Hack College Presents: How To Become An Architect

become an architect

Graduates of highly-specialized fields like architectural design or engineering encounter distinct benefits and challenges in terms of earnings, employability and long-term career opportunities. The following guide provides information about the field of architecture, the most effective methods of studying this discipline and earning an academic degree, and some tips for launching a successful career.

Part I. The Architecture Industry

In response to growing concerns about environmental sustainability, the architecture industry has recently begun to implement new methods for designing structures that are both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound. With a degree in architecture, students can learn about these green techniques and open up a wide array of career possibilities within the industry.

Architecture-Related Careers

  • Drafting: For many architects who are fresh out of college, becoming a drafter is an excellent opportunity to make a first impression in the industry. Comparable to a paralegal or professional intern, drafters mainly provide professional support to a lead architect or building planner. Additionally, beginning your career in the architecture field as a drafter ensures that you have the opportunity to put into practice and master many of the nitty-gritty design concepts and procedures picked up during college.
  • Project Management: While many architecture majors ultimately do design work behind-the-scenes, others would rather be out getting their hands dirty on the construction site. Project management is a great opportunity for those who prefer the construction and building over conceptualization and design. Project managers work closely with architects and building managers to ensure the original design is adhered to throughout the construction process. The job itself can be trying, but the pride in knowing that you had a direct impact on the construction of a new skyscraper or apartment complex can be quite a powerful reward.
  • Landscape Architecture: In addition to designing buildings and other standing structures, a degree in architecture can also help you land a great career designing gardens, playgrounds and parks. Landscape architecture is ideal for students with a genuine love of nature and the outdoors. In addition to designing plans for landscaping projects, landscape architects also work closely with general architects and project managers to ensure that the environmental concerns of an upcoming construction project are properly investigated and brought to their attention.
  • General Architecture: In the end, opting for the most traditional route in the field of architecture is often the best decision. Architects typically produce in-depth designs for building or remodeling commercial buildings, homes and other structures that must meet stringent guidelines set forth by a client (and in many cases, local and municipal regulations). Within the broader field of general architecture, budding architects still have the ability to specialize, particularly when it comes to the type of structures they hope to ultimately start designing. The field also offers a tremendous amount of opportunity for creative and confident architects who have the chops to succeed at a top firm, or on their own as a private architect.

Industry Overview

Like most professionals, architects have the option to pursue work at a small, mid-sized or large company after they become properly licensed. Each type of company offers different benefits and drawbacks. For example, an architect who is self-employed or works for a small architecture firm might enjoy more freedom and autonomy in their work, but may have to forgo a high salary and other important benefits. Large firms, on the other hand, offer secure salaries and extensive benefits, often at the cost of the architect’s professional autonomy. A recent report published by Architectural Record examines how the size of a firm can impact one’s career as an architect.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects can expect to earn a median annual salary of $72,550, which amounts to an hourly wage of $34.88. This forecast is typically in-line with other high-level professional career paths that require a robust post-secondary school education, as well as various local and state-level licenses.

Drafting, on the other hand, often requires less education and fewer certifications in order to perform the requirements of the role. As a result, budding drafters can expect a median income of roughly $47,800 per year, or a wage of roughly $23.02 an hour. While these figures may seem quite low in comparison, keep in mind that it can take architects several years to gain the skills and experience required to land a high-paying position at a reputable firm. Therefore, drafting still remains one of the best options for recently graduated architects.

Given the country’s slow and steady shift toward revamping existing buildings and opting for better, ‘greener’ structures, the coming decade could prove quite lucrative for the field of architecture. In fact, the BLS forecasts that jobs in this field will grow 24% between 2010 and 2020. If these predictions hold true, then qualified architects will be in high demand for at least the rest of the decade.

Part II. Top U.S. Architecture Programs

If beginning (or continuing) your higher education in the field of architecture seems like your best option, take some time to familiarize yourself with the strengths and weaknesses of architecture programs offered by academic institutions throughout the United States. While most institutions offer majors and specialized programs in architecture, knowing which one is best for you requires extensive research and good personal judgment. This list below reviews some of the best academic architecture programs in the country.

University of Texas School of Architecture

  • Accreditation: In addition to being part of a nationally accredited university, the School of Architecture at the University of Texas is also accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB), which ensures your ability to become a nationally-licensed architect upon graduation and successful completion of the licensing process.
  • Specialized Degrees: In addition to architecture, the UT School of Architecture offers both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs across a wide variety of specialized areas within the field of architecture, such as landscape architecture, community and regional planning, architectural history and sustainable design.
  • Industry Perception: The UT School of Architecture is generally considered to be one of the top schools for the study of architecture in the United States, if not the world. Several notable architects have obtained degrees here, such as John Saunders Chase, the first African American to become a licensed architect in the state of Texas.
  • Cost: As of the 2012-2013 academic year, the cost of tuition per semester for an undergraduate is $4,938 for Texas residents and $16,995 for non-resident students.
  • Financial Aid: The UT School of Architecture provides financial aid to undergraduates in the form of a general scholarship pool, which new students are automatically eligible to compete for upon acceptance the school. Graduate students are also eligible for financial aid through a combination of scholarships, grants and teaching assistantships.

School of Architecture and Design at Virginia Tech

  • Accreditation: Architecture degrees offered by the School of Architecture and Design at Virginia Tech are accredited by NAAB.
  • Specialized Degrees: The Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture, as well as a Ph.D. in architecture and design research. The school also allows students to declare a focus in architectural acoustics.
  • Industry Perception: In addition to being ranked by DesignIntelligence in 2012 as the #3 architecture school in the nation, the School of Architecture and Design at Virginia Tech also boasts of several prestigious alumni, such as Earl Swensson, who designed the AT&T Building, Tennessee’s tallest building.
  • Cost: At Virginia Tech, undergraduate residents of the State of Virginia can expect to pay $382.75 per hour/unit or $4,593.50 for up to 12 hours/units per semester. Out-of-state tuition for undergraduates is $982.25 per hour/unit or $11,787.50 for up to 12 hours/units per semester.
  • Financial Aid: The School of Architecture and Design at Virginia Tech offers several scholarships, grants and loan programs through the main university for new undergraduate students. Graduate students can apply for graduate assistantships, as well as scholarships and grants.

