How to become an architect: The degrees and skills you’ll need

August 23, 2022 · 9 min read · By ASU Online
Is a career in architecture for you? Learn about how to become an architect, the differences between different types of them, and the online Master of Architecture degree that can help prepare you.

What is architecture?

Architecture is the art and science of designing functional, safe and expressive buildings, structures and spaces. Architects can design anything from a suburban home to a skyscraper to an industrial facility, or even a built environment that transcends commercial and residential design. The wider field of architecture also includes urban planning of city infrastructure, plus the design of public and private landscape architecture.


What do architects do?

Architects work closely with clients to design structures and spaces that respond to the needs of the people who will use them. These can include homes, hospitals, schools, shopping malls and athletic stadiums. If you look up at a high-rise apartment building, study a map of how a bus route runs through a city grid or visit an ancient monument, you’re encountering and interacting with the work of an architect.

Architecture responds to and solves for the problems of our time. Architects often work to incorporate greener, more sustainable designs to help slow climate change, and they may even use new technologies like robotic construction to solve for labor shortages and keep costs down.


An architect's skill set

Architects typically utilize the following skills:

  • Artistic abilities.
  • Communication, negotiation and conflict resolution skills.
  • Creativity.
  • Design vision.
  • Listening skills.
  • Math skills.
  • Public speaking abilities.
  • Software expertise with drafting software like AutoCAD and Revit.
  • Teamwork skills.

Architects must be able to visualize a structure, and they need the drafting skills to produce detailed architectural drawings and maps. However, a career in architecture doesn’t only require a talent for design. The ability to create a proposal or bid and present it publicly is just as critical. Financial knowledge is also key, since architects typically develop and manage large budgets. Bringing a diverse team of stakeholders together, keeping to a timeline and resolving problems that may arise at every stage of the process are other essential aspects of the job.

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Different types of architects

Here's a rundown of several different types of architects, as well as their responsibilities, educational requirements and median salaries.

  • General architect

General architects focus on the residential design of homes or the commercial design of other types of structures. Regardless of their specialty, all architects focus on how to improve the lives of those who interact with the spaces they design, as well as how to improve the wider environment. Architects are concerned with exteriors as well as interiors, and must understand placement, light and local planning laws. In essence, they provide the technical and theoretical expertise needed to take a project from vision to reality.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a general architect is $80,180, as of 2021. The path to becoming a licensed independent architect is well-established. Professional licensure is mandatory in the United States and many other countries, with the requirements to become licensed varying by location.

In the U.S., architectural licenses are awarded by the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB). For individuals pursuing general architect certification, NCARB requires 3,740 hours of professional experience under the supervision of a licensed architect. Finally, you’ll need to achieve a passing score on the Architecture Registration Exam, a written test that assesses knowledge and skills in six divisions of architectural practice.

  • Building information modeling (BIM) manager

BIM stands for building information modeling, and though this role is standard at any major architecture firm, the job description varies widely. Typically, BIM managers oversee projects intended to improve their firm’s digital design workflows.

This can include training colleagues in computer-aided design (CAD), Revit and other 3D modeling software; troubleshooting software-related design issues; and ensuring all projects maintain a uniform standard of excellence. BIM managers are generally responsible for developing and enforcing this standard both daily and strategically.

Even though this is primarily a computer-based role, it's not solitary. BIM managers must be strong communicators to deliver effective training, and they must have the leadership skills needed to escalate problems and solutions to senior management if something requires attention. Since major firms work on many projects simultaneously, effective BIM managers are also excellent multitaskers with exemplary project management abilities.

With architecture increasingly incorporating technology-based collaboration systems, BIM manager roles are booming. The BIM market was assessed at $5.4 billion in 2020, and it's projected to double by 2026. That value will likely only increase as remote work becomes more common. BIM manager jobs typically require a bachelor's degree in architecture or engineering and around 3-4 years of experience in a BIM coordinator role.

  • Developer

Developers work closely with general architects. While the architect is responsible for directing the overall project's structure, the developer implements the work on the property's job site. Some architects also act as developers, most often working at design-build firms.

