If you know you want to head down the route of applying for and studying architecture at university but have no clue where to start or what it entails, then this is the guide for you.
We will go through the UCAS process, choosing the right university for you and some of the things that are important in order to become an architect. The long studio hours combined with tight deadlines might sound off-putting so we want to help make sure you understand the process.
Choosing a degree can be daunting while you’re at sixth form or college but chances are you have some kind of idea of what you want to do. Although there aren’t specific A-levels targeted at architecture, most go down an art or maths route. On top of making sure you get the best A-level grades, you’re also given the task of applying to university and in the U.K, this process is supported by the teachers and staff around you.
The steps and advice mentioned here are specific for U.K students and if you’re unsure about how the process works in your country; speak to one of your teachers. Also, there are different variants of an architecture degree such as landscape architecture or architectural technology, we’ll go into those later on.
Chapter 1 – How do I Become an Architect?
There are a few steps when it comes to becoming a full architect; part 1, a year out of experience (not neccessary), part 2, another year or two of practical experience and part 3.
First your part 1 which is your BA or Bsc degree; this is 3 or 4 years long depending on the type of course you do. After you graduate you have the option to go on to part 2 (MArch) or it is common to take the year out to work in a firm as a ‘Part 1 Architectural Assistant’ where you gain practical experience.
Part 2 is usually your master’s degree in Architecture followed by 1 or 2 years’ worth of practical experience, again working in a firm.
The final stage. This includes understanding building regulations, law, finance etc. The assessment consists of a mix of written and oral exam as well as an overall assessment of your career. After completing this you will gain a license to qualify you as a recognised architect by the RIBA.
Practical Experience Note: The compulsory two years of work experience is not usually part of your university course. It is something you do after the degree. In total you need 24months of practical experience before you can take your part 3 qualifications. At least 12 months of that HAS to be after your part 2 qualification.
This is clearly explained on the RIBA website linked below. If you don’t know what the RIBA is, keep on reading.
Click HERE for the RIBA website.
The process can take anywhere from 8-10 years to complete but it’s important to note that you don’t have to complete it all and there may be other routes you take after you finish your degree or gain more experience.
It’s also good to note that architecture is a challenging degree itself, even if you don’t consider the rest of the steps. The long studio hours combined with tight deadlines can mean there are some disadvantages to studying architecture so we want to help make sure it is something you can definitely see yourself doing.
But at the moment, your next goals should be getting those A-level grades so that you can get into the university of your choice. School or college should really be preparing you for the work at university even though it is a whole new experience.
Remember there are also different types of architects such as a landscape architect or an architectural assistant. If you decide not to pursue architecture after your undergraduate you can go into other fields such as Interior Design or Urban Planning. Make sure to keep following us as we’ll be having some guests posts regarding these degrees and professions.
If you’ve searched about architecture, you will have undoubtedly come across the RIBA which is short for The Royal Institute of British Architects. In the U.K it is the main board of architects where each firm and architect are registered. The university you will study at will also be accredited by the RIBA or sometimes the ARB.
The RIBA is a great resource for those looking to become architects, for students and architects too. It helps clients find architects all over the U.K and they even celebrate exceptional projects every year. As a student you can even apply to become a member to gain access to their resources and library for free.
You can find out much more about architecture as a whole through their website linked HERE.
In terms of the RIBA’s involvement within your degree, as we said the courses are accredited and if you plan on starting your own firm or looking for jobs, the RIBA has a list of all companies registered with them.
Chapter 2 – Preparing for A-Levels and UCAS
Usually you’re A-levels should reflect the kind of degree you are applying for and if you know which universities you may want to go to, they will have a list of recommended A-levels on their course page. More or less these are:
- Design Technology
It can also depend on what is available in your sixth form or college so if you know these subjects are something you want to do after your GCSE’s try and find out whether they are available in the sixth form or college you want to attend.
Make sure you check the university requirements as it is not always set in stone. All three subjects are not required to be specific, unless a university asks for them and can be switched out for something similar. We recommended that you e-mail the university if you are unsure about your choices.The combination of A-levels can provide several career paths so don’t be too worried about getting it spot on.
In some schools and colleges, it is also possible to change your A-levels if you realise very early on that you don’t want to be doing that subject. If this is the case, make sure you point this out to a teacher or your head of year so that they can try and move you to a different class.
