Architect: What Is It and How to Become

Architect: What Is It and How to Become

Becoming an architect is an educational and fulfilling process that takes time, dedication, and strategic planning. This article covers the necessary steps to becoming a certified architect in the United States, as well as provides a summary of what the typical educational and professional journey looks like.

Architects are responsible for designing and managing the construction of buildings and urban designs. They play a crucial role in shaping our built environment, and their designs have a profound impact on our everyday lives. That’s why becoming an architect requires a strong passion for design, a deep understanding of architectural principles, and a desire to create spaces that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

To become an architect in the US, you’ll typically need to earn a professional degree in architecture, complete a period of practical experience, and pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). The most common degree for aspiring architects is a Master of Architecture (M.Arch), which takes around 2-3 years to complete after earning a pre-professional bachelor’s degree in architecture or a related field.

In addition to the educational requirements, most states also require architects to fulfill a certain amount of practical experience. This can be accomplished through working under the supervision of a licensed architect or participating in an internship program. The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) sets the standards for internship programs and ensures that students gain the necessary experience to become competent professionals.

After completing the required education and experience, aspiring architects must pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to become licensed. The ARE is a comprehensive examination that covers various aspects of architectural practice, including site planning and design, building systems, and construction documents, among others. Passing the ARE demonstrates a candidate’s ability to handle the complex tasks of an architect and ensures that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

Steps to Become an Architect

Step 1: Obtain a Pre-Professional or Professional Degree

Architects typically earn either a pre-professional or professional degree in architecture. A pre-professional degree would be a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Architecture, while a professional degree would be a Master of Architecture (M.Arch). These degrees can be earned through accredited architecture programs at universities or online.

Step 2: Gain Relevant Experience

After completing your educational programs, you’ll need to gain practical experience in the field of architecture. This is typically done through an internship or apprenticeship, where you’ll work directly with licensed architects on real architectural projects. The number of experience hours required varies by state and is tracked through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARBs).

Step 3: Pass the Architect Registration Examination

After you’ve gained enough experience, you’ll need to pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to become licensed. The ARE is a comprehensive exam that covers different areas of architectural design and requires a deep understanding of architectural regulations and codes. The exam is divided into several sections, and you’ll need to pass all sections to become licensed.

Step 4: Obtain a State License

Once you’ve successfully passed the ARE, you’ll need to obtain a state license to practice architecture. Each state has its own specific requirements for licensure, so it’s important to research the regulations in the state where you plan to work. Some states have additional requirements, such as the California Supplementary Examination (CSE).

Step 5: Build Your Architectural Career

Once you’ve completed all the necessary steps and earned your license, you’ll be ready to start your career as an architect. You can work for architectural firms, government agencies, or even start your own practice. It’s important to continue learning and developing your expertise in various areas of architecture to stay competitive in the field.


In summary, becoming an architect requires completing a pre-professional or professional degree, gaining relevant experience, passing the Architect Registration Examination, obtaining a state license, and strategically building your architectural career. By following these steps and meeting the necessary requirements, you’ll be on your way to becoming a successful architect.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture

There are several universities and colleges in California that offer Bachelor’s Degree programs in Architecture. These programs usually take around five years to complete and cover a variety of topics, including design, construction, and the history of architecture.

During your time in school, you’ll have the opportunity to work on real-world projects in a studio setting. This hands-on experience will help you develop the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in the field of architecture.

Once you’ve earned your Bachelor’s Degree, you’ll still need to complete a few more steps before becoming a licensed architect in California. This includes passing the California Supplemental Examination (CSE), which is administered by the California Architects Board. You’ll also need to gain work experience through an apprenticeship or internship and take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

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After completing these requirements, you’ll be eligible to apply for your architectural license in California. With this license, you’ll have the authority to oversee the design and construction of buildings and ensure that they meet all necessary codes and regulations set by local authorities.

According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the average salary for architects in California is higher than the national average. This means that earning your Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture and becoming a licensed architect in California could set you up for a successful and financially rewarding career.

