Routes to becoming an architect...
The route to becoming an architect consists of three parts. You can only legally call yourself an architect after successfully completing all three of these parts. These parts are a mixture of studying and working. You obtain your bachelor’s degree in part one, your master’s degree in part two and your professional qualification in part three.
It’s widely known that becoming an architect takes about seven years. A common misconception is that this seven years is spent in full time university. In fact, it is a maximum of 5 years at university full time. You also need a minimum of two years’ work experience before you can qualify. There are options that do not require you to spend any time in full time education, such as degree apprenticeships. The length of time taken to qualify varies with the different routes, from 6 to 10 years.
You do not need to decide at the outset exactly which route you will take. For example, you could do full time university for part one and then decide to do an apprenticeship for part two and three. Have a read of the key to help you understand the diagram below, which details the various routes currently available in the UK.
Similar to the way medical students obtain their degree in medicine a while before they qualify as a doctor, you will obtain a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in architecture before you qualify as an architect. Final qualification requires you to have practical experience as well as academic.
The various routes provide a range of financial options – some are paid for by you or a student loan, while others are paid for by your employer or the government. Read the key to understand how the financial implications of each course are indicated below.
If you are viewing this on a phone, tap it, and then using both fingers, you can zoom in however you like.
Keep scrolling for examples of different routes to help you interpret the diagram...
The number of routes to becoming an architect is growing, which is great - although rather confusing! Hopefully, this page will help you understand the options available...
What if I don't do all three parts?
After your part one studies, you will have a bachelor’s degree in architecture. If, by this point, you decide not to pursue architecture any further, you will have a degree under your belt and can use this to apply for other jobs. Common fields for architecture graduates to go into include graphic design, product design, marketing, project management and more. Many graduate jobs do not specify a degree subject so you can use your architecture degree to apply to a wide range of things.
With only one or two parts complete, you can work in an architect's practice as an architectural assistant. However, you will not be an architect. It is illegal to call yourself an architect without being approved by and registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) upon completion of part three.
I encourage you not to be put off by the time taken to qualify. I am currently in my sixth year of architectural studies and work. I did my bachelor’s degree in full time university but decided to do an apprenticeship for part two. Therefore, I have been working and earning since my fourth year and did not need to take a student loan out for my part time master’s degree because it is paid for by the government, as part of my apprenticeship. I’ve been working on and designing real projects (that actually get built) since my fourth year, so I don't mind that I am not yet fully qualified. There are also options to complete your bachelor’s degree whilst working in practice.
It’s important to remember that nobody comes out of university and walks into the job they plan to do forever. After a bachelor’s degree, most people need to undertake additional training and qualifications to reach their career goals.
Studying + working abroad
You can study your undergraduate and / or postgraduate degree abroad without having to repeat it in the UK as long as it is approved by the RIBA. The RIBA has a long list of validated international courses. You can also work abroad during your years in practice.
If you qualify as a architect outside of the UK, by doing that country's part three course equivalent, you will need to do additional work to be registered as an architect in the UK. This is because part three involves learning about contracts and law, which are specific to the UK.
Should I choose a BSc or BA bachelor's degree?
BSc = Bachelor of Science
BA = Bachelor of Arts
Undergraduate courses are divided into the arts and sciences. However, you will notice that some architecture courses are a BA and some are a BSc. This is because architecture is both an art and a science.
Architecture courses labelled BA may be more arty and abstract and courses labelled BSc may focus more on science. However, I wouldn’t let this influence your decision strongly.
My course was much more technical than the one my colleague studied at a different university. However, both were labelled BA so I’m not convinced the BA vs BSc is always representative of course content for architecture. You will be able to judge how arty or sciency the course is during an open day. On an open day you will also be able to ask professors about the course. This is a much more reliable way to find out about courses than by reading the three letters next to its name on the university website.
Any respectable course will be accredited and monitored by the ARB and RIBA who will ensure you are being taught the right modules and a balance of the arts and sciences.
What are the ARB + RIBA?
ARB = Architects Registration Board
RIBA = Royal Institute of British Architects
It is compulsory for all architects in the UK to be registered with the ARB. Otherwise, they cannot practice as an architect or legally call themselves one.
It is optional to join the RIBA, although most architects and practices do.
Similarly, you must study a part one, two and three course which are all approved by the ARB to qualify as an architect. To be chartered with the RIBA, which is not compulsory but preferred, you need to study part one, two and three courses approved by both the RIBA and ARB. When looking at university courses you should check that they are accredited by both the ARB and RIBA to ensure the quality of your education and future employability.
Because architecture is a protected profession and monitored by two organisations, you do not need to rely so much on university league tables. If a course is accredited by the ARB and RIBA, you can be assured that it is continuously and strictly assessed on the content and quality of the teaching and students' work.
The league tables are still helpful. However, be aware that they are biased towards the university's 'reputation.' For example, a mediocre course at a Russell Group university may be ranked higher than a better course at a polytechnic university because most rankings are heavily influenced by the university's reputation, which is a subjective factor and does not always reflect the quality of their architecture course, specifically. Be sure to check the employment statistics for students leaving the course and to visit the school for open days to see if you can imagine yourself there.
Examples of different routes...
Below is the route that I took (and am still taking).