Summer Design Academy Full Course Description


The Summer Design Academy engages students in a hands-on investigation of design. Students will explore the role that design plays in the built environment and broaden their understanding of the world around them. The program is ideal for rising juniors and seniors who are eager to learn more about design in a college environment and creative types wondering what it might be like to pursue a profession in design fields such as architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, and interior design.

The Pre-College Summer Design Academy offers an intensive two-week immersion in design and an introduction to the experience of our majors here at UMass Amherst. The lead instructor is a professional architect and educator, assisted by current undergraduate and graduate students in our programs. They will provide both individual and group critiques, which are key to learning at the college level.

The studio environment of the Academy encourages personal exploration through demonstrations and group discussions. Core concepts are introduced through exercises that span the breadth of the design practices and foreground sustainable practices. These include site, context, view, experience, light, materials, structure, rhythm, and scale. Work will focus on learning by doing with intensive drawing, and model-making.

This is not a drafting course. The Summer Design Academy will intentionally encourage creative exploration in many different media. We frequently use “humble” materials in our work, such as old magazines for collage or common household products for model making. Imagining a different meaning to an everyday material is part of teaching creative thinking, and is normal for architecture programs at all levels – college and graduate school included.

Studio work is enhanced by supporting activities and events that introduce students to the wide range of professional opportunities in the built environment. These will include lectures, slide shows and films, visits to an architecture office, notable local buildings, and a construction site. Practical concerns such as applying to design schools, life in a design program and portfolio preparation will be addressed by UMass Amherst faculty as well as current and former students.

At the end of the session, you will participate in design reviews and produce an exhibition of your group’s work. We will hold a reception to congratulate you upon your achievement.


The Summer Design Academy serves several student audiences. Some are those students who already know they want to become design professionals. Some students are deciding whether to pursue college-level education in a design field. For these students, we aim to provide a solid and creative introduction to the discipline.

The non-professional audience is equally important. “Design-thinking" is critical for all students, regardless of their academic or vocational interests. Design involves synthesizing disparate information to resolve complex problems. Our goal is to encourage students to be active shapers of the world around them, regardless of their eventual profession. 


Our objective in offering this program is to provide a glimpse of the experience that awaits you in college and to prepare you for it. You will:

  • learn how to prepare an admissions portfolio
  • acquire drawing skills through attention and perception
  • learn to translate conceptual ideas into two and three dimensions
  • develop critical thinking skills through creative and collaborative projects
  • learn how to visually and verbally present your work
  • gain skills in visual analysis and critique
  • broaden your understanding of the fields of architecture and design

Practical Concerns

Work will primarily take place in studio but students should dress comfortably for model making and outdoor drawing. Good solid shoes will be needed to visit sites under construction and for walking around campus. Students should prepare for some sun with hats and sunscreen. Students will eat lunch as a group at the dining hall with Box lunches provided when necessary.

Digital media and computing are not the main focus of the Summer Design Academy. However, a computer lab will be available and workshops on portfolio and presentation skills are part of the curriculum. Students will not have a complete portfolio at the conclusion of the program but they will have material for a portfolio and knowledge about presenting their work. The Summer Design Academy does not assign grades to student work. Students do receive verbal feedback from instructors, peers and guest design critics during the program.

The program includes individual work, group projects, field trips and walking tours. While we maintain a fun and creative atmosphere, this is an academic programs for mature, self-motivated high-school rising juniors and seniors.

To see examples of last year's work and to receive updates, check out our Facebook page, UMass Amherst Pre-College Summer Design Academy. And here is what the newspapers have to say about us:


Non-Residential Option  
Summer Design Academy does offer local students a non-residential option.  
Accepted students who can commute to the UMASS Amherst Campus may register for the day program option.
We suggest they purchase a summer lunch meal plan which will allow them access to the inning halls along with the other students  and in the event they are driving to campus, a parking pass.
The summer meal plan option is available on the registration site and the parking pass can be purchased from the UMASS Parking Services.

To Apply

To apply, please send a 300-word statement about your interests and experience as a designer, a letter of recommendation from a teacher or counselor at your high school, and a high school transcript (unofficial). Our only expectation is that you have completed at least one art course in high school.