Career Opportunities After Architecture School

What Can I Do With a Major in Architecture?

Close up of mixed race young architect sitting in a 3D printer office and watching 3D printings
The architecture major has many career opportunities, including 3D printing. Photo by Izabela Habur/E+/Getty Images

Did you know that you can study architecture and NOT become an architect? It's true. Most schools of architecture have "tracks" of study that lead to a professional OR a non-professional degree. If you have a pre-professional or nonprofessional degree (e.g., a BS or BA in Architectural Studies or Environmental Design), you'll need to take extra courses before you can even apply to become a licensed architect.

If you want to become registered and call yourself an architect, you'll want to earn a professional degree, like a B.Arch, M.Arch, or D.Arch.

Some people know when they're ten-years-old just what they want to be when they grow up. Other people say that there's too much emphasis on "career paths." How could you possibly know at age 20 what you want to be doing at age 50? Nevertheless, you have to major in something when you go to college, and you chose architecture. What's next? What can you do with a major in architecture?

As outlined in 4 Steps to a Life in Architecture, most graduates from professional programs do go on to an "internship," and many of those "entry-level architects" pursue lecensure to become a Registered Architect (RA). But then what? Diverse opportunities exist within large architectural firms. Although the face of the business is often the flashy marketing of designs, you can practice architecture even if you're very quiet and shy.

Many men and women architects work for years out of the spotlight and behind the scenes. More common, however, are the professionals who just can't continue to abide by the low pay often associated with novice positions.

Choosing the Nontraditional Path:

Grace H. Kim, AIA, devotes an entire chapter to this topic in her book The Survival Guide to Architectural Internship and Career Development.

It's her belief that an education in architecture gives you the skills to pursue careers peripheral to the traditional practice of architecture. "Architecture provides ample opportunities for creative problem solving," she writes, "a skill that is incredibly helpful in a variety of professions." Kim's first genuine architecture job was in the Chicago office of one of the largest firms in the world—Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). "I was working in their applications support group, which is basically their computer group," she told AIArchitect, "doing something that I didn’t think I would ever be doing: teaching architects how to use computer programs." Kim is now part of the much smaller Schemata Workshop in Seattle, Washington. Plus, she's a writer.

Nontraditional and Traditional Careers:

Architecture is an art and a science that involves many talents and skills. Students who study architecture in college may go on to become licensed architects, or they can apply their learning to a related profession. Career paths include:

  • Building Researcher
  • CAD Manager
  • Carpenter
  • Cartographer
  • Civil Engineer
  • Civil Service (e.g., Architect of the Capitol)
  • Construction Project Manager
  • Draftsperson
  • Engineering Technician Career Information
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Fashion Designer
  • Furniture Designer
  • Historic Preservationist
  • Home Designer
  • Illustrator
  • Industrial Designer
  • Interior Designer or Interior Decorator
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Journalist
  • Landscape Architect
  • LEED Specialist Contractor
  • Lighting Designer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Naval Architect
  • Old-House Renovator
  • Production Designer
  • Real Estate Appraiser
  • Set Designer
  • Surveyor
  • Teacher / Professor
  • Urban Planner or Regional Planner
  • Virtual Reality Specialist

Maverick Architects:

Historically, the architecture that becomes known (or famous) is designed by those who are slightly rebellious. How audacious was Frank Gehry when he remodeled his house?

Frank Lloyd Wright's first Prairie House? The radical methods of Michelangelo? The parametric designs of Zaha Hadid?

Many people become successful for being the "outliers" of architecture. For some people, the study of architecture is a stepping stone to something else—perhaps it's a TED talk or a book deal, or both. Urbanist Jeff Speck has talked (and written) about walkable cities. Cameron Sincllair talks (and writes) about public design. Marc Kushner talks (and writes) about future architecture. The soapboxes of architecture are many—sustainability, technology-driven design, green design, accessibility, how architecture can fix global warming—all are important and deserve dynamic communicators to lead the way.

Dr. Lee Waldrep reminds us that "your architectural education is excellent preparation for many sorts of jobs." It's interesting to confirm this by taking a look at the website Architects of Other Things. The novelist Thomas Hardy, artist M. C. Escher, and the actor Jimmy Stewart, among many other, are said to have studied architecture. "Nontraditional career paths tap into the creative thinking and problem-solving skills you develop during your architectural education," says Waldrep. "In fact, the career possibilities for people with an architectural education are limitless."

Or limited only by your own imagination, which got you into architecture in the first place.

Learn More:

  • Become an Architect Q&A
  • Becoming an Architect, books by Dr. Lee Waldrep in the Wiley series
    Buy on Amazon
  • Beginner's Guide: How to Become an Architect by Ryan Hansanuwat, RA, NCARB
    Buy on Amazon
  • The Survival Guide to Architectural Internship and Career Development by Grace H. Kim, Wiley, 2006
    Buy on Amazon
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, 2008
    Buy on Amazon

Sources: The Survival Guide to Architectural Internship and Career Development by Grace H. Kim, Wiley, 2006, p. 179; Becoming an Architect by Lee W. Waldrep, Wiley, 2006, p. 230; Face of the AIA, AIArchitect, November 3, 2006 [accessed May 7, 2016]; U.S. Requirements for Certification and Difference Between NAAB-Accredited and Non-Accredited Programs on the NCARB website [accessed March 4, 2017]