Earning your Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) degree – one of the highest paying master’s degrees – is one of several important steps to becoming an architect. Beyond just getting a degree, you need to meet numerous requirements to obtain professional licensure from your state. You may also choose to pursue an optional certificate from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), which offers additional benefits if you want to relocate or aspire to move up in your career.
State-Issued Professional Licensure
A license to practice architecture, issued by your state, is more integral to your career path than any optional form of certification in the field. Without a license, you cannot work as a full-fledged architect, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. In fact, you can’t legally call yourself an architect unless you obtain a license. Instead, you would have to settle for job titles and responsibilities such as drafter or designer – and even then, you have to be careful to avoid violating laws that exist in many states that require designers to be licensed if they want to refer to themselves as “interior designers.” Until you get your license, your career in architecture is generally limited to working in paid internship experiences that are required to obtain a license.
Because licensure is awarded by the state government, each state has the authority to set its own licensure requirements. However, what you generally need to become an architect is a combination of formal education, professional internship experience and a passing score on an exam, the NCARB reported. If you have earned your M.Arch. from a program of study accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, then you have already met the education component in most states. You can also meet education eligibility requirements by earning the undergraduate-level professional architecture degree, the Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.).
Next comes the experience requirement, in the form of the NCARB’s Architectural Experience Program, or AXP. You need considerable work experience to qualify for an architect license, with most states requiring a three-year internship, according to the BLS. More specifically, the AXP identifies 96 different tasks in six distinct practice areas in which aspiring architects must complete a total of 3,740 hours of experience requirements. Those six areas encompass project management, practice management, project planning and design, programming and analysis, construction and evaluation and product development and documentation. Graduates of a B.Arch. or M.Arch. program complete these requirements as part of a paid internship.
Finally, you must take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to get your architect’s license. The ARE exam content is divided across six sections that reflect the practice areas that make up an architecture intern’s experience requirements. Applicants for licensure must pass all six sections of the exam.
Becoming a licensed architect takes a lot of time, but in 2015, the NCARB developed the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL). Under IPAL, architecture students can start toward completing their AXP requirements and ARE testing.
National Council of Architectural Registration Boards Certificate
Even after you do all the work to get licensed as an architect, you may also want to earn your NCARB Certificate. This is an optional credential, but having it next to your name can add to your professional credibility – especially when you’re looking at leadership roles in architecture. Perhaps even more importantly, having the NCARB Certificate frees you up to work anywhere in the United States. All of the 55 states and territories recognized as jurisdictions in the U.S. offer reciprocity to architects with the NCARB Certificate, so you can move without worrying whether you will be able to get licensed in your new state.
Instead of taking a new professional exam or meeting additional education or experience requirements, application for the NCARB Certificate takes the form of a record evaluation. If you were able to get your architect’s license, then you should be able to receive the NCARB Certificate, which essentially evaluates your documentation of your education, experience, exam scores and licensure status.
Having your NCARB Certificate can help you maintain your licensure status. Most states have continuing education requirements in place to keep your license in good standing, and architects with the NCARB Certificate are eligible for free continuing education courses.