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Real advice from real students.

Got a question about student life? From program comparisons to admission requirements to residence reviews—get real answers from real Canadian students.


Architecture Programs in Ontario (Namely U of T, Ryerson, Waterloo and Carleton)

I’m creating this (rather lengthy) post for those who are looking into architecture as their post-secondary pathway and who want to do their studies in Ontario. I noticed in researching architecture programs last summer that it is rather difficult to find comparisons of various schools which offer B. Arch. After going through the admission and interviewing processes for Waterloo, Carleton, University of Toronto and Ryerson I now have a much better grasp of each school’s methodology and environment.
     I should say, too, that I ended up choosing to go to Carleton so that bias may end up emerging at times in this post.
     Here is one site that I found useful for comparing architecture schools’ programs based on various statistics (ie. Program focus, workshop facilities provided, architecture student demographics, etc.) :
     For all four schools (U of T, Ryerson, Waterloo and Carleton) I applied first on OUAC then later completed the portfolio/supplementary requirements. The supplementary components for U of T and Carelton were due online in early February and early March, respectively. With Ryerson and Waterloo they did an initial sorting based on marks then conducted interviews where we presented our portfolios. It’s important to note that Carleton, U of T and Waterloo did not wait for second semester mid-term marks before sending out their acceptances, so it’s kind of lower stress than with some programs where you have to keep pushing hard right to the end of the school year for admittance.

     Firstly, I want to share my experience with the U of T architecture application. When I was trying to glean information about U of T’s program, most of what I heard was generally saying that it was a theory-based course with little hands-on or practical elements. However, their program has recently (within the last year or two I believe) been revamped and they’ve moved location to get an entire building dedicated to architecture and design. Also, I’ve heard from some people who went there that there was still a lot of model building and hard work involved. I didn’t go for a tour of the St. George campus or of the architecture building because they were under construction when I was in Toronto, so I didn’t get to meet any of the faculty to get a sense of what the school was like. I found the online application process for U of T was simple enough. We had to create a “One Idea” written submission where they provide you 2 or 3 prompts/questions and you choose which one to answer. I chose the prompt “Tell us how you express your creative side (through problem solving, innovative thinking, artistically, etc.)” and my answer was only 376 words, or ¾ of a page long single-spaced. They also give you the option of submitting up to four or so images online of work that you’ve done as a sort of mini-portfolio. They do stress though that the portfolio component is not at all required. U of T was pretty quick to send an offer of admission (in mid-February).

     On to Ryerson University. What I had heard initially about Ryerson’s program is that it’s extremely prestigious and difficult to get into. My experience was that it’s about the same quality as the other architecture schools, but some of the professors were boastful about themselves and their program. For example, they made the world of their co-op program, but it’s the exact same schedule as Carleton’s and it’s much newer than Waterloo’s extensive co-op network (thus it has fewer connections with employers in Ontario and abroad). This didn’t really jive with me, which is part of why I didn’t want to go to Ryerson. The professors were generally enthusiastic and seemed to expect only the best from their students. Something else to consider with Ryerson is that their campus is in downtown Toronto, so there are often street people walking around or sitting outside of the university’s buildings. If that bothers you it’s something to think about.
     Ryerson sent out their invitations for interviews around early February, and in my case they gave me a choice between six interview times (two different weekend interview days and three time slots each day). The email requesting that I sign up for an interview session also had a link to the portfolio requirements (which I don’t think were otherwise given online). They also sent me an email about two weeks before the interview with a “home exercise”, which changes every year. The task was to use one 11×17 piece of paper and to cut, glue, rip, etc. the page however I liked to create something, then to give a one paragraph writeup explaining the work. We also had to make a resume, which they didn’t give much of an outline for but rather told me, when I called, that it’s your way of introducing yourself since they don’t meet everyone personally. My “resume” was done in a very creative, un-resume-like way which involved lots of colour, so I’m not sure if this non-compliance with typical resume format influenced my only getting waitlisted in the end. The interviews were held on campus in the architecture building. When I showed up for the interview, they collected my portfolio (which they wanted to have roughly 20 pieces of art in, plus the resume) and my home exercise. My “interview” session had about 60 applicants and it was more or less a group evaluation. Half of the group was taken on a guided tour of the facilities and given a small presentation while the other half completed a drawing test where they got 1h to make a shaded drawing of two paper cups (one had to be ripped, crinkled, etc. and the other left whole). Then the groups switched activities and afterwards we collected our portfolios. Ryerson took a while to get back to me, so it wasn’t until late May that they told me I’d been put on the waitlist. I can’t say that I understand why I got waitlisted, since I used the exact same portfolio for my application to each school (including a reproduction of my home exercise – which Ryerson kept – for my Waterloo interview).

