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Architecture professionals design structures for many purposes. They can build factories, design landscapes, or renovate homes to include climate-friendly measures. Architects use both technical skills and creative artistry to design projects that are functional and attractive.
This guide examines industries and career paths for architecture graduates, as well as resources that can help professionals stay current on architectural concepts. You can also explore program details by degree level and learn about job prospects in the field.
Why Pursue a Career in Architecture?
Architects are creative problem-solvers who enjoy creating structures and designs that increase efficiency and optimize spaces for communities, homeowners, and businesses. These professionals visualize projects based on client specifications and create plans and blueprints to realize those visions.
Architecture professionals need time management, communication, and mathematical skills. They must also work well in leadership roles and should be comfortable adapting to changing styles and regulations.
Architecture Career Outlook
Architects earn a median annual salary of $80,750, although salary expectations vary by industry and location. For example, government architects earn a median annual salary of $93,970, and architects in New York, the District of Columbia, Georgia, and Massachusetts earn average annual salaries of more than $100,000. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only projects 1% job growth for architects between 2019 and 2029.
Other architecture careers include architectural and engineering managers, who earn a median annual salary of $144,830, and urban and regional planners, who take home median wages of $74,350 per year.
A worker's income also varies based on their experience level. The following table provides typical salaries, according to PayScale, for a few architecture jobs based on an individual's experience.
Skills Gained With an Architecture Degree
The following section covers five different skills that students develop during architecture programs.
Architects use calculus, geometry, and trigonometry to design and implement their architectural plans. Professionals use these skills when scaling drawings, calculating angles, and determining the structural integrity of a project.
Architects must communicate with clients to determine each project's purpose, budget, and expectations. These professionals must also work with subcontractors and engineers and should excel at marketing to reach new customers. Strong communication skills also help architects motivate staff and handle conflict among workers.
Clients tell architects what they need, and architects must find ways to achieve those goals. For example, professionals may need to increase a home owner's interior space to accommodate a growing family.
Architects must create functional and aesthetically pleasing designs that fit each client's needs. To accomplish this, professionals should be creative thinkers who are detail oriented with their designs.
Leadership skills help professionals in architecture careers manage employees and subcontractors on their project teams. In particular, architectural managers must hire and supervise new workers and resolve workplace conflicts.
Architecture Career Paths
Architecture professionals can design playgrounds, commercial buildings, and homes. They can also help communities and governments design neighborhoods. The following section describes several different career paths in architecture.
Urban planning focuses on creating and implementing designs for communities' physical structures and landscapes. These designs should reflect the character and needs of the town, city, or neighborhood and include details like buildings, transportation systems, and playgrounds. This career path involves creating project proposals and engaging in research and data analysis.
Professionals in this field design the insides of buildings. Projects include single-room and multi-level renovations for private homes or organizations. These changes relate to aesthetics, functionality, and safety. Professionals must draw sketches by hand or with software.
Architects in this industry enhance the space, appearance, and functionality of outdoor areas. For example, professionals may add gardens, walkways, or trees to areas like homes, colleges, and playgrounds. These designers may use computer design and drafting software to build sketches for their projects.
Commercial architecture refers to structures with commercial uses, like retail stores, restaurants, and offices. These projects should reflect the type of product or service the business offers, with considerations made to spacing, safety, and public accessibility.
This industry prioritizes climate-friendly design and structure for buildings, including hospitals, schools, and homes. Professionals can make renovations that use solar energy, reduce water usage, and incorporate environmentally friendly materials. Professionals must consider economic, cultural, and weather factors that impact green options.
How to Start Your Career in Architecture
Professionals who earn an associate degree can work as drafters and woodworkers. However, career opportunities typically increase with higher degree levels. A bachelor's degree, for example, qualifies graduates to become surveyors, industrial designers, and construction managers.
