Getting into a school of architecture

I've been interested in architecture since 9th grade, I'm now a senior getting ready to apply and I just found out over the summer that many of the architecture schools I want to attend require a portfolio when you apply. I've never taken any art classes or done a real portfolio and I'm wondering if I can still get in even if my portfolio isn't that good because all I have is a simple sketchbook that I've drawn in. I have talked to a few people and they say that art classes in high school would have been the only way to get in because that's where you assemble your portfolio(s). I'm getting discouraged because I really want to go to a good school but I never took art and I'm afraid my work/portfolio won't be good enough compared to people who have taken art in highschool. I know there are a few that don't require a portfolio but they're only 4 year majors and I was sure that architecture was a 5 year major. Any help would be greatly appreciated to point me in the right direction and whether or not to apply to colleges that do require a portfolio or ones that do not.
Aug 27, 13 9:52 am

There are two major paths to Architecture.  There's the 4+2 (BS or BA in architecture + M.Arch) or 5+1 (B.Arch + M.Arch) With the 5 year program, you have a professional degree and can work on obtaining your license without the M.Arch.  Either path is acceptable even though some people might have a preference towards one.  I took the 4+2 route and it's worked out pretty well for me so far.  Most colleges that don't require a portfolio to get in require one after the second year to continue so basically you apply and get in based on merit and then have 2 years to create work for a portfolio (so make sure you're always documenting your projects and having your portfolio in mind).   

I would recommend drawing some still lifes for your portfolio to show your ability to represent space.  Maybe you have a project that you did during high school which you helped represent design wise (an infographic for some class project that showed how the Mongals conquered the world?).  Take a bunch of photos and pick some really cool ones that show your understanding of composition rule of thirds.  Build a piece of furniture (chair, or even a small planter pot? From recycled materials to show you're environmentally conscious?) and show your process from sketch to reality.  It shouldn't take too long and it would be great for going into school.  Create small projects that look at architectural/urban issues in your community.  Volunteer for habitat for humanity or some other community organization and put photos of you building something.        

Aug 27, 13 10:23 am


If you are really concerned about it you could always do a year of school at a community college focusing on art and other things that would also work to reduce your credit load at arch school. I did 32 credits at my local cc and got out of 25 at my arch undergrad ... saved me like ten grand too. However, I had  been accepted prior to my year at CC even though I never took formal art classes in high school.


Aug 27, 13 10:43 am
Thanks I was wondering if computer made buildings and drawings would be needed to put in the portfolio as well (if I decide to do a portfolio), but what are some good architecture schools to keep in mind that don't necessarily require portfolios?
Aug 27, 13 5:31 pm

No, you don't necessarily need "computer made buildings" and drawings; it's almost too early in your career.  Look at the list of NAAB schools, if they are listed as just having an M.Arch, they usually have a BS/BA Arch counterpart.  Find the ones that you'd be interested in attending and then look up their website and see what degree programs they offer.  Look at the student work and try to find ones that have the best looking student work, schedule visits to the schools and check out their architecture college.  I don't know any off the top of my head besides Nebraska since I went there.  After getting out and working in the professional world, I've really come to appreciate Nebraska's pedagogy.  I work on the East Coast and I am (surprisingly) not impressed with any of the schools in this area. 

Architecture school is what you make it though,  you aren't likely to innately become a skilled designer without pushing yourself hard in school.  Try to learn Rhino, Revit, rendering in 3DS Max, SketchUp, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe InDesign.  Know each of their strengths and weaknesses and use them as tools to create great architecture, not generators of your designs.  Know architects and buildings by reading blogs like ArchDaily, DesignBoom, Domus, Architizer, and of course Archinect.  Post your list if you'd like my personal opinion of them but it all comes down to you making the best decision for yourself.         

Aug 28, 13 7:16 am
I live on the east coast actually, in the state of South Carolina so I'm trying to find good schools that are generally close. My top 5 are: Clemson university, Georgia tech, Virginia polytechnic institute and state university, Ohio state university, and university of Southern California.
Aug 28, 13 1:22 pm

For the most part they seem like great school choices.  Clemson recently built a new architecture building that looks great.  I like their fluid campus idea of learning elsewhere and the student work looks great, there was a nice live/work posted a while ago that looked well thought out and nicely designed.  GIT is also good, Nader Tehrani (NADAAA & MIT architecture head) did their renovation.  They are a big college so I'd imagine you'd have plenty of opportunities to branch outside of the architecture realm and take classes that are in something like industrial design.  The student work at GIT seems a little busy and formalist at times from looking at the student gallery.  VaTech I'm a little iffy on.  They've always been a stalwart architecture school but the portfolios that my work has received from there haven't impressed me at all which was very surprising.  They seem dated in their pedagogy with a lot of focus on hand drawings and collages.  That being said their design build is great.  What about UVa? OSU's student work seems tepid but that might be because I'm bias against them being from a Big 10 School.  What about Cinci if you're thinking Ohio?  California has a lot of good choices for schools with UCLA, USC, UC - Berk, Cal Poly. These are merely my own opinions so make sure to visit them and figure out which one is the best fit. 

