The 10 Best Masters in Architecture Programs in the US

Architecture is one of those remarkable careers where people get to mix science and math with creativity. They not only get to design incredible buildings but also ensure they work properly so they can last for years to come.

The United States has lots of master’s degree programs for architecture, and several schools offer combined programs that let students graduate with two master’s degrees that complement one another. 

Aspiring architects must pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), though, if they want to earn an architecture license and begin their careers.

Schools in this list are ranked according to pass rates for the ARE 5.0 exam in all six divisions of the exam for the 2020 year. The included schools must be above the national average score in all six divisions of the exam at the time of this writing. Additionally, the schools must offer a master’s in architecture degree, which can be an M.Arch, MA, or MS degree.

While students can actually take the ARE exam with only a bachelor’s degree, the pass rate on this exam reflects the teaching ability of the school in the field of architecture. Pass rates can be found here:

These 10 schools are not only above average but also have the highest combined overall pass rates on all the sections of the ARE 5.0 exam.

Here are College Gazette’s picks for the 10 best master’s in architecture programs in the US.

10. Tulane University School of Architecture (New Orleans, LA)

Tulane University
EEJCC, Gibson Hall, 2019, CC BY-SA 4.0

Tulane University’s School of Architecture gives students two ways to earn their M.Arch: a three-and-a-half-year program geared toward those with no architecture background and a two-year accelerated program for people with bachelor’s degrees in subjects such as architecture or environmental design. 

Qualified students who have bachelor’s degrees in 3-D design fields, including interior design, may also get a leg up in the form of one semester of advanced standing.

The architecture program offers a mix of classroom study and real-world experience, with lots of opportunities to help the community at the same time. At Tulane’s collaborative design center, students can help underserved local community groups with their architectural needs. 

For students interested in adding on to their architecture background, Tulane also offers dual-degree programs to earn a Master of Preservation Studies or Master of Sustainable Real Estate degree. This usually just requires one extra semester of study.

9. University of Washington College of Built Environments (Seattle, WA)

University of Washington
Richardmouser, Campus Scene in March 2021 at Drumheller Fountain, Seattle, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Washington (UW) has two- and three-year STEM-designated M.Arch programs available. Students coming into the program with a bachelor’s degree in environmental design or architecture, and who have finished the required prerequisites, can enter the shorter program. 

Those who studied other fields as undergrads, meanwhile, take the three-year route. Once they’ve finished their first year, these students can participate in a paid summer internship sponsored by the Department of Architecture Professionals Advisory Council.

UW students also can take advantage of a concurrent master’s degree program, in which they earn not only an M.Arch but also a Master of Landscape Architecture.

8. University of Oregon School of Architecture & Environment (Eugene, OR)

University of Oregon
Visitor7, Knight Library, CC BY-SA 3.0

Students can pursue STEM-designated, studio-based M.Arch degrees at either of the University of Oregon’s campuses.

The M.Arch Track I takes three years and one semester to finish. Students start their studies at the Eugene campus and then have the option to finish in Portland. 

Track II, meanwhile, is for students with pre-professional degrees related to architecture. Students in this track can earn their degrees at either of Oregon’s campuses.

Regardless of what track they choose, students must pick a professional focus area for their degree. This can be a specialization or certification, or they can choose from one of the concurrent degree programs focusing on interior architecture or community and regional planning.

Students can add valuable real-life experience to their resumes through some of the opportunities available on- and off-campus, such as internships, community projects, and study abroad trips.

7. Montana State University School of Architecture (Bozeman, MT)

Montana State University students can earn their M.Arch in just three semesters after finishing their bachelor’s degree in the field at the school.

The School of Architecture offers a five-and-a-half-year bachelor’s-to-master’s degree program. The 42 credits of graduate coursework include time in the studio as well as technical classes and electives.

Students who don’t follow this path can still earn an M.Arch from Montana, but they must complete several undergraduate courses first, including ten semesters in the design studio. The university does try to help these students a boost by offering an intensive 12-week program over the summer that includes all of the courses from the program’s first year.

Students also get a chance to help out the local community through the Community Design Center, which has helped nonprofit and other groups with design projects for decades.

6. Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture (Columbus, OH)

Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture
Public domain photo by Carol M. Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons

Students learn from top-tier architectural professionals while in the three-year M.Arch program at Ohio State University (OSU).

