B.Arch vs M.Arch 2020

Was wondering if any current or former students have strong opinions on the B.Arch route vs the M.Arch route. I know this topic has been covered before with some older info, but I was curious if anyone has more recent, relevant data.

For reference, our daughter is considering:

Cal Poly SLO (B.Arch)
USC (B.Arch)
UCLA (M.Arch)
UC Berkeley (M.Arch)
Oregon (B.Arch)
University of Washington (B.Arch)
Rice (B.Arch)
Cornell (B.Arch)
Rensselaer (B.Arch)
Cal Poly Pomona (B.Arch)

Other campuses that don’t offer the architectural major, but she could complete undergrad studies at:

UC Santa Barbara
UC Merced (don’t laugh, our family digs this school)
San Diego State

Thanks in advance!

The most obvious differences:

  • BArch = 5 years undergraduate
  • MArch = 4 years undergraduate BA/BS in anything + 3 years MArch program or 4 years undergraduate in architecture-related BA/BS + 2-3 years MArch program

All things equal, the MArch path is likely to be significantly more expensive, with a year or two delay entering the workforce (on average worse financially, unless the earlier entry would be in an economic or industry downturn).

However, the MArch path does allow for more exploration of other academic areas as an undergraduate.

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I guess the question was more along the lines of whether employers are more partial to one or the other. I’ve seen some posts that suggest upsides for both, but the posts are several years old.


@ucbalumnus clearly compared the time investment of the BS/BA+MArch vs the BArch. Time generally, but not always, equals money, but financial aid can tip the scales on the total cost.

I’m a parent not an architect, but my observation from the experience of my son and his colleagues and classmates, is that there’s not a big difference in hiring preference between the BArch and MArch. Determining factors tend to be reputation of the architecture school, portfolio, work experience (both internships and post graduate), recommendations, and how the applicant’s strengths align with the firm’s personality.

Having said that, there area two overarching trends: 1) For various reasons, it’s increasingly common for BArch holders to get an MArch on top of their BArch, usually after a few years of work experience. And 2)Several schools of architecture have eliminated the BArch all together in favor of expanded and interdisciplinary MArch offerings. In either case, I think the increased complexity of the industry is the driving force, e.g., more tech, more sustainability, more new materials, more specialization.

Most (again not all) firms encourage their BArchs and MArchs to become licensed. This is a multiyear process and many people who work in architecture are not licensed. It’s a very broad industry with room for lots of different educational backgrounds.


Thank you for the detailed response. Much appreciated.

Increased educational requirements or preferences also raise the barrier to entry to the profession. This is beneficial to existing architects who will face less competition in the labor market from new entrants into the profession, some whom may be stopped by the greater time and money needed for the required or preferred credential.

Other professions have increased educational requirements similarly:

Accountant: minimum prerequisite for CPA exam now requires 5 years of college courses.
Lawyer: once upon a time, did not require a bachelor’s degree before studying for a law degree.
Occupational therapist: recently raised the minimum degree from bachelor’s to master’s level.
Physical therapist: recently raised the minimum degree from master’s to doctoral level.
Nurse: increasing preference for those with bachelor’s degrees over associates degrees.

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out of curiosity are the ucla and ucberkeley direct entry?

my daughter is doing what ucbalumnus described: 5 yrs undergrad arch related; then HOPEFULLY a 2 yr M.Arch program. That’s 7 years total. that’s a lot for a non-lucrative career. but she loves it.

UCB’s College of Environmental Design does require applicants to choose a major on the application.

Note that a BA/BS in an architecture-related major is typically 4 years (versus 5 years for an NAAB-accredited BArch program). An MArch is normally 3 years, but some departments have a slight shorter option for those with a BA/BS in an architecture-related major (or a BArch).

Pre-CoVid, when building was booming, the opposite happened in architecture. Because of a shortage of architects, NCARB, the licensing board, had been actually loosening the requirements and time involved for licensure. The increased emphasis on the MArch is, I think, more content related as the knowledge required to get a building built has become more complex and specialized.

