Samantha Raburn is a newly licensed architect at Stantec Architecture in Plano, Texas. Her blog, The Aspiring Architect, recounts her journey to become qualified and acts as an insightful guide to all those following a similar path into the profession.
Choosing what university to go to is tough — especially when you choose architecture as your major. It’s an important decision, and it will be a large investment of both your time and money. I recently started to think about the questions I should have asked to help make my decision before choosing my program. I still love my college and the architecture program I graduated from, but reflecting on the subject led me to writing this list for those trying to answer this question now …
1. Are you slightly interested in another major?
A lot of programs work closely with another major. For example, my program worked closely with our interior design program. We were in the same building, shared the same teachers and had quite a few classes together. It made it very easy for us to get a minor in interior design and vice versa for them. I also know of a few programs that work closely with engineering, allowing you to get a taste of both architecture and engineering before choosing which path you want to take. If you are wavering between two majors, want to get a minor or possibly considering the deadly double major, this should be one of the first questions to ask when researching architecture programs.
2. How much time and money do you want to spend on school?
This sounds very basic, but there is a significant variation in the amount of time required to earn your degree(s) from different schools. Each architecture program is structured differently. Some offer a five-year bachelor’s degree that allows you to go straight into the workforce afterward and begin the licensure process. Other schools, similar to mine, offer a four- or five-year bachelor’s degree that requires you to continue on to earn a masters degree. I was fortunate that my university’s master’s degree was only one more year, but other programs may require two or three more years. So if you are concerned with student loans piling up or how long it may be until you are licensed, definitely check into a program’s degrees and the time it will take to earn them.
Models stacked up in Harvard University GSD; via Harvard University Graduate School of Design
3. What technology and fabrication tools do they offer?
One of my favorite things to do during school was working with the digital fabrication tools and building pieces at our wood and metal shop. We had laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC machines, wood and metal working equipment and more. And let me tell you, the access to those machines and equipment is one of the first things I missed after graduation. Learning about these tools and gaining the skills to use them is not everyone’s main interest, but if it gets your attention, tour a few programs and see what they have to play with.
4. Do they offer a study abroad program?
Again, this might be something not everyone is interested in doing. However, after going through school without the study abroad experience, I would HIGHLY suggest it. I’ve talked to so many students that took the opportunity, and all of them have said it was money well-spent. There is such a value in what you can learn from other countries and cultures that you can only truly gain by experiencing it for yourself. These programs tend to cost a fair amount, but I have no doubt it would be worth it.
Exhibition at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London; via Unit 0
5. What size university and program are you looking for?
There are a few things to consider regarding the size of the university and its architecture program. Small and large universities both have their good and bad points. With larger universities, you will have a wider variety of electives and studios that you can take. You also get all the benefits that come with a larger campus, such as more “student life” activities, a full athletic program, more students and professors to meet, a variety of programs and organizations to be part of, etc. On the bad side, larger universities tend to have larger classes, which makes it easier to get “lost in the crowd” and not receive as much individual attention from professors.
In large programs, you may never meet every student in your year, which may lead to a slightly different studio culture. Smaller universities will have smaller class sizes, which tend to give professors more one-on-one time with students. You also get to know your classmates and professors better in a smaller program setting. The downside to small programs is that you may not have all of the electives and class variety that you gain at a larger university. There are some programs in the middle that can give you the best of both worlds.
Architecture studio at Virginia Tech; via Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
6. Are summers required?
Some programs require summer courses to complete their degrees. The majority of programs do not require classes every summer, maybe just one or two summers. It is something to consider if you plan to work summers to make a little spending money or apply for internships.
7. What is the style of the program?
I assumed most architecture programs were similar in their style of teaching, but as I met more students in architecture, I realized each program can be drastically different. Some programs are more technology-driven and focus on the newest software. Other programs may be more traditional and require mostly hand drafting and physical models. Also, programs may teach a more classical style of architecture versus teaching a more artistic, conceptual approach of architecture.
Guest critic Frank Gehry at Yale University; via ARCHITECT
8. What do the professors offer?
Each professor I had in school had a special interest in a subject, whether it was a particular material, architectural theory or parametric design. Each professor is unique, so it may be worth investigating to see if you have any of the same interests. Something else to research when it comes to professors is their experience levels and connections. Each professor will have a different level of experience in the workforce as well as having worked on different project types. Some universities may have an interim professor that is still currently working in a firm. Not only do they offer great advice and knowledge of current issues in the field, but they can also help provide direct connections to future internships and jobs.
Some of these questions are more important than others, but that will vary on what each person wants in their program. Everyone is different (especially architects), and that’s why you should do a bit of research before you make your decision. Hopefully this list gives you a starting point to choosing your architecture program.
This post first appeared on The Aspiring Architect.