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Navigating Graduate School and a Career in Architecture

Navigating graduate school and a career in architecture can feel extremely overwhelming when considering all of the factors at play. Over the past ten years, approximately 60% of all National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) candidates stayed on track to complete their licensure. At most firms, around 40% percent of employees are licensed architects. Marmon Mok is always encouraging staff to further their education, take their licensing exams, and celebrate when an individual can finally call themselves an architect. One of the three requirements for becoming a registered architect in the State of Texas is to have a professional degree from an accredited program. While some undergraduate programs still offer a 5-year Undergraduate Bachelor of Architecture degree, most undergraduate programs have become a 4-year Bachelor of Science degree that is non-accredited. To earn an accredited degree, many require a Master’s in architecture.

However, once an individual is integrated at a firm full time, with a salary and essential benefits like health care and 401k planning, the idea of returning to school can become difficult to imagine. Not to mention those who have families to care for. Pursuing an online graduate degree in architecture over the traditional in-person setting could be the solution for all of those who feel a Master’s degree has become out of reach.

Traditional Graduate Programs Versus Online

University class schedules usually fall within the standard times of most businesses, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Factor in that architecture programs require studio courses that last approximately 3 hours, 2 to 3 times a week. This is an impossible amount of time to make up while maintaining a 40-hour week work schedule. The thought of this can be the thing that turns people away from ever pursuing their masters. On the other hand, most online graduate programs are more friendly for full-time employees, with classes offered after 5 p.m. or during lunch.

Another big issue related to returning to school is the cost. University prices are high enough as it is. If attending classes in person requires a reduction to a part-time position or leaving the job altogether, that will coincide with an annual income reduction during a time when the money is needed the most. Not only does the schedule flexibility allow for the maintenance of a full-time position but usually, online programs do not charge additional fees for out-of-state tuition. This opens the door to a variety of options across the country. Also, hundreds of dollars typically spent on model-making materials or high-quality prints each semester can be saved by taking online courses.

Online Grad School vs. Traditional

For some, this digital aspect of online graduate school could raise some concerns. A major component of architecture school is the studio culture shared by the student body to collaborate and brainstorm their creative ideas with each other. In a traditional setting, the studio culture is what bonds students together and teaches them how to work similarly in a firm setting. However, as mentioned before, these online programs are geared for architecture students seeking to pursue licensure and have been exposed to this dynamic at the firms they work at. Furthermore, an online setting doesn’t mean there is no collaboration going on. Online studio classes are the time for screen sharing and sharing feedback on design ideas. Especially after going through the pandemic, everyone has gained a new perspective of how to effectively communicate with others via technology. The professors also do a good job of creating opportunities for additional student interactions. Most will post weekly discussion questions or topics for students to respond to, creating a platform to spark interesting conversations.

Step-By-Step Graduate School Process

Selecting the right school is always a challenge, mainly if someone is unsure of where to start. The best place to start is with everyone’s best friend, Google. Searching for Online Master of Architecture Programs can lead to websites like “Online Master’s in Architecture Programs for 2022 and beyond | Online Masters Colleges. However, the key is to view the list of accredited programs from the National Architectural Accrediting Boards (NAAB) website to cross-reference and verify that the graduate programs under consideration are accredited.

Once the program is verified to be accredited, the next thing to consider is program duration and cost of tuition. The page included in the article has an average yearly tuition per school, but to get a better idea of cost per semester and breakdown of fees, most universities will have a page like the image below. This needs to be looked at alongside the duration of the program. While the tuition of one program might be more cost-effective per semester, if the total number of credit hours required to graduate are more than those of a slightly more expensive option, the overall cost of the cheaper option could end up costing more.

Lastly, every school has different program requirements. Some schools might require applicants to take the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE), while others do not. Also, many institutions require students to present themselves physically at the school once or several times while enrolled. If this is a problem, selecting a school closer to home or with minimum travel requirements may be the deciding factor. While deciding to pursue a graduate degree is not a light thing to consider, when mapping out long-term career goals, it could be an essential part of the plan. Without it, an architectural license may not be possible, and the growth potential is limited. With a license, advancements within a firm are much more feasible.

Marmon Mok always works with their employees to be flexible to help them grow and achieve their individual goals. The firm culture at Marmon Mok is one of collaboration, lending a helping hand, and lifting each other up to see everyone reach the status of architect.

Jessica Lee Author