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The Best Architecture Schools in the U.S. 2017

Architecture schools are institutions of higher learning which offer non-professional and professional degrees embodying the theories and mechanics of design principles and ideas. Non-professional degrees include the 4-year: BA, BS, BFA Arch, B. Envd or BED; and each requires a Master’s in Architecture for licensure. The professional degrees include the 5-year BA (B. Arch), the 3-year MA (M. Arch) and the Doctor of Architecture (PhD).

Most colleges of architecture offer a diverse spectrum of specialty areas including building science, architecture, landscape architecture, and naval architecture. Through studio work and learning seminars, students receive an intensive and thorough education which fuses the foundations of architecture with technology, theory, history, and professional design practices. To prepare for the rigors of a career in architecture, classes include the development of drawing and computer skills, as well as model making for mastering spatial definition and sequence. Relationships between form, function, and structure are taught; enabling students to effectively deal with various architectural aspects like the fundamental principles of open, closed, and sequential spatial qualities; transition areas, intersections, and how organizational concepts may correspond to an underlying social or ideological viewpoint.

The best colleges of architecture are those that effectively allocate material resources, staff, and faculty to programs which align student career goals with their passion through dynamic and progressive curricula. Thorough and complete evaluations of the nation’s architecture schools is an arduous process requiring a lot of time, but we have done the work for you. On this page, we provide a list of the nation’s best architecture schools, along with guides and links to additional resources for students seeking education or training in a specific area of focus.

  • School Name

    12 schools ranked

  • Offering permanent programs in Rome and New York; Cornell College of Architecture, Art and Planning offers a rich, historically-based education to its students within a marked atmosphere of inclusion and diversity. As one of the nation’s most prominent research universities, alumni are heralded within their fields of expertise as superior practitioners and influential theorists.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 21,904
  • For over 70 years, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, College of Architecture & Environmental Design has demonstrated academic superiority- nationally and globally, with their award-winning performances in world renowned competitions. Demonstrating a passion for transforming communities, the College is recognized for its substantial, locally-based volunteer contributions.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 20,944
  • Syracuse University, School of Architecture has been a top level, liberal arts, research university for over 150 years. In addition to offering students an exemplary education by providing state-of-the-art equipment and instruction in areas like digital fabrication and computer technology; the college also has an in-house supply store and architecture reading room.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 21,789
  • Through systematic study and quintessential instruction in core-knowledge principles; the School of Architecture & Design at Virginia Tech University inspires students to approach architecture as being permeated by dualities: it is functional and durable; stable and transitory; measurable and immeasurable. Off-campus program locations include: the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center, the Chicago Studio and European study abroad.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 32,663
  • Known for being a “think tank” and the purveyor of unique opportunities, Rice University, School of Architecture teaches students to proactively engage with global architectural challenges from a precise, and all-encompassing understanding of history, politics, economics and physical properties. Offering a brand new 3rd option graduate program-“PRESENT FUTURE” RSA has unveiled a program synthesizing ambitions in theory, history and design.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 6,719
  • Committed to interdisciplinary teaching and research, the University of Texas at Austin, College of Architecture is strongly grounded in the Austin region and the State of Texas; yet is characteristically a visionary institution. Seeking to expand their influence globally, they address societal issues facing the discipline such as: resource consumption, urbanization, energy issues, greenhouse gas production and sustainability.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 50,950
  • Rhode Island School of Design, Division of Architecture & Design is the college’s largest academic Division and has seven departments from which students can choose. Striving to weave imagination into what would otherwise be common, the Division offers a wide-range of experience from a diverse faculty know for its multifarious academic practices.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 16,613
  • The Auburn University, College of Architecture, Design & Construction, established in 1907, was the first Southern university to offer a major in architecture. Their School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture (APLA) has expanded to offer 3-allied degree programs: Architecture, Interior Architecture and Landscape Architecture. For over a century the School has nurtured students in the areas of leadership, competence, creativity and social responsibility.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 27,287
  • Pratt Institute’s, School of Architecture embraces the mission of educating students to become world leaders in all facets of design, planning and management within the field. Stressing the connection between intellectual development and creative activity, the School provides a broad cultural and analytical base. Independent learning is encouraged through studio-based curricula and research programs.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 4,784
  • World-renowned, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) is devoted to providing students a uniquely inspiring environment; one which leads them to formulate radically new responses to global needs. Infusing the spirit of innovation within a context of architectural experimentation; SCI-Arc is distinguished by being one of the few independent architectural colleges in the nation offering undergrad, graduate and postgrad programs.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 502
  • The world-class architecture education offered at Carnegie Mellon University, School of Architecture operates from the fundamental premise that excellence in the discipline can only emerge from combining rigorous training in fundamentals with the development of uniquely divergent specialization. With multiple sub-disciplines, students receive intensive architecture knowledge and the opportunity to benefit from interdisciplinary interaction with CMU’s other distinguished programs.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,963
  • The USC School of Architecture undeniably embodies its motto, “Architecture cannot delay!” The college demands students to anticipate problems; not just solve them. The spirit of the school requires its scholars to transcend the traditional roles of problem-solvers, passive professionals and cultural observers. Led by an inspirational Dean, students are called to act as agents of new traditions, actively participate in culture and drive global urbanism.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 43,401

How to Choose a School of Architecture

Because architecture is such a diverse discipline, college and university programs vary considerably, from degrees offered and areas of focus to levels of accreditation. But, no matter which school you choose, treat the process like you would treat a job interview; ask questions and gain as much information as possible. After all, you choose the school as much as they choose you.

