Is it possible to break into teaching without an Ivy League degree?


Hello Archinect,

I recently graduated with an MArch degree from a mid-tier non-Ivy League school. During the process of applying to MArch programs and completing my program, I had always assumed that I would somehow teach architecture after I graduated. As I was going through the struggle of making it through architecture school, I failed to realize the extent to which I needed to take more proactive steps to make a future teaching career happen while I was in school.

After graduating, I had some conversations with former professors about the realities of teaching and publishing which were really eye-opening, and which I wish that I had initiated years ago.

As far as I can tell, the main options for breaking into teaching architecture at any university (regardless of its reputation) are to either:

  • Get a graduate degree from an Ivy League school.
  • Have previous teaching experience.
  • Work at one of two or three starchitects in the world.

Now that I have graduated, those options are all essentially closed to me; I’m in a position where my situation with my tuition debt would likely go from being unusually good (part of the reason why I went to school that I chose) to bad if I tried to get an MArch II degree somewhere else.

Assuming that I could get a starchitect job, I’m not sure if I could handle the kinds of sweatshop working environments which sound (at least according to sensational rumors) as though they are even more demanding than my experiences with school itself were.

Maybe I’m making excuses which are still irrelevant if teaching is what I really want to do, but I’m wondering if there are any other strategies which people in situations like mine have used to get past such barriers to teaching.

It seems like my only alternative is to try and distinguish myself in another way by making some kind of a unique contribution to architectural discourse (broadly speaking), and that is a situation which seems to be made harder by the extent to which publishing opportunities seem to be correlated with having academic connections. I have been developing and attempting to publicize some of my own self-directed conceptual and entrepreneurial projects of various kinds, but of course there is no way of knowing in advance if that kind of work will ever be enough.

I am wondering if there are any other strategies which people have used to break into teaching beyond simply trying to make a name for myself without the benefit of the kinds of academic connections which might accelerate that process of advancement to begin with. It feels like you essentially have to become famous in order to get a teaching position, but teaching positions have also helped so many future well-known architects in their early career stages.What strategies have you used to break out of that conundrum enough to get a teaching position as an ordinary person?

I really hope that I am somehow wrong about some of the assumptions which I have made, and I would like to hear if I am. 

Thanks in advance!

Nov 19, 19 3:16 pm

You could start applying to fellowships and do research funded through whatever university/school you're at. I have no idea how this works or what barriers are involved but that seems to be how some start out?

Nov 19, 19 3:22 pm  · 

From what I have seen of looking up the background of people who have won teaching fellowship positions, they seem to have overwhelmingly graduated from a tiny number of schools, so that path seems to be at least as unlikely as conventional teaching opportunities. 

Applying for research funding etc. falls into the same category for me as my other ideas for self-directed pursuits, ie. I don't know if that alone will be enough.

Nov 19, 19 3:29 pm  · 

It's definitely not true that you need an Ivy degree to teach in architecture schools.  Look at the faculty bios at most programs and you'll see that's far from the case.  It's also not true that they all came out of starchitects' offices.  Early on it's mostly an issue of networking.  Make sure to keep in touch with your former professors and classmates - especially those who are involved even part-time in teaching anywhere - and make it known that you're interested in teaching.  Look for opportunities to be a guest critic, so that you can expand your network.  Be involved with your AIA chapter - there can be opportunities to mentor students, judge awards, and other things that can get you involved with local universities and help you meet faculty and administration.

Were you ever a teaching assistant or teaching fellow when you were in grad school?  That's usually sufficient former teaching experience to start out somewhere as an adjunct.  But if you never did that at all then some things you can start with are teaching skills-type courses (software, art or crafts of some sort) - as hiring for those is usually more focused on your mastery of the subject material than on your past experience - especially in continuing ed/adult education wings of universities. Some people get their foot in the door by team-teaching with somebody who is already established.  Do you have friends/classmates who teach and need a studio assistant or substitute? Stay away from community colleges, and for-profit colleges though as there's a lot bias against faculty from those, especially if it's their only teaching experience.

Nov 19, 19 3:39 pm  · 
1  · 

Thanks for your suggestions and advice. Unfortunately I was never able to get teaching assistant experience. I was thinking of trying to apply for a software skills-related position as a strategic approach, so maybe  further developing my skills (ex. with maybe self-directed projects which use advanced scripting/parametric techniques, since I am relatively good at that) and publicizing them could be one approach.

Nov 19, 19 3:49 pm  · 
Non Sequitur

I find it disturbing that working several years in the profession + getting license is not at the very top of the list.  We don't need more academics without real world experience teaching students who in turn only care to become architecture teachers themselves. 

working slave hours in a starchitect office does not count.

Nov 19, 19 4:17 pm  · 

I have completed around half of my experience hours for getting licensed as of right now, and my plan would be to teach as an adjunct while also practicing.

Non Sequitur

Thanks for clarifying.


Getting a license becomes important, especially for the NAAB schools who have to have some % of licensed professional faculty, but if you wait to already have years of experience plus a license before you start teaching then it does become more difficult to break into academia and starts to need more of the things that Outsideofspace is worried about in the first post: star credentials. If you're not a star it's easier to get started with a teaching career if it's not long after you graduate, while you're still current in the minds of your former professors, and then you can do that concurrently with the getting experience and getting licensed process. Young adjuncts and lecturers don't necessarily need years of experience and a license to teach support courses, or to be the studio sidekick to someone more experienced. 

