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What Does a Career in Architecture Entail?

Architecture is everywhere. Every building you have ever visited was designed by an architect with a professional degree and engineers who offer their services to make sure the structure was safe and would serve the purpose it was meant to serve. Architects not only design space, but they also choose the materials that go into defining the space. A licensed architect might base their designs on architectural history when building a public space or include their knowledge of environmental systems in an architectural design when a building or structure might disrupt the local ecosystem.

When you set out to become and architect and work in a career in architecture by attending a school of architecture, you will spend a lot of time at the drafting table, working with computer assisted design programs (CAD), and pouring over manufacturer catalogs even before you graduate from a university with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture. Once graduates start their careers, they will spend a great deal of time consulting with clients to discern their needs. When construction begins on a project, you will frequently go to the site to troubleshoot any issues and to ensure that the tradespeople adhere to your plans.

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Components of A Successful Career In Architecture

One of the first components of a successful career in architecture is a degree. You should earn your undergraduate degree in architecture, whether you choose to earn that degree online, on-campus, or with a hybrid program (online and in-person courses). This may be a Bachelor of Science in Architecture or a bachelor's degree in architecture with a minor in another related field, such as engineering. After graduation, you should start considering graduate school. Before you enroll in a Master of Architecture program, however, you might want to work as an intern for a reputable architectural firm in order to gain some experience. Indeed, a university might require that you complete a pre-professional degree program in architecture and have some experience before you can gain admission to a professional architecture degree.

Once you've completed your graduate degree, you will need to be licensed by your state to become an architect. Your career will certainly be hindered without a license. Though you might be able to work with success under a licensed architect, you won't be able to explore taking on your own clients until you have your own license. There is no way to skip this step. Those who are interested in becoming licensed professional architects and having a professional practice of their own can find architecture degree programs that will teach them practical skills in architecture, as well as focusing on things such as architectural technology, modern architecture, sustainable buildings and sustainable design, interior architecture, interior design, sustainable real estate development, etc. Architecture degree courses cover topics across the spectrum, but you'll need to ensure that the degree program you choose has the specialty you are interested in.

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Typical Online 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
  • Calculus
  • Geometry
  • History of Architecture
  • Physics
  • Urban Planning
  • Design
  • Principles of Architecture
  • Capstone Projects and/or Internship(s)

Academic Standards for Architects

standards_for_architectsNot 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 whatever school you attend has the highest standards. These standards apply to traditional, online, and hybrid (online and in-person) learning. 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 accredition for your 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.

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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.

Online Degree Options

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 of Science in architecture. While you can complete an online associate architecture degree, your career growth will be hindered until you can complete a higher level of education.

Associate Degree in Architecture Online

While it will be difficult to achieve licensure with an associate architecture degree, you might be able to find a position working in an architectural firm after completing this degree online or in-person, likely in an administrative position. If you need to curtail your architectural education at the associate level, you can still take a few of the following courses:

Associate online degree sample courses

  • Design Studio, I
  • Introduction to Architecture
  • Design Studio, II
  • History of Architecture

Bachelor's Degree in Architecture Online

With an online or on-campus bachelor of architecture degree, you can sit for the ARE, land a paid internship in a firm, and eventually receive a full license from your state. With this four-year, undergraduate degree from an architecture program, your career can begin to take shape. When you seek out an undergraduate architecture program, look for one that is certified by the NAAB. Online and traditional degree programs can be certified this way. If it's not, investigate whether previous students have been successful in seeking certification from the NCARB. You can still achieve as much with an NCARB certification as you can with a degree from an NAAB-accredited institution.

A few example courses you might take for your bachelor's degree include:

Online Bachelor’s degree sample courses

  • Physics
  • Calculus
  • Design Studio, I&II
  • History of Architecture
  • Environmental Technology
  • Structures
  • Computer Assisted Design (CAD) Tools
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Interior Design

Some online Bachelor level concentrations include: Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, Environmental Design, and History.

Master's Degree in Architecture Online

Many architectural programs are integrated with an online 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 graduate 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 online master's degree include:

Online Master’s degree sample courses

  • Architectural Practice
  • Topics in Architectural Design
  • Digital Design
  • Design Theory and Criticism
  • Energy and Environment
  • Teaching Architecture
  • Thesis

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 online or in-person 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
Architectural Engineering $55,839 $133,777
Architectural History $61,134 $73,715
General Architecture: Design, Theory, Methods $53,458 $55,839
Interior Architecture $46,439 $82,204
Industrial Design $67,106 $89,738
Landscape Architecture $55,717 $63,813
Urban Design $60,303 $115,255
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. An online or traditional degree opens the doors to opportunity, and more advanced degrees result in better opportunities, jobs, and salaries.

  • Architect
    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.

  • Architectural technologist
    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 technician
    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.

  • Urban designer
    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.

  • Building surveyor
    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.

  • Commercial/residential surveyor
    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.

  • Construction manager
    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.

  • Estates manager
    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.

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  • 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.

  • Landscape architect
    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.

  • Structural engineer
    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.

  • Town/City planner
    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.

  • Environmental artist
    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.

  • Exhibition designer
    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
Architect $49,500 $65,400 $103,000
Architectural Technologist $42,500 $59,900 $143,000
CAD Technician $40,500 $48,400 $58,300
Interior and spatial designer $40,400 $55,100 $60,600
Urban designer / City Planner $47,000 $63,600 $84,100
Building Surveyor $32,900 $56,200 $79,400
Commercial/residential surveyor $32,900 $56,200 $79,400
Construction manager $57,100 $76,500 $91,700
Estates manager $62,400 $77,900 $87,300
Higher education lecturer $48,000 $50,400 $55,300
Historic buildings inspector $43,600 $54,700 $58,700
Landscape architect $46,600 $62,300 $77,200
Planning and dev. surveyor $48,900 $61,900 $79,000
Production designer $41,100 $54,700 $61,700
Structural engineer $60,800 $77,700 $103,200
Exhibit designer $43,700 $51,500 $59,000

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn an Architecture bachelor's degree online?

Pre-professional degree programs in architecture are generally four-year programs that earn you an undergraduate degree. This is true whether you complete you curriculum online for easier accessibility from anywhere in the U.S., mix distance learning with the ocassional in-person class, or finish your academics completely in person. However, many programs in this field are designed to take five years. If you forgo taking a semester off each summer, you could maintain a shorter time frame.

How much does an online Architecture bachelor’s degree cost?

A typical online bachelor's degree program can cost a student around $30,000 or more, for an in-state, public university. Since many programs in architecture require students to be enrolled in five-year programs, you can expect to pay up to 25% more for your bachelor of architecture degree program. If you opt for a private institution, you could pay much more.

Online Architecture Bachelor's Degree Coursework
Architecture programs tend to be quite rigid in their course offerings. Many of these degree programs in architecture offer few, if any, course options each semester. Thus, all students in a main 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 a pre-professional architecture degree program and the subsequent professional degree. Unlike many fields where you can use related bachelor's degrees to enter a master's program, bachelor of architecture degrees are required before you can enter a Master of Architecture degree program.

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.

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What kind of accreditation does the online 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 program not accredited by the NAAB 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.)

Software/Technology/Skills Needed

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.

Architecture Scholarships

Architects Foundation

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.

William Merriweather Pena Scholarship:

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.

NAWIC Undergraduate Scholarship:

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.

Professional Organizations

  • AIA
  • AIAS
  • ACSA
  • NAAB
  • ALA


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 Online 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.

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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