All you need to know about becoming a licensed architect

Jun 13, 2019 · 8 minutes to read

Architect with business bluprint

From conceptualizing the design to construction, architects are involved in every aspect of the art and science of the building process. Apart from the aesthetics of the exterior and interior of a building, architects ensure it meets the legal, functional, and safety standards.

According to the NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards), which is a licensing and credentialing organization for architects, there is a growing demand for architects.

If you are considering a career in architecture and looking for information on how to be an architect in the US, it may help to know it’s the right time to pursue this profession as these statistics show:

  • With the US being one of the biggest construction markets in the world, both residential and commercial construction contributes more than $700 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Each year, structures worth $1.3 trillion are created in the US
  • Growth in certain non-residential construction sectors is estimated to be between 5.1 to 6.8 percent by 2020, according to Statista.
  • Job growth in the industry is projected to reach 7% by 2024

Here is a closer look at the educational qualifications, internship or training requirements, and the licensure requirements that are necessary to become an architect in the US.

How to Become an Architect in the United States

Architects Education

A professional degree in the form of Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) or a bachelor’s degree related to design and architecture is the minimum requirement to become an architect in any state. Many graduates go on to complete the Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) degree after their undergraduate program.

  • The Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) mandates 150 credit hours in the form of electives and professional studies.
  • To obtain the Master of Architecture (MArch) degree, 168 credit hours are the minimum requirement, out of which 30 credits are at the graduate level.
  • For the Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch.), 120 credit hours at the undergraduate level, in addition to 90 credit hours at the graduate level, are compulsory.

The professional degree should be obtained from a National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)-accredited program. The NAAB lists 123 schools that offer 152 accredited programs in architecture, and it is possible to do a school search by region to find a program close to your location.

Architects Training

Internship or training is the next logical step after education.  The NCARB has designed the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), which was earlier called the Internship Development Program (IDP). This is a structured internship program that helps students gain practical skills and knowledge under expert supervision.  Completing the internship is essential to obtain the license and offers aspiring architects the opportunity to work under and learn from a licensed, experienced architect.

Interns have to obtain 5,600 experience hours in specified seventeen different categories, including design, site analysis, programming, zoning requirements, project management, and contract negotiation. While the intern documents the experience hours, the supervisor reviews and signs the same.

To begin the architect training process, the first step is to establish the NCARB Record. This record is a detailed account of your experience, education, and examination maintained by the NCARB. This record is required to document AXP experience, apply for NCARB certificate, and to take up ARE (Architect Registration Examination). The record can be created on the NCARB website by creating an account and submitting the required information and transcripts.

Architect Certifications and Licenses

After completing the professional degree and the AXP, you need to take up the NCARB-administered Architect Registration Examination (ARE) in the state you wish to practice. The ARE has nine divisions, including multiple choice questions and graphical questions. These sections include:

  • Construction Documents and Services (CDS)
  • Site Planning and Design (SPD)
  • Programming, Planning and Practice (PPP)
  • Schematic Design (SD)
  • Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS)
  • Structural Systems (SS)
  • Building Systems (BS)

You can also obtain national certification from NCARB by providing your educational history, documentation with respect to passing ARE, professional references, and employment record. Certification, although not mandatory, makes it easier to apply for a license in different states across the US.

Architects are required to renew licensure on an annual or twice yearly basis by obtaining continuing education credits. Continuing education also helps architects stay with technology innovations and industry trends in the field. The NCARB provides an array of continuing education options in many fields, including energy-conscious design, architectural acoustics, and fire safety.


Membership in one or more professional associations not only helps bolster your credentials and looks great on the CV, but also provides immense networking opportunities. When you are new in the industry, memberships in associations are a pathway to obtaining valuable references and recommendations that helps you get hired or obtain clients if you are freelancing.

While there are many professional associations and organizations in the industry, you can do your research on each website to find out individual membership requirements and the cost. Some of the architecture associations in the US include:

  • American Architectural Foundation (AAF) is a non-profit association seeking to empower decision-makers to transform the natural and built environment through design.
  • American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) facilitates professional growth in design drafting community.
  • American Institute of Architects (AIA) is a well-known association in the US for licensed architects and allied professionals. The association facilitates networking and learning opportunities through its annual and regional conferences.
  • American Institute of Architectural Students (AIAS) represents architecture students from North America and across the world.
  • American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI) is focused on the development of the profession of architectural illustration.
  • Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) focuses on architectural education quality.
  • Association of Licensed Architects (ALA) is an open forum for all architects and allied professionals.

What Skills are Needed to Be an Architect?

Architects are concerned with both the science as well as the art of designing interiors and exteriors of buildings with careful consideration of functionality, aesthetics, environment, engineering, and geology. As buildings must be functional and safe, a comprehensive set of skills are required to be a professional in this field. Some of the important architect skills that are required to thrive in the industry include:

  • Math, engineering, and sciences competency: To design functional and safe buildings, it is crucial for you to be familiar with structural, civil, and material engineering. A background and aptitude in mathematics, physics, geometry, geology, and chemistry are important to be able to solve complex design challenges such as designing energy-efficient buildings or earthquake-resistant structures.
  • Design skills: The art of designing buildings is built on a strong foundation of familiarity with the history of architecture, design trends, creativity, and technical ability. You should be good at drawing and be passionate about design.
  • Computer literacy: Most designs are now done on the computer using software such as AutoCAD or other 3D design software. Artistic renderings, simulations, virtual reality are some of the computer-related architect skills that you need to master to be a successful architect.
  • Communication and coordination skills: As architects have to work with wide-ranging clients for residential or commercial projects, apart from dealing with construction personnel, engineers, and allied professionals, it is important to develop communication skills.
  • Legal knowledge: Architects need to have a comprehensive knowledge of local and federal building codes and laws. Fire safety regulations specify size and number of windows, for instance, while some laws do not allow building on flood zones or wetlands. 

Architect Responsibilities

Design architects focus on the style, function, and safety of new structures, while they may also be commissioned to design additions or alterations to existing structures. While they work as a part of a team of construction professionals, individual architect responsibilities may vary depending on the nature, size, and specifications of different projects. Some of the architect responsibilities include:

  • Controlling the construction project from concept to finish.
  • Consult with clients to identify their needs and the brief.
  • Providing design consultation and proposals with high-quality, functional, and innovative design that meets the client brief.
  • Develop feasible ideas keeping in mind environmental impact, building codes, safety, building’s usage, and the client’s aesthetic preferences and lifestyle.
  • Produce detailed blueprints, scaled drawing, computer-based simulations, or rendering and project specifications.
  • Adhere to timelines and budget.
  • Ensure specific building codes, construction standards, guidelines, and client specifications are met.
  • Make site visits to monitor progress and to report status.
  • Liaise with multiple construction professionals.

From design conceptualization to project completion, architects are expected to adhere to the highest standards of quality and efficiency. While you exercise the utmost caution as a qualified professional and strive to make the right decisions, there are times when omissions or errors can happen. A dissatisfied client could file a lawsuit for negligence, breach of confidence, faulty advice, poor quality of work, or project delay. Such lawsuits will not only place a financial burden on you and your practice but could end up damaging your reputation as well. Architect’s professional liability insurance is an integral element of the profession that protects you from risks that arise as a result of your negligence at work. The insurance covers the legal costs preventing colossal out-of-pocket expenses, which, in turn, helps safeguard your business.

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