Intern 1 Salary (Southern CA)


I've worked for a smaller firm, 5 people, for a year now at $15/hr, and am finishing my masters in Architecture. They offered me a fulltime position(salary)  and I was wondering what a reasonable salary is? My student loans are going to be about $1200/mo and then rent (best case scenario  will be $800/900/mo. This makes it near impossible to survive with anything less than 40k after taxes.. Anyone have any feedback or advice please? (side note.. I believe they offer a discounted healthcare) 

Apr 18, 13 8:47 pm

Have you checked ?

Apr 18, 13 9:00 pm

$15/hr? yikes... I got paid $18.50 as a second year intern and I thought that was low compared to the $20+ my classmates were getting at other firms.  Not to disappoint you.. just don't let them take advantage of you, but again, in this job market, one should be glad they even have a job :)

Apr 18, 13 9:32 pm

Thanks! Unfortunately there's nothing on archinect salaries for San Diego, but that site is a good reference.. am I totally out of my mind to try & ask for $41 as a starting point? I have a friend in Phoenix & one in Manhattan that started at 40k without any experience... and Phoenix is cheap to live in.. I figure with my one year experience with them I definately deserve at least 40... I hope

Apr 18, 13 10:10 pm

41 is reasonable.. Its a small firm so you probably can't expect a salary similar to those offered at large corporate firms where they give you overtime pay, bonuses and other incentives.  As an intern, I loved working overtime. xD got paid x1.5 for the first 10 hrs of overtime.. x 2 after 50 hours ^^

just wondering what are your responsibilities at the firm?  You shouldn't hesitate to ask more if you take on a lot

Apr 19, 13 1:48 am

access, dunno which corporate firms give overtime these days...

Apr 19, 13 2:03 am

I also make 15/hr as an intern, blows. I say 40 is resonable.

Apr 19, 13 10:11 am

whats funny is 14yrs ago my first job as a cad drafter paid me $14 an hour in Chicago, after 3years i was making $16.50, 50% medical, paid holidays, one week vacation, flexible schedule. after finishing my masters degree in architecture, and living in the upper mid-west, best job i cud get was paying $16.50/hr, one week paid vacation, license exam reimbursement upon passing, $100 towards licensure or certification renewal, flexible schedule. so in the end 7yrs of education for s=r*(theta) & licensure reimbursement that only 30% of architects will use anyways

Thanks American Dream!

Apr 19, 13 11:51 am

Would you expect the majority of your hours would be billable? Do you have any idea what your billable rate would be or do you know what others at the firm in a similar position are billing? I would try and figure out how much it costs the company to employ you per hour (salary, benefits, additional overhead) vs. how much you make them per hour. I'm sure your employer is going to run those numbers.

Apr 19, 13 12:08 pm

I know they bill $75/hr for my work.. 14 days vacation + 8 holidays, majority of my hours are billable, I ran some numbers based on other posts Ive seen and now my only question is how much profit then becomes worth it for the company... I guess I should ask for 42 and negotiate from there then? I just dont want to look too greedy or anything.. but then again, why not at least try and ask for it, right?

May 22, 13 11:12 pm
Net pay on 42k in California is...$31,054.37.

No bueno
May 23, 13 12:37 am

Could you please explain.. ? 

May 23, 13 8:00 pm

Annual Gross Pay $42,000.00
Federal Withholding $5,878.75
Social Security $2,604.00
Medicare $609.00
California $1,433.88
SDI $420.00

Yearly Net Pay $31,054.37

Divide by 12 = $2,587 per month in your pocket.

If you have $2,000 a month in fixed costs with loans and rent you will have to make some serious lifestyle compromises. I'm aware you were shooting for a salary that is 40k after taxes, I don't know anyone who gives their company a number for a salary after taxes. To achieve that your gross salary would have to be $57,000-58,000 a year which is very hard to achieve starting out... 

May 23, 13 8:40 pm
Reuben Alt

The take home pay on 42k in California could be even less than $31,054.37.  That's about what you would see after Federal Income Tax, Social Security Tax, Medicare Tax and State Income Tax with no additional deductions. 

May 23, 13 8:42 pm


what he said, and it would be nice to have enough for health insurance, 401k/IRA and emergency (future unemployment) savings.

May 23, 13 8:46 pm

Oh gotcha, no I was calculating that $6,000 would be withheld for taxes.. however I did not calculate the rest of the crap. Its truly 10k that gets withheld huh? ....I calculated that I need $2520/month just to pay my bills alone(the basics=rent, student loans, utilities, car)... that's not even money for food, gas or anything. So if you were to find yourself in my situation.. how much would you go in asking for?

I did find a guy working in DT San Diego making 45k; however, he's at a large firm, whereas Im at a very small firm. Picking up a second job is not ideal but I don't see any other way out of this... I'll be surprised if my boss gives me 42k, when Im currently only making $15/hr.. but I guess I have all the math to back up my estimate with. At least I will have the numbers to show him so I dont look like Im greedy..

May 23, 13 8:53 pm

Btw, thanks for all of the advice... this has been extremely helpful.

May 23, 13 8:55 pm


There are 2,080 hours in a year to annualize an hourly rate.  Remember 2,080.

First, at $15, that's $31,200 gross per year.  So, people are tossing out $42,000.  I would start at $45,000.  If you make $45,000, that is $21.65 an hour and, using a multiplier of 3.15, they would be billing you at $68 an hour, which is feasible for a market like L.A.  Even at a $65 an hour billing rate, and using the same multiplier, that's a salary of ~ $43,000.

