How Much do Architects Make? +17 Tips to Increase your Architect Salary
How much do architects make? This is one of the most common questions in the industry. This article aims to go deeper into the question. Instead of looking at a baseline number this analysis looks at a salary over time and how long it takes to get to certain pay levels. Before I started a career architecture this analysis would have been helpful. Keep in mind the data used in this article is from the United States so it doesn’t reflect wages in other countries.
Architect salaries are more complicated than you think
Before we start jumping into the numbers it is important to discuss multiple factors that affect architect salaries. The dynamics of architecture careers differ from many other professions. Consequently, people may have varied experiences that may not align with their expectations. Some important variables related to architect salaries are.
- Timing of advancements in your career
- Starting wages vs. median salaries reported
- How many hours are truly required to work each day at the firm
- What lifestyle do you want to have?
This article combines information from these different factors to give a holistic view of architect salaries. Utilize this information to apply to your own ideal lifestyle.
Career steps in architecture
Generally speaking for the first 10 years of an architect’s career the potential advancements are broken into three categories. The three categories are further divided between licensed and non-licensed. This structure is published by the AIA and followed by many firms.
- Architect I
- Architect II
- Architect III
Titles in the 10-40 years experience range
- Senior Architect
- Project Manager
- Project Designer
- Senior Project Manager
- Senior Project Designer
- Director of Design
- Director of Operations
- Chief Operating Officer
- Managing Principal
This article will focus on the first three titles specifically because they have the most impact on an architect’s early career. The senior-level architect positions vary widely depending on the type and size of architecture firms.
An architect’s salary over the first 7 years of a career are critical
There are a couple of big factors that influence an architect’s salary early in a career. Make sure to keep these factors in mind when doing salary research. It is easy to grab a quick number, but not understand how it was truly established.
- Years of experience (job titles)
- Unlicensed vs. Licensed
- Firm type and project markets
Arguably the most important factor is years of experience. The industry rewards people who have been around longer with higher pay traditionally. If you are considering a career in architecture compare the years of experience required to get to certain salary thresholds. This comparison may influence your decision on pursuing a career in architecture. Your lifestyle will be directly correlated to the rate of salary growth over time.
What the AIA says about salaries vs. reality
The chart above illustrates a comparison between median salaries between licensed and unlicensed architects. This data was collected from the AIA. When analyzing this data though there are a couple of key realities of the profession to keep in mind. Usually, it takes people 3 years to become licensed in the profession. This is due to the tests required as well as the experience hours. To have a more accurate picture of the first 3 years of an architect’s career it is better to use the unlicensed data. Visit the AIA salary calculator to explore this data.
Architecture firm titles and how they relate to salary levels
Most established firms used a similar title system for architects. To move through the first three titles it takes roughly 8 years. The basic titles are architect I, architect II and architect III. Since salary ranges are often tied to titles it is important to move up the ranks. But moving up the ranks takes time. The yellow line shows typical timeframes for obtaining new titles.
Getting licensed doesn’t always mean a big pay bump
The yellow star indicates when many architects become licensed. When you reach this point in your career it is a major life milestone. You worked through architecture school, found a job and put in the long hours. Now you have made it. Well, not so fast, many firms do not reward you with a higher salary when you become licensed. The major milestone you just achieved may not be rewarded financially.
The chart above blends salary data between the AIA and Payscale. It also factors in becoming licensed with 3 years of experience. Notice the jump in pay between years 3 and 4. Keep in mind the licensure does not guarantee a raise. You may have to ask for one or change firms to elevate your pay. Before jumping to conclusions on this make sure to read the other considerations about employment at firms before you race to the door.
Things to consider if you don’t get a raise when earning your architect’s license.
- Is it time to think about changing jobs?
- Do I enjoy working at my current firm?
- Are the firm’s values aligned with my own?
- Are the project types I’m working on interesting?
- Does the firm business model align with the lifestyle I want to lead?
- Do I add exceptional value to the firm I currently work at?
- If yes and the pay isn’t fair, make an adjustment.
- If no, and be honest with yourself, maybe its time to improve other skills then ask for a raise.
- Money isn’t everything, what positives does your current firm offer you?
- In the current market environment is there an opportunity for gains in the future at your current firm?
- Sometimes sticking around at a firm pays off… Many people jump between firms regularly. However, sometimes leadership at firms take notice and adjust pay to stay competitive.
More architect salary data to increase your knowledge of the industry
The first couple of graphs shown illustrated the differences between unlicensed and licensed architects. Therefore, to get to the bottom line of salaries more data is needed. A clear picture of salaries starts to emerge in the graph below where data is blended between the AIA, Payscale, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some prominent firm salary data is overlayed to illustrate how these firms stack up. Firm size, country regions, and markets will affect your salary as well which is not shown on this graph. This graph most clearly answers the question, “how much do architects make?”
17 Tips to Increase Your Architect Salary
- Be an asset to the firm where you work. How can you add more value?
- Make sure to take care of your clients and be the one they go to for help.
- Bring in a new client for your architecture firm.
- Learn new skills.
- Start using computational design to enhance design and improve efficiency
- Learn how to manage a project’s BIM requirements
- Specialize in a project type
- Expertise in various market sectors is very valuable. Healthcare, enclosures, science and technology, real estate development, life safety, life science project design, international planning.
- Business development activities – networking with clients and for recruiting.
- Be a great mentor, help others elevate their skills.
- A reliable team member is critical.
- Join a Toastmasters club to improve your communication skills.
- Join a community organization to network and give back to your community.
- Get your architect license
- Become LEED or WELL certified
- Increase your skillset in critical software.
- Always be willing to take on tough tasks even if they are not glamorous
- Be aware of ways to increase a project’s profitability
- Talk to team members about how to work more efficiently
- Be open about your willingness to increase a project’s multiplier
- Maintain honest open relationships with your colleagues
- If you have to switch firms make sure to be strategic where you apply, the grass is not always greener.
Data referenced in this article can be found at the following links.
Payscale – Architect Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics
Glassdoor Salaries – Gensler, Perkins + Will, SOM
Want to learn more ways of being competitive in the field of architecture and earn more money?
Read the following articles on interview questions and top skillsets in the architecture profession.
Money photo by Travis Essinger on Unsplash