Architecture professionals should consider earning at least a master's since architects often need a professional degree and a license. Postsecondary teachers and historians who deal with architecture generally need doctoral degrees.
According to the BLS, a worker's salary tends to increase with their degree level. For example, professional degree-holders earn a median salary of over $1,800 per week — around $1,000 more than associate degree-holders' weekly median salary.
Associate Degree in Architecture
An associate program in architecture covers introductory concepts like construction technologies and building materials for residential and commercial design. Learners study how to create construction documents and to assess projects to create cost and time estimates. Architecture programs also require general education coursework in topics like English, math, and communication.
Most associate programs in architecture include around 60 required credits and several projects. Applicants may need to complete prerequisite courses in algebra, trigonometry, and geometry and hold a minimum 2.0 high school GPA.
Graduates can find employment with construction companies, government facilities, and engineering firms. They can pursue careers as drafters, woodworkers, and civil engineering technicians.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Architecture?
Drafters create sketches and drawings that illustrate the architectural designs of other professionals. These illustrations include information on dimensions and materials for projects. Drafters may use computer software to create these drawings and make adjustments to designs. These professionals can earn certification through the American Design Drafting Association.
Woodworkers use tools like saws and sanding equipment to produce wood structures like furniture and cabinets. These professionals also use handheld tools to add finishing touches on projects. Experience at community or technical schools may help applicants earn these positions. Woodworkers can pursue credentials through the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America.
Civil engineering technicians work with engineers on infrastructure construction. They help assess locations for construction projects. Technicians may assist with commercial and residential projects. Many employers require an associate degree and strong math, problem-solving, and observation skills.
Bachelor's Degree in Architecture
A bachelor's degree in architecture typically requires about 150 credits. Full-time students can graduate in 4-5 years. Required courses cover advanced math concepts like analytical geometry and calculus. Programs also introduce students to physics and engineering concepts for building structures. Students often complete projects and participate in design studios.
Coursework may also emphasize the history of architecture and environmental and cultural aspects of design. Some programs allow students to pursue minors in areas like computational design and building history.
Admission requirements often include recommendation letters, essays, and ACT or SAT scores. Programs may also require a minimum GPA.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Architecture?
Lightning designers work with architects and engineers to design lighting structures for residential, commercial, and infrastructure projects. These professionals use modeling software and may engage in research. Most lighting designers need a bachelor's degree.
Construction managers oversee building processes from brainstorming to project completion. Projects are based on each client's needs and require communication with engineers and architects. These managers must consider budgets and legal regulations. They also hire subcontractors.
Surveyors measure and research locations for construction workers and engineers. They may also create maps based on their findings. Nearly 70% of land surveyors work in architectural, engineering, and related services. Surveyors generally need a bachelor's degree, a license, and supervised experience.
Naval architects help design ships by making choices related to size, interior setup, and hull design. These architects must discuss plans with marine engineers and alter designs based on the ship's performance during tests. Students interested in this profession should choose programs that focus on naval architecture.
Industrial designers create products that fulfill client needs. This profession requires researching building options, sketching ideas, and making prototypes of objects like cars or appliances. These products must be safe, cost efficient, and functional. Most industrial designers need a bachelor's degree.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Master's Degree in Architecture
A master's program explores architectural topics like building structures, design, and materials in more depth than a bachelor's program. Master's coursework also prioritizes research. Many programs offer specializations, such as landscape architecture.
Some programs require design studio courses, an internship, or a thesis. Most master's degrees in architecture require 40-60 credits and take about two years to complete. Graduates may need to earn a license before becoming architects.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Architecture?
Architects design buildings for various clients, including home owners and factories. These professionals must determine structural needs, building times, and expenses for each project. Additional responsibilities include overseeing contracts, sketching plans, and supervising construction workers. Some architects may find employment with only a bachelor's and license, although many also need a master's degree.
Urban and regional planners find ways to use land for community betterment. These professionals discuss opportunities with public officials and developers. They make decisions based on market and field research, current regulations, and building codes. All urban and regional planners must earn a license.
