Here’s a professional pick-me-up: architecture is one of America’s most prestigious professions—the seventh-most, to be precise. In fact, according to the Harris Poll, a whopping 87 percent of Americans would encourage their child to pursue the occupation.
In spite of that flattering public opinion, the profession still has many hurdles to vault—diversity, gender equality, long working hours, and mounting student debt, to name a few. But, to borrow the words of Le Corbusier, architecture is a “learned game,” and where that learning begins, in today’s academic institutions, is ground zero for tackling some of those issues.
Fortunately, the future is looking bright: according to the latest survey conducted by the architectural-research organization DesignIntelligence, which polled more than 2,000 firms and 2,785 students, enrollment in architecture schools is steadily on the rise, in tandem with job prospects and salaries. Both firms and schools are increasingly addressing issues pertaining to sustainability and climate change. The study also found that more than 90 percent of architecture students surveyed were satisfied with their education.
“When I started interviewing firms in the ’90s, there was a feeling that firms and educators weren’t on the same page. I don’t get that sense anymore,” says DesignIntelligence’s editor in chief, James Cramer. “If there is going to be a strong profession in the future, there need to be strong architecture schools today.”
Published in the following pages are RECORD's annual rankings of the best architecture schools in the United States, as well as other key takeaways from the survey.
The Rankings are Shifting . . . Slowly
At first glance, RECORD's 2017 rankings of America’s top architecture schools do not differ dramatically from last year’s. In fact, eight of the top 10 in both undergraduate and graduate categories appeared on the 2016 list. Cornell has once again taken the No. 1 position for undergraduate architecture programs, while Harvard—as it routinely has been—is the top graduate school. “It’s kind of amazing that there were no big surprises,” says Cramer of the results. “I call it steady and strong and fairly consistent.”
But the rankings haven’t been completely static. In the undergraduate survey, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and Pratt Institute moved up into the 8th and 10th positions respectively, nudging Carnegie Mellon and the University of Southern California out of the top 10. Meanwhile, on the graduate school list, Syracuse University and the University of Pennsylvania rose to the top 10, displacing Washington University and Virginia Tech.
If you are a prospective student, however, the numbers are only one side of the coin: “The rankings are just a single perspective,” Cramer says. “The most expensive schools are not the necessarily the best for you. The top-ranked schools aren’t necessarily the best for you.”
Indeed, school administrators rank the institutions differently from architectural professionals, according to the survey results. For graduate programs, three schools that didn’t make the top 10 list (the University of Minnesota, SCI-Arc, and Princeton) were named as part of the top five most admired schools by deans and chairs.
Trends in Enrollment and Curriculum
According to Cramer’s research, schools are experiencing an enrollment uptick—albeit slight—in both undergraduate and graduate architecture programs. Over the years, he says, diversity has increasingly become a pressing issue in architecture schools. Women do make up approximately half of architecture students but, while there is plenty of room to grow, schools are making efforts to attract a more racially diverse student body. “We see [diversity] being talked about all the time. I don’t think schools are in denial about it,” he says.
New priorities are also surfacing in the curriculum. “With all the new technologies architects are using, there is a curious twist developing,” says Cramer. “I am talking about time and prioritizing that time to think about the entrepreneurial aspects of the profession—value propositions, and the impact that good design can have on our cities.” This increasingly forward-looking approach has led to a burgeoning focus on sustainability and climate change, as well as technology.
There has also been a notable trend toward community-focused design. Last year, for example, Pratt Institute introduced an M.S. in Urban Placemaking and Management, focused on creating successful public spaces. Cramer says, “I am excited about the future of the profession because I think its going to be one of greater impact.”
For Firms, Personality Trumps GPA
When firms interview employees, Cramer’s research shows, they regard GPA as one of the least important factors. Those hiring usually first look at personality, then portfolio, and then work experience when determining ideal candidates. “They are looking for young professionals with communications skills, curiosity to learn, and high energy,” says Cramer. But before architects with less-than-stellar grades breathe a sigh of relief, he says, “They are expecting the new hires to be able to do work that is billable right away.” This is why top-tier schools such as Harvard routinely score well on the top 10 list. “Firms think they get value from these new hires right away,” says Cramer. “They can adjust with agility.”
And They’re Hiring!
Though architecture internships have earned a reputation for low salaries and long working hours, it is actually a great time for young professionals to enter the field, according to the research. Many large firms in growing cities such as Washington, D.C., are scrambling to fill vacancies. In fact, Cramer—who visits dozens of firms annually—says that among fledgling architects, there is virtually zero unemployment (the Department of Labor reports 3 percent unemployment for the profession in general). “Firms can’t find qualified people for these vacancies,” Cramer says. “There are people out there who haven’t kept up with some of the technologies—virtual reality and advanced BIM systems. They get laid off.”
Better still, salaries for beginning architects are climbing. The national average for a first-year intern is around $42,000, but “we are talking to some firms that are this year raising starting salaries $3,000 and $8,000 and some as much as $10,000,” says Cramer. Just avoid New York, he says, where intern salaries are notoriously low, and the job market is saturated.
But those in the field are also on guard for the next recession. “There is an alert attitude in the profession, and firm leaders are watching economic indicators so that there can be some foresight brought to practice and management,” says Cramer. “There is a great deal of emphasis on resiliency and agility for what’s around the corner,” he adds, making the need for innovative and adaptable architects more urgent than ever.
The Top 10 Architecture Undergraduate Programs
|2||California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo|
|5||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University|
|6||University of Texas, Austin|
|7||Rhode Island School of Design|
|10||South California Institute of Architecture|
Comparison of Previous Architecture Rankings: Undergraduate
|Cal Poly SLO||2||2||2||1||5||4||4||3|
**Programs with only a dash either did not score in the top 20 or did not have an accredited program at that time.
The Top 10 Architecture Graduate Programs
|2 (tie)||Cornell University*|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|6||University of California, Berkeley|
|7||University of Michigan|
|10||University of Pennsylvania|
*Where more than one school receives the same number of votes, one of the schools will show no numerical ranking.
Comparison of Previous Architecture Rankings: Graduate
|U of Pennsylvania||10||15||7||14||15||8||8||11|
DesignIntelligence sent surveys to CEOs, managing partners, and human-resource directors asking about their findings in hiring architecture graduates. The respondents could select up to 10 National Architectural Accrediting Board–certified undergraduate and graduate programs in each category. Each survey response was checked for authenticity and validated by the research staff at DesignIntelligence. In cases of dubious or unreliable information that could not be confirmed, researchers eliminated the questionable return. Researchers also confirmed that the person responding to the survey was in a hiring capacity. In addition to the architectural component of DI’s research, the study includes rankings and satisfaction surveys for the professions of interior design and landscape architecture. This information is published annually in DesignIntelligence’s eponymous reports, along with a comprehensive list of the firms and employing organizations participating in the research.