Aug 29, 13 8:20 am

Look before you leap. Architecture is a notoriously expensive education that extends years after 5 or 6 years of  college and has low employment and poor salaries. Read some of the threads here on the difficulty of finding jobs, paying off student loans, etc.

Aug 29, 13 12:17 pm

OP, do what keeps you AWAKE.  Eight plus hours is a long clip every day.

Aug 29, 13 2:52 pm

To clarify, you don't need to spend six years in school to get a NAAB-accredited degree. You can find a five-year option here:

Also, you won't have to submit a portfolio until you apply to the professional degree program. You won't do that as a freshman regardless of where you go to school. The soonest you'll do it will be between your second and third year in school. By that time, you'll have taken enough art and arch classes to build a portfolio of work.

Aug 29, 13 3:23 pm


I was wondering about that since I passed on the 5 year option when I was 17.  It didn't ask for a portfolio, IIR.  It was all GPA/SAT/letters driven, and they seemed to expect that you learn as you go.  They would teach you graphics along the way, beginning freshman year.  The presumption, of course, is that you were somewhat capable in three dimensional expression, maybe by having taken some art or drafting courses in high school, or having taken art lessons the way some people take music lessons, and NOT because you though architecture was oh-so cool.  Going in after high school really allows one to build graphic skills more slowly and revel in the experience while being 18 to 23, and doing the other goofball things they should be doing.

On the other hand, for a 3+ graduate degree, the portfolio is the keystone, and thus makes acquiring these skills PRIOR to schooling a big part of the equation.  As a bachelor's student (5 year, or even 4 year), you can switch to another curriculum.  From the 3+ graduate, you can only really drop out.

Aug 29, 13 3:33 pm

Find a school that suits you:  One that doesn't throw a bunch of stigma about the profession, but rather encourages you to explore what you wanna do.  let's face it:  the world is full of people who make career moves based on fear.   Please, young Architect, don't fall into that trap.  And fer GAWD's sake, don't listen to people who tell you to just 'keep your head down', or 'pay your dues', etc,etc.   But please - do make sure that you are worth it.  Don't be some arrogant, BMW-cravin' 23yr old outta skool.   Take a deep breath & go git 'em in your 10yr old Honda.

Aug 31, 13 3:31 pm

You should also take into consideration the type of learning you prefer. Certain universities focus on hands-on learning, whereas others teach the more theoretical side of architecture. I attend Cal Poly Pomona in California, and both Cal Polys (San Luis Obispo and Pomona) do the hands-on approach. We tend to build a lot of things in order to learn: We make not only models, but furniture pieces and other things. We are a more practical school, but other schools in the area like SCI-Arc focus on design in a more abstract sense.

Sep 1, 13 9:41 pm

^is that actually pragmatic?

While I am all for schools that emphasize making I don't really see it as the "practical" model. Don't get me wrong, depending on what you want to do i think it's a great way to go, as are more theoretical schools, or formal/technological schools (I'm not sure if I would call SCI-arch as a "theory" school). However, I think "practical" schools are those which emphasize the technical skills common to the profession, those who are all about 'comprehensive' design.

Is that fair?

Sep 2, 13 12:34 pm


I'm surprised that the Cal Polys have a course or a studio where they have you design or build pieces of furniture.  I think I saw that as an elective on UVa's list of courses when I was applying.  It was a turn off.  I would want to use my electives for practical things such as building programming, estimating, and in, core courses, I would rather watch them stress concrete than be building cable-stayed tents.  If they had to be theoretical, since some schools ask that some of the electives be reserved for that, I would have been interested in deepening my skills in architectural criticism or deepening my knowledge of an architectural period I was fond of.

Sep 2, 13 1:20 pm
What are some top schools that all of you prefer or good choices because I've definitely looked at California as a place to take my creativeness to but I want schools that just have a good all around feeling, the atmosphere and energy is right so that my interest keeps flowing; along with my imagination so all around what are good schools to consider across the country?
Sep 5, 13 12:01 am

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