How to Become an Architect

female architect drawing

Architects shape the urban environments that we live in, having a huge impact on our day to day lives. If you’ve got a creative mind, an aptitude for highly technical work, and a desire to change society for the better, then you might be well suited to this career path.

It can take a long time to become an architect though, so you should be aware of all the facts before you make any decisions. Read on to learn more about this very important profession…

1. Research the Profession

The first thing you should do before deciding on any career is research it thoroughly. This will allow you to get a more balanced and independent idea of what it is like to do the job, as well as giving you clear guidance on how to get involved.

Job Description

Architects are primarily responsible for designing new buildings. They work with clients to ensure they accommodate the client’s requirements, as well as staying within budget. They also have to take into account the functionality of the design as well as various safety regulations; they collaborate closely with other construction professionals, such as surveyors and civil engineers, to achieve this.

Additionally, architects design extensions or alterations to existing buildings, as well as advising on the restoration and preservation of older buildings.

Key Responsibilities

Architects take on a lot of accountability and have to demonstrate ability in several areas. Their main responsibilities are as follows:

  • Work with clients to clarify the objectives, requirements and budget of a project (and in some cases help to select a site)
  • Collaborate with other architects and construction professionals, such as engineers, on designs
  • Consider and then advise clients on the practicality of their project
  • Prepare and present design proposals to clients
  • Utilise computer-aided design (CAD) software to conceptualize designs, as well as using other IT skills for project management tasks
  • Keep strictly within financial budgets and deadlines
  • Produce highly detailed and technical workings, drawings and specifications
  • Work with other construction professionals to specify the nature and quality of materials required
  • Work with legal professionals to prepare contract applications and presentations, as well as applications for planning and building control departments
  • Negotiate with contractors and other professionals, and help to draw up tender documents for contracts
  • Manage projects and help to coordinate the work of contractors, as well as taking over control of the project for the duration (including regular site visits to check on progress, timings and budget)
  • React to and resolve any problems and issues that arise during construction
  • Ensure the environmental impact of a project is considered and managed

Essential Skills and Qualities

Architects require a unique skillset that is quite diverse, including:

  • Excellent design and drawing skills to visualise designs and demonstrate your flair for architecture
  • A strong imagination and the ability to think and create in three dimensions
  • Strong analytical skills, accuracy, and attention to detail
  • A keen interest in and understanding of buildings and the built environment
  • Excellent communication skills, written and oral, with the ability to liaise effectively with a range of other professionals and departments
  • Good organisational and project management skills
  • An in-depth understanding of construction processes
  • Commercial awareness, business acumen, and negotiating skills
  • Strong mathematical aptitude
  • Excellent IT skills – especially with CAD

Working Hours and Conditions

Most architects work in offices and practices and therefore work typical office hours of between 35-40 hours a week. Expect to exceed this though, especially when there are deadlines and larger scale projects; the needs of your client should come first, and you should also be available to respond to any on-site problems or issues quickly.

You will also be expected to travel to client offices and construction sites regularly, where you will need to adhere to strict safety regulations including the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Salary Prospects

In the UK, junior architects (known as architectural assistants or Part II architects) can expect to earn between £24,000 and £31,000 depending on the firm and the location. Once fully qualified, this shifts to between £30,000 and £45,000 depending on experience. Salaries for senior associates, directors and partners could be anywhere from £50,000 upwards depending on the prestige and success of the firm.

Many larger firms are situated in London, and salaries there may be even higher to reflect this; additionally, obtaining chartered status can also push your salary up.

In the US, junior architects earn on average around $45,000, which can rise as high as $125,000 as you progress.

2. Get the Qualifications

In the UK, becoming an architect is a lengthy process, and most study programs require candidates to have a solid education in art and/or design related subjects prior to applying. There are typically five defined steps in the process:

Step 1 – A 3 or 4 year undergraduate degree from an architecture school, which has to be approved by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Architects Registration Board (ARB)

Step 2 – Supervised work experience for 12 months, usually at a private practice (although it is possible to undertake this placement in any sector of the building industry, as long as the work is related to architecture and is supervised by a construction professional)

Step 3 – A further 2 years of study, leading to a diploma or Master’s degree in architecture

Step 4 – Supervised work experience for another 12 months, taking the total to 24 months and making the student eligible for step 5

Step 5 – A written and oral examination on professional practice and management, as well as assessment of the previous 24 months work experience. Upon completion of this stage, students can register with the ARB to use the protected term ‘architect’, as well as apply for chartered status with RIBA.

In the US, students would usually undertake a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture program at a design school, although there are other construction and design related courses that are considered a valid pathway to licensed status. This then leads to a Masters of Architecture – how long this takes ultimately depends on the preceding undergraduate course.

Upon completion, students then take 3-year paid internships that are administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). During this period, they will also take the Architect Registration Exam (ARE); once the student has received certification that they have successfully passed this exam they are then eligible to receive their practice license.

3. Land Your First Job

Architects are employed by both private and public sector organisations, although most prefer to work for private firms. Many junior architects utilise the contacts they have made during their work experience placements to land permanent positions.

There is a wide range of architecture firms, from smaller independent companies to global practices that take on much larger scale projects; as a result, their hiring policies can differ wildly. It is also worth considering that the building and construction industry as a whole generally reflects the state of the country’s economy, and as such it undergoes peaks and troughs; finding a job when construction projects are stagnant can be tough, and you should bear this in mind.

It is a globally recognised and sought after profession though, and it is possible to find work abroad. Alternatively, there are teaching and research options, as well as various consultancy positions in other industries; try the following architect specific job sites:

4. Develop Your Career

During the early stages of your career, you will be required by RIBA to document and record evidence of competency training and practical experience. Once chartered, this self-learning process continues; you will need to demonstrate a minimum of 35 hours of continual professional development each year, covering ten set topics. In the US, it is mandatory to complete examinations each year to demonstrate similar competencies.

Completing these tasks is essential for developing and progressing into more senior positions, especially at smaller firms where there is more competition. Larger firms tend to offer more career advancement opportunities, although ultimately, many architects seek to distinguish themselves and build impressive portfolios before seeking to establish their own private practices.

Job Outlook

In the UK, the construction industry is predicted to stutter slightly in the short term due to the uncertainty over Brexit, but overall there will be no drastic changes over the next 10 years. In fact, a recent government report highlighted that architecture is actually becoming an increasingly valuable part of the UK economy.

In the US, job growth rates are also steady according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although they assert that there will be a lot of competition for jobs in the next 10 years. This, they say, is as a result of more architecture students currently on course to graduate than ever before.


As you can see, architecture requires a lot of commitment and dedication, but it also provides an incredible opportunity to see your ideas and creative visions come to life. The feeling of satisfaction associated with driving past a building you designed is huge and is more than enough motivation for many architects. So, if you want to be involved in creating the towns and cities of the future, why not consider it?

Are you an architect? Or are you studying architecture? Let us know your experiences in the comments below…