Undergrad major for architecture

My junior daughter is very interested in Architecture and has been planning on attending school for this. We’ve been looking at different programs and she seems to be gravitating towards getting her Masters vs a BArch.

If she’s getting her Masters does she need to get an undergraduate degree in Architecture? I feel like the architecture undergraduate degree limits her to what schools she can attend and she also doesn’t have a 4 year degree that she can use right away.

She would also love to major / double major in history. Any thoughts?

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@IDtoTX, Reliable MArch admission statistics are not readily available, so these are just my observations, based on the experiences of my son and several of his friends and associates.

MArch programs draw heavily from undergraduate BS/BA architecture and architectural studies programs, and increasingly from applicants who have completed the BArch. They all do admit applicants with non-architecture academic backgrounds, but admission is difficult to predict as each MArch program has its own set of admission priorities, with varying emphasis on design, academic scores, diversity factors and life experience. They try to admit a balanced class.

Once admitted, each MArch program also has its own rules determining how long it will take to complete the MArch. Generally, students with an undergraduate degree in architecture will be able to finish the MArch in 2 years while students with other majors may need 3.0 to 3.5 years. But, again, these rules are program specific and vary widely from school to school.

There are about 10-12 very selective MArch programs (I’m estimating under 10% admission rate) MArch programs. The list varies from year to year. The other 30-35 MArch programs including some that are highly rated are overall less selective (in the 40%+ range). All have similar entrance requirements, though these too, are program specific. Generally requirements will include an art/design portfolio (though its weight in admissions varies), a personal statement, recommendations and GRE results. Usually required are courses in art studio and art history and 0 to 2 courses physics and calculus. (You guessed it, these requirements vary too.)

As long as an applicant fulfills the admission requirements, it’s possible to be admitted to any MArch program with an undergraduate degree in anything. If the applicant is aiming for one of the most selective MArch programs, then chances are better with a BS/BA in architecture. Other factors, however, can compensate. These would include an excellent portfolio, work experience in architecture, cultural diversity and unique life experiences.

My son’s undergraduate liberal arts college didn’t offer architecture as a major. He majored in art studio/art history and took a few courses in architectural history and drawing. He attended a summer career-in-architecture exploration program. After graduating he worked for a couple of years in the marketing department of a design focused architecture firm, before applying to MArch programs. Several of his MArch classmates had non-architecture related academic backgrounds – including math, history, sociology and engineering. And several of his successors in his marketing position have also been admitted to top rated MArch programs.

I would say that my son’s exposure to a range of liberal arts disciplines made him a better architect and exposure to the real life practice of architect made him a better MArch student. However, it’s important to note that a 3.0 to 3.5 year MArch is an expensive proposition, so it’s important to look carefully at the financial implications too.


Same here

me 2

BARCH programs are very concentrated and if you are not sure you want to be an architect, I think doing a BS program is great as it allows the flexibility to change majors pretty easily. What was described earlier is accurate, but some BS programs also have a plus one program to get a masters which is like doing a BARCH. My D is getting her BS in arch at a northeastern this May and will stay one more year for her masters as that is how the curriculum is accredited by NCAAB. for students coming in from other universities, they have to do two years there to get their masters.

It also seems that many programs have slightly different focus… set schools seems to be more conceptual design focused, tech schools are heavily focused on materials and new technologies… others are pretty traditional programs.


Thank you for such a comprehensive answer. I guess this just needs to be something my daughter has to really think about.

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That’s a good point about the different focuses. How would you describe the focus at Northeastern? That is on my daughters list.

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A student profiled in the article below discusses the benefits of designing an architecture major at a college without a pre-defined program. In his case, the predominance of supporting courses were in art, art history, environmental studies and physics. In terms of the holistic education he sought, he seems to have been very satisfied with this approach:

More generally, look for faculty advising for students interested in pursuing a graduate program in architecture, such as Academic Advising - Preprofessional Advising - Hamilton College.


I would say, from listening to her, that NEU def has an urban architecture focus, given their location. They also do a lot of hands on learning earlier than traditional BARCH programs bc they start coops in their third year and need some skills earlier. BC of this, she was able to get a summer job with a local arch firm here at home which was great… great experience, made her feel confident etc. She also did a summer travel class her first summer to study arch in Italy and said it was like walking through their textbooks for first year arch history… she learned so much and had a great time. If your early intent is to do the masters program to, your curriculum is a little more focused, but if you know you’ll just do the BS, there is a lot of room to take other classes too. The coops are also a great break from the grind of studio all the time… they get real world experience, get to refine their personal interests and focus and also earn their hours for their IXP(?) supervised work hours towards their license. After two coops and summer work, my D has over 2/3 of her hours done. She’s been impressed with the professionals brought in for their studio crits from local firms that she has been very inspired by and can make connections with too. She also has been involved in two research projects with arch profs (and one linked to engineering/robotics too) In the end she was choosing between calpoly (which is a phenomenal traditional BARCH program) but is happy she chose NEU to have more flexibility and a new experience (we live on the CA central coast so it would have been a lot like home.) she did a HS summer arch program there and knows lots of kids that went to programs all over and she feels like her program has been as rigorous or more than others, but she likes the overall structure of neu’s program.
Doing that HS program was so worth it bc it confirmed to her she was interested in the field, and they gave them an insight as to what kind of program they would like to follow. We saw RISD but she thought it was too aesthetic focused/art based (and she is very artistic otherwise); and she thought RPI for instance was too heavy on materials and the technical aspects. I was impressed with all the schools we visited but I really had no idea what to even look for… but she was pretty clear. She loved Tulane’s hands-on focus and community engagement aspects too, something she’s super interested in, but in the end could not see herself in NOLA. So many factors but bc of the accreditation aspect, they all are great schools. The skills they learn in arch are really incredible and transferable to so many fields I think.


@IDtoTX, Is your daughter a junior this year? If yes, then she has time to research the various options open to her.

Architecture is a broad field and there’s plenty of room for different educational backgrounds. Universities, art schools and tech institutes that house schools of architecture usually offer a range of undergraduate degrees: BArch, BS, BA, BED plus minors and related disciplines such as art history, urban planning, real estate management.

Universities and colleges that don’t have their own schools of architecture may or may not offer an architecture major, but offer cover the subject in their art and art history departments.


@IDtoTX, I would agree that Boston is a great place to study and practice architecture. My son works for a Boston firm that regularly hosts Northeastern architecture students during their co-op years and often offers them full time jobs after graduation. Their BS/MArch program turns out well trained architects with a practical balance of design and structural know-how. The co-op program is a positive point of differentiation among other schools of architecture with similar focuses and is a terrific resume builder whether the student stays on for an MArch or moves to another school.


Thanks all. This is quite the journey. I want to help my daughter but I feel daunted by the options with Architecture. She’s currently participating in ACE and is really enjoying it so at least for now her mind is made up about Architecture but who knows.

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It can be daunting, as I learned on college tours with my D. As with any major, I think finding a reputable program with the rest of the college life being a good fit for your child is key. If a program is accredited, it will be a good arch education.

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BArch and the MArch programs are accredited and have regulated curriculums. However, undergraduate BA/BS architecture and architectural studies programs are not accredited and vary widely in depth, breadth and focus.

If the applicant isn’t ready to commit to the BArch, getting a clear understanding of the comparative positives and negatives of the many, many available BA/BS options is a difficult proposition.

Though some are more transparent than others, in general MArch programs could do a better job of sharing admission statistics and financial aid information so that high school students interested in architecture could make informed decisions on what a BA/BS+MArch really entails.


Would you mind sharing with me your daughter’s experience studying architecture at Northeastern ? My daughter is a rising senior and is very interested in their program; however she has not been able to find information on the challenge level of the program and the student’s experience at the architecture program at Northeastern. She loves the coop and study abroad opportunities there.
Thank you

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@mainha I PMd you with info. Sorry, I just saw this.

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@mainha here is a good description I wrote earlier.

Thank you so much for your messages! This is such a beautiful time in the kids’ lives but so stressful at the same time!
We visited several colleges during the summer in all corners of the country. She was very well impressed with Rice, WashU but none has the coop opportunities that Northeastern has.
Because of COVID, college tours have been very different and she could not get much information from the architecture school. She is very interested in their program but also a little confused on how she will be able to complete the necessary classes with so much time out in coops and study abroad. It is just the most unique and exciting program among all the other schools!
She really appreciated the information you provided! Thank you!


Feel free to PM as you go through the process… it is pretty daunting…best to you and your daughter! It is an exciting field.

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Thank you!

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