Getting In: Admissions Advice from Architecture Programs Around the World

MIT. Image MIT. Image

As a follow up to A Glimpse Into the Weird World of Architecture Students' First Assignments I wanted to explore what architecture schools from around the world are looking for in creating their institution’s community of young architects.

Approximately 3,550 students enroll annually in the United States into an accredited Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) program according to the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and about 70% of that enrollment eventually graduate with a degree in architecture. There are 51 Accredited BArch programs in the United States compared to over 2,000 architecture programs worldwide. The United States has such a minimum amount of architecture schools relative to the world. An interesting fact is there are twice as many Master of Architecture programs in the U.S., but the initial quantity of student enrollment into each program is very similar.

Each school and country has different expectations of their candidates - expectations not always made clear in application forms or promotional material. Through speaking to admissions officers and school administrators from a number of schools, I gained a great deal of insight into what is expected from the applicant. There are varying perspectives on admissions and how an ideal applicant is selected. Expectations range from concrete requirements to loose suggestions; impersonal to deeply intimate. No two are the same, which is why it can be helpful to understand what they are looking for.

Below, some advice from professors and admissions officers at universities around the world: 

United States

Cal Poly Pomona, Department of Architecture

Sarah Lorenzen, AIA

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Image Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Image

“As a public school, admissions are primarily based on a combination of GPA and test scores (referred to as the CSU Eligibility Index - EI). Since architecture at Cal Poly is what's referred to as an "impacted" program we take far fewer students than what is listed as the minimum requirements. For our BArch we receive between 1500-2000 applicants for around 100-150 admits. To make a selection we (the university, not the department) start at the highest EI number and work down the list until we have the number of students we can fit into the program. Transfer student admits are based on GPA only and once admitted they are placed into a given year (1st, 2nd or 3rd year) based on the courses they've taken at their Community College and on their portfolio.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Admissions Office

MIT. Image MIT. Image

"When we admit a class of students to MIT, it’s as if we’re choosing a 1,100-person team to climb a very interesting, fairly rugged mountain—together. We obviously want people who have the training, stamina, and passion for the climb. At the same time, we want each to add something useful or intriguing to the team, from a wonderful temperament or sense of humor to compelling personal experiences, to a wide range of individual gifts, talents, interests and achievements."

"We are emphatically not looking for a batch of identical perfect climbers. We are looking for a richly varied team of capable people who will support, surprise, and inspire each other."

Syracuse University, School of Architecture

Joseph Godlewski, Ph.D.

Syracuse University. Image Syracuse University. Image

"Architecture school is academically challenging. Some think math ability is the most important. While it is critical, I've found success in other AP level courses is sometimes a better indicator of future performance in architecture school."

"Perhaps more importantly than grades and test scores is expressing a passion for architecture. This can take many forms-- being well-versed in an architect's work, travel to inspirational projects, a sketchbook full of thoughts and ideas, or enrollment in a pre-architecture or other "discovery" program, etc. I always find it perplexing when prospective students haven't read a book about architecture."

"Lastly, portfolios are important, but not in ways many may think. What I look for in student work is potential for projective thinking. What separates architecture from other disciplines is its ability to imagine new worlds. Architects creatively speculate about things that are not yet in the world as is. The best portfolios hint at this ability."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Brian Kelly

  1. Curiosity: an insatiable desire to ask why and to find connections between interests 

  2. Rigor: the commitment to see work through and to pursue it with vigor

  3. Awareness: of contemporary culture and topics outside of architecture

  4. Professionalism: maturity to navigate collaborative work in a professional manner

University of Hawai'i at Honolulu, School of Architecture

Simon M. Bussiere, Assistant Professor

Honolulu, Hawai'i. Image Honolulu, Hawai'i. Image

  1. Overall potential

  2. Representative process work, evidence of iterative conceptual thinking

  3. Craft and documentation precision

University of Minnesota, Graduate Program 

Ali Heshmati, Adjunct Assistant Professor

University of Minnesota. Image University of Minnesota. Image

The most important quality in an applicant is their ability to show how they can be a creative problem solver and an independent thinker. In other words, I do not think students need to seek to find out what the grad school is asking them to do, but emphasize how they can contribute to an existing culture while creating a unique value. 

