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Become a Residential Architect: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a residential architect. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information, and experience you'll need to start a career as a residential architect. View article »

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  • 0:03 Career Info
  • 1:21 Earn Architecture Degree
  • 2:20 Complete an Internship
  • 3:27 Pass the ARE Exam
  • 4:15 Cultivate Style

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Video Transcript

Career Info

Residential architects specialize in the design of homes. They consult with clients to determine the required functional and spatial elements of a residential project. They plan the layout of residential buildings, draft scale drawings of these layouts, and consult with engineers to ensure that the plans are integrated into a unified and practical architectural design. They also estimate the cost of materials, time, and mechanical equipment required to complete a residential project. Once building contracts have been drawn up, architects monitor the direction and progress of workers assigned by the contractor to build the residential structure.

About one in five architects working in 2014 was self-employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These professionals spend a great deal of time working in offices, meeting with clients, and traveling to job sites. They often work long hours, particularly those who are self-employed. However, salary in this career is typically higher than average.

Residential architects must have analytical, communication, and computer skills, as well as creativity, knowledge of AutoCAD software, and knowledge of project management and graphics software. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also found that architects in general earned a median annual pay of $76,100 in 2015.

Career Requirements at a Glance

Degree Level Bachelor's degree from an NAAB-accredited college
Degree Field(s) Architecture
Licensure and/or Certification Pass the Architect Registration Examination; National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) certification recommended
Experience 3-year internship required
Key Skills Analytical skills, communication skills, and creativity; computer skills with AutoCAD, database user interface and query, document management, graphics, and project management software
Median Salary (2015)* $76,100 (for architects in general)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)

Earn Architecture Degree

In most states, U.S. architects are required to receive a professional degree in architecture from a college accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, or NAAB. The most common degree earned comes from a five-year bachelor's program. This program is likely to include coursework such as architectural history, building design, computer-aided design, and construction methods. Alternatively, those who would like to become architects but have already earned a bachelor's degree in another field may enroll in a Master of Architecture program. Master's degree programs can take one to five years to complete depending on a student's previous level of architectural training.

Success Tip:

Regardless of their degree path, aspiring architects should perfect their skills in AutoCAD and other three-dimensional computer imaging programs. In addition to classroom instruction, students spend much of their time in a design studio creating drawings and three-dimensional models. Many job listings specify AutoCAD skills in the job requirements for applicants.

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Complete an Internship

All architecture program graduates must complete a training period of at least three years under the supervision of a licensed architect. The American Institute of Architects, or AIA, and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, or NCARB, have established training standards under the Intern Development Program, or IDP. Time spent working as an intern while in a school program may count toward the training period requirement. Trainees and interns may help prepare documents and drawings, assist in the design of one part of a project, prepare construction drawings using CAD, research building codes and materials, and build models or write specifications for installation criteria.

According to NCARB, you are eligible to start the Intern Development Program as soon as you have determined an IDP eligibility date by enrolling in either an NAAB-accredited degree program or a pre-professional program at a school that offers the accredited program. You may also start your IDP if you are employed in a work setting after earning a high school diploma, GED, or similar degree offered in a foreign country.

Pass the ARE Exam

After earning a professional degree in architecture and completing a training period, a person must earn licensure before he or she may be called an architect. To be awarded licensure, a person must pass the Architect Registration Examination, or ARE, which is administered by the NCARB.

The NCARB also offers optional certification for licensed architects who would like to work in different jurisdictions. Though becoming NCARB-certified is not necessarily a requirement for employment, it does show across states that you have met certain professional standards established by a top accrediting board in this field. Most states require continuing education, such as formal university classes, workshops, conferences, and self-study courses to maintain licensure.

Cultivate Style

After gaining licensure, a residential architect should focus on cultivating their own design style. For instance, residential architects may consider pursuing specializations in green or sustainable design. The spike in energy costs and growing concern about the environment have led many to pursue this type of residential design. This field includes the efficient use of energy and water resources, waste and pollution reduction, and concentrating on designing, using specifications and materials that are environmentally friendly.

Individuals who are interested in designing residential homes professionally, should again, get a professional degree in architecture from an accredited school, complete an internship, and pass the Architect Registration Examination.

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