer-based modeling isn’t introduced until students’ fourth year of study. That’s not to say that the program is stuck in the past: Notre Dame’s architecture school also emphasizes designing new buildings that are sustainable and long-lasting, and will contribute to the livability of an area.
#6: Virginia Tech — Blacksburg, VA
Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies is one of the largest architecture schools in the United States. The architecture and urban studies program has more than 2,000 students and offers four bachelor’s degrees, including a BArch. The school’s main campus is in Blacksburg, Virginia, and it also has additional campuses in Alexandria, Virginia, and Riva San Vitale, Switzerland.
In their fourth year, BArch students have opportunities for off-campus study (which can include classes, internships, or a combination of the two). The fifth year is spent doing an independent design investigation, which serves as the basis of the undergrad thesis.
#7: Rhode Island School of Design — Providence, RI
RISD is widely considered one of the top design schools in the world, and its architecture program is similarly well regarded. The school approaches architecture from a unique perspective, too.
Because RISD is an internationally renowned fine arts and design school, the architecture department combines a visual and humanities-based education with its professional curriculum. This allows students to approach complex architectural problems with a fresh perspective, and graduates from RISD are well known for their creative problem-solving approaches.
#8: Pratt Institute — Brooklyn, NY
The Pratt Institute School of Architecture puts a unique stamp on the Bachelor of Architecture degree through its commitment to exploring technological frontiers. Additionally, Pratt offers a variety of courses for concentrated study.
Its most unique offering is its Morphology concentration, which involves the study of form through a combination of mathematics, computation, fabrication, construction, and emerging technologies (how cool is that?). The Pratt Institute prides itself on combining imagination with an ethical approach to architecture in order to create a new generation of culturally aware, socially responsible architects.
#9: University of Texas at Austin — Austin, TX
The School of Architecture at UT Austin has a large number of resources available for students, including the Center for Sustainable Development, which studies the environment, economics, and social issues to better design buildings that are aesthetically pleasing and will have a positive impact on the environment and social equality. There are also libraries, archives, conservation labs, and research spaces on campus for architecture students to use.
UT’s School of Architecture encourages international experiences, and they offer scholarships for some of the many study abroad programs architecture students can participate in. These range from studying historical buildings in Mexico to touring modern infrastructure in Europe. Students must also complete a six-month professional residency to gain work experience before they graduate.
#10: University of Southern California — Los Angeles, CA
Students at USC’s School of Architecture have access to an entire 50,000 square feet of work space, including classrooms, research spaces, galleries, labs, workshops, and design studios. Every architecture student at USC also has 24/7 access to their own personal workstation where they can work on their projects whenever they want.
Many famous architects have graduated from USC, including Frank O. Gehry (whose work included the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao), Boris Dramov (who designed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial), and Paul Revere Williams (who designed the homes of numerous Hollywood celebrities).
#11: Cooper Union — New York, NY
Cooper Union has been training the nation’s top architects for more than 150 years, so students can rest assured that they’ll be getting a great education here. Cooper Union does this through specializing in art, architecture, and engineering (like how the Rhode Island School of Design specializes in … well, design).
Because they focus on a narrow set of interrelated disciplines, Cooper Union offers its students a rigorous, in-depth course of study that teaches architecture as a combination of technical skill, cultural awareness, artistry, and technological advancement.