How to Become an Architect

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July 22, 2024 at 10:36PM UTC
Architecture is a wholly unique profession that requires rigorous coursework, training and licensing. But according to women in the field, it is absolutely worth it. Fairygodboss spoke to Kerry Nolan, an Architect with more than 20 years of expertise leading project teams, as part of our Discovery Series to learn more about how to become an architect and what the career looks like. Here's what we learned. 

Is architecture a good career?

If you ask Nolan, absolutely. Nolan loves that in architecture, there is a physical manifestation of your creative work and that you are actively helping to improve public spaces. She says that in architecture, work culture tends to vary firm-by-firm. But by doing research on anonymous review sites like Fairygodboss, architects can find employers that match their work-life balance preferences and other desired benefits, such as paid parental leave. 

Do architects get paid well?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects earn an average annual salary of $79,380. However, in some states, the average annual salary sits closer to $100,000. 

What kind of education do you need to be an architect?

In order to become a licensed architect, you need to complete a professional degree in architecture. Nolan says there are two ways to receive your professional degree: in a five-year Bachelor's program or a Master's program following your undergraduate education. 

How to become an architect:

Now that you know the basics of what a career in architecture looks like, what do you have to do to enter the field? Here are the steps to becoming an architect: 

1. Get a feel for whether you would enjoy architecture. 

Nolan first knew she wanted to be an architect after taking a drafting class her Sophomore year of high school. While knowing you are interested in architecture in high school gives you a leg up in preparing to enter the field, it's not the only way to introduce yourself to architecture. In other words, it's not too late! Nolan suggests learning more about the field by visiting the American Institute of Architects site, digging into architecture magazine (or similar publications), or seeing if local universities offer free architecture classes.

2. Get a Bachelor's Degree. 

Once you know you want to pursue architecture, it's time to start your architecture coursework. Working in architecture requires a Bachelor's degree in architecture or a similar program, like construction management. Working in architecture also requires a professional degree, which may be pursued during your undergraduate career if your university offers a five-year program. For instance, Nolan attended Virginia Tech for a five-year degree in architecture. Her program combined both her Bachelor's degree and professional degree, allowing her to skip getting her Master's. 

3. If you don't pursue a five-year Bachelor's, get a Master's Degree. 

If your university doesn't offer a five-year Bachelor's degree, you will need to get your professional degree through a graduate program in Architecture. These programs generally take two to four years, depending on the coursework you took as an undergraduate. 

4. Complete the training period. 

Before you can become licensed, you must complete a training period under the supervision of a licensed architect. Most architects fulfill this requirement through an internship at an architectural and engineering services firm. The training period generally lasts around three years. 

5. Take the licensing exams. 

No matter what state you live in, you must be a licensed architect to offer professional services. On top of earning your degree and completing your training period, you must pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) to earn your license. According to Nolan, the exam can be taken online. It consists of nine parts containing graphical questions and multiple choice questions. 
While certification is not required, the NCARB also offers national certification to architects who can verify their education and employment history and provide professional references. Being certified may make applying to licensing easier for some architects. 

6. Get an architecture job. 

After you are licensed, the fun can begin! Nolan suggests researching firms and talking to firm members before applying to jobs to get a feel for their culture. She also suggests taking supplemental classes if necessary to apply to certain roles. One of the best parts of architecture is that you usually do not have to specialize in a certain type of project. Nolan says you don’t really know who you are as an architect until you get into the work world, so use this time in your career to try new things and discover what you love to do. 

To learn more about becoming an architect, watch our webinar here

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