Advice Please: Syracuse vs Georgia Tech/UVa/WashU

Looking for some help. My daughter has been accepted to a number of undergraduate Architecture programs and is the final stages of making her decision. Complicating matters greatly has been the pandemic which has prevented admitted students, and for some schools, she has had no previous visits. She is a strong student from a top public school in New York State, so she is no stranger to hard work, but is also quite social and wants to have a positive college experience.

Schools she been accepted to include the following:

Syracuse (BArch) with honors program and full tuition scholarship for 5 years (COA 17K)
Georgia Tech (BS Architecture) OOS (COA 47K)
University of Virginia (BS Architecture) OOS (COA 75K)
WashU (BS Architecture) (COA 80K)

Syracuse has really hit it out of the park with their virtual sessions, with great depth and breadth. No other program has come close. Fantastic, involved Dean, Michael Speaks. SU is closer to home (maybe important in this uncertain world) 2.5 hour drive. The one stumbling block is that while the School of Architecture is highly rated, the university itself is not quite as prestigious or selective as her other choices.

She did a summer program at Georgia Tech, really liked the school and Atlanta, but finds the program on the smaller size. She likes the idea of a rigorous program, but I am not sure that the heavy math/CS general education requirements may detract from her ability to complete a minor. I get it for an engineer, but not sure the added STEM rigor is beneficial to an architect. Also, a bit more limited alternate major list if she chooses to change majors. Further away than others. More afforable than all but SU.

UVa is a wonderful school that we were able to visit. She is a little concerned about it being a bit more culture heavy and finding her place there. Very selective. Wide list of alternate majors. Bit harder to get to. Expensive.

WashU is 2 plane legs, so harder to get to/from. Seems a bit more art focused for her taste. Students apparently love the place, but most expensive. Very selective. Great parent university, highest ranked university she is considering.

Obviously, there are significant differences in the BArch vs 4+2 programs. She likes the idea of a bit more academic flexibility with the BS, but not a major factor. For me, one big concern with the 4+2 is that she completes the BS, then starts working for a couple years, then never completes the MArch and is never licensed, as life intervenes. The BArch is a bit of insurance to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Hoping that someone has more first-hand knowledge of a few of these great programs and can make relative comparisons and suggestions. I know that she really can’t go wrong with any of them. The full scholarship at SU is very attractive, I don’t want it to be the deciding factor. GT is financially doable with some rearranging of priorities, while UVa and WashU are bit more of a stretch and may involve jobs/loans, but still doable.

Syracuse is the program to beat at the moment, but I/she will feel more than a little funny turning down more prestigious universities (but not more prestigious

Without knowing much about architecture programs beyond a few top schools, Syracuse Honors with a full 5 year tuition scholarship seems unbeatable–clearly your best option.

@archydad, Four good choices! It’s difficult to analyze the relationship of education to career success in architecture because of there are so many different routes to the same end. You seem to have thoroughly identified the pros and cons of each. I would say that the choice comes down to two related issues: One, the money and two, the degree.

The money is personal. The relative “value” of any college degree really depends on the student’s goals and the family’s financial situation. Only you can evaluate the hardship versus the advantage. No question, though – Syracuse’s offer is extraordinarily good. Are the COA’s you list for the others for one year or for four years?

I would also note that the MArch is an expensive degree, so you need to factor in that cost in any comparison.

The BArch is one of the few professional undergraduate degrees offered in the U.S., comparable to engineering in its narrow focus and intensity. If your daughter is ready to make a commitment to the BArch, then Syracuse is an excellent choice: A strong and balanced program highly regarded throughout the industry.

If she’s not 100% convinced that architecture is for her, then she may be better off with the BS/BA+MArch route, even if the total cost ends up being greater. My son had been interested in architecture since he could hold a pencil, but didn’t have the exposure to make a career commitment at age 18.

UVA and WUSTL have a lot of cultural overlap, both at the university level and at their schools of architecture. The BS is still primarily focused on architectural practice, but does allow more room for exploration into other disciplines and more flexibility if it turns out that your daughter drifts into another field.

