Forget the Rankings, the Best US Architecture Schools for 2013 Are…

  • 26 Nov 2012
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  • Architecture Education Architecture News Articles Editor's Choice
Gund Hall (home of the Graduate School of Design) during Harvard Graduation. Year 2007. Photo CC Wikimedia User Tebici.

Every year, when DesignIntelligence’s latest rankings of the Best US Architecture Schools comes out, most of the anticipation is centered around one question: who’s number 1?

But despite our laser-focus on the rankings, the report is actually much more. It is also a survey of hundreds of design educators and professionals, an invaluable insight into the current state of architecture and architecture education today.

So with this in mind, and with the rankings aside, which universities are really producing students best equipped (and most marketable, in this competitive market) for the architecture profession today? When you look at the data, only two Universities stand out from the pack.

Read more to find out which two Universities are best preparing students in 2013, after the break…

Milstein Hall at Cornell University, ranked the best Undergraduate University for Architecture this year. Photo courtesy of OMA © Matthew Carbone

What Firms Want

Judging from Design Intelligence’s survey of professionals from 392 organizations, while firms today are of course looking for design excellence in their new hires, they’re also looking for graduates to provide them insight and ideas into sustainability, interdisciplinary/integrated practice, and technological change – fields that have emerged as vital in the last few years.

While 58.8% of firms (the highest percentage) identified design quality as one of the architecture profession’s premier concerns, the issues of Integrated Design (52.1%) and Sustainability/Climate Change (48.5%) rounded out the firms’ top 3 priorities (multiple responses were allowed).

Sustainability was a running theme throughout the report. 64.8% of the firms cited having benefitted from their new hires’ ideas about sustainability; and 67.8% of the Deans selected sustainability and climate change as one of the profession’s biggest concerns (the second most chosen category, speed of technological change, was chosen by 44.3%).

However, one of the few negative statistics of the survey revealed that 50.9% of firms, that’s 1 in 2, found that most new hires have an inadequate background in building, facility, and equipment life cycles.

What Students Need

So what do new graduates need to catch a firm’s eye in this competitive market? This report would suggest a well-rounded grounding in design, sustainability, integrated practice, and construction.

As students go about choosing which University program will be right for them, it’s important to keep these issues in mind. A school may be ranked #1 or #2, but how strong is it (or, at least, what’s its reputation), in sustainable design? Does it value an inter-disciplinary curriculum? Will it provide a practical grounding in construction and materials?

A Pavilion designed by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Team. Columbia ranked as the #2 Architecture Graduate School this year.

Which School’s “Best”?

So let’s break down which Universities, at least in the eyes of the hiring firm, excel in these 4 fields. According to Design Intelligence’s report, these are the collegiate programs that hiring firms deem strongest in each of these skill areas:


  • 1. Harvard University
  • 2. Southern California Institute of Architecture
  • 3. Columbia University
  • 4. Yale University
  • 5. Cornell University


  • 1. University of Oregon
  • 2. University of California, Berkeley
  • 3. Harvard University
  • 4. Southern California Institute of Architecture
  • 5. University of Cincinnati
  • 5. Auburn University


  • 1. Southern California Institute of Architecture
  • 2. Harvard University
  • 3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 4. University of California, Los Angeles
  • 5. University of California, Berkeley


  • 1. Southern California Institute of Architecture
  • 2. California Polytechnic State University, San Louis Obispo
  • 3. Harvard University
  • 4. Syracuse University
  • 5. Auburn University

As you can see, the only two schools which consistently make the lists are Harvard University and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc).

Of course, Harvard, that old stalwart of excellence, comes as no surprise. Ranked (once again) as the #1 Graduate University for Architecture this year, Harvard’s also the school most admired by Deans (for its “exceptional reputation, students and faculty, and its multidisciplinary program”) and most admired by its students (a whopping 95% of the student body rated the overall program as Excellent).

SCI-Arc, on the other hand, came in at #6 in the rankings. While that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at, the ranking perhaps misrepresents the exceptional, well-rounded reputation of the program in the eyes of hiring firms. While of course it must be said that Harvard and its Ivy-League brethren still hold much status (especially in the Southern and Eastern regions of the US), Sci-Arc, despite being young, has established itself a reputation as a school on the cutting-edge. Plus, as reflected in its steady rise in the rankings from 17th, to 13th, and now to 6th, it’s only growing.

With the market as competitive as it is, Architecture applicants would be wise to consider not just the reputation or ranking of schools, but which schools will maximize their expertise in the key areas of sustainability, integrated practice, and construction to prepare them best for the reality of where the profession is headed.

Want more info on Architecture Schools? Check out our AD Architecture School Guide.

You can see the full list of 2013 Rankings here. More rankings and surveys at DesignIntelligence.

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Forget the Rankings, the Best US Architecture Schools for 2013 Are…" 26 Nov 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 May 2015. <>
  • ozmosis49er

    The person who made this short film graduated from UNC Charlotte, which has an outstanding Architecture program. Why they do not make this list is beyond me.

  • Jake

    Little love for the central states, specifically Iowa State, which is one of the most overlooked programs. But still, it is wonderful to so more discussion happening from these arbitrary (on the surface) rankings.

