Lessons About The ARE from Architecture Moms

Are you having trouble getting started or making progress on the Architect Exam?!?? Is the self-guided nature of the ARE not working for you?

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Everyone will agree that completing the AREs is significant time commitment. It is also mentally taxing, from obstacles and difficult moments to triumphs and successes. In many cases, dedicating our time to the AREs means putting our life on hold in some aspects.

More realistically, life happens and many people are often forced to get very serious about how they manage their time.

Over the past few years I have gotten to meet many Inspiring Women who have done an amazing job of juggling the Architect Exam, working full time and raising a healthy family. While I know it looks easy to the outside, I know it definitely isn’t.

I wanted to post a blog post from the Super Hero Women who were raising families while working on the Architect Exam.

This blog post was written by several Inspiring Women from the Mothers of Architecture, Design and Construction Facebook group who have shared their experiences of studying for the AREs and what has helped them through the process.

From dealing with stress to adapting new ways, it is their hope that these words will inspire other moms. Though some moments may be more difficult than others, know that you are not alone in your mission to both raise your family and become a Licensed Architect.

How have you found balance while studying for the AREs?

“When Emma was four months old (she is now 22 months old), I decided to get back into studying for the ARE exams. I study every weekday during my lunch break and I’m fortunate that my boss allows me to take extended lunches so that I can fit in some study time during work. Once the day is done, I go back home to be with my family, eat dinner, and spend time with them. Afterwards, I study from around 10 to 11pm before bed and that is my typical weekday. Saturdays are family days, but I go back to the office on Sundays and study for about 4-5 hours without distractions.”
Erin Collins-Cecil of Berman and Wright Architecture, Engineering, and Planning LLC in Somerville, New Jersey

 

 “I’ve been able to find balance by multitasking or incorporating studying into my family’s schedule. For example, I might listen to audio tutorials while driving in the car or at work. I don’t only make studying a priority, but I make it an intention to spend time with my family as well.”
Natasha Geverola of JZMK Partners in Costa Mesa, California 

 

“Honestly, I’m not sure if we’ve truly found balance while my husband and I are both studying for the AREs. We’ve learned that we have to take turns studying for the tests because during the last few weeks before the exam, it’s impossible for the both of us to keep up with the intense studying and take care of our family. We use our formal dining room as a study zone and we’ve just taught our daughter that she has to stay out of the room while our study materials stay in there. That way we don’t lose time getting out the laptop, iPad, or books. For us, balance comes from taking a whole afternoon or evening to focus on studying rather than trying to fit in an hour here or there.”
Stephanie Colwell of Fort Worth, Texas

 

“The road to licensure is tough for anyone, but for a mother, it’s that times two. I recently received eligibility to test in California so as soon as I received the letter, I immediately jumped on the task for preparing for the AREs. Balancing time has been a real challenge because I’m involved in so many different groups. Besides currently working full time and serving on the board of directors in my local chapter, I’m also a Co-Chair for my local AEPS committee, a Chair for the scholarship committee, and I’m also running a successful Facebook group that supports mothers in architecture. By the time I am able to sit and study, I have no energy.”
Elsa Contreras of Bakersfield, California

 

“I haven’t found a balance, but I have learned to go with the flow. If my daughter has a chess event, I volunteer to take her so that I can focus on my material while she plays. If I have a long drive to pick up carpool kids, I listen to ARE material while I do that. If I have a few minutes to steal, I go through flash cards on my phone. But when my work or family needs me, I prioritize based on needs.”
Meghana Joshi of William Hezmalhalch Architects Inc. of Irvine, California

 

“Becoming a mother has made me stronger, more resilient, and more focused than I have ever been. These qualities have carried over to all aspects of my life including my work and my ARE study habits. If I hadn’t learned how to function with less sleep and if the hours hadn’t become less, yet more valuable, I wonder how truly prepared I would have been to take the AREs. The lack of time and options helps me to go and do what needs to be done without a second thought. I don’t think I could have done that if I hadn’t been pushed to my limits as a mom. Suddenly there’s strength, focus, and urgency in all things I do and that goes very well with the AREs!”
Tatiana Jones of Gilbert, Arizona 

 

“After working for an architect while I started a family, I decided that I had to plan for my future. Architecture School was out of reach, both financially and proximity-wise. I also had a husband and 7-year-old son who needed me plus I was 37 years old. My family had to come first, so I set a goal to take the AREs and be done before my 40th birthday. I ordered books for the first test and started studying straight away.

