How to Become an Architect: The Builder’s Guide

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Architecture is an exciting field that combines creativity with principles of mathematics and science. It involves an understanding of design, construction, building regulations and codes, and much more. For these reasons, architecture is a complex job, and becoming an architect is a challenging process.

In this guide, we’ll give you helpful information about the field of architecture, plus a step-by-step explanation of how to become an architect. After reading this guide, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether a career in architecture is right for you.

What is it like to be an architect?

Architects plan and design buildings, including homes, offices, and factories. They typically work in an office environment, where they create plans, hold client meetings, and collaborate with other architects and engineers. Architects provide estimates for the costs and length of time associated with a project. They also visit construction sites to review progress and make sure the clients’ objectives are fulfilled.

Often, architects work long hours, especially when rushing to meet a project deadline. They use computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM), and also hand-draw sketches. In addition, they must ensure that state and local building codes, fire ordinances, zoning laws, and other important regulations are followed as buildings are constructed.

It’s a complicated career that requires a diverse skill set, and that’s why becoming an architect isn’t a quick and easy process.

What types of architects are there?

Although architects don’t have to specialize in just one area, the main types of architects include:

  • Residential Architect- Work with real estate developers and private clients to design customized houses.
  • Commercial Architect- Design public structures like shopping malls, hotels, museums, hospitals, and office buildings.
  • Industrial Architect- Focus on designing buildings where functional requirements are the main priority, such as power plants, factories, warehouses, and transport hubs.
  • Urban Designer- Plan, design, and develop cities and large areas, rather than individual homes or buildings.
  • Sustainability/Green Design Architect- Emphasize eco-friendly, energy-efficient designs using sustainable materials and innovative green features.
  • Restoration Architect- Prevent deterioration of older or even ancient structures through maintenance, preservation, and repair.
  • Extreme Architect- Work in extreme climates that present unique architectural challenges, designing structures that can withstand harsh weather conditions and natural disasters.
  • Landscape Architect- Design and develop outdoor spaces like parks and gardens, as well as recreational areas such as golf courses and resorts.
  • Interior Architect- Focus on the art and science of interior spaces, including structural components and styling. This occupation is not to be confused with interior design, but interior architects and interior designers frequently collaborate.

Specializing and excelling in one of these areas, especially a less common one, can help you stand out in your field. It may lead to more job opportunities and a higher salary. You can also consider current needs and demand. For instance, growing concerns about global warming and an increased emphasis on conservation mean higher demand for extreme architects and green design architects.

How much money do architects earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an architect is $82,320.

Pay varies based on experience, skill, and location. The lowest 10 percent of architects earn $49,950, while the top 10 percent can make over $136,000 annually.

Architects earn the most money in Washington D.C., New York, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Alaska. The average salary for D.C. area architects is $109,540. When considering salaries by location, you should also factor in the average cost of living. Often, the reason people earn more money in certain areas is because the cost of living is higher there.

The industry you work in also influences your pay. For example, architects who work in government earn more than architects who work in construction. Top-paying industries for architects include:

  • Land Subdivision
  • Foundation, Structure, and Building Exterior Contractors
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises (Experienced architects may become architectural and engineering managers, with an average salary of $149,530.)

It’s impossible to calculate your exact future salary. However, architects can certainly make a solid living, and there is opportunity for advancement as you gain experience.

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What is the job outlook for architects?

Unfortunately, the job outlook for architects is not great. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for architects is expected to grow by just 1 percent through 2029. The current growth rate for all occupations is 4 percent, so this career is growing more slowly than the national average.

People will always need buildings, but advances in technology have significantly increased productivity for architects. Building information modeling (BIM) software and measuring technology mean fewer architects can complete more jobs at a faster rate. As a result, the need for more architects is limited.

In addition, architecture is a popular degree. You can expect significant competition for internships and jobs. You should also consider the fact that employment in this field is closely linked to the construction industry. When demand for construction and new projects decreases, architects may experience periods of unemployment.

It’s important to be informed about the job outlook for architects, but it doesn’t mean you should give up your dreams. Some careers are projected to decline over the next decade, but employment of architects is expected to increase, even if it’s only by a small percentage. To become an architect, you’ll need to ensure that you’re a qualified and highly competitive candidate.

The states with the highest employment level for architects are California, New York, Illinois, Texas, and Florida.

What skills do I need to be a good architect?

To be a stellar architect, you’ll need skills such as:

  • Written, oral, and presentation skills
  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Art and design capabilities
  • Visualization
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Leadership and collaboration
  • Technical abilities
  • Mathematical abilities
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail

Of course, you’ll also need knowledge of building materials, construction, codes and regulations, and specific software programs. That’s where your education in architecture comes in.

Steps to Becoming an Architect

Becoming an architect is a lengthy and challenging process, but it’s well worth it if you end up in a career you love.

Here’s a closer look at the step-by-step process on how to become an architect!

High School

The first major step toward becoming an architect is graduating from high school. During your high school years, focus on accomplishing the following:

  • Take challenging classes and earn a high GPA. Focus on mathematics, physics, and the arts. If available at your school, take AP Physics, AP Calculus, and AP 3D Art and Design.
  • Perform well on the SAT/ACT.
  • Participate in relevant extracurricular activities, such as clubs or activities related to mathematics, physics, and art. Painting, drawing, sculpting, and other mediums are all helpful for the visualization and design process.
  • Apply for a summer program designed for high school students who want to pursue architecture.
  • Learn about architecture independently by reading articles and books, watching videos, or taking online courses. If possible, talk to or even job shadow an architect in your community.