Landscape architects help organizations like colleges and businesses make use of their land. These professionals may also build parks and playgrounds. They must consider costs and determine what materials are necessary to carry out their plans. Landscape architects must earn a license and many also hold a master's degree.
These managers oversee architectural and engineering companies by making hiring choices and supervising operations. They advise on product design and budget concerns and conduct research. Most architectural manager positions require a master's degree or a bachelor's degree and significant experience in the field.
Preservation architects make changes to buildings and historic pieces to maintain their structural integrity. These professionals must consider client goals, project costs, and renovation timeframes. They must also offer hand-drawn or computerized illustrations of their plans. Many preservation architect positions require a master's degree.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Doctoral Degree in Architecture
A doctoral program emphasizes qualitative and quantitative research methods. Students complete courses in design, building performance measurement, and energy optimization. Learners can also choose classes within specializations like historic preservation, urban design, and green building.
Doctoral programs typically culminate in a dissertation. These extensive papers often focus on an architectural concept like healthcare design or sustainability. To graduate, students must defend their dissertation.
Some programs are quite selective, admitting only a handful of doctoral students each year. To apply, candidates often need a related master's degree, experience in the field, and a portfolio of architectural projects.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Architecture?
Postsecondary teachers prepare and deliver lesson plans for courses within their area of expertise. These professionals may also conduct research and publish new articles and books on architecture. While community and junior colleges may hire some candidates with only a master's degree, four-year colleges and universities typically require a doctorate.
Historians review scholarly sources like journals and newspaper articles to make inferences about past events, people, and places. Professionals can present their findings through live lectures or published articles and books. These professionals may also help historic sites and museums manage their artifacts. These positions are often quite competitive and a doctoral degree can help candidates stand out from their peers.
These professionals solve problems in areas like engineering or healthcare by using math. Their solutions may relate to data analysis, project creation, or business improvement. Companies may hire mathematicians to offer input on various topics, such as the industrial design of cars. Many mathematicians hold a doctorate.
How to Advance Your Career in Architecture
Aside from earning another degree, architects can advance their careers by pursuing certificates and certifications, participating in in-person or online training, and attending seminars.
The following section outlines these options in more detail. Professionals should focus on opportunities that relate to their career goals and specializations. Conservation architects, for example, can get involved with the Council on Training in Architectural Conservation for learning and networking opportunities.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Some careers in architecture require a license. Architects, for instance, must obtain a license in all states. This license generally requires candidates to hold an architecture degree, complete field work, and earn a passing score on the Architect Registration Examination.
Individuals working in specialization areas may need to complete more focused examinations, like the Landscape Architect Registration Examination. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) offers more information on licensing.
Professionals can also pursue certifications related to their careers. Drafters, for example, can earn certification through the American Design Drafting Association, and construction workers can earn certifications through the American Institute of Constructors.
Additional credentials include the green associate or AP credential from the U.S. Green Building Council. AP candidates can specialize in areas like maintenance and construction.
Certifications are not typically mandatory, but demonstrate specialized knowledge that can help professionals advance in their careers.
Architects must often complete continuing education for license or certification renewal. Employers may also ask workers to accrue continuing education hours to ensure that their employees stay up to date on trends in the field.
Continuing education includes pursuing advanced degrees or certificates at colleges and universities. Delivering lectures and publishing scholarly works may also count as continuing education. Additionally, professional organizations offer workshops, conferences, and courses that may qualify for continuing education hours.
Architecture organizations like NCARB and the American Society of Landscape Architects provide professional development opportunities, and the Architects Training Institute and PDH Academy offer continuing education courses.
Professional architecture organizations offer conferences, lectures, and regional events with presentations on developments in the field. At these events, architects build relationships that can lead to information about career and fellowship opportunities. These groups also publish journals and magazines, offer certifications, and deliver webinars and training.
