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How to Become an Architect: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an architect. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information and experience required for starting a career in architecture.

Do I Want to Be an Architect?

Architects design a wide variety of buildings and structures, including houses, hospitals, government buildings and more. Architects are concerned with functionality, safety, practicality, legal issues and aesthetics in a building's design. They often partake in every part of the building process - from conception to construction - to ensure a satisfactory result. Many work very long hours as deadlines approach.

Job Requirements

Becoming an architect usually requires earning a 5-year bachelor's degree, completing an internship and obtaining state licensure. The following table outlines common requirements to become an architect:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard, typically a 5-year professional bachelor's degree is required; a master's degree may expand career opportunities*
Degree Field Architecture
Experience About 3 years of training before sitting for licensure*; 5,600 hours of training through the Intern Development Program (IDP)**
Licensure and Certification A state-issued license is required, though requirements vary between states; voluntary certifications are available*
Key Skills Strong communication and analytical skills, critical-thinking and organizational skills, visualization skills, creativity*
Computer Skills Proficiency in computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) software*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **National Council of Architectural Registration Boards

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

State architecture boards determine the requirements for becoming an architect; however, most boards require completion of a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). In August 2012, the NAAB reported that there were 58 such programs available in the United States. Courses may include building systems and technology, project management, structural elements and environmental planning. According to the BLS, some states may not require the completion of an accredited program.

Success Tip

  • Participate in student competitions. A number of competitions are available to students pursuing degrees in architecture, including competitions hosted by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. These competitions challenge students to design innovative structures that comply with a theme, such as sustainability or creative use of steel. Participating in such competitions can provide an aspiring architect with experience to list on his or her resume, as well as valuable feedback on his or her design abilities.

Step 2: Attend an Internship Program

All states require that architects complete training or internship programs prior to obtaining licensure. Internships typically last three years and enable aspiring architects to gain hands-on experience under the supervision of licensed architects. Most states employ the Intern Development Program (IDP) administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the American Institute of Architects. Completion of the IDP entails 5,600 hours of state- and NCARB-approved work experience. This experience is divided into elective and core hours. The four main experience areas covered in the IDP are pre-design, design, project management and practice management. Interns will learn about a variety of topics, including schematic design, site and building analysis, zoning regulations and contract negotiation.

Step 3: Obtain State Licensure

Architects must hold licensure from the states in which they practice. While conditions for obtaining licensure vary, most states require completion of an approved bachelor's degree program and internship. Qualified applicants may sit for the NCARB's Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which is a 7-part pass-or-fail test covering topics in site planning, building systems and construction documents.

Step 4: Earn Professional Certification

Many architects opt to earn voluntary NCARB certification, which demonstrates professional aptitude and may make it easier to obtain reciprocal licensure from another state. This certification is available to licensed architects who submit transcripts, documentation of ARE passage and proof of acceptable experience. Candidates may be required to sit for an interview or additional testing before being approved for NCARB certification.

Step 5: Maintain Certification

License holders may have to renew licensure regularly by earning continuing education credits. Almost every state requires completion of a designated number of continuing education hours to be completed on an annual or biennial basis. Additionally, continuing education can help an architect stay current in industry trends and technological innovations related to the field. The NCARB offers licensed architects a wide variety of continuing education options covering advanced topics such as architectural acoustics, energy-conscious architecture and fire safety.

Step 6: Consider a Graduate Degree

Many architects pursue advanced education in master's degree programs, which may last 1-5 years depending on the students' previous architectural education. The NAAB had accredited 95 Master of Architecture degree programs in August 2012. Such degree programs may also be a viable option for students who are interested in a career in architecture and hold bachelor's degrees in unrelated fields. Additionally, some schools offer post-professional degree programs, which are not accredited by the NAAB but may be required for specialty, research or teaching positions. Post-professional programs often result in specialized master's or doctoral degrees.

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