Career Change to Architecture

Sep 29 '13 5 Last Comment
Sep 29, 13 10:28 pm

Hello! I need some help and advice. I'm 22 years old, I have a bachelor's degree in business management and I'm thinking of doing a career change to architecture. I took business management because it was the safe path but I can see that I'm not happy with it, and now I want to pursue something I know I will be truly happy with, and that's architecture. What would be my path? Is it better to take a bachelor's degree all over again, or proceed to a masters degree? How many years would it take me to become a licensed architect?

Thank you!


Sep 29, 13 10:57 pm

You're talking to the right jerk I on here.  My candor rattles people's feathers sometimes.

I traveled this path and from that same academic field.  Do not take another bachelor's degree.  I don't know if you even could at some schools, and if you could, it would have to be a B.Arch. which is sequenced over 5 years.  This means that, if they granted you credit for your general ed and some electives, you would sit around a campus for 5 years and rarely, if ever, see full-time enrollment in an academic term.

For this path, and for holders of other degrees, there is the accredited M.Arch. which takes 3+ years.  There is no fussing over general education, because it's graduate work.  Also, 3 years could mean 3 years, 3 years + preceding summer, 3 years + inserted summer, 3.5 years, and, in a few rare instances, 4 years.  It depends on the school.  Make sure the program is NAAB accredited.  You will need to have had a course in calculus, 1 year of physics (or at some schools just through mechanics), and a freehand drawing course, as a minimum.  Those are the prerequisites.  Also, in addition to standard grad school items (GPA, GRE, essay, and recommendations), you will need a portfolio displaying an aptitude for design.

So, I have a couple of questions.  Which business discipline/concentration are you coming from?  Did you always want to be an architect prior to your education and are you, or were you always, able to draw?  I totally agree that a business major is not all it's cracked up to be and can lead to some horrendously boring jobs.  Three tips on architecture schools and architecture:  1) pick a school that is comprehensive and not skewed toward design if coming from a business degree because it will be a better fit and they are more likely to admit you, 2) there will be some really weird people in a-school who have soapboxes or statements they need to make which will make it funny, interesting, and even aggravating, whereas weird people in b-schools were sort of uncommon and stood out, and 3) the work world in architecture is actually interesting, but if you've sampled a corporate setting, you will find that there is a drop in professionalism, relatively speaking, that is the price to be paid, so the longer you hold off on switching to architecture, or to something else, the more of a jolt it will be.

Surprisingly, the most important ingredient is the portfolio.  I say that because if the portfolio shows good spatial ability and skillful conveyance of concepts, the goofy schools will pick someone with a BFA and abstract oil paintings who can blow smoke up their ass more so than a business, econ, or science major whose stuff is more staid, but nevertheless very good and can definitely trained to be an architect.  Thus, you should be starting to work on your portfolio as soon as possible.

Also, when that time comes, visit the schools to the extent that you can.  Coming from such a degree, you will have to apply to more schools rather than less.  Hope this helps some.

Sep 29, 13 11:06 pm

Oh yeah, how long to license.  After completing your degree, and if you went to work right away, I would count on about 5 years to finish the IDP internship, and another year to complete all the testing and paperwork if the internship is required before being admitted to the test.  In some states, taking the exam is available sooner.  I took it in a jurisdiction that used the flat 3 year period and I took and passed the test right around the 3 year mark, so I saw a license about 4 or so years after starting work under that scenario.  I recommend taking the test sooner than later if in a state that allows that, and getting it out of the way.

Sep 29, 13 11:16 pm


First off, I would suggest you try and understand the consequences of switching from a business management field to something such as architecture. Long story short, the money is barely comparable. Your ceiling, employability, job security, starting salary, etc, everything will favor you if you continue to pursue business.

Having said that, if you are truly OK with giving up this part of the deal, and you find that your heart lies in design, construction, drawing, modeling, what have you - then your best bet is to take some time to assemble a portfolio of design work (take some community college courses on architecture, or try and find the will to do some personal design work) and you should be on your way to applying to a 3-3.5 year Master's program soon after. A Master's (MArch I) in Architecture does not require an architecture undergrad, at least the vast majority of state schools do not. Also, a Master's degree will qualify you for a license later on, which is why a lot of undergraduate architectures continue their education in grad school, so you already got over that headache.

The vast majority of state schools that offer a Master's in Architecture will happily accept students without a design background. In other words, your case is very common, and a good portion of every Master's class consists of students who came from different backgrounds (sometimes graphic designers, photographers, engineers, but sometimes also wildly different fields so nothing to worry about). Your only obstacle here is to prove in your application that you infact do want to be an architect, and you should show that by having interesting design projects in your portfolio and by writing a solid essay.

As far as years to become licensed, that is a harder question to answer. Typically, your Master's program will be full-time, so you will not be able to Intern (outside of summer interships) to collect your IDP hours until you graduate. The IDP program is what you have to go through before taking your license exams. I think its up to about 5000 hours right now, and with a good job, you'll be able to collect that in most likely 3.5 years, considering you do find a job straight out of school and keep it (its hard nowadays, and there is no telling if it will get better or worse in the future). After that, you need to complete your AREs, the Architecture Registration Exams, which are a series of exams that are, well, very tough and require much study. Only after that will you receive your license, and keep in mind that will be just for the state that you take your exam on.

I think that, if you intend to pursue architecture from this day forward and enroll in a school by next Fall (14'), you are looking at ~3.5 + 3.5 = 7 years until you are licensed, in an average case scenario. You'll be 29, which I bet is actually a typical age for that.

Hope that helps.

Edit: I typed this before I saw observant's comment. He probably knows more than I do, as I have yet to get licensed.

Sep 29, 13 11:24 pm


That should have pretty much all the formal information on what it takes. Bookmark it.

Sep 29, 13 11:32 pm

All good points, Roshi.

The nomenclature for M.Archs. has morphed some.  They were often referred to M.Arch. and something having to do with the number 3.  Now, M.Arch I is the prevailing naming convention, it seems.

Since IDP is categorical, some categories are elusive and harder to rack up hours in.  The employer is not under any obligation to assign work so a person can complete IDP categories.  That's why I stretched it to 5.

Yes, that website is good.  Also, the OP should keep in mind that websites which globally address schools will not make value judgments about schools other than indicating that they are accredited.  Getting into the schools' personalities and curricular differences requires speaking to practitioners, graduates, and current students.

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