Will be 36 when out of school? Should I get into architecture?


Hi, first time here.


I've been considering architecture grad school since my high school years.


I'm a female, a minority, and I'll be 36 when I graduate from M. Arch I.  I won't be married, no kids--not planning to have any, and I don't have a rich dad or uncle so I'll be in debt. 


Will I be hired at 36 while other grads are in their 20s?  Should I get into architecture ? I love architecture, but will architecture love me back?


Thanks for your advice. 

May 1, 11 4:24 pm

What do you do now?


Your background has a lot to do with it. My guess if you are starting fresh, it will take you 3 more years of school (assuming you have an undergrad degree).


Hopefully you can bring a lot more to the table than most people who just graduated in their early 20s, otherwise, you're shooting yourself in the foot competing for peanuts. This is just a horrible time to switch into this field.

May 1, 11 5:28 pm

I have a BA in studio art and i took pre-architecture program in college.  And right now I do have a stable job which has nothing to do with architecture. 


May 1, 11 5:39 pm

You will be giving up a stable job to do something very unstable. The average time between when you first enter school til you get your license and can call yourself an architect is about 11 years. Career changes are not cheap, and architecture never paid well for lower level positions. The investment, especially at this age, is not worth the return.


I was hoping you had some business related background that would make you more marketable, or something that would allow you to make the transition into management sooner. If I were you - a definite NO.


Now, I'm sure someone with an Ivy League degree is going to come on here an try to rail me for discouraging you;)...wait for it.

May 1, 11 5:48 pm

I wouldn't necessarily encourage you to go into architecture, but it's really something you need to decide for yourself. There were a few students in my graduate class that were in their late thirties who had undergraduate degrees in other fields, some were married and/or with children. Most of them dropped out or at least took a semester off at some point because they just weren't prepared for what was in store. They were away from their families, not used to being in studio 24/7, etc. If it's what you really want, go for it. But, I would go visit the programs you are interested in and make sure you're committed.


And, as burningman said, being an architect right now is definitely not a stable position to be in. Many of my friends who I graduated with have been laid off. I've been working at the same firm since my first year of grad school (4+ years now), and I just got cut back to 20 hours a week. I'm having a hard time finding a new job myself, and it's difficult to get a job without previous experience. 


That being said, things may get better by the time you graduate. If you have a stable job right now, that's better than most of the architects I know. And, I hear it's better in Houston that most other cities. 



May 1, 11 6:44 pm

depends on your expectations.


wages are seldom great unless you own the business (and even then that is not always a guarantee), and the hours can be pretty long.


i have something like an ivy i suppose, but my perspective comes of being a low-wage earner in my youth (before archi-school) and being born/raised in a low-income family.


From that perspective I would like to suggest that architecture is challenging but there are far more careers out there where life is much harder.  if you compare yourself to accountants and doctors it ain't so favorable, but if you compare the gig to the kinds of jobs most of the country has it aint that bad. 


i am not content with my salary right now, but i would be lieing to say i am not doing relatively well.  however it took most of the last 20 years to get here.


it most certainly isn't like the movies, but then again, what is?


May 1, 11 7:29 pm

given that you do have the benefit of some career experience already, and given that you are considering entering a profession going through a very tough time, with low salaries, long hours and a very competitive business climate, if you are going to make this career switch, then treat it as a risky business venture --- even the education portion of it.  find your angle, know the market, know how you want to market yourself, figure out what skills you need to do that --- all business --- don't go in starry-eyed like so many kid --- the education will pass quickly, and then will come the job market --- if you are a little older have have a clear direction and plan and know why you are sitting in the interview, what you bring, what you can deliver, what you hope to get out of the experience, I think you'll do fine.  If you are starry-eyed and hoping that someone will just give you a chance because you have the latest CAD skills, they might expect more and you'll get left out




May 1, 11 7:48 pm

about the age don't worry, I recently interviewed a few 40+ candidates for architecture school. And they are approximately a decade away from registration. If you reconcile that architecture is not a job, less a traditional career or profession and more closely related to a vocation you may understand within yourself what kind of journey you considering to undertake. 

May 1, 11 7:57 pm


Thanks.  I don't mind the long-hour studio.  I'm just so worried about the career.  I want to have a life too.  I'm also very interested in urban design and building development, I wonder if fields like urban design and real estate development work for me...