We know quite a few architects who did their undergrad degrees at UVA or WUSTL. Most chose to go elsewhere for their MArchs (which is a common approach) and all had many fine MArch admission offers. My impression is that studio courses may be more demanding at UVA/WUSTL that at Syracuse or GA Tech, but not to a extreme degree.

I’m a parent not an architect, but my observation over the past 15 years is that the practice of architecture has become more complex and specialized, due, I think, to the influence of technology both in design and in structures. Different schools deal with technology in different ways. None is better than others; just different. So whether the “tech” in Georgia Tech would be a good fit for your daughter would depend on her personal interests.

Lastly, I wouldn’t worry too much about your daughter getting sidelined with a BS and not completing an MArch. In recent years, many schools of architecture have moved from the BArch to the BA/BS+MArch. Architecture firms routinely hire BS/BA holders for entry level design positions, fully understanding that they will head off for their MArchs after a year or two. It’s also not uncommon to get the MArch on top of the BArch.

Licensing is a separate but related issue. Some firms push their staff to complete the licensing process. Some don’t much care. Many people working in architecture (and teaching architecure) are not actually licensed architects. Personally, I would recommend licensure, but there’s no specific timeline to accomplish it.

Good luck and let us know what she decides.

From your post the real question boils down to queasiness about turning down names that are more prestigious as overall universities- and that part is psychological and will last 10 minutes. The 10 minutes matter- because they are the minutes between when she tells her current classmates where she is going to college and when she arrives at college- but it really is 10 minutes.

Syracuse is a top-10 architecture program (none of her other options are), with all the pluses that come from that. On top of that, it is a BArch, which means when she finishes she can go straight into practice as an architect- w/o doing the MArch (she can decide down the road if that is a degree she wants/need). All the other choices have a +2 years to be able to practice (and the associated costs).

WUSTL and UVa are great schools- and the prestige (esp of WUSTL, which is very in fashion in secondary schools atm) is hard to walk away from when you are in the hothouse of HS. But to me it’s like when you have to invite somebody to a wedding even though you don’t really want to, and then they say no! You get the credit for having made the offer but you don’t have to deliver on it. Your daughter has all the prestige and validation of an offer from those schools! She can say ‘yeah, I turned down X & Y, b/c although they are good in general, Syracuse has a top-10 arch program and they don’t’.

Right now CC has a bunch of ‘should I take (famous, expensive name) or (super strong, free name) threads’. One poster turned it around, asking (paraphrasing) ‘if somebody offered to pay you $250,000 to go to a top 10 school in your field would you say no?’

I looked up arch rankings.

There was is no consistency in them. A school that is number 1 in one isn’t even ranked in another. So I gave up.

@momrath Thanks. The COAs are yearly. The hard part is to nail down the 100% committed to architecture part. Tough to ask a 17 year old to be 100% certain about anything. I do have to say that an attractive feature about a school like UVa is that they offer a “Design Making” track in addition to the pre-professional, which allows students who wind up wanting to go professional architecture to obtain a more general design degree. This has a required minor. I am told that at Syracuse, they have infused a lot of humanities and social sciences into their curriculum, which is interesting. I think the dean said that he thought it was the ideal liberal arts program. Thanks for you reply.

@collegemom3717 You succinctly defined what I could not. That is exactly the issue. We always told her that we would do our best to send her to the best university she is accepted at, where she also felt comfortable. She busted her chops in high school and we were prepared to do the same to keep up our end of the bargain. So the full scholarship to the best program/but not most prestigious university starts to work mind games on you. No small sum of money. In before-tax dollars, roughly $600k. Hard to ignore, but also makes feel like a bit of a sellout when you think about bypassing more prestigious universities for the one with the scholarship. I guess I will need to learn to live with myself. Thanks for you insightful reply.

If she hadn’t busted her chops she wouldn’t have been offered the Syracuse Merit Scholarship: she earned that just as much as she earned the places at UVa and WUSTL.

