The process of becoming an architect can be as confusing as it is extensive. In this article, we'll demystify a crucial component of the path to a career in architecture: what degree you should get. Specifically, we’ll lay out the difference between two common, somewhat comparable degrees: the B.Arch and the M.Arch.
Let’s start with the B.Arch. In most countries, the Bachelor of Architecture is a five-year, pre-professional undergraduate program that’s geared towards students who know they want to be architects—even when they graduate from high school. During the first one to two years, students generally take some non-architecture courses along with some classes that help develop their drafting and rendering skills. The last three years are focused on architecture techniques and building codes.
Most B.Arch programs are accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) in the United States, the RIBA in the UK, and by other local accreditation boards in many other countries; before you embark on a degree course, you should check which is the relevant body in your country and whether they have accredited the course you are considering. In some countries such as the USA, completing an accredited B.Arch degree qualifies students to take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), or the equivalent registration exam for that country; in other countries, completing an accredited B.Arch degree automatically qualifies you as an architect; and in some countries such as the UK, the B.Arch is only the first step towards getting licensed. The details of a B.Arch program, and how it fits into the process of becoming an architect, vary from country to country, but the gist is the same everywhere: this is a professional degree that will fast-track you to the architecture profession.
The M.Arch is a post-graduate program (meaning students will require an undergraduate degree to enroll) that likewise prepares students to become registered architects. Usually, the Masters of Architecture degree is offered to people who have completed an undergraduate liberal arts education. Some people entering M.Arch programs will have studied something unrelated to architecture, like English, at their undergraduate institution. Others might have received a B.S. or B.A. in architecture—or even a B.Arch—and choose to attend graduate school to deepen their theoretical understanding of architectural practice.
Because students enter M.Arch programs with significantly varied backgrounds, many universities offer multiple tracks within the M.Arch (often differentiated as “M.Arch I” and “M.Arch II”). For students who have completed an undergraduate degree in a subject unrelated to architecture, the M.Arch usually takes three or three and a half years. For students with an undergraduate degree in architecture, many graduate schools offer a two-year M.Arch program—often called a “4+2”—that complements a student’s undergraduate architectural education.
Check out Quacquarelli Symonds’s list of the 200 best architecture schools in the world—and make sure to check if they offer the degree that’s right for you!