     Waterloo, to me, seems to have a solid architecture program. They have an extensive co-op network which extends internationally and which alternates with work-study terms starting either during or after second year. The professors seem perceptive and keen to help, expecting their students to do well and to think creatively. The architecture building itself is nice and bright, but it’s a satellite campus located in Cambridge where it might seem a little isolated or lonely due to the lack of a large university community. They also have a travel abroad semester in fourth year (I believe) where they go to their campus in Rome and the students study architecture in that environment.
     Waterloo sent their interview invitation in early March, so I’m assuming that they send out all of their invitations around that time. They assign students a certain date and time in April when the applicants will be coming in to the architecture building for interviews, so you will likely need to take a day off of school. The schedule outlined in the email that I received was an English Précis test at 12:30pm, then my assigned interview time at 3:30pm (the interview times went all of the way up to about 4:30 or later). There were, again, about 60 applicants there at once. The first part of the assessment was an English Précis test where we were given a text that was roughly three pages long, single spaced. We were then told to write a précis – a short, concise summary that includes only the primary arguments – of the passage. We were given roughly an hour to write this component, but it was surprisingly challenging. The passage was confusing at first because it was about some manner of political conflict of which I had no background knowledge, so I was learning and trying to summarize at the same time. It may seem like an English writing test has little to do with architecture, but I’ve heard that often Waterloo will give their architecture students a text and ask them to convert it into a building (by taking the main ideas/arguments of the writing and manifesting it in various design elements). After the writing test, we sat and waited for our interview times. When they’re ready for you, they send an architecture student to help you bring your portfolio items to one of the interview rooms, which there were about five interviews going on at any given time. I asked one of the architecture students what the interview would be like and they said that sometimes the professor leads the discussion or sometimes they stay silent because they want you to lead the discussion. When I got into the room, the interviewing panel (composed of a male and a female professor and two students, one in each the graduate and undergraduate programs) told me to lay out everything in my portfolio. I had removed some items which I had used for Ryerson’s portfolio application and I had also brought the 3D models of my artwork where Ryerson had made strict requests for nothing 3D (they just wanted pictures of such works). The professors started the discussion by asking about a certain piece, and we continued using my artwork as the basis for various questions or points of conversation. They were most interested in my 3D works, the travel I'd done and the books I read. They also had with them a copy of a profile that I’d filled out online (in the Admission Information Form [AIF] which is mandatory on the Waterloo student portal after you complete your OUAC application) and asked about the various clubs that I had been involved in. The interview lasted roughly 30 minutes but I found that it passed rather quickly since the conversation kept going the whole time and they were pretty chill.

