Here’s a Summary of the AIA’s New K-12 Student Career Guide

Last week, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) released a new architects “career guide” for K-12 students. One of the main purposes of this guide, according to the AIA, is to bring awareness to an underrepresented student group about the possibilities of a career in architecture.

We applaud this effort to ensure the next generation of architects reflects the diversity of the nation. So we want to help bring awareness to this resource, as well as provide a simplified version of it that’s easy to share. If you or your firm works with an accredited architect education program, or if you know any students considering architecture, send them this edited version of the guide!

Architect Student Guide Summary

If you want to view the entire AIA guide, click here.

Summary Index

  • The Basics
    • What is Architecture?
    • What Does An Architect Do?
    • How to Become and Architect
    • Why Architecture?
    • Who Can Be An Architect?
    • Path to Becoming a Licensed Architect

  • Academic Preparation
    • Elementary School Activities & Coursework
    • Middle School Activities & Coursework
    • High School Activities & Coursework

The Basics


Architecture is the study and practice of designing the buildings, communities, structures, and other elements that shape the built environment.


An architect is a person who designs buildings and other structures, and prepares the drawings and instructions about how to build them, known as construction documents. 

Architects usually work for clients who hire them to do their work, but they also make sure to design buildings that are safe for every person who uses the building. Because of this, architects need a license to practice architecture issued by the state or territory in which they work.

To become an architect, you must: 

  • Earn a degree in architecture

  • Gain experience by working for a licensed architect

  • Pass a national exam known as the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)


Do you enjoy puzzle solving, being creative, and the thought of helping others? If so, you might want to become an architect!

Architects interact with a diverse group of people in order to better understand what they need. Then, they create unique solutions, solve technical problems, and visit job sites to check on construction progress. One of the most satisfying feelings as an architect is seeing your design built and being used by the people you designed it for. 

Architects have the power to protect and enrich people’s lives by designing the world around us.


You don’t need to be a math genius or an exceptional artist to become an architect. While both skills are helpful, what is more important is your curiosity and persistence. Architecture education and practice will require you to be an adaptable problem-solver and hard worker as you learn the technical and creative skills needed to design safe, functional, and beautiful buildings.


  1. Earn a degree: In most jurisdictions, you’ll need a degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). See “Choosing the Right Degree” for details.

  2. Gain experience: The Architectural Experience Program (AXP) provides a framework to guide students through building competency in a broad range of areas and documenting their work. You can start reporting experience as soon as you graduate from high school.

  3. Pass the exam: The ARE 5.0 is a multi-part test required by all licensing boards. You can take the tests in any order, at any time throughout the year.

  4. Get licensed: Once you’ve met all of the requirements established by the licensing board where you would like to practice, you can apply for a license and officially call yourself an architect.

Academic Preparation

If you’re interested in architecture, below are some grade-specific opportunities to engage in architecture-related activities, as well as art, science, and math-related courses in school. There are also a variety of summer programs for middle and high school students—many of which are free.


  • Do you like playing with LEGOs or playing Minecraft? Practice designing famous structures or create your own designs, then share them with friends and family!
  • Make a collage of the buildings you like—virtually or on poster board.


  • Do your best in your classes! When possible, participate in art and STEM related activities in and out of school (e.g., afterschool, summer, etc.). For more information on STEM related camps, click here.


  • Research architecture summer programs at Study Architecture, a resource developed by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA).
  • If your school offers afterschool programming, such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers, GEAR UP, or TRIO programming, make sure to express interest in participating.


  • If your middle school has Pre-AP courses, these would be excellent opportunities for you.
  • Consider taking art classes (e.g., sketching, painting, photography, etc.) that can help sharpen your presentation skills.


  • Look into shadowing an architect for a few days and/or visit a local architecture firm. For assistance, contact your local AIA Chapter.
  • You can jump-start your architecture education by joining the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) as a high school member.
  • Research architecture schools, summer programs, and nationwide college fairs at Study Architecture.


  • In addition to core classes, consider taking architecture-related electives like:
    • Studio Art*
    • 3-D modeling*
    • Photography*
    • Computer/graphic arts*
    • Drafting/technical drawing*
  • If offered at your school, the following architecture-related AP courses are well aligned with architecture:
    • AP Art History*
    • AP 3-D Art and Design*
    • AP 2-D Art and Design*
    • AP Drawing*
  • Or even consider a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Pathway:
    • Architecture (non-construction)
    • Architecture and engineering (non-construction)

*If your school does not offer these course options, check virtual public schools in your state or dual enrollment options at a local higher education institution. Ask your school counselor for details.

Choosing The Right Degree

To become an architect, you need to meet the specific education requirements set by the licensing board in the state or territory where you plan to practice. There are 55 architectural licensing boards in the U.S., and most require a professional degree in architecture from a program accredited by the NAAB

There are many paths and degrees to choose from based on your goals. Get more details about each degree here.

Common Architect Degree Paths


Estimated Costs and Salary 

Like any career, the cost of becoming an architect varies based on several factors, including which college you attend, how early you start earning professional experience, and whether your future firm provides licensure support. 


According to the 2020 ACSA Institutional Data Report, the median tuition per year (excluding fees, room, and meal plans) are as follows:

  • Public B.Arch.
    • In-state: $6,500 – $11,499 | Out-of-state: $21,500 – $26,499
  • Public M.Arch.
    • In-state: $11,500 – $16,499 | Out-of-state: $21,500 – $26,499
  • Private B.Arch. and M.Arch.: $41,500 – $46,500 


Becoming a licensed architect is an investment in your future and a way to maximize career opportunities. Several programs offer financial aid, ranging from college scholarships to employer support for examination fees. Typical licensure costs include:

  • NCARB Record fees while gaining work experience: $270 (for a three-year period)*
  • Licensing board exam application fee: $0-$377 (range based on licensing board and residency status) • Architect Registration Examination (ARE): $1,410 (six divisions)*
  • Licensing board initial registration fee: $0-$400 (range based on licensing board and residency status) *Explore current licensure fees on the NCARB site. Keep in mind, individual licensing boards may have additional fees.

*Explore current licensure fees on the NCARB site. Keep in mind, individual licensing boards may have additional fees 


You (and your parents) may be wondering, “How much would I make?” In 2019, the median salary for recent graduates was $53,000, according to the AIA. Explore in-depth salary projections based on your region, city, and state by using the AIA salary calculator.

Other Resources

There are many ways to start exploring the profession. Here are some helpful resources you should explore.