What Are The Top Architecture Schools In The U.S.?

Architecture is a multidisciplinary field that unites art and science to bring their best products to the world in the form of built structures. A good architect can create a beautiful, safe and functional building. A great architect has enthusiastic clients, creativity in abundance, and seamless leadership skills, as well.

Architects need a professional academic degree to practice. Professional entry-level degrees in architecture range from the bachelor to the doctoral level: the Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch), Master of Architecture (M.Arch), and the Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch). There are 125 professional architectural programs in the U.S. and Canada with National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accreditation.

The best architecture schools prepare students for rigorous evaluation by design firms with high candidate standards. Elite programs teach students how to build rich portfolios, blend technical knowledge with communication abilities, and fully develop their potential as designers. Here’s a list of the top graduate architecture programs in the nation from the 15th annual publication of DesignIntelligence (2014). by the Design Futures Council.

1. Harvard University

Harvard University is preceded by its Ivy League reputation. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Graduate School of Design offers master and doctoral degrees to students of architecture. No B.Arch is available.

Harvard’s top rank with DesignIntelligence mirrors the praise it receives from employers, who credit the program with superior graduate-level preparation in traditional design, cross-disciplinary teamwork, and sustainable architecture. Architects who graduate from Harvard benefit enormously from the school’s history of quality and its international focus. The premier University has the most selective admissions of any school in the U.S.

2. Yale University

Flickr / Omer Kabir

Yale University is an eminent Ivy League institution located in scenic New Haven, Connecticut with a reputation for turning out high-quality designers with all the skills they need to master the profession. The School of Architecture is small, but there is a robust and internationally recognized tradition of design research and innovation.

Yale offers an M.Arch, Ph.D. and Master of Environmental Design (MED) to aspiring architects. Students can also earn dual degrees: M.Arch/MBA, M.Arch/M.E.D. or M.Arch/Master of Environmental Management (MEM). The M.Arch can be either a pre-professional or non-pre-professional degree program, meaning it can be followed by a D.Arch, preceded by a B.Arch, both, or neither.

3. Columbia University

Flickr / Michael Renner

At Columbia University in New York City, students can earn a master’s or doctoral degree through the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation. Noted for its heritage of excellence, Columbia’s School has been called the nation’s best program for architectural research. With a fairly large program but lots of part-time faculty members, Columbia is able to maintain a small student-teacher ratio.

The architectural program is the most affordable of the Ivy League schools on this list, with moderate tuition costs around $23,000 a year. Students have a diverse choice of graduate-only degrees, including Masters of Science (M.S.) in Urban and Community Planning; Real Estate Development; Historic Preservation; and Critical, Curatorial & Conceptual Practices.

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Flickr / Nietnagel

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hosts the globally prestigious School of Architecture + Planning, which includes the Department of Architecture. The Department has five “semi-autonomous discipline groups” spanning the undergraduate and graduate levels:

  1. Architectural Design
  2. Art, Culture and Technology
  3. Building Technology
  4. Computation
  5. History, Theory and Criticism

Well-versed in advanced research and multidisciplinary collaboration, students of MIT Architecture build expansive portfolios and go on to promising careers. Students enjoy access to the high-tech Center for Advanced Urbanism and Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship. Most participants are from out-of-state. Admissions to MIT generally and the Department of Architecture specifically are distinct from one another.

5. Cornell University


Flickr / stacey shintani

Architectural firms point to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York as one of the best schools for preparing undergraduates for the world of work. The Department of Architecture in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning has its own selective admission requirements apart from the wider University. Many buildings on campus were designed by Cornell’s own Architecture alumni, like the President’s house and University Library.

There are several doctoral and master’s options for grad students in areas like historic preservation and urban development. There is no D.Arch, but candidates can get a doctorate in the History of Architecture and Urban Development. Undergraduate students can earn a B.Arch.

6. Rice University

Flickr / Angela Orlando

Rice University, a top American research university located in Houston, Texas, is a highly selective option for aspiring architects. The School of Architecture admits just 25 students a year from a variety of backgrounds to its 200-strong graduate program. Classes and studios at Rice are small and individualized, centering around four central themes: Design; History, Theory and Criticism; Structures, Practice and Environments; and Computing, Logic and Representation.

There is a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Architecture or Architectural Studies, B.Arch, M.Arch, and D.Arch. The B.A. is a prerequisite for the B.Arch and includes a year of preceptorship working in a professional architectural environment.

7. University of Michigan

Flickr / Corey Seeman

Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the University of Michigan (UMich) is a public research university ranked #28 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning supplements architectural studies with interdisciplinary coursework in urban and regional planning and urban design.

Degrees include a Bachelor of Science (B.S.), M.S. M.Arch, Master of Urban Planning (MUP), Master of Urban Design (MUD), and Ph.D. in Architecture, plus several dual degree options, like the M.Arch with a Master of Engineering.

8. Kansas State University

Flickr / leoslo

Kansas State University, or K-State, is located in Manhattan, Kansas, a small town near the state’s northeastern Flint Hills. Students favor KSU for its integrated, multidisciplinary approach and solid grounding in practical construction methods and materials.

Within the College of Architecture, Planning & Design, the School of Architecture offers graduate degrees only. The focus on research is high as K-State works to get in the nation’s top 50 research universities. Students enjoy a highly-ranked Landscape Architecture program. Transfer students with studio-based coursework may be considered for Advanced Placement.

9. University of California at Berkeley

Flickr / Wonderlane

A preeminent West Coast public school, the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) has a large program for budding architects, enrolling around 700 to 800 in recent years. The program has an acclaimed emphasis on up-and-coming trends in sustainable design and building, a key priority in the rapidly-adapting field of Architecture.

UCB offers a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) and M.S. degrees in Urban Planning and Architecture for Metropolitan Design. Specializations include Energy, CAD, and Sustainability. Berkeley has the most affordable tuition for graduate students on this list — about $5,600 a year for both in-state and out-of-state enrollees.

10. Washington University at St. Louis

At Washington University in St. Louis, the Sam Fox School of Architecture emphasizes a practice-based education embedded in social context, with the goal of developing independent critical thinking skills. Sam Fox offers numerous undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a Bachlor of Design (B.Des.) and B.Arch for undergraduates.

Graduate students can pursue an M.Arch, MLA, MUD, and one of several M.S. programs in architectural studies. Numerous dual degree options are available, including a unique Master of Social Work/M.Arch pairing. This highly selective private school has one of the most expensive architecture programs at nearly $45,000 a year.

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