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
Today's Specialties in Architecture Include 3D Printing. Izabela Habur/Getty Images

When your university major is architecture, you have studied history, science, art, mathematics, communication, business, and project management. Any respected architecture school will give you a good, well-rounded education. But did you know that you can study architecture and NOT become an architect? It's true. It's one of the things any aspiring architect should know.

Most schools of architecture have "tracks" of study that lead to a professional OR a nonprofessional 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?

When considering the steps involved for 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? Every successful business supports a variety of tasks, from marketing to areas of specialization. In a small firm, you'll have the opportunity to do everything. In a large firm, you'll be hired to do a task within a team.

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 nontraditional careers in her book The Survival Guide to Architectural Internship and Career Development (2006). 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.

Even in a two- or three-person professional office, diversification of skills will make for a successful business. An architect-writer may also be a teacher who keeps the firm up-to-date with design trends and the research on new construction materials. And architect-administrator will keep accurate business records, including contracts. This system is nothing new — the 19th century Chicago firm of Adler and Sullivan is said to have adopted this approach of specialization, with Adler doing the engineering and business and Sullivan designing and writing.

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.

Maverick Architects

Historically, the architecture that becomes known (or famous) is designed by someone who is slightly rebellious. How audacious was Frank Gehry when he remodeled his house? Frank Lloyd Wright's first Prairie House was hated because it looked so out of place. The radical methods of Michelangelo were known throughout Renaissance Italy just as the parametric designs of Zaha Hadid astonished the 21st century.

Many people become successful for being what author Malcolm Gladwell might call 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. Architect Neri Oxman invented material ecology, a biologically informed design approach. The soapboxes of architecture are many — sustainability, technology-driven design, green design, accessibility, how architecture can fix global warming. Every special interest is important and deserves dynamic communicators to lead the way.

Dr. Lee Waldrep reminds us that "your architectural education is excellent preparation for many sorts of jobs." 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."

If you started to become an architect in high school, your future is limited only by your own imagination, which got you into architecture in the first place.

Summary: Nontraditional and Traditional Careers

  • Advertising Designer
  • Architect
  • Architectural Engineer
  • Architectural Historian
  • Architectural Model Maker
  • Art Director
  • Building Contractor
  • Building Designer
  • Building Inspector
  • Building Researcher
  • CAD Manager
  • Carpenter
  • Cartographer
  • Civil Engineer
  • Civil Servant (e.g., Architect of the Capitol)
  • Construction Project Manager
  • Crowdsourcer
  • Draftsperson
  • Engineering Technician
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Fashion Designer
  • Furniture Designer
  • Historic Preservationist
  • Home Designer
  • Illustrator
  • Industrial Designer
  • Interior Designer or Interior Decorator
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Inventor
  • Journalist and Writer
  • Landscape Architect
  • Lawyer
  • LEED Specialist
  • Lighting Designer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Naval Architect
  • Old-House Renovator
  • Product Designer
  • Production Designer
  • Real Estate Appraiser
  • Set Designer
  • Surveyor
  • Teacher / Professor
  • Urban Planner or Regional Planner
  • Virtual Reality Specialist

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
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, 2008
  • 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]