Design, Photography, & Fashion

How to Become an Architect in 3 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Apr 9, 2019 • 3 min read

Architects design buildings, but their job description involves responsibility for much more than just the artistic elements of design.


What Skills Do Architects Need?

To become an architect, you will need to achieve a mastery of design and aesthetic theory, along with other specialty skills.

  • Engineering knowledge. This includes a deep knowledge of structural engineering, physics, plumbing, electrical systems, and all the elements of the construction process.
  • Drawing skills. You will need to know how to create drawings, renderings, and plans, which means you must become skilled at drafting by hand, utilizing computer-aided design, and building models.
  • Strong communication skills. You will need strong communication skills to engage with clients and the ability to create presentations that convey your vision.

What Software Do Architects Use?

In films and TV shows, architects are usually depicted hunched over drafting tables with T-squares and triangles. While hand-drawing still plays an important role in the early stages of design, the most important design documents are now produced using Computer-Aided Design programs. The most integral is Building Information Management (BIM) software, which enables the architect to create a complete 3D model of a building, from which individual sections may be broken out or converted to 2D plans for printing.

How Do I Become an Architect? Step-by-Step Guide

In most parts of the world, you will need a license to work as an architect. In the U.S., each state has its own licensing requirements, but there are three common components:

1. Education

Most states require either a Bachelor of Architecture or Master of Architecture degree from one of the 123 institutions accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

  • Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) — This professional bachelor’s degree usually takes 5 years to complete. You’ll study design and aesthetic theory and take practical classes on subjects like plumbing, construction, and mechanical and electrical systems. The core of the curriculum is the studio class, in which you’ll put the concepts you’re learning into practice by creating your own designs, subject to rigorous critique from your instructors and fellow students.
  • Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) — This professional master’s degree usually takes 3 to 3.5 years to complete, following a 4-year undergraduate education. However, many students pursue an M.Arch. after earning a pre-professional degree (such as a Bachelor of Science in Architecture, B.S.Arch, or a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies, B.A.Arch), in which case the M.Arch. can be earned in just 2 years. The M.Arch. course of study is similar to that of B.Arch., with the additional requirement that you must usually complete a thesis or final project to graduate. Though a Master of Architecture degree takes more total years to earn, you might prefer the M.Arch. because you want the freedom to explore other subjects during your undergraduate years, or you may have already completed an undergraduate degree by the time you decide you’d like a career as an architect. Additionally, different architecture graduate programs have different areas of focus, so an M.Arch. degree might better prepare you for a specific architectural speciality. Finally, an M.Arch. degree will qualify you to teach at most colleges and universities, which the B.Arch. does not.

2. Experience

Many states also require you to have field experience as a licensure candidate, demonstrated by your completion of the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), a non-profit professional association that maintains standards for licensure and credentialing of architects. The AXP requires you to earn 5,600 total hours in a range of experience categories. During the AXP program, you’ll generally work under a series of supervisors, along with one mentor dedicated to your long-term growth. The program generally takes 3 years to complete, though some of it can overlap with your education, and for much of it you may be a paid employee of an architectural firm. While you’re completing the AXP, you can join the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as an associate member.

3. Examination

Finally, you’ll need to pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), a computer-based exam also administered by NCARB. The ARE will test that you have the knowledge, skills, and ability to be an architect. The exam is divided into 6 divisions, taken in separate sittings at testing centers. You must pass all 6 divisions within a 5-year period. The results of the ARE are recognized in all U.S. states and territories and most of Canada.

The NCARB issues a national certificate to qualified licensed architects, so that once you’re licensed in one state, you should be able to work in the others. Architects who have been licensed overseas may also be eligible for reciprocal licensure in the U.S.