Be a Senior Architect: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Jan 15, 2020

Research the requirements to become a senior architect. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in architecture.

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  • 0:01 Should I Become a…
  • 1:22 Step 1: Degree Program
  • 2:19 Step 2: Become Licensed
  • 3:01 Step 3: Work Experience
  • 3:37 Step 4: Certification
  • 3:59 Step 5: Advancement

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Should I Become a Senior Architect?

Senior architects are licensed architects with additional responsibilities. In addition to designing building plans, they may be in charge of preparing bids and project proposals, managing staff, and completing projects from design through construction. Architects split their time between offices and building sites, and they must have both strong people skills and attention to detail.

Degree Field Architecture
Key Skills Familiarity with computer-aided design (CAD), document management, graphics or photo imaging, project management and database software; ability to use compasses, drafting kits and other related tools
Degree Level Professional degree; 5-year bachelor's degree or master's degree with previously acquired experience/education
Certification and Licensure Certification voluntary, can enhance career prospects; licensure required
Experience Several years required for licensure; employers typically base experience requirement on level of education
Median Annual Salary $60,627 (for design architects, 2019); $94,165 (for senior project architects, 2020)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job listings from employers (November 2012), O*Net Online,

Let's take a look at the steps it takes to become a senior architect:

Step 1: Enter a Professional Degree Program

Architects are usually required to attain a professional degree in architecture from a program that is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). This most likely means earning a professional Bachelor of Architecture degree through a 5-year program, although individuals who hold a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Architecture may complete a Master of Architecture program. Students typically take core courses on specific building materials, technologies, and construction techniques with a strong focus on computer-aided design and drafting (CADD).

Success Tip

While in school, consider a concentration. Some college degree programs offer students the option of selecting a concentration or a dual major based on individual interests and career goals following graduation. This option is usually available in both 5-year professional bachelor's and master's degree programs.

Step 2: Become Licensed

All states require that architects become licensed before they can provide architectural services to the public. A professional degree, three years of work experience, and training as well as a passing score on the NCARB Architect Registration Examination (ARE) are necessary to obtain licensure. Application requirements may vary by individual jurisdiction.

Success Tip

Make sure to participate in continuing education. Once an architect has become licensed, continuing education is a general requirement by most states. The format may include attending conferences and workshops, college coursework, or self-study learning materials.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

To become a senior architect, it is necessary to gain several years of professional experience, such as working in an apprentice or intern role under the guidance of a current senior architect. For students enrolled in architecture degree programs, internship opportunities may be offered through their school. Additionally, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) administers the Intern Development Program (IDP), which provides aspiring architects with the necessary skills and knowledge to become a professional architect.

Step 4: Earn Certification

In order to gain a professional advantage, architects may elect to become certified through NCARB. The certification shows that the architect has met the industry standards regarding health and safety. Additional benefits include access to discounted rates on continuing education materials through the NCARB.

Step 5: Advance to a Senior Architect Position

After gaining experience and certification, one may advance into a senior architect role and mentor other aspiring architects. Examples of job tasks include project planning and development, reviewing specifications and building codes, and using software programs like AutoCAD for drafting and design. Candidates that are considering a career in research or teaching may want to pursue a post-professional degree, which can also provide advanced, specialized knowledge and training for particular aspects of the field.

Becoming a senior architect involves first completing education and licensing requirements to become an architect, then gaining experience to qualify for the senior position.

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