Skip to main content

What Degree Do You Need To Be An Architect?

Go Back

Published on:

January 15, 2019


What Degree Do You Need To Be An Architect?

Architects are licensed professionals who plan and design buildings that are safe, beautiful, and functional. An architect is usually involved in every phase of the design process and development of a building. For students who possess both left and right brain acumen, the architecture major may be a career path worth pursuing – combining elements of science and math with multi-layered levels drawing upon the creative arts; it can be a challenging and rewarding job for the right candidate. With a nearly limitless demand for architecture – including landscape design and residential dwellings, places of employment & business, restaurants, educational & health care facilities, and shopping centers, to name a few – there is a steadily growing need for qualified licensed architects in the United States.

In this article, we’ll discuss what kind of degree (bachelor’s or master’s degree) you need to start your career path as an architect, as well as the duties entailed in this exciting job market. In addition to completing licensing and education requirements, architects should also be organized, creative, analytical, as well as have good communication and technical skills.

Earning an Architecture Degree

In the United States, earning your bachelor’s degree in architecture at a university or an accredited trade school is traditionally the first step towards your architecture career goal. Statistically speaking, students without any prior training at an architecture school earn their professional degree through a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture degree program. Although many students desire architecture degrees, undergraduate admissions into architecture programs can be extremely competitive due to the popularity of the career. Moreover, an extra year of college education filled with additional architecture classes is required to graduate from an architecture undergraduate degree program. Transfer students should be sure to check how much of their previous architecture classes and general education coursework credit will transfer over, as all architectural study programs are not designed the same. For some transfer students and those seeking advanced placement, an architecture portfolio may be required.

Most students continue on to a graduate program to pursue their master’s degree in architecture, which can take an additional 5 years of schooling; however, the amount of time entailed depends on the individual’s level of previous architectural education and training. Any aspiring architect should plan out their education meticulously to avoid the program taking longer than 5 years. In addition, undergrads may want to consider the following skill sets, as these are some of the desirable qualities that successful architects possess:

  • Analytical aptitude: In order to succeed in their industry, an architect must have an infinite comprehension of the design elements, mathematics and sciences entailed and the context in which they were formulated. For example, an in-depth understanding of the locations of mechanical systems and how these systems affect building operations is essential to the occupation.
  • Communication savvy: Due to the highly verbal and written nature of this industry, an architect must have excellent interpersonal and communication skills with a clear ability to get his or her point across in the most concise fashion. Because an architect’s job involves heavy collaboration between coworkers (including draftsmen, graphic and interior designers, senior staff, interns, other architects), construction workers, urban planning developers, civil engineers, and of course clients, having the ability to articulate oneself appropriately is penultimate to success.
  • Creative abilities: Since the overall aesthetic of a structure is dependent on the design, flow and layout of a building, having an artistic flair and creative eye is essential to the trade. In addition to the look and feel of a building, the end result should seamlessly blend form and functionality, as well as take the environmental impact of the structure’s footprint or architectural upgrades into the equation.
  • Organizational proficiency: Because the job of an architect involves contracts, in-depth paperwork, email correspondence, blueprints, renderings/drawings, and other digital and hard collateral, it is the individual’s responsibility to have superb organizational skills. Careful maintenance of records addressing all of the moving parts of a project (such as cost analysis, materials used, project details, and charting progress) is crucial in the business world.
  • Technical expertise: With the constantly-evolving landscape of digital technology and upgrades in software, an architect needs to stay abreast of the latest architectural technology and tools in the industry, even if it entails continuing education and up-to-date architectural practices. Using programs such as CADD are required when creating plans for building information modeling (BIM) and drafting designs; it is therefore highly desirable to have intermediate to advanced computer skills.
  • Visualization skills: Possessing above-average spatial recognition skills and the capacity to see how the parts of a structure relate to one another is key to the success of a professional architect. They must also have the ability to visualize how the completed structure will look from the interior design of the building to the placement of the new building in an urban environment, as well as excellent hand-drawing skills. Hand-drawing skills are the perfect art form to briefly visualize how the building will look. Finally, an architect must have the ability to verbally explain his/her vision to clients and staff.