May 1, 11 8:01 pm

i'm having some trouble with the comments box / editor.  there was more to my comment and i revised what you see above --- but none of it took


basically, i don't want to present going back later as drudgery, all work, no play, etc --- i was just saying that i think you can do it, but more will probably be expected of you come interview time, and you should prepare for that --- it is a tough business and unlike the mid-20-something grads, you are older, wiser, know how to prepare and so it will be expected

May 1, 11 8:25 pm

I'll add my voice to those who are saying think this through carefully. I've been interviewing recent grads for an ethnographic project, and many over the age of 27 are reporting that their past work experience works against them -- a project architect who is only a year or two older then them doesn't want to pay them 28k a year to fetch his coffee and dry cleaning. Also, the 11 year number is from NCARB, who only counts from the point in time that you enroll in IDP to the first time you transmit your record for a license. Many people don't start right away, and they don't count any period in which you fail to report hours-- if you have a bad boss, or if you decide to teach interior design for a few years. Some evidence suggests the actual number is closer to 18-22 years. You should also consider that while women and minorities are under represented at the entry level in architecture (fewer than half the number of women to men admitted to graduate school; NCARB publishes numbers for both by school), but it gets much worse at the intermediate and upper levels in most firms. This is one of the professions where being a bigot in public is still tolerated. That said, it is the case that someone has to go first, an an adult with good boundaries and a low tolerance for bull can do quite well in this profession. So ask yourself -- are you an above average performer? Can yo navigate adverse education and employment circumstances and not take it to heart? Are you willing to live with marginal employment to do what you love?

May 1, 11 9:25 pm

Since you mentioned Urban Design and Real Estate, I'll add some more.


UD and RE are typically three semester programs and can vary between 10 months to 2 years. You can do both in less time than it takes to obtain an MArch in most schools. If the market was better and you had the money, I would say go for it. If you were to do UD and RE as dual degrees, you would be worth much more than an MArch grad who will be competing against architects who out of work with much more experience. Even if the market was better now, the amount of laid of architects out there would still make your job search hell upon graduation. Going into UD and RE would allow you to make a quicker professional transition than architecture.


The only problem with UD and RE is that most schools require you to have a degree in a related field along with some work experience. If you aren't going to put yourself into a lot of debt, it may be worth contacting some schools to find out more about it, as they may be more lenient with those who intend to enroll in dual program.

May 1, 11 10:33 pm

I'm not so sure if I can apply to the dual degree, so far, I don't know any school offers this dual option.  I'd probably just apply to one program.


May 1, 11 10:56 pm

You're right, I didn't mean it as a simultaneous dual degree in that sense, as most dual programs are really just two different majors taken one after the other anyways. That said, you could still dual major and there are quite a few schools that offer both UD and RE.


Further warning: the current market really sucks for both of them and I wouldn't recommend the risks but here's my 2 cents. Proceed with caution.


UD is a relatively new major, a very multidisciplinary field and you would need a professional design degree (and work experience) in most places to get in. You get a pretty well rounded idea of how cities have evolved from the 16th century to today - and there is a core design studio, the studio tends not to be as labor intensive as arch studios as there is more tangible reasoning involved in UD. With just a UD degree, however, you are still no better off than someone with an arch degree, and there isn't a big market for it here in the US. A few schools for UD: Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame, Columbia, WU- St. Louis.


With RE, you would be worth 2-3x more than a MArch or UD,  but you will likely have to abandon design and your art background altogether to focus more on market studies, finance, and a little history of developments/design. For RE: MIT, USC, Columbia. Those would be my top three picks for RE. There's also Cornell and Michigan which also have good reputations. Harvard has a strange RE program that takes a design approach towards development from what I've heard- which sounds like they are trying to combine UD and RE into their RE program. Most people that go into RE come from a design background but for those who don't, it may be an option.

May 2, 11 10:14 pm

I see, thank you so much for the info. Have anyone heard about NYU's RE program?


The idea of abandoning art/design really upsets me.  It feels like someone you love is dead.  I don't know how it is like to work outside of creative fields.  Plus I don't have a background in would I be accepted to the RE program and can I even do well in RE school/job? I'm really confused right now...



