I'm 30 with no Arch Background. Is it too late to get M. Arch 1 and go into Architecture?


My background is in Design / Digital Media, so I'm comfortable in design and 3D visualization.  I know schools want diverse backgrounds, but is it hard to keep up in class?      Will it be hard to get my first arch job in mid-30s? 

Nov 7, 11 10:04 pm

Several of my classmates are in their 30's and beyond.  They do quite well.  I'm close to 30 myself.  I don't think it can hurt your chances at employment, unless you suck.

Nov 8, 11 1:18 am  · 

I'm also 30 and applying for a M.Arch I. While I cannot tell you anything from experience since I am in the exact same position as you, perhaps I can share some thoughts.

Firstly, you are not that old. I think the average age at most schools is around 27, so don't feel like you are that far behind. If anything, being older can be an advantage because presumably you have greater real-world experience, and are generally more focused on what you are after than someone straight out of undergrad. Secondly, I am sure you will not have any problem keeping up, especially given your design background. There are people who have backgrounds in economics or political science who get admitted. Schools will not expect you to just know how to do crazy parametric stuff and digital modeling/fabrication without some training--after all, it is school. Lastly, I don't understand why it would be anymore difficult to get a job in your mid-thirties versus someone in their late twenties. Again, it may be easier for you given your extra years of experience and diverse background.

I suspect, though, that you already kind of knew those answers. I think what you are really looking for is for some encouragement or caution. Going back to school is something I wrestled with too, so I get it. Know that you may have a long, and burdensome road ahead. The economy may still stink in three years, unless you are rich or go to a cheap state school expect decades of student loan payments, and young architects are are notoriously underpaid and overworked. The optimists will tell you to pursue your passion no matter what, and the pessimists will call you an idiot for wanting to get into this wretched profession. I'd say that if you are willing to take the bad with the good and architecture is something you really care about, then go for it. I look at it this way--it's going to suck at times, but it's worth it to me if I can get to place where I am excited about my work, making enough money to pay the bills, and not completely killing myself in the process.

Also, bear in mind that some schools are getting nearly 1000 applicants, so it's insanely competitive now. If I were you, I'd just give it a shot, and don't be too disappointed if you are not accepted. If you are accepted then you can decide if it's really what you want. You can always decline. Keep your options open this way. Anyway, know that you won't be the lone 30 year old if you do decide to apply, and if not, I doubt anyone could blame you.  Best of luck!

Nov 8, 11 1:32 am  · 
won and done williams

Okay, here comes the word of caution. Factually this is the timeline you are staring at:

1. Complete pre-reqs (calc, physics, history, drawing, etc.) - up to 1 year

2. Complete application process - concurrent with pre-reqs

3. M.Arch 1 education/graduation - 3.5 years

4. Internship/IDP process - 3-6 years

5. ARE testing - I guess it is now concurrent with IDP, but typically .5-5 years

I would say at minimum you are looking at 8 years before you are a registered architect. Some people go much longer than that; many never make it. I think you will need to ask yourself if you will feel comfortable as a 36 year old intern, potentially only making $35K/year (if you can find a job). Can you support a family on that? Will you have any hope of retiring?

The game has changed in the last 5 years. Previously, the message was "follow your dream." Now the message is "does the dream offset an often stark reality within the profession?"

You can certainly make it work, but I do think you owe it to yourself to fully understand what you are getting into.

Nov 8, 11 8:54 am  · 

Never too late....I started in Architecture at age 35. The pay is great, super benefits, chicks dig you, and you instantly become the most interesting person in the room.

Nov 8, 11 1:35 pm  · 
1  · 

Any tips, Im 36 but my portfolio is very slim


^ what a load of crap dude.

Nov 8, 11 2:16 pm  · 

OK...I lied about the pay and the benefits.

Nov 8, 11 3:51 pm  · 

You are old.  Give up now and go live with your parents.  :-)



I left architecture (bach/masters) at 30 to pursue the fields you are coming from.  Soooo much better, trust me.