 I got a foot in the door because one of my former professors recommended me to one of his other former students, who had become the architecture department chair at another university. You don't have to be a star, if you can keep in contact with enough people that you stay in somebody's mind at the right moment. But I think that gets harder to do the longer you've been out of sight out of mind.


dont need an ivy

try applying to a teaching position and see what you need to apply, then work from there.

personally i dont think being a tutor or crit at the end of a studio really counts for much, but it is better than nothing.

academia is not easy. Lots of people assume teachers dont work hard and don't know anything, and maybe that is true at some schools, but it is not the normal way of things in my experience. You can publish without a univeristy behind you. That is not a requirement at all. Having something to say is a lot harder. That will come either from professional experience or from academic experience.

When it comes to actually teaching, I started as a lecturer on urbanism and architecture theory at one university, teaching twice a week for a few hours. I had just opened my practice and I found it a bit stressful, but enjoyable. When the Lehman shock finally knocked out half our business I applied for a more proper position (still not tenure track) at a similar university, and was hired to do admin as well as research for 3 days a week. I already had  PhD and a license by then. I suppose the PhD was more important than the license, but neither hurt. More important than either was the fact that I had already taught for 2 years, and had published some research, so I could be expected to do more of the same without being a complete failure. 

From there it was just about taking advantage of opportunities as they came up. ie, purely by chance one of the architecture profs had dropped out of teaching unexpectedly so I was asked to pick up the slack and did a studio each term for the next 6 years. These were brilliant experience. My academic job allowed me to do a workshop and organize conferences at the same time, and to travel extensively around the world in order to pursue theories and to learn about design by seeing it in person. All of this built up slowly.

For what it is worth, helping to run a school program and organizing conferences taught me a lot about managing ideas and clarifying concepts (useful in the office), so I could write better, and possibly make better research proposals. Teaching studio was a great way to learn to teach, but workshops were much better simply because it was so intense and communication is the center of the entire process. Lecture courses are a lot of work, good experience with managing large groups and similar to a performance, not unlike a design pitch in front of clients. Since I still run an office I find teaching and practice have a lot of overlap in terms of skills needed, but it is very very hard to do both. There is not enough time in the day.

Anyway, the intended point of this last paragraph is that teaching is about communication. It is also about having something to say. If you want to get into education you might try to join a workshop rather than sit in as a crit. Or do both if you are able.

I would advise approaching schools or teachers and say you want to be involved. And build from there. It will not be fast or easy unless you are very lucky. I would also advise that if you are going to pursue both teaching and practice that you try to make an agenda that has a lot of overlap in both forms of practice. Otherwise you are going to start hating one or the other, or both, of your positions.

Nov 19, 19 6:38 pm  · 

UCLA, U Michigan, Syracuse and other non-Ivies regularly produce facutly for the Ivies

Apr 23, 20 2:52 pm  · 

why do you want to "teach"

Apr 25, 20 1:42 pm  · 


May 28, 20 12:59 pm  · 

make a book!  do like 100 designs & try publishing

May 30, 20 1:50 am  · 

It’s NOT true that you need either an Ivy League degree, previous teaching experience, or have worked for “one of two or three starchitects” (I wonder which ones?) to be able to teach in any architectural school, even though these things may help. If you don’t have any teaching experience, then you should expect that you would need to first start your teaching career as a part-time adjunct.

Look into teaching at community colleges. The pay is usually terrible, but you can learn a lot while gaining teaching experience. 

Yes, unfortunately, connections do help people get teaching jobs. Attend conferences, go to events (once they restart), and do other things to expand your network.

Talk to people you know who teach in schools all over the country. Sometimes they’ll need an adjunct at the last minute. Also try to find opportunities to do single-day or multi-day workshops / talks with architecture students. Again, your network is key to be able to do something like that. Sitting in on juries is a good way to get noticed by schools.

If you become specialized in a topic, that might allow a faculty member to bring you in for a workshop or talk. 

Since you recently graduated from an MArch program, then you aren’t in a great position to land a teaching job. You need experience working in the field—not necessarily for a starchitect!—or doing research that would then allow you to then pass on that knowledge to your students. It doesn't make a lot of sense to have someone who just graduated teach people who have just a tad less experience.

You’re right, one way to get a teaching position is to do work that catches other people’s attention. You don’t have to publish it in exclusive peer-reviewed journals. (It’s not true, by the way, that publishing opportunities in journals are only available to people will academic connections.) Having your work featured on websites with a large architectural following is already a lot. From what I've seen, the publishing route to teaching is actually relatively rare.

If you are passionate about teaching, with perseverance and patience you’ll find a way. Good luck!

May 30, 20 5:56 pm  · 
2  · 

my two cents and experience: no, you don't need an ivy degree. a masters? yes.

first, understand there aren't as many full time, tenure track positions as there were 20 years ago. so, overall, less jobs. second, faculty are hanging on to those tenured jobs longer. less turnover. finally, people will kill right now for a job teaching. it's going to be a ruthless summer if there's any openings left. 

what matters far more for you in the long run is a distinct voice, a distinct point of view, and to really work your connections. in my own case, my degree from harvard didn't open the door to my first teaching job - it was a connection from my undergraduate program. that first job though? got me the next two. 

if you're applying to open teaching positions randomly, it's no better than applying to a firm randomly. the chances of landing the job are slim. 

pick a place you want to live that has a couple of schools. go around during the semester. introduce yourself. hang out at crits, invite yourself to finals week. ask the chair if there's any open part time jobs.  

finally, will an ivy degree be taken over a non-ivy by most schools if they don't know either candidate or have someone advocating for them on the selection committee? absolutely. no question. 

May 30, 20 6:56 pm  · 
1  · 

Block this user

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

  • ×Search in:

Latest School Job Posts

View more academic jobs