May 3, 11 1:22 am

If you are interested in RE Dev, I strongly strongly strongly encourage you to look at MArch/MBA or MArch/MSRED degrees.  That way you are at least hedging your bet with a business education.


That will give you a balanced education and give you some flexibility later on, not to mention the possibilities of making a lot more money.




I think it's all been covered, but really do your homework.  Architecture pays so little these days, with so little upside anytime in the foreseeable future.  Something to keep in mind for anyone thinking of school - there are so many still unemployed with no changes in sight.




May 3, 11 8:40 am


May 3, 11 8:54 am

I've know people in there mid 30s in my M.Arch program.  they seemed to have worked out pretty nicely.  Your background in the arts is also a good one as I've seen many people who translitioned well when they had a creative background.

If you want to do architecture, you should do it and don't let anyone tell you what you should and shouldn't do.  If it's your passion, you should by all means pursue what you love the most - we only live once.  But people here are right, you do have to be mindful of what your expectations need to be.  It is a rather unstable field and the return for the investment is pretty slim your first several years of work.  Also, there are many different types of architects in this profession - you should try to see where you fit in the best.  Also it's best to spend some time in observing the built environment - maybe you can gauge what best inspires you about architecture.

I thought that book, "Architect?  A Candid Guide to the Profession" is a very useful book.  I'd pick that up.

May 3, 11 9:50 am

Oh and just as an FYI I got into archtiecture for the "bigger picture" as well with my interests in urban planning and development.  Growing up in a little hick town can do that to you.

May 3, 11 9:54 am
On the fence

The odds are stacked against you 1000:1.


I suppose that is what you really wanted to hear.

May 3, 11 11:58 am

Unless your current job is shoveling shit into a furnace for $12/hr.

Then forget about it. You'll probably enjoy a better quality of life.

May 3, 11 11:59 am

I earner my degree at 31.  And now I'm overqualified to go back to driving a forklift which paid more, in less time and without the debt........................ BTW.......... We Architects are assholes. If you aren't one going in, then you'll be one coming out. Something about realising your genius that makes you intolerable.

May 3, 11 12:07 pm

Do it....your age will actually be a benefit. I started at the age of 35, I am now 50, working on my exams. Age means nothing, although employers (at least in my experience) see you as less risky than those risky youngsters out of school.

Do it, have fun, and do things your way. In the past 15 years I have designed, and seen what started as sketches on flimsy to eventually cast shadows. I have done over 2 million square feet in the bay area and beyond, and have even made some decent coin before the recession / depression. I only have about 2 years of community college of formal education, the rest I learned on the job, etc.... Working under some great and not so great Architects has been my school. Now I am working what many said I couldnt do without a degree, passing the exams.

Just go for it, and don't look back!


May 3, 11 12:36 pm
vado retro

In normal times I don't think age has anything to do with following your dream. In these times, however, I wouldn't advise anyone to take on the debt associated with a profession like this. of course, all circumstances are different. you may be the chosen one. I would suggest looking at all the portfolio/profiles that are up now on Archinect 3.0 and see that almost everyone is looking for work. sort of telling.

May 3, 11 1:01 pm
vado retro

In normal times I don't think age has anything to do with following your dream. In these times, however, I wouldn't advise anyone to take on the debt associated with a profession like this. of course, all circumstances are different. you may be the chosen one. I would suggest looking at all the portfolio/profiles that are up now on Archinect 3.0 and see that almost everyone is looking for work. sort of telling.

May 3, 11 1:01 pm

If you are going to take on debt to go to architecture school, then you are out of your fucking mind, yo.


If you can pay for school out of pocket, then sure, why not go for it?  The age, gender, experience, whatever stuff doesn't really matter too much.  There are plenty of anecdotes of people of all shapes, sizes & flavours achieving success in the profession (or at least what they might personally consider success, i.e., happiness.


But the larger trend that needs to be considered is that education costs have grown, salaries are stagnant (if not shrinking) and there is little indication of this changing for the better anytime soon.


It's all good to believe in yourself but even a Frank Lloyd Wright-sized talent would probably be crushed if, after graduation, he is staring down $50k (or more) debt and job prospects that are only marginally better than minimum wage, yo!