During the bachelor’s degree program, an architecture student can expect to take courses in a variety of concentrations, including:

  • Architectural Design History and Theory
  • Building design with a focus on CADD, structures, construction methods & professional practices
  • Mathematics
  • Physical Sciences
  • Liberal Arts
  • Graphic Design (various)

The master’s degree architecture program will expose students to more in-depth knowledge of architecture and architecture courses, including:

  • Architectural History
  • Architectural Engineering
  • Design Studio experience
  • Design Theory
  • And More

In the US, there are currently 34 states that require architects to hold a professional degree in architecture from an accredited professional degree program. The 123 schools of architecture accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) with individual state licensing requirements can be found on the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) website. In the states that do not stipulate such requirements, applicants may receive their license with 8-13 years of relevant work experience (in addition to a high school diploma). However, it should be noted that most architects in these states still obtain their professional accredited degree in architecture.

Different Types of Architects & Degrees

Although a general architecture degree is the most common degree to seek in this industry, there are also some other architecture course options for people with different interests. For example, you can also become a licensed Landscape Architect. Landscape architecture is working more with planning as it relates to the natural environment vs traditional architecture. Moreover, there are many different specializations within the field of architecture, such as:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Environmental Design/Green Architecture (A focus on sustainability)
  • Urban Design
  • Industrial
  • Interior Design/ Interior Architecture
  • Landscape Architect/Urban Landscape

Education & Training: How To Become An Architect

At a glance, there are three primary steps required to become a licensed architect:

  • College/University: Completing a professional degree in architecture that has been accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and qualify for state licensure
  • Internship: Obtaining relevant experience & professional practice via paid internship(s)
  • Final Exam: Passing a series of comprehensive exams knowns as the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)

Architectural Training Requirements

Although all state architectural registration boards demand architecture grads to complete a comprehensive paid internship before taking the ARE, most new graduates finish their training period by working within architectural firms through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). Administered by NCARB, this program prepares and guides students through their internship process.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In order to become a licensed architect in the US and the District of Columbia, applicants are required to complete a professional degree in architecture, gain on-the-job experience through a paid internship, and finally, pass the ARE. Additionally, most states require annual license renewal via continuing education. Although requirements may vary from state to state, typically they entail workshops, self-study courses, university classes, conferences or other approved resources.

Being a registered architect makes it easier to become licensed across various states, so many architects are voluntarily pursuing certification from NCARB. According to 2014 statistics, approximately one-third of all licensed architects possessed NCARB certification.

What Are The Duties Of An Architect: An Overview

Architects plan and design a vast array of structures including interior design, for residential homes, corporate buildings, commercial factories, and other similar types of construction, and are therefore responsible for a broad range of expertise and specialized skill sets in their field. With duties including projects that involve private and public projects, as well as indoor and outdoor spaces, an architect may be commissioned to design nearly anything imaginable, from an individual room to an entire complex of buildings.

If you’re thinking of becoming an architect, it’s important to know what to expect in your daily routine, both in the office and on the job site. Here are a few of the primary tasks you can anticipate:

  • Provide direction to workers who prepare and draft blueprints, renderings/ drawings & other pertinent documents
  • Supply preliminary estimates on the projected cost & construction time of a project
  • Oversee & manage construction contracts and related paperwork (e.g., building codes, fire regulations, zoning laws, and other related ordinances, such as wheelchair accessibility)
  • Meet with clientele to determine the project’s requirements, specifications & objectives
  • Draft and prepare contractual documents for building contractors, engineers, design firms and related staff
  • Prepare scaled drawings (either with computer software or by hand)
  • Formulate structure specifications
  • Spearhead new projects & accounts via marketing efforts; give presentations
  • Visit worksites to ensure that the outlined architectural plans are being adhered to throughout every phase of construction
  • Collaborate with workers in related occupations, such as civil engineers, interior designers/design firms, drafters, landscape architects, and urban & regional planners
  • Seasoned architects and those with seniority may also assist clients in various ways, such as selecting contractors, negotiating construction contracts and even obtaining construction bids.

