So you’re applying to architecture school! You’re on your way to joining a vast and complex community of the most fearless, innovative people in the world. But where do you start? This post is just for you. Almost a year ago, I was in the exact same position as you. I had just decided that architecture was my dream job, but had basically no idea how to get into it or apply for it. There are tons of videos and blog posts out there about how to apply to art schools and make portfolios specifically to impress artists, but there really isn’t anything (that I could find, at least) that specifically caters to the tricky process of architecture applications. It would have been amazing to have context for what it’s like, and get tips and tricks from people who have already gone through it. But, have no fear! Your prayers are answered. That’s exactly what I’m here to do for you.
First of all, you’re going to have to do some research on specific schools and what their programs are like. There are two basic tracks for architecture schools. You will either go for a professional B.Arch (5-year degree) or a non-professional BS or BA (4 years). Here are the differences:
- Professional B.Arch, 5-year degree
- You will have design studio every semester (“studio” is the main course you take to learn how to design buildings. Design studios run three times a week, are 4 hours per class, and students typically focus the majority of their attention to these courses as they build your design portfolio), in addition to other courses such as history, theory, structures, etc.
- You will graduate with a professional degree, aka you can immediately start your hours and exams to become a licensed architect.
- If you choose to go to grad school you will do a post-professional program, usually 1-2 years (they call this the “5+2” or “5+1” plan).
- BS or BA, 4-year degree
- You will either not ever have design studios and only learn history, theory, etc, or only have design studios your last couple of years. Look into the programs to find out for each one.
- You will NOT graduate with a professional degree, meaning you MUST get your masters degree to be an architect.
- You do a professional masters program, usually 3-4 years; they call this the 4+3 plan. There are more years because you take more design studio, to make up for not having design studio in undergrad. After you graduate, you can then work towards your license.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both programs, and ultimately you’ll just have to decide which is the best fit for you. I applied to both types of programs because I wasn’t positive about which I’d want to do at the time applications were due – and that’s completely okay!
Once you’ve got a list of schools, it’s time to get to work. There are three main components of the application: the portfolio (this is by far the most important, and you should spend the most of your time on this), your grades & test scores (they want to see that in addition to your passion for architecture, you are a well rounded student and are capable of the workload), and the recommendation letters & essays.
The portfolio is a daunting challenge, and you shouldn’t rush through it. Go through some of your old work, if you have any, and pick out the pieces that speak to you and stand out. Use as many media as possible – photography, painting, sculpture, glassblowing, jewelry making, ink work, digital art, ceramics, wood work, anything goes! Your work in every media doesn’t have to be perfect, or even near it. Just the fact that you’re trying new things and being creative in new ways will score you major brownie points. Don’t worry about showing specific architecture work unless it demonstrates creativity. The schools don’t care if you can draw technical models, they’ll teach you how to do that when you get there anyways.
I wrote this in my last blog post, but it’s worth repeating: my best piece of advice to anyone who is applying to architecture schools is to find your artistic identity and push it to its limits. Create pieces that make people think, that make people remember your name. I recommend always carrying a sketchbook with you to doodle or jot down notes. Take as many art classes as you can to learn new skills and perspectives. Don’t be afraid to find inspiration around you! The photo album on my phone is half filled of random pictures of buildings, paintings, curvy things, even sidewalks that I think look interesting. Make a Pinterest account and follow boards that intrigue you. Find companies online that you think are cool, follow Instagram pages that have aesthetics that you like. Figure out who your favorite architects are, and why they are your favorites. Anything and everything will help shape your work and get you motivated to create!
And now, finally, here is (most of) my portfolio.
As you can see, I went all over the place. I’m personally into intricate ink work, so I put a decent amount of that into my portfolio. However, I also included glass, metal, digital, pencil, and woodwork. I tried my best to show breadth of artistic capability and creativity. There’s tons of work that I’ve done since I submitted my applications that I wish I could’ve sent instead, and countless tweaks I would’ve made to the pieces that did make the cut, but it was an accurate snapshot of the artist and person I was at the time I sent it all in. I’m proud of what I accomplished in the short semester of preparation, and it all paid off!
This portfolio got me into the programs at the University of Southern California, Syracuse University, Washington University at St. Louis, the University of Hawai’i – Mānoa, Arizona State University – Barrett Honors College, and waitlisted at Northeastern University, the University of Notre Dame, and UC Berkeley. I was so fortunate to have such a positive response and couldn’t have made a wrong choice. I’ll be at USC’s School of Architecture next year, in a 5 year professional program.
I hope this was comprehensive and helped you get at least a little bit more familiar with the whole process. If you have any questions at all, please let me know and I’d be more than happy to help you through them. I’ll be posting again soon to explain how I wrote my architecture essays that went alongside my portfolio. Thank you for reading, and sending you all my love and good luck!