Graduate School of Design at Harvard University

  • Accreditation: The Graduate School of Design at Harvard is accredited by the NAAB. The school is also accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board for students earning a degree in Urban Planning.
  • Specialized Degrees: Degree programs in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and design studies are all offered by the Graduate School of Design. The school also offers a robust Ph.D. program in design and architectural philosophy.
  • Industry Perception: Since Harvard began offering classes in architecture in 1883, the Graduate School of Design has become one of the United States’ premier schools for the study of architectural design. Notable alumni include Shaun Donovan, current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, as well as the prolific American modernist architect Edward Larrabee Barnes.
  • Cost: Like most private graduate schools, tuition at the Harvard Graduate School of Design can be quite expensive. While state residency does not have a directimpact on tuition costs, as of the 2011-2012 school year, the cost of full tuition at the Graduate School of Design is no less than $38,880 (or $19,440 per term).
  • Financial Aid: For many talented and creative architects, the cost of attending Harvard can be quite restrictive. Luckily, the Graduate School of Design offers several financial aid packages for prospective students, such as Harvard Restricted Scholarships, a GSD Grant and Federal Work-Study programs.

Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis

  • Accreditation: Architecture degrees offered by the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts are accredited by NAAB.
  • Specialized Degrees: The Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts offers bachelor’s degree programs in architecture, as well as master’s degree programs in landscape architecture, architecture studies and urban design. The Sam Fox School also allows graduate students to achieve dual degrees in two master’s degree programs offered by the school.
  • Industry Perception: The Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts is highly ranked by DesignIntelligence and is generally considered to be one of the greatest graduate schools for architecture by industry insiders.
  • Cost: Given the highest quality of education and creative resources offered by the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, the cost of attending the school can be expensive. As of the 2012-2013 school year, graduate students in architecture can expect to pay $21,250 per semester. In addition, there is an annual studio fee of $170, which goes to cover maintenance, materials and computer-usage costs.
  • Financial Aid: Like the Harvard School of Design, the cost of attending the Sam Fox School can be restrictive to say the least. In order to alleviate some of these costs, the school offers a myriad of scholarships, loans, teaching assistantships and grants that prospective grad students can compete for and take advantage of.

Architecture Courses Using MIT OpenCourseWare

  • Accreditation: No accreditation available.
  • Specialized Degrees: No full degrees offered just yet.
  • Industry Perception: Massively Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) have only recently been making waves among students and industry professionals who are looking for an online outlet for learning new skills or enhancing existing ones. The architecture courses offered by MIT OpenCourseWare are considered to be some of the best around for those who want to get a taste of what its like to live the life of a student architect.
  • Cost: No cost

Part III. Launching a Career in Architecture

Now that you have an idea of what it takes to begin working towards a degree in architecture, let’s take a closer look at some ideas and best practices once you begin the process of launching a career in the field. In addition to applying for internships and preparing your portfolio to show potential employers, now’s a great time to begin building a world-class resume or CV that’ll make you stand out from the rest. Below are some helpful tips we’ve gathered for you, as well as some essential pearls of wisdom from some of the world’s leading figures in the architecture industry.

Organizing Your Job Search

  • Portfolios: A well-built portfolio of relevant designs and creative work is essential for beginning your job search in the architecture industry. Not only is having an up-to-date portfolio important for landing a job that suits your own unique talents and skills, but it is essential should you decide to pursue graduate work in the architecture field. Architect Alex Hofgrefe provides an excellent introduction to building a superb architecture portfolio that will “wow” schools, employers, as well as potential clients.
  • Cover Letters and Résumés: Modative, a renowned modern architecture firm, provides a comprehensive guide for building (or rehashing) your resume to meet the standards of today’s employers in the architecture industry.
  • Personal Branding: It’s never too early to begin building your personal brand — even if you haven’t earned a college degree yet. By maintaining good relationships with fellow students, professors and industry professionals early in your career, chances are considerably better that your personal brand will shine brightly after graduation.

5 Tips From Industry Insiders

  1. Do none of you go into architecture to get a living unless you love architecture as a principle at work, for its own sake – prepared to be as true to it as to your mother, your comrade, or yourself. - Frank Lloyd Wright, world-renowned American architect
  2. Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light. - Le Corbusier, famed Swiss/French architect who was one of the pioneers of modern architecture
  3. Architecture is a discipline that takes time and patience. If one spends enough years writing complex novels one might be able, someday, to construct a respectable haiku. - Thom Mayne, award-winning American architect based in Southern California
  4. To be an architect has been a lifelong dream. Little did I know when asked at the age of 14 ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ I said I wanted to be an architect. After 50 years I am still learning all what that means. - Richard Meier, celebrated American architect of the rationalist school of architecture
  5. Today, young architects have to be much more focused and really concentrate on their work because the field is almost too open for them. While my generation of architect found the field too narrow, our challenge was fighting to extend the barriers. - Roger Diener, celebrated lead architect of the Swiss architecture firm Diener and Diener

Designing for the Ages

We hope the information we’ve provided on education and career development will help you to move one step closer towards realizing that the field of architecture is where you hope to begin a fulfilling lifelong career. In the meantime, be sure to regularly visit informative and useful websites, such as ArchDaily and Life of an Architect, for your daily dose of architecture-related news and information.