Nevertheless, after finding your way and completing AS (Year 12) it is a good idea to start properly thinking about the degree you want to do and where. We suggest taking the summer before your final year at sixth form or college and researching degree opportunities and universities.
If you have older siblings, relatives or even friends who know this path well, it would be a good idea to talk to them and get an idea of when you should be doing things. They can offer you advice and you could even ask them to look over your personal statement. We’ll get to that soon.
Chapter 3 – How Can I Choose a University for Architecture?
The standard process for looking for the ‘best’ university is to search through pages and pages that claim to show you the best ranked universities at the moment. While these are good for gauging an understanding of the universities position compared to others, and even if you can narrow this down by a specific course and subject, you really need to consider what is the ‘best’ university.
You can read more about university rankings at the Target Careers site HERE.
Does it mean it is the best academically, in terms of student life or the campus? These are things you can only figure out in person or through experience. We aren’t saying to completely ignore the ranked lists and guides, but just bear in mind each will have it’s own bias.
So how do you go about choosing a university? Well, you can start off by looking at the recommended lists, then think about the location. Do you want something close to home so you can live at home and commute, or do you want to experience living out? Of course, how good the university is also factors in, but realistically you need to set some parameters to help you narrow down your top 5.
First of all, start by looking at the course itself. Get familiar with the modules and courses and how many projects will you have, whether it is fully coursework based or if there are some exams. Think about the way in which you work and what suits you best.
In this case you’re usually looking for BA or BSc Architecture. You can make a note of the code and find the same course at other universities.
Take a look at the UCAS search HERE and then read how the course works overall and even throughout the 3 or 4 years. There will be some that can sound a bit vague, so perhaps you could take the time and call the university or find out more on an open day.
Next, we suggest coming up with a list of universities you are looking at. While this can be fairly rough and with about 10-15 at first, you need to come up with a way of narrowing it down because you will need a final list with 5 universities that you will apply to in the end.
The list you apply with doesn’t need to be in preference order and the universities won’t be able to see where else you’ve applied. UCAS really helps with step-by-step guides, videos and even a list of key dates on their website.
Click HERE to see more on the UCAS website.
As an architecture student, knowing what facilities are available to you is an important factor. Consider what the workshops are like if you’re into model making as some universities have larger space, more equipments etc. whereas some are only restricted in areas. Printing is big in architecture so if there are great options and materials offered it’s a big plus point.
It is also important to note the atmosphere and layout of the studio space when you go on these visits as this will be the space you spend most of your time during university.
If you have more than 5 but you don’t know how to narrow it down further, think about going to the university open days. These are held around October but make sure to find out for the specific university. This way, you can see exactly where you’ll be studying and assess the environment, the facilities and the local life.
Going to university open days can help you see exactly where you’ll be studying and assess the environment, the facilities and the local life.
Tip! Take pictures or notes so you don’t forget and can compare this to other ones you go to. Your instinct will usually tell you where you feel like you might fit in best.
Next, if you have any friends or family or even students from the year above that you can reach out to and those that go to any of the universities, try and speak to them.
Online forums such as The Student Room are also great for finding information on universities that are further away. They have all sorts of topics ranging from course breakdowns to what the accommodation is like and it’s all student-led, so you know the information isn’t biased.
Find the architecture forum on The Student Room HERE.
Chapter 4 – Personal Statement for Architecture
You will have already been given some advice on how to write your personal statement and there are so many templates and guides online which are great to look at. Your teachers will also help you in this matter but essentially it comes down to you writing it, and then writing it again and again.
It’s a good idea to write your personal statement a couple of times because although you may think you have nailed it the first-time round, chances are it needs to go through a rigorous editing process. You can even ask your friends and family to have a read and go through it to find anything you may have missed.
You have a 4000 character limit set by UCAS, to sell yourself to 5 universities of your choice. Here are a few tips to help you with this:
- Structure your Personal Statement – 10% on extracurricular / hobbies and 90% on why you want to do this course.
- Save and keep any drafts you do so that if you prefer an older version you can always go back to it.
- Editing – print out a physical copy, keeping a large line spacing so that you can write on top.
- Research – do your research and think about why you want to do architecture.
