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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Become an Architect: Steps to Take from High School

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Think of the home you live in, the school you attend, and stores you shop in. Architects are involved in every phase of the building process, from conception to construction. Requiring a wide range of abilities, architects need strong math skills, a keen eye for detail, an exceptional ability to communicate, superb problem-solving skills, and the capacity for critical thinking. 


If helping design and build the places we inhabit sounds like an inviting career path, keep reading to learn more about what it takes to become an architect. 


What Does an Architect Do?


Architects design both the interior and exteriors of the buildings where we live, learn, work, and shop. These individuals oversee every step of a structure’s development; they determine the needs of a project, estimate costs and viability, create structural specifications, and manage construction to ensure adherence to the architectural plans. It’s an architect’s responsibility to make sure a building is structurally safe, functional, in compliance with rules and regulations, and in line with the client or community aesthetic.  


How Much Do Architects Make?


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018, the average salary of an architect was $79,380. The highest paid architects worked in the government sector and earned a median wage of $92,940. The BLS predicts that the demand for architects will increase by 8% between 2018 and 2028, higher than the 5% growth rate for all occupations. 


How to Become an Architect


Architects need to balance competing needs, such as function vs. safety vs. cost, along with duties like design and supervision—all while communicating their needs to diverse teams. Consequently, on the path to becoming an architect, a person will explore a wide variety of academic fields. 


High School


Most high schools lack programs specific to architecture; however, that doesn’t mean a student can’t start preparing themselves for a career as an architect early in their academic careers. Math classes such as geometry, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry are all recommended for aspiring architects. Similarly, science classes such as physics are beneficial for understanding concepts such as force, compression, and tension. It’s also important to explore the arts; drawing, painting, sculpting, and photography all help build the ability to visualize and conceptualize. 


There are a handful of AP courses that are particularly beneficial for those hoping to be accepted into a competitive college architecture program. AP Calculus, Physics, and 3D Art and Design will all help wow colleges and build skills necessary for the rigorous coursework ahead.


Keep in mind that some undergraduate architecture programs may have special course requirements (such as 4 years of math, with calculus recommended, and 1 year of physics). Be sure to check the requirements at the schools you’re interested in.


Similarly, some colleges may require portfolios, such as the Cornell College of Art, Architecture, and Planning. They ask for “15-20 slides with no more than two dedicated to the same project.” The portfolio should contain sketches and fully developed work, but doesn’t need to be entirely focused on architecture. The website states that “painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, video, woodworking, and other crafts can convey artistic experience and aptitude.” Spend some time building a portfolio so you can put your best food forward come application time.


An architecture-focused summer program is also an excellent way to explore the field before committing to a degree path in college—Cornell, Syracuse, Frank Loyd Wright’s Taliesin, UNC Charlotte, and UCLA all have programs aimed at would-be architects early in their academic careers. 




There are two paths students can take toward a career in architecture in college. One path is to achieve a traditional undergraduate degree before going on to earn a master’s degree. In the architectural field, this is referred to as an M. Arch. The other path is to earn a B. Arch., which is a five-year program accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB). Students graduating with a B. Arch. qualify to take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)—a key step on the path to earning an architectural license.


B. Arch.: For students entering college with clear intentions of becoming an architect, a B. Arch. program is the most direct route through college, as graduates of these five-year programs qualify for licensure. The first two years of a B. Arch. program focus on the history of the discipline and basic building skills, such as fundamental design concepts and understanding of material properties. The final three years of a B. Arch. program cover topics like architectural theory, building technology, and computer-aided design and drafting. 


M. Arch.: For students who don’t discover their passion for architecture until college—or who aren’t prepared to settle on an architectural career path as an undergraduate—there is the M. Arch., or master’s degree in architecture. Students come to M. Arch. programs from all backgrounds; some schools will even offer separate tracks for students entering an M. Arch. program with bachelor’s degrees in architecture, and those coming from unrelated subjects. Regardless, students in M. Arch. programs will study courses covering topics the theoretical, technological, historical, and cultural aspects of architecture. The length of time a student spends in an M. Arch. program is determined by a student’s previous architectural education. 


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All states require a student to complete an internship before becoming licensed, the majority of which employ the Intern Development Program (IDP) administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the American Institute of Architects. The IDP program requires 5,600 hours of state- and NCARB-approved work experience in four core areas: pre-design, design, project management, and practice management. 


Certification and Licensure 


All states require architects to pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), a test administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, before becoming licensed to practice. The ARE is a test of a person’s knowledge, skill, and ability in the field of architecture. The NCARB also offers a national certification, which makes it easier on those looking to operate in multiple states. 



Architecture is a challenging, rapidly changing, and fast-growing profession where mathematics, science, creativity, and management coalesce. If you’re in high school and interested in pursuing a career in architecture, the best step you can take is getting into a college that will nurture your passion while preparing you for that professional path. Take a step to finding (and getting admitted to) your dream school by signing up for our free online platform offering step-by-step application recommendations, financial aid support, essay-writing help, and more.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.