Career Advice Inspiration

How to Become an Architect: Education, Certifications, and More


Every student has probably marveled over the pyramids, The Parthenon of Greece, the Roman Coliseum, and other feats of architecture – seemingly impossible for the crudeness of tools. And yet, someone designed them, and they did get built. Those designers, of course, were some of the first architects. And through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, these architects came and went, each leaving his “footprint” on the profession and contributing to designs that were to come.

Defining the Profession

In ancient times, the definition was quite simple. An architect designed a structure. If it “worked,” it stood. If it didn’t, no matter. There were no building codes, no contracts with independent builders, no budgets, no difficult clients who kept changing their minds, etc.

Today, the architect’s job has evolved into a far more complicated set of responsibilities and tasks. Of course, he designs both exteriors and interiors of buildings, even outdoor spaces. But in doing so, he must meet with clients, hold detailed discussions, prepare preliminary drawings, estimate costs, and determine the actual feasibility of the project. Once finalized, the detailed and scaled drawings are produced, contracts are drawn up, permits are secured, and the entire project must be managed. The final product must be exactly as planned, and it must be structurally sound and in compliance with all local building codes.

How to Become an Architect

The path to architecture involves a combination of formal education, an internship of some sort, and certification through a state authority. And there can be other stops along the way on this path.

In general, an architect must have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in architecture from a university that has a “recognized” program. Recognition means that a degree program is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). So, if a career in architecture is your goal, be certain that any school you choose has such accreditation, at least for the final two years of your program.

It should be noted that the majority of architects do go on to get a Master’s degree and many a Ph.D. Obviously, the higher the degree level, the higher the skill level, and the more valuable an architect becomes to firms and to clients.

No one can achieve certification without an Intern Development Program. While states may vary relative to the specifics, in general, it should be with a firm that has fully licensed architects and, ideally, the voluntary certification from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

Steps on the Path to Becoming an Architect

You do have some options as you progress along the path to this career.

Start with Your High School Coursework

There are courses, both required and elective, that can prepare you for your post-secondary programs. Geometry is required if you intend to go to college. Pre-calculus is elective, but bite the bullet and take it. Get help if you need it. There are a number of online academic assistance resources you can use if you are struggling. Khan Academy is a great free resource, as are your peers who are doing well in the course. Be assertive and get the help you need to master the concepts and skills of this curriculum.

If you have vocational courses that include computer-aided design (CAD) programs, by all means, take them. This is a fully-used technology by architects today.

Your Options for Post-Secondary Study

College is expensive. If you are concerned about costs and the amount of student debt you may accumulate as you pursue your path, you certainly can begin at the community college level. There is plenty of coursework that is related to architecture, of course, but you can also get the general education requirements out of the way before transferring to a four-year institution. As Shelly Canfield, a writer and editor states: “We have many community college students as clients, and they tell us that it was a good decision to take the less expensive route for their first two years. They also tell us that they are getting a high-quality education that is preparing them for transfer to a four-year institution.”

And there are associate’s degrees that can plant you firmly on your path. You may be employed in drafting positions, for example – positions that will give you the opportunity to work in entry-level positions with architectural firms while you continue your education, by transferring to a four-year college.

Once you have that Associate’s degree, you will want to transfer to an accredited program. With a Bachelor’s, you will be ready to assume an entry-level position and complete that Intern Development Program.

Get that Master’s Degree

To gain full “admission” to the architectural community, you should pursue a Master’s degree. Once that is obtained, you will be able to take your place among the most reputed architects in that community.

Your Master’s program will provide greater study in theory, technology, cultural factors, and such things as ecologically conscious practices, preservation in urban planning.

If your Bachelor’s degree was in architecture, then a Master’s program will likely involve about two years. If your undergrad degree was in another field, it will probably take more than three years.

The Internship/Training

You cannot become licensed without an internship/training program under a licensed architect. Most architectural graduates complete this after they receive their degrees, just as accountants who are aspiring for CPA licenses do. To find an internship, look to architectural firms – they tend to have more openings. Be sure to look at engineering services firms too, because they also may have licensed architects you can work under.

Most internship/training programs last about three years.

Certification and Licensure

Just like lawyers, doctors, and accountants, architects can not practice their profession without a license. And just like all of these other professions, there is an examination – the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) – administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Board.

The test has six parts, called divisions, that include mathematical questions related to architecture and multiple-choice parts. Specifically, the divisions are:

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

Once a candidate takes and passes the first division, he has five years to complete the remaining ones. If he does not, he must begin all over again.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Board also offers a national certification. While not a guarantee, it can help an architect move from one state to another and ease certification in that state. Again, each state has its own “rules.”

Related Careers

If you love architecture but not the years of study involved, there are some related careers that will put you on a path to work with architects.

  • An Associates degree in drafting will make you a strong candidate for positions that assist architects. You will use your CAD and other architectural software expertise to craft technical drawings that will act as “plans” for construction projects.
  • A Bachelor’s degree in public or city management/planning will qualify you for positions within city governments, where you will be in charge of development, sustainability, and renovation initiatives. You will work with local officials but also with architects who are bidding and winning contracts for projects.
  • Civil engineering: This is the practical implementation side of what an architect designs. It involves taking that design, planning the construction side of that design, and bringing it to fruition in a finished project.
  • Teaching: Lots of architects end up getting Ph.D.’s and go into teaching rather than into actual practice. For those who love the profession and want to pass that love onto others, this is an ideal related career.

Architecture in the Future

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, architectural careers will grow at about 8% over the next eight years, and the median salary is about $80,000.

But these are exciting times for the profession as a whole. New materials, innovative designs, green structures, modular arrangements, and more are just the tip of this iceberg. There is so much innovation and creativity going on today, anyone studying architecture cannot help but be enthusiastic.

Degree Required Professional bachelor’s or master’s degree typically accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)
Field of Study Architecture
Training Required Complete Intern Development Program (IDP)
Key Responsibilities Work with clients to determine design requirements; estimate equipment, material, financial and time requirements; draft blueprints and other design documents; oversee construction to ensure compliance with specifications
Licensure or Certification All states require architects to be licensed, voluntary certification from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) may permit reciprocity with state licensing requirements
Job Growth (2018-2028) 8%*
Median Salary (2018) $79,380 (Except Landscape and Naval Architects)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The occupation of the urban or regional planner is closely related to that of architects, though as of 2015, according to the BLS, only New Jersey required planners to be licensed. The job of urban or regional planner deals with the creation of programs and plans that develop and/or revitalize communities. This is done with an eye toward population growth and the accommodation of the needs and requirements of the town, city, county, or metropolitan area involved. Prior work experience as an architect may be required.

With only an associate’s degree, drafters play an integral part in the accomplishment of an architect’s job. Working closely with architects and structural engineers, drafters use their specialized training on computer-aided design (CAD) software to convert architectural and engineering designs into technical drawings. These drawings act as the pattern for the construction project.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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