Despite it being a core component in building a nation, quite literally, architecture is still considered as a non-conventional profession. A lot of people who are interested in pursuing this exciting career path are afraid to embark on the journey due to the lack of detailed and easily available information. Ones who do have the access are pessimistic about it since it takes a long time — about 8 years — to become a qualified architect, not to mention the tedious courses and certifications to be completed along the way.

However, architecture is one of the most holistic educations one can pursue. It involves design thinking, practical planning, engineering, creativity, along with constantly being conscious of the land and the environment you are working within.

When it comes to the profession, though, things often take a more complicated turn and being an architect becomes synonymous to budgeting, working under water-tight deadlines, prioritizing between quality and money, not to mention being on your client’s beck and call.

The best part about pursuing architecture is that you don’t need to stick one sub-domain. You can be a sustainability specialist or focus only on interiors, build just resorts or hospitals, or just work on rendering design. The possibilities are just endless.

If you have been contemplating about becoming an architect but feel at sea about how to start, read on as we dissect the
different phases of the journey and see how to become an architect.

Man writing something on a building plan

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Educational Requisites

Becoming an architect is a long road, with total years that could take in completing the courses being about eight years.
The highest degree in the field you can earn is a Doctorate in Architecture (D. Arch).

To obtain your license as an architect, you need to complete a professional degree accredited by NAAB, the National
Architectural Accrediting Board.

You can actually start preparing for your architecture career right from high school by taking courses that hone your mathematical precision, like algebra, geometry, calculus and physics. Certain courses in arts aid in developing your creative skills, a prime component of being an architect. Since technology is the king in today’s age, being proficient in computer software like CADD will also put you on a faster track.

Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch) programme is an undergraduate course that takes about 5 years to complete. This is a professional degree course and teaches you the basic nuances of architecture, the history, introduces you to design fundamentals, along with understanding the quality and properties of building materials.

You can also undertake an undergraduate degree in science or arts, but that will not be counted towards your professional
discourse and will be considered as a pre-professional degree, after which you’ll need to pursue an accredited professional degree.

Some institutes also offer an integrated B. Arch and M. Arch course that can be completed in five years.

A bachelor’s degree in architecture can cost you anywhere between $15,000-$70,000 annually. The yearly cost of the bachelor’s degree in architecture at Cornell University is $59,888, which includes books and tuition fees. For Harvard, the cost shoots up to $65.278. Usually, state schools cost less in terms of tuition fee.

Master’s Degree

Post completion of your professional B. Arch degree, you want to enroll in a post-graduate course as well. A masters in architecture can take you anywhere between one to five years to complete.

A masters course in architecture mainly takes you through various specializations, for instance, in architectural history, designing, sustainable construction, etc. It provides a holistic understanding of architecture, teaching it as a synergy of cultural, economic, environmental and scientific theories.

If you have a pre-professional bachelor’s degree in a subject other than architecture, it will take you about three years to finish your master’s. For students who have a pre-professional degree in architecture, it can take two years to complete the master’s course while B. Arch students can complete M. Arch in a year.

Professional Internship

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Before you can apply for the state license, you need to undergo a professional training programme, called as Intern Development Program (IDP), which continues for 3 years.

Under IDP, the prospective architects work under the supervision and guidance of a licensed architect. You can also work
for a non-profit to gain this experience and it will be considered. As an architectural intern, you work on design concepts, building architecture models, writing technical specifications, creating CADD drawings and more.

The intent of doing a 3-year IDP is that the trainees gain practical, hands-on experience of real-world cases, which are essentially the practical application to the theoretical concepts they studied in the graduate/masters course.

This is a paid programme in which the interns are mandated to complete 5,600 field hours in 17 domains. The internship can be
undergone in any registered architecture firm or an engineering firm but has to be under the mentorship of a licensed architect.

The final report is signed off by the licensed architect the trainee is interning under. The entire programme is under the purview of NCARB, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

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License and Certification

After completing the educational requirements as well as the 3-year mandatory internship programme, the prospective architects need to undertake the Architecture Registration Examination (ARE) to obtain their state license for practicing as a licensed architect.

Every state has a separate license that needs to be procured before practicing as an architect in that state. The ARE is divided into seven sections, including:

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

The exam has multiple choice questions as well as graphical interpretations. The NCARB website has detailed resources on
taking ARE and preparing for it. Mostly, students prepare for about 1-2 years before attempting the comprehensive examination due to the sheer amount of knowledge it seeks to test.

There is also a voluntary certificate that can be obtained from the NCARB to practice the profession in states other than in
which the license has been obtained. The certificate is basically an evidence of the fact that the candidate has achieved all prerequisites and is utterly competent at being an architect in all states of the country.

Personality Requisites

Yes, you need to be technically qualified to be an architect, i.e have a thorough understanding of various engineering concepts that involve creating a physically sound structure.

However, even apart from being scientifically sound, to become an architect there are some inherent qualitative traits that
lay the foundation of your career as an architect.

  1. 1
    Creativity: As an architect, you are essentially a creator. You create structures on a land where there was nothing.
    Therefore, you need to have the kind of imagination and creativity it takes to create something out of nothing. Not to mention that the structure needs to be aesthetically pleasing and practically sound.
  2. 2
    Communication Skills: The most important part of being an architect, when you are working to create something for a client, is to be able to relay your idea to the other person for a clear understanding of both. As an architect, you need to able to effectively convey to others what you see and make them see the same.
  3. 3
    Consciousness: As an architect, you have to be extremely conscious of the environment you are working in as well as the people you are working with. While this isn’t a trait a lot of people are born with, this can be built over time by being aware of your surroundings and being empathetic.

Employment and Financial Returns

After you have managed to traverse the long, 8-year journey (minimum), you are licensed to work in an architecture firm. You can also decide to go solo and get your own clients if you have the kind of reach. The best option though is to work for a reputed organization for some time before going off on your own to lay the foundation.

As far as earnings are concerned, there is no set income that an architect earns. It depends on the niche you are operating
in and the profile of the clients. On an average, as per the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects earn about $84,470 a year. On the other hand, the median salary of architects is recorded at $76,930.

The most important part of your job search as an architect is your portfolio. Whichever firm you are targeting to work for
will ask for your work portfolio that should all your designs till date, including the ones created during IDP. In fact, some master’s schools also ask for the design portfolio while admitting you in their programmes.

Man looking at a floor plan

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The Conclusion

It is certainly not easy to become an architect, considering the time and investment it takes to complete the entire educational and experience requirements to attain the license from NCARB.

However, if you are an individual with exceptional planning and visualization skills, along with a flair for science and creativity, architecture might be the profession for you. Do not get flustered by the long journey and the confusing information. Every field has its own struggle. But a few domains have such an intricate connect with everything around it.

Architecture is an ever-evolving industry and being an architect means having to be constantly on toes and updating yourself with the advancements. This guide on how to become an architect will solve a lot of your queries and help you take a step further in your journey.

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