If you don’t really have any understanding of the architectural world, it can be easy to fall prey to putting in clichés into your personal statement. Saying that Zaha Hadid is your all-time idol may seem a bit far-fetched without any material to back it up. Make sure you do your research about these things and try not to exaggerate or lie.
The reason for this is, you will most likely have some kind of interview for this subject just so they can get to know you a bit better and possibly see some of your work. They will also go over your personal statement with you so you can explain things a bit further.
Remember that your personal statement doesn’t need to be extravagant or over the top, it needs to be the truth and a reflection of your personality. Also, in the long run, your personal statement won’t have an affect on the outcome of your degree or whether you get a job or not.
Chapter 5 – Alternatives and Preparation
If you decide that the UCAS process is not for you, whether that’s because of your grades, you want a break or you might not even want down t the university route that’s completely fine. If you also don’t get the grades you were hoping for there are other routes you can take. We’ll be going through a few possibilities and what are some of the options available to you.
Not Getting the Grades You Wanted
The first step you can take is to try and improve your grades in the following year by re-sitting your A-level (Year 13) to get into an even better university for the year after.
Or you could try get through with Clearing. Before results day, if you’re still unsure of how your grades will turn out, make sure you take the time to prepare for Clearing. There may be alternate architecture courses that require lower grades so have a look beforehand and make a note of what these courses are. Keep all university clearing phone number’s on your phone so that you’re not rushing around trying to find the phone numbers and then having to wait in line.
Take a Gap Year
If you want to go travelling before you delve into a major studying experience right after A-levels then that’s fine. If this is a planned decision, you can complete your UCAS application as a deferred application so that you can take your gap year without worrying about applying for the year after. You can do this while you’re studying or after you finish your A-levels.
If you want to read more about deferred applications click HERE.
There are also several apprenticeships, internships and courses that firms and companies offer that allow you to work and study at the same time. If you feel like you want more of a hands-on and practical experience within architecture then this may be perfect for you.
Below we’ve linked some of these alternatives but have a good search and read properly what these include exactly.
Click HERE to find some awesome apprenticeships.
Click HERE for courses that include a placement.
We highly recommend, for any process, to make sure you have the dates and deadlines clear in your head. Keep a calendar with marked dates all around you. UCAS has their own calendar you can go by but try and aim to finish everything for the day before, so you are prepared.
For some architecture schools, they also have tasks they want you to do before they give you a space. This is to gauge your thinking process, your creativity and potential architectural skills. Even if you don’t have any experience, it doesn’t necessarily matter. It can be very difficult to complete these tasks especially if you don’t have any help or experience so try and use online resources about architecture.
These tasks usually involve some kind of drawing, not plans and sections per se, but maybe re-creating a space within a project or coming up with your own style for a drawing. Make sure you read and understand the instructions and get the work completed in time.
Finally, make sure you take breaks in between working for A-levels and preparation for UCAS or other alternatives. We understand that this can be a huge deal for many people but trust yourself and the work you put in and try not to stress too much.
As long as you are fairly sure of what you want to do and go for and you use the tools and advice you are given then we are sure you will try your best and hopefully get the results you expect. Applying for university is something thousands of students go through every year and once you’re on your way there or actually starting your first day, you will feel some relief that all that hard work paid off.
To summarise everything in this guide, you need to make sure you’re on top of deadlines and dates, that you know pretty much what you want and if you don’t then do your research. Read up online about the universities, the courses and try and stay on top of things as well as managing you’re A-levels.
Keep in mind that it is great if you’re getting advice from different people but sometimes there can be some conflict and conclusion so take some time and have a think yourself what you think is best because only you know yourself well. Coming under the pressure of parents and teachers can also get in the way and sometimes you may end up doing something you don’t have any interest in.
In that case, speak to your teachers or friends to figure out a way you can come to a reasonable compromise of some sorts or just to be able to express what exactly you want to do and why you are passionate about it.
This journey may be very difficult, but we can assure you that it is worth it in the long run. Putting in your work now means after exams you can relax and take the summer to enjoy your time before university starts.
Also, for those starting university this year, read our article on Starting Architecture at University to help with really preparing yourself and staying on top of things so you can easily shift into university life. Make sure you keep an eye out for more architecture related content here at :scale.
We wish you the best of luck in the beginning of your architectural career! Follow us on Instagram to stay updated with our posts releasing every Monday.
You can find more information and tools to help with UCAS requirements on their website HERE.