Welcome to the ultimate resource on How To Become An Architect!
As a licensed architect I personally went through this entire process. I can tell you that while it certainly isn't easy, it is worth all of the hard work. Being an architect is an extremely rewarding career with many interesting and dynamic aspects that make it a worthwhile pursuit.
Whether you are trying to figure out if architecture is what you want to do for a living or are thinking of making a career switch, read on.
A note to my international readers: I am going to be discussing the process in the United States, however most countries have a similar process even though the details will differ.
If you are thinking about a new architecture job, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:
How To Become An Architect.
Please note that to be considered an "Architect" in the United States you must be licensed in at least one state. While some people choose to never pursue their architecture license, I feel it is an important final step and an essential part of the profession.
The traditional path to becoming a licensed architect can be divided into five steps:
1. Get an NAAB Architecture Degree
2. Get An Architecture Internship
3. Join The Architectural Experience Program™ (AXP™)
4. Pass The Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®)
5. Obtain A State Specific Architecture License
How long is this going to take?
According to a recent NCARB study, it now takes candidates just over 12 and a half years to complete the core requirements for licensure—including education, experience, and examination—and almost half of this time (5.8 years) is spent earning a degree.
Obviously with this kind of a timeline you have to be sure architecture is the right career for you. Also, there are ways to reduce this lengthy process, as I will discuss below.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with the primary architecture organization in the U.S., the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).
"NCARB is a nonprofit organization made up of the architectural licensing boards of 54 states and territories. While each jurisdiction is responsible for regulating the practice of architecture within its borders, NCARB develops and administers national programs for licensure candidates and architects."
Step 1. How To Become An Architect: Get A Degree
Let me be the first to tell you that yes, there are a lot of education requirements on the path to becoming an architect.
There are many lists out there when it comes to school rankings, however the most important factor is that the school is accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB).
I recommend selecting a NAAB accredited school and enrolling in a professional degree program. The reason is that a NAAB degree is a requirement in most states to become a licensed architect.
Enrolling in a non-accredited program could seriously limit your licensing and certificate requirement in the future.
Deciding which university you attend should be made after you have collected detailed information on your target list of schools. Speak to the professors, alumni and current students. Ask them questions to get a better idea of the program and its reputation in the industry:
- Where do students find work?
- How many are employed in the architecture field after five or ten years?
- Do the former students feel they received good return on their investment?
Picking an architecture program is a major investment of time and money so make sure you are making the right decision for your situation.
See also: Architecture School and Student Loans
An Architecture degree is NOT necessarily required.
Depending on your previous work experience, attending architecture school may not be a perquisite for becoming an architect.
If you don't think becoming a successful architect is possible without traditional schooling, many world-renowned architects were self taught including Frank Lloyd Wright and Tadao Ando.
NCARB also offers options beyond the "standard path" to becoming an architect. For example their Broadly Experienced Architect Program allows "architects who do not hold a professional architecture degree from a NAAB-accredited program are eligible to apply for an NCARB Certificate".
Also several states allow you to obtain an architecture license through work experience in lieu of an accredited degree. However, this is constantly evolving so check with your state specific architecture board.
Here is the list of states that currently allow licensure without a degree:
- New Hampshire
- New York
Step 2. How To Become An Architect: Get An Architecture Internship
Once you have completed your degree you need to land your first job in an architecture firm. Working while you are in school and/or during the summer is a great way to gain experience before graduation, so you don't come out of school with a blank resume. This will also allow you to log your experience as I cover in the next step.
The internship can be full time or part time depending on your financial situation or time available. My first internship was working after regular hours for a few hours and using someone else's computer so I wasn't an additional cost for the office.
So how do you get your first architecture internship?
I recommend doing some research on the firms you want to work for by creating a summary sheet.
- The name of the firm?
- Firm location(s)?
- What projects are up and coming?
- Do you know anyone that works there or has worked there?
- What is the ownership structure?
- Have they hired a large number of interns in the past? (Could be more or less likely to provide mentorship)
- How long has the firm been in business?
- How many employees?
- What type of projects do they specialize in?
To how many firms should I apply?
Using your research above I typically recommend having a group of 30 offices that you would like work for. You can rank them in order of most to least desirable and begin applying in that order.
I have found that the best method of keeping track of the applications is a spreadsheet. The last thing you want to do is become confused and apply to the sample place twice or leave out a great opportunity.
With 30+ potential employers it is quite easy to become disorganized. Include a column for the company name, location, the date of your application, if you have received a response and any contact information.
Put together a targeted, well researched application.
"I have sent out 100 resumes to architecture firms this month and haven't heard anything back".
The statement above tells me that the applicant is not taking the time to put together a targeted, well researched application. Focus on how you can emphasize your relevant work for each of your employment applications.
Don't just send a generic application to hundreds of offices, that approach rarely works. Use your research above to target your application (resume, cover letter and portfolio samples) to each firm. Example documents can be found here.
One key to successfully landing an architecture internship is to start early. The internship schedule generally follows the university semesters. As a result most openings are filled in May-June for the summer break. Most applicants start sending their resumes in May. This is usually too late.
Step 3. How To Become An Architect: Join The Architectural Experience Program™ (AXP™)
Developed by NCARB, The Architectural Experience Program™ (AXP™) provides a framework to guide you through gaining and recording your professional experience.
Previously it was required to have a degree to start recording experience however not can start earning AXP™ experience even after you graduate from high school (or the established equivalent).
The program is required by most U.S. jurisdictions and is a key step on the path to earning a license.
The AXP™ identifies 96 key tasks that fall into six practice areas.
To demonstrate your ability to perform specific tasks, you’ll need to report a total of 3,740 hours across the six experience areas:
Practice Management: 160 Required Hours
Project Management: 360 Required Hours
Programming & Analysis: 260 Required Hours
Project Planning & Design: 1,080 Required Hours
Project Development & Documentation: 1,520 Required Hours
Construction & Evaluation: 360 Required Hours
Total Required Hours: 3,740
Note: Half of your documented experience (1,860 hours) must be gained while employed by an architecture firm and under the supervision of a licensed architect.
To qualify for the AXP, your work must fall under one of two experience settings:
- Setting A: Work performed in an architecture firm
- Setting O: Experience that can be performed outside an architecture firm
Step 4. How To Become An Architect: Pass The Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®)
The Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) is a multi-division exam used to assess your knowledge and skills regarding the practice of architecture.
Developed by NCARB, the exam is accepted by all U.S. jurisdictions and is a key step on the path to earning a license.
The ARE is designed to assess aspects of architectural practice that affect the integrity, soundness, and health impact of a building. The exam also assesses an architect’s responsibilities within firms, such as managing projects and coordinating the work of other professionals.
What is ARE 5.0?
ARE® 5.0 features six divisions organized around the progression of a typical architecture project.
The divisions can be taken in any order and include a combination of multiple-choice, check-all-that-apply, fill-in-the-blank, hot spot, and drag-and-place questions, as well as case studies.
Exam Divisions and Duration
ARE 5.0 made it easier to complete your license by reducing the number of tests and required hours of internship experience.
Tear off the band-aid. Just get it over with.
The longer you wait the more difficult it will be come to finish the exams.
Before you can schedule an ARE division, your jurisdiction’s board of architecture will need to approve your eligibility to test.
Each jurisdiction sets its own rules regarding when you're eligible to take the ARE, so be sure to meet your jurisdiction’s requirements before requesting eligibility.
Depending on your state you can complete the exams BEFORE you complete The Architectural Experience Program™ (AXP™) and you can record MORE than 40 hours per week.
Both of these techniques can greatly reduce the time it takes to become licensed. The longer you hold a license generally the more you are worth in the marketplace.
See also: The Best Architect Exam Prep Resources
Step 5. How To Become An Architect: Obtain A State Specific Architecture License
Each state has its own architecture board that is responsible for issuing licenses. Before practicing architecture in a jurisdiction, you must meet the requirements for licensure established by that jurisdiction.
For example, the California Architects Board.
"The CAB establishes regulations for examination and licensing of the profession of architecture in California, which today numbers over 21,000 licensed architects and approximately 10,000 candidates who are in the process of meeting examination and licensure requirements."
NCARB also helps to facilitate licensure between states, called reciprocal licensure. This makes it easier to become licensed in other states once you have received your initial license.
Is being licensed important?
According to a recent report from NCARB:
"Just 27% of emerging professionals indicate they believe it is “very important” to their supervisors for them to obtain licensure, while 88% of supervisors indicated that it was “very important” to them for the emerging professionals they supervise to get licensed."
As I mentioned previously, being licensed is essential to be able to call yourself an "architect" in the U.S. Not only is licensure required, but also it is an important step for your career advancement.
Just look at the management of architecture offices. Are they licensed? Almost all of them will be registered architects.
In addition, to licensure many architects also choose to become a LEED Accredited Professional. You can learn more about that here: The Best LEED Exam Prep Materials.
I hope you found this post on How To Become An Architect helpful. Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.
Want to find your dream architecture job?
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To help you with your architecture job search, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:
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Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C