February 2015

What do job titles, licensure, and experience have to do with one’s salary and satisfaction? This page looks into characteristics of individuals and their careers, based on nearly 4,000 U.S. and Canada-based responses to Archinect’s Architecture Salary Poll. You can also check out Comparing FirmsFocus on Gender, or return to the front page in this section, Visualizing Archinect’s Architecture Salary Poll.

Salary and Satisfaction

More generously compensated employees are often both more satisfied and more experienced than their peers, which is no surprise. But patterns of salary, satisfaction, and experience often vary between different firm types or job titles.

The first two charts summarize the survey’s responses by showing a median (or middle) salary and satisfaction level in each grouping. Spots are left blank where there were fewer than 3 responses.

Yes, you’ll generally earn more as you gain experience–but how much more may depend in part on what kind of firm you’re at.

People who described their firms as specialist, boutique, or corporate reported earning more than those in sole proprietorships or starchitect firms. Some of those earning the most–the green faces– also reported the highest job satisfaction–but satisfaction levels of 8 or higher out of 10 are also very common among those just starting out.

What’s in a name? One firm’s “designer” may be another’s “associate” or “junior architect.” Job titles are not watertight categories, but they are associated with some patterns in terms of salary, experience, and satisfaction.

Some job titles are clearly entry-level, occupied by people with less experience and associated with lower earnings (more orange in color). Others were primarily reported by people with more experience.

Associate and Project Manager were the only job titles for which there were at least three responses at every experience level.

Licensed architects generally earn more than their unlicensed colleagues. The salary gap starts small–$2,000 at 3 years of experience–but grows over time. This finding is consistent with data from DesignIntelligence. Their Compensation and Benefits Survey, 2014 found that 70% of firms offer increased compensation upon licensure. Most firms–35% in total–offer a base compensation increase of 5 to 9%, while 21% of firms offer smaller increases, 12% of firms offer larger ones, and a few offer a lump sum bonus.

That said, licensed professionals are a self-selected group, so this salary gap could reflect other differences as well. For example, those who get their license might be more focused on advancing their career in other ways as well, by learning new skills or receiving other certifications.

Because this data doesn’t include those working in design, technology, or most other built environment-related careers, it doesn’t tell us whether licensed architects earn more than non-licensed architecture graduates in general.

But if you are planning to stay in architecture, earning a license seems to make sense financially because even a modest salary boost early in your career can increase your lifetime earnings by $100,000 or more.

Finally, as a spot-check, we compared our numbers from Archinect with the AIA Compensation Report 2013, based on job titles where there was a close or reasonable equivalent.

Surprisingly consistently across the board, our earnings numbers from Archinect are a little lower than those from AIA. AIA’s compensation figure includes overtime, bonuses, and other incentives, and this may account for much of the difference.

There may also be sampling biases–for example, if those who are unhappy with their salaries because they earn less are more likely to interact with Archinect’s poll, then our numbers would be a little lower. Since the timeframe for the two polls also differs, any economic changes in the industry also affect the data.

If you want to see more from where this came from, you can also take a more analytic look through charts and maps at how different types of firms and gender make a difference in architecture careers. Or explore individual’s stories on this section’s main page.


Kendall Nicholson
Director of Research + Information