Qualifying as an architect in the United Kingdom is a long process that will allow you to appear on the Architect's Registration Board (ARB) as an Architect. In this blog post we explore the different pathways to qualification, including going to university compared to apprenticeships.
Qualifying as an Architect in the UK: Everything You Need to Know
Regardless of whether you have always dreamt of qualifying as an architect in the UK, or instead, wish to work as an architectural designer, you should still familiarise yourself with the pathways to qualification in the UK. First of all, it is important to note that the following pathways apply to students who study in the UK. If you have an international qualification, you should first research how to validate your international studies.
Qualifying as an architect in the United Kingdom is a long process that involves a combination of study and work. There are two main pathways to becoming an architect in the UK: the traditional university pathway (which received a refresh in 2023), and the more recent apprenticeship pathway. Irrespective of your chosen pathway, you must ensure your course and employer comply with the RIBA requirements for qualification. More information about the RIBA here.
Professional Experience Development Record (PEDR)
Any student looking to qualify as an architect will have to regularly update their PEDR.
The PEDR is a document that records your professional experience in architecture. It is used to demonstrate your skills and knowledge to potential employers and to support your application for registration with the ARB.
The PEDR considers the following:
Employment History: This section lists your employment positions in architecture. For each position, you will be asked to include the name of the employer, your job title, the dates of employment, and an in-depth description of your duties, including how many hours you have spent in each project.
Projects: You will be asked to list the project that you have worked on in architecture. For each project, you will be asked to include the name of the project, the client, the brief, and your role in the project. Again, you will be asked to provide information in depth.
Regardless of your chosen pathway, you will need to complete a PEDR. This means that for the whole duration of your course, up until you qualify as an architect, you must keep a record of your work.
Now, let's break down the different pathways to qualification.
The Traditional University Pathway
The traditional university pathway is the most common route to becoming an architect. It involves completing three different "parts" of learning and practice, called parts 1, 2 and 3 respectively.
RIBA Part 1
Part 1 sets the foundation to your architectural career. It includes a qualifying Architecture degree (BA) from a RIBA-accredited university, which could last between 3 and 4 years. You may also be able to study abroad for part of your degree by means of programs like Erasmus+.
In addition to your studies, after you graduate, it is highly recommended that you find some practical experience for a year before applying for your Part 2. This could be anything to do with the wider architectural profession. For example, you may want to work in interior design, in an architecture studio, in construction, engineering, planning, etc. Having some experience before your Part 2 is not a requirement, but will help in your personal and professional development, as well as boost your application to the Masters' course, and your portfolio.
RIBA Part 2
Part 2 is a more advanced level of architectural learning. It involves study and work before moving on to your Part 3. Your Part 2 must include a qualifying Masters' degree in Architecture (MArch). The Part 2 university course, which is much more intense, requires knowledge and understanding of building fabrics, so any work experience you can obtain beforehand will be key to your success in this challenging stage of your architectural career. The Masters' in Architecture is a two year full time course in which you will develop advanced skills in architecture.
After your Masters' degree, you must complete two full years of work experience under the supervision of a qualified architect. This can be completed in the UK or EEA (link to website). We recommend that you work for longer than 2 years in order to gain a deep understanding of what architecture entails, outside of the traditional concepts of architectural design. For example, you will be required to have a broad understanding of applicable construction law (such as planning law, contract law, etc.), as well as Human Resources, Learning and Development, Masterplanning, Customer Service, etc.
RIBA Part 3
Part 3 involves 24 months of practical experience recorded by means of PEDR (as mentioned previously), an evaluation of your CV and career expectations, a long-term case study submission, a written assessment, and an in-person interview. We cover each of these stages in this blog post.
If you are successful at these stages, you will be eligible to register as an Architect with the ARB, and for chartership with the RIBA.
The Apprenticeship Pathway
The apprenticeship pathway is a newer route to becoming an architect. It was approved by the RIBA in 2018. The apprenticeship pathway is a four-year program that combines study and work.
Stage 1: The Level 6 Apprenticeship.
Typically completed in 48 months (4 years). This apprenticeship is spent studying for degree qualification in architecture (equivalent to Part 1) whilst working as an apprentice architect in an architectural practice. During this time, you will gain practical experience of working on real-world architectural projects.
Stage 2: The Level 7 Apprenticeship.
Typically completed in 48 months (4 years). However, this will depend on the level of experience of the aspiring architect. Some individuals will take longer, and some will take shorter based on when they take their exams to become a qualified architect.
Can I combine the pathways?
Yes. The Level 6 apprenticeship is equivalent to the undergraduate degree (or Part 1). This means that you can join the apprenticeship pathway and then complete a full-time MArch before taking your Part 3 exams. Likewise, you can complete your BA in Architecture and then apply for a Level 7 apprenticeship.
Benefits of going to university
By going to university, you are able to keep your options open. You may choose to focus on your studies, rather than having a side job. Or you can have a part time job whilst you are studying that may be related to architecture, or other areas of expertise, such as interior design, media, fashion, landscape architecture, etc. You can even have several part time roles during the duration of your course.
An apprenticeship requires a long-term commitment as it is recommended that you complete your apprenticeship using the same educational provider and in the same employer.
Benefits of doing an apprenticeship
For starters, your employer and the government will pay for your training, this means that you will not incur student debt. Taking into account that current university fees are over £9,000 a year, you would be saving approximately £45,000. This figure does not account for any maintenance (or other) loans you may request during your time at university.
As an apprentice, you will receive full-time pay and a one-day release from your job to carry out your studies with their chosen educational provider. The law states you will also be paid for your study day and you will be entitled to the employer's normal holiday entitlement, plus study leave where necessary.
You will also gain practical experience in the field of architecture at the same time as you complete your studies. This means that if you were to complete the Level 6 and Level 7 apprenticeships consecutively, you would have accumulated 8 years of experience by time you qualified as an architect.
Which Pathway is Right for You?
The best pathway for you will depend on your individual circumstances and preferences. If you are already a qualified architect in another country, you may be able to validate your qualifications and register with the ARB without having to complete the full three-part process.
If you are new to architecture and are not sure which pathway is right for you, it is a good idea to speak to an architect or an educational advisor. They can help you to understand the different pathways and make the best decision for your future.