Importance of Undergrad Institution When Applying for M. Arch

When applying for an M. Arch, how much consideration is given to an applicant’s undergraduate institution? I see three different scenarios where this occurs:

  • Students who have a B.S. in architecture from a university with a NAAB-accredited program
  • Students who have a B.A. or B.F.A. in architecture from an institution with no NAAB-accredidation
  • Students without an architecture-related Bachelor’s

My assumption (which I would love to have checked) is that if it’s a NAAB-accredited program, then the accredidation is more important than the name of the institution. But if it’s not a NAAB-accredited program (and the further away an applicant’s undergraduate degree is from architecture), then more importance is placed on the prestige/caliber of the undergraduate institution.

I’m thinking, for instance, of a student who receives an excellent financial aid package at a NAAB-accredited school (like a directional state university) and gets their B.S. in architecture and then applies for a better-known M. Arch program with advanced standing. How feasible would this option be?

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daughter is working on her MArch right now. She was option #1; midwest plains state school BS in Arch design (NAAB accredited). I think portfolio has a lot to do with it all. She was accepted into several top grad schools; but three of them put her in the 3 year program (not advanced standing) and she had no desire to pay top dollar for 3 more years. She took the advanced standing option at a good school, her top choice actually! She had a good GRE score; but they were all test optional last year.

I can’t imagine any kid getting into MArch advanced standing without a degree in architecture some way (option #3); basically because of the studio requirements. Kids from non-Naab schools can certainly get into MArch programs; and that question (option 2) about advanced standing without NAAB is a very good question (that i don’t know the answer to)! have you read the Archinect forum?

again, portfolio is very important. school name might help, but i cant imagine it would help with advanced standing without a bs in arch. (make any sense?!) I guess my point is: getting in is different than getting advanced standing. If you want advanced standing, i’d be getting plenty of studio time; and i dont know of many non naab schools that offer lots of studio time.

(your last paragraph is exactly what my daughter did. she’s at RISD now from the midwest non-ranked state school).

Thank you so much for this feedback. Yes, I doubt that students would receive advanced standing for a non-architecture degree. But @merc81 had posted this link in a thread about architecture majors, and perhaps I was wondering if someone with an individualized major like this might receive any credit in an M. Arch application, perhaps a semester’s worth rather than a full year’s?

Did your daughter need any kind of a portfolio to enter into her undergrad college’s degree program? So many undergrad programs seem to require a portfolio for acceptance, and I think about students whose high schools don’t offer much support/training for students to develop those. I would assume that some of the introductory design classes help to build the skills students need in that respect, but am I wrong?

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austenNut - architecture schools March are 2 years or 3 years. Nothing in between. I think guys like in that article would have great acceptance rates into really good schools; but not with advanced standing. Here is info from the University of Illinois Chicago - quite a comprehensive link that outines how hard it is to get advanced standing, and what is needed (eg prior completion of one year of architecture history; six to eight studios within an undergraduate curriculum that has a disciplinary focus similar to that of UIC; upper-level course work in theory and history equivalent to ARCH 531/ARCH 532; and at least one year of architectural and environmental technology or one year of structures. And - only 10% are offered that .

(My daughter didnt get AS, although she was admitted. She did get advanced standing at RISD).

my daughter did not need a portfolio for her undergrad. They took pretty much anyone! But it was a non-selective midwest state school that is here to provide education for everyone in the state.

If your kid is really really sure about architecture, then most people suggest going the BARCH route. 5 years gets a professional working degree in architecture. sometimes i wish my daughter had done that. Her grad school is really really expensive! Locally to us, KSU and ISU have good programs; we looked at both.

ps: i could talk about this all day!!!


@AustenNut, The educational paths to becoming a licensed architect are complicated, various and subject to re-direction along the way.

Although the general curriculums for BArch and MArch programs are regulated, there’s still a good deal of variation from program to program in specifics: in focus, in time, in extras like thesis semesters, travel opportunities, co-op work/study programs.

Undergraduate pre-professional programs are even more diverse as their curriculums are not regulated. (To clarify: the NAAB accredits only BArch and MArch programs. BS, BA, BED programs are not accredited though many are sited at schools of architecture that also host accredited BArch and/or MArch programs.)

I would agree that a student with a pre-professional degree (BS, BA, BED, etc) from a university that hosts a good-to-outstanding school of architecture is likely to be admitted to a good-to-outstanding MArch program and to be granted enough advanced placement to be able to complete the degree in two years. However – there are lots of “howevers” in architecture education – advanced placement is not automatically or consistently granted. The rules are somewhat clearer for students who continue on to their MArchs at the same institution from which they received their undergrad degree; however, the amount of time required to complete an MArch coming from another college/university can be unpredictable and time usually = money.

