10 Great Reasons NOT TO Get Your Architecture License

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 10 Great Reasons NOT TO Get Your Architecture License

This post is part of a series on NCARB’s Architecture Registration Exam. Having recently completed this long process, the series examines my journey and the various things I learned along the way. Click here to see all the posts of my Architecture Registration Exam Series.

I Had To Do It!

In January 2014, I started writing this blog for Young Architects and recently completed writing my first book called How To Pass The Architecture Registration Exam.  Since I started all these projects I have met a million people who are either:

  1. Taking the exams now
  2. Started and stopped for whatever reasons.
  3. Want to take them in the future.

For me personally, I had to complete the journey of becoming an architect no matter what I did. It was hugely important to me to finish what I started. Not having my architecture license was literally blocking me from advancing my life. I needed to close the “becoming an architect” chapter of my life.

But that’s my story. It may not be your story.


I don’t think everyone should become a architect.

In fact, I truly believe that not taking the ARE’s and getting your architecture license may be the very best decision for you and your life.   Each of us have had very different lives and upbringings. The decisions I have made with my life, which I knew were right for me, may very well be the worst decision for you and your life. And vice versa.

Often we get on this path of going to college, getting a job and are lead to believe (from NCARB, employers and society) that getting architecture license is the next step. I agree with that logic if you actually want it and plan to use it. A message that I think many young architects is missing is that you dont NEED to have an architecture license to have a successful career.

This blog post actually began while writing a blog post for architecture grads called 10 reasons to take and finish the ARE.  As I wrote that blog post, I couldn’t help but notice that there are actually some fantastic reasons to not go through that process or to avoid it all costs. Passing my AREs was many inglorious hours of showing up and sitting in a Starbucks reading boring books, while all my friends were out partying and having fun.

My intention of this “Dont become an Architect…” blog post is to achieve one of two things:

1. If you are undecided to knock you off the fence.


2. To validate decisions you have already made. 


10 Great Reasons NOT TO become a licensed architect


1. You don’t need the closure.

This was my biggest reason for completing the exam. Having that silly piece of paper that said “Licensed Architect” was very deeply important to me. I needed to reach that milestone to justify and bring closure to many years of insanity that I put myself through so I can move on with the next chapter of my life.

Getting closure may just not be important to you. You can still have an extremely successful architecture career without having the architecture license.  You love architecture, you enjoy your work and don’t feel the need to prove yourself to you or anyone else. To you, the license is just not important.

Maybe its important to your company, your boss or someone else that you have you get your license. All the work it takes to get that piece of paper isn’t about them. It’s really about you.


 2. There are other things going on in your life.

Architecture was a lot of fun to study and has brought you a wonderful career. But deep down inside, there are other things that are more important to you than investing massive amounts of time at getting an architecture license. Maybe it’s having a child or raising a family, pursuing a hobby or just going after something else in life. Don’t get me wrong all of these things are still completely possible. Infact I have watched many people raise a family the same time they became a licensed architect with incredible focus and vigor. Having the architecture license just may not be that high on your list of life priorities. That’s completely ok.


 3. You do not want the responsibility.

There is an incredible amount of risk and responsibility involved every time you stamp a drawing. An Architect of Record accepts an incredible amount of risk and responsibility. Meanwhile changes happen and corners are cut on the jobsite in name of a contractors profit. Its impossible to be on top of everything all the time.

I have recently seen two architects be sued merely as the first point of contact and protocol. What they were being sued for was evidently the work of the contractor not following the drawings. Yet, the architect still had to spend a significant amount of money on legal counsel to prove that.

If you get your license, it raises your chances of being sued. Even if you are not at fault. When a project is not performing as designed, the first point of contact is always the architect who orchestrated the project. Without a license you cannot be the Architect of Record.


 4. Avoid the extra work; IDP, ARE and never-ending Continuing Ed.

I found the Intern Development Program (IDP) incredibly frustrating to figure out and a tedious chore to stay on top of. If there’s anything to recognize about getting the architecture license, is that it’s a lot of work. After you’re licensed you have to complete continuing education requirements every year to maintain an active license otherwise your state will take it away. All of this stuff is a lot of extra work. Especially if your already working full-time for the architecture firm.


 5. Avoid the never-ending fees.

You have already made a huge financial commitment by investing in architecture school. It was a great investment but I will be paying for my education for many more years to come.

Getting licensed sure was cheaper than going to grad school, but I also did sign myself up for a ridiculous amount of NCARB, AIA and state licensing fees to maintain my license. Joining the AIA is optional although if you’re using your membership appropriately it should theoretically pay for itself. Nevertheless the AIA costs about 500 bones every year.


 6. Avoid the major time commitment.

I typically spent about 100 Hours +/- to study for each architect registration exam.

