Commentary – Architecture School Rankings for 2013

Even though the Architecture profession exists in its own little world, they too possess a ranking system which attempts to rate the various design schools available to students in the US. Unlike the US News/World Report findings which cover all US colleges/universities, a firm called Design Intelligence compiles its own findings through interviews with design school students and uses a variety of other criteria specific to design schools to determine America’s best design schools. Keep in mind that there are only about 100 schools in the US that offer an accredited degree in Architecture and in some states there is not even one school that offers an accredited degree, so you need to do your homework if you are seriously considering Architecture or Interior design as a career option. For an official list of accredited schools click here.

The list below taken from the Design Intelligence Survey ranks the top twenty schools for the different design majors.

Top 20 Architecture, Graduate

1.Harvard University
2. Columbia University
3. Yale University
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
5. Cornell University
6. Southern California Institute of Architecture
7. University of Virginia
7. University of California, Berkeley
9. Washington University in St. Louis
10. University of Cincinnati
11. University of Michigan
11. University of Texas at Austin
13. Kansas State University
14. University of Kansas
15. University of Pennsylvania
15. Rice University
15. Princeton University
18. Iowa State University
18. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
20. Clemson University
20. Savannah College of Art and Design

Top 20 Architecture, Undergraduate

1. Cornell University
2. Southern California Institute of Architecture
3. Rice University
3. Syracuse University
5. California Polytechnic State Univ., San Luis Obispo
6. University of Texas at Austin
7. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
7. Rhode Island School of Design
9. Iowa State University
9. Auburn University
11. Pratt Institute
12. Carnegie Mellon University
13. University of Notre Dame
13. University of Oregon
13. Boston Architectural College
16. University of Southern California
16. Cooper Union
18. Pennsylvania State University
19. University of Arkansas
19. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Top 15 Landscape Architecture, Graduate

1. Harvard University
2. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
3. Cornell University
3. Louisiana State University
5. University of Virginia
6. University of Pennsylvania
7. Pennsylvania State University
7. Rhode Island School of Design
7. Texas A&M University
10. University of California, Berkeley
11. Kansas State University
11. University of Georgia
13. Auburn University
13. University of Texas at Arlington
13. University of Texas at Austin
13. University of Washington

Top 15 Landscape Architecture, Undergraduate

1. Louisiana State University
2. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
3. Pennsylvania State University
4. Kansas State University
5. Texas A&M University
6. Cornell University
7. Calif. Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
7. Purdue University
7. University of Georgia
10. Ball State University
11. Iowa State University
11. Texas Tech University
13. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
13. Michigan State University
13. Ohio State University

Top 10 Interior Design, Graduate

1. Savannah College of Art and Design
2. Rhode Island School of Design
3. Pratt Institute
4. Cornell University
4. Parsons The New School for Design
6. New England School of Art & Design at Suffolk Univ.*
6. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
8. Boston Architectural College*
9. Kansas State University*
9. University of Oregon


Top 10 Interior Design, Undergraduate

1. Savannah College of Art and Design
2. University of Cincinnati
2. Rhode Island School of Design
4. Pratt Institute
5. Auburn University
6. University of Texas at Austin
6. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
8. Boston Architectural College
8. Cornell University
8. Kansas State University
8 Parsons The New School for Design

Top 10 Industrial Design, Graduate

1 Art Center College of Design
2 Pratt Institute
2 Rhode Island School of Design
4 Arizona State University
4 Auburn University
4. Cranbrook Academy of Art
7. Georgia Institute of Technology
7. Ohio State University
7. Savannah College of Art and Design
7. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Industrial Design, Undergraduate

1. Art Center College of Design
1. University of Cincinnati
3. Pratt Institute
3. Rhode Island School of Design
3. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
6. Auburn University
6. College for Creative Studies
6. Savannah College of Art and Design
9. Carnegie Mellon
9. Syracuse University