Nov 8, 11 8:11 pm  · 

No problem at all.  I went back to grad school well after 30.  

Firms are funny though.  I worked in a somewhat related capacity before going back, but I was fully expecting that I would lose all of those years of experience in the consideration of the firms who hired me after and get treated like a new grad.  I didn't.  Instead, I got credit for most of the time I worked before going back to school, and got hired right out of school at a reasonably senior level... and that hasn't hurt me in subsequent jobs either.

So.. in other words, go for it. 

Nov 8, 11 11:18 pm  · 

Considering all the grad school period, IDP, exams, the learning curve, basically time to get licensed I say 30 is too late of an age to get into architecture. Actually it is late for any career change. Note that going to grad school for a new career vs. going to grad school in your current field to improve yourself are different things. For the latter, there is no age limit. In some countries they won't interview you for a job if you're above 35 because they look for younger candidates, 35 is too "old" for them and after 40 your chances of finding a job is zilch. It is total BS. Anyways, back to the good old US..I'm sure there are some people who changed careers after 30 and became successful but considering the current economic situation it is not easy to get an internship especially a job anymore. Imo 30 is the age to settle down, buy your own house (or afford to rent comfortably) and have a strong career. It is the age when you start saving and saving for your retirement and not getting unpaid internships. I studied architecture and based on the career decision I made recently I'm working on switching careers. It is HARD! I'm 25 and I think I'm a little late for a change but I have no choice. I see the the requirement of "2 to 5 years of experience" all the time. I'm hoping by the time I'm 30 I can have at least like 4 years of professional experience in the new field and that's being optimistic.

Nov 9, 11 5:35 am  · 

Go for it otherwise you will always regret not trying. I'm 32 and will be applying for fall 2012. Not everyone knows exactly what they want to do the rest of their life at 18 or 24 and sometimes what you think you want to do at that age is not what is really meant for you.  I  served 4 years of active duty after graduating college to fulfill an ROTC scholarship and shortly into my time, I realized I didn't want to make a career out of it. I had to finish my time and get back from overseas before I could really sit down and think about what I really wanted to do and what I was passionate about. My step mom  passed the California Bar exam at 46 after going back to law school once her daughter graduated from high school. Its never too late and if you are good at your craft, companies will hire you.

Nov 9, 11 9:02 am  · 

Paradox - at 25 you are thinking way to hard about this!  Trust me, your views on life will change dramatically by the time you are 35 (35 seems old when you are 25, young when you are 45 - it is all relative).


My advice - make sure it is something you want to do.  I was 150% sure it was for me, then when I got a taste for what it was really like (the professional world vs. the idealistic/school world), I did not like it at all.  And this was after 7 straight years of arch schooling (no internet then, though, as I probably would have listened to posts like mine).  

Graphics/Design offers a 'real' way of working, more or less.  You might get bad clients, here and there, but it is a fairly low stress world, better pay/opportunities, etc.

My 2cents, from the other side of the fence.

Nov 9, 11 10:30 am  · 


"Considering all the grad school period, IDP, exams, the learning curve, basically time to get licensed I say 30 is too late of an age to get into architecture. Actually it is late for any career change. Note that going to grad school for a new career vs. going to grad school in your current field to improve yourself are different things. For the latter, there is no age limit. In some countries they won't interview you for a job if you're above 35 because they look for younger candidates, 35 is too "old" for them and after 40 your chances of finding a job is zilch. It is total BS."


Say What?- I changed careers from Video Game 3D environment designer to architecture at age 54 - got my first Arch job at SOM and am working at a small office in SF doing design with BIM - next month I turn 60.

physalia - if you really want to go in to architecture, do it now - don't wait until later - 

Nov 9, 11 11:51 am  · 


That's a pessimistic view, I think.  Again, I went back to school at 32 and am quite happy with the result.  I believe you should go after your dreams, and if you want to be an architect or some other type of professional designer, you should go for it.  The nature of work is changing, and job security at 25 onward is not something many people in this country will ever experience going forward.  The workforce is becoming more fluid, and will continue to do so, and most people will HAVE to change careers multiple times.  At least you have the chance to do it voluntarily! 