May 3, 11 1:07 pm

@lilili - I will also be 36 when I finish my M.Arch I, and I am married with two children.  I am doing it because I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life as far as my career is concerned, and if I do not do this, I will forever regret ignoring my passion.  Now, does that mean I'll be happy with low pay?  Well, of course, I'm not exactly thrilled with the idea, but I almost got an education degree while an undergrad, and I can honestly say now that I'd much rather make a small amount of money and do what I love than be resentful of my career choice just because of money. 


When I was in the education program, I remember the other students explaining their passion for teaching, and how they could not imagine doing anything else.  Meanwhile, I sat there quietly thinking that I was doing it only because I knew I'd be good at it (I had worked in a school for three years already) and it was an easily attained degree.  I changed majors the next semester...


I'm not trying to tell you what to do because many of the other points already made on here are very valid and should be given consideration.  But, what I am saying is that money is not everything, passions are important, and our lives are measured by what we do with them, not how much we bring in each month. 


At the very least, if you decide to go, you can rest easy knowing that there's at least one other 30+ year old in school as well!  Good luck with your decision!

May 3, 11 1:14 pm

perhaps salary and job prospects increase greatly when refraining from saying "yo"...just kidding.

May 3, 11 1:24 pm

Yo I think FLLW was bankrupted a couple of times so maybe it's just part of walking the path? (not for me thanks I live well within my means and school loans are the only potential snag)

May 3, 11 2:37 pm

Go for it......IF


-You really have a passion for it

-Money doesn't drive your life

-You don't want to always ask the question: "what if"


I changed careers in my late thirties and went to grad school for a March.

It was not easy, I worked very hard at it. I am married, with kids, and I made lots of sacrifices but I would not have been happy with the rest of my life if I did not do what I truly loved and yearned for.

I had a successful career before, with a much higher salary but at the end of the day now I am happy. I love what I do and I look forward to going to work each day.

As others have said, do not do it if you are unsure or if you will not commit yourself to the process. Studio and all of the late nights can wear on you when you are out of your twenties, but if you love it it is all worth it.


Your previous work and life experiences will enhance your education, and hopefully allow you to have insight that your younger peers may not have been privy to yet.


Of course, this is only my opinion and you ultimately must decide on your own. I can so that it is possible. I am employed, working on my tests and making a tolerable salary which in my eyes is a success.


Good luck.


May 3, 11 2:41 pm

I have a bachelor of architecture and a post-professional master of architecture from a top private, not Ivy League, northeastern school.  I worked to pay my way through both degrees.  I obtained my masters at 32.

The plus side to your situation is that you are a minority (both gender and race), are not married, and don’t have/want kids.  Therefore, you are very mobile which will benefit you obtaining a job and having a stable career, albeit it may not be in the States. 

The downside to your career change is that it is in the field of architecture which is and may not be a stable profession.  That is if you follow a traditional career path working for a traditional firm doing design/bid/build projects for public and/or private work.

Based on recent publications from RIBA’s Building Futures wing, the traditional architecture firm may not be in existence in the next 15 years.  I would first research what the recent recipients of The Architectural League NY Emerging Voices are doing that may change the way architects work and focus your degree on new ideas.


In addition, not knowing what your current finances are you should expect to be in debt after graduating grad school to some $50,000+/-.  You will probably pay $275/month for the next 10 years to pay it off.  Starting salaries, which I recommend looking at the AIA Salary Survey and the Syracuse University College of Architecture Salary Survey, will be between $30,000 to $40,000 per year.  Then factor in the cost of living, etc.  The average national salary for architects is about $73,000/year, again that is average.  Just make sure you do your math work regarding finances, living, and retirement.  You should have an expectation of how you want to live your live and your finances before jumping into any degree.

In my opinion, I would not encourage your career change.  Architecture is a very stressful occupation with low wages.  Its future is questionable.  Its voice as a collective profession to influence laws in favor of the profession is weak (only about 109,000 registered architects in the US = weak Political Action Committee).  You may envision a glamorous life like Gehry, Meier, Pei, Piano, Wright, etc. but they are the exception not the norm.  I would encourage you to obtain a MBA over a MARCH because the opportunities are greater with typically better pay.  Be a client not an architect.


