How To Become An Architect

Posted by Brenda Ronan on Jan 3, 2020 12:36:38 PM

It's hard to imagine a career that has a greater impact on the world than architecture. Just look around you. Every building in your town—the house you live in, the school you attend, the place you work—was designed by an architect. Architects have left a lasting mark throughout human history, and so can you. 


In many ways, architects are artists. But they are also much more. Architecture isn't just about how a structure looks, it's about its function, safety and countless other factors. It requires creativity, ingenuity, drive, ambition and attention to detail. If those are traits you posses, you're already partway there. Here's how you go the rest of the way:

What Does An Architect Do?

You don't need to have your whole life planned out already, but it's important to have a good idea what you can expect if you pursue a particular path. And if that path lies in the field of architecture, you should know what architects do, how much they make and what your options are. 

Architects design the interiors as well as exteriors of buildings. That includes the buildings where we live, work and play. Architects oversee the development of these buildings every step of the way, including:

  • Determining the needs of a project
  • Estimating costs and viability of construction
  • Creating structural specifications
  • Overseeing construction
  • Ensuring adherence to the architectural plans
  • Making sure buildings are functional and structurally safe
  • Making sure buildings comply with laws and regulations

How Much Does An Architect Make?

Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for an architect is $79,380 per year. Many of the highest-paid architects work for the government sector, and earn $92,940 on average. The BLS also predicts an increasing demand for architects over the next decade, calling for 8 percent growth between 2018 and 2028. That's considerably higher than the national average for all professions. 

What Education Do I Need To Become An Architect?


Depending on what you want to do with your architecture degree, that will determine how long you will be in school. 

The best type of degree to start with is a Bachelor's of Architecture (BArch). You should plan to spend five to seven years working on this degree full time. There are also master's and doctorate degrees available for you to pursue. 

If your goal is to become a head architect at a large firm, you should plan on a master's level degree. This is not absolutely necessary, but it could help you to rise up in the ranks a bit faster at work. 

Architecture Experience Program (AEP)

Once you have obtained your degree, you will need to gain experience. Most states require you to have about one year of experience before you can sit for the registration exam. This is called the Architecture Experience Program (AEP) -- formerly called the Internship Development Program. You will spend approximately 3,740 hours, working in six different architecturally related areas.  

During this program, you will be working in a firm as an assistant to an architect or a team of architects. You will work on designs, building codes, project planning and whatever else your supervisor and mentor decide will be beneficial to you during the AEP. This experience will help you to develop your skills as an architect in the real world. You will find that your experience at school, while an excellent experience, is very different from working at an actual firm.

You will be expected to document your experiences in each area and have them reviewed and approved by your supervisor. Each jurisdiction has different requirements and some have a minimum amount of years employment requirement before you become licensed. It's important to understand what will be required in your jurisdiction and state as early as possible in your career. 

Architect Registration Exam 

Every state requires architects to take the Architect Registration Exam (ARE). So if you are already registered in a specific state and you move, you will have to become registered in the new state as well to work as an architect there. The exam has seven sections, as follows:

  • Schematic Design (SD)
  • Building Systems (BS)
  • Construction Documents and Services (CDS)
  • Site Planning and Design (SPD)
  • Programming, Planning, and Practice (PPP)
  • Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS)
  • Structural Systems (SS)

This exam is not like taking the SATs. You can take them at your own pace. The majority of people take around two and a half years to finish all of the exams. If you work extra hard, you can get them done in under one year. But you are allowed to study and sit for the exam on your own schedule.

Licensing and Continued Education

Once you have finished the exam, you will have to finish the registration process. Each state has its own rules for this, but continuing education is something that most architects throughout the US have to do to keep their license active. 

After you have gone through all of these steps, you can start your career as an official architect! The entire process takes about ten years. Similar to the amount of time that it takes to become a doctor. If it is something that you want to do, then go for it!

What Careers Can I pursue with an Architecture Degree?

For many young architects, deciding if a career as an architect can be a daunting decision. But the reality is there are many careers that you can pursue with an architecture degree that aren't an architect. These careers often involve a lot of design, art skills and the experiences and education you will gain from an Architecture Degree.

Many people with a BArch do not proceed to take the Architectural Registration Exam and pursue an Architecture license. There could be many reasons for not pursuing this, but usually people find other career paths that they are more than happy to stay in.

Again, architects have enormous responsibility. They are the ones that will approve all blueprints to be set for construction. They are in charge of making sure everything is compliant with state and federal codes. They are the ones that need to make everyone aware of current regulations and other rules of law. Sometimes the day-to-day tasks of an architect aren't for everyone and another profession ends up being a better fit. Here are a list of careers that you can pursue with an architecture degree:

  • Landscape architect
  • Urban planner
  • Industrial design
  • Interior design

How Can High School Students Get Started in Architecture? 

It's unfortunate, but most high schools don't offer programs and curriculum specific to architecture. That's a shame, but it doesn't mean you can't get a lot out of your high school years. It's actually quite the opposite. A career in architecture will put a wide range of your skills to good use, including some you probably thought you'd never use. Here's how you can get the most out of your time in high school:

  • ART - Take every studio art class you can. From drawing and sculpting to 3D design and photography, the skills you learn in art classes are will be some of your greatest assets. 
  • SCIENCE - Gain a solid background in the physical sciences, including physics.
  • MATH - Do the math! Math classes like algebra, calculus, trigonometry and especially geometry are highly recommended for aspiring architects.
  • WRITING  - Develop writing and communication abilities by taking English and humanities classes. 
  • AP COURSES - Take all the Honors and AP courses you can. This will prepare you for the rigorous coursework of college.

Expand on Your Experience


A lot of what you learn in school will come in handy as you pursue a career in architecture. But you'll also need a lot of skills and abilities that you can't always get in a classroom—like curiosity, imagination, the ability to problem-solve and a thirst for knowledge and experience. These are things you already have inside you, but there are still many ways to cultivate them:

  • Draw in your spare time. Get a sketchbook and put your vision on paper, whether you're drawing from life or your own imagination. 
  • Travel as much as possible and experience the unique culture and architecture of the places you visit. 
  • Explore all kinds of art. Go to museums, look at buildings and their detail, and immerse yourself in all the art you can find, both contemporary and traditional. 
  • Read books, read magazines, read online—just read! Read about the city you live in, the landscape around it, architecture in general, or your favorite architect. There's no such thing as reading too much. 

High School Architecture Internships

The first step to becoming an architect should be for you to speak with one and find out what the job is really like. Or even better, try to find a summer internship for high school students. Many architecture firms may not have a specific internship program set up for high school students, but you can contact them and ask if you can job shadow or volunteer your time there just to get some exposure to see what the day-to-day life of an architect looks like.

If you are looking for the next level of high school internships in architecture, you can also look into architecture firms that already have well developed internships available. This type of internship will ensure that you are getting the best experience and giving yourself the best education during your internship. 

Take Advantage of Summer Programs


Just because school's out for summer doesn't mean you can't keep getting closer to your goals. If you're serious about pursuing architecture, summer programs provide some truly amazing opportunities.

Many of the top universities in the U.S. have summer programs in architecture that will give you hands-on experience in a studio environment. Attending these programs will not only give you some very real skills, but show potential colleges that you're serious and dedicated.

The Summer Architecture Program offered by the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design offers a head start on the skills you need to pursue a career in architecture. From learning architectural design skills and building a portfolio to preparing for college admissions, this program is much like the University of Pennsylvania's Architecture Program, but specifically geared toward high school students.

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Topics: Internships for High School Students, High School Summer Programs, Architecture at PennDesign

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