A reader recently emailed me to ask if the pay for architects is truly as abysmal as it sounds. The succinct answer is yes, it sucks for the first few years, but getting licensed and/or changing firms can help increase your income. However, everyone getting out of college for the past several years—regardless of their major—is getting paid crap compared to the cost of living. It just hurts architects more because of a) the professional costs of continuing education and professional dues and testing and so on and b) the business costs of all the special software we have to buy and insurance we have to have in order to practice. I have two previous commentaries on what architects make here and here.
Another question I received recently regarded how much it’s worth slogging through architecture if the pay is crap and you have behemothesque student loans. First, let me say that again, like everyone else, your student loans are out of scale with your out-of-school income. Again, it’s the whole cost-of-living thing. Second, and more importantly, how much it’s worth it depends on what you put into it. There is indeed some luck involved in how well you do in your profession; for example, if you get out of school and join a firm that lays you off after six months and you spend the next fifteen months on unemployment (which happened here in Denver a great deal), then you suddenly find yourself behind in the game with regard to getting experience so you can get licensed faster. But that’s if you even come back to the profession at all—this economy is going to make architecture lose some pretty good people. But if we set aside luck and the nature of the economy, you really only get out of architecture what you put into it. I’ve seen interns and architects thrive and do well in nearly the same environment as other interns and architects who are barely hanging on and self-medicating every night at home out of misery and disappointment.
So, the short and simple (but not easy) answer about architecture as a job, a career, and a profession is: it depends. Which is probably true of a lot of professions. Is it true of yours?