Months passed and I finally realized that I just needed to pay for a specific date and do it. With significant money invested, that made it real and was a great motivator for me to study. I took flashcards to my son’s Taekwondo classes, read books while I waited for meetings to start, took practice tests while my son had a friend over, and studied in the evening when the house got quiet. I pushed myself, but I also made sure to take time off to enjoy being with my family. There were times when I had to say to myself, “You need to study now!” or sometimes my son would say to me, “Why do you have to study?” and I would need to reevaluate what I was doing and why I was studying for the AREs. It turned out alright in the end because I passed my final test and received my license just before my 39th birthday!”
Katie Seleni of Distinct Dwellings in Lake Placid, New York

 

“While I was on maternity leave with my first child, I took a leap of faith with my husband and we started our own architecture practice, CSpace Architecture and Design. It was a terrifying experience to give up my job at a prestigious office, but I felt that it was the right decision for my family. I finished my last two AREs by the time my son turned 1-year-old. Having our practice has helped both my husband and I to find a balance between our careers and family. Though we do have an office, I choose to work from home to be close to my son’s preschool and to take care of our 5-month-old daughter with the help of my family.

We set our own realistic deadlines with clients and choose which projects we decide to take on. We also have a full-time employee who helps us produce our construction documents. We provide her with a flexible schedule that allows her to pick up her children from school, allowing her to have a balanced work and family life as well. Hiring an employee has helped me focus more on the growth and management of our company. It’s been almost 4 years since we made this decision and we have grown significantly. I’m very glad we took a risk and I look forward to continue growing and promoting a healthy work/life balance in the field of architecture.”
Stephanie Morales Casariego of CSpace Architecture + Design in Miami, Florida

 

“To prepare for the AREs, I gave myself a lead time of four weeks between groups of similar exams and then spread the individual exams out by another two weeks. That way, I was really able to focus and finalize the material for each specific test. Once my timing strategy was outlined, I was completely transparent about my exam goals with everyone. Testing can be such a lonely and long struggle, but for me, transparency directly lead to support. No one else could do the physical studying or testing for me, but the dishes, laundry, carpools, and board meetings were all lightened. I was also transparent with my boss about my exams and requested to work less hours during those months. While I was still expected to meet deadlines, I was supported with an overall lighter work load. These exams had been on the horizon since college, but with the help of timing and transparency, I was able to pass all five exams in less than five months.”
Rebecca Stephens of Foster and Williams Architects in Shelton, Washington

 

What has been helpful while you prepare for the ARE exams? 

“It. Takes. A. Village. In my case, a supportive significant other, job, and parents. Those extra hours at work to study have really helped me to stay on track and if it weren’t for my husband and my parent’s generosity of watching the baby on the weekends, I don’t know how I would’ve passed any of the exams thus far.”
Erin Collins-Cecil of Berman and Wright Architecture, Engineering, and Planning LLC in Somerville, New Jersey 

 

“My husband was a huge help with taking over some of the evening responsibilities so that I could study for a few hours before bed most nights. It helped that those hours had been reserved for my painting career. For years, after putting the kids to bed, I would paint 5 or 6 nights a week. Because this schedule worked out so well, it was clear that this was the perfect moment for study hours. Still, it was hard to give up painting while I studied for several months.”
Debby Bird of Keyes Architects & Associates and Debby Bird Portraits and Paintings in Louisville, Kentucky 

 

“To ensure that I’m spending enough time with my family, we’ve incorporated a reading time into our weekends. While listening to classical music, I’ll study and my children will read books or do their homework. I’ll also make studying into a game for my family by asking my older children to quiz me while I cook, wash dishes, or do laundry.”
Natasha Geverola of JZMK Partners in Costa Mesa, California

 

“Participating in different online forums and groups that support ARE test takers has really helped me to prepare for the AREs. It is encouraging to see other people’s struggles because then I feel like I’m not alone. It’s so easy to feel lonely during the testing process.”
Elsa Contreras of Bakersfield, California

 

“My husband has been a great support and helps out whenever I need it. He takes care of things while I study over the weekend and sometimes pushes me to study if I’m distracted. He is also someone who I can go to and talk about my anxieties about a test or other worries; he has been a really good listener. Thankfully, he values what I value.

I also think it’s important that everyone has a good friend who has gone through the process to be both our guiding force and support. I have one and I text him when I feel a little broken or shaken and he knows how to inspire me and keep me on track.

It also really helps that I have a flexible work schedule and my employer is very supportive of it. I start my day early at 6 am and finish by 3 pm on most days so that I can go home and find an hour to study. My employer also values licensure so the firm gives the employees little perks like studying materials and small reimbursements on passed tests to help boost morale. Our local AIA chapter (AIA Orange County) is also very supportive of the ARE exams. We have study groups, sessions with Black Spectacles software material, and various sources of study material that we can borrow.”
Meghana Joshi of William Hezmalhalch Architects Inc. of Irvine, California 

 

“My success with the AREs was helped by both timing and transparency. As a working mom, my time is always spread thin between family, work, church, and community. Having time for myself and any personal goal can be hard to find. To take the AREs, it was helpful for me to set specific goals with a timeline and then make a focused effort to prepare for each exam. I had been eligible to test for a couple years, but I decided to save my exams for early this year when I had the maximum amount of work experience prior to completing my AXP hours. I could really focus on the exams when my three children were all settled in school. I also had a reward saved for the completion of the exams to help motivate myself.”
Rebecca Stephens of Foster and Williams Architects in Shelton, Washington 

 

How have the exams taken a toll on you, your family, or your job? 

“The fact that studying takes up most of my time hasn’t always been easy for my family, and can sometimes be a stain.   One of the things my husband and I both appreciate is having someone to “chill” with after a long day at work and the opportunity to have a fun family day over the course of a weekend. But for the past 1.5 years, there has been very little fun time or relaxation. Even more difficult is that I feel like I’m missing quality time with my 22-month-old daughter, Emma, and that I will never be able to get those moments back.”
Erin Collins-Cecil of Berman and Wright Architecture, Engineering, and Planning LLC in Somerville, New Jersey 

 

“I worked for 5 years to eventually complete my IDP. It took so long because where I lived at the time, you couldn’t take the tests until the IDP program was finished. Right around the time when I finished my IDP, my first child was also born. I continued working part time, pumping milk while at work, and nursing while at home. It was difficult to maintain my supply while working. When my son turned one-years-old, I was pregnant with my second and the economy was nosediving. Because of that, there was less work at the office and I really wanted to be at home with my two babies anyways, so I decided to quit working for a while.

I loved being home with my babies and had my third child when the second was two-years-old. To fulfill my creative drive, I began painting and found I was able to sell commissioned portraits. I tried to build that career for several years, but family and financial needs eventually required me to go back to a steadier job and larger paycheck. In some ways it was great to go back to architecture. I enjoyed the creative work, but I also terribly missed being home on a daily basis with my children. Since I was back to work, it was time to take my tests and become an official Architect.”
Debby Bird of Keyes Architects & Associates and Debby Bird Portraits and Paintings in Louisville, Kentucky 

 

“Studying for the exams has really taken a toll on my sleep since the best time for me to study without distractions is at night! I have three children including 12-year-old twins and a 4-year-old daughter, so I usually try to study while they watch TV after dinner or when they all go to bed.”
Natasha Geverola of
JZMK Partners in Costa Mesa, California 

 

My husband and I are currently both taking the exams. We went to different architecture schools and have taken different paths to licensure, but neither of us are finished yet and I’m hoping to finish this Fall. We got married three and a half years ago with only one exam passed each so we knew that we needed to study and pass the tests.

We started with the goal of finishing before we had a baby, but that didn’t happen and we now have an almost two-year-old and I am only one exam from licensure. All in all, it has been a tough road for me. There were two exams that were really hard for me to pass. I have practiced with flashcards, purchased study books, hired a tutor, and spent many Saturday and Sunday afternoons paying a babysitter so that I can go sit in the library and study. Right now, my husband and I don’t have a lot of time to bond together as a couple, but we still have date nights at Starbucks to study.”
Stephanie Colwell of Fort Worth, Texas

 

“Preparing for the AREs has been a real challenge for me and is taking a toll on my family because I am always low on energy. The study time for my first exam is taking longer than what I had anticipated. On average, it takes a person about 6 weeks to get through the study material. For a mother of young children, it can take longer. It’s been two months and I still have lots to cover.”
Elsa Contreras of Bakersfield, California

 

“Taking the AREs while raising a family and working a full-time job is a huge commitment. It requires cooperation and understanding from both your company and family. As an Archimom of girls aged 16 and 10, I have to go through their schedules to make sure that I’m not missing out on a piano competition, Taekwondo belt testing, or an academic milestone before I schedule each test. I also have to go through my work schedule to make sure the exam doesn’t coincide with any deadlines on a project. Even with all the careful planning, there are always unexpected situations to take care of and my study calendar easily gets disrupted.”
Meghana Joshi of William Hezmalhalch Architects Inc. of Irvine, California 

 

What words of advice would you recommend to other moms?

