To become a licensed architect, you will first need to earn a degree in architecture. The problem is there are a lot of options out there. Knowing what you want to do with your degree is a good starting point. Once you identify some programs that match well with your professional goals, you can narrow down your options and compare a few of your leading options.
One of the most important considerations is accreditation. Accreditation for architectural schools is critical. A degree from an accredited school lets potential employers know you’ve met the educational requirements and have the necessary skills to do the job.
What Is NAAB?
The National Architectural Accredited Board (NAAB) was established in 1940 by the Collateral Organizations (which includes ACSA, AIA, AIAS, AND NCARB) with the goal of setting oversight and accreditation services for the industry. Specifically, the goal of this organization was to ensure that any accredited architectural program meets the very specific key quality assurance responsibilities necessary for such an important industry and job.
The accreditation process is outcome-based. That is, this accreditation program aims to determine if students complete the necessary coursework and if it is taught in an effective manner but also what students learn. They also base accreditation on the demonstrated competency of their area of study. All of the standards set by accreditation are agreed upon by the NAAB and the Collateral Organizations.
How do schools become NAAB accredited?
First, it is important to note that NAAB accreditation focuses on the architectural program offered by the school, not the school itself. That is, a school can have an NAAB accredited program. The accreditation process uses a number of steps to provide an external quality review. It looks at the educational program to determine the quality of education provided and the quality improvement evident.
This type of accreditation process is carried about by nonprofit and private organizations. That is, the review of the school’s program is not done by the school but by a third-party provider who can offer unbiased information and support.
The process of achieving architectural accreditation from NAAB involves numerous steps and can take up to eight years to complete. It is also ongoing. Once the program earns the initial accreditation, it does not stop there. They will need to continue to meet the ongoing requirements with periodic reviews.
The organization does not allow for self-accreditation. Rather, the following steps are required for a school to become an accredited architecture school.
- Self-Study: The program creates a written summary of performance based on the guidelines set by NAAB.
- Peer Review: The next step is an accreditation review and site visits that are conducted by a group of regulators, students, educators, and practitioners. Some review teams, including public members, are volunteers that are not compensated for their work.
- Preparation of Visiting Team Report: In this step, the visiting team prepares a visiting team report that includes all of the progress the program has made since the previous visit, any conditions met or not met, and any areas of concern. At this point, the team will recommend the accreditation to the NAAB board, but all of the recommendations remain confidential.
- Action by the NAAB Board: The board will use the data available, including the visit team report to determine the term of accreditation for the new program. They will reaffirm any accreditation for existing programs as well or have the final decision in denying the accreditation.
- External Review: There are additional external reviews completed of programs over time at various cycles that range from every few years to every eight years.
What Are the Accreditation Standards?
The NAAB sets accreditation standards that are maintained and updated each year as the board sees fit. Some of the specific components that make up accreditation standards by the NAAB include:
Context and mission
The context and mission of the program, including its setting, cultural influences, and the program’s relationship with the university community. This includes how the program benefits the institutional setting.
Shared values of the discipline and profession, which includes how the program meets the shared values of the organization. This includes descriptions of all opportunities for students, the value of curricular and non curricular activities, and how the program develops graduates, including their understanding of design and prototyping. It also looks at the particular design approach and philosophy the program uses, the material covered in the various courses, the career paths and competencies of those programs, and the professional and technical skills that are integral to the program.
Environmental stewardship and professional responsibility
The NAAB board will also consider how well the program communicates the responsibility of architects in how their work impacts the natural world, along with the welfare, safety, and health of the public. This includes a focus on addressing solutions to problems being faced in the country and around the world as well as encouraging active, engaged citizens. The program’s approach to stewardship of the environment is also considered.
Equity, diversity, and inclusion
NAAB provides a significant amount of focus on how well the program meets its goals in creating equity- and inclusion-based environments for design, including the impact on the policies adopted, how words matter, and the actions people take. There is a focus on respectful learning and teaching. The board also considers factors like reducing student debt burden, creating access to opportunities for entering the profession, and various career path options for students. They also look at things like work/life balance, goal setting, and transfer agreements with community colleges.
Knowledge and innovation
This component of the accreditation standards focuses on how the architect completing the program is able to create and disseminate knowledge of design and the build environment in changing conditions. Some of the areas focused on here include how the program generates new knowledge creation, how the program completes research in the profession and at the academic level, and what type of risk-taking and advanced architectural focus is provided to students that aim to drive innovation in the sector.
Leadership, collaboration, and community engagement
Another area of focus is on how well architects develop the skills to practice design in a collaborative and inclusive manner. The program looks at leadership opportunities for students, opportunities for pro bono work, and critical thinking and design thinking skill sets that could help architects work on civic boards.
The final component of the standards is a look at the long-term educational opportunities available, including whether architects get a depth of education and a thorough understanding of the knowledge, the industry’s history, and theories, as well as cultural, social, economic, and environmental factors. It looks at what the program and school do to help foster a desire for continued learning.