Developers collaborate closely with architects, Realtors, engineers, contractors and city officials to lead the pre-construction, construction and post-construction processes. They ensure everything is handled properly in terms of coding, zoning and structural requirements, with all necessary permits in place.

They are also responsible for interfacing with tradespeople, craftspeople and other professionals (such as interior designers) to ensure each step of a build or renovation takes place in the right order so the project stays on track.

Developers typically need a bachelor's degree in a construction-related field such as architecture, engineering or construction. Prior real estate or contractor experience is also valuable.

  • Energy modeler

If you’re interested in ecology and how architectural design can affect the environment, then becoming an energy modeler might be the right path for you. Energy modelers help clients make their homes, office buildings, transit systems and other structures and spaces more energy-efficient by offering design-based solutions. This can involve planning for new projects or working strategically to improve the energy efficiency of existing structures.

Energy modelers must be creative problem solvers to ensure each project achieves its objectives and meets state or country energy codes. Accordingly, they must remain updated on all the latest technological advancements in energy efficiency. They also need excellent STEM skills to perform audits, create models, calculate energy savings, test models and log data.

A bachelor's — and sometimes a master's — degree in engineering or architecture is needed to become an energy modeler. To secure certain energy modeler roles in the U.S., additional credentials may be required, such as Certified Energy Manager (CEM). CEM certification requires passing an exam and maintaining ongoing education requirements.

  • Facilities manager

If you've ever visited an airport, hospital or amusement park, you've benefited from the work of a facilities manager. Facilities managers ensure their organizations run smoothly from the inside out. They are responsible for coordinating all security, maintenance, testing and inspections as well as EHS (environment, health and safety) compliance efforts.

It takes a robust team of facilities professionals to keep organizations and large structures operating without technical issues, and the facilities manager supervises both those employees and outside contractors. Communication skills are a must, as is the ability to solve problems when maintenance emergencies arise.

A bachelor's degree in engineering or architecture plus three to five years of administrative or supervisory experience is typically required of professionals applying for roles in facilities management. However, a master's degree may be necessary for those applying for more senior roles in the field. The BLS projects facilities management employment is set to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030, and the median annual salary for the role is $99,290.

  • Urban and regional planner

For those who are passionate about local or regional government as well as architecture, becoming an urban or regional planner may be the best career path.

It's the responsibility of these "design diplomats" to work with government officials to design and gain approval to administer safe, practical and environmentally conscious plans and programs related to zoning, transportation, housing and utilities. Sound communication skills are required to deliver persuasive public presentations, and strong negotiation skills are needed to bring key stakeholders to the table and push projects forward.

It's up to urban and regional planners to understand how a congested city center will safely and efficiently handle thousands of people, or how constructing a major freeway might impact surrounding communities. An urban planner typically focuses on built city environments, while a regional planner is responsible for broader areas. However, both jobs involve planning for population growth, land use and bringing new life to old facilities and spaces.

Both urban and regional planner positions require a graduate degree in architecture or urban planning. Licensure requirements vary by state, but more information can be found at the American Institute of Certified Planners. In 2021, the BLS annual median salary for urban and regional planners was $78,500.


Earn your Master of Architecture degree online

If you're ready to pursue a career in any of the above architectural disciplines, consider Arizona State University's Master of Architecture online degree program as your next step. This program covers all aspects of architecture, from theory and research to practice and design.

The program is one of only five Master of Architecture online degrees in the U.S. with full accreditation from the National Architecture Accrediting Board. This means that as you study, you’ll be moving closer to achieving your licensure requirements.

Many Master of Architecture students also work for licensed architects while they attend school. By the time you graduate, you'll already have valuable experience that can give you a boost in the competitive job market and help you meet additional certification requirements.

At ASU Online, courses taught by experienced faculty can help you acquire a solid understanding of architectural history and theory. You'll also have the opportunity to gain practical skills, such as the ability to work in Revit and Rhino. 

Get the details on ASU Online’s Master of Architecture program.

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