How To Make A Career Switch Into Architecture

I am often asked how someone can get into architecture that has been working in a different field.

While everyone's situation is unique there are several steps to make a career transition into architecture.

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1. Know what you want

If you are thinking about getting into architecture, do your research. Beyond the standard Google search, spend time actually meeting working architects and visit offices to speak with the staff. There are many different specializations within the architecture profession so there may be a particular subject that peaks your interest. 

Really think about why you want to become an architect. Do you like designing? Did you see an architect on TV? Do you enjoy drawing? Depending on your career path and what architecture firm(s) you work for it may be vastly different than your initial impressions. This is why researching the profession extensively is the key to seeing if this is what you truly want.

2. Picking a university

There are many lists out there when it comes to school rankings, take them with a grain of salt. The important factor is that the school is accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB).

Every U.S. state has at least one NAAB Accredited school, if budget is a concern an in-state school is an excellent option. Picking an architecture program is a major investment of time and money (both for tuition and potential return on your investment.)

Deciding which university you attend should be made after you have collected detailed  information on your target list. Speak to the professors, alumni and current students.

Where do students find work? How many are employed in the architecture field after five or ten years? Do the former students feel they got a good return on their investment?

3. An Architecture degree is NOT necessarily required

Depending on your previous work experience, attending architecture school may not be a perquisite for becoming an architect.

If you don't think becoming a successful architect is possible without traditional schooling, many world-renowned architects were self taught including Frank Lloyd Wright and Tadao Ando.

Here is a list of notable self- taught architects.

NCARB also offers options beyond the "standard path" to becoming an architect. For example their Broadly Experienced Architect Program  allows "architects who do not hold a professional architecture degree from a NAAB-accredited program are eligible to apply for an NCARB Certificate"

Also several states allow you to obtain an architecture license through work experience in lieu of an accredited degree.  However, this is constantly evolving so check with your state specific architecture board.

Here is the list of states that currently allow licensure without a degree:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
    EDIT: As of January 1st, 2016 a degree in Illinois is required. "Pursuant to the change in the Act Illinois will require a professional degree for licensure."
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

4. Familiarize yourself with the process

Becoming an architect with no prior training or experience is not impossible but it is a long process. Familiarize yourself with the primary architecture organization in the U.S., the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). The traditional path to becoming a licensed architect can be divided into four steps:

1. NAAB architecture degree

2. Intern Development Program

3. ARE Exams

4. Obtain state specific architecture license

5. Get an internship

The internship can be full time or part time depending on your financial situation or time available. My first internship was working after regular hours for a few hours and using someone else's computer so I wasn't an additional cost for the office.

For more information check out my recent article: 5 Tips On How To Get An Architecture Internship.

Becoming an architect is certainly a major undertaking, but if you are willing to put in the time and hard work it is a very rewarding career path.

For further reading on applications, portfolios, interview preparation and more see The Complete Package.

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

How To Stay Motivated With The Architecture Job Search

The Top 5 Architecture Interview Questions

Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.