Harvard's GSD vs Yale


Hello all-

I've been lucky enough to have been accepted to the M.Arch 1 programs at both Harvard's GSD and Yale, among other schools, and now it's come down to a very difficult choice between the two.

Just attended the open houses for both schools, and they're so very different.  I spoke with other students there admitted to both programs and most seem to be leaning towards the GSD, but I don't know if that was just because of a post-GSD high.  I would love to hear from students that attended both open houses as well.


With Peter Eisenman and Bob Stern at the helm, Yale seems to be a much more traditional program.  Their facilities are second to none, and their history/theory looks like it wins out over the GSD (which is nice since writing/publishing will invariably be part of my future career), but I was not particularly impressed by their actual designs.  They seem like some of the most conservative architectural designs that I have seen in the top programs.  This is only furthered by the fact that Eisenman always brings up the architecture vs. design debate, in which he staunchly supports the architecture camp.  My feeling there is that the program would teach you to design a building a do it well, but in the same way that it has been done for decades.  There also seems to be an overwhelming cultural homogeneity there and very little racial or thought diversity.


The GSD, on the other hand, seemed to be a much more diverse program.  Its integration with Planning and Landscapes makes it a much more collaborative and interdisciplinary environment.  Though the M.Arch program is about the same size, because you share a building with planning and landscape it's overall a bigger program, and even within the M.Arch I have this feeling that you'd get less individual attention.  The facilities are great, second only to Yale's.  I'm sure the faculty's great, but how do both history/theory and design faculty compare with Yale's?  I'm assuming the GSD has a slight edge on the design side only.

It also seems like it's a tad bit harder to get into Yale, though I am basing that solely on the few posts I have seen on this website, so that could be completely false.   From attending the open houses, however, I do know that they types of students they select are very different; Yale seems to base their decisions on more traditional stats like GPAs and GREs, whereas the GSD looks like maybe they put more emphasis on the portfolio.  That would explain why Yale's program seems to be more traditional bust have a stronger history/theory edge, while the GSD is more progressive in its designs but less fluent in history/theory.

Am I way off?  Please help before I have to make a decision on Friday.
Apr 11, 11 4:17 pm

it seems like you have good portfolio, GPA, and GRE. sharethem with us. i'd love to see your portfolio.

Apr 11, 11 5:08 pm

I'm not sure what you saw this year specifically, but I wouldn't categorize Yale's program as generally more traditional. The realities are going to come down to who you choose as your studio critics, and historically there is a very diverse selection from extreme traditional to extreme cutting edge. The faculty makeup is very diverse in terms of design. Yale has no specific pedagogy so it is VERY much what you make of it, not what is pushed on you.

Obviously both schools are excellent, and you are correct in noticing that they are very different programs. Forget about the "allure" of one over the other because at the end of the day, the networking you can do at either is second to none. One of the schools will probably be better suited for your strengths and weakness (to improve upon while there). You need to think hard about which one is better suited for YOU.

Another VERY VERY VERY important aspect, that is generally overlooked and at many times unable to be accounted for before hand, is class dynamic. A great class dynamic will exponentially improve the quality of your overall education, while a lousy one (lots of negativity, complaining, very clickish) will not allow you to take full advantage of your education. Think about the people you met at the open houses, if there is anyway of knowing which school they will go to, can you anticipate how you think everyone would gel as a class? Wherever you go, if you feel like you are not in sync with your class or if there just doesn't seemed to be a generally good vibe, then take a year off after year one and start afresh for year two.
good luck
Apr 11, 11 6:12 pm
five of five

Hey mmerrill - I'm actually agonizing over the same decision right now, so I feel your pain! This is definitely not ever a decision I have thought I would have to make. I don't really have any insight at this point (thought I totally agree with most of your points, especially the "homogeneity" of the people at Yale which is causing me to slightly lean towards the GSD) but just thought I'd say hey and maybe plea along with you for some help.

P.S. I've been a lurker for far too long and this is finally my first post. Hey guys.

Apr 11, 11 9:31 pm

five of five (hey)  and mmerrill - I'm in the same boat. Nice boat to be in, no?


Though, I didn't really get the impression that Yale's history/theory wins out over GSD's, especially in regards to geographic/cultural diversity. Although both schools seem to have a very eurocentric focus in their core history/theory classes, there seemed to be greater diversity of options later at the GSD. In what way did you feel yale's h/t was stronger mmerrill?


And I felt the same way about the overall program in general as well. Like you guys pointed out, the homogeneity of Yale is a turn off.


So, I'm most definitely leaning towards the GSD. But Yale's got a small matter of a 10k/year edge on the financial aid front - and is a semester shorter.