These lists can serve as a starting point for helping one choose a design college, but they don’t predict your chances of graduation, nor do they reflect how you will perform on your ARE exam (the multi-part licensing exam required to obtain an architect’s license). Sure bragging rights matter (but more to the admissions staff then to the students enrolled at a particular school). Every school wants to be top dog and all of the ‘top schools’ pride themselves in remaining high on the rankings list in their respective categories year after year. Looking over past Design Intelligence surveys, I found few discernible changes in the schools or their order in the rankings over a period of a decade. When a change did occur in the rankings it was due to the arrival of a rising star architect who had recently assumed a leadership role at the school in question and the school received a bump in the rankings because that new leader’s work was in vogue in the architectural community. That ‘it’ factor alone doesn’t make the school any better per say, it is just a factor that shuffles the numbers. The consistent performances of the top schools should also not be taken as a sign that these top schools are consistently excellent or worthy of their hefty price tags either. Some ivy-league schools coast on their reputations and some are just plain over-rated. Also newly accredited programs tend to be more innovative then some of the old guard schools that have been accredited for decades. (FYI MIT offered the first accredited Architecture degree back in 1865.) When I applied to design school back in 2006, I was unaware of the Design Intelligence survey and based my decision on location and time required to complete the degree alone. The photos above were the schools I visited in person as part of my college search. Looking at Design Intelligence rankings, I see that many if not all of the schools I visited are ranked highly today, but I would not personally rank all of them as excellent, some were far from it. But opinions are just that, subjective; one man’s garbage is another man’s gold.

Every school on the list has a slightly different focus to its design curriculum (with variations in preferred computer software packages used at the school, favored architects emphasized for students to emulate, and favored teaching styles). All of these details are not listed in any of the magazines or surveys(Design Intelligence included) and the only way you find out this info is by talking with students enrolled at the school or by attending the school itself. However, probably the most important factor that isn’t publicized at all in any of these rankings relates to the Architecture profession itself.

I found that Architecture is very much a cross-generational profession, meaning if your parents are architects, you (their children) will most likely show an interest and aptitude for the profession as well. With only a limited number of design schools to choose from, your favorite architect’s son or daughter is more then likely to be in a design class with you. These famous architects operate successful practices and know which skills are most valued on the job. They also know what is taught in today’s design schools (as many teach graduate seminars or lead design studios at said colleges and universities) thus are likely to advise their own children to apply to certain schools over others. Use their wisdom to your advantage. The Design Intelligence rankings don’t publish the lists of names of the students enrolled in a particular design program at a particular school, but you can find out that info by checking out the online work featured on each school’s website. Each design studio will list the names of the student’s work featured for that particular studio. Looking over those websites you will likely recognize the famous surnames from some of the best known design firms in the US today. As most design studios have only 5 to 10 students in each section, the lists of names is quite manageable to research. So for example, if Frank Geary or Richard Meier is your favorite architect, start with the schools from the list above checking each school’s website and see where their kid’s name pops up, (I know it is kind of stalking) but that is often the best testimonial of a program’s quality that you are going to find and much more meaningful then any of these rankings. And keep in mind, you don’t need to limit your list to big name architects, if there is a local architect in your hometown and you like their work, ask what school they attended and if they were happy with their education. In the Architecture profession, personal recommendations carry a lot of weight in all aspects of the business.

My final piece of advice on selecting a design school is to know your strengths as a designer and try to select a school that emphasizes/supports your strengths. Are you a good drawing student or do you design exclusively on a computer screen? Are you more suited to an engineering/trade school environment or a theory based education? These questions are important as finding a school that works for you rather than in its own way can make the difference between keeping your sanity or flunking out. The arduous process of obtaining a design degree will be a lot less frustrating and doors will open a lot easier if you have a supportive faculty that rewards your abilities rather than enduring a program where you find yourself butting heads with the faculty, which ultimately leads to transferring or dropping out altogether. Also if you are the child of a practicing architect, by all means avail yourself of your parent’s advice in selecting the right school and feel free to ask them for help with design problems that come up during your design education.

The percentage of people who graduate with a design degree is very small compared with those that start one. Design school has one of the highest attrition rates of any academic program due to the heavy workload and constant evaluation process that design students are held to. Every person I know that made it through had parents or close friends in the profession who probably helped them to make it to the finish line. Being able to bounce ideas off a practicing architect and being able to ask a parent to explain a concept when many Architecture professors often only speak in generalities or what I call ‘Archispeak’ will save you from making silly mistakes or embarrassing yourself during important evaluations. Also having a family member in the profession creates an automatic employment opportunity (sure it’s nepotism) you can pursue when you graduate. In this economy that is huge when so many architects are out of work and finding your first job can be so difficult.

A design education is an enormous investment in time and money so choose, but choose wisely as the knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade so eloquently stated. Do your homework before selecting a school, and that means talking to at least 3 different students at each school you are thinking of attending. Visit campus while classes are in session and if possible visit on a crit day. Don’t rely solely on Design Intelligence’s rankings or the testimonials of a school’s star student to make your decision on where you will do best. These people often paint a distorted picture of the school. Ask about the criteria I mentioned above and research your favorite architect’s background and the schools that his/her children currently attend. Above all, know yourself and where your talents lie and leave the rankings for the trashcan where they belong.

Link to Design Intelligence survey

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