How to Become an Architect: What Does an Architect Do?

It’s time to get the drafting table, slide rule, compass and pencils out…or if you’d like to kick it new school, grab you design software ready! Today, we are going to talk about the how to become an architect and all of the important elements of the career. There’s a lot to this highly sought after career and we’ve got a lot to cover, so we are going to jump right in!

How to Become an Architect

A career as an architect seems like it would be pretty interesting and creatively fulfilling. You’ll be able to put your right brain to good use by designing structures like houses, government buildings, hospitals and much more. You’ll get to steer the ship of a design project from start to finish and ensure that the concept of the design is executed perfectly and that functionality, safety and the look of the building are maintained throughout the process.

So, how does one become an architect? Let’s find out now!

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The best route to take to become an architect is by way of a Bachelor of Architecture program at a college or university that is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). There are only about 60 programs of this nature available in the United States, so keep that in mind when looking for a school. It’s no fun to work your tail off for an education that won’t meet the specific requirements of your state to get a license.

A Bachelor of Architecture program will take about 5 years to complete from start to finish. The course list is long and full of cool classes, but we think the ones focused around project management, structural elements, environmental planning and the building and technology systems. During your program there will be ample opportunities to compete against other future architects in contests hosted y the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. This is a great way to learn, observe, create and gain experience that can later be added to your resume.

Complete an Internship Program

All 50 states require future architects to complete an internship program as part of their career training and as a requirement to get your architecture license. The majority of internships take about 3 years to complete, which is indeed a long time, but you will gain invaluable experience while working under some pro’s that have been in the architect game a while.

Check to see if your state is one that offers the Intern Development Program (IDP) that is administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the American Institute of Architects. If you are able to complete the IDP, which consists of 5,600 hours of work experience, you will really have a leg up when you are ready to get to work. The IDP educated future architects in the areas of pre-design, design, project management, schematic design, site and building analysis, zoning and contract negotiations. It’s kind of like the internship programs of all internship programs and highly coveted by students. Having an IDP internship on your resume is also sure to grab the attention of future employer.

Get Your State License

Every state requires architects to obtain a license and if you intend to work in more than one state you will have to have a license for each. The standard requirements for licensure for all states begins with a bachelor’s degree in the architectural field from an accredited school and an internship. There are additional requirements that vary by state, though. Some states require newbie architects to take the NCARB’s Architect Registration Examination (ARE). This is a 7 part monster test that is graded as pass or fail only. The test will cover topics that you’ll be pretty familiar with such as site planning, building systems and construction documents.

Get Your Professional Certification

Some new architects like to earn a certification from NCARB, but it is totally optional and by no means a requirement. The main point of this certification is to show that you’ve got the professional skills to do your job and it may have the added benefit of easing the process of further licenses from other states or organizations. It also looks pretty good on a resume and may land you more jobs in the future. In order to be approved for a NCARB certification, you will have to submit your college transcripts, proof of ARE passage and proof that you have the appropriate level of experience. You may also have to go through a small interviewing process or take another test.

Architecture Schools

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Qualities of a Great Architect

There are qualities that are very beneficial to working as an architect and they are not domain specific. Each of the qualities that we are going to talk about now will help you do your job better, will help you and your clients understand each other and will ultimately help you become the great architect that you want to be. So, what are these qualities? Let’s take a look now:

  • Inquisitive Nature: As an architects are problem solvers for the clients that hire them. One of the best qualities you can have as an architect is an inquisitive nature. It’s great to ask questions and to try to understand and pin point the needs of your clients. Asking questions is going to be one of the ways that you can ensure that your client gets exactly what they want out of the project rather than what you think they want based upon assumptions.
  • Thinking Abstractly: You will want to think abstractly as a means to conveying important details of design in each project you work on. We know this sounds a bit strange, especially when you throw in the fact that abstraction is defined as keeping a lid on details that are deemed less important. Abstract thinking when it comes to architectural projects will take its form as conceptualized ideas, logical reasons for design features and will culminate in the end result of your project.
  • Communication Skills: The ability to effectively communicate with clients and support staff is probably the most important quality that an architect can have. In fact, most of the other qualities are supported by the ability to communicate ideas, wants and expectations between all parties involved. A project won’t be as success as it could be if there isn’t the proper amount of communication involved. The design may not be the absolute best it could be, the client may not be as happy as they could be and you, as the architect probably won’t feel all that great about the finished product – all as a result of a lack of communication.
  • Technical Skills: There is a lot more that goes into a new building than drawing some squares on a piece of paper. There is actually a great need for technical skills in this job as there are different design and drafting programs that will have to be used in order to create plans for the project.
  • Creativity: There is a lot of creativity that goes into this job and to be a top not architect having a creative eye will be super helpful. You’ll be responsible for how the entire project If you can look at something and see different, exciting ways to make the ordinary turn into something extraordinary – you’ll be doing just fine as an architect.

What Kind of Architect Can I Be?

There are a few different architectural disciplines in the field and one of the great things is that you can move fluidly between each depending on your current project. If you’d like to stick to one niche, that’s totally fine as well. Here are some of the different architectural disciplines that you can work in:

Residential Architecture

This domain of architecture focuses on the design and construction of private homes. We’re not talking about the cookie cutter houses that are lined up in suburbs, though. We are talking about beautiful, unique homes that are customized from roof shingle to entryway steps. Architects that work with clients to create the home of their dreams definitely have their work cut out for them since most clients have a very specific idea of what they want, but those ideas may not always translate that well when it comes to design and function.

Commercial Architecture

Commercial architecture is where all the big buildings, shopping malls, government building and other large public buildings are drafted from. Architects that work in the commercial domain oversee much larger and longer projects than some other disciplines in the field. The designs of these projects usually are drafted with a very specific idea in mind and the end result is usually intended to convey a very specific idea or meaning. Kind of like subliminal messages in building form

Landscape Architecture

This is an outdoor branch of architecture that focuses on the designs of parks, gardens and the lawns of buildings and homes. It’s way more involved than just dropping random trees and flowers in random spots and is kind of an underrated area of the field. The greenery that adorns the space around structures and in parks can actually make or break the aesthetic appeal of the entire thing. Unattractive landscape can certainly detract from the beauty surrounding it, just as amazing landscape has the ability to enhance it. Landscape architects also have the added bit of knowledge in areas of horticulture because what you design will have to center around what will thrive in the area it is planted.

Architect Salary

Money does indeed make the world ‘go round, so we might as well tell you about the greenbacks that may be headed your way as an architect. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a lot of super helpful salary information available on their website, which includes some great graphics for our more visual readers. Definitely take a look if you’d like to see it up close and personal.

As of May 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual earnings of architects to be roughly $74,110. Newer architects that are still new to using a graphing table, may earn a yearly salary of $44,930 during those early days. Seasoned architects may earn a yearly salary of $119,370 because experience clearly comes with a pay raise. Remember that there are factors that will impact the salaries earned, so keep that in mind before betting the farm.

Architect Salary

Top Reasons to Become an Architect

There are a lot of great things about being an architect, but there are some tip top reasons that may tip you over the line from “Maybe I will pursue a career as an architect” and “Yes, I totally want to become an architect!” So, read this section and really absorb what we are telling you so that you can make the best decision for your future.

It’s Not Just a Job, It’s a Lifestyle

Being an architect is more than just a job that you perform from 9 to 5 and shut out of your mind until you are to return again. Architecture is an all consuming passion that is always in the forefront of your mind. You eat, sleep, drink and breathe with buildings and designing on the brain. Everywhere you go and everything you do is looked at with the eyes of an architect.


Not everyone understands what it is exactly that architects do, but that’s ok because there is still a good amount of respect that is earned when people find out what you do. A lot of people view architects to be ethical, responsible, smart, creative and driven individuals. These nice qualities promote a sense of respect and rightfully so.