As you can see, architects discuss the requirements, objectives, and budget of a specific project with their clients, as well as overseeing construction from inception to completion. In some instances, an architect may also be expected to furnish various predesign services (such as cost analyses, site selection, feasibility and environmental impact studies, and related design requirements).

Following the discussion and agreement of the initial client proposal, an architect will develop the final construction plans, which illustrate the building’s intended appearance, as well as outline the details of its construction. These plans may be include but are not limited to the following elements:

  • Drawings of the structural system
  • Renderings indicating the positioning and location of air conditioning, heating & ventilation systems
  • Blueprints of the electrical & communication systems
  • Blueprints or renderings of the plumbing
  • Interior/exterior landscape plans
  • Specifying building materials/interior furnishings

Throughout each phase of the construction process, architects are required to follow local & state building codes, zoning laws, fire regulations, and other stipulated ordinances, such as those requiring easy access to buildings for disabled individuals. In addition, the assigned architect will typically visit sites to ascertain every facet of the construction is being adhered to, such as meeting schedules, deadlines and work-quality standards, using the materials specified, and overseeing contractors to ensure they are following the intended design. The job is not officially considered ‘finished’ until all construction is completed, mandatory tests are conducted and approved, and all incurred construction costs are paid in full.

Did You Know…

In the advent of technological advances over the past several decades, Computer-Aided Design & Drafting (CADD) and Building Information Modeling (BIM) have replaced traditional drafting paper and pencil as the preferred method for creating construction drawings and designs. However, architects are still required to possess hand-drawing skills for sketches and renderings, which is especially crucial during the conceptual phases of a new project or working on-site where computers aren’t easily accessible.

Work Environment: The Schedule Of An Architect

Although the majority of architects work full-time (including overtime hours, particularly when working under a deadline), there is some flexibility in the industry depending on your career goals, lifestyle and personal preferences. For instance, self-employed architects typically work for themselves because they desire a less rigid work schedule.

As far as work culture, most architects spend the majority of their time in the office, where they meet with clients, collaborate with other architects, engineers, and staff, and develop reports and drawings, among other multi-tiered responsibilities. In addition, regular visits to construction sites are necessary in order to oversee the progress of the project and ensure all objectives are being satisfied. In some instances, architects may have the option to work from their home office or own an individual design studio.

Did You Know…

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, architects held about 112,600 jobs in 2014, with 69% employed in architectural, engineering, and related services. About 1 in 5 were self-employed.

Industry Forecast: Architecture Job Outlook

With a projected growth estimated at 7% between the years of 2014 – 2024, a career as a professional architect is on the upswing with no signs of decline. According to statistics, many universities and schools across the US are slated to build new facilities or renovate existing structures. In addition, the aging baby-boomer population has placed a demand for more healthcare facilities, as well as a need to create new infrastructures to support the rise in healthcare services nationwide. Furthermore, commercial real estate and retail establishments may also necessitate additional architectural amenities.

There is also an ever-increasing demand for ‘green design’, (also known as sustainable design), so architects who choose to specialize in this area of the industry will likely see career opportunities and job stability. Because sustainable design emphasizes the use of natural resources (such as water and energy conservation, preserving air quality, and using bio-degradable/eco-friendly materials for construction), it continues to grow in popularity along with our country’s concern over the current state of our environment and rising energy costs.

Additionally, the industry’s usage of software such as CADD and BIM has made the job of the architects more efficient, and consequently more productive. Eliminating the need for pencil and draft paper, improved technologies have enabled architects to share their work with other architects, designers, civil engineers, contractors, clients, and related collaborators more easily.

If you think a career in architecture is right for you, contact our Enrollment Team and become an architecture student today! Or if you are interested in one of our related programs, discover how to become a Graphic Designer here! NewSchool of Architecture & Design is proud to offer many graduate and undergraduate programs to get you started on your path to becoming an architect.