For many architects, the passion to design and create is lifelong. You may think that by knowing you want to pursue a career in architecture, the hard part of your educational choices is already over. In fact, it’s just beginning. You may know what major you’d like to pursue, but you still have to decide where to go for your studies. The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) recognizes more than 120 architecture schools in the United States alone. How do you choose the right one for you?

There are so many factors to consider when selecting an undergraduate architecture program. Should you choose an art school or an Ivy League university? Are you more interested in small class sizes or affordable price tags? Do you want a school where studying abroad is a major and required part of the educational experience, or one where international travel is just one of many options for gaining hands-on work experience? To help you decide, here are profiles of the top 10 undergraduate architecture degree programs. All offer accredited, professional Bachelor in Architecture degree programs that have recently received high rankings from industry leaders.

1. Cornell University

When the Greenway Group published its 2015 annual rankings of the nation’s best undergraduate architecture schools in the report DesignIntelligence, Cornell University topped the list. The Ithaca, NY-based school also ranked in the top third of the QS Top 100 Universities in the World for Architecture list, Arch Record reported. Of course, Cornell isn’t known solely for its excellent architecture education. The university as a whole has received favorable rankings, with U.S. News & World Report listing the school among the best national universities, best value schools, most innovative schools and best global universities.

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What should you expect if you enroll in Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning? As with most undergraduate architecture programs, a full-time student will spend five years earning their bachelor of architecture (B.Arch.) degree. The first three years of a Cornell architecture student’s education focus on building a foundation of basic conceptual knowledge through a core curriculum that includes introductory to intermediate studies in structures, representation, design and architecture history. Later, students take advanced architecture classes and interdisciplinary courses. During the course of their studies, students have the chance to pursue one of several concentrations, including:

  • Architectural Analysis
  • Architectural Science and Technology
  • Architecture, Culture, and Society
  • History of Architecture
  • Visual Representation in Architecture

Naturally, design is an important part of any architecture program. While Cornell architecture students will cultivate skills in the design studio at every level (and during every semester) of their studies, they will also delve into the history, theory, representation, structures and technology of architecture. The opportunity to spend a semester studying in Rome makes Cornell University a great choice for aspiring architects who also have a passion for international travel.

Location: Ithaca, NY

Enrollment: 14,453 undergraduate students

Tuition: $47,286

2. California Polytechnic State University

The California Polytechnic State University made the list – several of them, in fact. Not only did the Greenway Group rank the school’s undergraduate architecture program second in the nation, but the institution has found its way onto numerous lists published by U.S. News & World Report, including:

  • Best regional universities (tied for 10th place)
  • Best colleges for veterans (again, tied for 10th place)
  • Top public schools (ranked number one in the United States)

The program also has a claim to fame as “one of the largest architectural programs in the United States,” with an enrollment of more than 850 full-time undergraduate architecture students.

At the Cal Poly College of Architecture and Environmental Design, undergraduate students will get an education in the “polytechnic tradition” – one that combines art and science to help you develop all of the skills you will need to plan and design exceptional architecture. The off-campus program allows students to visit, study and intern in far-off places such as:

  • Copenhagen
  • Florence
  • Paris
  • Rome
  • San Francisco
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand

Students emerge from the five-year program, accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), prepared to take the Architectural Registration Exams. The program’s hands-on, “learn by doing” curriculum gives students the foundational skills they need to succeed in the three-year professional internship required to attain a state license. With tuition costs of just $9,000 for in-state students, a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cal Poly is among the more affordable choices. The school’s consistently high rankings mean you don’t have to sacrifice quality for savings.

Location: San Luis Obispo, CA

Enrollment: 19,246 undergraduate students

Tuition: $9,000 in-state; $20,160 out-of-state

3. Rice University

Rice UniversityIMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Rice University earned the double distinction of making both the graduate and undergraduate top 10 lists in Design Intelligence. Students in the undergraduate program at Rice will complete coursework in architecture history, theory, practice and technology. Throughout their education, they will progress from learning the foundation of architecture to intermediate architecture studies and finally professional studies. Studio experience is an integral part of the undergraduate architecture program at Rice from day one. Every semester, students complete studio work in addition to their coursework in the classroom.

In some ways, the Rice School of Architecture is the opposite of California Polytechnic State University’s program. With just 125 students enrolled at any time, the undergraduate architecture program at Rice bills itself as “the smallest professional degree program situated within a top research university.” This small program size translates to plenty of individual attention for the students who earn their B.Arch. from Rice.

Rice University is a great choice for students who want to gain real-world experience working on long-term projects with prestigious architectural firms even before they graduate. Third-year students collaborate with local and global civic leaders as part of their design studio work. Fourth year students develop their own research and design proposals before they receive their Bachelor of Arts degree.  Through the Rice Preceptorship Program, fifth-year students can complete a year-long practicum in places like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and Paris before returning to school for a final year of professional studies. At the end of their six-year education and training endeavor, students receive their Bachelor of Architecture degree – and are already one year into their professional experience requirements.

Location: Houston, TX

Enrollment: 3,926 undergraduate students

Tuition: $41,560

4. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

 Besides earning the number-four place in the Greenway Group’s top 10 undergraduate architecture list, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has found a place on numerous rankings published by U.S. News & World Report, including:

  • Best global universities
  • Best colleges for veterans
  • Top public schools
  • Best national universities

At Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, students spend the first year of their studies completing a foundation program. They learn about the design process, tools to create two- and three-dimensional designs and design concepts, working alongside students in landscape architecture, interior design and industrial design programs.

By the second year, undergraduate architecture students begin their professional studies. They learn about the human, environmental and technological factors involved in building design and practical and artistic expressions of architecture fundamentals.  In the classroom and the design studio, third-year students at Virginia Tech study design principles, technical application and the makings of quality architectural structures. During their fourth year of study, students can build their skills while taking part in an off-campus program such as:

  • The Extern Program
  • The Chicago Studio
  • The Washington-Alexandria Center
  • The Study Abroad Program

Fifth-year students create a portfolio of designs through independent studies guided by individual faculty advisors. The final year of the program, Virginia Tech reports, is “comparable to graduate studies” in that students develop in-depth knowledge and skills and complete a terminal project.

Location: Blacksburg, VA

Enrollment: 24,247undergraduate students

Tuition: $12,017 (in-state); $27,444 (out-of-state)

5. Syracuse University

Syracuse University
IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Fifth on Greenway Group’s top 10 undergraduate programs list is Syracuse University. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the institution among the best national universities, best value schools, best colleges for veterans and best global universities.

The first three years of an undergraduate program at the Syracuse University School of Architecture focus on a core curriculum that teaches students the fundamentals of design concepts, technology, the history and theory of architectural design and how to view the world through an architectural lens. Students gain hands-on skills in the design studio through drawing and multimedia exercises. By their second year, Syracuse architecture students are already developing their own individual design methodologies. Students also have the opportunity to take their education out of the classroom and off-campus, either at the Syracuse University School of Architecture’s studio in New York City or by traveling abroad in Florence or London.

Year four of an architecture student’s education brings advanced studio work, complete with prominent architects acting as critics. During an undergraduate student’s fifth and final year of study, he or she will complete a design thesis and create a design proposal to compete against fellow students’ work.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Enrollment: 15,224 undergraduate students

Tuition: $41,794

6. University of Texas at Austin

Besides being ranked the sixth best undergraduate architecture program in the country, the University of Texas at Austin also has the distinction of being named among the best value colleges by the Princeton Review, Kiplinger and Forbes in recent years. The school also made the QS Top 100 Universities in the World for Architecture list. U.S. News & World Report named the University of Texas at Austin on the following lists:

  • Top public schools
  • Best value colleges
  • Best colleges for veterans
  • National universities
  • Global universities

The University of Texas at Austin has a long history of providing a professional architecture education, offering its first professional degrees in 1910. Today, the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture offers both a five-year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree and a four-year, pre-professional Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies degree. Students can also opt to earn two degrees through one of the school’s two dual degree programs. Dual degree program combinations include the Bachelor of Architecture/Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering, which takes a full six years of study, and the Bachelor of Architecture/Bachelor of Arts, which requires five years of full-time study plus summer courses. Students who intend to complete their educational preparation for an architect career during their undergraduate studies should enroll in one of the professional programs to develop the design skills and experience they will need for their work.

Architecture students at the University of Texas at Austin have plenty of opportunity to develop and engage their design skills outside the classroom. Popular study abroad choices include the Study in Italy program based in Tuscany, the Europe Program and Studio Mexico. In their later studies, honors students can also gain work experience through a professional residency program that will pair them with an architectural firm in one of 29 nations.

Throughout their studies, students will develop a foundation in design, visual communication, construction, environmental controls and the history and theory of architecture. Even in their lower-division courses, students have the opportunity to develop their skills through hands-on work in studio format classes. At under $10,000 per year for in-state students, the program is an excellent value for aspiring architects in Texas.

Location: Austin, Texas

Enrollment: 39,523 undergraduate students

Tuition: $9,876 (in-state); $35,606 (out-of-state)

7. Rhode Island School of Design

For students who crave individual attention in their studies, the Rhode Island School of Design is an excellent choice. At the private fine arts school of only 2,014 total undergraduate students, the average class size is just 16 students.

The five-year professional Bachelor of Architecture program includes a heavy focus on design studio, where students cultivate their technical and artistic design skills and inspire one another. The objectives of an undergraduate architecture education at the Rhode Island School of Design are twofold: to learn to create architecture and to understand the complexities, and responsibilities, of work as an architect. In addition to studying technical aspects of creating architecture, students cultivate skills in thinking critically, expressing ideas through drawing and building models and creating architecture with a range of different materials.

During their first year of study, architecture students develop a foundation in design, drawing and special dynamics as well as beginning liberal arts courses for a well-rounded education. As sophomores, they cover design principles, historical and modern architecture, wood structures and architectural and structural analysis. In addition to studying steel and concrete structures and urban design principles, junior architecture students begin the advanced studio work they will continue to conduct through years four and five. Senior students also focus on environmental design, while fifth year students cover integrated building systems, principles of professional practice and complete intensive work on a degree project.

Location: Providence, RI

Enrollment: 2,014 undergraduate students

Tuition: $45,530

8. Southern California Institute of Architecture

Another small, private school to make Greenway Group’s Best U.S. Undergraduate Architecture Schools list is the Southern California Institute of Architecture. With an enrollment of just 500 students and an 80-member faculty made up primarily of practicing architects, the independent school offers its students plenty of individual attention and a fluid learning environment where students can explore the discipline and test the limits of architecture. Despite its status as one of the few “independent” architecture schools in the nation, students can rest assured that their curriculum meets the high standards set for accreditation by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

The Southern California Institute of Architecture, or SCI-Arc, has consistently ranked well regionally, nationally and globally. Assessment surveys have noted the school’s excellence in analysis and planning, computer applications, construction methods and materials, cross-disciplinary teamwork, design, research and theory and sustainable design.

The core of the Bachelor of Architecture curriculum at SCI-Arc comprises design studios and courses in visual studies, media and technology and architecture history and theory. Students also take upper-level classes in professional practice and interdisciplinary seminars that tie architecture into the arts, sciences and humanities. Studying at SCI-Arc prepares students with more than technical expertise and conceptual and practical skills – they also achieve personal growth, proficiency in thinking critically and an understanding of the theoretical and practical design issues that face contemporary architects, like the need for sustainability.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Enrollment: 500 undergraduate students

Tuition: $41,120

9. Pratt Institute

In addition to being ranked ninth in the nation among undergraduate architecture schools, Pratt Institute ranks among the top 20 regional universities as published by U.S. News & World Report.

During the course of their undergraduate architecture education at Pratt Institute, students will complete 170 credits. Most of these credits come from core architecture courses in subjects that include design theory and practice, graphic communication, construction technology and humanistic design aspects. Required liberal arts studies in topics like cultural studies, humanities and media studies, mathematics and science and social science serve to balance out a student’s education.

Because the Pratt University School of Architecture enrolls just 722 undergraduate students, its Bachelor of Architecture education is highly personalized. By the end of their third year of study, students have typically completed most of the basic coursework required for a career in architecture. Year four begins a unique curriculum as individual students combine architectural electives to delve deep into a subject area like architecture history and theory, building technology, construction management, design, planning, preservation or urban design. Students complete their education with an in-depth design study that culminates in a degree project.

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Enrollment: 3,143 undergraduate students

Tuition: $44,580

10. University of Southern California

Rounding out Greenway Group’s list of the top 10 undergraduate architecture programs is the University of Southern California (USC). The school also finds a home on the QS Top 100 Universities in the World for Architecture list. U.S. News & World Report lists USC on numerous rankings, including lists like:

  • Most innovative schools
  • Best value schools
  • Best colleges for veterans
  • Best national universities
  • Best global universities

In addition to its five-year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree, the USC School of Architecture also offers a four-year Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies and an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science in GeoDesign degree. Of course, aspiring architects who seek preparation for a professional internship experience and ultimately a license should pursue the professional B.Arch. program.

What should you expect from the B.Arch. program at USC? You’ll jump right into your architectural studies from the first year of enrollment, but you’ll also combine courses in your major with general education classes throughout your education. The first two years will focus on introductory work, and in year three, you will progress to integrative studies. Required coursework includes classes in architectural design, architecture in relation to culture and community, building structures, construction materials and methods, the fundamentals of design communication, world history of architecture, pre-calculus and physics for architects.

In the second cycle of your studies, you’ll spend the final two years of your education exploring various types of architecture and working on your own strengths in the aspects of the discipline that most interest you. During your fifth year, you’ll complete a comprehensive design studio project in conjunction with courses in professional practice and research in the design studio.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Enrollment: 18,740 undergraduate students

Tuition: $49,464

For Further Reading: 

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