Architecture courses and where they can lead

RIBA part 1 architecture degrees explained
What is studying a degree in architecture really like? And if you do study a RIBA part 1 architecture course, do you have to become an architect or are there other career options? We find out.

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Types of degree Entry requirements Application process What studying architecture is like Alternative careers for graduates Related degrees

Studying an undergraduate architecture degree course is the first step to becoming an architect in the UK: the bachelors degree, which usually takes three or four years full time, is part 1 of the qualifying process with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Parts 2 and 3 happen after this, if you qualify in the traditional, academic way. They involve completing a year of practical experience, a two-year postgraduate degree (known as part 2) and another year of practical experience before finally gaining a diploma awarded by RIBA (known as part 3).

But don’t think you should only study architecture at university if you want to be an architect. There are other reasons. Architecture is where art meets the practicalities of how we live and the impact we have on the world around us. So, taking an architecture degree will stretch your artistic and creative thinking, alongside your practical problem-solving skills and your interest in environmental concerns.

An architecture degree can lead to a variety of other careers – many students who study an undergraduate architecture part 1 course do not go on to study part 2 but find other jobs instead.

The types of architectural degrees available

You can either study a BA (bachelor of arts) or a BSc (bachelor of science) in architecture. The degrees are broadly similar but will differ slightly in their approach to the subject: a BA will tackle projects from a more artistic angle than a BSc, which will start from a more technical perspective. Choose the degree that best suits the way your mind works: do you start by thinking of things artistically or practically?

If you do want to become an architect, it is essential that you choose an architecture course that has been approved (‘validated’) by RIBA and at an institution approved by the Architects Registration Board (ARB). Some courses offered by universities haven’t been approved – this is frequently the case with joint honours degrees (which combine architecture with another subject, such as urban planning or environmental engineering). Double check the individual course on RIBA’s website before you apply.

Architectural degree course entry requirements

Entry requirements at different universities vary, but typical offers are based on As and Bs at A level/Highers or equivalent. Universities are fairly flexible about the subjects they accept, but a design-related subject, such as art or design technology, is always preferred. Even though most architecture drawings are now done digitally, you still need to be able to draw well by hand.

Many admissions tutors say that a good mix of arts, humanities and sciences is beneficial. Sasha Swannell, a second-year BA architecture student at Newcastle University, who talks more about his course below, studied art, physics and maths at A level.

According to RIBA, 58% of students on part 1 courses in 2017/18 had studied A levels, Scottish Highers or the International Baccalaureate and 22% had studied level 3 qualifications such as BTECs.

The application process

You apply through UCAS with a personal statement as per normal, but you are also likely to be asked to submit a portfolio as part of your application. Individual universities provide guidance for what should be included, but generally it should contain examples of your free-hand and digital designs that particularly show off your creative thinking and technical abilities. Most architectural students are invited to an interview with course tutors before they are accepted.

Sasha’s tip for the UCAS form: ‘Be honest about your interests and find something in architecture that you really love. For me, that was sustainability.’

What is studying a RIBA part 1 architecture degree like?

Architecture courses differ considerably. Sasha says, ‘Above all, I’d advise doing a bit of research into the profession and courses that different universities offer before you apply.’


Each degree course is structured slightly differently, but in general you would study the following topics:

  • the history of architecture
  • design and drawing techniques
  • building technology and construction processes
  • building and design structures
  • environment and sustainability
  • project management
  • construction law and regulations.

Your day-to-day learning

Typically, you will study five or six modules per year. You are likely to attend one- or two-hour lectures for each of your current modules per week; you are likely also to have tutorials or seminars (individually or in small groups) to further discuss issues raised in the lectures. However, you will spend most of your time in design studios or on field trips putting your learning into practice, working on design projects set by your university tutors. You will further develop your drawing by hand and your digital/computer-aided design skills. While in the design studio, you’re also likely to learn model-making techniques.

Therefore, you can expect to spend 25% of your time in lectures and seminars and the rest working largely independently in the design studio.

Sasha says: ‘I usually have four two-hour lectures a week (and the occasional seminar), but I spend most of my time in the studio working on my design projects. The tutors are there to talk to me about my work and give their advice on how I can progress. My design work so far includes a market for the university campus, a self-sufficient hut in Kielder Forest and a residential area in Leith, Edinburgh. These all involved trips to the sites to take photos, record videos, sketch ideas and take measurements. It’s up to you how much time you spend in the studio: I like to spend around eight hours a day at university and enjoy evenings and weekends off.’

How you’ll be assessed

You could be assessed by:

  • essays
  • examinations
  • practical assessments
  • presentations.

Sasha says: ‘I’m assessed through illustrated essays (they include sketches and diagrams) and ‘crits’ (where I present my work on a wall and talk my tutors through it). At the end of each year, I produce a portfolio (a book of everything I’ve done that year), which makes up most of my grade.’

Field trips, placement years and studying abroad

Virtually all architectural degree courses will run field trips as part of your studies, but some go further and offer you the chance to study abroad for a year (as a fourth year of what would normally be a three-year degree). Bear in mind that you usually have to pay for field trips yourself; they are not part of your course fees.

Every course will also encourage you to gain practical work experience, known as industry placements: some courses are structured so that you have the option of taking a ‘sandwich’ year in between your penultimate and final year in which to do a year’s placement; others structure their courses so that you must do two placements as part of your degree (instead of modules); still others encourage you to complete work experience during your university holidays. It is up to you to find and get work experience, although the university will do its best to help you.

What jobs do architecture students do?

Many graduates of RIBA part 1 architecture courses who don’t choose to become an architect still work in the construction industry. TARGETcareers knows from years of talking to architecture graduates that many:

  • get a graduate job as a design manager at a construction company, managing the design aspects of a project
  • get a graduate job as an assistant project manager at a construction company or engineering design firm
  • work as an architectural assistant or technician at an architectural practice
  • join a housebuilder’s rotational graduate scheme, which allows them to try out different aspects of construction and property development, before deciding where to specialise
  • after further study, work in town planning.

You can read about the job of a graduate design manager and project manager in the construction industry on our sister website TARGETjobs, along with a guide to what architectural graduates can go on to do.

Still others decide to move into a design-related or technology-related role, such as a web designer, photographer or (with further study) or software engineer. Others apply for finance and other business graduate programmes; the analytical skills you develop on an architectural degree course helps make you an attractive candidate for these schemes.

Alternatives to an architectural degree

If you don’t think a RIBA part 1 architecture course is for you, but you are interested in how humanity uses and sustains the world around us or in technical problem-solving, consider the following degree subjects:

  • architectural technology
  • landscape architecture
  • construction-related engineering degrees, such as civil engineering, structural engineering, architectural engineering, geotechnical engineering or building services engineering
  • environmental engineering, environmental studies or environmental conservation
  • town or urban planning.

Of course, if art is your passion, you could study a fine arts degree.

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