Decisions, decisions.



Apr 12, 11 11:10 am

very interesting discussion indeed.  I would say that when i was looking at the 2 schools i found the exact opposite of what you describe, Yale being the more cutting edge and design based and Harvard geared more towards academia, history and theory.  Because of that I chose Yale, and would say that they program held up to that view the 3 years I was there.  Good luck with your decision.

Apr 12, 11 11:24 am

Echoing what tagalong said, this is such a profoundly personal decision. I was at the GSD open house last week, too. I didn't attend the Yale open house because I didn't apply to Yale. I'm not sure if Yale had a student panel similar to that at Harvard, but that was helpful in guiding me toward feeling that the GSD was a good place for me, meaning that I could find a way with my own distinct tastes/goals/interests. (The exception was the Stanford kid referring to the Somerville area as the 'GSD ghetto.' I nearly vomited at the precise depiction of elitism that I fucking hate about Harvard.)

The reality is that there may not be a 'best' place for you. It sounds like, understandably, you may be over-thinking it, and should just go with your gut. Best of luck.

Apr 12, 11 11:24 am
vado retro

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Apr 12, 11 12:09 pm

Don't forget to look at the required curriculum, credits dedicated to core, etc... 

nb: GSD cumulates with Thesis (at least for MArch1) whereas Yale has extra year of option studios
Apr 12, 11 1:31 pm

How specifically did you all feel that the Yale student body was homogeneous? I couldn't attend the open house, because I'm in another hemisphere right now, but am going to accept their offer of admission. Based on my visit in the fall, the finacial aid offer, and what I know about the curriculum it wasn't a though decision given my other options (GSD wasn't one of them, I didn't apply there). But even with all of that I can't anticipate what my classmates are going to be like.

Apr 14, 11 7:44 am
Token AE


You seem to be fishing for a lot of people's portfolio, going so far as to email me requesting mine. If people want to share them publicly, they will- no need to beg everyone.

Apr 14, 11 10:07 am

eisenmann is 78 - so he will slow down - don't just go one over the other for that reason.

Apr 15, 11 9:20 am

Decision day people.

I'm listening to my gut and goin to the GSD. See you there Beezely.

five of five, mmerrill - where are you headed? How did you decide? 

Apr 15, 11 9:53 am
five of five

GSD for me too. Also more or less a gut feeling.

Apr 15, 11 12:32 pm

so i'm guessing there's a fresh batch of folks in this same boat again, and i am one of them. i thought by now i'd have a clear sense of which one is better for me, but instead i feel i can find distinct advantages/attractions for each! would love to hear what others in the same situation are thinking...

Mar 15, 13 4:19 pm

Cool conversation, bros.

Mar 15, 13 5:01 pm

any thoughts anybody? gsd vs ysoa m.arch I..thoughts from current students, admitted students, alumni?

Mar 18, 13 3:51 am

why do you want to go to grad school? 

Both programs are fantastic. But they're both different. Depends on you.

Mar 18, 13 11:05 am

@james petty\

going to grad school has always been on my mind. I want to pursue that professional license and one day practice as an architect. I love to learn in school and not just produce merely cool things. at the same time, I embrace quality craftsmanship and techniques. 

I want to know what are some people's thought after attending and knowing these schools much better than I do

Mar 18, 13 4:18 pm

by your description, you should go to a state school and save yourself a lot of money.

You can obtain an accredited degree and be a practicing architect at many schools. Craftsmanship and techniques? That's not really at either one of these schools. What do you actually want? I would assume you wrote it in your intention letter?

Mar 18, 13 4:27 pm

Are any of the 2 schools Harvard/yale into sustainability like Oregon or Berkley ,

Isn't that future if architecture? Or are they emphasizing that now ?

Mar 18, 13 4:44 pm

Quality of life has always been an aspect of architecture. Yale does not focus too much on it. I think the best schools to go to if you strategically want to focus only on that would be west coast ones. 

Mar 18, 13 4:55 pm

Personally, I'm looking for a broad approach to the discipline, with a strong theoretical backing...I get the sense that the GSD program is definitely more diverse (specially with the  options for students to take landscape and urban planning and design studios) but Yale has a more theoretical bent...Am I totally misguided?

Ultimately after graduating I think I would like to be able to operate from the edge of architecture - I'm really interested in the research + publishing aspects of the discipline. I would love to hear thoughts on which program might be better for pursuing these interests?

Mar 19, 13 9:59 am

The GSD is lucky that they have a Landscape and Urban program so likely have more options than we (YSoA) do. We have a few landscape elective courses per year (Joel Sanders has been teaching a few) and there's one class on British Landscapes which is in England now. And there tends to be one advanced studio in the fall dedicated to Landscape.

