What Does a Career in Architecture Entail?
Architecture is everywhere. Every building you have ever visited was designed and constructed by an architect. Architects not only design space, but they also choose the materials that go into defining the space.
When you embark on a career in architecture, you will spend a lot of time at the drafting table, working with computer assisted design programs (CAD), and pouring over manufacturer catalogs. You will also spend a great deal of time consulting with clients to discern their needs. When construction begins on the project, you will frequently go to the site to troubleshoot any problems and to ensure that the tradespeople adhere to your plans.Read More
Your career will provide a showcase for your aesthetic choices as well as your engineering knowledge.
Liberal Arts Degrees & Career Paths
Components of A Successful Career In "Architecture"
One of the first components of a successful career in architecture is a degree. Your undergraduate degree should be in architecture. After graduation you should start considering graduate school. Before you enroll in a master's program, however, you might want to work as an intern for a reputable architectural firm.
Once you've completed your graduate degree, you will need to become licensed by your state. Your career will certainly be hindered without a license. Though you might be able to work under a licensed architect, you won't be able to take on your own clients until you have your own license.
Typical Architecture Degree Requirements
To graduate, you will have to take certain required courses. Those required courses can include, but are not limited to:
- Freehand Drawing
- History of Architecture
- Urban Planning
- Principles of Architecture
- Capstone Projects and/or Internship(s)
Academic Standards for Architects
Not only do you want to attain the highest GPA so that you can land the best job and/or go to a great graduate school, but you need to make sure that your school has the highest standards. You can check your program's standards by ensuring that their accreditation is from the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).
In fact, most state licensing agencies require a NAAB-accredited education. Your local licensure board will also want to see that your GPA meets their standards. Check with your local jurisdiction to ensure that you are meeting its criteria.
Ultimately, if you want to be a practicing architect, you will need to learn as much as you possibly can during your school years. That's because you will need to pass the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards' (NCARB) professional examination.
Exam/Experience Needed for Architects
To become an architect, you will need to both pass the Architect Registration Examination, which is the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards' (NCARB) professional exam, and log a certain number of supervised hours with a licensed architect. The examination is a rigorous overview of everything you need to know as a practicing architect.
Architect Exam Requirements
The ARE is designed to assess your ability to create a sound building that presents a minimal negative health impact to its inhabitants and those around. You will also need to demonstrate that you can work with other architects on the same projects, and that you can otherwise function as a competent professional. For instance, your project management skills will be measured, as will your ability to take responsibility within a firm.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn an Architecture bachelor's degree online?
It will take you approximately four years to earn an Architecture bachelor's degree online. However, many programs are designed to take five years. If you forgo taking a semester off each summer, you could reduce that time frame.
How much does an Architecture bachelor’s degree cost?
A typical bachelor's degree can cost a student around $30,000 or more, for an in-state, public university. Since architecture students are often enrolled in five-year programs, you can expect to pay up to 25% more for your degree. If you opt for a private institution, you could pay much more.
Architecture Bachelor's Degree Coursework
Architecture programs tend to be quite rigid in their course offerings. Many programs offer few, if any, course options each semester. Thus, all students in a given cohort work through the same courses at the same time.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
There are few, if any, substitutes for an architecture degree. Unlike many fields where you can use a related bachelor's degree to enter a master's program, architecture requires that you complete your undergraduate work as an architecture student.
How Many Students Graduate “on time”?
Since most architecture programs are designed to take 5 years instead of four, it is important to calculate that into your plans. However, you should also do some research into the graduation rate of the colleges you are interested in attending. This information should be available on the college’s website, or by calling the department you want to join.
If you find that most students are not graduating on time, it may indicate some issue within the program itself. The graduation rate can be indicative of your future experience, so be sure to take this into account.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
If you are considering becoming state-licensed, you will need to ensure that your program is accredited by NAAB. This accreditation is the gold-standard for architecture programs, but it does not pave the only path to becoming an architect. That is, if your major from a non-NAAB-accredited program was in a field closely related to architecture, you can possibly still be able to receive a certificate through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB.)
Architects need to possess keen skills as designers, analysts, and software operators. After all, you will need to be able to design buildings that not only look good, but that function to a high level of efficiency. Your projects should also be mindful of the health of their inhabitants, as well as the surrounding environment. Naturally, these buildings should also be sound from a structural perspective, so you must have expert knowledge of how materials withstand weight, stress, and other factors.
