So You Want to Become a Licensed Architect Eh?

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA, ADMG

Recently I was discussing professions with a couple close friends of mine.  It is understood by most, if not all, that professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers undergo rigorous education and testing to attain the right to practice their respective professions.  The Bar Exam or medical boards come to mind.  What most people don’t know is that architects do the same.  It can even be argued maybe a little more than most.

The process of becoming a licensed architect starts with an education and a degree in architecture.  Professional undergraduate degrees consist of five years of college study.  That’s right, five years, not your typical 4.  Licensing usually requires a Master’s degree as well (unless you complete more intern hours, see below) so that’s another two years (or three if you only have a four year degree) so you are looking at a total of six-seven years of university study.

So now you have graduated with your degree and want to take a licensing exam to be an architect, but wait, not so fast.  First you must fulfill the requirements of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).  This consists of working under the direct supervision of a licensed architect for a time to gain the necessary experience.  It is much like a residency in medicine.   The requirements are currently 5,600 hours of intern work divided over many different training area requirements (see image).  You can double those hours if you only have a four year degree…

All of the hours required above must be thoroughly documented and signed off and submitted to the Board for review and compilation.  Once you have worked for the necessary number of years and fulfilled your hours, NCAARB will let you take your exams.  Yes, I said exams plural.  There are currently seven exams (eight if you live in California).

The exams are lengthy and costly.  They can be taken in any order.  If you fail one you wait at least six months to re-test, thus pushing your dream of licensure back even more.  The required exams are:  Programming, Planning & Practice (4 hours), Site Planning & Design (4.5 hours), Building Design & Construction Systems (5.5 hours), Schematic Design (6 hours), Structural Systems (5.5 hours), Building Systems (4 hours), Construction Documents & Services (4 hours), California Supplemental Exam (3.5 hours) TOTAL = 37 HOURS OF EXAMS.

Now, you have your degree, fulfilled thousands of intern hours, taken 37 hours of examinations and passed; now you can apply for licensure in California.  This process can take many people 5-10 years to complete. Now you can start making the big bucks.  Not quite. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that starting salaries for architects is often 50% lower as compared to other professionals (lawyers, etc.).  That said, it is a long road to the top for the design professional.

A quick side note:  my general contractor’s license exams took me a total of three hours, two exams taken the same day and passed the same day.  I submitted one experience form to the State showing my construction experience.  No degree was required.  I was a licensed contractor in a matter of months.  Recently ENR released the top construction firms and Bechtel topped the list with $19.7 billion in 2010 revenues.  The top architecture firm came in at about 9% of that of that number… good luck with those architecture school student loans!

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