As far as urbanism, most of our studios are more urban projects than individual buildings.

I would agree on Yale having a more theoretical bent. It's not overly so though and not all of the students are into heavy theory. But many are. I personally always think of the GSD as a design school and YSOA as a thinking school. So your interests in research and publications might do well here. You likely know Perspecta. Have you seen a new journal that started last Fall, called Process? It's all Yallies. And Log seems to be more and more Yale professors or former students. Obviously students from all the big schools have good opportunities to research and write though.

Mar 19, 13 10:25 am

and im not sure what you consider "cutting edge." Our main "cutting edge" in house people would be Mark Foster Gage (cant stop talking about Lady Gaga) and Ariane Harrison (interest in post-humanism). They're always around and teaching. This year we had Tom Wiscombe and Zaha in advance studios. Zaha obviously not being very hands-on but Tom was here a lot. Student work was interesting. Gregg Lynn comes every other year i think. But that depends if you consider them "cutting edge."

Mar 19, 13 10:33 am

@ James Petty

Thanks for sharing your insights, I found them very helpful. I guess I had sensed the same differences between the two schools, but I like your way of putting it - a design school vs a thinking school.

As for the cutting edge bit - sorry that was my mistake, poor word choice. What I meant was edge as in periphery, I think I might like to explore some of the tangential paths from architecture, and since I'm not quite sure what exactly those might be (at least the less conventional ones) I am hoping I'd gain some exposure to these types of possibilities at grad school...

Thanks again for your (as always) helpful input!

Mar 19, 13 1:56 pm


Great insights from previous years. I'm facing this decision as well. As I know a few GSD people but none from Yale, I'm biased towards the former.  Anyone else aware of major differences between the two (Yale's focus on building systems etc) and how those differences impacted their decision?

Mar 20, 14 8:48 am


I'm in the same boat as well this year. I'm curious if what @mmerill said is accurate about how you might receive more individual attention at Yale than GSD due to the GSDs integration with Planning and Landscape. But I'm sure that integration provides alot of great opportunities as well. Decisions, decisions. 

Mar 20, 14 1:35 pm


It may be a biased sample, but I was struck by how similar the Yale portfolios on Issuu are - both in terms of graphic design and also the works themselves. What makes this weird is that, as far as my friends and I could tell from critiques during open houses, the work presented then were far from homogeneous.

I get the impression that the GSD is more about "thinking", as ambivalent as that might sound, with all those puzzle-like assignments in the first year while Yale leans more towards "building", its students already working on full buildings and the Vlock building project by the first year. Along similar lines, Yale seems to be more focused on the process of building - construction, systems integration, sustainability - these days than the GSD.

Dean Stern said during the open house couple years ago that Yale, by virtue of its smaller class and singular focus on architecture, boasts superior resources per student. That might translate into the bigger doses of individual attention that some have mentioned here.

Mar 20, 14 6:17 pm

How do you get the impression that Yale is more concerned with sustainability than the GSD? I get the opposite impression, since the GSD has Kiel Moe and Ecological Urbanism etc.

Mar 21, 14 12:19 am

I got the impression from an Open House I attended in 2011, where I heard some faculty talking about it as something they want to emphasize in the Building Integrated Systems (?) curriculum. To be fair, I don't know enough about students' work to say if this has actually been done. As for the GSD, the impression was just based on students' work and again, I realize its not a complete picture.

Mar 21, 14 12:37 am

Hey, everyone. I am faced with the same decision of GSD vs. Yale for M.Arch I. 

I have only visited the GSD before, and I felt like the program was a good fit for me and the facilities were impressive. My notion of Yale is not so strong, as I've never visited and my only impression of the school has been through the internet (this website mostly.)

GSD, at first sight, seems to be the obvious choice. Bigger school, multidisciplinary collaboration among programs, very culturally and racially diverse. It offers strong connections around the globe, and seems to be more cosmopolitan.

Yale, on the other hand, seems traditionally inclined and very conservative (one only has to look at their admitted student materials vs. those Harvard sent.) My architecture history professor, being an old man himself, referred to the Yale faculty as "bordering retirement." I completed my undergrad at a small liberal arts college, and thus YSOA's size seems like a better fit.

On the Financial Aid front, the GSD has an edge again. I really do feel like I know where I'm naturally leaning towards--but I won't get the chance to visit Yale during the Open House and I'm struggling making an objective decision.

Any thoughts are highly appreciated!

