1. Earn a professional degree in architecture.
Three professional architecture degrees are offered by over 100 accredited U.S. schools. The five-year Bachelor of Architecture, or B.Arch, is the most popular degree. It’s also common to start with a four-year bachelor’s degree in something like Architectural Studies or Environmental Design, then spend an additional one to five years earning a Master of Architecture (M.Arch). A small percentage of students pursue a Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch) after receiving a BA or BS. The National Architectural Accrediting Board provides a complete list of schools offering these degrees.
A post-professional degree may help you compete in the job market. If your B.Arch leaves you wanting more specialized knowledge, you can pursue an MA, PhD, or a post-professional M.Arch or D.Arch.
2. Gain extensive experience as an intern.
Figure 1.2 “This is where the magic happens.”
The Intern Development Program (IDP) will guide you through over 5,000 hours of training. Designed and managed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), the IDP specifies how many training hours you’re required to complete in an array of categories--including schematic design, building cost analysis, construction contract administration, and project management--while leaving a large number of elective hours open for you to pursue your particular goals and interests. It takes an average of three years to complete the IDP, with many students beginning to accrue experience as soon as they become eligible, usually after their third year of studying architecture.
3. Take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).
The Architect Registration Examination is actually seven separate exams. Before you can sit for any of them, you’ll need to get Authorization to Test from your state’s registration board, by showing that you’ve earned a professional architecture degree and completed the internship requirements. With your Authorization in hand, you can start taking the seven divisions of the ARE in any order and more or less in your own time; you’ll have five years to pass all the divisions. Each test includes graphic, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank questions. If you fail a division, you can retake it, but not without paying the couple-hundred-dollar, nonrefundable exam fee a second time. Avoid this with thorough preparation; NCARB has official exam guides available for free download.
4. Obtain your license, finally become an architect.
Figure 1.3 No matter how proud you are, it’s weird to stand on the street and tell passers-by, “I designed that.”
Every state (plus the District of Columbia) sets its own standards for licensing architects. Some jurisdictions require additional exams or more than the standard amount of experience. You should research your state’s requirements well in advance of seeking a license, so you’re able to plan ahead and adhere to the expected timeline. In general, you can apply for licensure through your state’s registration board as soon as you pass all seven divisions of the ARE. Once the board verifies that you’ve fulfilled its requirements, it grants you a license and--poof!--you’re an architect.
5. Optional: become certified by NCARB.
About a third of architects are certified. If you choose to apply for certification, NCARB will review your college transcripts, employment history, and references to ensure that you meet their performance standards. If you do, you'll gain the privilege of writing “NCARB” after your name and, since some clients are more inclined to choose a certified architect, probably some better contracts. The biggest advantage of certification, however, is that it's a primary requirement for becoming licensed in more than one state. So if you live in a small state, or near the border of another state, it's probably a good idea to seek certification.
6. Maintain your license with continuing education.
Most states require architects to stay informed about emerging methods, technologies, and standards. To renew your license (usually every year or two), you will need to complete courses, workshops, conferences, and seminars totalling a specified number of hours. If you work for an architecture firm, your employer might pay the fees associated with your continuing education.
Preparing for Architecture School
It’s never too early to start gaining experience for your future architecture career. Even while you’re in high school, there are several things you can do to build a relevant knowledge base, improve your chances of getting accepted to the school of your choice, and bulk up your resume.
Take pertinent classes. As an architecture student, you’ll need computer skills as well as an understanding of math and the natural sciences (especially physics), art and art history, social science, drafting, and geography. High school classes in these subjects will get you started.
Join the speech or debate team. Architects need strong communication skills, and are often required to sell their ideas and negotiate contracts.
Look for a summer job in construction. Experiencing architecture from the contractor’s perspective can be helpful.
Seek an internship or apprenticeship with an established architect. Participation in the ACE Mentor Program is another way for high school students to gain experience in the architecture industry and, sometimes, win valuable scholarships.