Professionals can attend architectural exhibits and subscribe to field magazines like Architectural Digest to continue learning. Additionally, architects can watch design shows that focus on creating, renovating, and exploring buildings with different architectural styles. Social media websites like Facebook and Instagram also offer opportunities to view architectural projects and connect with other architects.
How to Switch Your Career to Architecture
Professionals who switch from other fields to careers in architecture often need to earn a related degree, even for less advanced positions like drafter and civil engineering technician. Additionally, architects must earn a license. Before making any career change, professionals should review minimum requirements for their prospective job to make sure they qualify.
Architecture careers require creativity, as well as technical and crafting skills. These traits attract professionals from a variety of fields and positions. For example, architectural building processes may attract carpenters, drywall installers, and construction workers, while the artistry behind architecture may appeal to metal workers and crafters. The technical aspects of careers in architecture may also appeal to electricians and survey and mapping technicians.
Where Can You Work as an Architecture Professional?
Architecture is a diverse field that operates in many industries. Professionals can design and build structures for commercial businesses, make landscaping designs for homeowners, and offer urban planning advice to governments. The following table explores a few of the industries that employ architects, with information about salary and professional responsibilities in each setting.
This industry includes design practices related to residential, commercial, and recreational construction, as well as interior design. Professionals can work in drafting, surveying, testing, and actual building processes.
Average Salary: $88,970
Professionals in this industry design and build homes for clients. These homes include condominiums, mobile homes, and standard houses.
Average Salary: $85,820
Land subdivision refers to the development of property for renovation and construction. Professionals in this field often excavate land for road work or lot division.
Average Salary: $102,040
Specialized design services include careers in which professionals plan and develop products within a specialty area, such as industrial, graphic, or metal design.
Average Salary: $84,260
The federal executive branch includes organizations that deal with urban development, commerce, and law enforcement at a national level.
Average Salary: $98,110
Interview With an Architecture Professional
Daniel Jenkins is a consulting design executive, licensed architect, author, and former Walt Disney Imagineer with over 22 years of experience. Mr. Jenkins graduated in 1998 with a master of architecture degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2012, he earned a virtual design and construction certificate from Stanford University.
Mr. Jenkins is the author of "The Design Manager: Successful Management of the Design Process." Jenkins is also the founder and editor of the ThemeParkArchitect.com blog.
As a child and young adult I was always interested in how things, anything really, were put together. That interest, along with my artistic talents, was the logical progression in pursuing a degree and career in architecture. I appreciated then and now that architecture is the combination of technical know-how and artistic expression.
An accredited architecture program is different in many ways from other programs. For one, an architecture program is a broad and holistic program that, like professional architectural practice, uses both sides of your brain: creative and critical thinking. The courses you take, both elective courses and courses within your major, are a broad mix that will exercise and challenge your creative and technical skills.
Second, architecture as a profession is often referred to as the "mother of all arts." Within the study and practice of architecture, you can quite literally incorporate and use aspects of nearly all the arts infused with the technical aspects the profession requires.
Third, an architecture program isn't the type of program in which the student reads and memorizes information to only deliver it back for a test or paper. Architecture programs have an extended creative performance requirement where you are challenged to deliver tangible deliverables — both in electronic form and physical form — that represent your solution to a particular course's design challenge.
I began my job search approximately midway through my fifth year in college. By that point, I knew that I wanted to start my career in Florida. I also knew I wanted to begin my career focusing on commercial architectural design.
At that time, I sent out something like 15-20 resumes and applications. I ended up getting three interviews and eventually two offers prior to graduating. I eventually accepted an offer from a firm in Orlando that focused on healthcare projects. Approximately two weeks after graduation, I started working in my profession.
An architecture degree has a very clear career path; however, if you have the skill set and can master certain aspects of architectural practice — such as project management, design management, creative design, and illustration — those specific talents can translate into nonarchitectural business segments.
