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What Degree Do You Need to Be an Architect? What to study for a career in ar­chi­tec­ture

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Carrie Sealey-Morris has covered bootcamps, careers, and higher education for College Consensus since 2017. Carrie is a graduate of the University of New Mexico where she earned a B.A. in American Studies. 
Founder/Senior Editor
B.A., M.Div.
Jeremy Alder has spent over a decade researching and writing about higher education to provided students with the information they need to achieve their goals. He has significant personal experience with career transitions, working as a freelance writer and editor, non-profit director, community organizer, preacher, teacher, retail manager, and carpenter prior to founding College Consensus. Homeschooled from the second grade, Jeremy is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., Philosophy) and Duke University Divinity School (M.Div.). He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife, five kids, and a Labradoodle named Hank.

Do you have the technical savvy of an engineer but the design eye of an artist? If so, then you need to look into architecture as a profession. Architects design all of the buildings that modern society appreciates. Whether it’s a nondescript grocery store in the suburbs or a landmark skyscraper downtown, an architect’s skills made the construction project possible.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this lucrative profession is a challenging one to break into. Licensed architect jobs are only projected to grow at a rate of 3% from now until 2030.

cc research architecture

To work as an architect, you are required to meet some pretty hefty educational, training, and licensing requirements. Earning the right educational credentials is the first step on the journey. What degrees can move you along the path to becoming a licensed architect? Here are a few options.

1. Bachelor of Architecture

To sit for the Architect Registration Examination for licensing, you’ll need to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in architecture that’s been accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). The Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) degree is a popular option for recent high school graduates. While most B.Arch. programs don’t require a portfolio of design work for first-year students, others require it as part of the admissions process.

What You Can Expect To Learn

The B.Arch. is a professional degree program that covers a variety of design topics. You’ll learn how to design structures for various locations and climates and present your ideas in a professional manner. Comprehensive programs teach students both digital and manual design representation techniques.

Besides putting a heavy emphasis on design, B.Arch. degree programs also introduce students to architecture history and theory as well as professional ethics.

How Long Does It Take To Complete?

Set aside five years to complete a B.Arch. degree program. To get your architecture license, you’ll need documented work experience under a licensed architect. Some B.Arch. programs offer these types of internships within their five-year degree curricula. Depending on your chosen degree program, your internship may extend your stay at school.

2. Bachelor of Science in Architecture

The Bachelor of Science in Architecture (B.S. Arch.) is a pre-professional degree that provides an alternate path to licensure for aspiring architects. Most B.S. Arch. programs take a broad-based approach to design and allow students to specialize in niche areas such as sustainable building design or construction management.

Although you’ll have more opportunities to explore related areas of interest, the B.S. Arch. degree doesn’t meet the requirements for licensing eligibility on its own. Most of these programs aren’t accredited by NAAB and that accreditation is required for licensure. To become a licensed architect, you’ll need to combine this degree with a Master’s in Architecture (M.Arch.). The B.S. Arch. is a good option if you know that you want to specialize in a certain field of study while preparing for advanced degree course work. Students who aren’t initially sure if they want to become an architect choose the degree as well. It allows them to earn a degree that’s useful in a variety of fields while deciding if they really want to sit for an architecture licensing exam to become a professional architect.

What You Can Expect To Learn

Any design enthusiast can come up with ideas. However, B.S. Arch. students learn to look at designs through the lens of numerous factors such as culture, the environment, and social constructs. After earning a B.S. Arch. degree, you will have developed keen critical thinking skills and learned extensive technical design knowledge. You’ll be prepared to enter a M.Arch. degree program that will lead to licensure.

How Long Does It Take To Complete?

The B.S. Arch. degree isn’t a professional degree like the B.Arch. degree, and it doesn’t take five years to complete. If you stay on track, you’ll graduate in four years with the rest of your university undergraduate class.

There are special programs that allow B.S. Arch. students to automatically roll their credits into an accredited M.Arch. program. They are commonly called 4+2 programs. When you enroll in these programs, you spend four years at the undergraduate level and two years doing advanced degree course work. After a 4+2 program, you’ll have the educational credentials to sit for the architecture license exam after 6 years.

3. Master of Architecture

If you already have an undergraduate degree but recently discovered your passion for architecture, the M.Arch. degree is the one for you. It’s a professional accredited degree that leads directly to architecture licensure.

