50 something student


I have returned to college  after raising a family.  After two years at my local community college I have been accepted  by two programs, both out of state, one ok public university and one elite private one.  The difference in price is about $30k.  I would not think twice about  taking out loans if I was sure that a firm would take a chance on a 60 year old new graduate.  This is what I want to do when I grow up.  What is the culture like in firms for older workers?

May 25, 18 11:19 pm

A lot of firms have prejudice about the software skills of older employees (they think they aren't as developed as that of younger employees) and most importantly how EFFICIENTLY you can design/draft CORRECTLY... time is money... 

May 25, 18 11:58 pm

Also, are you cool with taking direction from someone half your age?

May 25, 18 11:59 pm

Follow your dreams. Go to the elite private college.

Sure your age may be a negative for some firms but in the end it's all about your capabilities. If you work hard and are reliable I see no reason why most firms wouldn't take a chance on you, in fact, I'd say it's rather commendable.

However, make sure that this is what you want to do.

May 26, 18 3:49 am

^  Crissy, in some ways, that may have been a more humane way.

May 26, 18 2:49 pm

I've known firms to hire older career-switchers.  Generalizing, they tend to be more dependable, less attitudey, and more likely to stay in one job longer than their millenial counterparts.  The issues I've seen have had less to do with software and more to do with stamina and fitness.  At this point does it seem like you're headed toward being the type of 60 year old who will be able to climb onto roofs and crawl around in fire-damaged crawlspaces to do existing conditions dimensions and photos? Will you be ok with the occasional 90-hour workweek?  And will you be able to keep that up for at least a few years? And can you convince the firms that you really plan to stay in it long enough to make their investment in training you worthwhile? If so you'll probably be able to demonstrate that you'll be useful.  But if you're going to need to be mostly a desk person with a 9-5 schedule then you'd better get amazingly great at detailing or specs or something before graduation.

May 26, 18 3:07 pm

Some of what you say is true, but nobody actually works 90 hours a week. If Yu ii


Oops. Anyway, if you're working more than about 45 hours a week, you're getting taken advantage of. In 7 years of working professionally, even at a boutique studio, I've never worked a 50 hour week. This isn't slavery.


I said "occasionally" do 90 hour weeks. I'm in my mid 50s, and still find myself doing this from time to time - typically because of changing owner schedules, delayed public votes, that kind of thing. The last time was in November, and the one before that was at least three years ago - so definitely not an every-week occurrence. When it does happen it's all hands on deck though, and if you can't pitch in it reflects badly, especially if you're older.


I expect long hours. Charette culture is part of the deal. I am climbing onto roofs (well it's my roof anyway, replacing the down spouts).

Find something to do with your life skills now. Don't blow dough and the next five years of your life studying stupid software so you can try to get a job as an intern.

May 26, 18 8:58 pm

A lot depends on your individual circumstances.  Do you have a high earning spouse?  Are you coming off a high income career yourself?  As you know, money is a major, major, major complaint in this profession.  If you have your retirement covered well, maybe it's an OK gamble.  If you are going to be spending your nest egg to do this thing, what will you do if the age discrimination thing kicks in on you?  Will you be able to write it off as an expensive but not fatal lark, or will you wind up on a park bench with a can of Puss N Boots?  The fact that you are contemplating student debt suggests to me that you're not necessarily swimming in coin.  Be very sure of your decision.

May 27, 18 11:08 am

I would recommend not to do it, for the following reasons.

Your energy level will not be at a 26 year old level, think about how you were at 26 and are you the same?

Most architecture firms are "Churn and burn", they hire young eager workers and work them to death, or until the young intern figures out the game.

If you have the resources financially, just open a design shop in a nice part of town and use your social network to do interiors. Actually, it will be more stress free especially as you hit the age ceiling of late fifties-to sixties. 

Do not think that you will be the exception to the march of time!

