Architectural studies differ from many other subjects and courses. Most of your studies will be based in the studio for design work, tutorials and 'crits' (critiques). The crit, a common term in art and design education, is where you present your design project work to tutors (and other students), who provide feedback. You will also attend lectures and computer-aided design tutorials, have essays to write, site visits to go on and visits to buildings and places of interest.

Studying architecture

Some schools provide opportunities for hands-on building projects, others offer specialist areas of study or have developed strengths in particular disciplines - for example, sustainability, town planning, technology or management. Skills in problem solving and team work are also developed through project work.

The approach to architectural education differs between schools so you should thoroughly research available courses to see what suits you and your interests, as well as your qualifications, before applying. Try to attend the open days or the degree shows (exhibitions of student work) of the universities you are interested in. Open days offer a great opportunity to ask current students and tutors lots of questions about the course. The degree shows allow you to examine the work of graduating students and usually take place from late May to early July. They will give you an excellent idea of the focus and orientation of work in a particular school.

Architecture is a wide-ranging discipline based on a large body of design, technical and professional knowledge, in which students develop a high level of skill. The training prepares students to make sound professional judgements in difficult, often pressurised situations. It is a long course because turning knowledge into ability, through successive design projects over the duration of the course, is a lengthy but exciting process.

Where can I study?

The RIBA currently validates courses at over 45 schools of architecture in the UK. The entry requirements and the set-up of the validated courses vary from school to school. You are advised to contact individual schools of architecture to ascertain their specific entry requirements, as well as their course structure. That way you will be able to find out which schools are suitable for you to apply to, and which schools appeal to you.

The RIBA does not rank schools or issue a list of 'best schools'. The RIBA visits and recognises courses at schools of architecture every five years. Therefore, if a course is recognised by both the RIBA and ARB, it has met the UK's minimum required standards.

The best way to find out if a course will suit you is to read the school's prospectus and website carefully, ask questions about course content and structure, and visit the school on an open day or at the end-of-year degree show. That way you can find out what sort of work the school produces and get a sense of the place where you may choose to study.

You may also like to consult general sources of information about higher education in the media, such as the Unistats website or websites of The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, the Architects Journal or Building Design.

Entry requirements

Many subjects studied at school and college are relevant to architecture, giving you the flexibility to choose the subjects you are strongest in and enjoy. Ideally, you should have gained a broad secondary education encompassing a mixture of arts and sciences. Although it is not always necessary to study art, you should enjoy drawing freehand and have an interest in design and making 3D work; most schools will require you to present a portfolio at interview.

Schools of architecture will usually express their offer in terms of the UCAS tariffs, but typically you will need at least two subjects at A level, or one A and two AS levels; or equivalent qualifications such as BTEC National Diploma, International Baccalaureate etc. In addition, you must generally have passed at least five GCSEs, which normally include English language and mathematics.

Many schools of architecture also recognise other further education qualifications. If you are a mature student it is worth remembering that even if you do not meet the usual admissions requirements, most schools are happy to assess a mature student on other grounds, especially your portfolio.

Once you have applied, you may or may not be invited for interview. Many schools of architecture ask to see a portfolio of work. However, some schools make conditional offers on the basis of the information you include on your UCAS form.

This is most likely to be the case when your A level/equivalent qualifications are seen to be particularly relevant. In the absence of an interview, an open day is an opportunity for you to find out about the school's approach to architectural education before you make your final decision.

Preparing for interviews

Once you have applied to a school of architecture you may or may not be invited to interview. Many schools of architecture ask to see a portfolio of work. However some schools make conditional offers on the basis of the information you include on your UCAS form. In the absence of an interview, open days are an opportunity for you to find out about the school's approach to architectural education before you make your final decision.

At interview, university tutors will ask questions and discuss your portfolio with you. This is to help them to determine your skills and interests. It is therefore important to have found out about the world of architecture and to also feel confident and happy to talk about your own work in your portfolio. Some example questions are:  

  • Why do you want to study architecture?
  • Is there a particular architect or specific building that you admire?
  • Why do you want to study at this school?
  • Have you visited any architects' practices or undertaken any relevant work experience? 

Preparing your portfolio

If invited to interview at university you will be expected to present a portfolio of your work, and for many schools this is an important factor in offering you a place on an architecture course.

The portfolio is a tool used throughout a career in architecture, and at entry level stage it should demonstrate a broad mixture of your work, especially sketches and freehand drawings, although it can include anything you think is relevant such as photographs, life drawings, paintings, models or collages.

Drawing is the essential skill of architecture, and you will be taught at university how to do the necessary technical drawing and computer-aided design, so you need not learn these beforehand. Schools are not looking in your portfolio for highly skilled architectural work, but for evidence that you have the potential skills to benefit from an architectural education.