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How to Become an Architect: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an architect. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information and experience required for starting a career in architecture. View article »

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  • 0:52 Undergraduate Education
  • 1:54 Internships
  • 2:54 Licensure & Certification
  • 3:52 Maintain Licensure
  • 4:29 Graduate Education

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Video Transcript

Should I Become an Architect?

Architects design a wide variety of buildings and structures, including houses, hospitals, government buildings and more. Architects are concerned with functionality, safety, practicality, legal issues and aesthetics in a building's design. They often partake in every part of the building process - from conception to construction - to ensure a satisfactory result. Many work very long hours as deadlines approach.

Career Requirements

Architects need strong communication, analytical, critical-thinking, organizational, and visualization skills. They also must be proficient with specialized tools and technology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects earned a mean annual salary of $82,850 as of May 2015.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

State architecture boards determine the requirements for becoming an architect; however, most boards require completion of a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). In August of 2015, the NAAB reported there were 58 such programs in the United States. Courses might include building systems and technology, project management, structural elements and environmental planning.

A number of competitions are available to students pursuing degrees in architecture, including competitions hosted by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. These competitions challenge students to design innovative structures that comply with a theme, such as sustainability or creative use of steel. Participating in such competitions can provide an aspiring architect with experience to list on his or her resume, as well as valuable feedback on his or her design abilities.

Attend an Internship Program

All states require that architects complete training or internship programs prior to obtaining licensure. Internships typically last three years and enable aspiring architects to gain hands-on experience under the supervision of licensed architects. Most states employ the Intern Development Program (IDP) administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the American Institute of Architects. Completion of the IDP entails 5,600 hours of state- and NCARB-approved work experience. This experience is divided into elective and core hours. The four main experience areas covered in the IDP are pre-design, design, project management and practice management. Interns will learn about a variety of topics, including schematic design, site and building analysis, zoning regulations and contract negotiation.

Obtain State Licensure

Architects must hold licensure from the states in which they practice. While conditions for obtaining licensure vary, most states require completion of an approved bachelor's degree program and an internship. Qualified applicants may sit for the NCARB's Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which is a 7-part pass-or-fail test covering topics in site planning, building systems and construction documents.

Earn Professional Certification

Many architects opt to earn voluntary NCARB certification, which demonstrates professional aptitude and may make it easier to obtain reciprocal licensure from another state. This certification is available to licensed architects who submit transcripts, documentation of ARE passage and proof of acceptable experience. Candidates might be required to sit for an interview or additional testing before being approved for NCARB certification.

Maintain Certification

Architects may have to renew licensure regularly by earning continuing education credits. Almost every state requires completion of a designated number of continuing education hours on an annual or biannual basis. Additionally, continuing education can help an architect stay current in industry trends and technological innovations related to the field. The NCARB offers licensed architects a wide variety of continuing education options covering advanced topics such as architectural acoustics, energy-conscious architecture and fire safety.

Consider a Graduate Degree

Many architects pursue advanced education in master's degree programs, which may last 1-5 years depending on the students' previous architectural education. The NAAB had accredited 95 Master of Architecture degree programs in August 2015. Such degree programs may also be a viable option for students who are interested in a career in architecture and hold bachelor's degrees in an unrelated field. Additionally, some schools offer post-professional degree programs, which are not accredited by the NAAB but may be required for specialty, research or teaching positions. Post-professional programs often result in specialized masters or doctoral degrees.

Specialize and Gain Experience to Advance Career

Rapidly changing technologies and needs are expanding career opportunities for architects. The emergence of green technology has created a demand for architects specializing in sustainable design. Those who specialize in green design will have a career advantage. A more traditional route for career advancement is to gain enough experience within an architectural firm to become a partner.

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