So if you’re passionate about design and would like to work in a field where you can make a positive impact on people’s lives and the environment, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture is a strategically sound choice. It will provide you with the necessary education and training to excel in the architecture industry.

Not only will you have the opportunity to design and build beautiful and functional structures, but you’ll also have the chance to work on urban planning projects, airport designs, and more. The role of an architect is diverse and offers plenty of room for growth and professional development.

So if you’re ready to start your journey towards becoming an architect, consider earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. With the right skills, education, and experience, you can make a difference in the world through the power of design and innovation.

In summary, here’s what you need to do to become an architect in California:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from an accredited program
  2. Pass the California Supplemental Examination (CSE)
  3. Gain work experience through an apprenticeship or internship
  4. Take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)
  5. Apply for your architectural license

Gain Work Experience through Internships

Internships can take place within architectural firms, construction companies, or even government agencies. These opportunities expose interns to various types of projects and help them develop a deeper understanding of the different aspects of architecture. By working alongside experienced architects and professionals in related fields such as engineering and urban planning, interns can learn how to collaborate effectively in multidisciplinary teams.

Types of Internships

There are two main types of internships that aspiring architects can pursue: paid and unpaid internships. Paid internships typically offer monetary compensation for the work completed. Unpaid internships, on the other hand, provide valuable experience but do not offer financial compensation.

Both types of internships have their advantages. Paid internships can help students cover their living expenses and may lead to a higher starting salary when they enter the workforce. Unpaid internships, while not offering monetary compensation, provide students with the opportunity to work with renowned architects and gain prestigious projects for their portfolios.

How to Secure an Internship

To secure an internship, aspiring architects should start by contacting local architectural firms and construction companies. They can also look for internship opportunities through professional organizations such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) or the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

Internship Requirements

The requirements for internships vary depending on the state and the architecture board regulations. In some states, such as California, interns must complete at least 5,600 hours of work experience over a three-year apprenticeship before becoming eligible to take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

Other states may have different requirements, but in general, interns need to work under the supervision of a licensed architect for a specific number of hours. The intern’s work must fulfill the criteria set by the state architecture board and cover various areas such as design, project management, and building codes.

It is important for interns to understand and comply with the internship requirements in their respective states to ensure they are eligible for licensure as a professional architect in the future.

In summary, gaining work experience through internships is an essential step in becoming an architect. Internships provide aspiring architects with the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals, work on real projects, and build their professional network. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and securing one requires applicants to have a strong resume and portfolio, as well as demonstrate excellent communication skills and a willingness to learn. Meeting internship requirements set by state architecture boards is crucial for interns looking to become licensed architects in the future.

Obtain a Master’s Degree in Architecture

The average time it takes to complete a Master’s degree in architecture is around 3 years, although there are some online programs that can be completed in a shorter time frame. The coursework covers a range of topics like architectural history, design principles, building technology, and professional practice.

Students in a Master’s program will typically work on various studio projects, which allow them to apply their skills and knowledge to real-world scenarios. These projects may involve designing residential or commercial buildings, urban planning, or even sustainable architecture.

Upon successfully completing the Master’s program, aspiring architects may need to pass a certification exam to become licensed architects. The licensing process varies from state to state, but it usually involves passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which is administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

In some states, like California, candidates also need to supplement their education and pass the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) to become certified architects. These additional exams ensure that architects have the necessary knowledge and skills to work within the local regulatory authorities.

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Obtaining a Master’s degree in architecture not only provides the necessary education and training to become an architect but also opens up opportunities for higher salaries and more advanced roles within the architectural profession. According to statistics, architects with a Master’s degree tend to earn more than those with only a Bachelor’s degree.

Furthermore, a Master’s degree also allows architects to specialize in certain areas like urban design, healthcare architecture, or sustainable design. This specialization can lead to more focused and fulfilling work, as well as increased demand for their expertise.

In addition to the educational benefits, completing a Master’s degree in architecture also allows aspiring architects to develop strong connections with their peers and faculty members. These connections can be valuable for networking and finding job opportunities, especially within the architecture and engineering industries.