What You Can Expect To Learn

M.Arch. programs offer rigorous design studio courses that prepare students for careers as professional architects. Upon graduation, you’ll be skilled at solving all types of real-world design challenges. Many M.Arch. degree programs offer internships with architectural firms during summer breaks.

How Long Does It Take To Complete?

The duration of M.Arch. programs depend on several factors. While many programs admit students who have unrelated four-year degrees, they often have other tough admissions requirements. For instance, some programs require you to have taken university-level calculus and physics courses. If you haven’t taken those prerequisite courses and earned grades of 3.0 or better, completing your M.Arch. will likely take longer.

Most M.Arch. programs can be completed in two to three years. If you already have a B.Arch. degree, you could graduate from most M.Arch. degree programs in one year.

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Is architect the hardest major?

Well, architecture definitely isn’t an easy major. It’s highly technical, and extremely time-consuming, and the road to licensure and employment is long – an average of 11 years, in fact. 

You may wonder, how hard is it to become an architect? It’s hard. There are a lot of steps. Generally: 

  • 4-5 years of undergraduate school 
  • 2-3 years of graduate school 
  • 3 years of internship/work experience (AXP)

Only after substantial schooling and experience can you actually take the Architect Registration Exam (ARE). 

In architecture school, you’ll take some challenging classes, including high-level mathematics, materials sciences, and computing courses. Students often take a fifth undergraduate year to master everything. You’ll take intimidating-sounding courses like:

  • Natural Systems and Architecture
  • Structures and Materials
  • History of Western Architecture
  • Digital Representation
  • Environmental Controls Systems

No wonder at least one small but illuminating study found that, almost across the board, architecture students felt overworked, sleep-deprived, and on the verge of burnout. 

Number of Architecture StudentsDegree Level
27,917All levels
Source: NAAB Report (2021)

Is architecture more math or art?

The answer is yes and no – architecture is a combination of math and art, not more of one or the other. 

Consider what an architect does – designing buildings and other structures that will, eventually, be built in the real world. 

That means you’re not just an artist – what you design is going to exist, and it’s going to have to be stable and safe for human usage over years and decades, or longer. 

But they don’t exist yet – which means you have to imagine them. And that is the work of an artist. Plus, buildings don’t necessarily have to be beautiful, but if they’re ugly, you’re going to have a hard time finding work. 

Architecture Students – GenderPercentage
Source: NAAB Report (2021)

Can I be an architect if I’m bad at math?

The simple answer is, yes, you can be an architect if you’re bad at math. You can even be an architect if you can’t draw. 

First of all, architects don’t do it all. Yes, you have to have some math skills, especially in geometry. After all, architecture is all about area, volume, and spacial thinking. 

But do you need engineer-level math skills? Of course not – that’s why architects work with engineers. Taking a building from initial idea to construction involves a lot of parts, and the architect isn’t expected to do all of them. To simplify, the process goes like this: 

  • Architect – visualizes the space, draws up ideas, creates the overall design
  • Engineer – figures the specific mathematical requirements, measurements, real-world requirements 
  • Contractor – takes the architect’s plan and the engineer’s measurements and figures out how to make them actually buildable – materials, labor, etc 

So does the architect need solid math skills? Absolutely – otherwise, you’ll be designing things that aren’t physically possible, which will waste everybody’s time and money on a project. But does the architect need to be an engineer? Nope. 

Architecture Students By RacePercent
Black/African America6%
Two or More 2%
Source: NAAB Report (2021)

Can I be an architect if I can’t draw?

The same goes for drawing ability – you can be an architect even without top-level art skills. Architects are frequently talented artists – just look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s drawings. But knowing your way around a watercolor set doesn’t make or break your architecture career. 

Realistically, that’s why you go to school – to learn the skills you need to do what you want to do. And while you might take some art classes for architecture, in the 21st century, you’re going to spend a lot more time with computers than pencils. Art skills will just be an advantage – not a prerequisite. 

So if you’re worried about architecture school because you can’t sketch out the Sydney Opera House on a napkin from memory, don’t worry. You’ll never have to. Unless you’re trying to win a bet with architecture nerds.


Architecture is a respected profession that dates back thousands of years. However, strict building standards in a modern society create some challenging barriers to entry for today’s aspiring architects. Fortunately, there are multiple educational paths to take whether you begin your journey right after high school or switch careers a decade after graduation.

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