Architects design the structures that make up our world, from the homes in which we live to the buildings in which we work. Bringing together equal parts aesthetic vision and engineering expertise, architects marry form and function to create harmonious spaces.
A master’s degree in Engineering & construction with a specialization in architecture prepares you to master the craft of designing the built environment. You gain the perspective and expertise to drive new innovation in engineering and design. Sustainability, building information management, and digital fabrication are some of the trends galvanizing the architectural elite today.
WorldWideLearn.com’s guide to the master’s degree takes you through the process of preparing for graduate education. A successful academic journey depends on defining your professional goals, researching potential master’s degree programs, and submitting competitive applications for programs that match your profile.
Master’s Degrees in Architecture: An Overview
Graduate architecture programs feature an array of options. Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) or Master of Science (MS)? Earn a master’s degree online or on campus? Become an architect or a professor? This overview is designed to help you gain clarity about your choices so you can line up the right academic resources.
Professional and Academic Master’s Degrees
Graduate architecture programs are split between the professional M.Arch. and the academic MS. Because professional licensing requires the M.Arch., the right degree for you depends on your career goals.
Master of Architecture–Professional Degree
The most common architecture qualification is the Master of Architecture, the professional degree required by most state architectural registration boards in order to become a licensed architect. Available at nearly 100 National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredited institutions nationwide, the M.Arch. can take one to five years to complete, depending on your prior architecture training.
Master of Architecture–Post-Professional Degree
The post-professional M.Arch. is designed for students who already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in architecture. Programs emphasize academic scholarship and theory, and provide deeper immersion in a specialized area of architecture. The program, designed for architects headed into teaching and research careers, culminates in an individual research project.
Master of Science in Architecture
The MS in architecture is an academic social science degree distinct from the professional master’s degree. The two-year program “is founded on research and inquiry in architecture as a discipline and as a practice,” according to one leading program. MS graduate students contribute to a body of scholarship en route to an academic or research career.
Specializations match the master’s degree, focusing either on architectural practice (professional M.Arch.) or research and scholarship (MS and, in many cases, the post-professional M.Arch.).
Professional master’s degrees feature the following specialization areas, as defined by Design Intelligence‘s annual ranking of specialized master’s degree programs:
- Analysis and Planning
- Computer Applications, including Building Information Modeling (BIM)
- Construction Methods and Materials
- Sustainable Design Practices
Academic programs allow graduate students to specialize in an aspect of the discipline’s theoretical foundation. Examples include:
- Research and Theory
- History of Architecture
- Sustainable Design Principles and Environmental Ethics
- Architecture and Urbanism
- Architecture and Media
Each master’s degree program features a different set of specialization options, reflecting resident faculty expertise and program resources.
Depending on which master’s degree you choose–the professional M.Arch. in architecture or the academic MS–you find yourself on the path to practicing as an architect, teaching architecture, or performing scholarly research in design and architecture.
Architect. A professional architecture career is the most common career route. The M.Arch. qualifies you to work as an architectural associate or intern, under the oversight of a licensed architect. To become licensed, you must have three years work experience and a passing score on the Architecture Registration Examination (ARE). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects face favorable job prospects, with job growth of about 16 percent between 2008 and 2018.
Architecture Professor. A university professor in architecture teaches and performs original research in a specialized field. In addition to a master’s degree in architecture, academic scholars have a PhD in architecture. This degree typically takes another three or four years after the master’s degree.
In addition to these two primary paths, architecture graduates can go on to work as consultants, urban planners or public administrators, and industrial or accessibility designers. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) lists 600 career choices for architecture graduates.
For more information on building an architecture career, see Becoming an Architect: A Guide to Careers in Design, by former associate executive director of the NAAB, Lee Waldrep.
Plan for a Master’s Degree in Architecture
Once you’ve established a trajectory for your architecture career, you’re ready to explore the academic options for moving toward your goal. In this section, you can research architecture programs and prepare applications for your top schools.