I managed to work all the way through the recession (know wood) and was promoted multiple times during that timeframe.  I also got nearly full credit for the years I worked before I went back to school... which means that despite changing careers (somewhat), I lost no real ground in terms of pay. 

Moreover, this industry, at least at some of the most prestigious large firms and larger boutiques, remains an older-person's game. At one of the big NY firms, you're not going to make the partnership before your mid-40s, no matter how you cut it or when you entered the industry.  You could enter as a Jr Designer at 26 and spend 20 years moving up the ranks.. or you could enter at 35 as a Sr Designer and spend 10 years. You'll probably change jobs several times in your progression.   Moreover, few of the large firms insist on immediate licensure, especially for people who join when they're older, from past backgrounds that they value. If they bring you on after grad school as an associate (because you have something else to offer) or, pending whatever deal you can cut with them to get IDP credited, a designer III/sr designer role, you can still make the partnership in 10-11 years (say 2 years as a senior designer, 3 as an A, 3 as an SA/AP and 3 as an SAP/D, depending on the firms grading system).. assuming you're very good at what you do and have something to bring to the table based on your past experience.  If they want you, they'll accommodate you and take your circumstances into account. A comment I got from the mng principal, when I was being recruited for my current position was, "You're a bit too old to come at Grade X... I know that's what you probably thought you'd come in it, so we'll bring you in at Grade Y instead, and you'll be on track for the partnership in a year or two, but in return we want to make sure you're committed to stay with us."

Nov 9, 11 11:59 am  · 

And I should add, despite the fact that I finished grad school in my mid-30s effectively (nearly half a decade ago now), I'm still one of the younger people at management meetings.  I may not be the youngest person in the room, but I'm pretty darn close.  Just because most of the people in that room went straight through to grad school doesn't mean they managed to stay on track for a decade and a half to two decades. 

Please don't limit yourself based on some idea that careers are some sort of inflexible, linear path. It really isn't.  I'm not saying there isn't some highly motivated, focused individual who joined a firm at 27 with an M.Arch made partner by the time she was 38.  I'm sure that person exists.  But she'd be the rare one.  Not you, as the late entrant.

Nov 9, 11 12:14 pm  · 

BJarke Ingels - age 37 - don't let that stop you -

Nov 9, 11 2:23 pm  · 

Does your field in Arch make any difference (Architecture, Landscape, Interior, etc.)?

I know the pay is better for young people in Digital Media compared to Arch,

but will it be true for those who are in their 50s? 

Nov 9, 11 6:26 pm  · 

In my experience (and I may be wrong), again taking corporate firms as my standard, architects make more than LAs and IDs, at any given level of seniority. 

Also, for what it's worth, most - actually virtually all -  senior architects I know are presently employed (although many juniors I know are not), I'm not saying they're all happily employed - many of them have taken reductions in resopnsibility and/or pay cuts.. but most sr archs I know do seem to be hanging on in some sense.. On the other hand, many if not most senior LAs and IDs I know are either not employed or feel at nearly constant risk.   I have no idea what digital media pays, but with the rates renderers or animators charge these days - with so much competition from abroad - I can't imagine that senior digital media people are being very well compensated. or anywhere near fully billable.

Nov 9, 11 6:38 pm  · 

I'm in a digital agency (ad). digital media is uncharted territory.  everyone in the industry is pretty young. I don't know if it's because the industry is young or because there is no demand for seniors as everything is changing so quickly. Architecture seems like the opposite of that. 