You should have thorough knowledge of various computer assisted design (CAD) software packages that will help you realize your ideas. As an architecture student, you will likely have exposure to several CAD programs from early in your studies.
In architecture, the focus is on becoming a licensed professional. As such, you will need to graduate from an NAAB-approved architecture program or qualify for an NCARB certificate. In either case, you will need a bachelor's degree in architecture or a related field. While you can complete an associate degree in architecture, your career growth will be hindered until you can complete a higher level of education.
Associates Degree in Architecture
While it will be difficult to achieve licensure with an associate degree in architecture, you might be able to find a position working in an architectural firm, likely in an administrative position. If you need to curtail your architectural education at the associate's level, you can still take a few of the following courses:
- Design Studio, I
- Introduction to Architecture
- Design Studio, II
- History of Architecture
With a bachelor's degree in Architecture, you can sit for the ARE, land a paid internship in a firm, and eventually receive a full license from your state. With this degree, your career can begin to take shape. When you seek out an undergraduate architecture program, look for one that is certified by the NAAB. If not, investigate whether previous students have been successful in seeking certification from the NCARB. You can still achieve as much with a NCARB certification as you can with a degree from a NAAB-accredited institution.
A few example courses you might take for your bachelor's degree include:
- Design Studio, I&II
- History of Architecture
- Environmental Technology
- Computer Assisted Design (CAD) Tools
- Landscape Architecture
- Interior Design
Some Bachelor level concentrations include: Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, Environmental Design, or Architectural History.
Many architectural programs are integrated with a master's program so that students seamlessly move from their undergraduate work straight to the next level. Given today's increasingly educated workforce, you should start making grad school plans the moment you begin your college career. Those plans should begin with a five-year Bachelor of Architecture program. With this five-year degree, you can often find one-year graduate programs that will give you the knowledge to easily pass the ARE and the credentials to land a position with a top firm.
A few courses you might take for your master's degree include:
- Architectural Practice
- Topics in Architectural Design
- Digital Design
- Design Theory and Criticism
- Energy and Environment
- Teaching Architecture
Some Masters level concentrations include: Sustainable Architecture, Historic Preservation, and Digital and Material Technologies.
Career and Salary Information
Your education is often an accurate indicator of how far your career can progress. Those with an associate degree will likely be unable to achieve a state-sanctioned license to practice architecture, while those with NAAB-accredited degrees or NCARB certificates can pursue full licensure. Once you've passed the licensure threshold, your salary and status in your firm will rise. With a master's degree, your career will surely advance even farther.
Field of Study with Entry-level Median Annual Salary and Mid-Career Median Annual Salary
|Field of Study||Entry Level Median Annual Salary||Mid-Career Median Annual Salary|
|General Architecture: Design, Theory, Methods||$53,458||$55,839|
|Environmental Design/ Sustainable Design||$55,839||$133,777|
Intro for Salary by Occupation (Discuss the difference and impact of pay from the different occupations and degree levels)
In nearly every field your salary is determined by your educational level. This is particularly true in fields such as architecture, which requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited program before you qualify for licensure. Other fields, especially creative careers, are not as dependent on your educational level. For instance, a production designer can make a name for herself and build a successful career without a specific degree. However, obtaining such opportunities is difficult. A degree proves that you have the skills and abilities to do a job. A degree opens the doors to opportunity, and more advanced degrees result in better opportunities, jobs, and salaries.
Architects design industrial, residential, retail, and other sorts of buildings. They also design urban spaces such as parks and plazas. Ultimately, architects are designers who create aesthetics that determine how people interact with buildings and public spaces. For instance, an architect might design a building but also the space around it, including what statuary and plants to include on the grounds.
These professionals determine the best materials for a project and work more with the practical implications of the architect's design. While the architect is responsible for generating creative designs, the technologist brings it to life and makes sure it is realized with the best materials and that it is viable in its given location. For instance, an architectural technologist might point out that a skyscraper with an angled roof is not ideal for snowy climates where the snow and ice could slide off and endanger pedestrians below.
CAD technicians create digital representations of building plans to present to clients and construction engineers
Interior and spatial designer
These designers create interior spaces to maximize aesthetic qualities as well as functional efficiency. Interior designers often work alongside architects to communicate a client's needs and desires.
These designers work to create cityscapes that maximize efficiency and a pleasurable experience. They might work with building developers, roadway engineers, and landscape architects to create or redesign public spaces.
