Share your thoughts! Arch School Specializations, Reputations, Etc.


Long-time lurker, first time poster.

I am planning to apply for my M. Arch I this coming cycle, and I have found it surprisingly difficult to identify the specializations, differentiators, reputations, and pedagogical approaches of the different schools. I am coming from outside the architecture field, so I haven’t been steeped in this information the way others have.

I have read enough posts here to anticipate someone telling me I am lazy and I should search the forum for past threads. I have! I really have! But the most relevant tidbits of information have come in one-off comments, or school-specific threads, and I haven’t found any single thread that addresses this issue for multiple schools. I have also spent a lot of time looking at different schools’ websites and student and faculty work. The issue is that every school wants to appeal to every student (application fees=$$$) and, as a result, their pitches all sound fairly generic. 

Would some of you good souls share your knowledge and opinions about various architecture schools? Anything regarding a school's specializations, differentiators, reputation, and pedagogical approach.

I will say that I am most interested in notes on the top 10 US masters programs, but to make this a helpful resource for Archinect folks for years to come, please share intel about any school you have thoughts on.


  • [SCHOOL] is known for its emphasis on parametric design
  • [SCHOOL] has an excellent design-build program
  • [SCHOOL] has really gone downhill; Only go to [SCHOOL] if you want to build garbage boxes in the suburbs
  • Etc., etc., etc. seriously, I want to hear all of it.

Thanks all. Let’s be honest but nice to each other here.

Oct 11, 18 3:49 pm

aka "I don't want to do my own research before applying to grad school so I've decided to crowdsource that effort"

Oct 11, 18 4:14 pm
Non Sequitur

Take the cheapest option.

Oct 11, 18 4:22 pm

First thing is prioritize the schools and or programs that actually have a 3 year or alternate track for a master's of architecture, it can be very difficult to deal with a program that has no organized plan for folks in your situation.  Lots of schools will say you can do their masters with some kind of extra year but if they don't have a well defined program/curriculum it might be a hard path to take at that school and it might end up costing you more time and money than they might initially estimate.  University Of Illinois Urbana Champaign has a decent program for folks entering architecture for the first time as well as Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) the SIUC program has the benefit of being part of a small program so you will have much more individualized attention and faculty who will have the time to personally guide you on your path.

The other advice I would give you is to look at the work the student's are producing and ask yourself if you are interested in those types of projects and if you can understand the projects and the way they are presented. Some of the more design oriented schools can really stretch and slip beyond the limits of just architecture into the realm of art, theory and abstract thought. If you are not sure of your ability to understand the theory or design thinking (dogma) of a school or if you think it is not what you believe is something you can fully understand or commit to move on to the next school on your list. 

Both UIUC and SIUC have emphasis on design and construction, they tend to teach how buildings are built and or documented in construction documents.  These are programs that are more focused on teaching skills that will make you potentially more useful once you get your first job. 

As for skills and saving a ton of money and time I would also recommend taking Revit classes at a community college before going to a masters program, this will save you a lot of time and money.

There are a lot of variations in the schools out there and prestige and top ten listings are not as important as to how well you do personally and the quality of the work you can build your initial portfolio with.

I hope this helps.

Over and OUT

Peter N

Oct 11, 18 5:01 pm

Thanks Peter! I really appreciate this input. Neither of those schools were on my radar (I'm an east-coaster missing home in the middle of the country right now, so primarily looking to head back east), but I will do some more research on them.


I'd recommend checking out the University of Virginia.  When I was there, they emphasized place-making in lieu of some very sculptural gobbledygook that has nothing to do with the local context.  I've heard they have a really good design-build component to the program although that wasn't my interest so I did not pursue it.

They have a formal '3-year path' for students with non-arch backgrounds as well as a 2 year path.  I also really appreciated that the classes are very interdisciplinary.  You take classes with arch historians, urban design, landscape, and preservation with two-year path, three-year path, and some upper level undergrads.  There is a once a year full school design competition with teams that are mixed.  You really get to learn a lot from your classmates. 

Similar to what Peter said previously, in terms of getting a job right out of school, coming from a top 10 university means very little.  You will come to find that there is a large and distinct divide between what you learn in school and what you actually do in the profession.  Currently many employers put less stock in where your degree is from and more in the fact that you have one.  "Top 10" is quite subjective anyway; different firms provide different services, create their buildings in different ways.  It would be hard for any school to prepare their graduates to fit in every context in this profession. 

Oct 11, 18 5:35 pm

Thanks! I have been surprised by how little mention of UVA I've seen for architecture grad school in my research. My focus on the top ten has been much more a result of me coming from outside the industry and not knowing where else to start looking. This is helpful and I will look more into UVA's program!


Take another option

Oct 12, 18 2:16 am

In most places you get what you give, there...done!

Oct 12, 18 6:21 am

The yearly Design Intelligence ranking list offers enough insight for the application process. There's copies floating around online. Follow school Instagrams, you can get a sense of what they're doing generally (if you can sift through the stellar and mediocre student works).

Cost and location. Application fees are nothing compared to tuition especially if they don't have to offer you anything. You already know about location but if the nowhere school offers say 75% funding through the program compared to 0% elsewhere, hmm, do at least consider what you can make out of the former.

Unless you know what you're looking for besides name and prestige and location, the rest of us can't offer much.

Oct 20, 18 2:20 pm

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