How to Become an Architect [2023 Guide]

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Discover how to become an architect. Learn the educational requirements, career paths, and common earnings in this comprehensive guide for aspiring architects.

If you’re fascinated by buildings and design principles, you might be interested in learning how to become an architect.

How to Become an Architect

An architect designs and oversees the construction of structures like bridges, houses, offices, and skyscrapers. These professionals work closely with clients to create unique buildings that combine functionality, safety, and style.

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If you’re interested in becoming an architect, there are several steps you can take to gain the necessary credentials, expertise, and skills for this career path.

How to Become an Architect

Man taking Architecture Degree online

Aspiring architects need to develop industry knowledge and experience before they can become licensed to work in the field.

If you want to become an architect, here are some common steps that can help you achieve your goal:

  1. Earn a professional Bachelor of Architecture degree. Many online colleges for architecture offer a professional Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) degree. These programs typically take 5 years to complete and include courses on building materials, the history of architecture, safety regulations, structural concepts, and other topics. Students also gain hands-on experience by creating projects in architecture studio courses. Graduates with a professional BArch degree can pursue licensure without a masters degree.
  2. Complete a Master of Architecture degree. Students with a bachelors degree in a different field can transition into architecture by earning a Master of Architecture (MArch) degree. Some BArch holders also pursue a graduate degree to develop additional expertise. Most students complete an MArch degree in 2 to 3 years of full-time study. Coursework in an MArch program typically covers architectural design, history, practice, theories, and tools.
  3. Participate in an internship. Students studying architecture are required to complete an extensive internship before they can apply for licensure. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) administers the Architectural Experience Program. This national initiative matches licensure candidates with approved supervisors for mentorship. Interns complete 3,740 hours of work in areas like construction and evaluation, project planning and design, and practice management.
  4. Earn a license. To earn an architecture license, it’s necessary to meet your state’s requirements and pass the NCARB’s seven-part Architect Registration Examination.
  5. Apply for architecture jobs. Licensed architects can qualify for positions with architecture firms and practices. Securing a professional role allows you to gain work experience in the field.

These milestones can help you develop essential architectural skills and form a professional network in the industry.

3 Things You Can Do as an Architect

Architects can use their creative and technical skills to pursue many career paths. Here are three potential occupations for people with an architecture background. These are just a few of the many careers that architecture graduates can pursue.

1. Restoration Architect

Restoration Architects discussing a project

A restoration architect specializes in rebuilding and preserving historical buildings, monuments, and other structures. For example, they could restore an old church damaged by fire or take measures to protect an ancient statue from decay.

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Typical responsibilities for a restoration architect include developing budgets, researching original materials used in structures, overseeing construction workers, and managing insurance claims.

2. Interior Designer

Interior Designer developing color scheme for a residential property

An interior designer focuses on making indoor spaces attractive, comfortable, and functional. They design unique interior spaces that fit their client’s vision and needs while complying with building codes and local regulations.

An interior designer often selects fixtures, furniture, lighting, paint, and other decorations. Their duties may also include designing blueprints, developing a budget and timeline, and managing teams of carpenters and other tradespeople.

3. Structural Engineer

Structural Engineers working together

A structural engineer designs and evaluates various structures, such as hospitals, rollercoasters, and schools.

They transform architectural blueprints into construction drawings that project teams can use to build structures. They may also inspect existing buildings to detect underlying issues like cracks or leaks. Plus, structural engineers ensure that new or renovated buildings conform to codes and regulations.

Architecture Degree Requirements

Woman preparing for Architecture Degree requirements

There are three levels of architecture degrees, and each type has specific requirements for students.

  • Bachelor of Architecture (BArch): These five year professional programs have received accreditation from the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Students learn about architectural history, design techniques, digital fabrication, and other relevant topics. They also participate in internships, studios, and professional development activities. Most BArch programs accept high school graduates with a competitive GPA.
  • Master of Architecture (MArch): These two year to three year programs teach students the skills they need to pass the architecture licensing exam. Online Master of Architecture programs often include a master’s thesis, internships, and short on-campus residencies. Some programs only accept students with a BArch, but others admit candidates with any bachelor’s degree.
  • Doctor of Architecture (DArch): This relatively new terminal degree enables students to develop advanced expertise in architecture. Students typically conduct original research, complete a dissertation or capstone project, and take graduate courses. Graduates with a DArch frequently pursue careers in academia or research.

Your career goals and previous academic experience can help you determine the right degree for you.

Non-Professional Bachelor’s in Architecture Degrees

Architect with a Non-Professional Bachelor's in Architecture Degree

The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) has currently only accredited 173 programs worldwide. As a result, professional Bachelor of Architecture programs are fiercely competitive. Fortunately, you don’t need to earn a BArch to become an architect.

Many students earn undergraduate degrees in related fields to develop foundational architectural skills. After graduation, they often expand their architectural knowledge by enrolling in master’s in architecture programs, completing internships, and getting licensed.

