Architecture Career Options

Posted by Brenda Ronan on Apr 8, 2020 10:48:00 AM

Like many revered professions, becoming a full-fledged Architect is a long journey. There are many paths to getting there; some are wandering and some are a bit more direct. Some are cheaper. Some are more circuitous but offer more flexibility if you change your mind. There are paths for those who go into college positive they want to become a licensed architect and for those that think maybe they would like to do something in the field, but just aren’t positive.

One thing is clear though; it is going to take a while. According to a study from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), it typically takes over 12 years to become a licensed architect.

However, there many spots along the way where Architecture students hop off; many find fulfilling jobs along the way with a variety of experience and architecture education under their belt. If you have a passion for building and architecture but aren’t sure you want to be a licensed architect, or if you are considering becoming an Architect but are always thinking about contingency plans, there is a variety of jobs in the industry available for those with different levels of education and experience. Architecture also teaches a lot of translatable skills that will serve you well across so many disciplines and give you an opportunity to pivot if needed.

We would like to provide an overview of some of the different job opportunities for those with different levels of Architectural education. First, however, we need to briefly explain the difference between some of the existing Architecture degree (see here for more info on all the steps required to become an Architect)

Accredited Architecture Programs

One of the most important factors of an Architecture degree is its Accreditation status. The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) has a list of certified programs, which include programs from around the country at the Bachelor, Masters, and Doctoral level of Architecture. Aside from certain states and exceptions, you will need to complete one of these certified degrees to become an Architect.

At a high level, becoming an Architect typically looks like this:

  • BArch or MArch from an accredited program
  • Architectural Experience Program (AXP) This is essentially a gigantic internship, requiring a minimum of 3, 470 hours of experience across different areas of study. It usually takes students between 2-3 years to complete
  • Architect Registration Exam (ARE) – unlike a typical exam, this is a 6 part exam where each part is taken separately at your own pace – the average student finishes the ARE in about 2 years. Once you pass all sections, you are officially an Architect
  • Licensing – These are state specific and are the last step to becoming a Licensed Architecture.

Important takeaway: A Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) is not the same as a B.S. in Architecture. A B.S. in Arch will not permit you to take your AREs, so if you have a B.S. you would need to continue on to a MArch to gain an accredited degree. This is often referred to as a ‘4 + 2.’

Associates Degree in Architecture

An Associate’s degree, often available through community colleges, is a way to get experience with some of the basic architectural concepts and tools. Some students start here before continuing on to further Architecture degrees, but some people head out into the world of work with an Associate’s Degree.

These degrees are typically focused on the structural plan creation and some of the hard-skills and offer less design and theoretical training. Given the hands-on and technical training, there are many options. Here are just a few examples of where students have found jobs they love:                                                                                                 

  • Architectural Drafting –Architects may get the attention, but a lot of the technical drawings are done by Drafters. Drafters create detailed, scaled drawings using conventional and, more likely, Computer Aided Design (CAD)
  • Building Inspectors or Code Enforcement Officers - Inspectors need to be able to read and understand blueprints and basic architectural concepts.
  • Design - If you realize you love the design aspect, this background of drafting and drawing can also lend itself to an easy pivot into the world of design. Using skills like CAD, you could branch out into almost any industry, from video games to industrial design.

B.S. in Architecture

A Bachelors in Architecture will give you the technical drafting skills you would learn in an Associates program, but also provide more theory, design and construction skills.

You would be able to complete pretty much any job you could from an Associates, such as an Architectural Drafter, but you would also have more opportunities and finding a job would typically be easier than if you just had an Associates.

A few popular Areas for Architecture B.S., other than continuing on to MArch:

  • Construction Management – This is an encompassing term, but is really just the overseeing of the actual construction – they bridge the gap between the Design Architect and the Constructions crews.
  • Project Management – The PM has a similar, but expanded role to the Construction Manager. The PM oversees the whole project, from working with the client and setting budgets and deadlines, to hiring the Construction Manager to make sure everything is built correctly.
  • Civil Engineering Technician – while becoming a Civil Engineer would require special certs, working in the field at a position such as a Tech is usually easier for Arch grads. They help plan and design things like highways and infrastructure, parks and even help design public spaces.


You can’t take your AREs; if you are still set on becoming an Architect, you would need to apply to a Masters in Architecture program to get your professional degree. Many schools have an expedited track for students who have an undergrad Architecture degree.

PHD in Architecture:

In terms of getting a job as a practicing Architect, a PhD will not be very useful. It will make you overqualified in terms of theory and probably underqualified with actual skill or experience.  While there may be applications for research that would make this a necessary degree, PhDs in Architecture are largely reserved for Academia (not a critique – just a fact). Think of all of the Architecture history and design theory you could research – the possibilities there are endless – just remember, you may not find the time to put pen to drafting paper in this type of role.

Accredited Programs: BArch and MArch

Any job or opportunity available to a M.S. Architecture would be available to a BArch or MArch, but your pool of available jobs is much bigger. Some students working on their AXP at a big design firm, for example, may find they already get to work on building designs and the types of tasks you would expect.

  • Designer – While you can’t call yourself an Architect or provide stamped documents, that doesn’t mean you can’t design things like remodels for people
  • Spec Writer – The Construction Specs are the incredibly detailed explanations of the overall plan and blueprint.
  • Construction Estimator – the estimator works with the Architect and engineers to gauge how much material will be needed and at what cost.

Architect/Licensed Architect

If you complete an accredited degree, complete your AXP, and pass all AREs, you can finally be considered an Architect. You could then go on to become licensed if you choose.

This might seem obvious, but once you are a qualified Architect, there is still a huge variance of things you can do; yes, maybe we think their main job is to design and plan buildings, structures and spaces. But that takes a lot of roles working together to actually get it built, from designing and development, producing drawings per the contract, biding and negotiating, and managing the construction.

There are so many different roles Architects can hold that it is surprisingly difficult to describe what a typical Architect does – but in a way, we think that is part of the point:

If you are fascinated by architecture, there are so many varied roles and areas you can pursue to find a job in the industry you love.

Topics: Architecture at PennDesign

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