Surveyors take precise measurements to determine property boundaries. A surveyor's work is of vital importance, especially in tight urban spaces where a building's exterior walls might be mere inches from a property line.
These surveyors measure property boundaries for commercial or residential properties. Surveyors are often called upon to determine property lines prior to new construction or even to settle disputes between neighbors.
The construction manager implements the plans given to them by the architectural firm. They manage the workers who put together the materials to realize a set of plans into a structure. Construction managers often consult with architects and technologists to again review the viability of a building plan.
These managers oversee a building or property to ensure that it is maintained in good condition. Property/estate managers schedule maintenance, consult with landscape architects on the best aesthetic choices, and oversee lease contracts, payments, and other associated fees. An estate manager might work with architects to develop a property with additions, restorations, or redesigns.
Higher education lecturer
A lecturer educates students at the college and graduate level. Lecturers are employed as adjunct faculty or can even be full-time professors.
Historic buildings inspector/conservation officer
The inspector surveys and analyzes historic buildings to determine their suitability for preservation. A trained professional can best determine how to bring an old building up to, or close to, current codes for electrical, plumbing, and even electronic systems.
This architect designs landscapes to beautify and maximize the aesthetic potential of the land. Practical concerns might include erosion control and drainage. Landscape architects often work with landscape technicians who install plants, build retaining walls, and create walking paths through stunning gardens.
Planning and development surveyor
This surveyor assesses the best use of a given piece of property and its buildings. A planning/development surveyor seeks out opportunities for a land developer by assessing growth patterns in a city, features of various plots of land, and current or future legislation in the local jurisdiction. When a project is underway, they will coordinate with every member of a team to ensure that cost, time, and other building targets are met.
Production designer, theatre/television/film
The production designer creates the overall design aesthetic for a show. Production designers read the script and collaborate with the director and other producers to create a consistent aesthetic for a show that will carry through from scene to scene. To accomplish this, they coordinate with lighting and set designers, as well as costumers and even casting professionals.
This type of engineer works on the underlying structure of various construction projects. Structural engineers also analyze older buildings to determine how to correct settling issues, retrofit for earthquake preparedness, and repair damage.
A city planner create plans for a city's present and future. Town planners assess the need for new roadways, create an aesthetic for public areas, and work with developers to determine appropriate regulations for new construction. Planners can coordinate large-scale projects that integrate road construction, new building, and landscape architecture.
An environmental artist uses natural materials to create art that integrates with its environment and even with its audience. Environmental artists might create or install structures that enhance a landscape. Examples of environmental art can include whimsical three-dimensional paintings on a city sidewalk, topiary wonders, and balanced-stone installations. Environmental art endeavors to engage with its audience as part of an environment rather than set-apart as in a gallery or up on a pedestal.
An exhibition designer creates optimal design schemes for the purposes of exhibiting a product or even performance. An exhibition designer might be in charge of arranging chairs and plants on a stage for a panel discussion or setting up huge, rotating pedestals, intricate lighting systems, and more for an auto show.
Annual Salary by Occupation
|Occupations||Entry Median||Mid-Career Median||Late-Career Median|
|Interior and spatial designer||$46,439||$73,008|
|Urban designer / City Planner||$45,000||$62,700||$115,255|
|Higher education lecturer||$49,980||$55,080||$57,120|
|Historic buildings inspector||$44,720||$49,920||$63,960|
|Planning and dev. surveyor||$60,720||$63,480||$71,760|
The Architects Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the AIA. As such, they administer four scholarship opportunities for outstanding high school students headed to NAAB-approved programs, undergraduate and graduate students, and aspiring architects waiting to sit for the ARE. The scholarships are:
Diversity Advancement Scholarship
This is awarded to minority students who are currently enrolled in NAAB-accredited programs as well as high school students on their way to architecture school. The deadline for applications is late January, but please consult the Architects Foundation website for specific details.
Payette Sho-Ping Chin Memorial Academic Scholarship
This scholarship is exclusively for women aspiring to excel in the field of architecture. Women in the third or fourth year of architecture school and those in graduate school are encouraged to apply. The financial award is accompanied by a mentorship program to help women excel.
Yann Weymouth Graduate Scholarship
This scholarship is comprised of a $5000 financial reward as well as a mentorship with renowned architect, Yann Weymouth.
Jason Pettigrew Memorial ARE Scholarship
This scholarship offers support for architects who are just getting started. Scholarship recipients receive full funding for their ARE exam and all relevant study materials.