Mar 26, 14 2:18 am

I've been looking into the syllabus of both schools and speaking to students. This are a couple things I've learned:

  • New GSD Pedagogy: With Inaki Abalos' appointment as Chair of the Architecture department since July 2013, 'thermodynamics' has been introduced to the design curricula, to the complaints of some students - mostly those with an architectural background. Gone from First Year Core Studio is Preston Scott Cohen's geometric-heavy Lock project, a past favorite. Instead, two projects based on thermodynamics have been added. Is thermodynamics all about sustainable design? Hard to tell, but from what I gather, it seems to be as much about atmospheric design as it is about energy matters (Warm vs cool spaces). The initial syllabus (You can find those online) seem a bit too eager to integrate the thermodynamic components. But of course, new pedagogical direction aside, much remains at the discretion of individual studio instructors, especially for advanced studios.
  • 'Building' vs 'Thinking': At the risk of generalizing, I feel that Yale trains students to build - literally in the case of the Vlock project. The focus is on the 'building' itself. The GSD takes a more expansive approach, encouraging students to think of systems beyond and around the 'building'. This is based on reading Deans' interviews and speaking to students. But of course, building and thinking are hardly exclusive. From what I gather, Yale allows students plenty of room to think of amazing designs.
Mar 26, 14 5:49 am

I'm in the boat as you guys. Struggling between these two M.arch I programs.

Originally I was leaning towards the GSD but after speaking to some students, I'm not so sure about that now. Honestly, I'm little bit turned off by the 'Thermodynamics' thing which some current students have told me about. It just sounds too technical to me (though my undergrad major is Civil Engineering). Maybe I am wrong about what its real influence is on the first semester projects, but it sounds like we'll have to deal with some 'advanced' restrictions even from the earliest stages and it's just kind of discomforting.

However,we could also guess that, rather than 'restrictions', it might in fact be more like a 'theme', or 'direction' that governs the projects. If this is true, then I'd find it really interesting. 

As for Yale, a current student told me that it indeed pays more attention to 'building' and focuses more on 'space'. Besides, the facilities are better. However, it is not so diverse and maintains a more traditional way of thinking. My friend there described the people as thinkers, artists, scholarly and most of all, 'obstinate'(and actually, these all sound great to me).


Hmmm, it's hard to decide.

Mar 27, 14 12:16 am

From what I gather, the thermo stuff is pretty important for First and Third year studio assignments. Some student work have pulled it off pretty well, such as James Leng's thesis (Not sure if he did it under Abalos' tenure though). The Fourth Semester studios seem to have more leeway.

If anything, I worry that it is Not technical enough i.e. a wishy-washy middle ground between hard science and vague atmospheric jargon. If it's really about sustainable design, then wonderful. But if it is a house style for the next 3 - 4 years, then ...

With respect to facilities - could you elaborate? I liked Gund Hall a lot more than Rudolph Hall - its just a more inspiring space. Not as familiar with the fabrication facilities, other than that Yale enjoys a smaller class size.

Mar 27, 14 12:24 am

Found this lecture transcript pretty insightful into Inaki Abalos' pedagogical approach, especially with regards to thermodynamics.

Mar 27, 14 12:37 am

Hey monosierra, thanks for sharing the link for the lecture.

For the facilities, yes I did mean fabrication facilities. Lots of people told me that the model shop in Yale is really powerful and I think some detailed information about it is covered in the admission letter.

Mar 27, 14 1:17 am

@monosierra Thx for your insights and work in keeping this thread going...

I was also accepted to both yale and gsd m.arch I, but made the decision to commit to gsd. Seems like an easier choice than you're making it out to be, unless there's a difference in aid from either school. I don't see class size as appreciably different - 55-65 for gsd, 55 for yale.

Your thoughts on the thermodynamic direction at gsd are well thought-out. But I don't think there's need to be concerned with this being a wishy-washy fad gone in a few years. I've been struck particularly by kiel moe's thoughts on it; here's a lecture he gave at archleague nyc:

Also read platform6. Seems like an exciting paradigm shift to me, the sort of thing I don't see coming out of yale. As you've pointed out, one of the big differences between the schools is yale's building project - but if you know already how to build a house using conventional methods (as I do) and already know how to use a drill, then what's the benefit gained by this? Much more intriguing to me are the questions posed by Moe and others at the gsd in conceptualizing architecture in new ways - whether labeled thermodynamics or not. 

@Huguesnix Have you seen both gsd and yale facilities? As @monosierra pointed out, Gund is an amazing building to work in, and I'm not sure there's a qualitative difference between fabrication facilities. If I'm wrong in this, please elaborate.

Mar 27, 14 11:18 am

Thanks guys.