By taking these steps, you’ll build an excellent resume for admission to a college with a strong architecture program. You will demonstrate your commitment to and enthusiasm for the field, as well as your aptitude.

The items on the list will also give you an opportunity to explore architecture and determine whether it’s truly a good fit for you. Plus, you’ll develop the skills you need to succeed in an architecture program and as a future architect.

College Applications

Architecture has unique educational requirements, and there are two possible paths to choose from. In most states, licensed architects must hold a degree in architecture from an institution accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

One option is to earn a Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch.), which is a five-year program instead of the traditional four. The other is to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree, then complete a Master of Architecture program (M. Arch.).

Some B. Arch. programs have specific high school course requirements, such as physics and four years of mathematics. You may also need to submit a portfolio of sketches and other art projects. For some programs, you may need to complete an interview too. Visit the websites of the architecture programs you’re interested in to make sure you fulfill all requirements.

Aside from these specialized requirements, take the ACT/SAT until you have a competitive score, and gather strong letters of recommendation. Write a college application essay that reflects your personality, values, and goals.

Undergraduate School

If you’re sure about architecture, a B.Arch. is the most direct (and most affordable) path to achieving your career goals. You’ll learn about architectural theory, materials, design concepts, and using technology for designing and drafting. You’ll develop your knowledge and skills alongside other students with a passion for architecture.

On the other hand, you can keep your options open by pursuing a traditional bachelor’s degree. This degree can be in any field, but it’s important to take relevant classes in mathematics, physics, and introductory architecture if possible.

Introductory courses can help you decide if you want to pursue a graduate degree in the field, and they lay a firm foundation for this pursuit. The length of time it takes to complete an M. Arch. degree depends on your previous architectural education, so these classes can give you a head start.

Whichever path you take, explore architecture and further build your skills through clubs, organization, and other experiences offered at your school. Remember that the field is highly competitive, and take advantage of any opportunity to boost your resume and your skill set.

Optional: Graduate School

Most architects have a B.Arch., and graduate education is certainly not required. However, it can make you a more competitive candidate for internships and jobs, and you may eventually earn more money with a higher degree.

You may want to pursue a master’s degree if you’d like to go into research or teaching in the field of architecture. Completing a master’s program can also give you more connections, which is useful when it’s time to land an internship and a job. And if you don’t have a B.Arch., you can get into architecture through an M. Arch. program.

There are also doctoral programs in architecture, but this investment is mostly unnecessary, unless you want to go into academia.

Internship

Every state requires future architects to gain experience through a paid internship before becoming licensed. These programs typically last for three years. Students in B.Arch. programs are usually required to intern during college, and they can apply some of these hours toward the three-year requirement.

In many states, you can seek internship opportunities through the Intern Development Program (IDP). IDP internships consist of 5,600 hours of field experience within 17 categories. Interns are closely supervised, usually by licensed architects. They gain the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to excel in the complex and challenging field of architecture.

Architect Registration Examination

Once you’ve completed a degree in architecture and your internship, you are most likely eligible to take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Eligibility requirements vary slightly by jurisdiction. Before scheduling any ARE testing, you’ll need to receive eligibility to test from your jurisdiction.

The ARE is a pass-or-fail exam focused on aspects of architectural services that impact the safety, health, and welfare of the public. It’s designed and administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). The latest version of the exam, ARE 5.0, features six divisions:

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

These six divisions are organized around current practice and the stages of the typical architecture project. You complete each division separately (on different dates), and you can do so in any order. Each contains the following types of questions:

  • Multiple choice
  • “Check all that apply”
  • Fill-in-the-blank
  • Drag-and-place items
  • Case studies
  • Hotspot (questions followed by a drawing, photograph, diagram, or other image, which require you to click on an area or object within the image)

After you receive a passing score on an ARE division, the score remains valid for five years. You must complete the other five divisions within the five-year window, or your passing score expires, and you will need to take the test for that division again. Once you complete the full exam, none of your divisions will expire.

 Get Licensed

Requirements for licensure vary by state. In some states, additional exams or an interview may be required after you pass the ARE. The registration board in each jurisdiction can provide location-specific information about requirements.

You may also choose to pursue a national certification from NCARB. This certification is not required, but it gives you the flexibility to work in multiple states and can make you a more competitive applicant for architecture jobs.

Once you’re licensed, you can apply to work in an architecture firm, a private practice, or a specialty area in which you have experience.

Most states require continuing education to maintain your license. This may include conferences, self-study courses, workshops, and other professional development opportunities.

Final Thoughts: How to Become an Architect

It takes time, hard work, and commitment to become an architect in the United States. But if you’re sure architecture is right for you, then it’s a solid investment in your future. Architects earn a reasonably high salary and experience a challenging, creative, and rewarding career. Jobs for architects are highly competitive, but following the steps and tips in this guide can help you stand out.

If you’re still in high school, deepen your experience and knowledge in art, physics, and mathematics. Participate in summer programs for high school students interested in architecture, and pursue as much independent learning and growth as you can.

After that, you will need to:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree (either a traditional four-year degree or a five-year B. Arch.)
  • Complete internship requirements
  • Pass all six divisions of the Architect Registration Examination
  • Apply for a license in your jurisdiction
  • Apply for jobs

Other optional steps include earning a master’s degree in architecture (M. Arch) and getting a national certification. After becoming an architect, continuing education is required to keep your license current.

It’s not a simple process, but it’s well worth it if you’re passionate about the field of architecture. Good luck!

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