I believe my career path is, at a high level, typical of someone who graduates with an architecture degree. I was laser focused on two major aspects with the practice of architecture. I wanted to become a licensed architect and I tried (and, gratefully, succeeded) in not becoming pigeonholed within one particular building type or one particular role.
My career path differs from most in that I had the desire to become a Walt Disney Imagineer. My career path skews from most since many architects do not want to make a full-time career out of designing theme parks and themed entertainment projects.
The most enjoyable aspect of my job is the creative and technical collaboration with the diverse team of skilled professionals it takes to resolve design challenges, both during the design process and implementation phases of a project.
Architects at their very core are problem-solvers. To bring any design and project — certainly large commercial or themed entertainment projects — to fruition takes a diverse team of talented individuals working together to resolve thousands of individual design challenges.
The most challenging aspect of my career, now that I'm a sole proprietor who owns his own consulting company, is of course the constant need for new projects and new clients. I'm always marketing myself while at the same time working to meet my clients' needs.
Students should realize that both a degree and career in architecture is a long game. Architecture students will learn the concept of patience rather quickly. Practicing architecture is not a profession — or degree, for that matter — where you're a master of your trade.
The complexities of practicing architecture take years to master due to the field's diverse nature. If students are looking for a program or career in which they expect to know 70% of their chosen profession's trade after two-plus years, then architecture is not for them.
The study and professional practice of architecture is a unique, challenging, and greatly rewarding experience. To be able to legally call yourself a licensed architect and work in your profession is an amazing accomplishment. The general public does not understand the dedication and personal sacrifice it takes to become a subject matter expert designing and implementing the built environment.
Resources for Architecture Majors
Professional organizations offer conferences and learning opportunities that help architecture professionals stay current in the field. Additional resources include scholarly books, journals, and magazines, as well as free online courses.
The following sections provide more detailed information about some of these resources.
Tau Sigma Delta: This student honor society was founded in 1913 by faculty at the University of Michigan. Since then, over 80 chapters have opened across the United States. Every year, Tau Sigma Delta issues a gold medal to one distinguished professional within the field at the National Association of Collegiate Schools and Architecture meetings.
American Institute of Architects: The AIA consists of over 300 chapters within the United States. This organization offers several membership services to licensed architects, including continuing education opportunities, national networking conferences, and market research within the industry.
National Organization of Minority Architects: NOMA operates chapters in 23 cities, including New Orleans, Houston, and Boston. The organization cultivates a strong minority architect network and addresses discriminatory policies and practices within the field. NOMA offers extensive project, job, and educational resources, which can help students and professionals connect with the right organizations and individuals.
Society of American Registered Architects: SARA hosts up to four board meetings per year in various locations across the U.S. Membership is available to students, international professionals, and associate architects. During SARA's annual conferences, the society highlights achievements like extraordinary architecture service, dedication to SARA, significant contributions to the international architecture community, and distinguished building projects.
Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture: ACSA is the foremost accrediting agency for college architecture programs. The association uses strict guidelines to assess the quality and credibility of architecture curricula across the nation. The program directory highlights accredited schools, serving as a great starting point for prospective students during their college search.
Experiencing Architecture Studio - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This class offers a comprehensive review of architectural modeling, materials, design, theory, and history. Syllabi, calendars, assignments, lectures, and projects are available in several different languages.
Architectural Design Level I: Perceptions and Processes - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: In this graduate course, students participate in rigorous assignments revolving around concepts like serial notations, site inventory, mapping instruments, and drift drawings. The course consists of 40 lectures.
Designs on the Future: Sustainability of the Built Environment - The University of Hong Kong: This semester-long course requires approximately two hours of coursework per week. Learners engage in the interdisciplinary study of sustainability, construction management, and green building practices.
Roman Architecture - Yale University: This course provides students with a foundational understanding of architectural history, which can help put modern theories into context. Students can access recorded lectures, along with free audio files, textbook pages, and worksheets.
