all you need to know about studying architecture

Doing an architecture degree can be hugely rewarding. But it is also among the most challenging – with long hours, a huge workload and focus on detail – so it’s vital to understand what you’re letting yourself in for. Here we answer students’ commonly asked questions.

‘There are no perfect designs or ways of working.’

Do I need maths A-level?

Different universities will have different course requirements. More artistic subjects can prove useful, particularly where technical drawing is involved. “There are myths around physics and maths,” says Liverpool University lecturer Emma Curtin. “We have students who’ve studied arts and humanities, maths and science or design tech.”

Architecture degrees often include modules that lend themselves to other fields and careers, including technical modules, history, design and the creative process. “Architecture graduates are recognised as good communicators, visually and verbally,” says Curtin. “Some might do a master’s in a different specialism like town planning, conservation, journalism – or something in the creative industries like computer games design or film.”

Are all courses the same?

Every course covers the core principles, but their emphasis can vary enormously. Some may prefer computer design over hand-drawing and model-making. It is important for would-be students to consider this, says Ben Sweeting, course leader at Brighton University. “There are schools that are very technical or professional, or more theoretical and historical. You have to visit the school to get a sense of what kind of work they make and what kind of work you can imagine yourself making.”

Of course, you don’t have to return to the same university for your master’s (MArch). If you return you’ll know the tutors, the system and the city; go elsewhere and you’ll find a different approach and ideas.

Are there many extra costs?

You’ll spend money on scalpel blades, modelling materials and photocopying – though rarely textbooks. “I don’t want to know the amount of money I’ve spent on this degree so I print my portfolio as I go; if I do it at the end of each project it’s £150,” says Brighton student Lucille Merisio.

How difficult is the course?

If you want to qualify, be prepared for a long haul. You’ll need a first degree, work placement and a MArch before another placement and the final course.

“It is as hard as other traditionally hard subjects such as medicine. There are no perfect designs or ways of working, but wrong ways of working. It’s hard to do very well and hard to pass, very demanding,” says Sweeting. It can also feel more personally challenging than other arts subjects as your creative vision has to work in practice.

What are the hours?

It can take many hours to make models and drawings. “It’s really tough,” says Sweeting. “Some architecture schools have an unhealthy culture of working at night. In many schools students want the building open later or 24-hour access. Our students have been quite mature in saying they don’t want that, that it creates an unhealthy atmosphere.”

Master’s student Duncan Catterall agrees: “I spent the majority of my time in the architecture studio whereas friends on other courses did three hours of lectures a week. You do have to be prepared for a slightly different student lifestyle. It’s very intensive but really fun, with elements where you can explore ideas and go out and create them in real life.”

Merisio says he’s averaging a 12-hour day. “It’s never really finished – you start doing a drawing and realise you have to change something in previous drawings. Even at a hand-in I think there’s something more I should have done. But it’s a really social atmosphere – we complain all the time about how we’re always here but you can walk around, see what others are doing, relax a bit and come back to your own work.”