by Architecture School Review Staff

One of the most common misconceptions out there is that an applicant has to be “what these architecture schools expect her to be“. It is as if there is a secret template of the perfect applicant, and one has to fit in there perfectly, or else her application will get rejected.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that most universities do expect academic merit from their candidates, as well a demonstrated ability to think intelligently, however, this is not what will get one accepted to the world’s top architecture schools. There are way too many candidates out there, and not that many positions. Therefore real competitive advantage when applying to architecture schools, has to be rooted elsewhere… What is the answer to being selected? The answer is, by differentiating yourself.

Michael Porter, (Harvard professor and world-famous business strategist, whose work has focused on the development of competitive advantage in various industries) has built a theory based on the concept that in business there are two ways to create sustainable competitive advantage. 1. Cost Advantage, and 2. Differentiation Advantage. Cost Advantage obviously does not apply to developing competitive advantage when applying to architecture schools (unless one offers to pay double tuition – I haven’t heard of anyone trying it, but you never know). There is, however, the advantage achieved based on academic excellence: if one has perfect SAT, or GRE scores and perfect GPA, they will most likely have a competitive advantage over others who don’t. However … what if one does not! The second approach, of creating competitive advantage through differentiation, is an excellent way to not only make up for shortcomings in one’s academic record, and to even beat competing applicants who have excellent academic records.

Differentiation is where trendier terms that we hear a lot these days, like “innovation” or “disruption”, are rooted. The concept of differentiation in business is easy to explain. It is simply about doing something differently (and better) than the competition, at a level where the purchaser of the product will understand and accept paying the premium (the extra money compared to your competition) for the extra value that you offer. The same is true in the case of applying to architecture schools.

Applicants do not get accepted into top architecture schools because they fit into molds or meet the requirements listed in some checklist. They get accepted because they are different, and that difference is interpreted as valuable by the admissions committees.

Therefore, the key to top architecture schools is simple … You! Yourself! Remember Mr Rogers singing ‘it’s you I like, It’s you, Yourself‘? Perhaps it is time to start digging within and try to find what is special about you, what is unique, and how you are thoroughly different from everyone else.

The best first step in doing this, is to take a piece of paper, draw a vertical line right in the middle of it, and build two lists, of strengths and weaknesses. This is the first half of a SWOT analysis, but it is plenty for the purpose of figuring out how to get into architecture school.

The key here is to be honest with yourself. The key is also to be nice to yourself, and not beat yourself up about your weaknesses. In fact, the key here is to recognize your weaknesses and admit that perhaps you have very little time remaining for you to turn some of them into strengths. Instead, you can recognize your strengths, get excited about them, and also recognize the potential of building on them a strategy and an entire application that can be extremely competitive.

Once you do this, the next step is to ask yourself, ‘how can I use these strengths to beat the most competitive candidates out there’? This will require understanding your competitors, but also understanding your target audience, the admissions committees. You may struggle, but the fact is that every single one of our students struggled before working with us.

Here at Architecture School Review, we have developed a method for analyzing our student’s profile, including her academic record as well as her design work, and coming up with an understanding of the student’s competitive status in comparison to the most competitive candidates. As part of this method, we define our student’s strengths, weaknesses, as well as their potential. We grade our student in over thirty areas of  the application and the portfolio, and try to define what would be the best way to improve the value of her application by allocating her time intelligently on areas that have the potential of generating the most value for the application.

If you would like to learn more about our strategic evaluation method, as well as other parts of our architecture school portfolio design and admissions strategy development process, email us at, and let us know that you would like to proceed.