Open-Access Architecture Journals
Buildings: This international, open-access journal accepts submissions on topics like the building of lighting systems, green buildings, and architectural design philosophy. All authors are welcome to submit articles, which are subject to an expert peer-review process and editorial revisions.
AR Architecture, Research: This journal contains articles from multiple disciplines, including urban semiotics, architecture, anthropology, and architectural archaeology. New issues come out twice a year.
International Journal of Architectural Research: This journal features articles on current research developments, such as design pedagogy, cultural building concerns, and urban design. Readers can also find exclusive interviews with prolific architects and designers like Irina Solovyova, Ceridwen Owen, and Amos Rapoport.
The Architecture of the City: After its release in 1966, this book of urban design theory played a pivotal role in the rebuilding and construction efforts of post-WWII Berlin. Author Aldo Rossi critiques the modern architectural movement and issues a call for the inclusion of the human element in urban design.
Theoretical Anxiety and Design Strategies in the Work of Eight Contemporary Architects: Architecture students seeking to gain a breadth of knowledge regarding several prolific designers should start with these critiques by Rafael Moneo. He analyzes the works of Peter Eisenman, Aldo Rossi, James Stirling, and five others.
The Poetics of Space: Gaston Bachelard redefines how we think about our home spaces. This volume contains a blend of architectural philosophy and design analysis with respect to home dwellings and all of their unique spaces, including kitchens, attics, living room, and basements.
A Visual Dictionary of Architecture: Sometimes you need to see something to understand it. Francis D. K. Ching has collected over 5,000 terms, accompanied by his own illustrations in this 320-page reference book.
The Hidden Dimension: This book ushered in a new era in architectural theory, marking the moment that author Edward T. Hall founded the study of proxemics, which explores the influence of space on human interactions. Blending behavioral studies and design research, Hall's observations have changed the way contemporary architects craft public spaces.
Online Architecture Magazines
Dezeen: This digital publication was founded in 2006 to highlight global architecture and interior design projects. In addition to covering current events, Dezeen showcases multimedia film projects that demonstrate just how interactive and fluid interior design and architecture can be.
Architectural Digest: This magazine is a useful digital resource for current architecture news, inspiration, exhibitions, and shopping resources. In addition to the online magazine, readers can subscribe to print issues.
The Architectural Review: AR includes classical architecture critiques and modern building commentary. It also hosts installation and educational presentations around the world, including the Battle of Ideas architectural theory debate.
Architecture Lab: This online magazine is full of high-resolution graphics depicting contemporary urban and sustainable design projects. Architecture Lab also provides a listing of upcoming and ongoing architecture competitions, such as the Arte Laguna Prize and Audi's Urban Future awards.
Detail Magazine: This German and English language magazine informs online audiences about the newest developments in global construction, materials, regulations, and processes. Students and professionals can also explore a small reference bookshop for further inspiration.
Dialogue: This online PDF publication explores the design and philosophy behind current workspaces and academic structures.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some careers for an architecture major are experiencing slow growth. For example, the BLS projects only 1% growth for architect positions between 2019 and 2029. However, the BLS also projects 11% growth for urban and regional planners during that same period — almost three times as fast as the projected growth rate for all occupations.
Architects have the opportunity to showcase their technical and creative expertise while completing projects. Many workers in architecture roles also earn high salaries. For example, architects earn a median annual salary of $80,750.
Architects can work in a variety of specializations, including commercial, residential, and landscape design. In these careers, they plan and build structures for homeowners, businesses, and organizations. Architecture professionals can also work as drafters and woodworkers. With advanced degrees, they can teach college courses and write scholarly articles.
Professionals who specialize in naval architecture earn some of the highest salaries in the field, taking home median annual wages of $92,400. Additionally, architectural and engineering managers earn median salaries of $144,830 per year.
BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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