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Applying for architecture without a portfolio

mkmuwumkmuwu 2 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
edited September 11 in Architecture Major
Hi, I am currently a high school senior and I just recently decided that I wish to pursue architecture (undergrad). However, I had a mid-application mid-life crisis after finding out that most schools recommend/require a portfolio submission. It is currently September, and most of the application deadlines are due in 2-3 months. I still considering whether or not I should apply as an architecture major. Is 2 months enough time to put together a portfolio? Or is it just okay to apply without a portfolio at all? I've mainly been looking into architecture programs located in California (my home state) like Cal Poly Slo and Cal Poly Pomona. But I am open to out-of-state schools. Please let me know if you have any advice or recommendations. I am desperate for any help at this point :/
edited September 11
6 replies
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Replies to: Applying for architecture without a portfolio

  • momrathmomrath 5955 replies39 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @mkmuwu Whether or not you'd be able to assemble a portfolio between now and December really depends on your starting place. If you've taken art course sthroughout high school, then you shouldn't have a problem putting together a selection of your work in portfolio form.

    Schools of architecture are not necessarily looking for architecture specific work in their applicants' portolios. They are looking for a representation of the applicants' recent work, showing creativity, facility with various media (especially drawing) and good design/presentation skills. See the schools' websites for more information.

    If you don't have a body of work to draw from, you will still be able to apply to many good schools of architecture, including the two you mentioned. Many top rated architecture programs don't require portfolios for undergraduate admissions.

    Lastly, you should be aware that there are two routes to becoming an architect: the undergraduate Bachelor OF Architecture (BArch) or the combination of a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science IN architecture (BA/BS) + the Master of Architecture (MArch).

    The BArch usually takes 5.0 years. It is quite intensive and best for students who are 100% sure that they want to study architecture.

    The BA/BS+MArch can take from 6.0 to 7.0 years, but it allows more flexibility and is good for students who are still considering architecture as a career. Very few BA/BS Architecture programs require the portfolio.
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  • mkmuwumkmuwu 2 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    @momrath Thank you for the helpful information. As for where I stand at the moment, I have not taken any art courses throughout high school and pretty much have nothing for a portfolio. I've come to the conclusion that with my current schedule, I don't have enough time to put one together. My GPA (3.6) and SAT scores (1300) are a bit sub-par so I'm not too confident that I'd be able to get into a Cal Poly. If I applied to a Cal Poly architecture program with these criteria, how good are my chances? Or are there any out-of-state or east coast schools that would seem like a fit?
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  • momrathmomrath 5955 replies39 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I don't have any insider information on Cal Poly architecture admissions. The California college & university system is usually quite transparent about sharing admissions statistics so you should be able to find out by contacting the schools of architecture directly.

    BArch programs understand that their drop out rate is high and they are generous in providing information to prospective students. Many hold information sessions in the Fall, and most make advisors available to answer questions by email or phone.

    The BArch programs, especially the studios, are extremely intense. If you don't have experience in visual art or design classes and critiques, you will be at a disadvantage.
    In that case I would suggest that you strongly consider starting with a BA or BS degree. T hen, if you're still interested in architecture, go on to get an MArch.

    The BA or BS + MArch route is increasingly common among architects, more popular now than the BArch. Don't worry if the universities that you are interested in don't offer a Bachelors in architecture or architecture studies. You can be accepted to a top rated MArch program with an undergraduate degree in visual art, design, art history or just about anything, as long as you fulfil the entrance requirements.

    You do, however, have to be aware of the financial implications of 6.0 to 7.0 years of education, so the first step is always to consider how you will pay.
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  • aquaptaquapt 1959 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    You might want to check out the architecture department at Portland State. With the WUE discount it would cost a little more than a CSU but less than a UC. Your stats would get you in without a problem, and there's no portfolio requirement. They have a very well-run summer intensive that is open to students who just graduated from high school as well college students and career-changers - this could offer a nice head start for you even if you were matriculating somewhere else. https://www.pdx.edu/architecture/summer_immersion?fbclid=IwAR32odMLu9CwNM9mrwEvOkz-_KPrhHEpWg03TOW5aZMVcTD579d_yIVw0SI The department does a lot of interesting, collaborative work in the city of Portland. Admissions are rolling and it's a very straightforward application, so apply ASAP and you could have a great option nailed down well before the holidays.

    A somewhat broader OOS program, also without a portfolio requirement, is the School of Environmental Design at CU Boulder. It's a small program, project-based with lots of individual attention. Starting with a common first-year curriculum, it allows you to choose your track as you move through the program: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Environmental Product Design, or Sustainable Planning & Urban Design. It's a pre-professional program but could be a good fit since you're relatively new to this field of interest and may still want to explore your options. It's a bit pricey for OOS, though (you're a solid candidate for acceptance but probably not much merit) so the viability of this option would depend on your budget. https://www.colorado.edu/envd/about/curriculum

    Cal Poly Pomona would be less of a reach than SLO - they both have architecture (and landscape architecture) programs. (Is your 3.6 weighted or unweighted?)

    U of Cincinnati has an excellent BArch program that doesn't require a portfolio. It's more competitive than the university generally but I don't know stats.

    If a private LAC is a possibility cost-wise, Hobart & William Smith in Upstate NY would be a match stats-wise and has a nice studio-based Arch Studies program. https://www.hws.edu/academics/architecture/unique_curr.aspx

    Hope that helps!
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  • mkmuwumkmuwu 2 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    @aquapt Thank you for the suggestions, I will definitely look into them. 3.6 is my weighted GPA.
    Also, I've noticed that some California schools like UC Irvine and CP Pomona offer urban planning majors. I have the understanding that urban planning falls under the premise of architecture, but I am still a bit confused on exactly what the differences are. Could you please explain? Would it be "easier" to get into the school if I applied under urban/regional planning?
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  • aquaptaquapt 1959 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    It depends whether you want a studio-based program, like architecture or landscape architecture, or whether you want a program in the same *academic* realm but without the "design practice" aspect. Studio is very hands-on, very time-intensive, and very iterative - you produce something, have it critiqued by professors, TA's, and peers, re-work it based on that feedback, rinse, repeat. A summer intensive would help you to determine whether you enjoy this way of working and learning, or not. Some find the constant scrutiny and criticism hard to take; others thrive on it. Some love the "immersion" and companionability of long hours in the studio with their peers; others would prefer a less all-consuming path. There's a lot of attrition from studio architecture, as people find out what it's really like from the inside and determine whether it's for them or not.

    In between are the Arch Studies majors that have a studio component, but not the intensity of a program that leads to licensure. (The Hobart Wm. Smith program is a good example - Connecticut College is another that would be a reach but not necessarily out of range depending on your EC's/essays/etc.)

    The CU-Boulder ENVD program could be ideal for you, because it has studio-based arch studies (and LArch - have you considered the landscape arch major at CPP?) but also the option choose the Urban Planning focused track. It could be really nice for you to have your first two years of undergrad, to figure this out in the light of many relevant experiences, vs. trying to nail it down now in the hypothetical.

    Another similar (and more affordable) option is the School of Architecture and Planning at U of Utah. Students there begin with a common Design Foundations curriculum http://www.cap.utah.edu/designfoundations/ before tracking into architecture (pre-professional arch studies), Urban Ecology (essentially an undergrad urban planning degree) or multi-disciplinary design (more of a product and/or interaction design type program). So, it's kind of like the ENVD program without the LArch option. Salt Lake City is a great setting for Urban Studies (and also surrounded by breathtaking natural settings and outdoor recreation), and Utah is the rare state that allows students a path to residency after the first year, which can save a ton of money. (You can also take the WUE discount and keep your CA residency. Either way, a good deal for CA students.)

    The Irvine program sounds interesting, and Davis Enviro Design could also be worth a look too, but both would be big reaches with a 3.6 weighted GPA. If ending up at a UC or SLO is your goal, there are a few CCC's with architecture programs that could lay a great foundation and get your feet wet in the field before you commit to a specialized four-year program. West Valley College in Saratoga is one example: https://www.westvalley.edu/academics/architecture/ My daughter took a studio class there as a HS student and it was an excellent introduction to the field. (Not to mention that it's a gorgeous campus with a student quality of life that surpasses many 4-year schools!)

    In the CSU system, the Sac State Geography major is "Metropolitan Area Planning" focused and could be worth checking out https://catalog.csus.edu/colleges/natural-sciences-mathematics/geography/ba-in-geography-metropolitan-area-planning/ CSULA also has an Urban Analysis track in the Geography department, and Sonoma State has several planning-oriented tracks within Geography & Environment. Also the Urban Studies/Planning majors at UCSF, UCSD, and Northridge in addition to CPP. Since you're still deep in Undecided territory, applying to a range of programs within the CSU system this fall will give you more options come spring. Personally, I think the multi-track programs that give you time to explore and evolve (like Boulder & Utah) have significant advantages over the way the CSU system forces such early choices, but at least there are a lot of choices!

    And I still think an early rolling app to Portland State would be a great way of making sure you have a studio architecture program on the menu when you make your final decision. I know some very happy and successful students there - Portland is a great student city.

    Good luck!
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