If you’re thinking of studying architecture, you probably already know that you have many years of school and internships ahead of you. However, the exact length of the journey to qualification varies from country to country, with minimum periods ranging from four years to eight, and some people taking much longer than this.
In this article, we will look in detail at the routes to qualification in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. We will compare these to other parts of the world, and ask whether you’re likely to be paid back for such an investment during the course of your career.
How long does it take to become an architect in the US?
Anyone considering architecture as a career in the United States should take a deep breath now, as the country has one of the longest times to qualification in the world. Eight years is the shortest time in which anyone can qualify, and many students take longer – sometimes as long as 12 years!
The fastest route to licensure is to take a five-year Bachelor of Architecture, also called a B.Arch, followed by a three-year program of documented work experience (known as the AXP) and topped off with the Architects’ Registration Exam (ARE). This takes approximately eight years and comes with a predictably hefty price tag.
If you study a subject other than architecture at undergraduate level, it is still possible to become an architect but the time investment is considerable. After your first degree (already four years) you are required to take a Master of Architecture, also called an M.Arch. This typically lasts two or three years for students with undergraduate qualifications in a design-related field, but if your background is in zoology or politics you could be looking at a five-year stretch.
On top of this you must complete your AXP and ARE, which means nine to 12 years in total.
How long does it take to become an architect in the UK?
In the United Kingdom, the minimum amount of time to qualification is seven years, one less than in the United States. To qualify in this period, a student would have to take a Bachelors’ degree in architecture (three years), followed by a year’s internship, followed by a Masters’ degree in architecture (one year) and then another year’s internship.
In reality, it usually takes a little over seven years even for students who complete each element on time – and not everyone does! – because they will only be eligible to take RIBA Part 3 at the end of this period. (The Part 3 is an exam which candidates must pass before applying for a license.) It may take another few months to prepare for the exam, be given a date, get the results, and actually become a registered architect.
Unlike in the US, if you have a first degree in another subject, there is no option to ‘convert’ to architecture by taking a Masters’-level course and getting work experience. You would need to start again from the beginning, with a Bachelors’ degree in architecture.
How long does it take to become an architect in Canada?
In Canada, it typically takes eight years for someone to become a qualified architect. Students can either take a six-year Masters’ degree in architecture – there are 11 such programmes accredited by the CACB – or an undergraduate degree in another subject, followed by a three-year architecture conversion course at Masters’ level. These degrees must be supplemented by two years (or 3,720 hours) of internships, supervised by a mentor and fully documented.
Regardless of which route a young architect takes, after their studies and internships they are required to pass the ExAC (Examination for Architects in Canada). This is an essential requirement when applying for licensure.
How long does it take to become an architect elsewhere?
China requires as much from its students as the US and Canada, with a minimum qualification time of eight years. Other Asian countries allow people to qualify slightly more quickly. Hong Kong and Singapore require five years of school and two of work experience; Japan requires four years of school and two of work experience; India requires five years of school, but no work experience.
In Europe, requirements vary quite a lot. Germany and Ireland, like the UK, require five years of school and two of work experience. In France the requirement is five and one, while in Italy students attend school for five years but are not required to complete work experience. Other countries have different systems altogether – for example, in Sweden, Switzerland and Finland, a license from a national body is not essential to begin practicing architecture.
Australia and South Africa ask for five years of school and two of work experience. Russia is four and two, while Turkey and Mexico have five-year qualifications but no work experience requirement.
Does ‘architect’ mean the same thing all over the world?
Countries have different laws relating to the practice of architecture and also to the title of ‘architect’. In the UK, for instance, only someone who has completed the RIBA Part 3 (after seven years of schooling and internships) and been formally registered can call themselves an architect. The Netherlands has rules about who can call themselves an architect, but not about who can practice architecture.
And in Switzerland, you can both practice architecture and call yourself an architect whether or not you have a license. However, membership of the Swiss Society of Engineers and Architects does require five years of relevant study.
Confusing? It certainly is. The main thing to remember is that different places have different requirements, so make sure you do thorough research on your country of study – especially if you’re applying as an international student, where the rules may be different again!
Is it worth spending so long to become an architect?
The answer to this question depends on how you define ‘worth’. Is it worth architects studying for so long in order that buildings function safely, and don’t pollute the environment? Certainly. It is worth individuals investing such a chunk of their youth in a profession that may not reward them financially as much as, say, medicine or law? Unfortunately, only the individual in question can make that call.
The truth is that architects’ salaries tend to allow for a comfortable life rather than an extravagant one. It is possible that seven or eight years of student debt will feel like a chain around your neck for most of your career; but it is equally possible that any sacrifice will feel ‘worth it’ when you get to do the thing you love every day.
If you can, speak with a range of experienced architects and ask them how they feel.
Wherever you study, becoming an architect will take longer than most other subjects – at least four years, and perhaps as many as 12. Not only that, it will leave you with significant student debts.
Architecture is not a career for the faint of heart, but many architects couldn’t imagine doing anything else. So if you share that sentiment, you may find that your training years are at least as joyous as they are arduous!