Past performance is also very important to me unless one can convince me that they can shine even if they have not done so as of yet. This can be done through a portfolio of past work or current and immediate work that shows engagement with a passion. 

Statement of purpose is also very important as I see too many students that lack vision and passion. Vision and passion must come from within and be personal. Do not define architecture and tell me what it means to you. Try to consider what it means and then question it. Because if you know what architecture means then you have no business going to school.

University of Nevada Las Vegas, School of Architecture

Joshua Vermillion, Assistant Professor

  1. Diversity. Being situated in the U.S.'s most diverse campus we feel that our professional architecture community should do better to mirror the demographic diversity of the communities that we serve

  2. Determination. Many of our students are first-generation college students in their families. Often, we see this as an indicator of one's ability to persist and overcome adversity, even while stepping way outside of their comfort zone.

  3. Work ethic and motivation. The ability for someone to take initiative.

University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Architecture

UIC. Image UIC. Image

Kelly Bair, Associate Professor + Associate Director of Graduate Studies

  1. Characters with Positions
  2. Obsessed Fans

  3. Cockeyed Optimists 

Canada

Dalhousie University School of Architecture Halifax, Canada

Diogo Burnay, Associate Professor + Director

Applicants are requested to submit a portfolio with a variety of work ranging from watercolors, painting, graphic work, wood work, carpentry, models, photography, poetry...basically a variety of work that allows the admissions committees to appreciate their special qualities. We do value a sense of delight for their subject matter, a love for craft in their work and a sense of caring for how the portfolio is presented.

All admissions committees have senior and junior professors and senior students in them.

Spain

Las Palmas De Gran Canaria Area, Spain

Juan Ramírez Guedes, Full Professor

Gran Canaria. Image Gran Canaria. Image

The main characteristics that are demanded can be defined as:

  • critical capacity; 
  • interest in the context, the environment and the landscape; 
  • interest in the social dimension; 
  • interest in construction and technologies and their adaptation to the environment. 
  • Good level of drawing and knowledge of the arts.

Portugal

University of Porto, Faculty of Architecture

Jose Pedro Sousa, Faculty of Architecture

  1. Enjoy using representational tools, either traditional (e.g. sketching) and new ones (e.g. digital), as extensions of our minds to trigger the imagination and to communicate ideas.

  2. Self-commitment to engage in a 5 years period of an intensive education requiring a strong dedication, resilience and hardworking.

  3. Curiosity and open minded to investigate and learn beyond the class environment and the disciplinary boundaries of architecture.

  4. Readiness for collaborative and interdisciplinary work.

These four qualities will open the door to the growth of an endless passion for our beautiful and unique discipline.

Czech Republic

Czech Technical University in Prague

Henri Achten, Faculty of Architecture

Prague. Image Prague. Image

  1. Artistic expression, by (a) drawing a model; (b) drawing abstract composition; (c) perspective drawing.

  2. Spatial ability through working with rectangular projections and stereometry.

  3. Written exam about general knowledge of architecture, landscape architecture, and design.

  4. Hand in results of National Equivalence Test. This test the following:  (1) general test of study skills, (2) basic social sciences aspects, (3) mathematics, (4) biology, (5) chemistry, and finally (6) English, German, and Spanish language skills

  5. Interview with a committee that tests motivation, general knowledge, argumentation, and in which portfolio with maximum 15 own creative works.

Serbia 

University of Belgrade Department of Architecture

Vesna Mila Čolić Damjanović

We have an admissions test with two parts and lasts 90 minutes. The first part tests a candidate’s general knowledge that includes history, philosophy, geography, etc. and general knowledge of architecture and art. The second part tests candidate’s verbal and cognitive skills such as understanding of text, logical thinking, and the ability to solve problems and make independent conclusions. Some of the main qualities looked for in a candidate is a passion for studying of architecture with an understanding of cultural, historical, philosophical, socio-economical context in relation to architecture. 

Albania

Universiteti POLIS Tirana, Albania

Saimir Kristo, PhD

We are looking for students that are open, open to challenges, knowledge, and education. The first step to develop creative thinking as we are looking for students with potential for creativity.

Architecture, design, engineering, urban planning, and environmental studies are fields that tackle in a wide spectrum many problems, students with a background in scientific, social issues and also artistic formation to respond in these challenges.

