There are several possible paths of study to get an Architectural degree. Many schools offer several possible tracks of an architectural education which can take a minimum of 5 years up to 7.5 years.
- Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Architecture - which is a 4 year pre-professional undergraduate degree and you must enroll in a masters of Architecture program in order to become professionally licensed (which is commonly called a M.Arch II).
Some universities that offer this are Washington University in St. Louis, MIT, Princeton, Tulane, Lehigh, UT Austin, etc.
- BArch or MArch - which is a five year undergraduate degree that is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) as a professional degree in Architecture which allows you to sit for the licensing ARE exam. Here is a list of colleges that offer a BArch/MArch: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bachelor_of_Architecture. NAAB requires around 168 credit hours which is a very intense, rigorous path which doesn't allow for much room for other courses or activities.
“One disadvantage of the B.Arch. degree is that it is rarely considered as sufficient qualification for teaching architecture at the university/college level in the U.S. (though there are many exceptions). Many architects who wish to teach and have only received a B.Arch. choose to pursue a 3-semester master’s degree to obtain further academic qualification.”
Some universities that offer this are Tulane, Rice, University of Notre Dame, Cornell, UT Austin, Kansas State, Auburn, etc.
- Masters in Architecture (commonly called M.Arch I) - 3.5 years or 7 semesters -
a professional degree for students who don't have an undergraduate degree in Architecture.
“Because students come from different undergraduate backgrounds, the breadth of knowledge and experience in the student body of an M.Arch. I program is often considered an advantage. One possible disadvantage is that the total time in school is longer (7 or 7.5 years with an undergraduate degree). Another disadvantage is that the student has a very short time to cover the extremely broad scope of subject areas of which architects are expected to have a working knowledge.”
- Masters in Architecture (commonly called M.Arch II) - 2.5 years of 5 semesters - a professional degree for students who have an undergraduate degree in Architecture and have successfully completed between four and six semesters of undergraduate design studio courses. This is commonly referred as the "4+2" course and has been referred as the recommended route by NAAB.
This route offers several advantages: your first four years are a bit more loose, allowing the inclusion of some liberal arts study; you can attend two different institutions for your undergraduate and graduate study, which is helpful in that it allows you to have a more varied architectural education, and you can pick the best place for you to complete your thesis (because chances are, you might not pick the program that has the exact focus that you will want when it becomes time for your thesis study); and you will finish the 4+2 course of study with a master’s degree that will provide you the career option of teaching architecture at the collegiate level.
- Masters in Architecture (may be called M.Arch III) - 1.5 years or 3 semesters -
a professional degree for students who have an five year BArch or MArch undergraduate degree.
As far as costs, it shouldn’t be assumed that a 5 year BArch or MArch is the cheapest route. You may find that your undergraduate costs may be less due to merit and or FA. In my D’s case, her cheapest college option surprisingly was a 4+3 route (Studio Art undergraduate degree + M.Arch I). She received a generous merit offer at her 4 year undergraduate school. Also, she probably would have graduated in three years because of her AP credits. My D didn’t choose this option though because she wanted to study Architecture right away and this school didn’t offer it.
As far as difficulty, Architecture is one of the hardest major’s at my D’s school along with engineering, and the weed-out that goes along with pre-med. There will be long hours associated with Architecture just like there is with engineering and pre-med.
Rick12 sums up the long hours in studio: "Let me add a little perspective to the 60 to 80 hours a week comment. I have twin boys: one just graduated with an architecture degree, the other just graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree. The engineer worked harder and the quality of his college experience was lower. Yes the architect spent a lot of hours in studio, but it was an incredibly close knit group of students and he did all of his school work in studio surrounded by his friends. The engineer did not have nearly the friends and support group, and he spent all his hours in the library or working in his bedroom alone. We won’t even mention the fact that there were almost no women in the ME program.
If you buy into the architecture school culture you can have a great experience. It is one of the more immersive experiences on campus. I think most students find out very quickly how they feel about studio and the required hours. If after a couple of semesters they feel like studio is a beating, they should think about another major. I would also note that the drop out rate for engineering is at least equivalent to architecture."
In short, there are so many ways to get an Architecture degree and it can definitely be confusing. This topic seems to come up all the time so I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to edit or add to this thread.