Ultimately, obtaining a Master’s degree in architecture is a significant step towards becoming a certified architect. It provides the necessary education, skills, and credentials to excel in the field and ensures a smooth transition into the professional world of architecture.

Become Licensed as an Architect

Educational Requirements

Before becoming an architect, you’ll need to obtain a professional degree in architecture. Most architecture programs in universities last for 5 years and cover a wide range of topics related to architecture. These programs help candidates master both the necessary technical skills and the creative aspects of the profession.

Work Experience

After completing their educational requirements, aspiring architects typically need to gain practical experience. This usually takes the form of an internship or an apprenticeship. The required duration of work experience varies by state, but it typically takes around 3 years to complete.

Architect Registration Examination (ARE)

Passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) is an essential step towards becoming a licensed architect. This exam consists of multiple divisions covering different areas of architectural practice. The ARE assesses candidates’ knowledge and skills in areas such as project management, building systems, and architectural design. It is typically completed over a span of 2-3 years.

Licensure and Continuing Education

Once you have completed the educational requirements, fulfilled the work experience, and passed the ARE, you can apply for licensure as an architect. Each state has its own specific requirements for licensure, but most states require candidates to pass the ARE and fulfill certain educational and experience criteria. After earning your license, you are legally able to call yourself an architect and oversee architectural projects.

It’s important to note that licensure is an ongoing process. Architects are typically required to fulfill continuing education requirements to maintain and improve their professional expertise. This is necessary to stay up-to-date with new technologies, building codes, and design trends.

In summary, becoming a licensed architect takes time, dedication, and hard work. It requires completing the necessary educational requirements, gaining practical work experience, passing the ARE, and maintaining ongoing professional development. But the fulfillment and satisfaction that come from creating and delivering impactful architectural projects make the journey worthwhile.

Continuously Develop Skills and Stay Updated

1. Education and Examination

Obtaining the necessary education and passing the required examinations are essential steps in becoming a licensed architect. Most states require candidates to have a professional degree in architecture from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). This typically takes around 5 years to complete. After completing your education, you’ll need to pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to become a licensed architect.

2. Apprenticeship or Internship

After earning a degree and passing the ARE, you can gain practical experience through an apprenticeship or internship. Working under the supervision of experienced architects will provide you with valuable hands-on experience and allow you to develop your skills further. Many architecture firms offer apprenticeship or internship programs for students and entry-level professionals.

3. Continuing Education

Even after you become a licensed architect, continuing education is essential to stay updated with the latest advancements in the field. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) requires architects to earn continuing education credits to maintain their registration. This can be done through various types of programs, including online courses, seminars, and workshops.

Continuing education allows architects to stay informed about new technologies, building codes, and best practices in project management and design. It also provides opportunities to network with other professionals in the industry.

4. Supplemental Skills

While a strong foundation in architecture is important, supplementing your skills with knowledge in related areas can set you apart as an architect. This could involve learning about sustainable design principles, interior design, construction management, or engineering. Having a diverse skillset allows architects to take on a wider range of projects and deliver excellent results.

By continuously developing your skills and staying updated, you’ll be able to thrive in the architecture profession. Whether you’re working in a studio or managing your own projects, staying on top of new developments will ensure your designs are innovative and meet the needs of clients.


What is the NCARB Certificate?

The NCARB Certificate is a credential that signifies an architect’s ability to practice architecture independently in the United States.

What are the requirements to obtain the NCARB Certificate?

To obtain the NCARB Certificate, one must hold a professional degree in architecture from an accredited program, complete the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), and pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

How long does it take to complete the Architectural Experience Program?

The length of time it takes to complete the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) varies depending on the individual and the jurisdiction requirements. On average, it takes about three years to complete.

What is the role of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) in the architectural profession?

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is an organization that provides standards and services for the regulation of the architectural profession. It develops and administers the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) and grants the NCARB Certificate to qualified architects.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.