Complete Guide to an Online Architecture Degree
Architects design and plan buildings, ranging from commercial retail spaces to residential homes. They are responsible for much of how our man-made environment looks. If you're fascinated with the beauty and complexity of buildings, a career as an architect may be a good match for you. Being a good architect means having good technical and visualization skills. A great architect is one that is able to translate his or her creativity into complex solutions for physical structures. Online architecture degrees are available at the bachelor's, master's, and certificate levels.
It is recommended that prospective architecture students opt for a school that is institutionally accredited by one of the six regional accrediting agencies recognized by the US Department of Education. The architecture program itself should also be accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) to provide the best possible educational outcomes and career opportunities. Read More
Comprehensive List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Architecture Degree
Overview of Available Online Architecture Degrees
Depending on the type of architecture they work in, architects may manage building projects at any point in the project life cycle, from planning, design, and construction to finishing. While most of us imagine architects at the drawing board sketching out new ideas for buildings, this is only a small part of the architecture field. Some of the career options that may be available to architecture graduates include being a lead designer, urban designer, architecture principal, studio director, graphic renderer, architectural detailer, and job captain.
Most online architecture degrees at the bachelor's level combine theory with practical application. Students are typically required to take a certain number of general education courses, architecture-specific courses, and electives. Architecture courses may include such topics as the history of architecture, surveys & mapping, architecture theory, conceptual design studio, figure modeling, building information modeling, and materials & methods.
Master's degree programs prepare students for higher-level positions that require management of others and advanced decision making. Master's courses may include design process and 2-D media, design process and 3-D media, contemporary urban theory, architectural professional practices, construction documents and building codes, and material and methods of construction. Many master's degree programs require students to complete a thesis project in order to qualify for graduation. Certificates provide training in specific architecture specialties, such as interior architecture and design or architecture technology.
A bachelor's degree in architecture is a four-year degree that is specifically designed to prepare students for careers as architectural planners, designers, or engineers. The curriculum for these degrees is demanding, but students can complete them in four years if they are enrolled full-time. Those planning to study undergraduate architecture must earn high school diplomas, taking courses in math, science, and art. Some schools ask students to complete prerequisite courses before they start the actual architecture curriculum.
People who study architecture at the undergraduate level must master very complex mathematics and physics courses, including calculus and geometry. These will lead into general engineering courses, including architectural engineering. Computer-aided drafting and computer modeling courses are essential to the success of an architect. Programs will often start with basic art and drawing classes. Some schools include internships in their required curriculum, allowing students to practice with the guidance of architects and learn what it actually takes to work in the field.
Graduates of bachelor's in architecture programs go on to apprenticeships or entry-level jobs with existing architectural agencies. It is essential for graduates to get real-world experience, usually aiding in architectural drafting and modeling to help complete a design for another architect. Until they have several years of experience, architects will not be able to design their own buildings, bridges, or houses. These positions are competitive, and most architects are contracted to a specific agency. A few established architects are able to contract individually.
The architecture master’s degree is a professional graduate degree that teaches students the theory and practice of designing structures. The length of the degree varies, depending on the applicant’s background. Those with a non-architecture bachelor’s degree usually need to complete a three-year program, while those with a professional or non-professional architecture bachelor’s can complete a one- to two-year master’s degree. Applicants generally need to submit a portfolio of art or design work, along with their undergraduate transcripts.
The curriculum in the architecture professional degree includes courses in theory and technology, as well as design labs. Architecture theory courses discuss topics such as construction technology, spatial reasoning, and architecture and the environment. Design practice labs and workshops require students to practice creating designs for different types of structures, such as housing and urban architecture. Most architecture programs require the completion of a thesis, where students design a complex structure for a specific site to prepare for postgraduate professional practice.
After completing the architecture master’s degree program, most graduates go on to intern at a design or architecture firm. All states require several years of internship work under an experienced architect before new graduates can take the architecture licensing exam. After interning and passing the Architecture Registration Exam, architects can enter staff-level positions in architectural, engineering, and related industries.
