Since we have started helping Architects and Designers from around the world find work in the USA, one of the key questions we keep on getting, is around the average salary in the USA for an Architect. We have answered some different iterations of this question, but in this article we try to go more in-depth in terms of the different factors that can impact how you are compensated in different cities across the USA.
Although we all like to think that our individual impact can tackle huge challenges, when it comes to architecture and design it takes a whole team to make a building work. If you consider, the range of job positions that are available in different firms are also defined by differences in educational levels, licensing, previous work and civic experience, where they are located and of course… how much money they are able to bring in each year.
In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), stated that the average annual salary of an American architect was $89,560, yet the average annual salary of an Architect working in an area like Utah can make around $68,000. That is a noticeable difference, but you must also consider the cost of living in each area, as well as the level of competition in the region. Statistics can be very helpful in giving you a sense of where to start your bidding, yet sometimes the idea of an average can lack nuance and be flawed at times.
Where is your Skill Level currently? What can you bring to the table?
As is common with most job offers, you read the little line that says “Salary commensurate with experience”, and you think… how will they know where my skillsets stand? Are they applicable to this firm or not? A wonderful resource to consider is the AIA Compensation Survey Salary Calculator, it provides much more nuanced trackers and options by showing job positions for unlicensed, entry-level architect all the way up to the CEO/President at the top for larger firms. Although licensing is an important first step for an Architect to continue adding value to their career and the firm, there are many more layers and steps you must take to start making the higher pay you desire.
Where is the firm that you are applying at?
Similar to the point made earlier in the introduction, you must understand the level of competition for one position in your region. So for example, if you are in the middle of Manhattan and there are plenty of open jobs, but plenty of applicants that are highly qualified, you might have a harder time getting a job or asking for higher pay.
Firms try to have their wages cover for the cost of living and make sure to offer amenities to cover for a lower wage. A great point to consider is that you should not always view New York City or San Francisco as the highest paying cities. For example, the highest paying city in the country for Architects is actually West Palm Beach, Florida. Always consider where you want your career to go, and how each city provides different style of living, and the professional and personal networks around you may be ideal for your career in Florida than in New York.
Small firms vs Large firms
Overall, higher firm revenue tends to be tied to larger salaries for its employees. Do not always take this to be true though, as there are plenty of smaller, more niche firms that have found their profitable space. By focusing a specific, specialized area of the industry, a smaller firm might be able to attract more higher-end clients that are interested in trying more cutting edge work or might want a more personalized, special relationship with their architects.
Salary is dependent on how many hours you work, yet many times in Architecture there are deadlines that must be met and extra time that must be sacrificed to reach the goals set out by the client. By working extra hours that are not accounted for you are diluting the amount of money you are making per hour. Take this into consideration when understanding how much you should ask for at the interview. If you are able to tie in technology or other tools that are more specialized into your craft, you will be in a better position to negotiate your pay. Yet a profession like architecture tends to attract people that want to change the world and make a positive impact, and many times that does not align with making a ton of money. You should always consider what the non-quantifiable benefits are in comparison to the base wage.
When considering your next career move, plan proactively and create Portfolios that include your best work. Consider looking into finding a mentor with Architect-US, and improving your Portfolios with our Portfolio Plans and Career Advice Program. We provide coaching and personalized mentorship, so you can have a professional and experienced take on your next steps in your career, as well as a great team to confide in.