Monday, May 4, 2009

An Architectural Education: To Grad School or Not To Grad School? Part 1 of 2

            I’ve been asked by a fair amount of interns in the past few years about whether they should go on to grad school and get their M.Arch.  My short answer is usually yes, but it really depends on a range of factors.  We should first review (very briefly) the options one has for architectural education, and then we should consider the ins and outs of these degrees and what they mean for one’s professional education.

Your options are these four:

  1. A two-year associate’s degree in an architecture-related field, usually architectural technology or drafting.  It’s a quick degree to get and usually pretty inexpensive to boot, as these are usually only available at a technical college.  Associate’s degree holders usually need to work and record their time for ten years before they can sit for the ARE.  An associate’s degree is considered a nonprofessional degree.
  2. A four-year bachelor’s of science in architecture.  Different schools know the four-year degree by different names: Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Environmental Science, and so on.  With a four-year degree, one has to work and record hours for as many as five or six years before sitting for the ARE.  A four-year bachelor’s is considered a nonprofessional degree.
  3. A five-year B.Arch, which is the only degree that can be called a Bachelor of Architecture.  With a B.Arch, one has to work and record hours for a minimum of three years before sitting for the ARE.  A B.Arch is considered a professional degree.
  4. A two-year to three-year M.Arch, Master of Architecture. Also with an M.Arch, one has to work and record hours for a minimum of three years before sitting for the ARE.  An M.Arch usually takes two years to earn if one already has a four-year bachelor’s in architectural studies (Option 2 above) and three to four years if one’s bachelor’s degree is in something else, like engineering, art history, pre-med, whatever.  An M.Arch is considered a professional degree.
  5. One can also get a Ph.D. in architecture, but it’s not necessary for professional practice.  Do it if you’re really into something and want to teach it at the college level.

            Speaking of teaching, if you’re really interested in teaching architecture at the college level, then a professional degree is usually your best bet.  Some schools will allow you to teach Studio with a B.Arch (or a four-year degree if you’ve been practicing architecture for twenty years), but with an M.Arch you can teach nearly anything.  Also of note is that a school can either offer a B.Arch or an M.Arch, but not both.  Why that is, me not know.

So what’s the difference?  Other than whether you can teach college, there’s not too much difference between the B.Arch and the M.Arch, other than one more year of schooling and doing a full-blown thesis with the M.Arch.  My husband has a B.Arch, and I have an M.Arch; both were good degree programs, and we both felt like we got good educations and were as prepared for the workplace as we could be, considering that architectural school is nothing like architectural work.  The biggest difference at first blush between the nonprofessional degrees and the professional degrees is the amount of time you have to work in order to sit for the exam.  To some extent, it seems as if you’re trading time in school for time in the workplace.  Well, hell, isn’t the point of being an architect to do work and design buildings that stand up and keep water out and so on?  Why waste the time on school?

Next post: why "wasting" time on more schooling might be useful, and why that school doesn't have to be Harvard GSD.


  1. "... a school can either offer a B.Arch or an M.Arch, but not both."

    I know that schools offer both degrees.

    I have heard they discourage getting an M.Arch at the same school that you got your B.Arch or Arch. from.

  2. Anon: My understanding is that a school can offer a B. Arch and then some kind of master's degree related to architecture, but not a full-on M.Arch. Conversely, a school might offer a B.S.Arch that one gets on the way to an M.Arch, which is also provided at that school. What schools do you know that do provide both professional degrees?

    I agree with you on getting your M.Arch at a different school than your initial degree. Students encouraged to go elsewhere because different schools have different ways of teaching and emphases, and it helps a student have a more well-rounded education.

  3. Looks like 33 of these schools offer both:

  4. I've been living a lie! [swoon]

    All kidding aside, good call on finding this, Anonymous. I had been told way back in the Bronze Age when I started college that a school could only offer one or the other but not both. Looks like I was given bad information. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Well done!