Post-CoVid, who knows?

The time it takes to complete an MArch is all over the board, depending on the applicant’s undergraduate experience and the requirements of the individual MArch program. The rules vary widely from MArch to MArch and the timing ranges from 1 year to 3.5, which is to me an amazing span for the same degree.

My son did a 4 year BA in art studio/art history then worked for 2 years in the marketing department of an architecture firm before getting a 3.5 year MArch. He doesn’t regret it because each segment was worthwhile and contributed to making him a better architect, but for sure it was costly. The old joke about architecture is that the reason you see so many famous architects still working in their 70’s and 80’s is that they’re still paying off student loans!


momrath - was your son planning on studying architecture, or did he get interested in it while working at the firm?

@bgbg4us, My son had an interest in architecture at an early age, but at age 17 wasn’t ready to commit to architecture or any career. I think that’s the underlying issue with the BArch and the reason for its high drop out rate: Few high school students can grasp what they’re signing up for when they enroll in the BArch. Some, of course, adapt and excel, but others are overwhelmed by the visual, verbal, critical and technical demands of the program.


I think you are right. that B.Arch is intense.
my d16 is now in the midst of applying to 7 M.arch schools. Each one has different rules with portfolio sizes and parameters and of course essays & LORs. It’s been a huge project for her; so glad her semester ended at thanksgiving.

Isn’t the typical MArch baseline about 3 years of full time course work for a student who has a BA/BS in anything, but many (not all) MArch programs can be shorter for a student who has a BA/BS in an architecture-related major, and even shorter for a student who has a BArch?

ucbalumnus; from what we’ve been finding many grad schools offer M.Arch 2yr and M.Arch 3 year programs; or M.arch with advanced standing which is sometimes 2.5 or 2 years. My D is really wanting to get into a decently ranked school with a 2 yr program, as she has spent 5 yrs in undergrad (due to a transfer); graduating with a BS in design architecture. She was looking hard at UCB, until she found out that she’d have to take calculus again. UCB wouldn’t accept her AP calc score from HS, her undergrad would. She said no way to that!

Yes, that’s generally the case. The complication is how each school of architecture defines its own exceptions. There is little consistency (and sometimes little rationale) from program to program, or even student to student.

From one MArch admissions page:

The issue that @bgbg4us describes about her daughter’s difficulty in getting credit for her high school calculus course is a good example, though luckily she got a ruling in advance. My son had a similar issue with a physics class he took as an undergraduate, because the course was titled something like “Everyday Physics.” Eventually he prevailed, but it entailed a lot of back and forth between the gatekeepers and the undergraduate college.

Other points of differentiation from MArch to MArch include summer sessions, thesis semesters, work-study, study abroad and study away (e.g. in New York) programs, advance placement, course equivalency, “electives” that are actually required plus all sorts of fine print that can expand or contract the time and money spent completing the degree. So even though the architecture board specifies the MArch’s basic curriculum, each school adds and refines to reflect their own priorities.

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Another route to consider is a BS in Arch with a one year extension to MArch if the school offers it.) It all depends on when and how NCARB accredited the schools. My D is finishing her BS in arch at Northeastern in Boston and will stay one more year to get her MArch. Northeastern is a coop school so the four year BS takes 5 years bc they take two 6-month breaks and work in firms. So, she already has one year full time working experience with 2/3 of her hours needed for licensure completed and one more year for her Masters bc of how the curriculum is planned. Besides getting great experience working and fine tuning interests during the undergrad time, having a break from the intense rigors of studio time is very welcomed and keeps them fresh. Plus my D studied architecture in Rome the summer after her first year, and spent a semester at an exchange university in Spain her third year (luckily pre Covid so they could travel everywhere on weekends and breaks!)
I should say that my D did the Calpoly summer HS program after her HS junior year which was a fabulous introduction to what being an arch student is like. She loved studio time and found her people of very artistically creative math and science geeks which has proven true of her fellow college arch students. Unless your child KNOWS the intensity of being an arch student and KNOWS they want to be an architect, it might be worth exploring BS programs that offer a little more flexibility. Just a thought. (My D was choosing between calpoly and Northeastern in the end and is very happy she chose the latter as it gave her a very broad life experience coming from the central CA coast where we live.)