May 27, 18 12:01 pm

You might consider getting some drafting skills (at a community college?) and working in a collegial architect's office. You could start logging your time toward the requirements to take the licensing exams. In many (14?) states you do not need ANY architecture courses to take the tests and become licensed. You could use your spare time to educate yourself on architecture history and theory. I would not spend any money on architecture schooling at your age, or even much younger, frankly. Schools are spring-loaded, for the most part, to teach that the world began with the Bauhaus and anything earlier is beneath study. Just my two cents.

May 27, 18 12:05 pm

I actually have a pretty good background in art and architectural history and have taken community college classes in CAD, Sketchup and a full year of Revit. One of things I am considering is looking just that kind of job to save up for school.

I’d highly advise against the ‘traditional’ school to internship path. Especially if you’re in a situation where you need the future job in the field to pay back the cost of the degree. Volunteer’s suggestion is sound. Educate yourself via self guided reading and any cheap community college or vocational classes available. Make friends with someone closer to your age and work out an apprenticeship deal with that person. Network around your local AIA chapter or any other architectural clubs or groups in your area and see who is out there. Plenty of places need help in the current market and a person at the helm of a smaller operation may be willing to work with and guide you in your unique situation.

You’ll avoid both the college debt and the very many pitfalls of being a 60+ year old intern under the thumb of 30 something middle management who won’t know what to do with you and are likely to be hesitant in hiring you at all. While that hesitation may be partly ageist, as others have pointed out, the high cost of training someone who will only be working maybe a decade at most just doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint. Most recent graduates aren’t particularly useful until about 3 years in the field, and even then are far from experts with the ability to work autonomously.
May 27, 18 7:20 pm

To follow up on archinine,

Consider an alternative career close to that of licensed architect that doesn't require a license. When you are 60 years old, you are about 7 years away from age of full retirement benefits under the social security. 

Options are varied but one of them is "building designer" or in some places that is called "residential designer" or "home designer". What you do will be as close to that of a licensed architect as you can get as an independent practitioner. 

This doesn't bar you from working with or collaborating with a licensed architect who will ultimately be in charge of supervising architectural services (vs. "building design" services.... we can explain that later as its more a word usage for compliance with licensing laws) rendered. 

There is a ton of peripheral services you can offer (with the knowledge and skills to perform them of course) without a license. You can keep yourself busy in your retirement years. 

In one respect, you may work in project management and so you gain competency in designing of buildings, design buildings that are A) aesthetically pleasing & appropriate in context, B) relatively safe in terms of compliance to building codes and other safety standards, and C) relatively cost effective & efficient. 

It can take you about 10 years to be competent in the wide roles and responsibilities of a building designer and I'd say another 5 years or more for a licensed architect in the wider scope of projects that licensed architects are authorized to practice.

In all cases, you have a steep learning curve. It's not a profession that is customarily entered into by starting well after you are 50. 

Others suggested pursuing other careers that doesn't require so much to get a foot in the door.

May 27, 18 8:07 pm

I have considered project management since I spent my college years (the first time around) working construction and raising a gang of kids (all four with ADHD) has taught me extraordinary organizational skills as well as patience, crisis management.


I say 'Go for it!' I got my bachelor's in architecture at 32 and my Master's at 52 (stopped to raise a family in between). I am now licensed and LOVE my job! It is a dream job? No. But it is perfect for me. When I went to get my Master's my thinking was 'I could be 52 with a master's or 52 without one'. No matter what, I was pretty sure I was going to be 52! Also, the field is really starting to pick up. I was told that there is more work than there are people to do the work. So, employers aren't going to care how old you are, only if you can do the work. My advice, learn autocad and revit. They are really useful tools. Good luck and let us know what you decide!

May 27, 18 9:47 pm

You had your bachelors at 32, which is almost thirty years younger than the OP will be when graduating. A slight difference, don't you think?


This might be that one thing that she regrets not doing at the end of her, why discourage her?

Age is not just a number.