Why Is Accreditation Important?
Obtaining and maintaining NAAB accreditation reflects the standards of an architectural degree program. With the information from this quality assurance process, students who enroll in the program know that they are getting the level and quality of education they need to work in the field. Employers who hire those who graduate from these programs can also be confident in the availability and breadth of knowledge the applicant has.
Accreditation helps to signal to both the public and students that the architectural program meets at least the basic standards for all aspects, including its faculty, the curriculum it teaches, and in the services provided to students.
Also important is that the NAAB is the only agency that is recognized by registration boards in the U.S. to provide accredited professional degree programs in this field.
Popular NAAB Architecture Schools
There are many colleges and universities throughout the U.S. that offer NAAB accredited architecture schools. Below are several of the most recognized of those programs.
The Rice University School of Architecture offers a bachelors to a masters degree program as well as a master’s in architecture program for students who already have a bachelors. The program aims to help students to advance their research skills to address the most complex and pressing issues within the industry, including in areas of design, environment, and culture. They do this by providing students with knowledge of advanced systems, processes, and techniques and fostering a focus on critical thinking skills.
The Master of Science Degree in Architecture requires 39 total credit hours, with Architectural Problems being a significant focus of the curriculum. Students will also need to complete electives and a thesis. There is a non-thesis master’s degree program available through the school as well.
The school is one of the smallest professional degree programs in the field, but it is also considered one of the top research universities in the country. It offers a 5 to 1 student-teacher ratio that fosters a more hands-on approach to education. Core to this is the preceptorship, in which the school links to top-ranked architecture firms throughout the country and around the world for fourth and fifth year student study. They also offer studio-based education and online educational programs.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers a full line of educational programs for architectural students. This includes areas focused on architecture and urbanism, art culture, technology, building technology, and computation. With both undergraduate and graduate programs of study available, MIT offers a comprehensive program designed for those seeking cutting-edge education at a well-recognized school.
MIT’s approach to architecture is to focus on the scientific frameworks and inventions along with humanistic and social insights, new ways of thinking, producing materials, and the environment to foster a sense of endless learning. The school offers ample shops and labs to create a hands-on experience. This department is one of five divisions within the MIT School of Architecture + Planning.
The school has 37 permanent faculty members, 20 researchers, and numerous other professionals who provide lectures and demonstrations. In 2021, the school graduated 231 students in this particular field. It has a strong focus on developing students from diverse backgrounds through all of its programs.
Cornell University’s Department of Architecture is a well-respected educational program focused on creative and critical design practices. It aims to create a strong focus on responsible building and innovation through rigorous research programs. Cornell focuses on encouraging students to reimagine the world at every scale to create a sustainable future.
With both graduate and undergraduate courses of study in architecture, students at Cornell University will focus on areas such as global history, structure, theory, building technology, and environmental systems, among many other facets. Students who complete the program can enroll in one of several master’s degree paths, including a Professional Master of Architecture, Post-Professional Master of Science, Advanced Architectural Design, Post-Professional Master of Science in Advanced Urban Design, and Computer Graphics.
The school’s staff is extensive, with a strong history in the field, both professionally and in research. The program encourages students to question and investigate a wide range of approaches in the field. They aim to focus on practice, design, and fabrication with a focus on developing strong inquiry and responsibility skills while fostering creativity.
Michigan State University
Michigan State University’s Experience Architecture program is one of the most interesting and innovative programs available today. It is designed to be more modernized, offering a focus on emerging aspects of the field. The program does this by focusing on people-centered experiences in areas as far reaching as processes, services, and technologies. It aims to complement the fast-paced digital environment.
The school’s School of Planning, Design, and Construction also offers students the ability to explore the field in a more traditional manner though it has a heavy focus on developing sustainable, healthy-built environments as well as virtual environment development. The diversity and versatility of this program have helped it to become one of the most well-recognized around the world for its focus on real-world and cross-discipline projects.
Students will gain access to a large range of educational opportunities, including courses in areas such as construction management, interior design, regional planning, urban planning, and landscape architecture. The faculty is internationally based to provide a strong global appeal and is heavily focused on environmental issues, sustainable research, and delivering timeline solutions to modern programs in the industry.
Washington University in St. Louis
The Washington University in St. Louis’s College of Architecture – Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts program offers several educational paths for students in the field. This includes a focus on discipline-based design practice, technology, the arts, resilient cities, and social engagement, with all four areas being a cornerstone to the success of the architectural city. The educational program focuses on the development of well-rounded students with a good historical and global perspective, along with strong environmental ethics and skills in both innovation and technology.
The master’s educational program has been in place since 1910 at various levels and is one of the longest serving opportunities for students in the industry. It focuses on research in areas of housing and fabrication, pioneering new solutions in the area of sustainability and socially engaged design practice. The faculty are some of the leaders in the industry who have pioneered research in areas of cultural arts, urban sustainability, and building technology. They also engage a wide range of designers and modern architects in their program for workshops and lectures to keep education new and to evolve.