Step One: Find the Right Graduate Architecture Program
There are nearly one hundred professional M.Arch. degree programs nationwide, as well as a broad selection of academic architecture degrees. Finding your path takes careful research and reflection. The following resources can help you evaluate your options.
1. List Accredited Programs
Begin with an overview of your options. Accreditation is essential for all architecture graduate programs, particularly for students seeking a professional M.Arch.. This regular, independent program review attests to:
- The quality of your education
- The market value of your degree
- Your eligibility for many financial aid programs, including federal grants, scholarships, and loans
- Your eligibility for state licensing as a professional architect (in most states)
The NAAB is the only authorized accrediting agency for professional architecture programs in the U.S. Academic MS programs can also be accredited by a regional or national agency. The U.S. Department of Education website posts a searchable database of approved accreditation agencies.
The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ASCA) publishes an authoritative and comprehensive survey of all accredited professional architecture programs in North America. The eighth edition represents nearly 200 schools. The guide features detailed information on each program, along with general advice on how to select the right school.
The National Architectural Accrediting Board maintains a searchable database of member institutions. Search for NAAB-accredited M.Arch. degrees by location or program format, or browse a comprehensive list of programs.
WorldWideLearn.com features links to education partners, all of which are accredited and vetted for quality. Search online engineering degrees in architecture.
2. Choose a Campus or Online Master’s Degree
Advances in multimedia technology are bringing digital graduate education to architecture schools, offering professionals the option to earn a master’s degree online while continuing to work. Nevertheless, the hands-on nature of professional architecture training favors campus interaction. Academic architecture education may be better suited to the digital format, but aspiring academics rely on close collaboration with faculty and peer networking in order to launch their careers.
The short answer to the question of which program format suits you best:
- Online architecture programs may be the only way many mid-career adults can access continuing education. Because these students are likely to have access to project resources via their work, the distance from campus resources may not be a problem.
- Campus architecture programs remain the best opportunity for recent undergraduates and career changers who lack access to employer-sponsored resources such as work initiatives and facilities.
Ultimately, the numbers may decide for you: the majority of graduate architecture programs are still campus programs, leaving scarce opportunities to earn a master’s degree online.
3. Explore Academic Programs
The diversity among graduate architecture programs demands careful scrutiny before you commit to a particular school. Investigate these features:
- Curriculum. What courses are required? What elective course and specialization options does the school support?
- Degree format and requirements. How hands-on is the architectural design work? Does the program require an internship or an original research thesis?
- Faculty. Do faculty share your research interests? Finding kinship among your potential mentors ensures deep learning potential as well as support to pursue your professional goals.
- Industry relationships. Does the school maintain relationships with architecture foundations and firms? Look for industry-sponsored conferences, internships, and special programs.
- Career support services. How will you land your first job? A little help from the placement experts can help you get your foot in the door.
- Supportive academic environment. Are students supportive or competitive? The opportunity to collaborate and network with peers is a crucial part of the graduate school experience.
WorldWideLearn.com facilitates your academic program research by identifying master’s degree programs that match your criteria. Fill out an online form indicating your preferences, and view a list of matching schools–or sign up for school representatives to contact you directly in order to answer any questions.
School websites cover all the critical information bases–faculty CVs and publications, course descriptions, reading lists, degree requirements, and more. Look for a downloadable graduate student handbook on the school website.
Informational interviews still offer the most reliable insight into subjective features such as the degree’s value on the job market and the feel of the campus community. Talk to faculty, alumni, and current graduate students, and tour campus architecture studios, museums, and libraries.
4. Evaluate Program Quality
Finally, prioritize your list of schools according to quality and selectivity, taking into account the following factors:
- Reputation and school rankings
- Selectivity (average GPA and test scores of admitted applicants)
- Job placement and salary statistics
- Student background and demographics
Your goal is to find the five or so schools that match not only your academic program needs and quality standards, but also your applicant profile. Look for schools within your reach, given your academic record.