May 27, 18 10:36 pm

I would think the schools themselves would be a larger obstacle/point of warning.  We had a number of older people in college 30-60, maybe 10 people in total.  The school loved to pick on their preconceived notions of design and being an architect and worked hard to break them.  Only 1 stayed, and not because they liked his work, but because at some point he stopped caring what they thought.  It's not like the schools fail anyone anymore if you do the work.  He got straight Cs in studio though.  His background was stage design, on and off broadway, and he would have done wonderfully maybe 150 years ago, you know, pre-Gropius.  I'm sure his clients really like his work, as he became very knowledgeable in a myriad of architectural styles.  I could see him leading RAMSA projects.

May 29, 18 9:54 am

physical fitness in imperative for architecture - 

May 29, 18 11:40 am

print this and place it in front of the computer where you park your butt 9 hours a day. Look at it every 10 years.


Tell that to Michael Graves


Um... not sure the fitness reminder would have been that effective in preventing Graves from catching myelitis or meningitis and being paralyzed, or the subsequent medication-related bloating? I'm not a research scientist or anything, but my hypothesis is positive thinking and good habits might not entirely prevent bad luck.


Good point



print this and place it in front of the computer where you park your butt 9 hours a day. Look at it every 10 years.

That's how people burn out in architecture, they don't stay fit - 70% washout within 5 years after graduation - don't be one of them

be in the gym 6 days/week

run 35 miles/week or 10,000 steps/day(5 miles)

do crunches - core work is imperative to avoid back issues from parking your but for for 9 hours

May 29, 18 12:21 pm

hey, I'm 54 and do all of those minus the running - this is good advise for all professions now, everybody just sits and looks at screens all day.

On the fence

The difference is 30k?  Per year?  How many years, 3, 4 or 5?

If you have that money in the bank, go for it.  Otherwise, public school.

May 30, 18 5:20 pm

No one should tell you that you don't stand a chance. And if you want to follow your dreams just do it. 

But being well informed also helps. One thing not mentioned yet, is that there aren't that many people who are in architecture at 60. It's like a funnel. With each age year there are fewer people in architecture. A lot end up moving to adjacent fields that offer more stability, perhaps better pay, and fixed hours. But that was no one's plan A. To go to architecture school in order to become facility coordinator at a local bus terminal. Primary architecture field is comically unstable. If you don't progress regularly from arch 1 to 2 to 3 to PA to PM to associate to partner, you will get squeezed out in the process. And that entire process takes decades. 

Now that process is for major architecture that draws in people to wanting to be architects. You can also be a single practitioner, and work on stuff that doesn't even require licensure. At that point it's about who you know, and wealthy people trusting you to remodel their 3rd pool house. And if you do good work, more work will come your way. 

But architecture is still like stock market. Time in the market beats timing the market. If you are 60 and have no retirement savings, then starting now is better than nothing. But if you started at 20 you'd have been a millionaire by now. 

Lastly, there are a lot of careers where you are useful right out of the school and pay is decent. Architecture is not like that at all. It just takes time. A lot of mindless repetition before you can call yourself Karate Kid AIA. 

May 31, 18 11:10 am


I can be done - I know someone who went to arch school at 50, graduated at 55, then started at a major arch. firm - how did he do it?

Physical fitness, and a long background in 3D modeling - he had a niche in BIM, and at the time he started, few had that background, so he became useful by default. He is now at long last, a senior designer after 10 years(normally it takes 5 years)

its very very important to have a skill or niche people need to distinguish yourself.

May 31, 18 11:59 am

It can be done

the odds are against you, and you have at best a 2% chance of success

how do you beat those odds? do what the top 2% in any field do

it's simple:

don't do your best - do what it takes

May 31, 18 12:11 pm

Everyday, I sit on the steps of a building in Rockridge, Ca. designed by Julia Morgan - Julia faced much longer odds than you ever will. She attended the Ecole beaux arts back in the late 1890s, was the only female architecture student then. She became the first female licensed architect in California.

