Virginia Tech vs. Penn State vs. Univ. of Tennessee Architecture

I have been accepted into the B.Arch program at Virginia Tech, Penn State, and University of Tennessee. I have done some research on Design Intelligence and know that Virginia Tech is very highly ranked, Penn State is pretty well ranked, and Tennessee is not ranked very well (this ranking is also in order of most to least expensive for me to attend). I would really appreciate any insight on these three programs and career opportunities after graduation.

Each of these schools has things I really like and would be excited about, and it’s going to be a very hard decision to make. I would like to know how important these rankings should be in my decision making process-- will I still be prepared for a career and have great job opportunities if I go to Tennessee, or will these opportunities be significantly better at Virginia Tech? Any insight is greatly appreciated!

@architect538, Congratulations on some strong acceptances. I don’t know much about U of Tennessee’s architecture program so I’m not in a position to compare one to one; however, DI’s ranking would be fairly low on my list of important criteria to consider when making a decision. To me, the key points of differentiation would be the cost of attendance, the culture of the institution that the program resides in and the appeal of each geographic location.

As with any undergraduate decision, finances are the first consideration. How does the cost of each align with what your family can afford? What’s the actual cost differential, how much (if any) debt is involved?

Because the curriculums of BArch programs are regulated by the architecture board, you can be assured that you will study more or less the same material wherever you end up. Nevertheless, you may prefer the environment of a tech school, an art school or a design school within a “full service” university. None is better than another, just different.

Firms tend to hire locally both for internships during your school years and for entry level jobs after graduation, so where you intend to practice is another factor to consider. I think this is where name recognition is most influential: Schools with wider reputations have a wider hiring radius. I’m not denying the power of prestige, but I wouldn’t put it above cost and fit.

So in making your decision, evaluate the comparative costs, the culture of the parent institution and the appeal of the geographic location. You should also look at features of each program: the strength of the faculty, the background of visiting professors and critics, study abroad opportunities, thesis requirements and multi-disciplinary degree programs.

Ask the individual programs for specific information on the types of internships student have held and the jobs they’ve landed post graduation. BArch programs are notorious for high drop out rates, so they tend to be generous with their time to address applicants’ questions and concerns. Take advantage of the information on offer.


Super helpful reply from @momrath.

Doubling down on the cost element: arch degrees often take 5 years (with placement time), starter jobs in arch do not pay especially well, and an MArch may be in your future. Debt makes all of those things harder.


Yes. Masters in Architecture is often a requirement for jobs. I would factor that in or see if any have a dual degree program.

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How much difference in cost? VT is very well known for Arch.

As the pp suggested, ask the other programs where recent grads have gone, then use that to see if it’s worth the cost difference. With a competitive field, often it’s worth paying the higher cost - but that’s never a blanket statement. How much higher and what are the outcomes from the other places? Do the math and look at the possible outcomes.

Thank you so much for all your helpful input! I have been looking into each program a lot, planned a Zoom meeting with the Architecture director at one of the schools, and even found the list of firms that come to each school’s career fair. With this info, I am now definitely leaning towards VT as it seems they have significantly hiring appeal to the firms across the country. I also like the feel of their overall school and campus (hard to visit right now in the pandemic). Money-wise, final offer packets have not been sent out yet, but VT’s higher price is not a huge step up from either of the other schools, and it seems like it would be worth it in the end.


How did you already receive your VT decision?

I applied Early Action, but I received my decision in November through the Campus Connection Program. I still have to wait for the official offer on February 19.

Ohhh awesome I didn’t know what that was. Congratulations!

That is encouraging and is in line with our decision. D wants out of state despite getting accepted to two good in-state programs. Accepted to all out of state applications but the fit (5 year program, location, close to medium/ large city) made UTK the winner. I would think grads would have great options in Knoxville, Nashville and Atlanta.

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