I was biased towards the GSD to begin with - an enjoyable Career Discovery, more contacts, and Cambridge being prettier than New Haven - but didn't want to make a decision based on these trivial reasons alone.

@ Cheuke - You crystallized my thoughts on the Vlock project. It really is the embodiment of Yale's more traditional approach - the focus on actually building something (A positive) and the mundanity of doing so (A negative). Although I have yet to build a house, I do wonder if the lessons learned justify the investment made. Seems that the most valuable skill gained is project management experience - but that only accrues to the project leaders.

As a design novice with a instinct for the practical, I suspect that I would settle into my comfort zone at YSOA. But I really want to expand my thinking and leverage both my professional experience as a financial analyst and knowledge of stuff outside arch (Econ, history, etc). While I can probably do that at Yale as well, the GSD seems to be a more conducive environment.

Thanks for the Moe lecture. It shows a larger picture of TD's role in design. I'm warming up to it (pun unintended).

Mar 27, 14 11:50 am

For those who were able to make it to the open house at both gsd and yale: any additional insights into the two programs?

Apr 5, 14 5:06 pm

Decision day is fast approaching... Anyone made up his/her mind so far? Not able to attend the open house at either school, I am heavily relying on RETROSPECTA 36/ PLATFORM 6 as well as information from current students. 


One GSD m.arch I student (with an undergrad b.a in arch from Yale) recently told me that  "Yale emphasizes cultivating you as an author to carry your concept to spatial form and representation, while the GSD actually teaches you the most important architectural lesson of all: to manage and deal with all sorts of variables, possibilities, and factors beyond your control, and still make great architecture from it."

However, she also mentioned that some students without architecture backgrounds "actually often say that they wish they went to Yale because they feel that it would have been more cultivating of their own work. They feel like GSD just throws a lot of stuff at them when they don't even know how to have a concept yet." 

It seems to me that the diversity and the bigger perspective in thinking really distinguish the GSD from other schools. However, with a non-architecture background, I am quite unsure if I can really make the best of these. Perhaps going to school like Yale, where I can cultivate some basic architectural skills as well as more understanding about traditional architectural way of thinking , suits me better. That said, a curious fact is that GSD's M.arch I program actually have more students with non-arch backgrounds every year. 

Apr 10, 14 6:27 am

GSD teaches you to be an a-hole, not sure where Yale stands with a-holiness factor.

Apr 10, 14 4:19 pm

Holy cow!  I just glanced at this thread and realized that I wrote letters of rec for this poster all those years ago.

Small, small world...

Apr 10, 14 6:00 pm

Howdy ya'll, so I just got back from both their open houses and while I am pretty evenly split, I have generalized the decision between the two as this (and I could be totally off so forgive me):

It really comes down to large versus small.

At Yale, you will have around 50 people in your class. And because it is JUST an architecture school (no landscape or urban design), there are about 250 people in that building. So small environment and community. The biggest generalization/criticism I've heard about Yale is that it isn't a very diverse program. That may hold some amount of truth with the regular faculty, but they supplement this by bringing in an extremely diverse group of extremely renowned visiting faculty: Zaha, Greg Lynn, Tom Wiscombe, Dan Wood, Daniel Libeskind, Todd Williams (the list goes on). Also you have people like Mark Gage/Brennan Buck combined with people like Peter Eisenman/Bob Stern, all of whom are regular faculty, all with wide ranges of interests. So all in all, it may seem like an "old white mans club" on the surface, but you'll find that they do an amazing job at presenting a diverse menu of courses and ways of thinking at the school.

At Harvard you have around 70 people in your class (you start with 50 I think and then the AP people get added on the second year), and there are around 700 people in that building because of the Landscape, Urban Design, and other programs.  So the GSD feels like, and is, an much bigger school. With the large size comes diversity in ways of thinking and people because you have a larger pool of faculty at the school. They offer a larger catalogue of courses, so you have some more choices when it comes to picking your path. My problem with the GSD is that it feels rudderless; I couldn't identify a guiding pedagogy while I was there, and I think thats partly because there are so many more people there, and it could be easy to get lost among that. But I think that if you are a student who knows what you are about, you shouldn't have a problem with this.

At each university you have an amazing menu of courses to choose from, and if you are smart about which electives and which faculty you take studio with, you can compose your education around whatever interest you may have. So it comes down to what type of environment you feel comfortable in: a large community, or a small community, both of which have their ups and downs.

That's just my 2 cents. Personally, I still have no idea which one I'm going choose.

(Also, I have no idea why I lead this with "Howdy y'all". It just sort of happened.)

Apr 10, 14 11:15 pm

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