The architecture program is part of the Knowlton School, a division of the College of Engineering that also houses a landscape architecture program. Each year, the Herbert Baumer Distinguished Visiting Professorship brings in “a prominent practitioner” of architecture to Knowlton, where he or she lectures as well as participates in a seminar and graduate design studio.

All applicants must submit a portfolio for consideration. Still, those coming into the program with a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board are eligible to skip the first year of the graduate program.

Students also take a unique approach to wrapping up their studies. Instead of writing a thesis, graduate students participate in the Exit Review program, in which they give public presentations and take a critical look at their work and its role in the larger world. The program takes place in the final semester.

5. University of Notre Dame School of Architecture (Notre Dame, IN)

University of Notre Dame
Matthew Rice, Main Building at the University of Notre Dame, CC BY-SA 4.0

University of Notre Dame students spend an entire semester studying abroad on their way to the M.Arch degree.

Like many other colleges, the University of Notre Dame’s M.Arch program includes two- and three-year paths, with the student’s bachelor’s degree determining which one he or she takes. Applicants for the two-year program must have a Bachelor of Art or Bachelor of Science in architecture, while prospective three-year students can come from any background.

For one semester, graduate students move to Rome, which becomes a living classroom for them as they take courses ranging from drawing to history to design. Through the Rome Studies Program, they study the city’s mix of classical and modern architecture as well as urbanism.

The university hosts an annual career fair to help its students prepare for life after UND, and its alumni have gone on to success post graduation. Recent M.Arch students have had a placement rate of nearly 100% at the time of their graduation.

4. Harvard University Graduate School of Design (Cambridge, MA)

Harvard Graduate School of Design
Bobak Ha’Eri, 03-28-07-Harvard-GSD, CC BY 3.0

Harvard’s program resembles that of other M.Arch degrees across the country in that it offers different tracks based on students’ prior architectural experience. 

At Harvard, though, all students with degrees from four-year bachelor’s programs, including those who studied architecture, enter the same track. That path takes at least seven full-time terms to finish for students who don’t have advanced standing and at least five full-time terms for those who do.

Additionally, the university offers a separate M.Arch track for students who earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture (or an equivalent major) in a five-year professional program. That degree takes at least four full-time terms to complete.

No matter where they start, though, Harvard students get to work in the studio space Gund Hall, enjoying amenities like lecture series and resources both on campus and at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

3. Princeton University School of Architecture (Princeton, NJ)

Prospective students with any bachelor’s degree, including architecture, can begin the three-year, full-time M.Arch program at Princeton University.

Applicants with a background in architecture don’t necessarily have to start at the bottom when earning the master’s, however. Those who studied architecture as undergrads may ask for advanced standing in the Princeton program. That standing lets them take fewer courses on their way to earning the M.Arch. than students of regular standing. All students must complete a thesis to graduate.

Candidates for the program must complete a few prerequisites: one year of college-level physics and math as well as a year of art history and architecture courses before beginning their master’s studies. Their application also needs to include a portfolio of their designs and a personal statement. Applicants do not need to take the GRE.

2. University of Virginia School of Architecture (Charlottesville, VA)

The architecture program at the University of Virginia (UVA) is all about flexibility, with options ranging from two to three years of study.

Students entering the program with a bachelor’s degree in architecture can take the two-year or two-and-a-half year track. Which path each student takes depends on the type and number of courses he or she previously took.

Candidates without a background in architecture will follow the three-year path, which kicks off in the summer with a four-week, intensive “design institute” in which they learn about the elements of the field before starting the rest of the program.

UVA also offers a one-year non-professional degree program geared toward people with architectural or similar degrees. This program is not accredited but does give students a chance to build on their study of design as well as research.

1. Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)

Professional co-ops give M.Arch students at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) an edge in the field.

This program in upstate New York can be completed in two or two-and-a-half years for those with an architecture background and three-and-a-half years for those who don’t. Prospective students can expect to encounter lots of forward-thinking at RIT, which has started emphasizing environmental sustainability in its M.Arch program. 

Students learn about designing responsibly with climate and similar environmental concerns in mind.

When it comes to hands-on experience, RIT students have access to the architecture studio bay, the Sustainable Building Materials Lab, and the Foundations 3-D Design Shop. 

Through co-ops, students land full- or part-time paid jobs related to their field, which not only gives them valuable experience but also connections in the job market. RIT’s M.Arch program has a 100% job placement rate.

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