MArch programs seek diverse and balanced classes, by gender, by race, by educational experience, by nationality, by life experience, by work experience. They certainly do admit a good number of students with BA/BS/BEDs in architecture, but they also admit students with undergraduate degrees in art, art history, engineering, and just about every other degree imaginable, as long as the program’s admission pre-requisites are fulfilled. Pre-requisities would include some art studio and some art history. Some programs require calculus and/or physics. Some do not. Most if not all, require portfolios.

It’s not uncommon for MArch programs to admit older applicants who have already had entirely different careers before deciding to give architecture a go. And it’s also not uncommon for holders of BArchs to seek MArchs as well.

Porfolio and studio experience are definitely critical for admission to MArch programs that put high value on design and creativity, however not all do. Some are more focused on other elements of architecture such as technology, sustainability, restoration, construction. I think you’ll find that while most but not all BArch programs require a portfolio, only a few BA/BS/BED programs do.

MArch programs are irritatingly opaque about their actual admissions statistics, but the good news is that among the over 100 accredited MArch programs in the US and Canada, only a handful are severely selective (meaning under 10% acceptance rate). The rest cover a wide range of selectivity.

The combined cost of an undergraduate degree plus an MArch is a serious consideration. Grants are available for MArch students, however they’re unpredictable and generally fall into the range between $15 to $20K per year. The variables are so broad that I wouldn’t assume that the BArch is necessarily cheaper than the combined BA/BS+MArch. It really depends on the cost of each element.Co-op work/study programs are a great way to defray costs.

In any event, I would only recommend the BArch for students 100% sure that architecture is the career for them. A summer career exploration program can help gain an understanding of the field (and to build a portfolio).


Thank you so much for your replies, as they have been very helpful.

When assessing the quality of a B.S./B.A. in architecture, it sounds as though studio time is a necessary component. Should that be studio every semester? At least 4 semesters? 6? Or…? Also, what other factors might one use to judge the quality of these undergraduate programs?

There are too many variables among BS/BA Architecture degrees to be able to quantify the right mix of courses. I think the easiest way to assess the suitability of a BS/BA architecture degree is to ask the department to which MArch programs their graduates have been accepted.

If the goal is to get an MArch from an art school or a design school (especially one of the more selective design schools) then substantial studio experience is certainly helpful, not necessarily architectural design but any type of visual art.

However, I’d like to stress again that even though a BA/BS in architecture, architectural studies or environmental design is the most expedient route to MArch acceptance and completion, MArch programs seek to matriculate a balanced class of students from a wide range of educational and life experiences. As long as applicants can assemble an portfolio fulfill the MArch course requirements (which usually include some art studio, art history, physics, calculus) it doesn’t much matter what they major in.

The point of the studio background is not only training in the making of art but also training in the ability to explain it and to defend the work in critiques. This can take some getting used to.

It’s important to remember that architecture is a business involving clients and a host of specialist partners. Thus, verbal, problem solving and collaborative skills are as critical as artistic and technical skills, both in school and in practice.


I :blue_heart: Momrath!! She’s been so helpful to me with my D16 and handholding this nervous mom this last year!

austenNut - when my D did her undergrad in architecture (BS in Arch. Design) at a midwest state school, it was a very controlled set program; sequential. The kids had no choice in classes with studios; i think they had them every semester. When we looked at schools for her, the studio time didnt fall into our assessment equation, as no architecture program gave a choice.

most students with all this studio time can do a 2-yr advanced standing grad school program; but not always; so its not even guaranteed.

i think asking a school where students have gone to grad school (or were admitted to ) is a good question. From what we’ve gathered, architecture hiring is quite regional; so many of my daughter’s class stayed for their masters at the state school. But every professor will tell you - learning different ideas/methods/concepts in from different schools is a good thing.

we looked through grad school cafe quite a bit; and read archinect just to see what others do and where they move on to. Do you have a kiddo looking?


You and Momrath have been super helpful in sharing your experiences with college architecture programs.

Right now architecture is an interest of DC, but it’s way too early to be starting the college search and the interest could certainly change. When looking through programs for my own edification, though admittedly with an eye toward the possible future, I just want to know what I am looking at. As I have no architectural background myself, I simply see the course sequences and whether there are any study abroad opportunities with architecture classes, etc. For instance, do maker spaces and/or the quality of them matter? What kinds of things would be desirable in a maker space for architecture majors (assuming for building models)? Or is it all moving towards computer design anyway, so the physical component doesn’t really matter?

