Architects bring buildings to life through design and engineering principles, making around $79,000 per year1. The field blends the arts and sciences, and students can move into a variety of industries responsible for building and maintaining the buildings and infrastructure all around us.
This guide explores various architecture degree programs, as well as the career options available for graduates.
What Is an Architecture Degree?
Qualifying for state licensing requires one of two types of architecture degrees: a five-year bachelor of architecture degree or an undergraduate degree plus a 2-3-year master of architecture program. Students can check the National Architectural Accrediting board for a current list of nationally accredited architecture programs2 that prepare students for licensure.
Students attend courses on the theory and history of architecture, but much of the degree work lies in studio sessions. Students learn to draft by hand and train in computer-aided design (CAD) to master the visualization tools available in these computer programs.
Participants should also expect to collaborate and critique each other’s work. Architecture students regularly submit assignments to peers and teachers to receive feedback and suggestions. This process helps hopeful architects hone their design skills and develop critical thinking.
How Can I Use an Architecture Degree?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the annual salary for architects to be around $82,320 per year3, but predicts the field to grow at a slower rate than average3 — at 3% per year. However, about 9,400 jobs should open up each year3 due to others leaving the field or retiring.
According to the BLS, these sectors offer the highest paying positions for architects4:
- Other professional, scientific, and technical services: Average annual salary of $121,520 per year
- Land subdivision: Average annual salary of $109,990 per year
- Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors: Average annual salary of $109,580 per year
- General medical and surgical hospitals: Average annual salary of $105,710 per year
- Management of companies and enterprises: Average annual salary of $102,300 per year
Certain states offer better-paying positions than others, allowing architecture hopefuls to move in order to find higher salaries. According to the BLS, these states offer the highest salaries for architects4:
- District of Columbia: Average annual salary of $109,540 per year
- New York: Average annual salary of $101,650 per year
- Minnesota: Average annual salary of $100,650 per year
- New Hampshire: Average annual salary of $98,920 per year
- Alaska: Average annual salary of $98,240 per year
Students looking for greater numbers of opportunities based on employment numbers alone can check out the states that the BLS concluded possessed the highest employment levels in architecture4:
- California: Around 15,130 architects employed
- New York: Around 11,640 architects employed
- Texas: Around 8,880 architects employed
- Illinois: Around 5,950 architects employed
- Florida: Around 4,610 architects employed
Students studying architecture help maintain and support infrastructure, reimagine buildings to ease the environmental impact, and preserve existing heritage. Opportunities will continue to exist even as the field slows down a bit over the next decade or so.
Architecture Degree Courses
Students take advanced math courses as part of their architecture degree, including calculus and analytic geometry. These math courses make it possible for architects to design buildings that remain safe while pushing the limits of design. Math courses also allow architects to restore older buildings with safer limits.
Other common courses for architecture students include the following:
- Architectural drafting: Manual drafting skills provide architecture students with the basics of building creation. Students learn hand methods of design, including building plan components, section drawing, and common drawing tools and instruments.
- Architecture studio: These courses introduce design elements and relationships. Students learn design strategies that draw on these design elements and mathematical concepts to fulfill their design purpose.
- History of architecture: Design students must study the elements of architecture through a historical lens. Students receive inspiration for their own designs and learn the influences on design throughout the ages. Students also learn about the cultural significance of design elements in history.
- Computer-aided drafting: Digital representations in architecture require training in the technology and tools. CAD courses teach students the fundamentals of CAD tools, mock-ups, presentation tools, and computer rendering principles.
- Architecture theory: Theories behind architecture prepare students to problem solve and approach design from different perspectives. Theories include historical architecture principles, environmental principles, and design principles, among others.
- Environmental systems: Buildings do not stand alone. In environmental systems courses, students build awareness of the environmental factors and influences that go into great design. These courses might include passive systems for energy, sustainability, and lifecycle analysis.
Architecture Degree Concentrations
Students can choose a general architecture major, but students also have opportunities for concentrations in architecture niches, including:
- Environmental design: Students can focus on design that reduces environmental impact without abandoning safe, effective design principles.
- Architectural history and criticism: Some students may not seek licensure but still want to work in the architectural field. They can instead engage in historical analysis and theory.
- Urban architecture: Planning and design take on a new level in urban areas. Architects can specialize in this type of design, helping revitalize and restore city landscapes with minimal negative impact.
- Architectural technology: The architectural field uses many new technologies to help with design, inspection, compliance, and visualizations. This concentration allows students to explore their components and build new tools.
- Preservation and restoration: Heritage building requires specialized architectural knowledge. Preservation and restoration students work with historical buildings and landmarks to ensure that restorations are done safely and with respect to the building’s heritage.
- Architectural business or enterprise: Students may also choose to specialize in the business side of architecture, especially if they plan to open their own design firm.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an Architecture Degree?
Accredited bachelor of architecture degrees take five years of full-time study to complete and offer students eligibility to sit for the architecture licensing exam. Four-year degrees exist, but students will need to supplement them with a master’s in architecture to apply for licensure.
Master’s degrees take 2-3 years of full-time study on top of a four-year undergraduate degree. The fastest route to licensure remains the bachelor’s degree path, but some students may not know yet if they want to practice architecture.
In some cases, students without architecture degrees can work with a licensed architect long enough to satisfy requirements to eventually sit for the exam as well. However, this path doesn’t provide the most efficient way to become a licensed architect3.
Discover More About Architecture Degree Programs
What is the architecture degree application process?
Students need to follow the application process for their chosen program. Applicants should ensure their architecture program remains accredited, which will allow them to sit for the licensure exam if necessary.
Are there architecture degree scholarships available?
Applicants can check with their program for scholarship opportunities to make programs more affordable. Students traditionally underrepresented in the field of architecture might also explore scholarships available only to them.
Is an architecture degree worth it?
The BLS predicts3 the field will grow more slowly than the average industry, but students can still replace those retiring or leaving the field. There should be around 9,400 new positions available each year.
Does location matter for architecture degrees?
As far as school goes, students will not find many online degree programs. However, hybrid programs exist for some flexibility — a combination of online and in-person instruction. For job-seeking, the BLS does note that certain states will pay more than others, and some states will possess more job openings than others.
Is an online architecture degree an option?
Architecture requires a great deal of hands-on work and collaboration with mentors and peers. Although students might find a handful of online degrees, most programs are in-person or hybrid. Design labs and critiques, for example, most often happen in person.
Can I become an architect without a degree?
Students who gain an associate degree can find drafting jobs in architecture firms or entry-level positions with independent architects. Students can work through several years at these entry-level positions before taking the licensing exam. However, the most straightforward way to gain licensure is to possess a five-year accredited degree or obtain a master’s degree5.
How do I break into architecture?
Once students complete their degree and receive licensure, they can begin with internships or entry-level jobs to gain valuable hands-on, real-world experience. Students can also begin their own architecture business, seeking out small clients and building a portfolio. Architects with strong portfolio work will stand out ahead of those who don’t have the same portfolio.
Are architects needed in the future?
The profession will experience much slower growth than the average industry3, but the world still needs the profession for building maintenance, infrastructure redesign, and examining environmental impact.
 PayScale. (2021). Salary for Certification: Licensed Architect. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Licensed_Architect/Salary
 National Architectural Accrediting Board. (n.d.) Accredited Programs List. https://www.naab.org/accredited-programs/accredited-programs/
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Architects. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/architects.htm
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020) Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics: Architects, Except Landscape and Naval. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes171011.htm
 NCARB. (2020). Licensing Requirements Tool. https://www.ncarb.org/get-licensed/licensing-requirements-tool