Nov 9, 11 8:50 pm  · 

If you are preoccupied with settling down, buying a house, and making big bucks, like some 25 year olds who think that having new life experiences ends after 30, then by no means get into this racket. Obviously, though, you feel some discontentment with your profession, otherwise you wouldn't be here. My background is in LA. At 26, I was the youngest in the firm to make Associate, had a great apartment in San Francisco, was making around $70k/yr...and I was also completely miserable. I hated my projects, didn't respect my bosses, and yet I stayed until the economy took a big dump on my career and was laid off. Why? Because that's what you're supposed to do: twenties save and get married, thirties have kids and buy house, forties advance in your career and save for retirement...., etc, etc, then die. That's great if it makes you happy, but if not, don't feel obligated to live someone else's prescribed life. I am more happy and focused now than I have ever been, broke and 30. So, if you're looking for some guaranteed success and security after school, avoid architecture at  all costs, BUT if you really care about this stuff and don't mind taking a risk then go for it. You might hate it, but you can always fall back on digital media. Or you can be complacent in your current job and just live with regrets--that's okay too.  There's some great advice on this forum, but don't get too caught up in all the chatter, including mine. Do what makes the most sense for you.

Nov 9, 11 11:52 pm  · 

Considering all the grad school period, IDP, exams, the learning curve, basically time to get licensed I say 30 is too late of an age to get into architecture. Actually it is late for any career change.

Da hell?

My mom was 50 when she went from being a retail manager to a costume and set designer. Because she was more mature and had managed in the past, she got a senior level job straight out of school, in a recession, as wardrobe manager in one of the most historically unreliable creative fields of all time: theatre. 

So there.

physalia: best of luck :)

Nov 10, 11 4:44 am  · 


You can learn online.

Some companies offers the Revit training for building information modeling and modern architectural design. 


Nov 10, 11 5:52 am  · 
won and done williams

Let's do a little cost analysis on this. This is your schedule again now with dollar values assigned to each step:

1. Complete pre-reqs (calc, physics, history, drawing, etc.) - up to 1 year [-$3,000 minimum for coursework completed at a community college]

2. Complete application process - concurrent with pre-reqs [-$1,000 minimum application fees, portfolio, mailing, etc.]

3. M.Arch 1 education/graduation - 3.5 years [-$120,000: $40,000/year tuition/living - could be much higher depending on the school]

4. Internship/IDP process - 3-6 years [+135,000: $45,000/year optimistic salary in a mid-market city]

5. ARE testing - I guess it is now concurrent with IDP, but typically .5-5 years [-$2,000 testing and prep]

Assuming this all takes eight years to complete, your net income over that time will have been: $9,000 over eight years. If you were to have stayed in your present job, let's say you are making a modest $60,000/year in digital media, over those eight years your net income would have been: $480,000.

$9,000 to call your self an architect versus $480,000 to make the most of your present situation. Hmmmm......

Nov 10, 11 8:03 am  · 

And don't forget that the world economy is now is the early grips of a deflationary depression.  Taking on any debt today could prove especially crippling over the next decade.  Now is the time to be hoarding cash, yo!

Nov 10, 11 1:31 pm  · 

My Costs:

800 dollars at community college for prereqs..  one quarter.

300 dollars for applications (didn't apply to many; be realistic)

Approximately 15k per year for school and board, living very light with a roommate, plus a 7k grant that mostly covers tuition.

I imagine I'll be making 35k at first, if not I'll have to find an alternate job.  BUT HELL; I'm doing what I always wanted to do.

Go to an affordable school, don't get caught up in the glamor of the Ivys, fill out the FAFSA, live smart.  It ain't rocket science.  



Nov 10, 11 2:28 pm  · 

We need to consider what is financially responsible - in this economy, dreams like projects need to be put on hold - Don't end up like Greece

Nov 10, 11 4:04 pm  · 

Too late..."the world is looking straight into the face of a great depression", yo!

Nov 10, 11 5:39 pm  · 

I find it somewhat amusing that twentysomethings are counseling against a course of action that several of us can honestly say we've done successfully.   

If designing is what you love and you have reason to believe that you will be good at it, you owe it to yourself to give it trty.  The money will come.

Nov 10, 11 11:36 pm  · 

I have 90K saved for my grad school education. I don't know if it's smart to use it up for school in this economy. I'm single and NOT interested in buying a house or settling down. 

