To Be an Architect, What Subjects Should I Take in High School?

Bottom Line - Learn as Much as Possible and Develop Good Habits

Young architects
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While still in high school, you should plan a strong college preparatory program, because you will want to go to college to become a registered architect. An architect is a licensed professional, like a medical doctor.  Although architecture was not always a licensed profession, most of today's architects have been to college.

High School Courses to Prepare for College:

  • English, history, and other humanities subjects
  • mathematics, including geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and pre-calculus
  • science, especially physics
  • art, such as sketching and sculpting, and art history

Humanities courses will sharpen your communication skills and your ability to put ideas into words and concepts into historic context. Math courses help develop problem-solving techniques and logic. Studying physics will get you familiar with important concepts related to force, such as compression and tension. Tensile architecture, for example, "stands up" because of tension instead of compression. The PBS website for Building Big has a good demonstration of forces.

Art courses—drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography—will be helpful in developing your ability to visualize and conceptualize, which are both important skills to an architect. Learning about perspective and symmetry is invaluable. Drafting is less important than being able to communicate ideas through visual means.

Art history will be a lifelong learning experience, as movements in architecture often parallel visual art trends. Many people suggest that there are two avenues to an architecture career—through art or through engineering. If you can have a grasp of both disciplines, you'll be ahead of the game.

Elective Courses to Take in High School:

Elective courses will be extremely helpful in preparing for a career in architecture.

Consider the value of these classes:

  • computers, especially keyboarding and the way software works
  • business, especially economics and marketing
  • band, orchestra, chorus, and team sports—architecture is a collaborative process, so learn how to work with many different kinds of people to attain the same goal or make one product

Develop Good Habits:

High school is a good time to develop positive skills to use your entire life. Learn how to manage your time and get your projects done well and promptly. Project management is a huge responsibility in the architect's office.

Keep a Journal of Travel and Observations:

Everyone lives somewhere. Where do people live? How do they live? How are their spaces put together compared with where you live? Examine your neighborhood and document what you see in a journal that combines sketches and descriptions. Give your journal a name, like L'Atelier, which is French for "the workshop."  Along with art projects you may do in school, your sketchbook could become part of your portfolio. Also, take advantage of family travel and be a keen observer of your surroundings—even a water park has organization and Disney theme parks have architecture.

What Others Say:

The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture suggests that "Aspiring architects should learn as much as possible about the field of architecture, by talking to architects and by visiting architectural offices." When you have a research project for a humanities course, keep in mind the profession of architecture.

For example, a research paper for English Composition or an interview project for History is a good opportunity to get in touch with architects in your community and research historic architects of the past and present.

Source: "High School Preparation," Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture at https://www.acsa-arch.org/resources/guide-to-architectural-education/overview/high-school-preparation [accessed March 23, 2014]

Architecture Camps:

Many schools of architecture provide summer opportunities for high school students to experience architecture. Talk with your high school guidance counselor about these and other possibilities:

What if You Don't Want to Go to College?

Only registered architects can put RA after their names and really be called "architects." But you don't have to be an architect to design small buildings. Maybe being a Professional Home Designer or Building Designer is what you really want to do. Although all of the courses, subjects, and skills listed here are equally valuable to the Professional Home Designer, the certification process is not as rigorous as licensure to become an architect.

Another avenue to a career in architecture is to seek a career with the US Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE is part of the US Army but also hires civilian employees. When talking with an Army Recruiter, ask about the Army Corps of Engineers, in existence since the American Revolution. George Washington appointed the first engineer officers of the Army on June 16, 1775.

Learn More:

  • Becoming an Architect by Lee Waldrep
    Buy on Amazon
  • Beginner's Guide: How to Become an Architect by Ryan Hansanuwat
    Buy on Amazon
  • Becoming an Architect as a Career Choice: Art & Science Combined by Lorraine Allison
    Buy on Amazon