We stimulate our students to express their independent personality and unique way of thinking as they must feel free to express their qualities and what they believe in… POLIS University is “space for thinking” and all the above qualities are fundamental to make it possible.

Turkey

Erciyes University Department of Architecture Kayseri

Burcu Salgin

Admission is based solely on the national level university entrance examination Student Selection and Placement System. They are selecting students (for the department of architecture) in terms of students' math, science and Turkish scores in this exam. This is a national exam for all of the students in Turkey. This year, 1.2 million students partook.

Generally, one month later, their scores are declared and then, they are trying to list their choices. I don't know how many choices they are listing (maybe 10 or 20), but they are trying to fit more suitable departments in terms of scores. Some of my students come to the architecture department with knowledge about the profession. But some of them come to our department without knowing how difficult it is. Sometimes, they want to give up after one month in the department.

Lebanon 

Lebanese American University

Elie G Haddad

Open mind, versatility, dedication and commitment, curiosity

Design and Built Environment at Beirut Arab University

Marwan Halabi

We look for experience, motivation, team spirit, and maybe a persuasive character.

Pakistan

Imperial University, Lahore Pakistan

Ali Akbar Husain

  1. Evidence of interest in building sites, historical and contemporary.

  2. Some awareness of the importance of context in architecture.

  3. Many hobbies including creative arts

  4. Public speaking skills  

India

Sushant School of Art and Architecture Gurgaon, India

Parul Munjal

  1. The eligibility criteria will revert back to students who have math, chemistry and physics.

  2. Candidates need to have cleared a national aptitude test NATA in which their logical thinking, comprehension, visual conceptualization and communication are tested.

  3. The ideal candidate should have the following that we nurture further: Critical thinking ability Communication skills Awareness about their physical and social environment

Iran 

Siamak Panahi Islamic Azad University

Admissions Office

Scoring well on Konkour… that’s it!

(Note from the architecture admissions: [Konkour] is not a proper exam for Architecture. It only covers questions about diploma of mathematics, [chemistry, mathematics, physic, geometry, literature & similar studies], nothing about architecture and designing.)

Qatar

Qatar University

Kas Oosterhuis

  1. I look for that twinkle in the eyes of the candidate when responding to more specific details I raise on design, to find out whether they are really interested or just reciting a predefined couple of lines.

  2. I try to see how they use their hands when expressing their ideas, to find out whether they have a strong driving force from within.

  3. When the occasion is there is look how they move their fingers over the keyboard, to see whether they move freely and swiftly, whether they have a natural feeling towards the digital / mechanical interface, which is needed to use laptop / machines in the design process

  4. I discuss with them the role model that Zaha Hadid is for almost all of them [we have only female students here at Qatar University]

  5. Almost all candidates seek for a marriage of the traditional and the actual, and they believe Zaha is/was doing just that, which says a lot of their perception of the traditional, typically they see in the parametric a relation with traditional masrabiyah patterns.

  6. Qatar is a very young country, with a very young architecture department, as of now only open for ladies, which means we are selecting the power-women that will be in charge within one decade.

Egypt

Cairo University

Mohammed Ghonim 

Cairo University. Image Cairo University. Image

Architectural education is expected to grow a wide range of knowledge, skills, and abilities in order to enable graduates to achieve an appropriate competency level to practice architecture. Readiness to learn architecture is the concern of many architecture schools, so they usually hold admission exams to check how candidates are ready to handle the architectural learning tasks. Actually, measuring the capabilities of the candidates is a critical task that cannot be done easily through few questions or one type of exams. Therefore, besides written exams, oral exams, interviews and portfolios are sometimes applied.

Comprehensiveness of admission exams is required to achieve higher reliability levels, as these exams should cover the different knowledge and skills required to learn architecture. Focusing only on the general architectural knowledge and drawing skills might lead to unreliable results. In addition to the aforementioned capabilities, admission exams should always assess the critical and creative thinking skills of candidates, as well as some important personal skills such as communication and management.

Moreover, due to the interdisciplinary and sometimes unstructured work environments in architecture, I do believe that self-directed learning skills are highly important to learn and practice architecture. Consequently, when it is possible, these skills should be tested early to achieve a better architectural education. Finally, the reliability of an admission exam -as a prediction tool- should be regularly checked and developed, through comparing the exam records of the accepted candidates against their final records at graduation.