Despite both of my parents being in the healthcare industry (Mother an RN, Father an Acupuncturist), I knew without a doubt that I was interested in becoming an architect as early as the age of fourteen. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty much in my blood. My grandfather was an architect and several of my uncles are architects, designers or engineers. Thankfully I had inherited the analytical skills, critical thinking and organizational skills, visualization skills and just enough creativity necessary to work in the architectural industry. What I wasn’t blessed with was being born with an architectural license in hand, and I had no idea what the steps even were to become an architect. Everyone just kept telling me, “Go to school”! This is true, but….you are not an architect without a license.
I’m currently an Intern Architect working on becoming licensed. The process has been a lot more complicated than I could have ever imagined, so I decided to outline it in hopes of helping someone else out.
Step 1: Decide You Want to Be an Architect
This may seem like an easy first step, but after learning what it takes and what an architect is responsible for, the truth is, this may be the most difficult step of them all. Becoming an architect requires hundreds of hours studying, thousands of dollars in examination fees and several thousands of hours in work experience. Architects are responsible for protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people who live or work in the buildings, not just the overall aesthetic and look. Don’t let this deter you, the role of an architect varies and ranges in project type and size, and is quite rewarding.
If you still find yourself interested, Steps 2, 3 & 4 can be done simultaneously at any point after graduating from high school.
Step 2: Go to School
This is the most straight forward step. Most U.S. jurisdictions require a professional degree in architecture from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). However, in California, a professional degree from an NAAB-accredited program is not required to satisfy the Board’s education requirements. The Board does accept a combination of general education and experience, or experience alone as an alternative means to satisfying your education requirements.
Step 3: Get an Internship
A minimum number of years of acceptable experience is required before licensure can be obtained. This can vary between four and a half and eight years, depending on the education you received in Step 2. Although there is a minimum number of hours that you must earn under direct supervision of a licensed architect, there are other areas of experience that will benefit you in completing Step 4. For example, other work settings, like under the direct supervision of a landscape architecture or registered engineer, or employment under the direct supervision of a person experienced in a design/construction activity, such as interior designer or construction manager.
Step 4: Establish a National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) Record and Enroll in the Intern Development Program (IDP)
NCARB is responsible for establishing, interpreting and enforcing national standards for architectural licensure. You must have an NCARB Record to complete the IDP, ARE (described in Step 5), or apply for the NCARB Certificate (signifies that you have met the national standards established by the board). IDP guides interns through the comprehensive experience that is required for the practice of architecture and gives real-life experience in the areas of pre-design, design, project management and practice management. The process can take as little as three years to complete, but the average intern finds that they complete their IDP in five years.
Step 5: Take and Pass All Divisions of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)
The ARE is the professional licensure examination process that assess interns on their knowledge and skill in the practice of architecture. Currently, the exams are computer based and consist of seven divisions including multiple-choice and/or graphic vignettes. Each division is taken separately, usually not on the same day, and a candidate must pass all divisions within five years. The exams are rigorous and require a high level of understanding in each of the testing areas. I recommend taking a seminar or study course to prepare for the ARE. NCARB provides Exam Guides and practice software for each division.
Step 6: Obtain Your License and get NCARB Certification!
After completing the IDP and passing the ARE, you can contact your local jurisdiction for the necessary requirements to receive a license to practice architecture in your state. For California, contact the California Architect’s Board, which requires successful completion of the California Supplemental Examination. Yes, one last test!
Once all of the steps above are complete, you are ready to get NCARB certified. This certification shows that you have met the highest professional standards possible, and allows you to work as a licensed architect.