    The fourth school that I applied to was Carleton University. I went for a tour of Carleton in the fall during their reading week. The guided tour covered all of the buildings and gave us a look inside residence and ended around lunch time, with passes to get into their extensive updated cafeteria. At the time, the architecture school was not giving tours, but since we were there they accommodated us by having one of the professors give us a more personalized tour of the building. It was nice to see that throughout the tour, as the professor passed various students who were working on projects, she knew each of them by name and they were happy to see her and to say hi. I found the building to be bright with a good view of the Rideau river/canal – not sure which one – and nice enough (*the architecture buildings for Carleton, Waterloo and Ryerson are all kind of ugly and industrial on the inside since they want to show students what’s in the walls and ceiling, I can’t say for Toronto since I didn’t take a tour).
     Carleton did not have in-person interviews, instead they put a document online which clearly and meticulously outlined every single requirement for their online portfolio application, through a program called Slideroom. Here is a link to the 2018-2019 portfolio document The first portion of the three-part application was a written document called “Applicant Description” where they ask you to write about your education, extracurricular activities, travel history, interests and hobbies in point form. Exercise A was another written document where you choose between a few subjects that they give and write about it in 350-500 words (mine was 465 words). In Exercise B they asked for a minimum of four pieces of art (one for each of four subjects/ideas which they give) and up to four supplementary works which you feel you would like to include. I gave them six works total, which I uploaded to the online program and wrote small descriptions for. Carleton sent their letter of acceptance in early April through their Carleton Central portal. Just a little bit about Carleton’s program, they allow you to choose pretty much any elective that you like each term and also allow you to specialize in one of three focused architecture streams (design, conservation and sustainability and urbanism). They also offer pretty good entrance scholarships: $4,000/year if your average is 95% or above; $3,000/year for averages 90.0% – 94.9%; and $2,000 and $1,000 per year for the subsequent averages. Carleton is also connected to the O train network and shares a library program with U Ottawa. Carleton has a few study abroad opportunities (in 3rd or 4th year, I think) and a co-op option.

     Also, whenever you do apply to architecture programs, be absolutely certain that you have carefully read and complied with every single requirement and guideline that they outline, otherwise you could take yourself out of consideration without ever getting a proper chance. Then, be prepared to wait a long time for admission. Even if your marks are high and your portfolio is awesome architecture schools don’t invite you for interviews or make an offer of admission until February or March, and the offers continue all of the way up to the June 1st deadline. It’s also important to start preparing your portfolio far ahead of time. High school does get busy and meaningful art sometimes takes a surprising amount of time to create. If you start getting ahead you can practice your skills so that if you get inspired closer to the deadline you will be able to scrape together a masterpiece last minute. Also, for Carleton even though they only released their artwork topics in the fall, I made a lot of artwork in the summer for which I was able to bend their meaning to fit the categories provided by the school.
     Again, I just want to restate that I do have a bias towards Carleton’s program and school, so just take this information with a grain of salt. All of the architecture programs offered at university are well thought out, so in deciding which school to choose I’d say it’s mostly a matter of personal inclination and which school environment is the best fit for you.

Good luck with your applications!!!

10 Answers

  1. Dang. Forgot the password to my previous account so I have to use this one now. 
    Great post. It should be very helpful for future students interested in Architecture programs (which, the population of said students seem to be growing on this forum, even if at a sluggish rate). I think it'd be great if posters from other disciplines could share their experiences as you have in such an in-depth manner. 

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  2. You are also forgetting about Laurentian University, they have a Architectural Studies program as well.

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  3. Thank you for such an informative and in-depth post! I was just wondering, what made you choose Carleton over Waterloo?

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    • I liked Carleton's environment a lot more because the architecture program is actually on campus, so I get to stay in res and participate in any club/elective that I want. I found that Waterloo's architecture building was great on the inside (it felt just as welcoming and creative as Carleton's) but its location kept me away. I wanted to participate in clubs/intramural sports and there are very limited opportunities with Waterloo architecture since there aren't enough students to host many activities. Also, there is no residence so accommodation and meals would have been more difficult (though they do have a housing day at the end of May to make finding a place to rent much easier for students).Otherwise, though, the programs are pretty comparable, as are the professors that I met in terms of friendliness, sincerity and knowledge. I do think that Carleton's program seemed to be geared towards generally artsy classes versus Waterloo seemed to have more math/science components, though I'm not 100% certain.

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  5. Hey, I know its the following year, but I just got waitlisted at Carleton and it’s killing me. Does anyone know of someone on the waitlist who got accepted? Anyone who got rejected after? Just wondering if the waitlist process has hope or not, I got waitlisted from Architecture – Urbanism stream 🙁

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