How to Become a Licensed Architect

A career in architecture offers a world of opportunity to those suited for this challenging, yet rewarding occupation. Whether you’re looking to work within the U.S. or abroad, this industry shows unlimited potential, as there is a demand for qualified licensed architects around the globe. Depending on your level of education, area of expertise and professional experience, there are many prospects for advancement that can improve your professional earning potential as well as your rank in the architectural workforce.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require architects to attain their architectural licensure before practicing or soliciting business. Although certain prerequisites may vary by state, the general requirements for licensure include education, experience, examination, and registration. Some institutions offer an integrated path to architecture licensure (IPAL) option to make the process of obtaining licensure easier.

If you’re interested in learning how to attain your architectural license and become a professional licensed architect, there are certain factors you should be aware of when pursuing your education. Besides being proficient in mathematics with a flair for innovation, a successful licensed architect typically possess a variety of other core skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these strengths include but are not limited to:

  • Analytical Skills: In order to achieve their professional goals, architects must have an in-depth understanding of the content of designs and blueprints, as well as the context in which they were created. For example, architects must understand the locations of mechanical systems and how those systems affect building operations.
  • Communication Skills: Because architects share their ideas (both in oral presentations and in writing) with clients, other architects, and workers who help prepare drawings, they must possess and practice excellent communication skills. It is not unusual for an architect to give presentations to explain their ideas and designs.
  • Creativity: Since architects are responsible for designing the overall look and aesthetic of residential and corporate structures, they must have the ability to create buildings and designs that are both ergonomic and attractive, as well as complementary to the existing surrounding architecture, particularly in instances of urban development.
  • Organizational Skills: Architects are frequently responsible for managing contracts; therefore, they must keep diligent records related to the details of a project, including total cost, materials used, and tracking project progress.
  • Technical Skills: Due to the various software programs and computer skills required, architects need to be fairly tech-savvy. For example, architects are required to use CADD technology to create plans as part of building information modeling (BIM).
  • Visualization Skills: Licensed architects must have a keen sense of spatial relations in order to conceptualize and mastermind the working parts, as well as determine how those structures will relate to one another. Additionally, they must be able to visualize how the overall building will look upon completion.

In this article, we’ll explore the steps required to become a licensed architect, including educational requirements, professional experience, licensure and registration, as well as employment and career outlook and average salary information.

Architectural Education

In all states, one of the first steps in becoming a licensed architect is earning a bachelor’s degree. Although most architects earn their degree through a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree program, many individuals earn their master’s degree in architecture, which may take one to five additional years. The time required to earn one’s masters depends on the extent of the student’s prior educational background and architectural training.

Typically, a bachelor’s degree program’s educational requirements includes course that cover topics such as:

  • Architectural history and theory
  • Building design with an emphasis on computer-aided design and drafting (CADD)
  • Structures and construction methods
  • Professional practices
  • Mathematics
  • Physical sciences
  • Liberal arts

To become an architect, you’ll need to meet your jurisdiction’s education requirement with a bachelor’s degree program. As per the BLS, 35 states currently require that architects hold an undergraduate degree in architecture from one of the 122 schools of architecture accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). State licensure requirements can be found at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

Architectural Experience

After meeting their education requirements, aspiring architects enter the experience phase of licensing, commonly satisfied through professional internships. An intern development program length and experience requirements are set by each jurisdiction, but most states have adopted the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) guidelines for internships.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all states require that a prospective architect-in-training work under a supervising professional architect. Typically, architectural registration boards demand architecture graduates to complete a paid internship (which may last up to three years) before they may take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Most new graduates complete their training period by working at architectural firms through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), a program run by NCARB that was created to guide students through the internship segment. Certain states allow a portion of the training to occur in the offices of related careers, such as general contractors and engineers. Undergrad students who complete internships while still in college can count some of that time towards their 3-year training period.

As an architecture intern, your responsibilities may include assisting in the architectural design phase of a project. More specifically, your experiences might encompass duties such as:

  • Preparing architectural drawings and documents
  • Designing and building models
  • Preparing drawings on CADD
  • Researching current building codes
  • Writing specifications for building materials, installation criteria, the quality of finishes and other related details

Architectural Examination

In order to achieve licensed architect status and begin to practice architecture, you will need to pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). This multi-part exam not only tests your industry knowledge, but measures your skill sets, overall acumen and expertise in a variety of architectural practices. In addition to the ARE, you may be required to pass state-specific architectural exams. All states require licensure applicants to pass the ARE, with most granting access after the candidate meets the state education requirements of attaining their professional degree.

