Becoming an Architect: What You’ll Need to Know

 Architect juggling houses

“I thought about becoming an Architect, but…

…(insert reason) so I decided not to pursue architecture.”

As an Architect I can’t tell you how many people have had that conversation with me. I hear it almost weekly.

The more people I talk to about being an Architect, the more I realize that many people have no clue what an Architect really does on a day-to-day basis. 

Sometimes I think the public thinks that Architects spend all day dreaming and drawing plans for cool buildings.

Unfortunately, it’s not really like that.

The typical day of a practicing Architect is more about: 

  • Working on construction drawings
  • Attending lots of meetings, 
  • Checking their staff's work, 
  • Invoicing clients, 
  • Reviewing the work of contractors, so they can get paid, 
  • Managing their clients and employees
  • and sometimes worrying about finding the next project. 

Sure, sometimes designing and drawing pretty pictures are part of an Architect’s day, but that’s really just a very small piece of every project.

Designing is Just a Short Moment in Time

I recently completed a project that was designed by 3 people sitting around a conference table for 2 hours. 

The design was good, simple and effective. 

After we solved the design problem, the next 11 months were spent… 

…fine tuning that design, creating construction drawings, specifications, details, getting cost estimates, solving code issues, obtaining building permits, supporting the contractor with information during construction, responding to unforeseeable conditions, working with and coordinating furniture, IT, and moving consultants. 

A 2 hour design meeting translated into 11 months of execution and a lot of work for many people. 

DESIGNING the project is usually the shortest phase of a project. (10%) 

EXECUTING the design is really the bulk of the work. (90%) 

Architecture Careers are Not for Everyone.

It’s not an easy profession, an architecture career is a lot of work.

Successful Architects have all made incredible sacrifices and worked extremely hard to get there. 

Historically, it does not pay very well, the education is long and there is an incredible amount of legal responsibility involved with becoming an architect. 

There is certainly no shortage of articles on the web listing the many great reasons NOT to become an Architect.

Architecture is AMAZING. 

Studying design from at one of the many great architecture programs is, in my (admittedly, biased) opinion, one of the greatest educations a person could get as well as an amazing industry to work in.

Architecture School

Teaches you to solve problems like no other education. By intensely focusing on design, construction and history, then looking at the world through that lens, it forces you to reconsider how we think, live and interact with our environments. 

Architecture school is often about examining information and using that information to creatively find solutions to problems. 

Architecture school teaches you to think differently, rewires your brain and most architecture students graduate being a very different person from when they started.

After many years of studying, the main purpose of school is to set architecture students up for entering the profession. 

The Profession

Architects like to call the business side of Architecture “the profession”. This is drastically different, almost the opposite, of the “Architecture school experience”. 

Every working Architect is challenged to come up with an architectural solution that fits within the framework of budgets, schedules, building codes and Client expectations. 

Unlike school, time and money sometimes dictate the design of the project. Practicing Architects spend their entire careers understanding how to balance time and money with the beauty, art and poetry of architectural design.

The Industry is huge

The Architecture industry is constantly growing. The invention of the computer and access to information has significantly changed the way architecture has been practiced over the past 100 years.

The word architecture is as broad a category as music is. 

We call it music, but there are so many subcategories such as classical, country or even something really specific like east coast straight edge hardcore from the 80s.

Just like music there are a million little niches within architecture that an Architect could specialize in. Examples of these are:

  • Residential
  • Industrial
  • Sustainability
  • Hospital design
  • CAD/Rendering
  • Some kind of engineering specialty
  • Interiors
  • Waterproofing
  • Building envelope
  • Masonry 
  • this list can go on and on

What I love most about the Architecture industry is that it is sooo vast. There is plenty of work for everyone to thrive using whatever skills, talents and interests they may have.

A Highly Regulated Profession.

Did you know, it is technically illegal to call yourself an Architect in the US if you do not have an active license with both the state you live in and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)?

A licensed architect in New York is not necessarily a Licensed Architect in California; they must have a California architecture license as well, if they want to practice in California.

An Architect, licensed to practice outside the United States, is NOT to call themselves an Architect in the US, unless they have met the NCARB and State architectural registration boards requirements and hold an active registration.

Architects carry a tremendous amount of responsibility protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public and if an individual has not fulfilled the requirements, they should not be calling themselves an architect. 

Many people have a hard time understanding this, but this is due to the lengthy education, experience and licensing requirements.  

Unlicensed individuals may call themselves designers, project managers, job captains or anything else really works, but the word “Architect” or any derivative of the word “Architect” is off limits. Many state architectural registration boards do not allow people to use the term Architectural Designer, unless they are licensed. 

State architectural licensing boards regularly take action against unlicensed individuals calling themselves Architects or practicing without a license.

Having an architecture license is not a prerequisite to having a successful career in architecture. Most people graduate Architecture school and have very successful careers without obtaining their license to practice.