What are some affordable programs?

Does the school you went make any difference?


Nov 11, 11 1:40 am  · 

“I'm 25 and I think I'm a little late for a change…”

Is 25 the new 52?

Did you know that Koolhaas changed careers when he was your age Paradox? I know he is an extraordinary individual capable of doing things that most of us can’t… but I still think the example might help you to put things in perspective.

Nov 11, 11 6:09 am  · 
won and done williams

There's nothing wrong with being young... er... middle-aged and idealistic. I actually find it refreshing that a 25-year-old has a more responsible view of his or her future than some of the older posters here. I got a relatively late start, BA in English, started the architecture path at 25. I had an amazing grad school experience (racked up a lot of debt) and have been incredibly fortunate to have been employed and moving upward on my career path since graduating, but I also realize that not everyone has been that fortunate. In a profession where there is likely 40% unemployment and recent grads are leaving the profession in droves because they cannot find a job, I find it amazing that people keep lining up to put themselves through this given the commitment and expense of the pursuit.

To me, the enjoyment I get out of my work is not in creating "architecture" per se, but in the problem solving and comraderie of running a business. In my day-to-day work, the profession of architecture has very little to do with architecture. Personally, I could get the satisfaction I derive from my job in any number of other professions. Now I understand my experience is not everyone's, but if you can derive satisfaction from your work without having to put yourself through the 8 year commitment and expense of the  professional licensure process, I would say go for it.

Nov 11, 11 10:53 am  · 

won and done,

The profession doesn't have 40% unemployment.  15-20% unemployment maybe at the worst point, and much lower now (probably still over 10%, but not by much), and strongly focused on 20-somethings.

If you get a masters, you're making a 3 1/2 years commitment to school.  The assumption is that  after that, you'll be working for a firm as a professional, working toward IDP, and getting a salary for it.  That's employment.. not a cost anymore.  Note that at many corporate firms, the bulk of professionals aren't licensed until they're at much higher levels of seniority.  Spreading out licensure requirements over 5 to 8 years is just fine.  You're not going to make Associate or Associate Principal in 2 years anyway, irrespective of whether or not you're licensed.

Again, I'm gainfully and happily employed.  So are many many people who got their degrees in their 30s.  Sorry to get worked up about this, but this irrational scaremongering from 20 somethings is kind of getting to me.  You're not doing yourself or the profession any favors.

Nov 11, 11 8:08 pm  · 
won and done williams

Not sure why you are calling me a 20-something, but...

40% unemployment is based on my observations of our regional market, posters on archinect, and what we have experienced in our firm. I believe it is accurate. Hiring has picked up some. We have ten new hires in the last 6 months. I've said in each of my posts that with very hard work, you can make it work, but I've also said that from a purely economic standpoint going back to school in your thirties is not your best move, particularly for someone who already has steady employment at a decent salary. I understand you've been successful in your experience, but there are many who have not been as fortunate. Call it fearmongering, if you will, but I believe it would be foolish to make this decision without understanding the drawbacks or the risk.

Nov 11, 11 8:48 pm  · 

Didn't Tadao Ando have a nice career in boxing before entering architecture?  If someone can come from a field like BOXING and still be really savvy about design, then isn't it possible for anyone?

Nov 12, 11 3:17 am  · 

It is but it isn't.

Japan's architecture law (Kenchikushi) is crazy specific and highly flexible with regards to what someone can and can't do. They even have a tiered architectural licensing program, basically 1st class, 2nd class and 3rd class architectures, who have pretty specific regulations on size, materials and construction methods.

For instance, someone in Japan can take architecture classes in high school, work for a few years and throw up to 5,000 square foot concrete buildings. Once you work for another 4 years as a 2nd class architect, you can sit for an exam and then build skyscrapers.

But what is interesting is that the Japanese tiered method relies on people learning the ropes (if self taught or taught outside of a university) on what larger firms already deem to be an unprofitable venture (residential and otherwise small non-special construction).

