Architecture Applicant?

Problems with architecture school rankings.

Be careful out there.

Frank Lloyd Wright outside of the AA School of Architecture.
Did you know Frank Lloyd Wright once beat up one of his colleagues for being called a country bumpkin? His boss, Louis Sullivan, sat back and watched the fight from his desk. Just a fun fact.

Choosing the right architecture school is a tough decision, and relying solely on rankings can be misleading. In this blog post, we’ll explore the limitations of architecture school rankings, highlighting why a broader perspective is necessary. By understanding these pitfalls, you can make a more informed decision that aligns with your unique needs and aspirations.

You may be in the early stages of your architecture school application and happen to find yourself looking through all sorts of architecture school rankings. There’s nothing wrong with school rankings, as long as they’re valid. Many of them should be taken with a pinch of salt. Here are a few important things to remember when looking through rankings:

QS is not necessarily a quality rank for architecture

There are a lot of MIT and Bartlett grads out there proud of how their alma mater places in the upper echelons of the QS architecture rank. However, this rank is not an entirely useful rank for architecture. Architecture is notoriously hard to rank, and the metrics used by QS have placed many of the universities on their list in odd positions. For example, Stanford doesn’t have a NAAB program…and yet is ranked very highly on QS. It is also worth remembering that top independent schools such as the AA, Cooper Union and SCI-Arc are not picked up by this ranking, yet these are some of the top schools in the world. 

Rankings often focus on easily quantifiable factors like faculty-to-student ratios and research output, neglecting qualitative aspects. This narrow approach fails to capture the comprehensive educational experience and the unique qualities that shape architects.

Let’s explore real-world examples from top architecture schools to understand how different aspects shape the decision-making process:

Schools like Harvard University and Yale University have established reputations for excellence, offering valuable networking and mentorship opportunities. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) boasts renowned faculty, exposing students to cutting-edge research. The University of Southern California (USC) has strong industry connections, providing real-world exposure and potential career opportunities.

The Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London offers a unique unit system, fostering individual creativity. ETH Zurich in Switzerland emphasizes rigorous design studio culture, while the University of California, Berkeley focuses on sustainability and social responsibility. Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) boasts a strong alumni network, providing professional connections.

Considering these factors alongside rankings offers a holistic understanding of each school’s offerings. The right architecture school aligns with your goals and values, providing quality education and resources for your architectural journey. Thorough research, campus visits, and conversations with faculty and students will help you make an informed choice. Embrace the whole picture to select a school that sets you on a path towards a fulfilling career in architecture.

Don’t obsess over rankings

Your valuable time may be better invested in developing your application and portfolio. If your dream school is in the top 20, globally, then it’s going to be a great school and that’s all anyone can ever know. Your own personal selection strategy is what matters. Sure, if your school ranks as 250th on average instead of 50th, then there is clearly a difference in caliber. Just make sure not to see ranks as individual positions of 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. See the ranking order in groups of 5, where the more obvious differences are. For example, see the first 5 rankings as 1st place schools, the next 5 rankings and 2nd place schools, etc. This will stop you getting hung up on the tiny differences. 

Consider a school’s track record, faculty expertise, alumni network, industry partnerships, and unique educational offerings. This comprehensive approach ensures a well-rounded evaluation of the potential fit for your architectural education.

John Andrews's Gund Hall, Harvard GSD.
Recognize this building?

Ask yourself questions

Conduct comprehensive research beyond rankings. Explore school websites, visit campuses, and engage with current students and faculty to gain firsthand insights into the educational environment and opportunities.

Architecture education encompasses various disciplines, making it challenging to quantify quality. The subjective nature of evaluation and the multifaceted nature of programs defy simple ranking metrics.

Individual needs and aspirations vary, and a one-size-fits-all ranking approach may not consider your specific goals. A top-ranked school might not align with your vision, emphasizing the importance of finding a program that suits your preferences.

Once you’ve gathered a few schools that you’re interested in, profile them yourself. Does one have a certain professor with interests that align closely with your own interests? What is the course structure like? Does one have a pedagogy which is totally incompatible with your interests? Now that you’ve gone through the rankings, see this post on school selection. Personal school selection strategy beats rank crawling.

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