Do I Need to Have a Background in Architecture to Get a Master’s?

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A Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) degree happens to be one of the highest paying master’s degrees. You may know that you want to end up with this graduate degree, but you may not be sure what path to take to get there. While you don’t have to have an undergraduate background in architecture to get into an M.Arch. program, you should consider how graduate studies in architecture are different for students with and without an undergraduate background in the subject. If you’re not going to study architecture as an undergraduate, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in just about any field of study, although certain majors can prove more relevant to your graduate studies than others.

Going to Graduate School Without a Bachelor’s in Architecture

The most important thing to know about going for your M.Arch. degree without having studied architecture as an undergraduate is that you have to look for certain degree programs. M.Arch programs are sometimes split into two types of degree programs, Level I and Level II. With no prior training or study in architecture, you’re going to need to apply to Level I programs, because Level II programs are reserved for students with an undergraduate education in the field.

When you apply to a Level I M.Arch. program, you need to be ready for graduate-level studies in the foundations of architectural practice. Although you will start your design studio course sequence and other classes with introductory coursework, these courses are likely to be more intense and require you to grasp more advanced skills than the undergraduate level of the equivalent course. Because you’re completing both the foundational coursework and the traditional master’s-level coursework, you will take longer to complete your M.Arch. degree than a student who enrolls in a Level II program with advanced standing from having previously completed a bachelor’s degree in architecture.

The good news is that, when you apply to a Level I program, you’re competing only against candidates who also don’t have formal study in architecture, not against students with an architecture background that informs their portfolio as well as their transcript and essay.

What Is a Good Undergraduate Degree for an Aspiring M.Arch. Student to Pursue?

It may go without saying that an undergraduate architecture degree is the most relevant option for graduate studies in architecture. If you do plan to study architecture at the bachelor’s level and then again at the master’s level with an M.Arch. program, then you will likely want to focus on pre-professional programs as an undergraduate. These programs, often holding names like Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, Bachelor of Science in Architecture and B.A. or B.S. degrees in Architectural Studies, require the typical four years of study associated with most bachelor’s degrees.

Unlike the five-year Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) degree, these other types of undergraduate architecture programs are considered pre-professional degrees and don’t, on their own, prepare you for licensure in many states. They will, however, allow you to get into Level II M.Arch. programs or attain the advanced standing in a Master of Architecture program that allows you to graduate faster.

Beyond architecture, there are plenty of other good options for undergraduate study if you want to earn an M.Arch. Because the field of architecture requires both creative and technical skill sets, any program which allows you to cultivate one or more of these types of skills can be valuable. A degree in any of the liberal arts or any STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subject may help prepare you for success as an M.Arch. student. For example, applicants often get into Level I M.Arch. programs with undergraduate backgrounds in studio arts, fine arts, art history and English, as well as in biology, physics and geology.

In many ways, choosing an undergraduate major in preparation for earning your M.Arch. degree is personal, based on your unique interests. If you’re fascinated by sustainable design in architecture, then an undergraduate program of study in environmental science or environmental design could be calling your name. Students with a keen interest in materials and fabrication in architectural practice may prefer to study a subject like materials science as undergraduates and then pursue an M.Arch. degree that allows them to focus their studies on this specialization. Applicants who are particularly interested in history and criticism of architecture may come from a history or art history background.

Because an M.Arch. degree is classified as a STEM degree at many schools, having some background in STEM subjects like physical or natural sciences, computer science, engineering and math is valuable, though not mandatory.

Additional Resources

What Are the Differences Between a Level 1 and Level 2 Master’s in Architecture?

If I’m Not Sure About Becoming an Architect, What I Can Do to Try Out the Waters?

What Is the Benefit of a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture vs. Architectural Studies?

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