Here are five alternative degrees for people interested in becoming an architect:

  • Computer Science. Architects increasingly rely on digital tools to create building models, blueprints, and other visualizations. A computer science degree allows students to gain technical skills they can apply in their future architecture careers.
  • Engineering. Engineering and architecture cover many similar subjects, including building materials, electrical systems, math, and structures. In fact, these fields have so many overlaps that some programs now offer an architectural engineering major or minor.
  • Environmental Design. This major focuses on designing and constructing sustainable spaces and structures. You can study topics like architecture design, landscape technology, and site analysis.
  • Landscape Architecture. This degree focuses on designing outdoor spaces, like college campuses, hiking trails, and public parks. Coursework typically includes historic preservation, ecology, and site design.
  • Urban Planning. This degree teaches students how to design communal spaces, like business districts, parks, and neighborhoods. Many urban planning programs include the same courses as architecture programs, like planning methods and sustainable design.

You could also consider BA, BS, or BFA in Architecture degree programs. Any of these non-professional bachelors degrees can help prepare you for a Master of Architecture (MArch) program. Having a bachelors in a related field may also open additional career opportunities once you receive your architecture license.

Architecture Careers & Salaries

Architecture Careers & Salaries

Many graduates from online colleges for architecture secure employment in a broad range of industries and occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the median wages of career paths related to architecture.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Architectural and Engineering Managers $152,350
Construction Managers $98,890
Architects $80,180
Urban and Regional Planners $78,500
Industrial Designers $77,030
Landscape Architects $67,950
Construction and Building Inspectors $61,640
Surveyors $61,600
Interior Designers $60,340
Drafters $60,290

Job openings and salaries can vary widely by company and region. You may increase your earning potential by completing additional architecture certifications, earning a graduate degree, or specializing in a niche area like getting a certificate in landscaping online.

Architecture Schools Online Accreditation

University offering Architecture Online

Many online colleges for architecture have received regional accreditation. To earn accreditation, schools must pass a voluntary evaluation of their curriculum, faculty, graduation rate, services, and other criteria. Independent organizations develop accreditation standards and assess colleges to avoid bias.

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You can feel confident that you’re receiving a high-quality education if you attend an accredited architecture school. Additionally, many graduate programs only accept students from accredited schools, so earning your bachelors at a school that holds accreditation could open more educational opportunities.

NAAB Accreditation

The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredits professional architecture programs in America. The accreditation process involves several steps, including a self-evaluation completed by colleges and a site visit conducted by NAAB representatives.

Programs accredited by the NAAB have demonstrated that they meet quality standards in several categories, including learning and teaching culture, research and innovation, and social equity and inclusion. Additionally, most states require aspiring architects to earn a professional degree from a NAAB accredited school before applying for licensure.

Architecture Licensure and Certifications

LEED Accredited Professionals working on a new blueprint

Many architecture majors earn additional licenses and certificates, such as:

  • Architecture License: To earn a state license, it’s necessary to pass the Architectural Registration Exam. Additional licensing requirements vary by state but may include an interview, a portfolio, verification of residency, and an NAAB accredited degree.
  • Certified Interior Designer: This certificate validates expertise in interior design approaches and theories.
  • LEED Accredited Professional: This certificate demonstrates mastery of sustainable building methods and practices. You’ll likely be required to pass an exam covering topics like energy efficiency and water conservation.

These professional credentials could boost your credibility and help you stand out to potential employers.

Is Financial Aid Available?

Architecture Financial Aid

You can see if you qualify for financial aid opportunities to help you pay for your architecture studies.

Many students explore their options for financial assistance by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal and state governments use this form to determine eligibility for grants, work-study programs, and student loans. Students are often required to attend an accredited school to receive federal aid.

Professional architecture organizations often offer grants and scholarships for aspiring architects. Some employers also provide tuition reimbursement to workers pursuing higher education.

What Is an Architect?

Architects working together

An architect is a licensed professional who specializes in designing and constructing buildings. They can work on virtually any structure, including amusement park rides, barns, bridges, factories, houses, and schools.

Architects have extensive knowledge of building materials, design principles, safety procedures, and zoning laws. They work to design visually appealing but practical structures that fit their clients’ budgets and goals. Additionally, these professionals often have strong interpersonal skills like communication and leadership. These abilities help architects collaborate closely with customers, contractors, and stakeholders.

What Does an Architect Do?

Architects creating a blueprint for a building project

Here are some typical responsibilities for architects:

  • Estimate costs and bid on projects
  • Create project budgets and timelines
  • Use computer-aided design software to create blueprints and other visuals
  • Research building codes and zoning laws
  • Conduct site visits
  • Supervise construction teams
  • Write and present design proposals
  • Give clients project updates
  • Adjust architectural plans based on client feedback
  • Design interior spaces
  • Attend conferences and workshops to continually update their industry knowledge

An architect’s duties can vary based on their role and specialty. For instance, restoration architects preserve historic buildings, while sustainability architects frequently design new, environmentally friendly structures.

Where Do Architects Work?

Architects working in an architecture firm

Architects can work for a variety of employers. Many current professionals secure positions with architecture firms. They may spend most of their time creating architectural designs in an office setting or from home.

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Additionally, many architects travel to job worksites to review the construction team’s progress and adjust the plans as necessary. Other professionals work for government agencies. Additionally, architects can open their own private practices or freelance for clients. These options can offer more flexibility and independence, but self-employed architects often need to devote more time to self-promotion.

How Much Do Architects Make?

Architect working in his home office

An architect’s salary can vary based on their role, location, employer, and other factors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects earn a median annual wage of $80,180. Most architects earn salaries between $48,930 and $129,980 each year.

Urban and regional planners have a median of $78,500, and the median wage for industrial designers is $77,030. Management jobs often have higher earning potential. For instance, the median salary for architectural and engineering managers is $152,350, and the median for construction managers is $98,890 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

No degree can guarantee a specific position or salary, but you can estimate a preferred position’s typical pay by researching job advertisements for similar roles.

Is Architecture Hard?

Architect discussing with engineers

The difficulty level of a major for architects is subjective.

You can expect to take courses like these:

  • Building Technology: This class examines how technology can improve accessibility, safety, security, and sustainability.
  • Freehand Architectural Drawing: In this class, you could learn techniques for freehand sketching architectural designs.
  • History of Architecture: This course covers the evolution of the built environment and explores the connections between buildings, cultures, and social values.
  • Materials and Methods of Construction: This course explore the functions, properties, and risks of contemporary building materials and techniques, such as masonry and wood.

Whether you find an architecture degree more challenging or easy may depend on your background, interest level, and skills.

What Degree Do You Need to Be an Architect?

architects discussing their blueprints

Aspiring architects typically take one of two educational paths. First, students can earn a professional Bachelor of Architecture (BArch). This degree typically takes 5 years to complete because it includes additional, more advanced architectural classes.

Students who earn a BArch can sit for the architecture licensing exam after completing an internship. Second, students with a non-professional architecture degree or a bachelors in another field can complete a Master of Architecture (MArch) to pursue an architecture license.

No matter which path you choose, it’s necessary to complete an internship and pass the licensing exam before starting an architecture career.

What Skills Do You Need to Be an Architect?

Architect creating draft blueprint proposal

An online degree can help you develop essential architecture skills, such as:

  • Communication. Architects need strong oral and written communication skills to interpret clients’ desires, create technical documentation, and deliver progress reports.
  • Collaboration. Architects often work closely with drafters, graphic designers, interior decorators, and other professionals.
  • Creativity. You can build your artistic and creative abilities through studio courses.
  • Graphic design. Architects need to know how to create stylish visual designs.
  • Technical proficiency. You’ll learn to use digital tools like computer-assisted design and building information modeling software.

Strong architecture skills may impress potential employers and allow you to meet performance expectations.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Architect?

Woman pursuing an Architect Degree online

After reading the many requirements for this career, you may be wondering, how long does it take to be an architect? Typically, it takes around 8 years to 11 years to start working as a licensed architect, depending on your chosen degree path.

You can start your educational journey by earning a Bachelor of Architecture or a Master of Architecture. A professional bachelors degree in this field generally takes 5 years to complete with full-time study, while a masters usually takes 2 to 3 years.

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It’s also necessary to complete over 3,700 hours of work as an intern, which may take around 3 years. As a final step in the licensure process, you can take the Architect Registration Examination.

What’s the Difference Between an Architect vs. Engineer?

Architects and engineers both design structures, but these careers have several major differences.

Architect Engineer
  • Draws on art and science to design beautiful but functional buildings and spaces
  • Must earn an NAAB accredited architecture degree
  • Is required to obtain a license
  • Uses scientific principles to design structurally sound objects
  • Typically needs a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions
  • May earn a professional engineer license

In addition to coursework, architecture programs include design studios, where students develop creative projects. Engineering programs, on the other hand, include many engineering and science classes. If you want a more artistic and creative career, you may prefer architecture over engineering.

Is Being an Architect Worth It?

Architects collaborating on a project

Yes, being an architect is worth it for many students. This field enables students to hone their artistic and engineering skills. You can study fascinating topics like architectural theory, 3D design visualization, sustainability, and urban design.

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Licensed architects can pursue a broad range of careers. For example, some graduates apply their architectural skills to create new products as industrial designers. Current professionals also design parks and other outdoor spaces as landscape architects. Many architecture careers can be competitive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job openings for architects will increase by 3% over the next decade.

Getting Your Architect Degree Online

student getting his Architect Degree Online

Learning how to be an architect can be a complex and lengthy process, but people with a passion for architecture and design often find this career path rewarding.

An architecture degree can unlock many exciting job opportunities. Many professionals work as architects for firms or private practices. Others pursue leadership roles as architectural managers or construction managers. Additionally, some architects even start their own consulting companies or freelance for clients.

If you’re interested in becoming an architect, you could take the first step on your educational journey by researching online architecture degree programs from accredited colleges and universities.

Ready to start your journey?
Brianna has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Florida and an M.A. in English from the University of Kentucky. Her research interests include careers and professional development, digital pedagogy, and first-year writing.