This scholarship is awarded to students of the Texas A&M college of architecture. The scholarship is need-based and can be awarded to students in any undergraduate or graduate track offered by the college.
The National Association of Women in Construction offers scholarship awards to women currently enrolled in construction-related programs in the US. Applicants should have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and send all transcripts with a completed application. The deadline is February 28 for scholarships that begin the ensuing academic year.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA):
This organization looks toward the future and seeks to foster values in their members that encourage a better environment for everyone. They work to lobby legislatures on behalf of the architectural community to support the institute's values concerning human rights, sustainability, climate change, and economic opportunities for architects.
The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS):
Formed in 1956 and modeled after the AIA, AIAS helps students discover leadership and service opportunities. Member students bond together to enact positive social change with modest design projects that are often coordinated with local, licensed architects. Members are kept plugged into the organization through a journal publication which offers students the opportunity to contribute work as writers and editors. The organization also coordinates travel opportunities for students who wish to help with construction projects worldwide.
The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA):
The ACSA was founded in 1912 to lead in the field of architectural education and research. Prior to the founding of NAAB in 1940, a program's membership in ASCA was considered valid accreditation and top students sought their member programs. They work on the pedagogy that goes into architectural education and they serve as a voice for architectural education. They value diversity and inclusiveness and provide scholarships for promising architectural students. They produce a periodical, the Journal of Architectural Education, which inspires teachers and students alike. They also provide information on ongoing scholarship. Member researchers can post their work on the ACSA website so that their peers can follow their progress and discover who is studying what topics.
The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB):
This is the premier accrediting body for architectural programs nationwide. NAAB was formed in 1940 in response to a growing need for integrated, central accrediting standards for all schools of architecture.
The Association of Licensed Architects (ALA):
Licensed architects nationwide join the ALA to network, reward each other for good work, and to foster a nurturing culture for their professional colleagues. Members can enjoy educational benefits that confer CEU hours via in-person luncheons, webinars, conferences, and via their publication, Licensed Architect. Members can read a special educational article and then submit a test for review in the ALA office. They also support members by providing pre-written contracts that architects can use in their own practice.
Choosing an Accredited College
If you are ready to pursue a career as an architect, you will first need to choose an accredited college. Ideally, you will have a NAAB-accredited program in your local area. If that is not possible, seek out a program that will prepare you with the skills you need to progress into the field. If you do academic work that is related to architecture, but not in a NAAB-approved program, you can possibly qualify for a certificate from NCARB. With an NCARB certificate, you can begin working with an architectural firm and sit for the ARE.
If you cannot travel to attend school, or if you are involved in a job or family situation that requires much of your time, there are online programs available. The ASCA lists four architectural programs on their website, three of which offer undergraduate degrees, and one offering a Master of Architecture.
Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid
Architectural education, like most other fields, has entered the online world. Since the field seems to inherently rely on face-to-face, physical interactions, technology has evolved to a point where students can gain as much, or more, from an online architectural degree as from a traditional campus degree.
The online environment offers students the ability to maintain their real-world obligations to work and family while receiving a top-notch education. As they progress through a program, it's easy to share their drawings via email or simply upload images to the online classroom. Collaborative projects can still progress using video chat technology in conjunction with emails and shared files.
To respond to some student and faculty concerns about online education, hybrid programs are sprouting up. These programs ask that you report to campus periodically to meet with faculty and fellow students for special seminars and exhibitions. On-campus time in these hybrid programs are termed residencies, and they can be richly rewarding from an academic standpoint, and also loads of fun. These programs are perhaps most beneficial to working professionals in graduate school who could benefit from the networking opportunities afforded by the residency periods.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
Your program should have some community outreach in place to help your academic, and post-academic progress. During your studies, you may find it beneficial to work as an intern for area firms. These internships can be for credit, or paid jobs that help you make your way through school.
Then, when you are nearing graduation, you want to be in a position to interview with potential employers. Most architectural programs will arrange job fairs that invite top firms from your state and nationwide. Make sure you have business attire and your portfolio handy so that you can nab the very best entry-level position available.
Why You Need to Consider that Rating/accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
Not only will your program's accreditation and scholastic ratings affect your ability to seek licensure in your state, but it may well impact your starting salary. That is, many employers will place a high value on incoming workers from top schools. They believe that the better schools produce higher-quality, harder workers and thus they are prepared to pay well for that labor. While great architects can come from nearly any institution, employers use ratings and accreditation as a handy guide for hiring and compensation.