May 4, 11 12:55 pm

Be the kind of person to be willing to do whatever it takes to get where you want to be. The ones telling you to bail on the idea, obviously are not that committed.

May 4, 11 1:18 pm

Another point to note, if you are considering Real Estate I would encourage you to obtain a law degree.  There are many legal ramifications in the RE market and every developer needs a lawyer.  Many lawyers are in development because law is the base language of land development. 


Also since you mentioned Urban Design, I would talk with Urban Designers before getting into a degree without knowing what you will be doing.  There are not many firms that specialize in this and more often than not you may be employed by state or local governments which are not stable in the least.

May 4, 11 1:25 pm
vado retro

seems as though the developers here are all dentists.


May 4, 11 1:38 pm

Thanks to all,


hmm.....getting a Law, MBA, or even RE degree is almost impossible for me since I don't have a background in these fields and you probably won't perform well if you're not passionate about what you do.  What do you mean by nontraditional ways to practice architecture?  What about working outside of US, my language skills include English, Chinese and Spanish.  With the architecture training, can you find jobs in other architecture related fields?

May 4, 11 6:21 pm

there are other kinds of jobs out there, but finding them seems accidental more than planned.


hire a lawyer.  that's what we do.  you might hate paying them because the fees can be high, but it is easier then becoming a lawyer yourself. 


sheesh.  it's a team thing not a do it all yourself enterprise, so study the bits you are interested in and then find a team that compliments your interests and work from there. 


the hardest part will not be the degree but finding a way to use it in the real world.  the first job, the second job, getting financing, deciding if you want to be the one in charge or prefer to just tole away in the background...that kind of stuff is not easy to figure out.  but school?  that part of things is all gravy.

May 4, 11 7:42 pm

Yes, having passion about what you do is paramount in achieving personal happiness and fulfillment.


There is just so much advice to share, it is hard to write it all out in a short post.  What Jump stated about finding where you want to be on the work, leader or support, is right on.  I have no idea what your end goals are such as simply being a partner in a large 1000 person firm, a sole-practitioner, or drafts person.  Your goals might change once you are in school, then when you graduate, and then again when you begin working in the profession.  You will be constantly learning about the profession as you work and finding your talents, desires, likes and dislikes, etc.  The profession is nearly endless in its specialties and information.  The ideal situation is you determine what you like in the beginning and it doesn't change.


When I mentioned law and MBA I was looking at a broader picture of who makes the decisions and leads.  Yes, you have to have passion about these degrees and its work.  Like Brad Perkins of Eastman Perkins, who obtained a MBA and later an architecture degree (I believe that was the order), he basically skipped internship and was placed in an upper management level position overseeing multiple architectural studios.  He also states clearly that his lack of an internship requires him to rely on his other partners, who had internships, to be successful.  I have many friends that are registered architects that have obtained a MBA and have gone on to upper level management overseeing construction and development for Fortune 500 companies and the like.  It is just an option with a better payback for the education.


When I mentioned non-traditional firms I was talking about architecture firms who are pursuing other areas of design such as industrial design, graphic design, interior design, product development, branding, web design, video game design, etc.  There are firms which specialize in museum exhibits, concept design, and that combine marketing with architecture creating a whole business/image.  Since your background is in visual arts I would assume you would strive in a flexible fluid design environment that embodies all aspects of design and is not limited to simply architecture, though I could be wrong.  I have one friend who has a master in architecture who now does illustration and game design and another who began in architecture and now works for Sony also designing games. 


If you know all those languages, your ability to obtain a job increases dramatically.  In my opinion, working in the US will be limiting in the next 10 years.  Being able to go where the work is will secure you a better future.  Besides China there is India and all the developing countries which need architects to improve there building and urban design.  Being a western trained architect will provide you with greater responsibilities, respect, and a nicer salary. 


In short, try it out and find what YOU want to do.


Lastly, my graduate school experience was priceless.  Yes, I went into debt and yes I am not compensated fairly for my experience and education.  But having that graduate degree not only fulfilled me, but it strengthened my understanding and passion for architecture.  It also has broadened my appreciation and understanding of how other fields merge with architecture. 


good luck!

