Regular student surveys frequently confirm what we already, anecdotally, knew: studying architecture puts young people under huge financial pressure. The field is increasingly seen as elitist, with questions like ‘Is architecture a rich kids’ profession?’ appearing over and over in internet forums.
Certainly, it isn’t cheap to pursue a career in architecture. Not only is the training unusually long, but in some parts of the world tuition fees are also set at higher-than-average rates. Moreover, aspiring architects must support themselves through two or three years of internships, as well as forking out for specialized materials, software and study trips – so is it really worth it?
This article will help you answer that question by breaking down the costs of qualifying as an architect in the US, UK and Canada. It will also suggest some factors beyond course fees that potential architecture students may wish to consider.
How much does it cost to become an architect in the US?
The cost of qualifying in the United States depends on where you study, but a five-year Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) degree is likely to cost in excess of $100,000 and perhaps as much as $180,000.
The price of a Master of Architecture (M.Arch) degree, which lasts two to four years and is suitable for those with first degrees in other subjects, varies even more than this. At Georgia Institute of Technology the total fees are $33,312, but at Cornell you’ll pay $197,925! So it’s definitely wise to shop around if you’re considering a graduate qualification.
Before getting a license, American architects must use the AXP (Architecture Experience Program) to document a certain numbers of experience. This costs $100 to register and $85 each year to renew. They must also pass all six parts of the ARE (Architect Registration Examination) at a total cost of $1,410, assuming they pass each paper on their first attempt.
Then there’s the cost of the license application itself – between $25 and $85 – as well as a $385 transmittal fee for the national registration board to send your details to the appropriate jurisdiction.
In short, there’s no way to qualify as an architect in the United States without spending well over $100,000, and there’s a good chance you’ll pay twice that. As a comparison, the latter is the same price as a four-year medical degree – but doctors tend to command higher salaries throughout their careers.
How much does it cost to become an architect in the UK?
It takes seven years to become an architect in the United Kingdom; four or five of these are spent at university, where course fees are usually £9,000 per year. So while cheaper than in the US (£36,000-£45,000 compared to $100,000-$180,000), architecture is still one of the most expensive subjects to study in the UK.
Of course, students also have to support themselves during their two years of work experience, during which they will not be receiving a full salary. But on the plus side, unlike in the US, there are no additional exam fees for students on RIBA-accredited degree courses.
How much does it cost to become an architect in Canada?
In Canada, architects must complete a subject-specific Bachelors’ or Masters’ degree and around three years of practical experience before sitting a national exam, which leads to licensure. Canadian universities set their own fees, with the average cost of an undergraduate degree at CA $6,463 (around US $4,910) and a graduate degree at CA $7,056 (around US $5,360).
However, these are national averages for all courses, and architecture degrees tend to cost more than average. For example, at the University of Toronto, a Bachelors in Architectural Studies costs around CA $6,780 and a Master of Architecture CA $12,670. At the University of Waterloo, meanwhile, undergraduate degrees in architecture clock in at $10,900 a year!
After completing 2,800 hours of experience as an intern, candidates take the ExAC (Examination for Architects in Canada) which costs in the region of CA $1,000. And, as in both the US and UK, students must support themselves while completing their internships.
While your course fees are likely to be your major expense, there are lots of other costs associated with being an architecture student (and a student in general). The following are some factors worth considering.
If you don’t have a reputable architecture school on your doorstep – and let’s face it, that’s most people – you’ll need to pay for accommodation while you study. In global cities like New York and London there is no cheap way of doing this, even if you stay in university rooms. And during your internships, the issue becomes even more complicated because you have to live in private rented accommodation while earning little or nothing.
Materials and tools
There are costs involved with studying architecture that other degrees simply don’t have. As well as books, you may need to purchase specialist art materials, tools and software that set you back hundreds or even thousands. Do you have a pot of money to fall back on for this?
You’ll use your laptop and drawing tablet for a lot more than just researching and writing essays, so a second-hand device with Microsoft Office is not going to cut it. You’ll need an up-to-date machine that can handle powerful software like Revit, SketchUp and AutoCAD. However, contrary to appearances, it is not compulsory for all architects to own MacBooks! Cheaper brands can often do the job just as well.
Whether it’s 2D or 3D, you’ll find yourself doing more printing than your friends on English or history courses. Even if you have your own machines the price can soon add up, as raw materials such as ink or plastics get used up more quickly than you think.
Exposure to different architectural styles is essential during training – and even if you’re only travelling within your own country, the costs can soon add up. Overseas visits will hit your bank balance harder still, so find out whether your course involves compulsory trips.
All students have to worry about things like utility bills, transport costs and food. It can be helpful to research available discounts (for example, full-time students in London get a third off fares on the Underground, trains and buses) and to shop for groceries at the end of the day, when supermarkets and cafes sell off items at cheaper prices.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and Jacqueline no more interesting). Being a student should be fun, so make sure you can set aside a little for movies, exhibitions and parties. Flashing your student ID can often help you get discounts.
The costs involved with becoming an architect can seem overwhelming at first, and it’s a sad truth that today many students from poorer backgrounds immediately rule it out. The debt will stay with you for decades, and average salaries for architects are not so high as to cancel out this worry (though they are, on the whole, respectable).
For some time there have been calls for the field to be democratized. Until this happens, a lot more young architects will have to take out loans – either from high street banks or, if they’re lucky, from the Bank of Mum and Dad (45% percent of students in the 2018 AJ survey said they received ‘a significant amount’ of financial support from parents). But forewarned is at least forearmed, so be sure to make a detailed plan of what you’ll need to spend and where the money will come from. Good luck!