Architecture School and Career Advice
Graduate programs in architecture schools offer a variety of options, including architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, interior design, and historic preservation. Most architecture schools offer professional Masters degrees in fields like these; some allow students to couple a Masters with a PhD. Different schools offer different emphases and approaches to each of these degrees, which may shift over time with changes of leadership. The structure of their programs may vary as well; for example, sometimes architecture schools are housed together with urban planning, and sometimes they are completely separated. Because graduate programs can vary a lot, it’s not always easy to understand what to expect of a given program ahead of time. What follows is our attempt to help you try.
1) Some Useful Things to Know
Program duration: For students who do not receive a B.Arch. degree (an undergraduate degree from an accredited architecture school), the Masters of Architecture (M.Arch) program usually lasts three years, and sometimes includes the summer before the first year. Other degree programs may be shorter, or, in the case of joint PhD degrees, longer. It’s best to check carefully with each school what a given degree program entails.
Typical admissions requirements are some coursework in the history of architecture (to establish familiarity with common reference points for design); a college-level course in physics and in calculus (to help with courses on structures); and a design portfolio demonstrating aptitude in the visual arts, which need not be architectural but could feature or include work in other media (such as photography, graphic design, or other work developed in Department of Visual Arts courses). The instructors of our architecture and urban design studio courses can give advice on the design portfolio.
Types of applicants: Graduate programs normally admit some students who do not have a professional studio background – our architecture studios fall into that category, since they are often a hybrid of design and academic inquiry and we do not offer a professional undergraduate degree in architecture – along with some students who do have such a degree. They welcome a mixed class and they judge applicants differently based on which background they bring. When writing recommendations, your instructors should indicate that our Architectural Studies program is a liberal arts program, not a professional one, to ensure that you’ll be appropriately assessed.
Becoming a licensed architect requires not only a B.Arch. or M.Arch. degree, but also a period of time working in a firm and a series of professional examinations, usually taken while working, several years after finishing graduate school. Many people who complete graduate programs in architecture and related fields, including some who work as architects for their entire lives, never become licensed. Considering whether licensure is a goal and, if not, what paths you do imagine seeking, may help you choose a graduate program.
Relationship of architecture school programs to work in an architecture firm: The day-to-day experience of studio work within graduate school may or may not resemble the day-to-day experience of work in a firm, for a city government, or elsewhere in the work world. Some programs emphasize the technical aspects of designing actual buildings more than others do; some of those programs include actual building along with design. Other programs may emphasize the experimental formal or conceptual aspects of design, and value strong graphic skills, especially digital ones, to express design ideas. These differences are worth considering.
The workload, workflow, pressure, and organization of time in professional architecture school programs will differ significantly from what you’ve experienced taking liberal arts courses at UChicago. In particular, studio, self-driven studio projects, and the conversations about them at reviews tend to eat up as much time as you’re willing and able to give them. The content of, treatment of, and freedom to choose courses beyond studio – and whether and how much non-studio courses are valued – varies substantially among programs and is worth paying attention to. Architecture school is not easy.
Programs outside North America tend to have different, often restrictive requirements for students who have not received a professional undergraduate degree. Many American graduate schools offer travel or exchange programs, and a handful of international schools may offer degrees for which you’d be eligible, especially in urbanism (as opposed to architecture proper).
2) Some Paths to Pursue to Learn More
- Look into admissions requirements: Take a look at two or three sample graduate program admissions websites to check on the background they expect applicants to have. University of Chicago students have done very well with admissions at leading architecture schools. It is not necessary to have majored in an architecture-related field, although you may find it helpful.
- Have an initial conversation with Ben Waltzer or Nely Rentas, both at Career Advancement, and/or Luke Joyner, who teaches studio courses here. (You can make an appointment with Ben or Nely here.) And don’t stop there. The more people you’re able to talk with – especially students who are currently in graduate programs like the ones that interest you – the better your sense will be of what to expect.
- Attend Architectural Studies’ annual virtual panel of alumni currently enrolled in graduate programs to hear about their experiences at different schools and to ask them questions. Held in Autumn Quarter, this event will be announced on the Architecture listserv.
- Consult one of these architecture career guides for an overview:
- Roger Lewis, Architect? A Candid Guide to the Profession, MIT Press, 3rd edition, 2013, available online through the library here.
- Lee Waldrep, Becoming an Architect, Wiley, 3rd edition, 2014. On order at library; check the online catalog.
- See the ArchCareersGuide website. It belongs to a commercial outfit but contains some useful basic information.
- Test the waters by enrolling in an architectural design studio offered through our Architectural Studies program, and/or enroll in a pre-professional summer program in architecture, such as Design Discovery at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, or YArch, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. There are many such programs throughout the US. Quite a number can be seen on this map. They’re designed to give people interested in architecture a foretaste of professional architecture school.
If you plan to apply to graduate programs:
- Make an appointment to talk with Ben Waltzer or Nely Rentas about graduate architecture school programs and architecture-related internships. Based at Career Advancement, they counsel students on careers in the arts. You can make an appointment here. Consider talking also with Luke Joyner, who teaches studio courses here, about the kinds of curricular and co-curricular experiences that might be useful for the paths that interest you, and how to put together a portfolio of your work. Don’t be a stranger; we’re here to help!
- Attend Chicago Architecture + Design College Day, a free event held annually on a Saturday in early October. Over 50 college and university representatives of professional programs in architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and construction management will be available to provide information and answer questions on their respective degree programs. See the details and a list of participants here.
Above all, try your best not to be intimidated. These fields, and these programs, are not always entirely transparent, but with time and care you can come to understand what they entail and what they offer. We will do our best to help you with that every step of the way.
Exploring Architecture Schools
UChicago Careers in Journalism, Arts, and Media
UChicago Careers in Journalism, Arts and Media (UCIJAM), at Career Advancement offers Chicago career treks to offices and institutions that work with the built environment, including Chicago architectural offices. It also offers academic year and Metcalf internships in architecture and design.
Internships Related to the Built Environment
There are two types of internship opportunities for undergraduates: (1) to do research on the built environment, whether within or outside the university, and (2) to intern in work positions outside the university. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, both types may be available as remote internships, performed online from home.
(1) In research associate positions, a student performs mentored research and writing – for example, on a project at the Department of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago. Information about those is available from the College Center for Research and Fellowships.
(2) To help you find workplace internships outside the university, especially but not only in Chicago, download the PDF to the right, which gives suggestions of firms and organizations to consider. It describes some specific places – and some general types of places – where students have found and/or could seek internship opportunities, either during the summer or during the academic year. They include: community organizations with socially-oriented architecture projects, art museums with architecture departments or architectural exhibitions and events, historic building museums that care for landmark buildings and give public tours, and nonprofit organizations that fund architectural projects, nonprofits that work to identify and protect historically significant buildings from demolition or severe alteration, as well as architectural firms. It’s not a comprehensive list and it focuses on Chicago organizations, but it should give you ideas about where to look for internship opportunities in other places.
Examples of good web-search keywords: “internship” + the city name + the name of an organization or type of organization.
Funding for internships: The College has funds to support otherwise unpaid student internships during the summer or during the academic year, because many organizations do not offer paid internships. Students may visit Career Advancement and sign up for an advising appointment to discuss finding internships and possible grant opportunities to fund them with Ben Waltzer or Nely Rentas.
You are also welcome to contact the Architectural Studies faculty advisor to discuss internship ideas.