100 hours x 7 tests = 700 hours.

Say you’re normal and fail only 2 exams.  Add on 200 more hours retaking

Total – 900 hours of studying

A complete year of full-time work is about 2000 hours. Do you have 900 hours to squeeze in after you work a full-time job?

One of my most frustrating moments was when I put down my ARE study book and  realized that all the time, money and focused energy I already spent working through those exams I could have built a profitable business from scratch, gotten another degree or achieved some other worthy goal in life.


7. Your skills are better spent not being the licensed architect.

You may be best utilized to the profession and to society for having a skill which licensure has nothing to do with. Maybe you’re a brilliant: construction (fill in the blank) expert, spec writer, marketing expert, project manager, a model builder, renderer, CAD expert or whatever.

Having an architecture license would be nice, but will not help you further your personal goals or skills with whatever they may be. If that is the case, you should channel all the time, money and energy into perfecting your craft to serve the greater good.


8. There are millions of great jobs you could do in other industries with your architecture training.

I have always believed that an architecture education sets is one of the best educations anyone could receive. Architecture teaches you to be a brilliant problem solver. It touches upon so many skills, topics and directions that anyone could run with in their lives. It’s naïve to think that working in an architecture firm and practicing architecture in a way that requires a license is the only direction that you could go with this training.

You could make more money and have a successful career without the architecture industry working in a subset of the profession; marketing, graphic designer, entrepreneur, graphic designer, realtor, a construction job or something that hasn’t even been invented yet. The possibilities are endless.


9. The architecture career is merely a stepping stone for something else.

I don’t believe that the career of showing up at the same cubicle every day for 30 years or so and then “retiring” will be the same for our generation as it was for our parents’ generation.

The internet has drastically changed the global economy. Today a lot people are making a lot of money in ways that were unimaginable 10 years ago. I don’t believe that the future of the architecture firm will look and operate the same way it has for the past 100 years.

After graduating architecture school and working for several years you have learned that spending 40 hours a week working in the cubicle may not be how you want to spend the next 30 years. Maybe your dream is to escape your architecture office, take all the skills you learned from architecture and apply your talents to building something else in another industry, realm or dimension. You’re certainly qualified to do so.


10. Your loved ones will be affected by your decision to get licensed.

Maybe you have kids, a spouse, a family or others that depend on how you spend your time. They will be affected by the time you commit and how you go about committing your time to the licensing process.

Like I said earlier, many people raise families and finish the licensing process, but it shouldn’t be ignored that it’s definitely a challenge, juggling life and the licensing process.


Don’t let people’s stories affect yours

I went to a job interview 4 years after I graduated and I mentioned I was in the middle of my exams and the interviewer told me that it didn’t look good that I hadn’t already completed my ARE’s and I as approaching that threshold of people who will never complete it.

I didn’t get that job and I walked out of there not even wanting it. Maybe he was right. I don’t know or care. I do know that sooo many things had happened in my life between graduation and that job interview, who was he to pass judgment on the pace I was completing the exams at?? Finishing the exams in 1 year wasn’t my story. Others may make you feel bad for not choosing the same decisions they made. That’s their story and not yours.


I support you.

You could be healthier, happier and live a more fulfilling life if you do not go down the road of getting your architecture license. Only you know the answer to that. If that is that case I fully support you in your decision.

During architecture school I watched many people realize that being in the architecture program just wasn’t for them. During that time I watched their lives change course and saw them move towards another goal. Architecture brought them clarity to where they wanted to go with their life. I commend them for figuring it out and changing direction.

 I also watched several people push and force themselves through a degree they weren’t passionate about or really had any interest in. It was painful to watch and it was painful to be their peer.

Not having your architecture license could be the best thing if your heart is not in. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting it.


My story isnt yours.

I earlier mentioned how I got my architecture license because needed the closure. I truly got my license because having it was crucial, with where I wanted to take my career. I actually have used my architect stamp 4 times in the first year, since having had it.

I had very strong beliefs about why I felt I needed it, but hadn’t my beliefs been so strong I would have wasted my time.  Trust me this thing is a lot of work and your resources could be channeled into something that you are more passionate about.  It’s ok if you don’t do this. If it’s not really for you, then you will be better off in the long run.



Read the full series
This post is part of a series on NCARB’s Architect Registration Exam. Having recently completed this long process, the series examines my journey and the various things I learned along the way. Click here to see all the posts of my Architect Registration Exam Series.

If you enjoyed this post, you should also check out:


About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.

    Michael Riscica - November 27, 2014

    I agree. The cost of autocad is ridiculous.

      Mike Kenley, CHC - January 19, 2016

      That is why six years ago I quit using autocad and switched completely over to SketchUp. now I can develop much better looking, and more functional designs and plans than anyone else in my area still using autocad.

      Great article by the way. I am 49, and I have had great success without a architecture license. Mostly residential but over the last seven years I have found a niche in healthcare, filling the gap between the facility staff, hospital administration, and the architectural firms. something I found is that not many firms, especially in rural areas, focus on CMS and Life Safety Code conformity, and that can be a big issue for a small hospital seeking accreditation. but it also has created an opportunity for me.

Gang Chen, Author/Publisher, A - November 30, 2014

One way to cut down the cost is to
use AutoCAD Light, it is about $1200 instead of about $4500 for the full
version. The only difference is AutoCAD Light is 2-D. For some office, you do
not need 3-D for all your production staff. That can be a big saving.

Gang Chen, Author, AIA, LEED AP BD+C (GreenExamEducation.com)

Yvexy DeLaRosa - January 8, 2015

I like paragraph #9. I am also in the process of starting my study regime. Thank you for being candid about the profession. You are a good mentor for the young architects.

Tiff Coppock - January 12, 2015

Beautiful! Exactly what needed to be said! Several years ago I left my firm where I was successful but felt bullied and was living paycheck to paycheck. I completed my IDP but being chained to my desk made it very hard to achieve my exams let alone a life. I went to work for (gasp) a manufacturer. Voluntarily. Not because I lost my job. Happily.
In the past 4 years people have talked down to me, belittled me, etc., but, I have been successful and extremely happy- I get to travel, have friends all over the country, learn new things every day in areas outside of the field I designed in, and I now have time to take my exams. I do well because not only do I answer technical questions for the maufactuer, but I have been there- I have specified, programmed, detailed, reviewed submittals, made punch lists, been to bid openings, etc. My number one piece of advice to students I mentor is to keep an open mind. Don’t feel like you have to do it because some old guy in an office says you’re a failure if you don’t. He’s not you. To add to your list- consultants, product developers, inspectors, owners reps, etc are all great, fulfilling options that might help pay those student loans!

    Michael Riscica - January 12, 2015

    Awesome, Good for you!!! The traditional path is sometimes only appropriate for a small percentage of the people who are on it. Thanks for the comment!!

Gary Henikman - April 20, 2015

Thank you for posting 10 reasons not to become a licensed Arhitect.
I have completed all but two of my exams and I failed to last two and my time has expired. I started studying and took an exam and failed again. Time went by with work and raising two kids have made my study time nonexistent. So much time has gone and know I have to repeat 3 exams.
I am not sure anymore if I want to get back and study and sacrafice more time. I have to make a decision soon if I want to go on this path again or find another path.

Thank you,

Dot Butler - October 7, 2015

Thanks for the refreshing perspective and good advice. I have been betwixt and between whether I should go back to school for my architecture degree, as what I am doing is basically what an architect does, but without out the credential. I go through engineers to get stamps, etc. I have so much work that I don’t know when I would find the time to actually go to school… I know I would be enriched by the exposure to course work, but I am 48, have 5 growing kids and am running my own design business… Still, I always have that twinge of wanting that credential…

Anonymous - December 29, 2015

Hi Michael,

Your thoughts have given me an extra push.

I have sat for 5 of the 7 exams and passed 1.

I have to admit that I did not study as much as I should have and feel that the exams are mostly a memory game. Having a family of my own and a business to run makes it even more difficult to get a solid 3-4 hours of study time in per day. I took all of these exams with only 2 weeks between each so I guess I needed an additional 2 weeks of study time and perhaps I’d have received that glorious “PASS” I was looking forward to.

Lately I have been feeling really down and depressed because I am that person that has to finish everything I start otherwise my thoughts of having that piece of my life unfinished will eat me alive. I am trying to motivate myself once again to get into the studying but a small part of me has given up. My business relies heavily on me obtaining a license because those are the projects that I would love to work on. Projects that require a licensed pro to get the work done. Oddly enough, I have thoughts that I am going to be greater than I am today once I have my license. As if my license will change me in some way. I do however look forward to helping other up and coming architects with their journey and feel that if I can help a few students with their IDP that I’d have paid it forward, since my mentor helped me.

My mentor was and still is an amazing person who I look up to so much and I would love to be able to help someone else. However, I am in ARE limbo right now and am exhausted but I will keep pushing because my mom taught me to never give up. In the meantime I will have to be happy with decorating until I can officially call myself an architect.

Thanks again for your thoughts, I needed to read that.

Happy new year!

    Michael Riscica - December 29, 2015

    It was hard for me to connect with licensure, until I felt like I really needed it. I was mad at myself for not having it. Not having it was holding me back. After all my experience and what I had been through I felt like I had deserved it except, there were just a few tests hold me back from having it. You can do it. Let me know how I can help.

