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Philosophically, there are two types of truth – objective and subjective. The former refers to the truth that applies to all people as a known and indisputable fact. For example, there are 365 days a year – this is an objective truth. On the contrary, subjective truth refers to a person’s beliefs, judgments, morals, and personal preferences, as examples. It is the same with benefits. If a degree requires 120 credit hours for graduation, one could discern that that is an objective truth.

Subjectively, what major a student chooses, what level, what courses they select, and what learning format (online or campus) are personal decisions. Benefits work subjectively, as what might be beneficial to one student may not be to another. Hence, it becomes personalized.

With this in mind, it is difficult to unequivocally state what is more beneficial – taking an undergraduate degree in architecture or architectural studies. We can address some of the differences and similarities between the two and associated programs. The reader can then determine what is most beneficial, subjectively and objectively.

This post will look at some of the undergraduate degrees to consider for aspiring architects. Before embarking on a career journey, assess how you match the skills needed to become a successful architect or work in architecture (more on this later).

The profession calls for an artistic flair to produce designs, computer skills to create 2D and 3D graphic representations, analytical skills, visualization ability, communication prowess, and teamwork.

For some, as noted below, the salary is considerably less than some healthcare jobs with much less education, but these may not interest you. Radiologic and MRI Technologists have a median income of $63,710 per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2020, with an associate’s degree. Less stress, comfortable working conditions, and good benefits. Registered nurses have an average salary of $75,330 with a bachelor’s degree.

A Bachelor of Architecture

The point of emphasis and benefit of this degree is that the B.Arch. is a five-year professional degree with a curriculum that prepares graduates for the practice of architecture. As noted, the program is a year longer than the average four-year bachelor’s degree because, upon graduation, you’ll be eligible to pursue an architect’s license.

There are 55 state licensing boards in the United States that issue licenses to architects. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), candidates must have one of these three degrees:

  • Bachelor of Architecture
  • Master of Architecture
  • Doctor of Architecture

The Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design at the University of Houston offers a 160 credit hours program that includes 100 semester hours of architecture courses. Graduates of this five-year program will have the knowledge and skills to enter practice as an architect. Furthermore, it is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

The Hines College curriculum includes architecture history, general physics, architect design, precalculus, technology, building regulations, and core classes. The latter requires students to take mathematics, communication, American history, social & behavioral sciences, writing, and physical sciences.

The College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture at The University of Arizona is another five-year option that qualifies graduates to seek professional licensure. The NAAB accredits this program whose learning experience results in the ability to:

  • Perform digital and analog design representations
  • Know architectural history and theory
  • Be familiar with the socio-cultural factors in designs
  • Practice architecture based on professional ethics

With 1.5 years remaining in the curriculum, students engage in a Research + Innovation Phase that culminates in a capstone project.

Again, the benefit of the five-year programs is the eligibility to sit for state licensure instead of taking two more years in a master’s program.

A Bachelor of Science in Architecture 

A Bachelor of Science in Architecture (BSA) is generally a pre-professional degree; however, the benefit is one less year at college or university. Temple University, for example, offers this degree that concentrates on architecture foundation courses in years one and two. Students focus on design during the third and fourth years, which entails digital fabrication, building technology, and digital lab spaces. The freshman and sophomore years include some design classes, namely graphic techniques, and 2D and 3D analog models. Also covered are design and the environment that introduces future architects to the role of ecology and architecture. The junior and the senior years are dedicated to advanced architectural design, sustainability, and structural analysis for architects.

The B.S. in Architecture prepares students for advancement to a professional degree, like a Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) degree. In contrast, the B.S. in Architecture does not provide this feature.

A Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies

These programs are also pre-professional programs that prepare students to pursue a graduate degree in architecture. The 125-hours BSAS at The University of Texas-Austin divides some of the required courses into:

  • Design: 19 credit hours
  • Visual Communication: 8 hours
  • Design Theory: 3 hours
  • Site Design: 3 hours
  • Environmental Controls: 3 hours
  • Construction: 12 hours
  • Architecture History: 12 hours

There are eight hours of physics and four hours of calculus.

UT Austin also has a Bachelor of Architecture/Bachelor of Arts, Plan II dual degree that consists of 186 hours over five years. The combination degree meshes the School of Architecture with the College of Liberal Arts; therefore, students graduate with a liberal arts and architecture degree. The is no mention that this is a professional degree- if not, it appears more beneficial to graduate after five years with a Bachelor of Architecture than this dual degree.

The UT coursework in the dual mirrors that in the Architectural Studies.

The Hammons School of Architecture at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, offers a BSAS with similar study areas as above. Examples are architectural design, studio and design, drawing, structures, building systems, physics in construction, and architecture history. This example, too, is a four-year non-professional degree intended for those who want to continue into a master’s program.

Drury has a professional five-year Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) that avoids the four plus two year bachelors then master’s degree. The classes in the BSAS and the M.Arch. are identical the first two years. The 168-credit hours program has a Semester Study Abroad or Summer Study Abroad during the third year. Students must complete 360 hours of approved internship and maintain at least a C- to reach graduation.

Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies

The four-year Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies program provides students with everything they need to prepare for their Master of Architecture (M.Arch.). A graduate degree is necessary to receive professional licensure as an architect.

The B.A. differs from the B.S. in architectural studies as the former typically has fewer physics and math classes. The degree in this major at The University of Kansas has three hours devoted to math out of the 124-credits program and three hours of geology or physics.

Rice University in Houston has a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Architectural Studies, of which 48 credit hours are in this major out of 120 credit hours. Except for requirements in the social sciences, analytical thinking, and quantitative reasoning, the arts curriculum doesn’t have sciences. However, the six hours of Technology covers construction materials, physical models, engineered structures, specialized structures (tilt-walls and long spans), and subsystems. It would be beneficial to have a foundation in algebra or geometry and physics to understand these structural principles.

License Required

The pre-professional degrees, as iterated, do not qualify architects for licensure, and students must complete a Master of Architecture program before they are eligible to be professionally licensed. However, the benefit of taking the pre-professional program is that it often reduces the time to complete an M.Arch program. The NAAB-accredited degree, as outlined above, meets the education requirement for registration in all 54 U.S. jurisdictions; it is required in 38.

Regardless of your educational path, obtaining your architect’s license is lengthy. There is a way to shorten the time. By attending an Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) program, you can shave off a few years. Launched in 2015, The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) accepts 28 programs at 24 schools. While earning your degree, the benefit is that you gain real-world experience through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). This link takes you to a directory of accredited IPAL institutions.

Unfortunately, the majority are Master of Architecture programs.

Before providing professional architectural services, you need a state license from your state of business. In addition to your undergraduate degree, you must complete an internship. Having accomplished these, you can sit for the Architect Registration Examination administered by NCARB.

The BSA degree will qualify you to work in architectural firms or related offices, such as urban planning. To be a licensed architect, you need another two years, typically, to attain an accredited professional degree in architecture.

The same requirement applies if you choose the BSAS degree. However, you can still find employment at architectural firms, planning, real estate, and related businesses. Therefore, is there a benefit to the five-year program? In other words, how important is a state architecture license?

You can work in the architecture field without a license, subject to certain restrictions. It is unlawful to use the title ‘architect,’ practice architecture, represent oneself as an architect, advertise, or use the label on any brochures, business cards, or other material relative to your job in architecture – without a license. You can find further details for each state at the NCARB site.

Employment

A licensed architect with a bachelor’s degree earns a median salary of $82,320 as of May 2020, with a 3% growth in jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The datum refers to a bachelor’s degree and the requisite hours of experience and passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

The ARE 5.0 is a multi-division exam that tests knowledge and skills related to architecture practice. You will need to select the appropriate jurisdiction according to your state or territory of employment and have an active NCARB Record. The Record refers to your education, documented experience (hours), and examination history.

If you used the BSA or BSAS degree in urban or regional planning, the BLS reports the median income for this profession at $71,490, with a job growth of 13% through 2026. This occupation has a distinct advantage in the number of job changes over ten years.

Once deemed eligible for the ARE, you have the option of taking it online or at one of the Prometric Test Centers in the United States or Canada. Online proctoring is available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Each of the five divisions lasts from two hours and forty minutes to four hours and five minutes for two of the longest exams (Project Planning & Design and Project Development & Documentation).

By reviewing employment websites, you’ll learn the preferred degree for various positions. A Project Architect at a design firm in Milwaukee posted a job with a bachelor’s degree and architecture license. A Junior Architect at an architectural firm in New Jersey prefers applicants to have an undergraduate degree and a license. The salary range for this position is $50,000 to $80,000, depending on experience.

Other stipulated qualifications for most architect jobs are AutoCAD and Revit software, Microsoft Word and Excel, Sketchup, Adobe InDesign, and Illustrator. As expected, there are other requirements applicable to each position; some stress communication and presentation skills, project management experience, construction knowledge, familiarity with ADA accessibility guidelines, 2D and 3D modeling and graphic design expertise, and more.

Summary

The BSA and the BSAS require a two-year graduate degree in architecture before you can qualify for licensure. If this is not in your intent, then these degrees will suffice to work in the field of architecture. However, you will need at least a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree to begin the licensure path. This plan is one year less than earning a BSA or BSAS plus two years of graduate school. The B.Arch. seems more beneficial from the time perspective. You could be eligible for licensure after a five-year program; the downside is the additional cost of schooling for another year. Or you do the four-year degree, land a job, and start accumulating the required hours before sitting for the licensure exam.

Additional Resources

 What Is the Difference Between a Degree in Civil Engineering and a Degree in Architecture?

What Should Students Look for in an Undergraduate Architecture Degree Program?

Why Does It Take So Long to Earn an Undergraduate Degree in Architecture?

What Is the Benefit of an Engineering Degree Vs an Architecture Degree?

What Kind of Experience Will I Gain During an Undergraduate Degree Program in Architecture?

Do I Need a Degree to Be an Interior Decorator?