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Architect Degree Options: Accredited Versus Non-Accredited Architecture Schools

We’ve done the research, listed out the benefits, now all you have to do is choose an architect degree. And graduate.

To NAAB, or not to NAAB? That is the question.

Getting an architect degree is not only hard work, but it’s expensive. You want to be sure you choose the right program to make it worth your while. A lot of students choose to attend an accredited architecture school. But is that the right decision for you?

Let’s break it down and look at the benefits:

  • The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) sets the standards for curriculums at their accredited architecture schools, and they know their stuff. So you can be sure you're learning the right things and getting a great education.
  • Most states require a NAAB degree to get licensed. So if you don’t know where you eventually want to practice, this degree sets you up to have the most options.
  • A degree from a NAAB-accredited school meets the education requirement to get certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). NCARB-certification makes it easier to get licensed in other states, so you can work anywhere. And it’s a great professional move. You look more credible and desirable to potential employers and clients.
  • Students who attend accredited architecture schools typically finish the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) faster than those who didn’t. And their ARE success rate is 69% compared to 58% for non-accredited grads. *
  • There are over 150 NAAB-accredited programs at 123 institutions, so you have tons of options.
  • They offer 3 professional architect degree options to choose from: 
    • Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) – Typically takes 5 years to complete. You get a mix of general studies, professional studies, and electives.
    • Master of Architecture (MArch) – Takes 1-5 years, depending on your undergraduate education. If you got a non-accredited architecture degree, then you’ll do a 2-year MArch program – referred to as a “four-plus-two” program. If your undergrad degree wasn’t in architecture at all, then you’re probably looking at 3 years for your MArch.
    • Doctor of Architecture (DArch) – Only a small group of super smart people have gotten a DArch. There’s not much else to say except that it’s really ambitious, and really hard.

So a professional architect degree from a NAAB-accredited program means you will have completed the education requirement to become licensed in most states, as well as the requirement to become NCARB-certified, and it sets you up to do well on the ARE? Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

It depends on your career goals. There are other degrees like a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and a Bachelor of Environmental Design that are not accredited by the NAAB, but are still respectable. (Note: they do meet the undergrad requirement to enroll in most MArch programs.)

These are referred to as “pre-professional” architect degrees, which is not really a fair name. You can still be a professional in the industry with one of these degrees. But you probably can’t become a principal architect. And you definitely can’t open your own firm. But if those goals aren’t on your radar (let’s face it, they come with tons of added pressure and responsibility), then these degrees are great choices.

So it all circles back to that million-dollar question: Should you attend a NAAB-accredited architecture school? You can still have a successful career in the architecture and design industry either way. Take some time to think through your career goals, consider all your options, and choose the school that’s right for you.

* Data from the 2015 NCARB By the Numbers report.