Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) Degree

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The Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) is a graduate level degree in architecture that prepares students to obtain a license and practice as a professional architect. There are several options for earning an M.Arch depending on a student’s academic history, prior degrees obtained and the design of the master’s degree program. There are several different kinds of M.Arch degrees, as such, they are often are given different names (e.g. “M.Arch I” or “M.Arch II”) to help students distinguish between them. All M.Arch degrees, regardless of program structure, are fully accredited professional degrees that will help qualify students to become licensed practitioners of the trade. However, there are other master’s degrees in architecture that are not accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB).

Architecture schools offer several pathways to earning a master’s degree in architecture, which includes pursuing education options at both the bachelor’s and master’s level. Whatever pathway you choose, it typically takes just over 7 years to earn an M.Arch degree. A few possible pathways include the following:

  1. The first pathway to earning an M.Arch degree is known as the “4+2″. This route requires students to first complete an accredited pre-professional bachelor of science in architecture (B.S.Arch) or a bachelor of arts in architecture (B.A.Arch), both three- to four-year programs. Program duration at the bachelor’s level will be determined by the construction of the program and study performance. One of the benefits of the pathway is that it provides students a bit more flexibility to take undergraduate liberal arts classes and graduate with a more comprehensive four-year college education. Another benefit is that students are able to attend two different post-secondary institutions, providing a more varied architectural education. Students can attend one college to earn their bachelor’s degree and another to earn their M.Arch. Pursuing the 4+2 track also provides students the option of pursuing a career in teaching architecture at the collegiate level. Not only will students be qualified to pursue professional licensure but they’ll have the option of pursuing a career in education.
  2. The second way to earn a master’s degree in architecture starts in graduate school. As an undergraduate, the student can study any topic desired and his or her education in architecture does not begin until graduate school. The graduate degree in architecture takes 3.5 years to complete and is often referred to as an M.Arch I. One of the advantages of attending an M.Arch I program is that the student body has a very diverse educational background, as most students will have earned bachelor’s degrees in varying subjects outside of architecture. Pursuing this route does, however, require about 7 to 7.5 years of study (including an undergraduate degree). One of the more obvious disadvantages is that students who pursue this option only have about 3.5 years to learn everything they need to know about architecture, where students who earn an undergraduate degree in architecture have a total of 6 to 7 years of architectural education under their belt after completing their master’s degree.
  3. The final route for becoming an architect is to participate in an intensive 5-year professional degree program in architecture. These programs vary from school to school but are typically either a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) or Master of Architecture (M.Arch). The most popular form in the U.S. is the B.Arch. Upon completion of one of these degree programs, students are qualified to sit for the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE). Passing the ARE exam is a prerequisite to being awarded an architect’s license and practicing in the United States. The only drawback to this route is that it typically does not qualify students to pursue a career in architecture education at the collegiate level. Students who pursue this track and decide to pursue a career in education often must complete an academic master’s degree in architecture (not an M.Arch.), which requires 3 semesters of additional study.

When selecting a school to pursue a master’s degree in architecture (or even a bachelor’s degree) it’s important to consider the “focus” of the school as not all architecture programs are identical. Schools will often take a historical, technical or artistic approach to teaching architecture– depending on the history and interests of the school and its faculty. This is not something that school’s typically advertise, so you’ll have to really evaluate program curriculum, courses and study areas of the faculty to determine how a school approaches the instruction of architecture. Students who blindly enter a program without doing their due diligence may come to regret their decision.

Most graduate degree programs in architecture include core courses in structural engineering, general construction, design, architectural history, design, professional practice and theory, complimented by a variety of elective courses. Some of the prerequisite courses students must complete prior to entering a professional architecture program at the graduate-level include physics, statistics, mathematics (calculus), basic building science, studio, and computers. Many architectural programs allow students to select a study concentration in a specific area of architecture. It’s also a standard requirement for students to complete a final project or thesis in order to graduate.

The architectural thesis is intended to provide a student the opportunity to demonstrate what he or she has learned over the duration of the program. The thesis is typically represented as a written paper, physical model/representation or graphic design. The thesis is based on a student’s research and cumulative knowledge of architecture and should address a topic significant to the student, his peers and the field at large.

As previously mentioned, in order to sit for the ARE exam and obtain licensure a student must graduate from an accredited architecture program. An architecture program must be accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) which is the only organization authorized to provide accreditation for professional degree programs in architecture in the United States. Obtaining a degree from an NAAB-accredited program is a necessary step in order to practice architecture anywhere in the U.S.

In Canada, the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB) is the equivalent to the ARE in the United States. Students who earn a degree from a NAAB or CACB-accredited school may qualify to sit for the ARE and/or the Examination of Architects in Canada (ExaAC).

Master’s Degree Programs in Architecture

There are currently about 85 NAAB-accredited Master of Architecture (MArch) degree programs in the United States. The following U.S. colleges and universities offer Machelor of Architecture programs. (Note: Institutions with an asterisk next to their name also provided accredited Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) programs.


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