May 5, 11 10:44 am
vado retro

Also one must consider what school will do to you. Many people, myself included, went in thinking one way about what we wanted to do and exited with an entirely different set of priorities. Depending on who and what you are exposed to you may change a great deal through the ordeal, er i mean, experience.

May 5, 11 12:36 pm

Also keep in mind that 98% of architecture is not at all glamorous or design oriented. It's a lot of details, tedious work, ridiculously long hours, meetings with disparate groups of people butting heads, permitting, code compliance, etc. Everyone and their mom has visions of great designs, but to make it real you need to take a lot of shit all the time.


I'm not sure how the pay is in China, but I know that in Europe and South America it isn't great, and often times to get your foot in the door you need to be connected. Like it or not, architecture is a service to the elite. In Europe, South America, etc., the licensing is different, and the education there tends to be more technical because once you graduate, you're an architect. There is no post-graduation internship or exams after school. They also work as students for architects for little to no money just like people in the US. That means they are just as amazing at design as anyone else, but also more experienced and possess greater technical know-how. So finding a job in Europe or South America that is more than a six to twelve month internship can be quite difficult. Also, the economy sucks, so there are tons of people all over the planet looking for work.


That being said, if you can live off your husband and he doesn't mind, or if you're God's gift to the world of architecture, fine. You'll have no problem. But more than likely you're going to get into something that is far different than what you imagined, you'll have a lot of debt, you'll lose sleep, and you're quality of life will decline.


Either way, best of luck.

May 5, 11 10:53 pm

There are many ways to express your 'love' of architecture as well as a to few contribute to the built environment. There are many similarities between us, as I had received my M.Arch at 41 under very similar circumstances. If you wish to reach me to discuss:


Best of Luck,


May 7, 11 11:12 am

From my experience every person is different. There were two older students in the year above me who both passed with first class honours and landed great jobs in highly regarded architecture practices. In comparison, the mature students in my year all struggled and two dropped out early. I would have been 40 at the end of the 5 year course.


I think the successful older students had supportive families (spouses and children) and a strong network friends which got them through the relentless pressures and helped them keep their focus.


It's a shame, because most young architecture graduates know nothing else other than architecture. The older students bring far more life experience to the profession which, IMO, is vital to the creation of the built environment.

May 9, 11 8:35 pm

Hi Danna, I've e-mailed you with my questions.  Thank you so much!

May 16, 11 5:45 pm

Hello lililili,

I am so glad you posted this question since I am also in the same dilemma. I am also in my 30's, a minority and female. I have a BA in Interior Design and love the work, but am disillusioned the industry.

I came out of school with little connections and then the economy crashed. After three years of job hunting, working for low wages, and interview-fatigued, I'm wondering if architecture is more suited to my personality, and if I have both the int. design/arch background, if that will better help my marketability. Also, I'd like to learn 3D rendering and Revit since that was barely being touched upon when I graduated. I'm also wondering if its just better to get a 2yr degree in Graphic Arts!

However I am worried about being saddled with the debt and making not much more than I would with just a BA in Int. Design.

Anyway, feel free to email me as well :) @

and advice from others is welcomed as well!

Jun 13, 13 1:53 pm

30/Male here and will be applying to MLA school this year.  I'll be 33/34 when i graduate with tons of debt. Not to mention, leaving a steady job in urban/environmental planning.

But its calling me. Everyday I go to work and come home unsatisfied is more motivation for me to complete grad school.  All other consequences are meaningless (... for now).

Jun 14, 13 11:35 am

BTW, this thread is old, and it's hard to discern what the OP has done in the interim.  But this thread is one that is eternally valid and timely.

^ and ^^

It really depends, doesn't it?  I was at a point where my job was insufferable.  My first job was really related to my degree and then I got a second job with a "real good" company, and two things occurred (a) the job was titled as if related to my degree, and it was about stuff that was more vague and bureaucratic, and (b) staying out of those departments and remaining in more concrete work, which I like, was probably not achievable had I stayed.  I was thinking:  M.Arch., like I had thought before, or something altogether different, though I couldn't identify anything that interested me as much.

In the end, the question becomes can I do what I'm doing indefinitely without compromising my emotional and even physical health?  The job with the "real good" company was starting to do that very thing.

Jun 14, 13 1:22 pm

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