A CC poster whose daughter went to Cambridge University (UK) was dismayed when she went for her PhD to a uni that was much lower in overall rankings- turning down Cambridge and other seemingly comparable schools. But: the world leader in her field was at that “lower” ranked university- and would be her supervisor. Her own career has benefitted more from being his grad student at the lower ranked school -b/c what matters at that level is your reputation in your field… Part of the education process is learning what matters where, when and to whom :slight_smile:

ps, if she does the Syracuse BArch, you will have the money to pay for her to do an MArch (if she wants to) at Harvard / Cornell / Yale / Columbia (top programs, who will know & respect the Syracuse program), thereby giving you all the satisfaction of a famous name and your daughter starting out with top credentials & no debt!

3 years ago, My son had to make similar choice btw syracuse, cooper union and WashU. Syracuse really came through with the full tuition offer but we did not want scholarship to be the only deciding factor so we visited all 3 schools. After the visit we decided final two being cooper and Syracuse because B arch vs BS program. His initial choice was Cooper since its in Manhatten but switched to Syracuse because syracuse had a higher ranked program during the time and the study abroad turned out to be another big draw. This year he was in NYC the spring semester with a Spring internship then he is going to be in Florence in fall…too bad the NYC experience was cut short because of the virus.

He really likes the program in Syracuse after spending 3 years there…Cuse has a lot of visiting critics, good alumni base and good internship program. It also has a ton of foreign students in architecture which I think is a big plus since it broaden’s student’s view.

Cuse also offers a good foundation for going to a prestigious M.arch later on…I know they have six students being accepted to Harvard in this years graduation class alone. In my opinion, the architecture program is so strong there it more than make up for the lack of prestige of university.

@Andirock, thanks so much for the reply, just noticed it now. Yeah, we really didn’t want the scholarship to be the biggest factor, but it was hard to ignore. We were able to visit Syracuse, UVa and Georgia Tech, and she did the summer program at Tech. Never got to visit WashU. Curious how you found it?It was the most highly ranked university she was accepted at.

She really liked Georgia Tech, and I personally lean toward rigorous state institutions as an ideal way to educate young people. It was tough to pass up the out of state admission, as not easy to come by.

In the end she chose Syracuse. The organization and depth of programs their SOA presented virtually suggested they had their stuff together and in this new world would be able to make anything work, though we could certainly be wrong. She also liked the strong international flavor of the architecture student body. The study abroad programs and visiting critics seem the most well established. We spoke with senior architects who were alumni and really sold the place. I agree that the strength of School of Architecture really was so strong that she decided it made up for a parent university a little further down in the rankings. Though certainly USNews of 54 is nothing to sneeze at. With so many top notch schools, Architecture, Newhouse, Maxwell, I would have thought it would be a bit higher in the rankings. I think she also felt SU would be more fun for whatever free time she might have available, ie. socially maybe a better fit c/w GTs culture, though Atlanta was a big draw. My only fear, which is really more of a concern, is that all these decisions were made based on Architecture as a career, and might have been different if she ends up changing majors. I understand the attrition rate of architects at SU is rather low due to the school’s support system.

Interesting decision making process though, esp. in Covid time. Don’t recall my parents having much to say about my college selection. Glad your son is enjoying SU.

The reputations of Architecture, Newhouse, and Maxwell don’t bump SU’s ranking higher because relatively few undergrads are graduating with degrees from these school. In a recent graduating class of about 3300, about 100 were architecture majors and about 200 majored in broadcasting and related fields. Maxwell is primarily a graduate school and also produces few undergrad degrees.

US News ranks about 400 national universities on their undergraduate qualities. At #54, SU is ranked in the top 15%. Not too shabby.

The US News methodology (see their website) sets their priorities for evaluating schools. SU graduates about 70% of its students in 4 years and about 80% in 6 years. Their student-faculty ratio is 15:1, which is about average. Those two are examples of areas which US News stresses and those numbers aren’t going to bump a school into the top 50. Each of us has to decide if our priorities are in the same place as USNWR’s. Certainly in your case, the stature of their School of Architecture is more significant than the rest of the rating. The scholarship is also significant. It’s common to receive big scholarships from schools ranked lower than your top ranked schools. But that scholarship is a big deal when it’s to a school in the top 15%. There’s a lot of nit picking to separate the schools in that range. It’s a great opportunity. You were smart to take it. I wouldn’t look back. Congratulations.