What degree do you need to be an architect?
Architects must develop a broad skillset to be able to perform their architectural duties. Architecture degree programs are designed to equip students with these essential skills to set themselves up for their careers. Knowledge of mathematics, physics and building materials coupled with an eye for design and drawing skills are only the beginning.
Architecture is a licensed profession, meaning those who wish to pursue a career as architects must satisfy minimum education and experience standards before they can be allowed to actually practice as full-fledged architects. The 55 combined U.S. states and territories each set their own licensing standards, which means the requirements can vary a bit from place to place.
Overview of architecture degrees
No matter the licensing requirements they have, all architects must receive an education in architecture through a formal degree program. Architecture students have several options to choose from, including bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and even doctoral degrees in architecture.
Not all architecture programs are created equally, however. Architecture degrees can be split into two categories: those that are accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and those that are not.
|NAAB-accredited degrees||Examples of degrees not accredited by the NAAB|
|Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch)||Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Architecture, Architectural Studies or Architectural Design|
|Master of Architecture (M.Arch)||Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Architecture|
|Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch)||Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in architecture|
To put it plainly, the B.Arch, M.Arch or D.Arch degree designations are exclusive to NAAB-accredited programs. Any program that uses something else (such as a BA in architectural studies) is not accredited by the NAAB—so why does this distinction matter?
In the majority of U.S. states, architects must earn a professional degree from an NAAB-accredited program to qualify for licensure. There are still many places where this is not true, including some highly populated states like California and New York. In these places, an architecture program that is not accredited by the NAAB may be a perfectly acceptable path to licensure. However, architects who pursue these degrees are limited in where they can practice.
Other relevant degrees
Current and prospective architects alike may find other educational opportunities helpful in establishing their career and specialization.
Associate degrees in architecture
Many schools, particularly community and technical colleges, offer associate degrees in architecture. These programs teach the very basics of architectural design, history, technology and more.
An associate degree in architecture is not enough to get licensed on its own, but an associate degree can be a good option for people who wish to dip their toe in the field without committing to a four-year program. If you decided you wanted to go ahead and get your bachelor's degree, the credits you earned during an associate program may be able to count towards that degree.
Associate degrees in architecture may also make sense for people who want to then get their bachelor's degree in a related field such as civil engineering, urban planning and the like.
By combining an architecture major with another discipline, you could cultivate a particularly useful set of skills and expertise. Having these specialized skills could open up additional job opportunities or perhaps help boost your salary as an architect. You could complete a double major in your undergraduate studies or pair a bachelor's and master's degree of different subjects (e.g. a B.Arch degree with a master's degree in urban planning, or a BS in construction management with an M.Arch degree).
Disciplines that pair well with an architecture major
The possibilities are practically endless—so long as you satisfy the licensing requirements to become an architect, your educational journey is truly your own and can be tailored to your unique interests.
Here are just some examples of disciplines that could pair well with an architectural degree:
- Urban planning
- Civil engineering
- Construction management
- Materials science
- Environmental studies
And if you can't or don't want to get a degree in another subject, Osolin said that it can still be very useful to take classes in these areas to give you additional skills that can help you as an architect.
Importance of school accreditation
Accreditation is the process in which postsecondary institutions and their programs are evaluated (separately) for minimum educational quality standards by an accrediting body. Institutions and programs that meet these standards are considered "accredited." Accreditation ensures that you receive a high-quality education and is necessary to qualify for any federal financial aid.
In the U.S., the Department of Education (DoE) does not accredit individual schools and programs, but it does oversee and recognize the accrediting agencies themselves. The NAAB is one example of an accrediting body. Most states require that architects graduate from an NAAB-accredited program to qualify for licensure. Even if you don't need to attend an NAAB-accredited program, the program and architecture school should still be accredited by some other accreditor approved by the Department of Education for the same reasons mentioned above.
Selecting the right architecture school
Once you've determined your state's licensing requirements, you can get an idea of what kind of program(s) you need and want to take. After that, the first few factors you probably want to consider when selecting a program are things like geographic location and cost. These should help you narrow down your list to a handful of viable programs, at which point you may want to start to consider the following:
- Institutional reputation:
- What is the graduation rate for students at this school and within the program? Does the school offer a variety of student support services? Will you be learning from highly qualified instructors?
- What courses are you required to take? What elective courses are available? Do they have classes that allow you to explore topics and ideas that interest you?
- Opportunities for internships and fieldwork:
- Does this program provide internships or other hands-on opportunities to learn outside of the classroom?
- Does the program offer ways to meet and network with fellow students as well as program alumni?
Speaking with program advisers is one of the best ways you can get to know a program and find out if it's a good fit for you and your career goals. These people know the program and its curriculum inside and out, so they can probably answer most questions you have. They may also be able to help arrange any campus visits or possibly connect you with current students who can tell you about their experiences in the program.
To start your search for NAAB-accredited programs, you can check out their program directory online. For all other architecture programs, it's important to make sure that the school and/or program are accredited by another accrediting agency approved by the Department of Education.
Scholarships and funding opportunities for architectural students
There are lots of scholarships available for qualified architectural students to help fund their education. Applying for these funding opportunities could significantly ease the financial burden of school, if awarded.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has information about scholarships as well as grants and fellowships for architecture students on their website, among a host of other career resources for practicing architects.
As an organization created by and for students, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) also has information on relevant scholarships, grants and fellowships for students pursuing an architecture degree.
Wrapping it up
Your degree program is the very foundation of your architecture career. The classes you take can allow you to start building the skills necessary to be a competent designer, gain exposure to the different areas of architecture you may be most interested in and familiarize yourself with the latest in architectural technology and standards.
Once know understand which degrees are available to you—especially for the sake of both licensing requirements—you can start to search for programs that meet your needs and cater to your interests.