Becoming an Architect: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of becoming an architect? Find out real job descriptions, educational and licensure requirements and salary information to see if this career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Architect

An architect is responsible for the design of buildings, including houses, high-rises, hotels, churches, schools and many other types of structures. Weigh some of the pros and cons of the career to determine whether or not you should become an architect.

Pros of Becoming an Architect
Higher-than-average expected job growth (17% from 2012-2022)*
High earning potential (about $74,520 median annual wage as of 2014 for all architects except landscape and naval)*
Work with a variety of professionals (clients, engineers, construction workers)*
Large demand for architects who build using sustainable practices and procedures*

Cons of Becoming an Architect
Despite high job prospects, there will be keen competition for jobs*
Requires highly specialized education and licensure*
Must complete 3-year internship before becoming licensed*
Continuing education is often required to maintain licensure*
Long hours*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As an entry-level architect, you may begin your career by designing structures using blueprints and computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) software under the supervision of other architects. After gaining experience and proving your skills, you may advance to more complex assignments or manage entire projects. You work with the client to determine exact requirements and then develop a construction plan that best suits the client's needs and adheres to building codes and regulations. You may also be responsible for coordinating with various professionals, including construction contractors, engineers and interior decorators, in order to meet deadlines and complete large assignments.

Most architects work in architectural firms; however, the BLS reports that nearly 1/4 of these professionals were self-employed in 2010. Many work more than 50 hours each week, including nights and weekends, in order to meet deadlines. While you'll spend most of your time in an office, you'll also visit construction sites to ensure projects are running smoothly.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

As of 2014, the median annual salary of architects was more than $74,520, according to the BLS. The lowest-paid workers earned about $44,940 or less per year, while the highest-paid earned more than $121,910 per year. The career's 17% projected employment growth between 2012 and 2022 is an effect of the need to house the growing population. Many new jobs will be available in the Sunbelt states, which continue to have rising populations. Additionally, there's an increasing need for architects familiar with green design, which stresses efficiency and environmental-conscious design. Competition, however, will continue to be high due to the large number of architectural students set to graduate.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Licensure

Architects must graduate from a professional program and obtain licensure, according to the BLS. Many architects usually complete a professional 5-year Bachelor of Architecture program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, though some states allow you to graduate from an unaccredited program. In an accredited program, you can expect to take courses like building technology, structural systems and concepts, environmental systems and architectural drafting. If you have a non-professional architecture degree or a bachelor's degree in another subject, you can consider a professional master's degree in architecture.

After earning your professional degree, you must obtain licensure, since all states require architects to be licensed. The licensing process includes passage of the Architect Registration Examination and completion of an internship. This training generally lasts three years and allows you to gain hands-on drafting and design experience under the supervision of a licensed architect. In order to remain licensed, architects typically need to complete continuing education through college courses, workshops and conferences.

Top Skills for Architects

Architects are often driven by a passion for structural design. For this career, you'll need a combination of creativity and technical skills in order to design buildings that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The ability to analyze and think critically about design concepts is also important, as is the ability to make decisions and provide solutions for unexpected issues in the construction process.

What Do Employers Look For?

Licensure, education and experience are the main qualifications employers seek. Many also favor architects who are familiar with the software used by their companies. Peruse these real job postings found in April 2012 for a better idea of what employers look for in candidates:

  • An architectural firm in Texas is looking for a licensed architect with at least five years of experience as well as proficiency in Revit Architecture software. The ideal candidate will have solid customer service and organizational skills along with the abilities to multitask and meet strict deadlines.
  • A design firm in California is seeking a creative and passionate architect to lead educational projects nationwide. Strong written and verbal communication skills as well as convincing presentation abilities are important.
  • A medical-planning architectural firm in Alabama needs a licensed architect with at least ten years of experience in healthcare building design. The employer prefers applicants with knowledge of AutoCAD and Revit software.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Get Certified

In order to improve job prospects and demonstrate skills to potential employers, some architects seek voluntary certification from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). In fact, many states require NCARB certification for reciprocity of licensure among other states, and the BLS reports that an increasing number of architects hold NCARB certification - approximately 33% in 2011. To be eligible, you must be a licensed architect who has completed an accredited architectural degree program and internship.

Advance Your Education

You may wish to gain further expertise in the field by continuing your formal education into graduate school. The BLS reports that a post-professional degree can benefit architects who want to specialize or pursue careers in research and academia. A Master of Architecture program can take as little as one year to complete if you have your Bachelor of Architecture degree or up to five years. These programs focus on research and theory in design, including courses in architecture and society, integrative design practices, architectural analysis and professional practice. You might also be required to complete an independent design project.

Alternative Career Paths

Graphic Designer

If completion of a 5-year degree and 3-year internship seems daunting, you may choose to pursue a similar career in graphic design. A graphic designer usually holds a 4-year degree in graphic design or a related field. Like architects, these professionals pay meticulous attention to detail and use computer software in order to complete aesthetic designs for clients. As of 2011, the median annual salary of graphic designers was about $44,000. From 2010 to 2020, the job outlook for this career was predicted to be as fast as average at 13%.

Interior Designer

If you're interested in designing and planning but would rather focus on beautifying the inside of buildings rather than the structures themselves, you might consider a career as an interior designer. These professionals have a bachelor's degree and training in interior design, and some states require licensure. Their job outlook was also expected to be about average, with an increase of 19% between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, interior designers earned a median annual salary of nearly $48,000.

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