Architectural Design is a major offered by the School of Art, Design and Art History, a program within the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Admission and Progression Standards

Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.

Description of Major

Architectural Design is uniquely situated in the School of Art, Design and Art History which establishes our program for creative design excellency and augmented with General Education courses that broaden the students’ Liberal Arts knowledge. Architectural Design students learn from a curriculum that is centered on a rigorous six-credit hour, six-studio series taught sequentially in the fall and spring semesters from sophomore year to graduation. The teaching of design process, architectural language, precision of thought and craft, and a design ethos are at the heart of the program. Additional required coursework in architectural history, materials & methods, contemporary architecture theory, computer drawing & modeling, and professional practices supplement the studio sequence and support design projects of increasing sophistication and complexity. Additionally, the Architectural Design students have opportunities to minor in Art, Art History or Graphic Design. Our students’ work is enhanced with a plethora of excellent electives in art, graphic and industrial design, and art history courses. 

The Architectural Design Program is a pre-professional major that prepares students for graduate studies as well as entry-level positions in a variety of design fields including architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture. Students should be aware that educational requirements for architectural licensing vary from state to state and the BFA degree may not qualify graduates for licensure in some states. Some of our recent graduates are working in firms such as Quinn Evans, VMDO, and Jacobs. Our graduates are regularly accepted to some of the best graduate programs in the US and abroad including Cornell University, Washington University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Rhode Island School of Design.

The students begin their architectural design studios in the fall semester of their sophomore year after completing their Art Foundations courses during their freshman year. The first Architectural Design studio starts with the design, at the small scale, of the room while learning the graphic and verbal language of architectural design. The second studio designs a small building, while the third studio works on a large building such as a museum or skyscraper; and the fourth studio focuses on a large designed space of either a landscape or the city. In the fourth and final year, the students have hands-on building experience with a design-build project in their fourth studio and complete either a Thesis Project or Competition in their final semester and studio.

The rigorous six-credit hour studio courses are held in the Studio Center in a dedicated studio space where each student is given a studio table for the year and have 24-hour access to their work stations in addition to the Computer Lab, which has all the most up to date graphic and CAD and BIM software. The students gain skills in both analog wood shop and digital fabrication; and concrete and steel fabrication. The students are required to complete an Internship and Professional Practices, which both help prepare the students for professional work after graduation. After graduation, our students typically work for firms in Washington, D.C. or New York City  with professional firms ranging from architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture, urban design and graphic design. Many of our students choose to go to graduate school to obtain a first professional degree leading to licensure and have been admitted into some of the country’s most prestigious graduate schools of architecture. JMU’s Architectural Design program is a four-year pre-professional degree. The curriculum instills purpose, craft, technological competence and versatile thinking. The graduates are passionately dedicated to the creation of meaningful space. Supplementing JMU's general accreditation, all degrees offered by the School of Art, Design and Art History are professionally accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

More About the Field 

Architectural Designers design residential, commercial, or industrial buildings under a Licensed Architect in small or large architecture firms. Generally, they formulate design ideas that are turned into aesthetic, and technologically sound and inspired gathering, working and living spaces. These spaces can be indoors or outdoors. Additionally, architectural design training also prepares a person to be a strong public speaker, an entrepreneur, a custom furniture designer and fabricator, and a construction manager. Common responsibilities may include:

  • Confer with client or supervisor to determine factors affecting the building design, such as budget, architectural preferences, materials, and purpose and function.
  • Manifest an idea into a visual description which can include plans, sections, elevations and three-dimensional drawings, physical and virtual 3D models, sketches and materials.
  • Coordinate with other professionals, such as contractors, engineers, and the trades such as plumbers and electricians, to ensure job success.
  • Review and detail shop drawings for construction plans.
  • Estimate material requirements and costs, and present design to client for approval.
  • Subcontract fabrication, installation, and arrangement of building components, building materials, equipment, fixtures and accessories.
  • Use computer-aided drafting (CAD) and related software to produce construction documents.

Characteristics of Successful Students

Successful Architectural Design students are rigorous, creative, problem solvers, and have an entrepreneurial approach to their work and life. They enjoy working and communicating innovative and diverse ideas in a collaborative environment. The building projects can take up to two years from design to completion requiring the student to have a fair amount of patience.

Internships and Experiential Opportunities and Travel Abroad 

Students are required to complete a professional internship. Frequent field trips to Washington D.C., Baltimore, and New York, guest speakers, and internship opportunities provide students with exposure to the professional field. On campus, students can get involved in specific Architectural Design organizations such as the student chapters of AIAS and ASID and Kappa Pi. There are sponsored activities such as artWorks Gallery and  the Duke Hall Gallery of Fine Art that are also great ways to gain experience and many of our students works as gallery interns. Students should consult with their advisors about internship opportunities.

Architectural Design students are encouraged to travel abroad to experience another lifestyle, foreign cities and to see the architecture they have studied in their courses. We have taken our architectural design students to Japan, Costa Rica, and Beijing during the summer terms. As our curriculum is built around Fall and Spring sequential studios, the students are not able to do a full semester abroad in a general international program as it would cause the student to be a year behind in their studies. Therefore, we provide summer international programs that are architecturally focused travel abroad opportunities. 

View our list of internship coordinators for each major.

Complementary Majors and Minors  

The Architectural Design curriculum is demanding and cannot usually accommodate another major or minor, unless the student takes classes in the summer or adds additional semesters. Related minors could include: Art History, Book Arts, Communication Studies, or Art.


Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose unrelated careers that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive. (Items to be listed in alphabetical order)

  • Architect
  • Architectural Designer
  • Architecture Photographer
  • Construction Manager
  • Computer Graphics Designer
  • Design Director
  • Environmental Designer
  • Entrepreneur
  • Furniture Designer
  • Lighting Designer
  • Product Designer
  • Production Designer TV, Movies, Theatre
  • Museum Exhibit Designer
  • Urban Planner

Who Employs Graduates?

Architecture Firms, Colleges/Universities, Design Consultancies, Engineering Firms, Environmental Firms, Industrial Design Firms, Manufacturing Companies, Motion Pictures Studios or Research and Development Departments within a broad range of industries.

Career Profiles 

Additional Resources to Research Careers
  • Handshake: view new internships and jobs that employers are looking to hire JMU students from your major 
  • Career Outcomes: see where alumni worked or studied right after graduating.
  • GoinGlobal: learn more about employment opportunities overseas as well as H1B visa information for international Dukes pursuing jobs in the U.S.
  • O*NET: browse occupational profiles to learn about thousands of different careers, pulling data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 
  • CareerOneStop: explore thousands of different careers by looking at career profiles 
  • Utilize the LinkedIn Alumni tool to see what others have done with their majors and what their career paths look like. Reach out to alumni via LinkedIn and conduct an informational interview.

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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from the JMU University Career Center. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to career@jmu.edu

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