Architecture: Traditional University route VS Apprenticeships

Having spent over a decade in education, you’ve decided Architecture is the subject for you…. But where do you go from here? With so many routes available to you now, choosing how you want to study can be just as difficult as choosing what you want to study. 

Within this article, we will explore the different routes you can take when choosing to study Architecture.

RIBA ‘Parts’ explained

Before looking to pursue Architecture, be sure to understand the RIBA’s 3 part process to qualify as an Architect in the UK. When looking at university courses, you will find they are often labelled as a RIBA ‘Part’, this is referring to a specific stage in the path to qualifying. 

RIBA Part 1 

This is where you complete your Undergraduate degree. Typically, you’re straight out of college/6th form or a foundation course. This stage takes a minimum of 3 years.

Part 1 Professional Practise

This is where you will spend some time (typically 1 year) working in an Architectural practice to gain industry experience.

RIBA Part 2 

After completing your first year out in practice, people usually go back to University to undertake their Masters degree. This takes a minimum of 2 years.

Part 2 Professional Practise / Part 3 Exam 

Once you have obtained your Undergraduate degree, Masters degree and a year of experience (Part 1), you go back into professional practice to further your experience (Part 2) and begin preparations for your qualifying exam (Part 3). This process will take at least a year.

As you can see, it takes a minimum of 5 years at University and 2 years in professional practice before you’re ready for your final exam.

Full Time (‘Traditional’ route)

Choosing to study full-time at University is the most common method to studying architecture. This involves 3 years at Undergraduate level and 2 years at Masters level along with a minimum of 24 months professional practice.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships combine both academic study and industry experience simultaneously. A minimum of 20% of your time needs to be spent on ‘off the job training’ to ensure you meet the academic criteria at the end of your apprenticeship. 

There are 2 Architecture degree apprenticeships currently offered in the UK; 

  • Level 6 (Part 1),
  • Level 7 (Part 2 and 3).

The Level 6 Architectural Assistant apprenticeship takes a minimum of 4 years to complete and the Level 7 Architecture apprenticeship takes a minimum of approximately 3.5 years. As a result the apprenticeship route only takes half a year longer than the traditional full-time route when comparing the quickest possible time it takes to do either option.

‘Traditional Route’ VS Architectural Apprenticeships

Both options have a variety of pro’s and con’s, so it is important to understand how you learn best and what you are hoping to get out of the experience before making your final decision.

Full Time (‘Traditional Route’)

This is the route most commonly taken as it is the one that has been around the longest. Studying at university often involves moving near to the university, taking out student loans and being on campus multiple times a week. One of the most common reasons as to why people choose to study full-time is to have the typical university ‘experience’. Meeting new people, living independently for the first time and having a new found sense of freedom is appealing to many. As a full-time student, the majority of your time can be spent dedicated to your course. This could allow you to push your work further than those who have less time to dedicate to their studies, which might result in a better grade overall. 

However, for your first 3 years of study, you will usually not have any experience of how Architecture works in industry, which could make some aspects of project work more difficult. Alongside this, some full-time students find themselves with minimal disposable income, especially if their student loan doesn’t cover all their outgoings. This can sometimes lead students to working a part-time job that isn’t relevant to their studies, in order to support their cost of living. So for many students the traditional route involves them working part-time anyway, meaning they cannot dedicate all their time to studying as first thought.

Apprenticeships

This is an increasingly popular route for many reasons; being able to earn a salary, gain many more years of practical experience, start networking from an early age and have support from colleagues with your university work.

However, the challenges faced when doing a degree and working 4 days a week is not to be minimised. It takes a lot of work. Being strict with your time management is incredibly important, you often have to sacrifice other areas of your life to give your studies the time they need. Not being surrounded by your university peers every day can also make it difficult to find inspiration with your projects and can mean you feel ‘out of the loop’ with your studies.

Other Routes

It is important to remember that alongside the full-time and Apprenticeship routes, you can also qualify as an Architect through part-time university courses and RIBA Studio. Whichever route you choose, remember to check the courses you are undertaking are RIBA accredited and you obtain at least 24 months of professional practice to ensure you are eligible to take your Part 3 qualifying exam.

Final Verdict

As a 3rd year Level 6 Architectural Apprentice, I can confidently say I have made the right decision for me. I have never been interested in living the typical ‘Uni lifestyle’ and have been working part-time jobs since the age of 13. Luckily, I am somewhat used to balancing work and studies, but I cannot say this is easy. Being sure to prioritise your well being, and knowing when to be satisfied with how much University work you have done is challenging. 

With Architecture, there is always more you can add to your projects and this can be frustrating when you don’t have the same time as everyone else on your course to dedicate to your studies. To combat this, I have found taking the support from my practice vital. Having a mentor to run through your uni work and help you decide where to dedicate your time makes a huge difference. 

I think Architectural Apprenticeships are the way forward, the benefit to the practice is just as significant as the benefit to the apprentice. Having 7+ years of industry experience as well as a RIBA accredited Undergraduate and Master's degree at the time of qualification can only be a positive!

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