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

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

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "Forget the Rankings, the Best US Architecture Schools for 2013 Are..." 26 Nov 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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