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Take a look around you, and you will see the work of architects. Architects are involved in the design, planning, and construction of every type of building—from retail stores to office buildings to residential homes. 

But if you’re interested in becoming an architect, you probably have some questions: What does an architect do? How much does an architect make? What certifications and degrees are required to become an architect? 

To determine if architectural design is the right career path for you, use the guide below to learn more about how to become an architect, including education requirements, potential career trajectories, architecture salary ranges, and more.  

What Is an Architect and What Do They Do? 

You might think that the answer to this question is simple: Architects design buildings. And that’s essentially what you’ll find if you look up architecture in the dictionary—it’s defined as the art or practice of planning, designing, and constructing buildings and other structures.   

But there’s more to it. On a grand scheme, architects can work in a wide range of different capacities, such as:

  • Creating plans for commercial buildings, from skyscrapers to supermarkets
  • Developing plans for residential projects
  • Assisting with renovation or restoration projects, like converting a garage or attic to a livable space

However, beyond developing the physical appearance of a structure, architects must also make sure the building is functional and safe. 

building painting
With a digital architectural collage, you can communicate your overall vision for a building. 

On a tactical level, what does an architect do on a daily basis? Architects perform a wide range of responsibilities, including:

  • Using computer-aided design (CAD) software to create plans and designs 
  • Researching building and safety regulations 
  • Developing cost estimates
  • Choosing materials
  • Meeting with clients to discuss needs and plans
  • Filing permit applications
  • Visiting construction sites to assess project progress 

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How to Become an Architect 

Becoming an architect requires a combination of formal education, on-site training, and licensure. But exactly how long does it take to become an architect? Depending on your path, it generally takes about eight years. Here’s how it breaks down: 

Education 

There are a few different paths you can take when it comes to formal education. If you are just entering college, you may pursue a five-year Bachelor of Architecture program. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you can instead pursue a two- to four-year Master of Architecture program. (The length of this program typically depends on whether you received an undergraduate degree in architecture or if you pursued an unrelated field.) 

For either option, make sure to verify that the program is accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board. You may find that some colleges and universities offer Bachelor of Arts programs in architecture, but they generally aren’t accredited. 

Training

Beyond obtaining an architecture degree, aspiring architects are typically required to complete a three-year paid internship, which is often completed through the Architectural Experience Program. You may be able to complete a part of this internship while still in school. 

Certification 

The final step in becoming a licensed architect is to complete the six-part Architect Registration Examination. This exam assesses your architecture knowledge and skills, and you must pass all six divisions to earn a license. Once you are licensed, most states require continuing education to maintain your certification. 

modern house design
Conceptual architecture design of a modern house. 

What Is the Career Path of an Architect? 

Many rising architects find internships through the Architecture Experience Program, and then transition into a full-time junior architect position within that same firm. You can expect to move up within a firm to positions including architect/designer, senior architect/designer, project manager, department head, and finally, principal or partner. 

Some architects decide to eventually leave established firms to open their own architecture practices. However, keep in mind that becoming the chief architect of your own firm requires skills beyond architectural design—like sales, marketing, and client relations. 

Architect Salary: How Much Does an Architect Make? 

According to Salary.com, U.S. architects generally make between about $75,000 and $94,000 per year. Glassdoor reports the average architect salary in the U.S. is just over $89,000 per year. 

However, that can vary based on your location and experience. Based on information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Investopedia reports that New York, Washington, D.C., and Georgia offer the highest annual mean wages for architects—all over $100,000 per year. 

Where to Find Architect Jobs 

Like most career fields, networking is a key way to find architect jobs. Many rising architects find jobs through the contacts they make in school, during internships, and through other professional networking opportunities. 

However, for a more comprehensive list of job openings, check out the American Institute of Architects Career Center and Archinect, where you can search for architecture-specific jobs, as well as upload your resume for employers to search and review. 

If you have an eye for design and a mind for technical details, it’s worth exploring a career in architectural design. The road to becoming an architect isn’t quick or easy, but it is a fulfilling career in an exciting and dynamic industry. 

Share Your Architectural Vision 

Architecture Digital Collage: Communicating Architecture in a Compelling Way