What is the Best Major for Architect Design Careers?

An image of architects for our FAQ on What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Architect

What degree do you need for architecture design careers? There are many different degrees in architecture that will get you a job. But you need to find the one that suits you.

The National Architectural Accrediting Board lists a limited number of architecture degrees. The limited number of architect degrees means finding one takes careful planning. But what degree is architecture? And what major do you need to be an architect?

Read on for information on the best major for architect careers and which architectural design degree will get you a job.

Best Degrees for Architecture

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are 3 steps to becoming an architect:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in architecture or related field
  • Gain relevant work experience through a paid internship
  • Pass the Architect Registration Examination

The first step is the most important. A typical bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete. But an architectural design degree program takes five years. These programs are for students with no work experience or background in architecture.

Look for a bachelor’s degree in architecture that’s accredited. The National Architectural Accrediting Board is the go-to place to find architecture degrees. There are about 180 NAAB-accredited professional architecture programs. This number represents over 140 colleges and universities. But there are fewer bachelor’s degree programs available.

Other Top Architectural Degree Programs

With a limited number of bachelor of architecture programs, you have other options. You don’t have to major in professional architecture. You have other choices.

As long as you take classes typically found in an architectural registration program, you can major in other subjects. Below we discuss other top majors for architecture.

Computer Science

Some schools offer computer architecture as a major, and those who don’t offer computer science instead. How does computer science and architecture relate? It’s impossible to have one without the other. Here’s why.

Architectural methods have changed over the years. Computer use in architectural design is the norm. That’s why schools offer computer science programs with a concentration in architecture or architectural design.

You can get a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a professional architecture concentration. Your studies teach you the basic principles found in an architecture program. But look for programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board.


Want to become a licensed architect but not get degrees in architecture? You can major in engineering. Some schools even offer architectural engineering.

This program focuses on the study and design of building systems. This includes:

  • Electrical systems
  • Mechanical systems
  • Structural systems

You can earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering or pick up a concentration in architecture design or computer aided design. Your degree will depend on which engineering and architecture program you choose. It is important to choose a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. Employers value a degree accredited by the national board.

Environmental Design

An environmental design bachelor’s degree teaches some of the same topics covered in a bachelor of architecture program. But the main focus is on designing for environmentally sustainable spaces. You learn how to create designs that benefit both humans and the natural world.

Environmental design courses cover topics like:

  • Architectural history
  • Architecture design
  • Landscape technology
  • Professional architecture

Real Estate Development

Want to become a licensed architect? You can with a degree in real estate development.

This bachelor’s degree program teaches you how to become a real estate developer. You take both business and real estate classes. But some programs also offer classes you’d find in a bachelor of architecture program.

Urban Planning

Urban planning programs teach theories and practices for creating thriving communities. You learn how to create business districts and green spaces. You also study neighborhoods and look at ways to improve transportation.

Most programs offer the same courses you can find in a bachelor of architecture program. You take courses that a licensed architect has taken. These include:

  • Geographic design and information science
  • Planning methods
  • Sustainable cities

With this degree you can continue your education in a master’s degree in architecture program.

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Master’s Degree in Architecture

After you earn a bachelor’s degree in architecture, you can get a professional architecture degree. Some architects choose to earn a master’s degree in architecture.

An advanced degree is not necessary, but it can help you advance in your career. The National Architecture Accrediting Board recognizes over 90 master’s in architectural degree programs. These master’s degree programs call for between one and five years of study beyond the bachelor of architecture degree.

And if you want to go further, you can with a Doctor of Architecture degree (D. Arch). There is only one program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. You can find the doctoral degree in architecture at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Training, Exams, and Licensure for Architects

Once you have an architecture degree, you’re ready for the next step in becoming an architect. You need training. To work as a licensed architect, there are certain qualifications employers want. These include:

  • Internship experience
  • Passing a qualifying examination
  • Obtaining a state license


Students in nearly every program of study wonder if they need to complete an internship, but for aspiring architects, an internship period is mandatory. In most states, students need three years of experience working in architectural firms. But most students complete this training in colleges and universities. You do this through an internship.

Pass the Architect Exam

With a professional architecture degree and training, you can take the Architect Registration Examination. The architectural registration exam helps you qualify for state licensure. All 50 states accept the architectural registration exam for licensure.

Become a Licensed Architect

You need licensing to work as an architect. Once you’re licensed, you need to keep your credentials to continue working. State requirements vary, but most employers ask their architects to complete some form of continuing education.

You can complete these through:

  • Conference attendance
  • Self-study and university courses
  • Workshops

There are many steps to becoming an architect. But the process doesn’t have to overwhelm you. In colleges and universities, you can complete some of these steps. You will get your bachelor of architecture degree or complete architect classes. Your classes should follow the same curriculum found in a degree for architect program.

You should plan to spend five years getting your degree in architecture. But during this time, you can intern with a firm. This will give you experience valued by employers. It will also help you prepare for the Architect Registration Exam. Once you pass the exam, you’re on your way to becoming an architect.

And if you choose, you can get a master’s degree in architecture. This will also give you experience valued by employers.

Qualities Architects Should Have

Before you start your search for architecture degrees, ask yourself if you have what it takes. Being an architect is more than getting a bachelor of architecture degree. The occupation calls for certain qualities.

Here are six skills and qualities every architect should have.

