Understanding the Intern Development Program (IDP)


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.

The Intern Development Program (IDP) is a required component for licensure as an architect. It provides aspiring architects the opportunity to work within architecture firms as interns, under the direct supervision of a licensed architect. The 5,600 experience hours required within the IDP are within 3 categories and several experience areas.

These categories and experience areas were established by NCARB after an extensive practice analysis. This analysis evaluated the skills and knowledge necessary for licensed architects to possess when working independently in the field. Interns are expected to show proficiency in all areas and are evaluated by a supervisor who ensures adequate understanding and competency in each area. The purpose of the IDP is to take all of the knowledge learned in architecture school and apply it in a real-world architecture setting. I find it helpful to think of IDP as an Apprenticeship.

History of the IDP

The IDP was introduced by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) in 1976 after joining efforts with the American Institute of Architects. The two agencies sought to implement a structured internship program to ensure that students received the knowledge and skills needed by architects in order to practice independently.

Since 1976, jurisdictions have begun to implement the IDP as their experience requirement. Mississippi was the first state to adopt the IDP requirement in 1978 and Arizona most recently adopted the program in 2009.

The IDP saw its first substantial change since its inception in the year 1996. This change required that interns record training units completed versus the previous method of recording the percentage of time spent in each area. Further change occurred in 2009 with the introduction of IDP 2.0. This newer version of the IDP was the result of the 2007 Practice Analysis of Architecture. The responses of nearly 10,000 practicing architects in this analysis helped to more closely align IDP requirements with the reality of current practice in the field of architecture.

Getting Started with the IDP

The IDP holds a number of rules and requirements. IDP experience can be earned after graduation from high school or equivalent. The following steps gets the IDP process rolling.

1. Establish an NCARB Record

In order to begin participating in the IDP an intern must create an NCARB record by applying and paying yearly to have NCARB maintain the records. You can think of an NCARB Record is an NCARB membership.


2. Identifying Your IDP Supervisor

Your IDP supervisor will typically be a licensed architect who will be supervising your work on a daily basis. They will be held professionally responsible for your work and will be certifying the information you submit on your experience report.


3. Identifying Your Mentor

Ideally your mentor is an individual outside of your office that will make long term commitment to your growth as a professional. This person may be a teacher, advisor or coach. The IDP offers opportunity for your mentor to participate in and certify supplemental experience. Your mentor must have a current architecture license, but does not necessarily have to be registered in your same jurisdiction. My mentor was another person in my office who was very familiar with IDP and the licensing process.


4. Begin Documenting Your Experience

There is an online reporting system to facilitate this process. You simply login to your NCARB record and document completed experience regularly. Your supervisor is updated when you have added experience and ideally the two of you review the report.  There are specified reporting intervals established by NCARB that you will have to comply with. All experience is confirmed with your supervisor prior to submission.


Logging IDP Hours

To get paid in every architecture office I have ever worked at, I had to submit a timesheet that broke down which projects I worked on and how long I worked on each one. The office would then bill the project or client and pay me accordingly.

IDP is a similar time tracking system, however IDP wants to know how many hours of on the job training you completed within their 17 experience areas.

When I did my IDP everything was done on paper was a huge headache, NCARB now offers an online system where interns enter experience hours. Their supervisor is then notified and ideally the intern and supervisor discuss. Experience hours must be uploaded every 6 months but may be submitted more frequently. Experience older than 8 months is not accepted by NCARB.

Keeping track of IDP hours can be very complicated. Here’s a few tips for getting through it:

  1. Read, print out and understand all the experience categories and areas.
  2. Make a list for each experience area its opportunities to earn hours.
  3. Review with IDP Supervisor.
  4. Never fall behind with tracking IDP. Log all IDP each time you submit a timesheet to get paid.



Terminology confusion

One of the most confusing things about IDP is the terminology that NCARB uses and how they use it. Heres a quick breakdown:

Experience Setting: This means the environment in which you perform your IDP hours. There are 3 of them: practicing architecture, other settings and supplemental experience.

Experience Categories: This is a very broad categorization of types of work. There are 4 of them: Pre-Design, Design, project management and practice management.  Experience categories are further broken down by Experience Areas.

Experience Areas: This is a very specific area in which you log your hours there are 17 experience areas.



The 3 Experience Settings:

1. Practice of Architecture

You must earn a minimum of 1,860 hours working in an organization engaged in the lawful practice of architecture supervised by a licensed architect in a US or Canadian jurisdiction.


2. Other Work Settings

You may earn a maximum of 1,860 hours working in an organization not engaged in the practice of architecture. You must be directly supervised by one of the following: an IDP supervisor licensed as an architect in US or Canada, an architect not registered in the US or Canada engaged in architecture practice outside of the US or Canada, or by a landscape architect or registered engineer.


3. Supplemental Experience

You may have the opportunity to earn hours outside of a traditional work setting. My recommendation would be to check with NCARB about what the supplemental experience requirements are before you start investing time into something, thinking you are earning IDP credit.



The 4 Experience Categories and 17 Experience Areas

Completion of the IDP requires that an intern earn 5,600 experience hours. Of these, 3,740 hours are core minimum hours that must be completed in the four experience categories and 17 experience areas. The remaining 1,860 hours can be earned in any experience area, category or within supplemental experience.

Disclaimer: The experience category information below was taken from NCARB IDP Guidelines dated July 2014. I accept no responsibility if NCARB makes changes or revisions to this data. As always, read all current NCARB literature very carefully and always use that data.

I recommend printing out the pages 21-32 from the NCARB IDP Guidelines to get a clear understanding of what work falls under each experience area.

IDP Experience Categories and Areas:

  1. Pre-design
  • Programming (80 Hours Required)
  • Site Building Analysis (80 hours required)
  • Project Cost and Feasibility (40 hours required)
  • Planning and Zoning Regulations (60 hours required)


  1. Design
  • Schematic Design (320 hours required)
  • Engineering Systems (360 hours required)
  • Construction Cost (120 hours required)
  • Codes and Regulations (120)
  • Design Development (320 hours required)
  • Construction Documents (1200 hours required)
  • Material Selection and Specification (160 hours required)


  1. Project Management
  • Bidding and Contract Negotiation (120 hours required)
  • Construction Administration (240 hours required)
  • Construction Phase: Observation (120 hours required)
  • General Project Management (240 hours required)


  1. Practice Management
  • Business Operations (80 hours)
  • Leadership and Service (80 hours)

Core Minimum Hours Total: 3,740

Elective Hours: 1,860

Total Experience Hours: 5,600


Supplemental Experience for Elective Hours

Supplemental experience can be completed for elective hours in multiple areas including but not limited to leadership and service, community-based design center, construction work, Emerging Professional Companion, and teaching or research.  An advanced architecture degree, such as a Master of Architecture or a Doctorate of Architecture, can earn 930 elective hours. Elective hours earned through supplemental experience are not applied to any of the specified IDP experience areas above. Elective hours may only be used for 1,860 hours.


It’s not that bad.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the complexity of the IDP. It seems very extensive but is much more manageable when you break it down. This program is important because it provides interns with a safe environment to begin applying their skills. Additionally, students are able to refine their interests and gain a better understand of which practice areas they find to be most interesting.

The integrity of the architecture profession is dependent upon the adequate training and competency of new professionals. The IDP is taken very seriously, as it should be. The safety of the public is dependent on the proficient skills of architects. The IDP’s hefty experience hour requirement ensures that new professionals gain the knowledge, skills, and professional judgment necessary to be employed as a licensed architect.

For additional reading about getting started with the Architect Exam also check out:



Michael Riscica

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

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