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How to Become an Architect: Career Roadmap and Education

Majors Overview January 29, 2013

A wide range of structures and buildings including government buildings, hospitals, and houses, among others, are designed by professionals called architects. Architects concern themselves with the aesthetics, legal issues, practicality, safety, and functionality in respect of a building’s design. Seeking to establish a satisfactory result, they are often involved in every aspect of the process of erecting a building starting with its conception and ending with its construction. A college degree, internship and licensure are the main requirements for those pursuing a career in the field of architecture. The table below showcases general requirements on how to become an architect:

Common Requirements

Degree Level

Bachelor degree is standard, normally a five year professional bachelor degree is needed, improve career opportunities with a master degree

Area of Concentration



Three years of training before sitting for licensure, Intern Development Program (IDP) – 5,600 hours of training

Certification and Licensure

State-issued license is required, but requirements vary between states, voluntary certifications are available

Key Skills

Creativity, strong analytical and communication skills, organizational and critical-thinking skills, and visualization skills

Computer Skills

Proficiency in computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) software

Stage One: Completing an Undergraduate Degree Program

The requirements to become an architect are determined by state boards; majority of boards require applicants to complete a five year Bachelor of Architecture course that carries the accreditation of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). In August 2012, fifty-eight similar programs were offered in the country (source: NAAB). Environmental planning, structural elements, project management, and building systems and technology are among the courses included. In some states, aspiring architects are not required to complete an accredited program. Participating in student competitions will benefit an aspiring architect, many competitions can be availed by students studying in architecture degree programs; these include competitions conducted by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. Students are challenged in these competitions to design innovative structures complying with a theme such as creative use of steel or sustainability. An aspiring architect can list such competition participation in their resume, and use it to get valuable feedback on their design abilities.

Stage Two: Attending an Internship Program

Architects seeking to practice their professions in any state need internship experience or training programs before they can obtain licensure. An internship program usually runs for the duration of three years and gives aspiring architects an opportunity to gain hands on experience under the supervision of licensed architects. The Intern Development Program (IDP) administered by the American Institute of Architects and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is employed by a majority of states. Completing the IDP involves 5,600 hours of NCARB and state-approved work experience. This experience is split into core and elective hours. Practice management, project management, design and pre-design are the four major areas covered in the IDP. Interns are taught different topics including contract negotiation, zoning regulations, site and building analysis, and schematic design.

Stage Three: Obtaining State Licensure

To practice in a state, architects must obtain licensure from that state. While licensure norms differ from state to state, most states require applicants to complete an approved undergraduate degree, in addition to internship. Once they qualify to apply, candidates need to pass the NCARB’s Architect Registration Examination (ARE). This seven part exam covers topic areas in construction documents, building systems and site planning.

Stage Four: Earning Professional Certification

Many architects choose to obtain NCARB certification voluntarily, which helps showcase their professional aptitude and may improve chances of obtaining reciprocal licensure from a state other than the one in which they practice. Licensed architects may apply for this certification by submitting proof of acceptable experience, ARE documentation and transcripts. Candidates may have to attend an interview or submit to additional testing before NCARB approves them for certification.

Stage Five: Maintaining Certification

Continuing education throughout their career will help architects stay abreast with industry trends and technological innovations and may be compulsory for the renewal of licensure in most states that prescribe a certain number of continued education hours to be completed annually or biennially. To pursue continued education, architects can seek admission to programs offered by NCARB; these include various options covering subject areas such as fire safety, energy-conscious architecture, and architectural acoustics.

Stage Six: Considering a Graduate Degree

Advanced education in graduate degree programs is pursued by many architects; these may take one to five years to complete, the duration will depend on the extent of the architectural education already undergo by a student. In August 2012, there were ninety-five Master of Architecture degree programs offered by schools in the united States that were accredited by the NAAB. These are particularly of interest to aspiring architect who hold a bachelor degree in unrelated majors. Post-professional degree courses are also offered at some schools. Such programs are not accredited, but may be mandatory for those seeking teaching, research and specialty positions. Specialized master or doctoral degrees often result from post-professional programs.

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