And speaking of course sequencing, how much does it matter? Are there any possible red flags that either of you have heard of with a school’s curriculum?

Obviously, finding out what the grads are doing (and where they’re doing it) is arguably the most important thing when looking at an undergraduate architecture program. But until DC is actually more certain about this path and getting closer to the college application process, I don’t feel comfortable reaching out to the schools as I think it would be a waste of their time.

There are two public in-state options that are NAAB accredited for the M. Arch that offer a B.S. in Architecture. Neither one of them has much of a national reputation, though. I’m not one of the prestige-or-bust folks, but I also want to make sure that any college DC goes to is going to offer a quality education, and that DC could still choose to go to a well-respected M. Arch program from one of those schools.

Perhaps a question then is, how competitive are the M. Arch programs at these schools (which yes, have very different focuses, ahem GA Tech and SCAD):

Georgia Tech
NC State
UNC - Charlotte
Virginia Tech

Are these essentially reaches for all, or could a student from a directional-type public (that’s NAAB accredited for an M. Arch) have a reasonable expectation of getting in to one of these, assuming that the GPA is there which would hopefully mean the portfolio is there? Or would a student from a non-flagship public (again, NAAB-accredited for M. Arch) probably be limited to continuing at their institution to finish up with the M. Arch?

wow! so much in one post! will think about it all.
i will say this . . . coming from a midwest state school that’s not highly ranked, my
D had some good opps for grad school, and so did several of her classmates. what limits so many of course is . . . funding. more to come. (Love this stuff!!)

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The educational paths to becoming an architect are so variable that it’s difficult to map out a single hypothetical.

If your child has indicated an interest in pursuing architecture as a field of study and eventually as a career, I would suggest that you try to determine what interests him/her, e.g., design, construction, history, technology, then build on that aspect. Encourage him/her to look at buildings, to understand how the parts fit together, what design influences are at play. If his/her interest is sustained, then an architecture career exploration session can be helpful.

All of the MArch programs that you list would be excellent choices. (UVA is the one I’m most familiar with.) Unfortunately – and I think unfairly – Most BArch and MArch programs tend to keep admit statistics close to the vest.

My thoroughly unscientific conclusion is that only a handful of MArch programs are insanely selective (meaning under 10%). These would include the 6 Ivy League schools of architecture, MIT, Berkeley, Rice and a few others that I’ve probably forgotten. The rest fall somewhere around +/- 40% admit for students with undergraduate degrees from institutions other than the one housing the MArch degree.

If the student goes directly from his/her BA/BS to an MArch at the same institution the chance of admission is generally high, though not guaranteed, especially at the most selectives.

I’m sorry to keep repeating, but a student with a solid undergraduate record from ANY college/university with a major in architecture or whatever is of interest can be accepted to any MArch program, even the most selective (as long as he/she has a strong portfolio and fulfills the MArch’s course prerequisites).

A BS/BA in architecture may be a boost, but plenty of MArch students have degrees in other disciplines. Many have pursued wholly different careers prior to deciding to move into architecture, and many work for a few years for architecture firms – in marketing or the model shop for example – before heading to graduate school. The MArch cost and time elements are also widely variable.

The issue isn’t so much the physical space as it is the intent of the program to encourage and teach construction skills. Some do, some don’t. Model making may be required but not not taught. Same with computer design skills, especially building information modeling programs. Some MArch programs expect their students to pick up these skills on their own.

Hand drawing is mixed. A student who likes to draw and is good at it will find a way to use it. One who doesn’t and/or isn’t, can get by without it. Some firms value hand drawing skill as a form of preliminary visualization; for others it’s completely extraneous.

BA/BS degrees vary in emphasis – design, construction, technology, history. The goal is to find one that aligns with the applicant’s area of interest. This can be demonstrated by a close reading of the school’s own description of its program, by talking to current students, by attending information sessions, by looking at the backgrounds of the professors and instructors, by considering the other related degrees offered.

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Thank you again for your feedback. My sense is that the design and construction parts interest my kid the most. Looking at the schools’ programs and course offerings can certainly help to determine their areas of focus.

I understand that a student can have any major and go for an M. Arch if the student has fulfilled the prereqs and has a strong portfolio. For financial reasons,though, our family would be more comfortable with a 2-year vs a 3 or 3.5 year M. Arch program, which then points toward a B.S. in Architecture. But in the end it will end up being the kid’s choice, though a longer M. Arch program would likely mean some significant loans for the kid, which we are hoping to avoid. And the kid could change career directions as well.

I appreciate your constant willingness to share your experience with the architecture route.

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