Ever Changing Job

The architectural world is always changing and an architect has to keep up with these changes in order to stay at the top of their game. Materials used, construction methods, as well as building technology provide a continuous flow new and interesting ways of doing things, which have to be learned about and implemented. There isn’t a whole lot of room for boredom when you are constantly chasing after the latest changes in architecture.

Express Yourself, Baby

We know that being an architect isn’t an art form in the truest sense of the word, but it is similar if you ask us. Most architects have the ability to take creative control over projects and are able to every bit of themselves into the designs and execution of the final product. No matter how many projects worked on and how similar each one is, an architect will be able to come up with a different idea, solution and means of bringing it all together in a different way each time.

Be the Boss

A lot of architects have their own firms and are able to act as their own boss. This is pretty cool because who doesn’t want to be master and commander of their own ship? Having complete say so in which jobs you take, who works with you and how much you earn will all be in your hands.

See It All Happen

One of the great things about being an architect is the awesomeness that comes along with being able to all of your hard work unfold literally right before your eyes. Not many people get to see what started as an idea in their brains morph from a sketch, to a scale model, to blueprints for construction and ultimately resulting in a real tangible structure.

Positively Impact Your Clients

The relationship that you develop with your clients will be indelible and special. You’re creating something with them that will last for a very long time and serves as a constant reminder of the time spent working together on such an important project.

Ability to Experiment

Not only is experimenting with your craft allowed, it is also expected and encouraged. You will be able to play around with different design techniques and materials as you go through the process of designing and bringing your project to life. Experimenting will also set you apart from other architects because no two architects are the same, which yields completely different results each and every time.

Long Career Shelf Life

You don’t have an expiration date when you are an architect. In fact, it’s rather common to experience more success later in life and after you have been cracking at it for a long time. The concern over age is virtually nonexistent in this profession and enable architects to work until you can’t work anymore.

Lots of Options

Architects aren’t put into nice little boxes that they have to stay in forever. You can move fluidly throughout the different areas of architecture as you see fit and depending on what floats your boat at any given time. You can work with big or little firms or for yourself. You can act as the main architect or switch it up to the title of designer or manager. If you want to design homes one day and big buildings the next, that’s totally fine too. There is room to move and adapt to wherever your creativity pulls you.

Final Grade

architectThere are definitely a lot of things to think about when deciding if a career as an architect is the right one for you. We have a few things in mind that we find to be extra important and giving them a letter grade makes it easier to translate what we are thinking. Take a look at what we feel are the most important things to consider when it comes to taking a giant leap into the field of architecture.

Degree vs. Debt: B+

The degree to debt ratio isn’t too bad in this profession. Only a 5 year degree is required to get where you need to go, so the amount of money that you may have to borrow from student loan lenders will manageable. The salary expectations are also rather nice and will ease the burden of an additional monthly payment in the shape of a loan payment.

Difficulty of Degree: B-

Be prepared to work really, really hard in school during the process of earning a degree in architecture. An architecture degree isn’t one that you can phone in and still succeed in by any means. You will have to put the beer pong paddle down and practice your keg stands after graduation because you are going to need every single brain cell that you have to master the skills necessary to become an architect.

Happiness Quotient: B-

We had to do some thorough digging to find out just how happy architects are with their jobs and we were pretty surprised by what we found. Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t satisfied with where they have gotten in their careers, which leads to an unhappy architect. There does seem to be a love of the work itself, however and that is something that pushed those that aren’t super happy in the profession forward. So, what we are essentially saying here is this: you can be happy as an architect out of sheer love of the trade. You’re happiness can be marred by the lack of notable success if that is what you are looking for.

Job Outlook: A

The job outlook for architects is pretty dang good and is promising for those that are thinking of entering into the profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the job growth is going to hike up about 17% between 2012 and 2022. That’s a nice bump and is a much faster growth rate than most other professions.

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Sources and Recommended Reading

We’re glad you stopped by today for one of our career guides and we hope that we were able to provide you with the information that you were looking for. We know that there is a whole lot more to becoming an architect than we had time to talk about today, so we’ve provided you with some links to keep your gears turning.

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