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Become an Interior Architect: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become an interior architect. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career as an interior architect.

Do I Want to Be an Interior Architect?

In your work as an interior architect, you'll prepare drawings of interior spaces, and you might even design the furniture that will be used in those spaces. You might work for an architectural firm or another company that designs hospitals, offices, homes or schools; you could also go into business for yourself. In any field of architecture, you'll spend additional time meeting with clients and checking in on construction sites. You might encounter some long days when you're trying to meet a deadline.

Job Requirements

Although the work of interior architects sometimes overlaps with that of interior designers, the fields are not the same. In all states, interior architects must be licensed as architects, while certification or licensure for interior designers is only required in some states. You'll need a professional degree and experience to become a licensed architect. The chart below covers the basic skills, training and licensure necessary to work as an interior architect:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Professional architecture degree from an accredited school, commonly a 5-year bachelor's degree or a master's degree*
Degree Field Architecture*
Licensure/Certification All states require architects to be licensed; certification is voluntary*
Experience A 1-3 year internship is usually required prior to licensure*; some employers prefer candidates with 5-10 years of experience***
Key Skills Visualization, analytical, critical-thinking, communication and organizational skills*; knowledge of engineering, technology, public safety, building and construction**
Computer Skills Able to use computer-aided design, query, photo editing, graphics, document management and project management software programs**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **O*NET OnLine, ***CareerBuilder.com job postings (November 2012).

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's or Master's Degree

All states require architects to be licensed. To become licensed, an individual must graduate from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Bachelor's and master's degree programs in interior architecture are available; however, these programs are usually not accredited by NAAB, and therefore can't prepare an individual for licensure.

Accredited bachelor's degree programs in architecture are commonly offered as a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) and last five years. Topics of study might include urban design, technology, interior architecture, physics, architectural math and the history of architecture. The curriculum of these programs often includes both lectures and design studios.

Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) programs require 1-2 years of study and are usually designed for students who possess a bachelor's degree in a field other than architecture. These programs might address environmental systems, computer-aided design and drafting, urban determinants and methods of construction. Instruction is often delivered through lectures and design studios. Some M.Arch. programs are combined with B.Arch. programs; these generally last 5-6 years.

Success Tip:

  • Complete courses related to interior architecture. Students who plan to work as interior architects often can choose electives related to this specialty. These courses might explore topics like lighting or building materials.

Step 2: Complete an Internship

Most states require that applicants for architect licensure have completed the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) Intern Development Program (IDP). This program mandates completion of a 5,600-hour paid internship.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). The NCARB offers study guides and practice exams to individuals intending to take the ARE. These materials might help an individual pass the ARE on his or her first try.

Step 3: Pass the Architect Registration Exam

Most states require that aspiring architects pass NCARB's ARE to become licensed. This exam can only be taken after an individual has completed the internship requirement. It consists of seven areas, including site planning and design, building systems and schematic design. Continuing education is required to renew architecture licensure. Depending on the state, renewal might be annual or biennial.

Step 4: Earn Professional Certification

Architects can apply for voluntary NCARB certification once they've earned state licensure. In addition to holding a license, candidates must have completed an NAAB-accredited bachelor's or master's degree program and the IDP and passed the ARE. NCARB certification must be renewed annually. The BLS notes that certification may ease the transition of licensing across states.

Architects with 'green' construction or design experience also might pursue one of the multiple Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications available through the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED credentials must be renewed every two years by completing 15 hours of continuing education.

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