The educational programs here typically require at least three years of coursework, but there are several paths available depending on the student’s current education and desires. Students who have completed this path have gone on to create numerous structures at all levels of architectural design around the world.
NAAB Accredited Master’s Coursework
Students enrolling in NAAB-accredited programs can expect to study a wide range of courses in this field. This is a comprehensive educational path with numerous areas of focus potential. These programs typically require 90 credits, though this differs by school. Some of the likely educational courses students will take may include courses to their specific area of specialization or concentration, some of which may include:
- Architectural Design History and Theory
- Liberal Arts
- Building design with CADD, structures, and construction methods
- Graphic design
Typically, these programs will offer very specific educational courses to match the overall concentration. Some of the courses you may see include:
- Design Studio: A series of Design Studio courses are typically necessary. These teach the fundamentals and more complex areas of architecture design and physics.
- Technology: These programs focus on the use of software and other technology in the building of buildings and design.
- Architectural Thinking: This type of course typically focuses on design thinking and creative expression, along with the goal of encouraging innovation in the industry.
- History and Theory of Architecture: Learning from the history and development of the industry as well as the valuable theories learned throughout the past, can help students with their careers.
- Architectural Problems: This type of course typically focuses on correcting structural issues, including ways to protect the environment and safeguard people and similar areas.
In addition to completing courses like these, many students will also spend time working on a thesis or research project at the graduate level. This can include a significant amount of research in a specific area and may require some work in the field. Typically, there is a need to complete a full thesis with a proposal, design thesis studio, and written documents. Elective requirements may also apply.
Benefits of Attending an Online NAAB Accredited SLP Program
Completing your education and earning a degree from an NAAB accredited school is essential for most people who want to enter this profession. Completing that educational program online could offer additional opportunities.
These online programs are highly developed to meet the challenging coursework and requirements set by the NAAB. The quality of education remains present. However, they provide more flexibility to the student who wants and needs to learn in a different environment, whether that is at home or in a community setting.
Those who complete an online NAAB accredited program benefit from the following:
- More flexible course times that allow them to meet their ongoing needs
- Access to programs available throughout the country, not just where they currently live
- High-quality education that allows them to continue their job or other career goals while earning their degree
- The ability to learn at a rate that fits their learning style and other educational needs
- Competitive pricing for education due to no expected room and board costs
For those students who are considering enrolling in accredited schools, the key is to recognize that online programs can provide the exceptional versatility and flexibility that many students need.
FAQ About Online NAAB Accredited Architecture Schools
Consider these common questions about online NAAB accredited architecture schools to find out how well they can fit your specific needs.
How Much Does an NAAB Architecture Program Cost?
The cost of completing a degree in an NAAB architecture program varies based on the school. Typically this can cost around $13,000 to $14,000 per year through a public university or $36,000 or more at private universities.
How Long Does It Take to Earn a NAAB Architecture Degree?
As a professional degree program, the NAAB architectural degree typically takes 5 years to complete from bachelors through masters in a traditional format. However, earning a master’s degree on its own can be done within 15 months to several years, depending on how much time the student puts into the program and the program structure. Some graduate programs can take three years to complete.
Is a Graduate Degree Required to Become an Architect?
Typically, a student will need to earn a degree from an accredited NAAB program, which includes a graduate component. They will then need to complete an internship to gain hands-on experience and then take a final exam called the Architect Registration Examination. State licensing requirements can differ.
What Is the Average Salary of Someone with a Degree in Architecture?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that, in 2021, the median pay for a person working as an architect was $80,180 per year, or $38.55 per hour, with a bachelor’s degree. This is also dependent on the field the individual works in, with government positions having a median annual wage of $99,330 and those in construction earning $82,800.
Do NAAB Architecture Schools Require the GRE?
In most cases, NAAB architectural schools do not require a GRE. However, every university and college’s programs and goals are different. Some may require a GRE. Some colleges and universities have required GREs in the past, but many have changed these requirements. To find out, look at the college itself for more information on their requirements for admissions.
What Are Some Career Options for Someone with an Architecture Degree?
Those who earn an architecture degree may be able to pursue one of several career paths. Some of those include:
Some professionals work in architecture and multidisciplinary design firms. These are often in private consulting practices. Some also work directly with construction management firms.
Corporate and institutional practice
Some architects work in cultural and historical resource organizations. Others will provide design services for larger contracting companies and organizations. Some also work within various departments of hospitals, universities, and private corporations.
Architects may also provide services at a governmental level, including federal, state, regional, and local governments. Though not all organizations have architectural divisions, many do have urban planning sections that employ architects. Others work with municipal and state offices within the inspections and building code divisions.
There are many other fields where an architecture education may apply. Here are some options to consider:
- Architectural journalism
- Architectural design firms
- Historic preservation and restoration
- Furniture and lighting design
- Space planning
- Interior architecture
- Architectural photography
- Building product design and manufacturer
- Consulting services for construction law practices
- Universities and colleges teaching