If she can do it - so can you

May 31, 18 12:21 pm

Lots of things have been covered already - I just have 2 thoughts to add:

1. I always heard in architecture school and early on in my career that architects don't really hit their stride until their mid 50s. I'm around that point now and I guess I'm finally starting to feel generally competent and confident - so it's held true for me (though of course I did have the 2-years-out-of-school-and-I-thought-I-knew-everything phase too). That rule probably assumes that one graduates and starts working in the field in one's mid 20s to early 30s - so a 20 to 30 year learning curve.  Perhaps it's accelerated for someone who enters the profession older and wiser, but you'd still be looking at a long newbie phase that might take you all the way through your 60s.  It probably depends a lot on your personality whether that would be a great new adventure for you, or drive you insane, or some of each.

2. On the other hand, some of those who are advocating that you skip a degree, focus on immediately gaining some experience with a firm, and pursue an unlicensed residential designer path (and/or whatever light commercial your state may allow unlicensed people to do) seem to be forgetting that they themselves have despaired many times on this forum about their difficulties in getting their own foot in the door of a firm, due to many employers'  preferences for NAAB-accredited degree holders.  Some unlicensed designers have documented their own struggles on this forum at length - such as spending over a decade struggling to make even a few thousand dollars per year in residential design independently, because they have little experience and no portfolio, and yet are unable to find any local firm willing to consider someone without a degree, or even take them on as an unpaid intern as part of a community college sponsored co-operative program.

I'm not saying don't try that route.  Just take into consideration that the math looks good in advance, but it's not always a cut-and-dried savings of 2-3 years of tuition, plus an addition of 2-3 earning years.  We've seen here that for some that no-degree "short cut" turns into a decade or more of sub-poverty under-employment and frustration.  If I was at that crossroads at this point in my life I might put some feelers out to local firms, and if that pans out then great, career launched!  But if it doesn't, and I was still set on architecture as a career path, I'd take the fastest route to an NAAB-accredited degree, and start as soon as possible.

May 31, 18 12:44 pm

It's not strictly age but with age and general maturity and life experience has a certain part in it but there still needs to be experience in the field to build confidence in the subject matter when you gain competence in the subject matter.


The reason for not suggesting a degree and internship route and all that other stuff to become licensed is because when you start in your late 50s, and retirement age is looming in 10 to 15 years, it is going to be close to 75 to 80 years of age when a person reaches their stride as you say because you need the experience in the field. Typically it takes about 25 YEARS of experience following the 5 years of schooling to reach that point. That's 30 YEARS. Think about the math. If you read what was said, I'd recommend not pursuing licensure. Part of being able to hit that stride and getting into a position of successfully getting into the business on your own or with a small group of partners is getting those student loans paid off because they are an anchor on saving up money to go independent. 

My experience in building design albeit isn't completely unique but it isn't necessarily the norm. Building design as an unlicensed designer has its challenges. There are people who have earned a good living and built a successful career in building design without ever getting licensed.

You don't here about it from them on this forum is because they are too busy with a life to spend on it on here with a forum full of whiners.


More on me.  While I have some age related aches and pains I am in pretty good shape.  I dance a couple hours a day five days a week and plan to continue with some level of exercise after I leave school.  I have teens at home so staying in shape is a matter of self mechanism.  My spouse does have a good income and we have a substantial retirement fund, However we have that fund because we have been very financially prudent over the past 30 years, living very modestly. 

In my twenties I worked construction, starting as a laborer and working my way up to framing.  In our house mom is the one with the power tools. While raising the kids I worked part time for a general contractor an, an Interior Designer and freelance for my next door neighbor who is an Architect doing very small residential projects.  As a volunteer for a couple of non profits I shepherded several projects through the zoning and permitting process here in Los Angeles.