Analytical Skills

Architects work with mechanical systems. They should know how these systems impact building operations. When you read plans and put them into practice, you put your analytical skills to work.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are important in any profession. But for architects, these skills are a must. Architects work with clients. They present their ideas in both written and oral form.

They also work with other architects, graphic designers, and staff. From drawing up plans to meeting a deadline, you must have strong and effective communication abilities.


Being creative is a quality a good architect has. It takes creativity to plan and design the look and aesthetic of a structure. It is creativity that makes a building:

  • Appealing
  • Attractive
  • Functional
  • Sustainable

Some argue that you can’t teach creativity, but you can develop it while you earn your professional architecture degree.

Organizational Skills

Architects use organization skills to:

  • Juggle deadline
  • Keep detailed records of each project
  • Manage contracts

They oversee important aspects of a project, such as building costs, materials used, and progress made. To balance the workload, you need strong organizational skills.

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Technical Skills

From the time you take classes in a bachelor’s or master’s degree program, you develop your technical skills. Why? Because you will use them after you earn your professional architecture degree.

Architects use computer aided design technology to draft, plan, and create. Design work demands technical skills.

Visualization Skills

Seeing the end from the beginning is a skill. Architects visualize the finished project before they start on it. They envision how certain parts of a structure relate to other parts. They also consider how a structure will look when it’s complete.

Job Outlook for Architects

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a 3% growth in jobs for architects through 2030. The growth rate is slower than the average for all occupations.

With limited growth, you might ask yourself: Is architecture a good major? There aren’t a surplus of jobs, but the industry is stable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 9,400 job openings will occur over the next 10 years. This growth will occur because of the need to replace individuals who retire.

Where to Find Architect Jobs

Limited jobs mean fierce competition. But certain industries show more growth than others. The following areas will need architects in upcoming years. These industries will hire the most architects.

  • Healthcare facilities
  • Residential home building
  • Schools and learning facilities
  • Sustainable design structures

Want your resumé to stand out? Add skills in building information modeling (BIM) software and other specialized training. Those with a master’s degree in architecture will see the best job prospects.

Pay for Architects

According to the BLS, the average wage for architects is $82,320/year. The highest 10% of earners in this job make over $136,000/year. That’s about double the average annual wage for all other occupations.

But there are certain industries that pay the highest wages if you have a degree in architecture. These industries include:

  • Architectural
  • Construction
  • Engineering, and related services
  • Government

Government pays the highest wages for architects of all industries. In government, you can earn an average wage of $97,960/year. But you need the highest degree in architecture you can get. This is usually a master’s degree or doctorate.

Architectural services is the second-highest-paying industry. Architects with architecture degrees can earn over $81,000/year.

Construction is another high-paying industry for architects. A licensed architect with a bachelor’s degree in architecture can earn almost $80,000/year.

Top-Paying States for Architects

Geographic location also impacts earnings for architects. Certain states and metro areas offer high wages. Top-paying states for architects, excluding landscape architecture and naval architects, include the following:

  • District of Columbia
  • New York
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • Alaska

In D.C., architects can earn $109,540/year, according to the BLS. These wages make the District of Columbia the highest-paying “state” for this occupation. The second-highest-paying state for architects is New York. New York architects earn about $101,650/year.

Other high-paying states include Minnesota and New Hampshire. In these states, you can earn  $100,650/year and $98,920/year. Alaska also pays good wages. In Alaska, your bachelor of architecture can earn you about $98,240/year.

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Top-Paying Cities

There are also high-paying metro areas for architects. Architects working in these cities earn $25,000 to $31,000 more than the average wages per year. But to work in these high-paying areas, architects must endure high costs of living.

The three highest-paying metro areas for architects are:

  • Sacramento, Roseville, Arden, and Arcade (California)
  • San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara (California)
  • Santa Rosa (California)

In these metro areas, you can earn between $114,930 and $112,110/year.

Other high-paying metro areas outside of California include:

  • Eau Claire, Wisconsin: $111,320/year
  • Ithaca, New York: $103,900/year
  • Savannah, Georgia: $103,570/year

Top-Paying Non-Metro Areas

Don’t want to live in a metro area? Good news! You can earn high wages in many non-metro places.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports five top-paying non-metro areas for architects. They include:

  • West Northwestern Ohio non-metropolitan area: $89,680/year
  • Alaska non-metropolitan area: $88,790/year
  • North Valley and Northern Mountains region of California: $88,610/year
  • Western Wyoming non-metropolitan area: $86,460/year
  • West Montana non-metropolitan area: $84,060/year

Architect Work Environment

According to the BLS, there are two major employers for architects with a bachelor of architecture.

71 percent of all architects work in

  • Architectural engineering, and closely related services.
  • Self-employed

71% of architects work in architectural engineering services. 17% are self-employed. The remaining number work in government and construction.

Most architects work in office buildings. They meet with clients and work with fellow architects and engineers. They spend most of their day on projects, drafts, and drawings. Some days, they visit construction sites and meet with clients outside the workplace.

Architects work full-time. When facing tight deadlines, they can work longer hours. This is also true of self-employed architects. But they have more flexibility in their work schedule.

A career as an architect can be rewarding. Most employers offer advancement opportunities. If you keep up with your continuing education requirements, you can move into a leadership role. And if management is your goal, there is room to advance in this career.

BDP Staff
November 2022

Related Resources:

This concludes our article on the best architect degrees and major for architect jobs.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris