Architecture and engineering are two different occupations with a good deal of overlap. Both architects and engineers may complete some of the same work duties, most notably the design of buildings and structures. However, the many distinctions between the two degree programs mean that one major is likely to appeal more to individual students than the other. For many students, the benefits of choosing engineering over architecture include better pay rates, quicker career preparation, an emphasis on science and math as opposed to aesthetic design and more diverse career opportunities upon graduation.
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Higher Salaries for Engineers
Generally, engineering degrees correspond to higher wages than architecture degrees. The median salary for engineers in all disciplines is $92,220, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. The highest paid engineers, petroleum engineers, earn a median wage of $132,280, while the lowest paid, agricultural engineers, earn a median salary of $74,780.
Architects earn a median wage of $78,470. Salaries are considerably higher for architects working for the government, with a median of $89,720, but only about three percent of all architects in the U.S. are government employees, the BLS reported.
Only the lowest paid engineering discipline has a median salary lower than an architect’s, while more than a dozen different engineering occupations have higher median wages.
Shorter Time to Earn an Undergraduate Degree
A bachelor’s degree is typically called a four-year degree, so the notion that one bachelor’s degree takes longer than the other might sound strange. A Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) degree is a special kind of undergraduate degree known as a professional degree, as opposed to an academic degree. Accredited B.Arch. degree programs must include at least 150 college credits, but it’s not unusual for these programs to include 160 or even 170 credits. Architecture majors often take introductory architecture or pre-architecture courses as early as their freshman year of college. Often, students complete their professional core classes during their second through fourth years and spend their fifth year of study primarily working on a capstone design project. Engineering students complete their bachelor’s degree requirements in less time than architecture students, so they can save on tuition costs and get out into the workforce sooner.
The typical engineering degree program takes four years to complete. Some students who choose to complete a lengthy co-op program take longer to finish their education but graduate with six months to a year or more of work experience under their belt.
Focus on Math and Science Over Artistic Design
Both engineers and architects are designers, but they approach the field from different perspectives. Architects come from an artistic design background. They complete courses such as mathematics, construction, structures and physics. However, much of architecture students’ curriculum is artistic in nature, including classes such as Introduction to Design and Digital Media, Modes of Design Communication, Introduction to Design and Architecture Design Studio.
Engineers also need creativity, but not necessarily in an artistic or aesthetic sense. Rather, they use their creative minds along with their knowledge of science and mathematics to develop solutions to real-life challenges. At least one-quarter of an engineer’s undergraduate college curriculum is science and math coursework. Engineering majors also take courses in general engineering principles as well as specialized courses in an engineering discipline such as mechanical, civil, chemical or electrical.
Once you earn your bachelor’s degree in engineering, you can begin working as an engineer. Architects must complete a lengthy internship after graduation and then pass the Architect Registration Examination before they can attain their required architect license.
Broader Range of Career Opportunities
Generally, architects design building structures for residential or commercial use. Engineers may design building structures, but they design many other things, too. Machines, automobiles, chemical compounds, manufacturing materials, electrical and electronic devices and even medical breakthroughs all result from the work of an engineer.
While different engineering degrees lead to these different career paths, the breadth of options means that a career in engineering will appeal even to students who don’t dream of designing buildings. The work engineers do can also be fulfilling in many other ways, especially when they solve important problems such as treating serious diseases, developing methods to purify unsafe drinking water in remote locations and otherwise improve quality of life for individuals and societies.
Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) professional degrees are also available for established architects who want to advance their careers and for college graduates in other fields looking to change careers. M.Arch. programs can take one to five years, the BLS reported.