Looking at your list too and what a previous commentor mentioned, each school often has their very different focus or approach in architecture (and class size.) renseleear is more of an engineering school and when we visited there, it was very evident that their focus was very much in the future of building materials and structural elements. On our visit there, we heard a presentation from the Dean of the arch school which was fascinating but my D was clear she was more into overall design and not the technical engineering/material side of things. (Plus the school overall is something like 70/30 M/F and honestly they seemed desperate for women to apply…)
Cornell is ivy of course so you need to know that’s a fit for you (not for my D) but it’s a great program. However, at least 5 years ago, their frosh arch class was 50 students, 25 male/25 female, so set your expectations appropriately). We visited RSDI too and for my D, (who is very artistic) thought it had too much focus on only design and the aesthetic aspects which makes sense. Having been to have calpoly program she had an eye for what she was looking for (honestly I was along for the ride on the college tours.) Many programs like calpoly or Northeastern or USC are broader arch programs where you can find more concentration on what you like. A school like Northeasterns, while broad, def has an urban design and planning focus. I guess my point is that all the programs are great and will lead to a great education, but they all have their own flair, so finding your fit within the arch program and the entire university community is key.


I’m a parent here and my daughter received a BS in Architecture from Washington University in St Louis and a Masters from Washington University. It took her 4 years to get her BS and 2 years to get her Masters. They accepted her into an accelerated track at UW. She had the option to finish her Masters at WashU on a scholarship (very easy acceptance) but wanted to attend a different Arch school. Washu is very design focused and Washington is more technical (different is the point). She was the youngest on her class and is so happy she finished her Masters immediately. Now she is studying for the license exam.

My suggestion is to be careful in enrolling in a five year BArch because of the demands of the curriculum. However that also depends on the school rigor. My daughter found WashU extremely exhausting and it takes over your life. She kept her classes to 16 credits or less. In some cases she only had 12 credits. She had several AP courses which helped lighten her load. She told me many people have dropped out and the class size was halved easily due to the rigor. If you look at BArch they are squeezing all the courses into a 5 year program and that means 18 credits a semester. That would not work at all for my daughter. So it’s important to know what your child can handle.

As far as saving money, there are many ways to do this. One is enroll in a smaller college that offers scholarships and get a degree and Then get a masters in architecture. Another way is get financial aid (if you can get it) at a school like Washu and then get into the masters program (it’s easier if you are already admitted as undergrad); or get a BS in Arch and find a three year program that offers an accelerated track. My daughter saved a year + of tuition going this route.

Honestly I would highly recommend BS in Arch at a well rounded university so if for some reason Arch doesn’t work out your child can easily move into another major. It’s very hard for 15/16/17 year old to know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their life. Also attending a summer Arch program during high school may help too.

Good luck!!


Thank you for the advice!

Just wanted to add to the points already made. My son is a first year in the Cornell B.Arch program. He loves it and does not find it too intense. However, he has wanted to be architect since 8th grade. He went to several summer architecture programs, including Cornell’s. The summer programs confirmed his interest.

If he had been unsure of his desired path, a BS might have been a better option. But he did not want to put off diving into the architecture curriculum. I think you really need to love time in the studio. He did drop a couple schools off his list because they did not have other areas he would be interested in IF he decided to leave the B.Arch program (etc., Pratt, RISD).

We asked the B.Arch vs M.Arch question at every school. The answer on which was the better path often depended on what the particular school offered.

Good luck!