To decide on a specific school, there are a number of things to take into consideration, such as does the school offer programs that will lead to becoming an architect? What are your career goals and can the school provide you a path to that outcome(s)? Will a private school offer more opportunities post-graduation vs. a public university? What is the faculty’s reputation and are they trained in the field or are they themselves, professional architects? What are the costs to attend? Are you willing to relocate to another state? Obviously, these are only a few of the many things to take into consideration, but all require answers prior to packing your bags.


Architecture dates back centuries to the earliest buildings of Greece and the ancient pyramids in Egypt, to modern day structures like the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. As long as man has built structures for protection or to house a business, home, etc., there has been the need for trained architects. Frank Lloyd Wright conceived organic architecture, where a building is defined by its environment and purpose. Philip Johnson created structures using simplified geometric forms and steel-frame construction. To build a first-class building you truly must be an artist. Building is an aesthetic, and society benefits from those with this creative gift.

Architecture, in general, can mean a number of different things, such as a physical structure or building; the art of designing buildings and other structures; the style of design and method of construction of structures, the knowledge of science, technology, art and humanity; or the activity by an architect from urban design and landscape architecture, to furniture and construction details. The architect must know how to finance a project, what the structure will be used for, and what is needed to bring it all together.

Since the early 1980’s, the complexity of structures has increased, in terms of energy, sustainability, structural systems, etc., and what was once the design of one person, has now often become the work of many. Sorting out things such as quality, compliance with local building laws, money, sustainability, and durability has become a much more complicated process. Architects must now think about greener roof systems, passive solar building, energy use, and how the use of biodegradable materials can benefit their designs.

Architect students have the option to choose from various pre-professional degrees, like a BA or a BS in Architecture, a Bachelor of Environmental Design, or a Bachelor of Architectural Studies. They also have the opportunity to choose from among concentrations in architecture, such as architectural engineering or architectural history. There is business architecture, computer architecture, enterprise architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture, naval architecture, system architecture, and software architecture. Plus, students who wish to study architecture design typically pursue a degree in architecture with design as their specialization or concentration. With the many different types of degree programs available, students who wish to become a licensed architect must complete either a Bachelor of Architecture or a Master of Architecture. Students should also understand that most state licensing laws require a degree from a program that is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).


Is the outcome any different if you attend a private college or a public university? There are valid arguments for both. But no matter which you choose, it’s a lot more important what you do with your education than where you attend. That said, in 2015, the average tuition for a public university was just about $9,500 for in-state students. Tuition more than doubled ($24,000) for out-of-state students. However, private school tuition averaged just over $32,000. The lower cost of attending a public school can mean a larger student body, so if you are more comfortable with a smaller student-to-professor ratio and smaller class size, or if you’re afraid you’ll be lost in a lecture hall filled to capacity, then you may want to consider a private school (especially if money isn’t an issue). But, a public university typically offers a wider choice of architecture degree programs, whereas private colleges are ideal if you already have an area of focus or concentration you want to pursue, or if you want to segue into a graduate program. It’s also worth considering that 53 percent of students who attend a private college graduate on-time, vs. only 33 percent of public university students. So, if you’re anxious to enter the workforce, then you might want to look into private colleges.

Another consideration is whether a degree from a prestigious university will land you a better job than a degree from a state university. Although earning a degree from the likes of Yale or Harvard will look impressive on your resume, there is no guarantee you will be considered over some other applicant when applying for your dream job. What employers want to see most is evidence of skills and knowledge learned.


There are many schools with architecture major and minor programs where you can get a great education that prepares you for a career. However, the schools that provide more than just classes in your chosen field, also offer faculty with experience and connections in the industry. Your education will be shaped by your professors, and you will run into great professors who seem to have an unlimited knowledge to share and not-so-great professors who simply show up to class. This is essentially true no matter where you attend. Some professors don’t even teach but a few classes and month and instead rely on their teaching assistants to teach. If you’re looking for experienced professors who can share their wealth of knowledge, then this is something to check out prior to making your college decision. On the other hand, a professor who is available after class for questions, who becomes your mentor and advisor and helps with career choices post-graduation, and who adapts to changes in the industry and is current on new technology and methods of architecture and is entrenched in the industry, is invaluable to your education. And, although a great student-professor relationship alone does not translate into academic success, students that establish a bond with their professors typically perform better overall.

Faculty and staff are essential to a school’s reputation, as is the quality of academics. In fact, a very good academic reputation is one of the most important factors influencing where a student chooses to attend college. After all, the classes you take will help shape your future, and most graduates want to be assured they received the best education possible for their money. So, ask yourself, is academics more important than costs or where a college is located?

Faculty and staff are essential to a school’s reputation, as is the quality of academics. In fact, a very good academic reputation is one of the most important factors influencing where a student chooses to attend college. After all, the classes you take will help shape your future, and most graduates want to be assured they received the best education possible for their money. So, ask yourself, is academics more important than costs or where a college is located?


Many prospective architects choose a college or university strictly based on degree programs offered. Others choose a school to get away from their parents. Many will stay in-state to hold down costs, and some will gain scholarships to attend a school out of state for less than attending school in-state. Many students are drawn to campus activities and the amenities that a larger city has to offer, while others would rather concentrate solely on their studies without the hustle and bustle of big city living. If you want to move out of state, can you pay out-of-state tuition which is usually much more than in-state tuition (unless there is a tuition reciprocity program between states)? Sometimes, however, to attend the school of your choice means moving away from home, and as this can be an exciting time for many prospective architects, it can cause anxiety for others. Preparing beforehand while still in high school can make the move easier for everyone, including your family and friends.


To become a licensed architect, you must earn a degree. And while attending college and taking advantage of campus life is ideal for some, students with a family, job obligations, a disability, or another reason that keeps them from attending classes on-campus, there are accredited online architecture degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and certificate levels. If you’re seriously considering earning your degree online, then it is recommended that you opt for a school that is accredited by one of six regional accrediting agencies approved by the US Department of Education. Keep in mind too that the architecture program should be accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Schools accredited by the NAAB provide the best possible outcomes and career opportunities for architecture graduates.

What to Expect from an Architecture Program

Whether pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture, a Bachelor ‘s of Environmental Design, a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, or furthering your education by pursuing a Master’s of Architecture, the goal of any college or university program is to prepare you for a career in the many areas of architecture. Coursework will provide both foundational and upper-level knowledge, skill development, and educational growth in the field of architecture, and the personal journey and college experiences you have will forever shape your thinking. Most programs will prepare students for careers in the field of architecture, no matter which specialty you select. However, some students will start their education with one career goal in mind, and change direction in the second or third year of college.

Classes in architecture are taught at small colleges, leading universities, and private institutes. Many courses blend architecture design theory with hands-on practice in basic design studio, visual communication, contemporary design and planning theory, materials and building construction, CAD design, architectural structural systems, and architectural analysis, just to name a few. And, although you may find your time divided between classes in your major area of study and general education/elective classes, most programs are constructed to ensure students are ready for a career in architecture upon graduation.

Beyond earning a degree, a successful architect or graduate seeking his or her first job must exhibit a number of key skills, including artistic ability. This means an architect must be able to draw and sketch freehand on paper, or by using digital tools such as autoCAD design software. They must be able to determine correct dimensions and measurements, so knowledge of algebra and geometry is vital, although advanced coursework in math is not usually necessary. Additionally, architects must be able to think creatively, understand safety and environmental codes and issues when designing, which takes critical thinking skills. They must easily adapt to change because of material or building code restrictions, client requests, or unavailability of materials. They must be personable, have an imagination and be innovative. Overall, architects must be able to see the big picture, solve complex problems, be organized, and have excellent written and verbal communication skills.

Of course, depending on the focus of architecture an individual is pursuing, skills and abilities will vary. However, in most areas, architects must know:

  • Architectural rendering
  • Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Auto CAD
  • Design concepts
  • Drafting
  • Industrial design
  • Model making
  • Sustainable design
  • Technical vision
  • Computer processing

In addition, they must know building and construction skills, such as:

  • Building systems
  • Construction administration
  • Installation requirements
  • Preservation
  • Project management
  • Rehabilitation
  • Renovation
  • Residential, industrial, and manufacturing codes and requirements
  • Estimating
  • Building and zoning codes
  • Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)


Individuals who wish to gain entry-level positions in the field of architecture may choose to earn an Associate of Applied Science in Architectural Technology degree. This degree prepares students for work as a technician creating construction drawings and documents, or to go on and earn their bachelor’s degree. Some programs at this level may even offer concentrations in architecture design.

Students who wish to explore bachelor degree programs might consider what programs provide design courses beyond foundational classes and if a design-center program is professional or pre-professional. Individuals in a professional program will earn a bachelor of architecture, or B.Arch, whereas those in a pre-professional program will earn a BS or BA in an architectural study.

Graduates who choose to go on and earn their masters will find that most programs offer a wide variety of design specializations, including digital design, health design, and design criticism. Most often, graduates of a pre-professional bachelor’s degree program will enter a professional master’s of architecture program (MArch), whereas students who earned a bachelor of architecture may enter a post-professional master’s of architecture program or MArch II.