I have thought about interior programs, that would certainly be logistically easier.  I can finish my BA in Art/Architectural history in one year at a local school (public) and enroll in a  Interior Architecture program Masters program close to home as well.  That would take less time and cost a fraction of the Ivy league school I am considering  but I worry about being spending my days choosing paint colors and fabric swatches which I have very little interest in.  I am interested in the built environment and think that an architectural education gives one a deeper and more holistic understanding of it.  

Jun 2, 18 3:00 am

In your situation, I don't see an arch degree being necessarily a waste. You have some career related experience and some insight from the field working with an architect and interior design as well as construction. All these will be helpful from a professional perspective. While it may provide a means of some advance placement, the benefit of a general career related experience, you would be easily able to get to reaching your stride as an architect as a poster said earlier in maybe 10-15 years. About when you get licensed, you might be ready. 

Keep your health good and get through the IDP quickly, I think you'll have a fair amount of time left in a busy yet healthy life style. If you are in your 50s and early 60s, you can transition into it. As a matter of fact, with your relationship with an architect, you can get some of your AXP training hours signed off. You can get the rest done during your college even at part time. If not all completed by end of college, you should be ready to take the ARE in about two years after college. In some states, you might even be able to take it with just the degree completed and with most of your AXP also be completed, you should be able to get it wrapped up in 7-8 years. Then after 5+ years of post-licensure experience, you should be in good shape especially if you primarily focus in the architectural domains you have most experience in. 

I think you could be in better shape for getting in the profession.


Don't waste your time choosing paint colours or fabric swatches if that is not what you want to do, it's that simple :) follow your interests, it's your life


The acceptance deadlines for all the ivies have passed already - so if this is a decision that's still open for you to make then you must have already accepted the Ivy (and possibly the other school too, depending on whether or not their deadline has also passed) and now you're trying to decide whether to back out and lose your deposit. That's pretty far along the path - it sounds like it could be last-minute cold feet type jitters. If you've already been accepted then you've come pretty far in deciding what to pursue, putting toge ther applications, and being accepted. The questions you're asking are things you must have asked yourself before you started along that road, and there's a reason you decided to keep going this far...


I was accepted to the public school in the winter but after meeting with a rep from the Ivy who encouraged me to apply I didn’t really think about it until he emailed me twice. It was a sort of “what the hell, long shot sort of thing”. I sent the deposit to the public school the this past winter and started making plans.


oops, posted from a different device and it signed me in under my email. Anyway, I was admitted off the wait list and therefore did not get a very good aid package.


The Ivy experience was great, and in some employment situations it got my foot in the door, it may have gotten me the job, it definitely kept me from layoffs longer than some (mainly because my employers thought my resume made them more marketable - sometimes I got the feeling my resume was more valuable than anything I was doing at work ), and all in all it may have paid off by now. But if I was starting 20+ years older, with tuition that's 20 years more inflated and 20 years fewer in which to climb the ladder, I don't know if it would ever reach that break-even point financially - especially if you weren't offered a great financial aid deal. The only thing I would caution is don't go to the public school with any expectation that you can transfer later. The Ivies accept very few transfers, and those they do accept usually end up having to do much of their first year over anyway. Make up your mind now as to what you can live with, and commit to it.

There are much more effective and productive ways to have a positive effect on the built environment than architecture.

Jun 2, 18 12:52 pm

Sure, but interior decorating isn't one of them.

Based on your expanded description of past experience it sounds as though you could already be hired at an arch firm. Or even better at a construction firm where egos around ivy/degree status are far less of an issue. Do some research around this forum on how little most us schools do to prepare architectural students for practice and decide if it’s worth the cost. An interiors degree is even more useless in your situation.

LA is currently booming and it appears there are far more positions available than talent to fill them. Have you tried applying for anything with your current credentials?
Jun 2, 18 2:28 pm

Yup. I'd try to just get into a paid position of some sort and try to work your way up. The standard issue MArch/IDP/ARE/internship/cad drone sequence doesn't make a lot of sense even for somebody much younger.  It's not the glam profession people think it is.

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: