13 Things Aspiring Architects Need to Know

Answers to Your Questions About Careers in Architecture

Female student architect in sleevless top, leaning over drafting table to draw plans
The Details of Architecture. Photo by Viviane Moos / Corbis Historical / Getty Images

Would you like to become an architect? What classes should you take in school? How do you get started in your career? And (we have to ask) how much money are you likely to earn?

All in one place, here are the most frequently asked questions about careers in architecture with links to common sense answers. The advice comes from architects who have participated in our online discussions, with additional comments from Dr. Lee W Waldrep, an Architectural Education Consultant and author of Becoming an Architect.

13 Things Aspiring Architects Should Know:

Aspiration, inspiration, and respiration—all of these words come from the same root, the Latin word spirare, to breathe. People who aspire to join the world of architecture live and breathe what is called "the built environment." Could that describe you? Here are some questions to consider:

  1. What is an architect? What types of work does an architect do? How do architects spend their time? Is architecture a licensed profession?
  2. How much do architects earn? What is the average starting salary for an architect? Do architects earn as much as doctors and lawyers? What is the average income for an architect? Is a degree in architecture worth the cost? Should students consider choosing a more lucrative profession? What are the future prospects for architects?
  3. What can I do with a major in architecture? What jobs can I get if I study architecture in college? What careers use architecture skills? If I don't become a licensed architect, will my degree in architecture go to waste?
  1. To be an architect, what subjects should I take in high school? Can I begin preparing for a career in architecture while I'm still in my teens? What courses will help me get ready for college? What classes will look impressive on my college application?
  2. Where are the best colleges to study architecture? Where can I find college rankings and how important are they? Which schools are ranked high for architecture and does it matter? What features should I look for when I choose a college? What is accreditation? How can I find out whether a college or university is accredited?
  1. If I study architecture, what is the college curriculum like? What classes are required to earn a degree in architecture?  Will I have to study a lot of math? Will I have to take science classes?
  2. What books do you recommend for architecture students? What are some of the most important reference books for architecture? What books do professors and architecture students often recommend?
  3. Can I study architecture online? Can I educate myself about architecture by taking online courses and watching videos? Can I get college credit by taking online courses?  Can I earn an architecture degree by taking classes on the Internet? Where can I find free college courses?
  4. After college how do I start a career in architecture? Will I become an architect as soon as I earn a degree? What tests will I need to take to become licensed? What are the other requirements?
  5. What is a Building Designer? Are building designers always architects? Can I become a building designer without earning a degree in architecture? What are the licensing requirements to become a Professional Home Designer? Will I need a degree in architecture? What courses should I take?
  6. How did architecture become a licensed profession? Did Frank Lloyd Wright have a degree in architecture? Why do architects today have to pass so many requirements? When did the examination process for architects begin?
  1. What do the letters after an architect's name mean? Why do some architects put AIA or FAIA after their names? What does the acronym CPBD mean? What other acronymns are important in the building and design professions?
  2. Are you interested in architecture? If you are in high school, would you be excited about Six Weeks of Lessons? Or would you just tolerate it? You've got to love it. Breathe it.

Do you have what it takes?

French architect Jean Nouvel acknowledged his parents when he accepted the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2008. "They taught me to look, to read, to think and to express what I think," Nouvel said. So, begin with the basics. What qualities make a great architect? Here are a few more comments from some seasoned professionals with ideas to share:

  • A good architect should think more by his heart than brain. He should consider each client's dream as if it is his own....
  • An architect must have interest in the surroundings. When others see land, you, as an architect, should see a plan, ideas, and design.
  • Architecture takes passion and dedication together with creativity.
  • What qualities make a great architect? The one who possesses a great understanding of other fields other than arts and architecture.
  • Imagination, creativity, and passion. Having these three qualities is very important in an architect. Architecture is art.
  • An architect must be a planner every time, every day, everywhere, every movement, to achieve the great wishes.
  • To feel emotion and question it. To see the need and do it. To ask the question when all is complete: Was all done that needed to be done?
  • A good architect must be optimistic. A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of a cultivated, enriched heart.
  • An architect should be organized, creative, and resourceful.
  • An architect is a person who should be able to handle many co-related jobs simultaneously. Who should have knowledge of geography, history, sociology, and psychology. And capabilities of learning about new building materials in the market, learning about everything, in addition to thinking and designing.

Source: Jean Nouvel 2008 Laureate Acceptance Speech at http://www.pritzkerprize.com/sites/default/files/file_fields/field_files_inline/2008_Acceptance_Speech_0.pdf [accessed October 30, 2015]