Why to Join Architecture Schools in USA
According to the , three of the top five architecture schools in the world are in the USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California, Berkeley (UCB), and Harvard University. Academic reputation, employer reputation and research impact are the criteria followed in this annual ranking. Nonetheless, it is acknowledged among architects and architecture seekers today that the stamp of American architecture schools is innovation, diversity, and a leadership in the global architecture acquisition. These seem evident not only in rankings, but in the market. A variety of architecture schools, tackling different approaches in the practice of architecture, present a wide range of options for undergraduates and graduates aspiring to be present in the leading scene of architecture education, research, and consequently practice. From the pervasive trend of sustainability, to the theme of integrity and interdisciplinary, an education for commercial architecture, even romanticism and the restoration of old buildings, a thorough research will lead passionate architecture seekers to the approaches that fit their ambition.
According to the 2015 QS ranking for architecture schools, three of the top five architecture schools in the world are in the USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California, Berkeley (UCB), and Harvard University. Academic reputation, employer reputation and research impact are the criteria followed in this annual ranking. Nonetheless, it is acknowledged among architects and architecture seekers today that the stamp of American architecture schools is innovation, diversity, and a leadership in the global architecture acquisition. These seem evident not only in rankings, but in the market. A variety of architecture schools, tackling different approaches in the practice of architecture, present a wide range of options for undergraduates and graduates aspiring to be present in the leading scene of architecture education, research, and consequently practice. From the pervasive trend of sustainability, to the theme of integrity and interdisciplinary, an education for commercial architecture, even romanticism and the restoration of old buildings, a thorough research will lead passionate architecture seekers to the approaches that fit their ambition.
Major Challenges Facing International Students
Indeed, the bright aspects of pursuing architecture education in the USA thus mentioned, are countered by challenging facts. The diversity of approaches just praised, necessitates a well-devised plan on the side of the students. Variety demands delving into the advantages and drawbacks of more possibilities, therefore, making inaccurate decisions from the side of students increases. However, the flexibility reflected in the number and institution types remains a tempting feature of the architecture education in the US.
On the other hand, in addition to the relatively soaring tuitions, a major challenge encountered is the selective process the reputed schools adopt in the admission of students- especially in the undergraduate level- making the admission cycle occur mostly once a year. The Southern California Institute of Architecture for instance admits a total of 70 students into its program annually. Cornell admits only 55. 
However, these facts are not meant to dismantle you, on the contrary, in what follows we will simplify the steps you have to follow, and highlight the points that may be ignored or mistaken during your search and application.
You 5 Steps Guide to Join an Architecture School in the US
These steps are directed to international students, who need to devise a plan to study architecture in the USA. So if you are a seeker of architecture education in the states and concerned with the what to start or what to consider for that, join us in this sequence of steps based on personal experience, from school choice to funding, admission, visa requirements, and immigration preparation.
“In my first meeting with my adviser, I told him about my intentions to be hired in the school after I obtain my PhD, he smiled, then he asked me to check how many people with PhD’s work in Virginia Tech, its not about your degree, its all about your qualifications and what you could deliver to the students”
1- Choose the right School that fits your interest
The first step is that you make the school choice the number one concern to direct your attention towards. Schools of architecture in the US present their specialty and philosophy, after considering the program structure, by the methods of teaching, the research investment, and internship as well as job prospects .Some general information about architecture schools include that the school you target be certified by the Student Exchange Visitor Program SEVP (visit the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the State’s website for the list of Schools). In what follows we will state the types of Architecture degrees provided, and the types of schools in the US.
” MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning is best known for its innovative approach to combining media, technology with design and research. SciArc is best know for experimental design. Virginia Tech is widely know for its sustainable approach, while UCLA is know for combining media with architectural design. “
Generally, the levels of study in the US are: Community college, Undergraduate, Graduate, Short-term, English language studying. The Architecture degrees obtained in the Undergraduate level are: Bachelor of Architecture (BArch), Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies/Bachelor of Science in Architecture (BS Arch), and the Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies (BA Arch ). As for the Graduate level, you can obtain a: Master of Architecture (MArch), or Master of Science in Architecture (MS Architecture)  Degree. As for doctoral studies, the obtained degrees are: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctorate in Architecture (DArch), and Doctorate in Design (DDes).
“For undergrad students, community colleges can help you pay lower fees in your first year in the US. Also, as a Non-resident Alien you will also pay lower taxes. Just make sure what and how many credit hours could be transfered to your futuristic University”
Being familiar with the types of colleges can be an aid to you in your study plans. There are three types of colleges: Community colleges, Private colleges and universities, and State colleges and universities. Community colleges are directed for gaining occupational education, or can provide a two-year associate degree program to prepare students to continue studies for an undergraduate degree. These colleges are sometimes opted by international students in their early stages of staying in the US as they are less selective and less expensive, in the aim of a transfer to other acknowledged universities. Private colleges and universities are usually smaller than public institutions and can have a certain orientation. Usually they are funded by tuition fees, research grants, and alumni. State colleges and universities, also called “public universities,” are generally large education bodies founded by the US government to provide education for the residents of a particular state for a low-cost. However, that doesn’t apply to international students regarding admission of large numbers and costs.
