Should You Become An Architect?

Sara Mandeed
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If you are in a similar situation here are several things to consider if you are on the fence with a career in architecture.

With the economy going the way it has been you have two very polarizing answers when it comes to a career in architecture.

We are either a dying field that is going to become obsolete due to advances in computer design and drafting. Or we are in a position to make lots of money and advance very quickly due to a shortage of jobs in the field.

Okay, so the truth is we are in the middle. We are going to continue to advance and grow but not in the field of 3D design. It will still take an architect to lay out the building and its systems, and create a working model to show off to the city authorities, contractors, and owners.

The way you leverage those skills to make the big bucks remains to be seen.

If you like the freedom to spend your days creating and implementing plans, then you should go into architecture for the right reasons. For as much freedom as you are given you will also be given work in the evenings to keep your drawing pads full. A computer can do a lot of the same work but you can't beat the imagination of an architect that loves what he does.

Long hours

Architects are busy people. They work long hours to get projects finished… including nights and weekends. They spend time researching and getting paperwork done for that next big project.

The good news is that not all architects are dedicated, and some choose to work more reasonable hours. It will not be easy to find a job, but it is a possibility.

For those of you who are considering the possibility, you will want to ask questions about this during interviews and in working situations. Don’t expect to get answers that tell you exactly what you want to know, but you should get a feel for the workload and the expectations.

It’s also important to understand early on that you may not be able to express your creativity 100% of the time. And if you are talented, you will be required to meet deadlines, and it may take you a while to learn everything you need to know about the trade.

Your commitment to your career is going to be a factor in the amount of stress that you feel on a daily basis. If you get to a point where you are wondering whether it’s worth it, it may be time to reevaluate your future in architecture.

Salary versus the cost of living

It is the most common misconception that the higher the salary, the higher the quality of living. The fact is things aren’t always as you might expect them to be. To cite an example, New York is one of the expensive cities. But in terms of rental rates and amenities, it pales in comparison to its more affordable counterpart, Chicago. So, you cannot decide on the living standard by simply looking at the salary. Rather, it is important to research about the cost of living index of that particular city.

If you are leaning towards career options such as “architecture,” the salary offered needs to be weighed against the cost of living index of that city. By that we mean, it should be considered whether the salary you are receiving is in consonance with the cost of living in that city.

For instance, the cost of living index of New York is much higher than that of Chicago. Therefore, the salary you receive as an architect in Chicago is a lot more than the salary you receive as an architect in New York. The predicament is that New York is considered to be the hub for architects.

A lot of school

Any educational program is going to take a lot of work and time to complete. That’s especially true of architecture programs. They’ve got some of the longest programs of study, the most academic requirements, and the most difficult exams.

A four or five-year program could easily turn into a six, seven, or eight-year program without any intervention. The biggest motivation for students would be to graduate early. And that’s great. But don’t forget about the non-academic requirements that are often just as important.

Not only is it important to take a full load, but it’s important to take a full load of classes in your major.

A lot of tests and internship requirements

Be prepared to take a lot of exams in architecture school. In fact, the entrance exams are what separates the talented from the talented.

You’ll sit for exams that test your skills in design and analysis. “Design” means visualizing space with models or drawings; “analysis” means understanding which materials a design will need and the feasibility of constructing the design. It’s like math and science, but with an arts component.

You’ll also have to take multiple midterm and final exams. This isn’t unique to architecture school. For instance, in an Introduction to Architecture class (which is the first architecture class you take in most programs), you’ll take a midterm and final exam.

Most architecture schools have summer internships as graduation requirements.

When I was applying to architecture school, I interviewed with a couple of small firms and I was able to find an unpaid internship. But, as the saying goes, time is money, and I’m sure my employers weren’t thrilled with me spending my time for free.

Other architecture graduates I interviewed also recommended taking a paid internship. Many companies prefer to hire interns who’ve had paid experience.

No design responsibilities

If you’re an excellent draftsman and you’re in school to receive a design degree, what do you get when you graduate?

Your answer should be “more designs and more freedom.”

Either you work for a large architecture firm and design everything from a single family home to a hospital, or you start your own architecture firm with the freedom to design everything from a backyard spa to an oil rig platform.

But if your design skills are only strong when they’re put to a test, where should you be when you can’t develop any new skills?

That’s probably an internship at a large firm, which makes sense because it’s a great way to understand how the design process works.

As an architecture intern, you’ll have the chance to try your hand at a variety of projects, and your fellow intern will probably range in skill level from junior to senior. Everyone will have a lot to learn from each other, but you’ll be learning without any pressure to deliver a final product. If there’re design problems, the solutions will be given to you. If new processes are required, you will be taught them. However, the real