Architecture: Internships and Industry Outlook

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If you're planning on a career as an architect and your professional network has yet to get established, one of the best ways to get your foot in the door is through an architecture internship. Though an internship is in many ways identical to a full-blown professional post, it is best viewed as an extension of your formal architecture training.


The best reason to take up an internship is that it provides you with unique training opportunities and allows you to work in a hands-on environment in which you fully experience a typical workday as an architect, something you won't find in the classroom. It might also direct you to reexamine your goals if you suddenly discover that the architecture industry is not quite like you had expected.

An important thing to understand before you begin searching for an internship is that each state has its own requirements and standards for training. Some states will require an NAAB- or a CACB-accredited degree in order to gain entrance into a three-year training program.

Because architecture, like most other vocations, is an ever-changing practice, apprenticeships have changed accordingly and have simultaneously evolved into less-structured, more-independent programs where students are able to pursue a variety of specialties or, if they choose, focus on one area of expertise. Typically as an intern you will work closely with a licensed practitioner who has many years of experience and success with which to guide you.

The Intern Development Program (IDP) was created in the United States as a structured transitional program for architecture graduates who may still need certain skills or expertise to compete as qualified architects. The IDP also allows its interns to gain experience in less-traditional architecture disciplines. Every state requires that interns receive training from registered architects, but an increasing number of states also allow interns to gain expertise under the tutelage of various design professionals, including engineers, landscape architects, and general practitioners.

Ideally, your internship will balance your needs and the needs of your school or potential employer. Many employers hire right out of their intern pools if the interns have proven themselves competent and, of course, if the right opportunities are open and available.

A good internship will function as a professional setting where the only real differences may be in the level of designated responsibility and compensation. At the end of training, the intern will have a full understanding of how a professional architecture firm operates and will be able to successfully start out on his or her career path of choice.


There are an estimated 33,300 students enrolled in architecture schools in the United States. They will move on to join the approximately 85,000 to 90,000 licensed architects across the nation. Of these students, 16,000 are enrolled in five-year professional degree programs, 12,100 are in pre-professional four-year programs, and 5,200 are in professional master's degree programs. In Canada there are an estimated 7,000 licensed architects.

Demand for new architects depends on many factors. Among the most important of these factors is the growing number of architects who wish to pursue a line of work outside the traditional architecture office environment. Demand for new architects is also affected by the ups and downs of the construction and building industries. Currently, with the falling housing market and with no clear end in sight for falling home sales and prices, the demand for architects in the United States is on a downward trend.

Surprisingly, national and international economics also play prominent roles in deciding which regions architects will most likely be needed in. For example, while the United States is suffering a downturn in economic growth, China and India are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. China's hosting of the 2008 Olympics and India's booming middle class have attracted architects to those countries from all around the world.

A reliable source on understanding the employment outlook for the architecture industry is the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. government. Most local libraries carry at least one current copy in their reference sections.

Which brings us to salary. Obviously, better graduates from top schools land the best jobs, but the fact that you didn't go to Brown or UCLA doesn't mean you can't get a job that brings both satisfaction and a handsome paycheck.

Just as many factors affect the demand for architects, many factors influence entry-level architect salaries. An intern fresh out of college can expect to earn between $18,000 and $27,000 per year. How much one earns depends heavily on the local market. Just as in the housing market, some areas are booming, and some are busting — big time. You may have to relocate to a stronger market to get a higher salary as an intern or entry-level architect.

New graduates must complete three years as intern architects before they become eligible for the license exam and become fully registered. It is important to remember that your entire formal education and training as an architect will take eight or nine years. You will be able to earn a salary during the last two or three years of your training, usually the internship period.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median income for architects in 2004 was $60,300. The middle 50% posted earnings between $46,690 and $79,230. The lowest 10% earned less than $38,060, and the highest 10% earned more than $99,800. Partners in large firms can expect to earn salaries of $150,000 and up, though they constitute only a very small percentage of working architects.
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