Graduate certificates are available for current professionals who are interested in increasing their management and business skills with regard to the architecture profession. Admission requirements typically include a bachelor's degree and a certain amount of professional experience in a design-related field, such as interior design, architecture, construction, or landscape architecture. Certificate programs require between 15 and 18 credits, which can be completed in less than a year. There aren't currently any online undergraduate certificates available for architecture majors.
The curriculum for architecture certificates includes three to five courses and introduces students to a variety of management principles, business and financial models, and new approaches for solving complex problems. Courses emphasize creativity and encourage students to use their own professional experiences as a foundation for their developing leadership skills. Topics may include financial strategies, project management, construction management, professional leadership, project development, human resources management, and legal issues for architects. Some programs may also include a capstone project involving fieldwork and research. Graduates of certificate programs will be able to apply their leadership expertise to advanced positions within architecture and design firms or to start their own architecture business.
Accreditation is an evaluation process that schools and degree programs may choose to go through to demonstrate that they meet acceptable higher education standards. They are evaluated by independent agencies on the merits of their curricula, faculty, research programs, student resources, and more. Attending an accredited school can help you feel confident that you'll be receiving a quality education and that your degree will be valued by future employers; employers typically look upon candidates with degrees from accredited schools and programs more favorably than those without. Students who plan to apply for federal financial aid or transfer credits to other higher education institutions are required to attend accredited program in most cases.
Accreditation is particularly important for students who plan to become a licensed architect. All US states require architects to obtain a license, and in order to be licensed, you typically must have a degree from a program that has been accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). The NAAB accredits bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in architecture. Attending an NAAB-accredited program will also provide you with the best opportunity to gain the skills and education needed to be an effective and competent architect, since accredited programs must meet strict teaching standards.
The NAAB, US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation all offer current lists of accredited schools and programs. Please visit Guide to Online Schools' accreditation hub for more information.
Professional architects must be licensed in all 50 US states, but the requirements to become licensed vary from state to state. In general, prospective architects should have a bachelor's or master's degree in architecture from an NAAB-accredited program, paid internship experience, and a passing score on the NCARB Architect Registration Exam. Some states may allow candidates to substitute work experience for an accredited degree. Most states also require registered architects to complete continuing education hours either every year or every two years. It's always best to check with your particular state's registration board to verify their exact licensing requirements. The NCARB offers a list of state registration board contacts.
The main professional agency offering certification for architects is the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). In order to earn this certification, candidates must fulfill all of the requirements that enable them to work as an architect in any particular jurisdiction. Once they have done so, candidates can apply for certification with this agency by submitting an online application and payment. Candidates must also provide official documentation stating that they have fulfilled all of the requirements to work as an architect. Since NCARB is made up of varying architecture boards in different states and regions, some of these boards may have individual requirements that necessitate individuals taking exams on specific areas of architecture.
The following courses are common requirements in architecture bachelor's degree programs:
- Architectural Design: This project-based class teaches students to use technical skills, such as computer-aided design, to design simple architectural projects.
- Building Design: This course discusses standards for building design, codes and regulations, and how systems of common building materials perform.
- Design Communication: Students learn about different methods for describing the built environment, such as drawing, modeling, and photography.
- History of Architecture: This survey of architecture discusses how buildings throughout the world have evolved throughout history on technical and aesthetic levels.
- Seismic Design: Students learn about the ways in which physics and mechanics apply to buildings and how various materials work in different seismic environments.
- Accreditation. National Architectural Accrediting Board. Accessed October 27, 2014. http://www.naab.org/accreditation/home.
- Architects. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published January 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/architects.htm.
- Getting an Initial License. NCARB. Accessed October 27, 2014. http://www.ncarb.org/Getting-an-Initial-License.aspx.
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