Let me tell you that some small employers are tight at parting with big jumps in the salaries they pay - it's a psychological hurdle.  Even though you are worth it, especially given that education, expect some push back from them.  In the L.A. market, you can't afford a deep discount.  That's why, in expensive metro areas, people unfortunately have roommates.  If you present the facts, it will either impress them or make them more defensive.  Most architects know the logic of the game, but think their (younger) employees are stupid.

Can you move on to another firm to get more money?  If they won't bump you up, in L.A., then they don't deserve you as an employee.  You should be also getting all of your health insurance paid.  BTW, new laws regarding health insurance kick in in about 7 months, on 1-1-2014.  Will you get paid overtime at the annualized rate of your salary, or at least comp time?  If they give you that salary, and habitually get 50 to 55 hours a week out of you, they're making some (unfair) profit on you.  We had a situation, in a very busy market and under an atmosphere of defection, where anything over 44 hours a week was paid at the hourly rate in one's salary.  That incentivized overtime, so I would put in 48 to 52 hours a week.  More if I had to.

Good luck.  It's tough when you like a firm, but they're below the going rate.  I had that happen once, and I had no choice but leave for a nice uptick.

May 23, 13 9:07 pm

If you're paying 1,200 a month in student loans I'm afraid to know how much debt you've actually taken on. That changes everything, I sincerely hope that is not your required minimum payment and that you are trying to pay it off early. 

I never worked for a small firm so I imagine the negotiation process is a bit different since there is only so much to go around. You know how much you're worth to them in billable hours, but how much do you contribute to their profitably? Also, starting salaries tend to be based on future contributions. You offer someone a high starting salary based on potential for long-term impact in your firm. You low-ball an intern if you see them as someone who can be easily replaced. Architecture in the end is a business... 

I know a recent grad who interned in very well-known small firm in LA for a year and was offered 36k when he received his masters...California can be a rough place to start your career. Best of luck, and it is definitely nice to have an offer waiting for you at graduation. 

May 23, 13 9:28 pm

I don't think you are out of line to ask for $42k, and I'm an employer. You might not get it though, it is not your employer's fault that you have massive debt. It would be a nice salary without debt, but with it, I feel bad for you. My advice -  you need a roommate or you're eating ketchup packets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

May 24, 13 9:58 am

Thanks for the advice everyone. I am very aware that my student debt shouldn't play into my salary whatsoever. I know that my salary is based on my worth and what I can bring to the company.. With that said, it is a hard fact to ignore. I escaped with 170g  in debt, and tuition is rising every year. The country is facing a real crisis, I'm sure Im not the only one to find myself in this sort of situation though. I think employers are going to start seeing more and more of this. 

May 24, 13 11:57 am

'escaped' with 170G? sign of the times, as you said....

May 24, 13 12:35 pm


It's VERY sad that both health care costs and college tuition have spiraled at a rate that far surpasses the increases in the cost of living index.  THIS is way less sustainable than the things architects who are all into sustainability bitch and moan about.

May 24, 13 12:41 pm

"I escaped with 170g  in debt"

I just cannot stop shaking my head. Sorry to hear that Samantha. With a debt like that, I could only assume that your $1,200 payments are the minimum.

Make sure that you are actively looking for other jobs. Or even better, have another job offer lined up so that you can be prepared to walk away from the firm. Observant had a lot of good points.

I know that times are tough but I can't imagine a person surviving in CA on that small of a salary and knowing that the firm was billing at the HUGE of a multiple.

May 24, 13 12:55 pm
Reuben Alt

Granted they are at larger firms with international work I know a couple people who started at 50k+ in Southern California (one is SD and one in LA).  So asking for 45k is definitely not out of line but firm size definitely plays a large role, however you need to make enough money to live.  By making the minimum loan payment on 170k you'll probably build up another 100k in interest. 

May 25, 13 12:41 pm
Jono Lee
What kind of earnings can one expect while completing a summer internship in between years in grad school?
May 25, 13 4:46 pm

Personally, I made $15/hr, but I was at a small firm of 5 people located in San Diego.. $15 seems to be the going rate around here from what I've heard from fellow students.

May 27, 13 8:16 pm

@jawknow FYI, same in Boston, also in a small firm.. @samantha, I just started my internship and I want to know what are your experience with ur firm like in term of job responsibilities, if you don't mind sharing.  I have been working on existing condition documents in Revit but I am not sure if I am drafting too slow or how to manage time efficiently in term of my work production.   

May 27, 13 10:30 pm

First off, working in a small firm typically opens up the possibility of taking on tasks you wouldn't ever have the chance of doing at a large firm. My firm is really wonderful in the sense that they shuffle me around a lot. I started out just doing some corrections to CD sets in Revit and CAD (just like you), then mostly schematic design, some renderings, and now after almost a year I now get to setup my own CD sets. When starting out, I definitely had the same thoughts as you. I was worried I was moving too slow, BUT you gotta keep in mind... they were once in our shoes. They know that starting out, we are very much still learning. I was always honest, if there was ANYTHING I was not sure of, I would not hesitate to ask. If I finished early, I would always run over and bother someone to give me another task so I could keep being efficient and keep learning. I think as long as you have that attitude of not worrying that you are "bothering" anyone or asking too many questions... you'll be just fine! Give it a couple months and you'll adjust your work pace to the pace of the company. Each firm is different!

May 27, 13 11:27 pm

Thank you for sharing, Samantha. It really makes me feel better.  I started working on my first CD, a bathroom addition to a house.. Yay!!! It is all good as long as I am learning new things :)

May 29, 13 8:36 pm

Block this user

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

  • ×Search in: