How to Survive (and Thrive!) in Architecture School

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

Architecture school can be an unexpected challenge for many students. Despite how grueling obtaining that degree can be, school (and studio) can actually be fun. Although I certainly wouldn’t want to go through it again, there are quite of few memories I will remember fondly. Here are a few tips to help you make it out of architecture school alive—and with a degree!

1. Manage Your Time Wisely
Know and accept early on that the majority of your waking (and a solid portion of sleeping) hours will be spent in studio. Start early in the morning, and you’ll most likely be able to leave the studio before midnight. If you follow this advice, you might be able to avoid the late nights that make architecture school infamous.

2. Stick to a Normal Sleep Schedule
Sleep is a sore subject for architecture students, and we spend a lot of time pondering over its necessity. Listen to what it seems like the entire world is telling you: it is really important to stick to a normal schedule. As Life of an Architect blogger Bob Borson wrote, “All-nighters generally do more harm than good, rarely does inspiration come after midnight.” Prioritize sleeping when possible, and manage your time wisely.

3. Stay Caffeinated
Don’t fight it—you will be consuming large amounts of caffeine until you get your degree, or license, for that matter. No matter the case, make sure you have something relatively healthy to get you through those final review periods. And if you are one of those rare people who are able to run off of “natural energy,” just know that we are all envious of you come 4:30 a.m.

4. Expand Your Network
Join a club. Meet friends outside of the environment you spend 95 percent of your time in. Plus, they might even pity you enough to bring by late-night snacks. And don’t forget to set aside some time for yourself as well. Deadline week being an exception, give yourself one night a week to relax. Even if it’s just a night on the couch watching Netflix, your sanity will thank you.

5. Have a Thick Skin
I am not going to lie to you. Those jury reviews can be brutal. They can rip into your project, and you’ll see 15 weeks of painstakingly hard work go down the toilet within 10 minutes. It’s important to remember that we are in a very subjective field, and what one person sees as garbage another can see as genius. So take the critique respectively and into consideration, but have confidence in what you have created and be proud of yourself.

6. Dedicate Time to Other Classes
Remember that non-architecture courses impact your overall GPA—and your ability to graduate on time. Think of these classes as an opportunity to expand your horizons, which will ultimately make you a better architect.

7. Embrace “Ctrl+S”
Learn this shortcut. Memorize this shortcut. Keep a hard drive on hand, and always back up your files. Our computers are pushed to their limit and often crash. Don’t allow that fatal error ruin your project after 72-hours straight of rendering.

8. Mind Your Vocabulary
Don’t call it a building. It’s a space. Just keep in mind that talking like an architect to non-archi people can make you sound pretentious. And stop abusing the word “juxtaposition.”

9. Know Your Codes
Most students don’t even look at building codes until about the fourth year, but you should familiarize yourself with them beforehand. The best architects know how to keep people safe.

10. Be Relentless
Architecture school is a marathon, not a sprint. You must be determined to succeed no matter what happens. Regardless of what anyone says, you have to keep your head up and keep going, or else you will get eaten alive. No complaining. Have the attitude that no one will get in your way and nothing will keep you from achieving your goal. Dream and think big.

Be gratified in knowing that you are working to become an architect, and make sure to get the degree that will enable you to do that. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Italian architect and Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano: “You can put down a bad book; you can avoid listening to bad music; but you cannot miss the ugly tower block opposite your house.”

About the Author

As a senior at Texas A&M University, I am well on my way to graduation, licensure, and the real world. Through my experiences, both educational and professional, I have developed a passion for architectural and interactive design. Constantly inspired by the art and culture around me, I believe that design has the power to transform lives. My loves also include black and white photography, beautiful typeface, and traveling the world.