1. What is the difference between a B. Arch and an M. Arch?
The professional degrees accredited by NAAB or CACB have essentially the same professional content requirements for a B. Arch, M. Arch, or a D. Arch. General education courses are expected in all three degree types. The definition of graduate level study is made by the institution.
2. Can I expect a higher salary with an M. Arch.?
In general, salaries in architecture firms are not calibrated by degree types, but by level of experience, personal skill-sets, and quality of work demonstrated by a review of the portfolio. Grade transcripts are rarely requested. Success in practice is a combination of many factors, and the professional degree type alone does not affect salary levels, like it might in other fields. However, lack of a professional degree can negatively impact long-term success in licensure issues.
3. Can I get a job with a pre-professional architecture degree (in a 4+2 type of program)?
Yes, but you likely will not be able to get a license to practice independently. Having completed the first part of a 4+2 program is often reasonable preparation for an entry-level job in a firm. However, long-term success in architectural practice may be limited by not having a professional degree (NAAB or CACB), which is required by most states for a license. Furthermore, NCARB standards for reciprocity across state borders require a NAAB degree.
4. Would it be a good idea to attend a community college for two years and finish up at an NAAB program?
Some community colleges have a formal “articulation agreement” with a specific NAAB program that provides a cost-effective path to a professional degree. However, it is not wise to simply assume that community college courses will meet professional course requirements and give you advance standing in any NAAB program. While many professional programs may accept individual technical courses from a community college, it is quite common to place the transfer student in the first year of a 4- or 5-year design sequence. If you do attend community college, maintain good records including all course materials and your assignments. (See Advice To Transfer Students)
5. How can I put together a portfolio if I have never had any architecture courses?
Some undergraduate programs and most graduate programs will require a portfolio. The purpose of this is to demonstrate your potential for what you will learn in an architecture program. Indications of visual thinking and design ability can be demonstrated in many ways: drawings, artwork, sculpture, things you’ve made or built, graphic design, and photography. Architecture projects are not typically expected in this kind of portfolio. In general, CAD drawings alone are discouraged in a portfolio. Unless executed as part of design course, CAD is generally considered a technical skill, not necessarily a demonstration of visual thinking or design. Programs that require a portfolio typically give more specific advice about what to include.
6. How do I know if a program is professionally accredited?
For the current list of accredited programs and their status, check the NAAB or CACB websites. Most universities are “accredited” by different entities, but you want to look for a “professionally accredited” program in architecture.
7. I am enrolled in “architecture technology” at a large university that is accredited. I thought it was an architecture program, but I just discovered that it is not “professionally” accredited by NAAB. What should I do?
Depending on your career goals and depending on how many years you have been in school, you may consider transferring to a NAAB program, or you may consider graduating and applying to a NAAB 3-year graduate program. You may receive advance standing in the program. (See Advice to Transfer Students above)
The value of an architecture technology program (and similar affiliated types of majors) depends on your career goals. These programs give a broad view of the construction industry, and these degrees prepare graduates for a broad range of job opportunities, including entry level at an architecture firm. This may be a good preparation for graduate study in architecture.
If you want to practice architecture as a career, long-term success in architectural practice may be limited by not having a NAAB degree, which is required by most states for a license. Furthermore, NCARB standards for reciprocity across state borders require a NAAB degree.
8. If I am not sure about committing to an architecture career, what advice would you give?
Everyone is different, so you may consider different options. There is no single best path. Because there are many diverse paths to becoming an architect, it is important to understand the differences and select the course of action that meets your particular circumstances.
Most 5-year programs, and some 4+2 programs, start immediately with design courses in the freshman year. In this environment you will receive an immediate exposure to design and architecture so that you can understand your commitment early.
Most 4+2 programs and some 5-year programs have a freshman year devoted to general studies, and introduce architecture courses in the 2nd year. This may be useful for students who want a more general university experience before committing to architecture.
You may consider a non-professional bachelor’s degree in any major, or in a major related to architecture such as urban studies, engineering, fine arts, business, or architectural technology. After graduation, if you are still interested in architecture, you could enter a 3-year M. Arch. program designed for graduate students with minimal background in architecture. This may also be a good path for collegiate scholar-athletes who may not have the time for both sports and professional undergraduate degree requirements.
Finally, someone considering architecture as a career should talk to and visit as many architects as possible.
9. What else can an architecture degree prepare me for?
Not all students who start in an architecture program will finish the program, and not all graduates of architecture programs go on to get a license and practice architecture.
Most of these people who do not use their architectural education in traditional architectural practice still appreciate the “problem solving” abilities they gained from their architectural education. Through the challenges in the design studio, students learn to analyze problems and to creatively develop alternative solutions leading to a final design.
The problem-solving ability of design thinking is applicable to many fields, not just architecture. Individuals education in architecture will be well prepared for many careers.
Questions You Should Ask Schools
The following are basic questions and do not fully address the quality of the education offered at any institution. Try to visit the schools you are interested in, including a visit to the architectural studios and facilities. After reviewing all the available materials you should formulate your own questions based on your personal aspirations and requirements.
- Is the program professionally accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) or the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB)?
- If not, what is the school’s accreditation status (e.g., candidate status, not seeking accreditation)? Can I be reasonably assured that the school will be accredited during the time I am in school?
2. Degree Options
- Is the first degree that I receive an accredited professional degree that will fulfill the educational requirement to become a registered architect?
- If I receive a degree as an architecture major, will it allow me to apply to the professional architectural degree program at this school or other schools?
- Is the pre-professional degree one that will allow me to proceed to professional or graduate design programs in other disciplines such as landscape architecture, urban design, or historic preservation?
- How many years will this pre-professional or post professional degree normally require?
- If I decide not to go on with the professional program or the graduate professional degree program, what are my career alternatives with a pre-professional degree?
3. Curriculum Options
- How is the first year handled? What kind of studio facilities can I expect?
- Are there special offerings at this school that allow me to focus on a particular interest, such as design, computers, energy, sustainability, preservation?
- Are there special offerings at this school that allow me to take advantage of its geographic location?
- Are there enrichment opportunities such as foreign or off-campus study?
- Are there special lab facilities or an outstanding library that would help with my special interests?
- Are scholarships available? Are they academic or need-based?
- What are the specific interests and notable accomplishments of the faculty?
- What is the average number of students in the design studios and lecture classes?
- Who will teach my classes? Full-time faculty? Part-time? Graduate students?
- What are the advantages of this school’s teaching system?
- What are recent graduates of the program doing?
Questions You Should Ask Yourself
After all of this discussion on how to narrow the choices to a few schools that are best for you, you are probably still asking, “Yes, but which are the best schools?” There really is no way to say which are the best schools. Best for what? For what you can afford? For the location you desire? For the size of institution you wish to attend? For the special interest on which you wish to focus? In general, “best” should mean best for you.
Most schools are excellent in their chosen areas of emphasis, but no school is excellent in all aspects of what you ought to learn. Because of the diverse nature of architecture programs and the varied interests, aptitudes, and objectives of students, it is impossible to rank architecture schools. While some program aspects can be measured for example, number of library books, student–faculty ratio, studio space per students—there is no method of assessing accurately the quality of instruction from one program to another or quantifying different points of view.
Probably the most important factor in any educational endeavor is the student’s motivation. Most architectural employers are far more interested in what you have accomplished and can do as a person than in your degree.
While you should seek as much information and as many opinions as possible, with a conscientious effort you will probably be in as good a position as anyone to make decisions regarding your own education and career. Besides, having faith in one’s own ability to make non-quantifiable judgments is an ideal starting point for your future education.