“Married or single, family or no kids –  to get these exams done, it takes sacrifice. It just seems that the sacrifice is greater when you insert the family into the equation. There is no good balance between family time and study time. I purposely take a few weeks off between exams to re-connect with myself and my family. PPD and PDD to go, the struggle will be worth it in the end.”
Erin Collins-Cecil of Berman and Wright Architecture, Engineering, and Planning LLC in Somerville, New Jersey

 

“I did the transition plan so I only had to take 5 tests. I prepared as well as I could and passed each one on the first try. In many ways, I wish I could have taken the AREs before my kids were born. Maybe I would have done some part time work and could have started my own business if I had been licensed while I was home with the kids. However, life did not work out that way and I’m very happy that I was able to have the time to be at home with my babies and toddlers.”
Debby Bird of Keyes Architects & Associates and Debby Bird Portraits and Paintings in Louisville, Kentucky 

 

“I’ve found it very fulfilling to incorporate spending time with my children into my study hours. They love the idea of quizzing Mommy rather than the norm of me always quizzing them. They also have an equal amount of joy when they learn that I have passed an exam thanks to their help.”
Natasha Geverola of JZMK Partners in Costa Mesa, California

 

“We have too many household things to do on a daily basis that my husband and I have to plan blocks of time specifically for studying. That is what I would recommend doing as well as write your study time on the calendar and don’t let it get erased. That way, you can follow a pattern of set study hours.”
Stephanie Colwell of Fort Worth, Texas

 

“What I recommend to moms getting into the field of architecture is to just go ahead and take the exams. Do what you can to tackle this beast and trust in both your abilities and energy.”
Elsa Contreras of Bakersfield, California 

 

“Surround yourself with people who know what you are doing and what it means to you. Don’t share your ARE struggles with people who are not close family, friends, or even other architects who don’t know what you’re going through. They won’t understand and they will hound you with questions every time you meet which can trigger even more stress.”
Meghana Joshi of William Hezmalhalch Architects Inc of Irvine, California

 

“Diligence is key to passing the ARE exams. As moms, we are pulled in so many directions and impose self-inflicted expectations. We strive to be the best mother, wife, employee, daughter, sister etc. We feel like we must conquer the world every day and we don’t give ourselves time to be human. However, the ARE process can help you learn to let go of the things that you cannot control and just keep trying. I’ve personally failed every exam on the first try. I’ve taken all of them and no matter how hard I studied, I’ve always failed the first round of exams. But by now I’ve passed four of the exams with only two left to go.

I started these exams before my first son was born and have continued through changing jobs, buying houses, moving states, having another baby, and mourning the loss of loved ones. It has been hard juggling all the responsibilities that are required of me and there are days when I want to give up. So, I give myself a break. We all need to hit pause every now and again to marinate on why an architectural license is important to us. With a mental break and lots of hugs and kisses from my babies, my motivation to preserve returns.

These exams and the path to licensure are grueling, but us moms are superheroes. We have been through so much to get to where we are and we know where we want to be. We are no stranger to sacrifice and hard work. No matter where you find yourself today in this process of testing, be diligent, purposeful, and fight like HELL to finish.”
Cathy Otis in Reston, Virginia

 

“If you’re still in the process, YOU CAN DO IT! Push yourself, but leave time for your family. Set realistic goals and make yourself stick to them. Know that you’re a mom first and sometimes your kids are going to need you, and that’s okay. Someday down the road, though, you’ll be able to say that you’re an Architect and a Mom. Being both of those things is pretty special.”
Katie Seleni of Distinct Dwellings in Lake Placid, New York

 

What do you wish you would’ve known sooner?

“I wish I had realized that the sooner you take your AREs, the better it is for you and your family because they will always need you. Even though kids grow up, the needs for emotional support remain and the work of a parent will never be done. So, don’t make parenting an excuse for not taking the AREs or postponing them to a later date. If you want to be a licensed architect, just go ahead and register to test. The time is always right when you decide to take an ARE test, but it will never be right if you decide to wait.”
Meghana Joshi of William Hezmalhalch Architects Inc of Irvine, California 

 

“There will never be a perfect time to start taking the ARE exams and while saying those words as a busy, working mom sounds even further from truth, it doesn’t have to be. The perfect time to start the process is always available to us. The challenges are daunting and seem overwhelming at times, but I’ve come to realize how being a mom is actually helping me with my ARE goals. Like the saying goes, “If you want something done, ask the busiest person to do it.”
Tatiana Jones of Gilbert, Arizona 

 

Thank You!

Thank you to all the Inspiring Architecture Moms who participated in this collaborative guest blog post! Keep working hard and doing what you do. You are an inspiration to your families and rest of the profession!   – Michael Riscica

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.

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