      Anonymous - December 29, 2015

      I will do it! and will definitely check back in to let you know once I finally have that pesky licensure paper… ;)

Bennie Ellis - January 8, 2016

Great article! I am one of those guys who made it through Architecture School at Virginia Tech and only worked a couple years at an architecture firm. I soon realized that working inside at a desk was just not for me. My life brought me to a very successful career as a homebuilder. I have not looked back. My education was invaluable to me as a homebuilder; I wouldn’t be able to solve the myriad of problems I face each day without it!

James - March 15, 2016

Or you could become an architectural photographer and work alongside architects without all of these problems!

J - April 13, 2016

For me, the biggest reason to not get licensed was the NCARB process. I had 16 years of extensive experience in healthcare Architecture with most of that completed before The IDP program even started. As of today, if you are not licensed,NCARB does not have a grandfather clause. IDP only goes back 6 to 8 months. This didn’t help me at all. I teach now so I wouldn’t get additional experience and in NCARB’s eyes my past experience is useless, therefore licensure is useless for me. I would have to quit my current position to work as an INTERN (theoretically) again just to complete IDP. The whole process is set up to make people commit to the process early, for example, make sure you go to a 5 years Accredited school, complete IDP ,even if you don’t want to be licensed and stay on top of your state’s requirements. Do all of this regardless of your decision because it is extremely difficult to do after the fact.

Cambridge Hathaway - August 25, 2016

Very interesting, eye-opening, and helpful article!
I am a senior in high school and have always been interested in design and drafting, especially residences. I am currently wrestling with what I want to do for a career. For several years I have had a dream of being self-employed and designing homes for people in my area. I thought I would pursue a degree and licensure in Architecture, but the high expenses time- and money-wise (both of which resources I find myself lacking in, as does everybody!) are making me second guess that idea. However, several schools I have looked at seem to have very good Bach. of Architecture programs (with appropriate costs), and I know I would enjoy the learning and experience in the design field. My question is, Would it be possible (or wise?) to branch out and begin a self-directed career as a house designer with only a B. Arch? Or would you recommend another route?
I’m still full of questions, but this article has helped me begin to think in new directions!

    Michael Riscica - August 25, 2016

    I have a 5-year BARCH. The BARCH and MARCH are the accredited degrees. Just make sure you look at programs that are NAAB Accredited.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about licensing. You should worry about architecture school. It’s no small thing graduating architecture school and its hard to know if architecture school is really for you, until you’re actively doing it. By the time you graduate you’ll be a completely different person. Many people start architecture school, realize its not for them, but in the process became very clear on how they need to change direction. There is nothing wrong with that.

    Working as an Architect and even going to architecture school is usually very different then what most people think it is.

    Architecture school is one of the best educations in problem solving anyone can ever get. After school, you don’t have to go down the traditional path. Most people with architecture degrees DO NOT have architecture licenses.

    Just follow what feels right and stay committed to working hard. Architecture is one of the most competitive professions. Every successful architect makes money from 9am-5pm and then works from 5pm-9am at improving themselves so they can stay competitive.

    Good Luck


Mwangi Kimani - October 24, 2016

Really, the best advise you can give young graduates is that they should quit what they started, so that they end up as draftsmen all their lifes? Of course its hard to get a license, of course you forgo some fun but by GOD if you spent 5yrs of your life in Arch School, raked in $80k+ in debt, you BETTER do your exams…. otherwise you will end up being a slave draftsman/allmost architect all your life… thats way harder than sitting for any exams.

The writer also didn’t give convincing reasons why he didn’t take his 10 point advice and not sit for his exams. What a hack!

    Michael Riscica - October 24, 2016

    I couldn’t disagree with you more. Pursuing an architecture license should not be done by any individual unless they intend to use it and understand the responsibilities of having one. By saying everyone needs to take the exams and becoming licensed, does not make sense. There are many more options to use this education then there were years ago and I hate to break it to you, THERE ARE TONS OF PEOPLE with architecture degrees and no license, that are massively successful.

    Your opinions are one sided and not everyone with an architecture degree has the same background, skills, upbringing and life experiences you do.

    Thanks for the comment.

Ramees Ali - November 12, 2016

Great article bro !

Andrea - December 13, 2016

Such a great article! I am currently struggling about what my next steps will be. I have a Bachelors in Architecture (Non-credited)and this is my 2nd year working after school.
I want to switch to something else rather than going back to school. I am 24 years old, I love architecture but I cannot afford to live with this small pay. It is depressing to even think about the long path to licensure and all the costs. I have a passion for design and buildings. Sometimes I do feel hesitated to leave my dream job,but it seems like a dead end street.I am wondering whether I should go towards Construction management,or marketing design/computer graphics? Please help me with a few tips. Thank you so much for this article!

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