Should I Be an Engineer or an Architect?

Architects plan and design buildings while engineers plan and design everything from roads and airports to industrial machinery and consumer products. Architect was ranked the second best creative job and also ranked 70th on the list of the 100 best jobs of 2013 by U.S. News & World Report. On the other hand, mechanical engineer was the 6th best technology job and ranked 17th overall out of the 100 best jobs, while civil engineer ranked 9th best technology job and the 26th overall best job out of 100.

Before choosing between the two professions, it’s important to know what each one entails.

Architect Job Description  

Architects blend art and science to design rooms, buildings, complexes and other structures for indoor and outdoor use. Their designs may range from houses and churches to shopping malls and college campuses. Most engineers obtain a 5-year bachelor of architecture degree, which includes courses in architectural history, construction methods, and computer-aided design and drafting. 

Architect Salary and Job Outlook  

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average annual salary of architects as $78,690, as of May 2012. The BLS also projects demand for architects to grow by 24 percent through 2020, which is much faster than the 14 percent average growth rate predicted for other U.S. occupations. Most architects work in the architectural, engineering and related services industry. The next two top employers are the federal executive branch and the residential building construction industry.  

Engineer Job Description

There are several branches of engineering. Civil engineering most closely resembles architecture, since civil engineers also plan and design structures. However, in addition to buildings, they also design such large projects such as roads, tunnels, dams and water supply and treatment systems. Other types of engineers include electrical and engineers, who design electric motors and navigational equipment. In addition, mechanical engineers design and build tools, machines, engines and other mechanical equipment. Engineers need a bachelor’s degree in their respective specialty.  

Engineer Salary and Job Outlook 

Salaries for engineers vary by specialties. Civil engineers earned $84,140, according to May 2012 salary data from the BLS. Civil engineering jobs are projected to increase by 19 percent, and the highest levels of civil engineers are in the architectural, engineering and related services industry, followed by the state government and the local government. Electrical engineers earned $91,810, and through 2020, job demand is projected to grow by 6 percent.

The highest employer of electrical engineers is the architectural, engineering and related services industry.  The second-highest employer is the navigational, measuring, electromedical and control instruments manufacturing industry. Mechanical earned $84,770 reported the BLS in May 2012, which also projects a 9 percent growth rate through 2020. The architectural, engineering and related services industry was the highest employer, followed by scientific research and development firms.  

Job Description Similarities

Both architects and engineers are licensed professionals who meet with clients to discuss their wants, needs, objectives and budgets. They both oversee the construction -- or manufacture -- of their designs and ensure that their creations are not only functional but also safe. Both architects and engineers may conduct feasibility studies, address environmental concerns, and perform cost analyses, and those who design buildings must follow zoning laws, building codes and fire regulations. Architects and engineers must also possess analytical, creative, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.