First, let’s review the prerequisites for the ARE:

  1. Check with your state’s board of architecture: Before taking the ARE, candidates should confirm with the relevant state board of architecture to ensure that they meet their state’s specific requirements for taking the examination. It’s important to verify with your state board of architecture, as states have varying requirements for the ability to take the ARE.
  2. Establish an NCARB record: This serves as a verified record of your education and experience, and identifies registration qualifications

Once you’ve been granted ARE access after meeting the state education requirement, you will be qualified to take the exam – however, be prepared to pay $2,000 or more, depending on your location in North America. This exam covers the following aspects of architecture:

  • Construction Documents & Services
  • Programming
  • Planning & Practice
  • Site Planning & Design
  • Building Design & Construction Systems
  • Structural Systems
  • Building Systems
  • Schematic Design

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Once you’ve passed your exams and successfully completed the professional experience requirements, you may register for an architectural license. Although individual states grant licenses, you can also become licensed in multiple states. In order to maintain or renew your architecture license, you will need to earn continuing education credits each year. While continuing education requirements may vary from state to state, they typically involve additional architecture school education through university classes, workshops, self-study courses, conferences or other sources.

Did You Know…

All states and the District of Columbia require architects to be licensed. Licensing requirements typically include completing a higher education degree program in architecture, gaining relevant experience through a paid internship, and passing the Architect Registration Examination

Work Environment

According to BLS statistics, architects held about 128,800 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of architects were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services         68%
Self-employed workers         20%
Government           3%
Construction           2%

Professional architects spend the majority of their time in offices, where they meet with clients, develop reports and drawings, and collaborate with other architects and engineers. They also visit construction sites to ensure clients’ objectives are met and to review the progress of projects. Some architects work from home offices.

Work Schedules: Most working architects work full-time positions, and many work additional hours, particularly when faced with impending deadlines. Self-employed architects typically have more flexible work schedules within this profession.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Due to the continued demand for new structures in the U.S., the BLS anticipated that jobs for architects and architectural services, excluding those of the naval and landscape varieties, would grow 7% between 2014 and 2024. Along with these current industry projections, there is also the benefit of a low unemployment rate (about 5.1%), making the job outlook for working architects even more promising. In addition, the BLS statistics also state the Median Salary for this career path is around $76K with a 1.9% unemployment rate; the lowest 10% earned less than $44,940 and the highest 10% earned over $121,910 and around 1 in 5 were self-employed. Additional data indicated that architects held approximately 112,600 jobs in 2014, with 69% employed in the architectural, engineering and related industries.

As an architect, your job duties may comprise a number of different plan and design elements, including but not limited to the renovation and/or construction of residential dwellings (including private homes and apartment buildings) and commercial offices, with a heavy focus on new retail establishments (i.e., independently-owned stores and chain retailers), along with other types of similar structures. Additionally, growth is expected in school districts and universities nationwide, from building new facilities to the renovation or upgrading of existing buildings. The healthcare industry is also on the rise, with a subsequent need for facility expansion; this is not only due to the population’s increased utilization of healthcare services, but a steady demand for healthcare facilities to house the aging baby-boomer demographic.

Another element of architecture that has garnered an increase in visibility worldwide is the concept known as “green design”, a terminology that describes eco-friendly or sustainable design principles. Although this can include landscape architecture, it mainly refers to an emphasis on an efficient usage of resources – such as water and energy conservation, a reduction in waste and pollution, and utilizing environmentally materials and designs – it’s no wonder green design continues to grow in popularity across multiple platforms. With an ever-increasing concern for the environment, rising energy costs and a need to seek green resources while decreasing our carbon footprint, architects are met with new and innovative challenges to fabricate sustainable designs worldwide.

Due to the recent technological developments and improvements in software, architects can also expect an increase in productivity while enjoying a more streamlined workflow. New and improved applications such as BIM and the latest versions of CADD allow architects to rely less heavily upon drafters, making it easier to share work and other collaborative efforts with contractors, engineers and clients. For those seeking advancement in their career, some firms are willing to cover the expenses required for employees to return to school, including tuition fees and other tangential costs required for continuing education.

Architectural Career Advancement

After many years of work experience, some architects advance to become architectural and engineering managers. These managers typically coordinate the activities of employees and may work on larger construction projects.

Here are several popular career options within the architecture industry:

  • Civil Engineer
  • Construction Manager
  • Digital Mapping
  • Drafter
  • Graphic Designer
  • Industrial Designer
  • Interior Designer
  • Landscape Architect
  • Urban & Regional Planner

Summary: Architectural Licensure At A Glance

In order to become a fully-licensed architect, a student must:

  • Earn a college degree
  • Complete an internship
  • Pass the Architect Registration Exam (ARE)

The architectural student needs to earn a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, or Doctorate of Architecture degree from a school accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Next, all states in the U.S. require a three-year internship at an architectural firm as established through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). Finally, the architect must pass all sections of the ARE in order to be fully licensed in this field.

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