Have you ever wondered how you can turn your passion for design, creativity, and the built environment into a fulfilling career as an architect in the United States? The road to becoming an architect is not easy; it requires a well-thought-out plan, a strong foundation, and meticulous attention to detail.
But how long does this transformative journey take? If you are wondering about this question, you are in the right place.
In this guide, I will walk you through the detailed steps and timelines required to become an architect in the United States, including the education, experience, and licensure requirements. Therefore, keep reading to enlighten yourself.
Becoming an architect in the United States is a rewarding but challenging journey that requires a combination of education, training, and experience. Moreover, the United States is known for having one of the most comprehensive certification processes for architects globally, so if you plan on pursuing a career in architecture, you must prepare yourself for the arduous journey ahead.
In the following sections, I will break down each step of this challenging yet fulfilling journey, providing you with the knowledge and insights needed to navigate your way towards becoming a licensed architect in the USA. Let’s start!
Becoming an architect does indeed require a significant investment of time. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) in 2012, the average journey to licensure for architects includes approximately 11 years of hard work and dedication. Moreover, this is notably longer than programs like interior design, which typically span just two to four years.
In addition, the duration of architectural education varies depending on the chosen curriculum and program length, ranging from five to seven years for aspiring architects. Alongside this time-intensive educational journey, obtaining an architectural license demands practical hands-on experience accredited by NCARB and successful completion of several examination credentials. Now, let’s look at the detailed process of becoming an architect in the USA.
The journey to becoming an architect begins with a solid educational foundation. Aspiring architects must fulfill specific academic requirements:
To attain licensure as an architect, students must achieve their first professional degree in architecture, a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). The quickest path to licensure involves pursuing a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree, commonly known as B.Arch.
A professional Bachelor of Architecture takes five years to complete. This five-year program provides students with a fundamental understanding of architectural design, history, and theory.
Many aspiring architects choose to pursue a Master of Architecture (M.Arch) degree, which is typically a two to three-year program. The M.Arch program builds upon the knowledge acquired during the bachelor’s degree and provides students with professional design skills, technology integration, and a deeper understanding of architectural concepts.
Furthermore, there are also non-professional degrees in architecture, including Bachelor of Arts in Architecture (BA) and Bachelor of Science in Architecture (BS), which approximately takes four years to complete. However, these programs are not NAAB accredited. While this option enables students to commence their career at an architecture firm, it does not grant them the ability to pursue architectural licensure.
Therefore, individuals holding one of these undergraduate degrees may find it necessary to enroll in a master’s program in architecture to meet the requirements for state licensure. So, prospective students considering an architecture program should thoroughly research whether the program is accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) before enrolling.
Professional Degrees in Architecture in the US
In the United States, there are three types of professional degrees in architecture. They are as follows:
- Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch), which is a five-year program
- Master of Architecture (M.Arch), which is two-three years program
- Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch)
Non-Professional Degrees in Architecture
These non-professional degrees are usually not accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) and typically take four years to complete. They are as follows:
- Bachelor of Arts in Architecture (BA)
- Bachelor of Science in Architecture (BS)
- Bachelor of Environment Design (B.Envd)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts in Architecture (BFA Arch)
The choice between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree often depends on an individual’s background and career goals. While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement, a master’s degree is often preferred by employers and can lead to more professional career opportunities.
Internship / Work Experience (3-5 years)
In addition to formal education, practical experience is a crucial component of an architect’s training. Aspiring architects must complete an internship or architectural apprenticeship to gain hands-on experience in the field. This internship period is known as the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) and is essential for preparing individuals for the responsibilities of a professional architect.
After an individual completes their formal education, they must complete an internship program that lasts for three to five years. During this period, the intern works under a licensed architect and gains experience in various aspects of architecture, including design, project management, construction documentation, and client interaction. Moreover, in order to become an architect in the US, you must meticulously document your practical experience through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP).
What is AXP?
NCARB created the AXP, and it mandates most U.S. licensing boards to use it as a structured framework to help individuals acquire and record their professional experience. This program ensures that aspiring architects acquire a well-rounded skill set and meet the competency standards set by the profession.
After you have completed the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB)-accredited professional degree, the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) mandates that individuals pursuing licensure must fulfill 3,740 internship hours as a fundamental component of the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), previously recognized as the Intern Development Program (IDP). Moreover, the AXP encompasses 96 key tasks distributed across six practice areas. To showcase your competency in executing these tasks, you will need to document a cumulative total of 3,740 (as mentioned above) hours spread across these six areas.
|Programming and Analysis
|Project Planning and Design
|Project Development and Documentation
|Construction and Evaluation
The 96 tasks within the AXP are strategically designed to cover various stages of your early career. While some tasks are relatively easy and can be completed early on, other demand a higher level of experience that develop over time. In addition, you must collaborate with your supervisor to devise a strategic plan for successfully fulfilling the AXP requirements.
Furthermore, if you are pursuing the AXP through the portfolio method instead of hourly reporting, you must upload exhibits that showcase your proficiency in all of the 96 tasks.
Architect Registration Examination (ARE)
The last milestone on the journey toward architectural licensure involves successfully passing a series of examinations. The Architect Registration Examination (ARE) assesses candidates’ competence and comprehensive understanding of architectural practices and principles. Moreover, it stands as the common standard enforced by all 54 U.S. Member Boards, serving as the requirement for engaging in professional architectural practice.
The present version of the exam, ARE 5.0, is designed by NCARB. In addition, it consists of six divisions, and passing all of these divisions is a mandatory requirement in every U.S. jurisdiction for individuals aspiring to earn their architectural license. The divisions in ARE 5.0 seamlessly align with the same areas outlined in the AXP.
Furthermore, candidates have the flexibility to choose the order in which they complete these divisions. Each division comprises a diverse mix of question types, including multiple-choice, check-all-that-apply, fill-in-the-blank, hotspot, and drag-and-place questions, as well as case studies. ARE is a comprehensive examination that requires rigorous preparation and study.
Lastly, after successfully passing the ARE, individuals must apply for licensure in the state where they plan to practice. Moreover, each state has its own requirements and licensing process, which may include additional examination or documentation. Therefore, it is essential for aspiring architects to research specific licensure requirements in their chosen state to ensure compliance.
Timeline To Become an Architect
The time it takes to become a licensed architect in the US can vary significantly depending on an individual’s educational path, work experience, and the time it takes to pass the Architectural Registration Examination (ARE). Let me provide you with the general timeline:
Bachelor’s Degree: Five years
Master’s Degree (if pursued): Two to three years
Internship / AXP: Three to five years
ARE: Varies (can take 1-3 years)
In total, the process typically takes 8 to 13 years to become a licensed architect in the US, assuming a traditional path and delays in the licensure process. However, it is important to note that the actual timeline can be shorter or longer based on individual circumstances and career choices.
In conclusion, becoming an architect in the US is a lengthy but rewarding journey that requires dedication and perseverance. The educational requirements, internship, and licensure process can take several years to complete.
Special thanks to Natalie Perry (M.Arch student) for providing valuable insight and assistance in gathering facts and data for this article, drawing from their experience as a student in the field. Her contributions have been instrumental in creating a well-researched and informative guide to becoming an architect in the US.