Admissions Departments offer a wealth of useful information about admitted applicants, including admissions data, demographics, and placement results. Ask an admissions counselor for these metrics.
Rankings gauge the school’s reputation among employers, which generally correlates to the market value of the degree. The only ranking of professional architecture degrees is America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools, published annually by Design Intelligence. Members of the Design Futures Council executive board, which includes the nation’s leading architects, architecture scholars, and manufacturers, publish this influential guide.
NAAB makes its accreditation review reports public, offering a deeper look into a prospective program’s educational quality.
Step Two: Apply to Graduate Architecture Programs
Architecture school applications are a lesson in organization and logistics. Expect to coordinate numerous eligibility requirements and documents before you reach the (virtual or actual) classroom.
1. Complete Prerequisites
Most master’s degree programs in architecture require the following before you can apply:
- A bachelor’s degree in any field; post-professional programs require a BArch or M.Arch.
- Some colleges request prerequisite courses in architecture or core humanities or social science disciplines such as writing
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE); international students must take the TOEFL to demonstrate English competency
- A design portfolio of creative work
WorldWideLearn.com’s Education Resources Guide features information and useful tools to help you prepare for the standardized exams and complete prerequisite courses.
2. Prepare Application Materials
Once you’ve satisfied the eligibility requirements, you’re ready to assemble the application. In addition to a personal information form, you need to submit the following supporting documents:
- Academic transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
- Test scores
- Personal statement
In addition, some programs require a resume and writing sample.
3. Secure Financial Aid
Most graduate students rely on some form of financial aid to cover the cost of the M.Arch. in architecture. To maximize your chances of securing funding, contact the schools and submit financial aid applications by the deadlines (usually at the same time as your admissions documents).
Financial aid sources include, in order of attractiveness:
- Scholarships and grants
- Tuition waivers
- Employer educational credits
- Teaching assistantships
- Low-interest student loans
If you can earn a master’s degree online and keep your job while you learn, you can avoid much of the expense associated with graduate school.
Explore the following avenues to secure funding:
- Contact the financial aid advisors associated with the schools to which you’ve applied.
- Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This comprehensive application covers all federal financial aid programs including Stafford Loans.
- Ask your employer about tuition grants or other educational incentives.
- Apply for private scholarships and, if necessary, a student loan.
Step Three: Network, Network, Network
One of the most valuable educational features of graduate school won’t show up in the M.Arch. in architecture curriculum. It’s the opportunity to build professional relationships and share insights with your architecture colleagues. Take advantage of the academic community now by:
- Joining professional associations. The American Institute of Architects and the American Institute of Architecture Students are the predominant U.S. professional associations. England’s Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) dominates international architecture. Also look for local AIA chapters as well as specialized associations in your field of interest.
- Reading journals. Architectural Record and RIBA’s The Journal of Architecture are the primary publications in the field.
- Attending networking events and conferences. Universities and professional associations host events and conferences designed to build community and spark intellectual exchange.
By the time classes begin, you could already have a strong support network and ideally, a faculty member lined up to mentor your graduate work.
The master’s degree in architecture sets you up to shape the landscape of architecture for the 21st century. Whether you pursue the professional M.Arch. or the academic MS in architecture, you can cultivate the perspective to lead design innovation and education. Build a foundation for a successful graduate experience now, and prepare to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way as you earn an architecture master’s degree online or on campus.
- Abramovitz, Ava J. “Rethinking Architecture Education,” Design Intelligence (2003).
- America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools 2010, Design Intelligence.
- “Architects,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Architecture Programs, National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB).
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
- Guide to Architecture Schools, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.
- Master in Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
- Master of Architecture Program, Cornell University.
- Master of Science in Architecture Studies, MIT Architecture.
- Master of Science in Architecture, Texas Tech University College of Architecture.
- Programs in Engineering, The Sloan Consortium.
- Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
- Sokol, David. “2010 America’s Best Architecture Schools,” Architectural Record.