How to Become a Licensed Architect in the US?

Hi everyone,


I have received questions from many people on this topic, so I thought that my next article should be about “how to become a licensed architect in the US?”


Before I begin to talk about becoming a licensed architect, I would like to stress that holding a bachelor’s and even a master’s degree would not be enough to become a licensed architect in the US. After many years of training including pursuing a bachelor’s and even a master’s degree in architecture, an adventure that takes at least 3 years must be completed.


Let me talk about what procedures or steps that you must go through by headlining and explaining them in depth.


First of all, as you expect, you need to take an architectural education in order to become a licensed architect. Well, what kind of architectural education am I talking about? On the way to becoming a licensed architect in the United States, the education systems vary across the universities, and I think it would be a good idea to group them into 3 categories.


Let me, first, explain what these systems are.

Architecture undergraduate education systems in the US: 

As I mentioned above, architectural undergraduate education systems in the US vary across universities and three different paths can be followed in this becoming an architecture adventure.


1: 4 + 2 system.

The first system I want to talk about is the 4 + 2 system. This is a system that starts with four years of architectural education and at graduation, you will be granted;


– Bachelor of Science in Architecture or Bachelor of Arts in Architecture.

Unfortunately, after getting your bachelor’s degree, contrary to what we have in Turkey, you can’t just go to AIA (American Institute of Architects), say hello, and register as an architect. Too bad, isn’t it? But, if you think about it, you can answer it.


Let’s continue;

After 4 years of architectural education in the United States, as it is considered that this time period is not enough to get an architectural degree, you need to complete a master’s degree recognized by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) for at least 2 years.

When you complete this 4 + 2 educational program, you will have only fulfilled the required educational criteria for becoming a licensed architect in the US.


2: 5-year Undergraduate education system.

The 5-year education system is another educational system that you can pursue as your undergraduate education. Universities in the US can offer different systems for different reasons. Whether a university in the USA offers 5 years or 4 + 2 depends on the university. For example, Ball State University, where I pursued my undergraduate degree, had offered a 4 + 2 system at the time of my study, but last year I heard that they began to follow a 5-year system. To underscore, there are no very specific substances that all universities must follow.


Let’s continue,

When you complete architectural education in the US as a 5-year architectural undergraduate education program, you do not need to study another 2-year graduate education as it does in the 4 + 2 system, and you will be counted as having completed the education required by NAAB to obtain an architectural license.


3: 4 + 3 system.

This system is slightly different from the first two systems that I just described above because it is for those who have not completed their undergraduate education in an architecture program. Individuals who take this education system may have completed their undergraduate education in any other field, (they do not necessarily have to get a degree in the art). It can be any undergraduate education field, educational literature, history, Greek language, literature, etc., whatever you can think of.


NAAB requires those to complete a master’s degree for 3 years in the universities recognized by NAAB, and it will provide the educational requirements that NAAB asks for becoming a licensed architect.


We have just explained 3 different educational systems to become a licensed architect. However, having completed the necessary education is not enough for you to get the authorization to stamp as an architect.


What should be done after completing the education?


Let me explain,

After having the required educational conditions, we will talk about having the “work experience” required to become a licensed architect.

– In short, there are 54 “jurisdictions” or “State Licensing Boards”, in the US.

– In Turkish, these are the institutions that have the right to give architectural licenses that are valid across all regions of Turkey but in the US all states have their own rules and obligations.

– In order to get authorized to sign as an architect, it is necessary to get your license from one of these institutions.

– In which state you are licensed; you only have the right to sign the architecture in that state. Thus, you must also obtain your license for each state. The requirements in California to obtain this license may differ in Indiana. You may think that you are not an architect in Ankara by studying architecture and getting a license in İzmir.


Required work experience to become a licensed architecture:


As mentioned above, after completing your educational requirement, you need to have “work experience” and as you may guess, the duration of this work experience varies across the states but they are very close to each other.


Since I have more information about the regulations in California, I will talk about the word experience required in the state of California. The length of required work experience to become a licensed architect is 3740 hours.


Before continuing in this matter, we should talk about another organization, named the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). The system of work experience that we have to complete is the AXP (Architecture Experience Program) system created by NCARB. AXP is a training program designed for individuals who are on their way to having the architectural work experience and skills needed to become an architect.


Therefore, you have to work at an architecture company and complete the required working time (3740 hours for California) of the state you want to get the license. But let me be clear that just working 8:00 am through 5:00 pm does not help you get the required work experience. The AXP program created by NCARB is divided into categories and each category has its required hours to complete.


Below are those categories and time requirements;

– Practice Management – 160 hours

– Project Management – 360 hours

– Programming & Analysis – 260 hours

– Project Planning & Design – 1,080 hours

– Project Development & Documentation – 1,520 hours

– Construction & Evaluation – 360 hours

In other words, a total of 3740 hours corresponds to 3 years.


You fill in the forms on NCARB’s website specifying how many hours you work and submit them to your supervisor for approval. Your “supervisor” can be any licensed architect at the company you work. When this person confirms your hours, the time periods you work are processed.


And perhaps the most difficult step, Architect Registration Examination (ARE):

The final step you need to take in order to obtain your architecture signature authority is to pass the Architects Registration Exam.

The name of this exam in the United States is the Architects Registration Exam, abbreviated as ARE. So, what is ARE?


Let me briefly describe the content of the ARE exam;


– ARE exam consists of six independent parts and you can choose the order you want to take. The basic concept of this exam is on the scope of how an architect project works and the process in general. Questions can be in any form, filling in the gap, multiple-choice, or both.

Currently, the test of ARE is called ARE 5.0, previous ones were ARE 3.0, ARE 3.1, and ARE 4.0. 


As you guess, to become an architect in the US, it is necessary to go through a long-term and difficult stage.


A few personal thoughts;


If you ask me, I wish we were going through a similar process to become an architect in Turkey. The word “architect” has been defined in different ways by philosophers, artists, and the public who have been influenced by different trends and have different perspectives. However, there is a common definition that the meaning of architecture remains the same. It refers to people who are fully responsible for the security of the buildings, design them, and are educated in this field.

It takes a long time to learn to build, how to put together materials in different structures, and to keep them intact. How can a person be called an architect without learning it?


So, I leave you this question and hope that you enjoy this article and answer some of your questions.

Please leave a comment with your questions and comments.

I hope we can make the Archipedy a place where we can be more active and share information with each other.


See you in our next article.


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