  • JC

    what about UT at Austin? seemed to always rank in the top in the past?

  • giorgio

    Harvard GSD better be first after what they charge you for an architecture degree!! most over-rated school in the world

  • SCI-Arc Alumni

    Aren’t these rankings backdoor funded by those who made the top list? This is all just a marketing scheme. Would rather follow rankings of a credible source as opposed a relatively recent publication for-profit outlet.

    • Austin Cramer

      As a managing editor for Design Intelligence, I can assure you that our rankings are not at all biased, nor are they tainted by “backdoor funding”. If you know of a more credible source, I’d be anxious to hear about it. And we started publishing these rankings last century; 14 years ago. Relatively recent? I guess it depends on what you’re relating it to.

  • Siam WU

    What about ASIA

  • Matt

    And the real best school is…getting your first job and working in the profession! School teaches what’s on the ARE and very little else…I really regret wasting five years of my life and countless thousands of dollars to get an education that didn’t adequately prepare me for anything. Let’s go back to the apprenticeship model of training! Why are we handing over so much money to universities when what we need to know is all taught on the job anyway?

    • david

      I agree Matt,

      I went to school for four years and learned more on my own. Granted my school wasn’t the best, but I do have to say that schools are needed, however the fact that you need so many years is ridiculous. You can learn a good deal in two years and then go into your apprenticeship to learn at a faster and more effective way, REAL LIFE.

    • Grad Student

      I agree. I worked in the profession for 5 years after I graduated undergrad. When I returned to grad school, I was prepared only from my work experience. My observation as a professional in a very academic setting is that the design projects do not prepare students for what they will really face in the profession. It’s frustrating, and very sad for those who have yet to actually have any job experience and don’t really know if they’ll even like it after dropping 100k on their education.

  • student

    what is it that makes the people posting comments such “experts” that they can say that a certain school does or doesnt belong on this list? its very easy to substantiate your opinion when you use pure bull****: accusations of corruption or being “overrated”

  • Arthur Miller

    As a graduate of one of the top 3 schools listed, please don’t waste your time and money studying architecture. Unless, of course, you are fabulously rich and/or masochistic.

  • Graduate

    I have to say that the rankings are very close to be accurate. I attended one of the schools and have visited and known students from the other universities.
    As far as “Architecture”, my brother is an architect, my uncle is an architect, I am… it is for the well connected and wealthy or a combination of Luck, talent and persistence, Ex: Frank Gehry. It is worse than been an actor. You will ended up in “debt” and not making enough to live well and pay your student’s loans.
    Good Luck, follow your dream…but be aware of the what to expect…

  • Untitled Architecture

    Sci-Arch :)) LOL ..I met some while in Columbia. while making fun of Yale students and their core belief that Architecture is just a Building, it became obvious that Sci-Archs have not even heard of buildings, what they are for, how you go about drawing a simple plan or a section:)) .. with rather average graphic/visual skills and mediocre conceptual thinking I dont see why they think of themselves as conquering the “digital Avant-Garde.” Agree, theres more resources for digital fabrication, but we are not talking about product design are we ? We are talking about Architecture theres a lot more to it.

    Regarding GSD – simply put anything next to the Name Harvard and there you go, you have an unquestionably brilliant school.

    You might have done a research on what some employers want “it would have been interesting if you had listed them btw.”.. I’m sure your research has a degree of trustworthiness, however, just a humble peace of information > employers do not care about your school name if you are a mediocrity lacking basic technical skills. Neither they care if you were a part of a big design team with a big name stamp on your face.

    1. They care about who you are as a person
    2. Your technical skills (looking for a quality work done individually)
    3. Maybe sometimes your conceptual thinking and creativity

    Remember you can be an architect with just a high school diploma and a work experience at an architecture office. So don’t bother going to any of this schools without knowing what the architectural education is about.

    • D

      -untitled architecture
      You cannot be licensed unless you have an NAAB accredited degree

    • Alan

      obviously a jealous troll ! laugh all you want buddy, no one actually cares what an angry jealous kid thinks !

      no, I’m not a SCI-Arc student/alumni, I’m a UCLA student so no bias here

  • JC

    to all that say they wasted their time and money on an arch. education…. i really think that depends on your goal… if it was to get rich in the field then maybe so… but i am sure there is value in the learning you get about space, design, human ergonomics, etc etc etc… if you actually want to increase your knowledge and know a subject i am sure you would get that out of a good school. i have only taken a summer intensive course in arch at u texas, and i learned a lot in those 5 weeks. i imagine you would learn a lot in school… the other benefit to school is that you get to try your hand and mind at a variety of projects through all pohases, whereas in apprenticeship you are working on the crap part of someone elses designs….

  • J

    please lets not all be so cynical. we need creative, thoughtful, and yes technically proficient professionals in the field of architecture. I spent both my undergraduate (UVA) and graduate (GSD) years with talented,committed professors and students who shared a passion for architecture. I could not have asked for better learning environments. I would like to think that I bring a bit of academic idealism to the practice of architecture every day.