2-Secure the Funding
As an international student looking to join an architecture school in the US, being aware of the financial aspect goes along your school choice. So regardless where and what, you wouldn’t expect to pay a tuition less than $25,000. The living costs also vary greatly according to your location in the states. The types of funding you’d want to explore are different. But your application for funding goes along your application for admission.
Governmental and NGO funds make you subject to J1 visa with 2 years home residency rule, which means that you have to go back to your home country after you obtain your degree. Most international students can’t change their visa type to H1B1 to work and live in US until they spend those two years in your home country”
Scholarships and grants offered from universities are possible, recorded to reach 25% in some schools. However, among the top schools, a scholarship between 25-50% is solely available at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where admission standards are very high. Governmental organizations and non-profit organizations in one’s homeland are a place to investigate too. Some US programs and organizations can be a choice, but they offer limited places, like the Fulbright program and the Amideast.
“The best way to get school funds is to search the list of faculty members, find the professor who has research or non-research-focused design projects that fit your study approach, as a way to get some experience working under an advisor and to “get your foot in the door”.
3- Process your Application
As an advice on the start of this step, this step requires much effort from your side so one would better start to collect the data a while ahead. And although requirements depend on the university, you can expect that you need to collect along with your certificates and transcripts, your recommendation letters from previous instructors, write essays or motivation letters, complete an English language test, mostly TOEFL. In the case of graduates, a strong portfolio seems crucial; you can find a description of this requirement in each school’s requirements. And as for the academic record and the GPA, most programs especially graduate programs require a strong record and a GPA no less than 3.0 in the last attained qualification. However, students who particularly don’t meet this requirement find their way through to colleges that are less concerned with this or community colleges, in the hope of future transfer. Interviews are commonly expected from most architecture schools, and they can be written even in some schools like Cornell.
4- Apply for the Right Visa Type
Information about visas and immigration procedures better not be left until admission, as the types of visas and immigration requirements need to be investigated thoroughly. First you need to get acquainted with the visa types. To study in the USA as an international student, you need a student visa that can be of 3 types: F-1, J1, or M1, depending on the type of school and course, and your future plan. A visa requires an interview that is rather brief and concerned with your motives, goals, and financial support resources.
So the (F-1) academic nonimmigrant visa is the visa type that you will need in case you are entering the US to study at a: university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or another academic institution, including a language training program. The (B) visa is a visitor visa that’s used in case you need to enter the US for ‘for short periods of recreational study’, on condition that this course doesn’t lead to an academic degree or certificate from a US school. It is worth mentioning that in case of distance learning that requires attending the school at the US for some time, you’ll need an (F-1) visa.
The Exchange Visitor (J-1) visa is a nonimmigrant visa type issued for individuals who are coming to the states to ‘participate in work and study-based exchange visitor programs’. These Exchange Visitor Programs are managed by the Department of State (DoS) and aim at enhancing the intercultural relationships of the US. It is worth noting that these exchange programs necessitate that the exchanged visitors return back to their homelands when their program is over in order to spread their gained experience in their countries.
The (M-1) visa is a non-academic visa issued for students who want to enroll in a non-academic or vocational school. These students are not allowed to work during their program that must be a “full course of study”, meaning in a community or junior college.
As noted before, not all schools are SEVP approved. A SEVP certified college and university can admit international students in their academic programs. This allows you to enroll in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) when you’re accepted. Then the school will issue a Form I-20 to you to present to the counselor officer in the visa interview.
Visit the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States to read detailed information about visas.
5- Prepare for your Departure
We arrived at the final step which is preparing for departure. There are many sources for your departure related questions. A reliable source is your local EducationUSA center, or any other Pre-departure Orientation center. These centers aim at advising students willing to travel to the USA to study by series of advisers and USA alumni. Another source is your institution’s website that always provides you with facts about the life in their particular area; like life costs, accommodation, transportation, health insurance, etc…
Building your connections with the student community of your homeland is a very helpful tip. However, an important fact you would better make yourself familiar with is the demanding nature of architecture programs in the US. You will generally be exposed to challenging projects through strenuous schedules. And even seeking internships as an architecture student should always be on your mind.
These steps probably sound much easier to know than to pursue, but if you are a passionate architecture seeker, whether you are in the undergraduate, graduate or doctoral level, acknowledging the US as your destination with all its challenges is certainly a choice that will have good returns to your education and a good investment for your future career.
By: Zeynab Matar , Ibrahim Abdelhady