Of course, the Japanese architecture licensing set up allows pretty much all of the regulations to be overridden by prefecture governors and the minister of kenchikushi. So, if you have connections and impress someone, you can easily sit for the exam without all of that internship, working or education stipulations.

Jump can probably answer this more clearly and correctly.

Nov 12, 11 4:13 am  · 

some truth in there but much of what you wrote is pretty far off kilter jj (am curious about your source).  sounds nice though ;-)

i have been told ando never got a licence.  he was briefly a pro boxer when he was 18 or so and taught himself to design by traveling the world in the 1960's when it was very rare for anyone but the rich japanese to do so.  he came of age in a time when construction was booming and i guess he had connections through his family or whatever and somehow made a career.  am curious if it could happen again today.  he is pretty remarkable person, so never know.  he is definitely savvy about design though and without any formal education so the point is a good one. not everyone needs to go to school to know what they are doing.

career change is always an option in life.  i wouldn't worry about it too much.  pretty common really.  as long as you are interested in the work and have some freedom i side with steve jobs and urge craziness. 

sure beats regretting paths not taken...

Nov 12, 11 4:34 am  · 

I think everything was possible in the 50s and the 60s. being literate was the only requirement for so many positions. 

Anyways,  do I have to decide what field in Arch I am going to concentrate on ( residential, commercial, hospital, etc. )? Is it easy to switch fields within Arch?

Speaking of other countries, if I'm open to relocating myself anywhere in the world (both temporally  and permanently), are there more ways to become an architect? how does VISA work? 



Nov 12, 11 6:54 am  · 

No phys.. An m.arch is a generalist degree. No need to specialize. many schools will offer certificates you can pursue in areas like sustainable design and building tech, which you can choose to pursue at the same time as yourq professional degree, by focusing your electives.

Nov 13, 11 3:16 am  · 

I dont think its a good idea. Although you may think architecture is about following your dreams it rarely amounts to it in the end. Frankly you will spend 3-4 yrs in school - which may or may not be tough but its ok - because in school they will support you somewhat. Once you get out you will get paid shit - which is fine for a year maybe 2... but really at the age of 38 are you ok getting paid 45 or 40K? If so and you dont think that would affect you in any way... then go for it... I would not. Yes money does matter. I wish someone told me from the beginning... 

Nov 13, 11 1:46 pm  · 

It all depends in how phys sells himself. if he's able to leverage his digital meda expertise and present himself as a high end specialist in visualization, he can do a lot better that 40 to 45k at his first job. with my background in sustainability and infrastructure, I was able to get offers right out its school that ranged from from slightly less than 2x messier's lower number to slightly more than 2x messier's higher number. As an older professional, you have a lot of relevant experience. It's up to you to sell it in such a way so as to fully take advantage of it going forward. trust me, firms won't make all those years of experience disappear when you go out looking for a job.

Nov 14, 11 12:17 am  · 

I don't believe it is ever too late to start something new. If you are passionate about it and put your heart into it how could you go wrong. In the end it is your choice, so weigh your options. Life is too short to spend it unhappy.

Nov 14, 11 12:38 am  · 

Hitler didn't even become a Nazi until he was 30, after his career in art didn't work out. All I ask is that you do something less evil with your second career (for example, Jesus became a preacher at 30).

Architecture is a long-haul profession in which people under 50 are still considered 'young', so 30 isn't really a bad age to start.  Especially if you can support yourself through school doing side work in digital design and carry that over into your new career as an architect, it may not even be a complete interruption.

A better question to ask yourself is if architecture is really for you.  Why architecture?  Talk to architects, maybe shadow at an architecture office (or get a job at one, if you can find an opening!) before you make such a life-altering decision.

Nov 14, 11 2:52 am  · 

personally I would not encourage anyone to enter an architecture program unless they can do so while taking on very little debt. 

Nov 14, 11 9:15 am  · 

Am 25 years old is it late to start for b.arch ?

Jan 26, 19 12:14 pm  · 

did you go? 

Dec 23, 19 8:32 pm  · 

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