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How to Become an Architect

Learn how to become an architect

Houses, schools, churches, office building, gas stations, stores. All of the structures that contain our lives need to be designed and built. Who is responsible for all of these buildings? Architects, of course. Architects collaborate with a team of professionals to envision, plan, manage, and construct these functional and beautiful spaces for everyone to enjoy. If you want to be a part of this process, you may want to consider becoming an architect.

Architects do so many things that you can pick a specialty for your career in architecture. Designing residences or industrial buildings, restoring historic buildings, urban architecture, sustainable or green architecture, and more. There are also careers in architecture that will allow you to practice in a particular set of skills, including site, technical, planning, or design architecture.

Learn how to become an architect by finding an architecture program that will allow you to enter this fascinating field. The minimum education you need is a five-year bachelor’s degree in architecture, but you can also enter the profession with a master’s degree that you can add on to a bachelor’s degree in another subject area. In addition to education, you will also need internship hours and eventually, to pass the exams required to get your license to practice.

How to Become an Architect

  1. Complete a 5 year B.Arch. degree (bachelor in architecture)
  2. Consider advanced degree(s) in architecture (note: if you’re a career changer, you can enter the profession with a master’s in architecture)
  3. Gain work experience hours (state requirements vary but upwards of 4,000 hours is typical)
  4. Pass the ARE® licensure exam
  5. Apply for licensure
  6. Apply for jobs & continue your education to maintain licensure

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Step 1: Get your architecture degree (B.Arch.)

If you know you want to be an architect before you head to college, choose an architecture program that has the five-year B.Arch. degree. Many excellent online architecture degree programs exist so you can gain work experience during your education. As an architecture major, it will give you the entry level education that you will need to become licensed after you have completed work in the field and taken exams. Because this specialized degree prepares you for the challenging architecture profession, it takes longer than other bachelor’s degrees, which may be only four years long. However, it does give you the education to enter the profession even if you choose not to get a master’s degree later.

Best Online Architecture Degree Programs

Your education will be a big part of your journey in becoming an architect, so you want to choose the right architecture degree for your goals. There are so many architect schools out there, and you need to make sure that the degree you get will help you get the career you want. If you want to know how to become an architect who has the licensure to be able to fully practice this profession, then you will need to make sure that the school you attend has the right accreditation to allow you to eventually take the exams to get your license. The programs that are most widely accepted will have accreditation from the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and will offer the B.Arch., M.Arch., or D.Arch. degree program. Programs accredited by the NAAB will meet high standards and it generally doesn’t matter if your degree is from a school in another state as long as it is NAAB accredited.

The five-year B.Arch. degree can be completed online from a few schools, but most will have in-person requirements for this rigorous undergraduate degree. For those who value becoming an architect as quickly as possible, this is the minimum education required. If you attend part time, your pathway to this degree will take longer. Most will choose to be full time architecture students, as this is an intense degree program and requires time and focus to be successful.

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Ambitious students who want to complete the B.Arch., the AXP®, and the ARE® all at the same time should look for an architect school that participates in the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) program. These programs allow students to work on the experience required and take sections of the ARE® during their undergraduate education. These educational programs work with NCARB to help get practicing architects into the field quickly by completing all the licensing requirements concurrently with their coursework.

There are many degrees within architecture that do not meet the educational requirements to be licensed as an architect in most places in the U.S., but may provide a wonderful career, or be one step in the path towards becoming and architect. Non-accredited programs will limit the work you can do, and if you still want your license, you will have to complete additional steps. Degrees in interior design, landscape architecture, or sustainable design may lead you towards architecture. There are also BS or BA degrees in architecture that do not fully meet the requirements to become licensed in most states. All of these related degrees could be a first step towards getting a master’s in architecture for people who are not sure about their career goals while they are in undergraduate school. Plus, these allied professions overlap with architecture, so much of what you learn will be relevant to an architecture degree.

Step 2: Consider If You Need a Master’s in Architecture

If you already have your bachelor’s degree, you can enter the profession by gaining a master’s in architecture, called the M.Arch. degree, which usually takes two or three years to complete. This type of program can give you all the basics that you need to go into architecture.

You may also decide to get a master’s in architecture if you already have your B.Arch. but want advanced training. Not everyone gets the master’s, but it can be a good credential for this demanding profession. Some architecture programs have a graduate degree track for people with the B.Arch. that can be completed in a much shorter time, often in one year of study.

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Architectural graduate schools do offer doctoral programs in architecture, but it is not a mandatory step in becoming an architect. If you would like to teach architecture, then getting your doctorate is a very good idea, but you don’t need it to move towards a career in architecture.

As you look at different architectural graduate schools or undergraduate architecture programs, you can take a peek at how their students have done on the ARE® exams by looking at this handy guide from NCARB. The pass rates for the exam may be above or below the national average, and this might influence your decision on schools as you compare programs, prices, and curriculum.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience Hours

Each U.S. State or territory has its own requirements for becoming an architect, but all will require you to have some real-world experience in the field. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) offer the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®) that requires a minimum of 3,740 hours of experience in six practice areas.

The practice areas are:

  • Practice Management
  • Project Management
  • Programming & Analysis
  • Project Planning & Design
  • Project Development & Documentation
  • Construction & Evaluation

Architecture majors may be able to complete many of these practice hours by performing supervised internships during their time in school. If you know you are headed towards architecture, you can start accumulating the experience hours as soon as you graduate from high school.

Some states may require more than the AXP® hours, but check with your jurisdiction to make sure that you are getting the right education and experience to sit for licensure in your state.

Step 4: Pass the Licensure Exam

The NCARB administers the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®), which you must pass to become licensed as an architect.

When it is time to take your ARE® exams, you need to receive eligibility to test from your state licensing board, which usually means you have the right education to sit for the exam. Certain states will allow you to repeat the tests if you don’t pass on the first try within a certain time period or number of tries.

The ARE® has six sections that help assure the public that architects understand how to make buildings that support the health, safety and well-being of the occupants. The tests also assess skills and competencies required of architects, such as project management and documentation. These are challenging exams and although it is possible to complete them all in one year, most people will take about two and a half years to complete this process.

Step 5: Apply to Become a Licensed Architect

Being a fully licensed architect means taking the responsibility for the safety of building projects. Therefore, states have a vested interest in making sure that architects are fully trained and able to meet the strict requirements of building codes in their projects.

Once you have your education, your experience, and your successfully passed exams, you will need to apply to get your license.

Licensing boards for each state or territory have their own rules for architects to be licensed in their jurisdictions. The basic process is similar for most place, but you should always check with your state to get the most current details and procedures on how to become an architect in that state. To become fully licensed you will need to have the required education and experience hours for your state.

As an example, in Texas, applicants need to pay a fee when they apply, and Texas will accept education from an NAAB accredited architecture program or a Canadian university accredited by the CACB. Texas will accept applicants who have taken the ARE® prior to finishing their education. There are fees to process exam applications and to get the initial registration in the state. Each year, a licensed architect will need to renew their registration and to do so, they will need to complete continuing education requirements.

Hawaii, on the other hand, does not require that your education be from a NAAB accredited program, but early eligibility for the ARE® is not accepted. There are fees for exam processing and initial registration, as well as for annual renewal, but continuing education is not required each year. As you can see, you will need to check with your jurisdiction to find out how to become an architect in your state.

There is a good bit of variation in the details of what is acceptable for becoming an architect in each state. Some states require more than the AXP® hours, and some will accept additional experience as an alternative to some of the education requirements. Some require annual renewal while others don’t, and some require annual continuing education while others are less stringent. Some states will accept foreign education transcripts, and most but not all will require education from an NAAB accredited school. Some states have residency requirements for applicants, while most do not. It pays to check on your state before you get your education or experience so you can plan your journey to a career in architecture appropriately.

Step 6: Apply for Architect Jobs & Build Your Career

You may already have some job possibilities lined up from all of the supervised work experience you have gotten while preparing for licensure, but with your license, you can now apply far and wide for jobs in the profession. Your license allows you to practice in your state, but many states have reciprocity, so you may have many great work options.

To keep your license, you will need to periodically get continuing education credits. You can do this by getting additional certificates from an architect school, or by enrolling in an architectural graduate school to get a master’s in architecture. With the technology, materials, and workflow advancing all the time, you will want to keep your skills current and learn new things to keep your skills fresh, appealing, and up-to-date.

Careers in Architecture: Pros & Cons

People become architecture majors because appreciate the beautiful details in the world, have a good problem-solving ability, and enjoy a challenge. Architecture careers require creative talent, plus mathematical and engineering knowledge to come up with possible solutions to problems. A person may be able to envision a beautiful building design, but without the skills to make the building stand up safely and function in the world, they cannot be an architect.

There are many phases in planning and constructing a building, and different architects may focus on different phases of the process. When an architect meets with clients to discuss a preliminary proposal, the design may change many times before construction begins. There is a lot of work in figuring out the shape and placement of necessary systems, including heating and cooling, ventilation, electrical, plumbing, and communications. The visual appearance is important, but so are the details that will help the building conform to state and local building codes, laws, fire regulations, and to allow access to people with disabilities.

Once the planning is done, architects are also often involved in helping to oversee the construction to make sure that their careful plans are implemented properly so that the result will be a fully functional and beautiful structure. With all these phases to the process, some architects choose to specialize in one aspect, such as the energy efficiency of the structure or overseeing construction so that the design is implemented properly. Those who have excellent skills in computer-assisted design and drafting (CADD) or building information modeling (BIM) may focus on the drawings and design.

Some architects will choose to work creating urban environments, designing apartment buildings, retail stores, and office buildings that work with the other elements in the dense city area. Whatever you are most interested in can be a specialty in architecture, whether it is designing malls, working to build factories, government architecture, or designing theaters or sports arenas. Depending on your skills and what most inspires you, there can be a career in architecture to satisfy your interests. Architecture can be a very rewarding career, allowing for creativity and the satisfaction of helping to create the structures that contain our lives and help our societies function.

The downsides of aa career in architecture include the many years of training that it requires to get into the field and the large skillset and knowledge base that is required for this career. While the continuing education and long work hours are similar to other respected professions like medical or legal careers, the salary for architecture is not as high as those professions.

Architect Salary & Job Growth

The salary for architecture careers can vary quite a bit depending on your education and experience, with Indeed.com showing the average base salary as $109,387. Salary.com puts the estimated range for architecture salaries at between approximately $75k and $93k. The highest salary for architecture jobs would be in Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Connecticut, while Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida report lower salaries for architecture.

The job growth for architects in the U.S. is projected at 1% between 2019 and 2029, which is slower than average for all professions. However, the outlook has gone up and down in the past, so it may rise again. The highest levels of employment for architects are in the metropolitan areas of New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. States with the most jobs for architects are California, New York, and Texas. But there are opportunities in every state, with some states like Colorado and Montana having relatively high concentration of architecture jobs.

Take the First Step to Become an Architect

Just by contacting your architecture licensing board, you can easily find out how to become an architect in your state. This fascinating and varied profession can bring you a lifetime of job satisfaction because you will be involved in projects that make a difference in people’s lives. Plus, by becoming an architect, you can use all of your talents to the fullest, with creative, technical, and people skills all coming into play. If architecture is your dream job, don’t hesitate to get yourself on the path toward an architectural career!

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