Architectural training is an extremely valuable education and can be used effectively inside and outside of the profession.

Becoming An Architect in the USA

Here are the 3 steps:

Becoming an architect and getting a licensed to practice license in America, is a 3 part process which consists of:

  1. Education – Earning an accredited architecture degree. (5-7 years)
  2. Experience – Documenting work on real projects under the supervision of a Licensed Architect. (3,740 Hours +/-)
  3. Exam – Passing a 6 part licensing exam, each test focuses on various aspects of the profession. (current average 2.5 years)

This process is lengthy and is no easy feat. However, it is not impossible and the rewards you can reap by becoming a Licensed Architect are numerous.

The Educational Requirements

For licensure in most states a candidate must hold a professional degree in architecture from an institution accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). There are currently over 100 architecture schools to choose from.

There are currently three different professional architecture degrees available.

  • Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) requires a minimum of 150 credit hours in professional studies and electives.
  • Master of Architecture (MArch) degree requires a minimum of 168 credit hours, 30 of which must be graduate level.
  • Doctor of Architecture (DArch) requires a baccalaureate degree or 120 undergraduate credit hours in addition to a minimum of 90 graduate credit hours.

However, you can still become an Architect if you do not have one of those degrees. 

You’ll have to go through a process called: Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) program, which involves having NAAB review your existing education and determine if it meets the requirements of the accredited degree. You may have to take additional courses if it is determined you do not meet the requirements. 

The best way to learn more about this program is to contact the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)

The Architect Experience Program Requirement

The Architect Experience Program (AXP) used to be called the Intern Development Program (IDP). AXP is the apprenticeship requirement of becoming a Licensed Architect. Candidates must log hours working on real projects under the direct supervision of a Licensed Architect. This information is recorded and submitted to NCARB. 

AXP requires the completion of approximately 3,740 field experience hours within 6 different categories. 

Its purpose is to ensure that Candidates gain the professional experience, knowledge and skills to practice architecture, while working on real projects. 

Candidates most commonly work within architecture firms where they begin to become familiar with the application of their education. They may assist in design projects, prepare documents as well as research specific building codes and many other tasks.

Unpaid (Internship) work is heavily frowned upon within the architecture profession.   Candidates must be paid for their work, for it to qualify as AXP hours. 

The Architect Registration Exam

The Architect Registration Exam (ARE) is required in all 54 jurisdictions within the United States. The exam is broken down into six different sections;

  • Practice Management (PcM) – About starting and running an architecture business. Includes lots of accounting calculations, HR, Business and ethical topics. 
  • Project Management (PjM) – About managing all the moving parts of a project. Includes schedules, budgets, coordination, process and lots of AIA Contracts. 
  • Programming and Analysis (PA) – About understanding the problem the design will solve. Includes programming, codes, site analysis, preliminary understanding of different systems. 
  • Project Planning and Design (PPD) – About the early schematic design phase of the project. Includes Codes, Building Systems, Structures, Building Construction, programming and site.  
  • Project Development and Documentation (PDD) – About the construction documents phase of the project. Includes all the same topics as PPD, however in PDD it is more focused on detailing and properly documenting. 
  • Construction Evaluation (CE) – About construction contract administration. Includes lots of bidding, construction admin documents, RFI’s, change orders, etc. lots of AIA Contracts and closing out a project. 

Each exam consists of multiple choice and case study questions. Case studies are multiple choice questions that include reference information to assist in looking up the answers. 

Completing the Architecture Registration Exam is a very unique experience. The process is a self guided experience where ARE Candidates study and take the exams on their own schedule. Some people do them all under a year, however, most people take at least 2 1/2 years to complete the process.

Studying for the Architect Registration Exam is completely different then every other exam you have studied for. Often just getting started is the most time consuming process, because people do not know what they don’t know. 

Which is why I lectured at over 65 AIA Chapters all over America, about How To Get Started With PASSING The ARE! 

Becoming a “Licensed” Architect

After the education, experience and exam requirements have been completed, paying lots of state and national fees are always required. Depending on your state, additional interviews or exams may also be required. 

Registration requirements vary between each state, so it is recommended that individuals contact their specific registration board for the requirements in that jurisdiction.

Continuing education is then required by all Architects to keep their licenses active.

The Bottom Line

It’s a Dynamic Industry.

Becoming an Architect is a lengthy process and definitely not for everyone. 

However, it is an incredible industry that is constantly changing. The internet and modern technology have impacted how this industry conducts business, further expanding the world of opportunities available. 

Versatile and innovative, the field of architecture can offer vast possibilities and endless options for anyone willing to work hard and contribute to the progress of the profession.


Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

Hi I’m Michael Riscica.

My goal is to help as many people as I can PASS their exams and succeed in their architecture careers.

This is accomplished with the following offerings:

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