Summer at Harvard vs UCLA vs Columbia


Hi all,

I'm deciding between three summer immersion programs- my goals are to decide if I want to go for an M.Arch degree next year (coming from non-design background), as well as to develop some portfolio pieces.

I'm struggling to choose between Harvard and UCLA (although Columbia is an option too).

I've lived in the East Coast cities before, so LA would be a more interesting environment and I'd be most likely to seriously apply there, but it is the shortest program and I feel that the name recognition of the Ivies could help on a resume in the future (correct me if I am wrong). Cost would be similar across the board.

If anyone has experience with these programs or opinions on any being better than the others, that would help a lot in the decision.

Any advice is appreciated- thank you!

Apr 13, 19 4:48 pm

Is your long-range plan to work in the US?  In that case don't base a choice on name recognition, as you're probably not even going to put this on your resume. Summer programs aren't viewed favorably by most employers or admissions committees - at best they're day-camp for grownups, and at worst they're a slightly sleazy attempt at a shortcut in developing a portfolio, for people who can afford the time and money.  It's kind of like using Cliff's Notes to write a book report - there's not exactly a rule against it but nobody puts it in their bibliography. 
If you're planning to work in another country then they Ivy name-dropping may have some value. 

Apr 15, 19 1:48 pm

Thank you- it's good to know that admissions committees don't have bias towards big names. Yes I would work in the US long-term. I think that these immersion programs do offer something valuable to someone like me with a bachelor's and career experience in another field- it's a solid start to design thinking that will help shape my application and portfolio, plus the potential for relevant recommendations that would be hard to come by otherwise. And, like another user said, it's less of a loss to spend the money over the course of a month and realize that architecture isn't for you than to do so after a few semesters of school and after a move, etc.


I have always thought these programs were a sleazy way for the universities to trade on their famous names and fill studios over the summer break with people paying the full asking price for the program.

That said, I don't think they are a bad way for people considering the field to see what architecture school might be like.   Astute people would perhaps be better served (and save some money) by spending some time in more than one working architect's offices.  By doing so, they can really experience the profession prior to jumping in.

Apr 15, 19 2:19 pm

I agree with that analysis. If someone's doing it to get a sense of whether they like the type of tasks they'll encounter in studio, and see if they might have the stamina for it and be able to stand the crit environment and the types of faculty and classmates they're likely to encounter, then it's probably good for them, if they can afford it.  If they're doing it because they think it will look good to future employers I'd say don't do it.  No M.Arch admissions committee or potential employer conflates doing Harvard Career Discovery with attending the GSD. 


Do architects in your area take on interns with no experience? I've spoken to firms in cities I've lived in and have always been told they look for someone with experience in Revit/AutoCAD and at least some code or materials classes under the belt. From the outside, it seems like a good summer program will offer the most accessible glimpse into the life.


Yes, these days firms are pretty desperate for help. I don't expect the current situation to last forever, but at this particular moment anyone who shows a genuine interest will probably find someplace willing to try them out and train them, at least for the length of a summer internship. BIM and CAD experience are helpful, but I'm not sure where the people you're talking to are coming from that even offers code classes. Most architecture programs have no such thing - you might have some nitpick studio professor who actually cares about a fire truck's turning radius or something, but most people learn code on the job. Sometimes I think architects try to scare inexperienced people out of applying for jobs.


Ha, that specific issue of a firetruck's turning radius has been an issue for me in my unrelated field- at least I won't make that mistake again! A local community college near me has a decent arch drafting associate's program with both a residential and commercial code class, so maybe there's just a surplus of entry level people with that experience here. It's good to know that the opportunities are out there though- because my experience has led me to believe there was not.


I wasn't necessarily suggesting you seek employment with an architect, it could be more along the lines of a few days of job shadowing and informational interviews. Some offices do have very basic clerical/errand-person type positions that you could possibly fill for a summer in order to observe the workings of an architectural practice.


I was in the same boat as you last year, I have no background and was deciding if Architecture was right for me. I ended up going to Columbia and really enjoyed my experience! It definitely helped me pad my portfolio and I ended up with a recommendation from a professor there. It also helped me realize I did want to pursue a degree in Architecture. Although it was a pricey summer I viewed it as cheaper than getting into school and realizing I hated it after a year of grad school tuition! Furthermore I made a lot of connections with firms and professors. I should also note I got into every school I applied to and I know a lot of the students I attended the summer program did as well. That all said I think it depends what you want out of it. I have also heard the programs are very different I knew a girl who attended the Harvard program and she said it was almost too easy and slightly boring. Good luck !

Apr 15, 19 3:15 pm

Thank you for responding- it sounds like you got exactly out of the program what I'm hoping to. Congrats on getting into your schools too! How many projects did you do at Columbia, and did you work mostly with professors from the actual program or more so with grad students? Also did your friend who attended the Harvard program have any prior arch experience? Sorry to bombard you with more questions


Just adding to this - I also did Intro at GSAPP last summer, and entirely agree. It was expensive, but much less expensive than attending school and hating it. I also got in to all of the schools I applied to. I enjoyed the studio visits, had a great professor, and a TA who was an invaluable resource for answering questions about the application process.


Thanks for the input!! You guys are putting GSAPP higher up on my radar- it's hard to gather information about UCLA's Jumpstart besides the info they're putting out. You guys live in Columbia housing or just rent a room in the UWS area?


I was living pretty far from NY at the time so I did Columbia housing - you get access to their housing portal and might be able to find a sublet with aligning dates. If you have luck with a sublet in the area it might be cheaper! It was very nice to be able to walk to the studio though.

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: