Simply put, architects design structures, including entire buildings, building additions, and bridges. Most architects are required to have a bachelor's degree plus licensure to practice architecture, which can only be obtained after gaining a sufficient amount of architectural experience. The U.S. is divided into 54 architectural jurisdictions, each of which has individual requirements, but the average amount of required experience is three years. Many architecture students begin gaining experience by completing internship programs while still in school.
“It is essential for someone wishing to become a licensed architect to have an immense knowledge of the construction process from beginning to end.
Matthew TinderManager of Media Relations for the American Institute of Architects
Getting Architectural Licensure and Certification
Architecture is not only about designing and overseeing the construction of structures that are cosmetically appealing, it's about functionality and safety. Any miscalculations made by the architect can result in disaster and possibly cost people their lives. One of the most essential steps in working toward licensure is gaining hands-on experience through internships. "Understanding design principles that are taught in the classroom [is] only a portion of the design and construction process," said Matthew Tinder, manager of media relations for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). "It is essential for someone wishing to become a licensed architect to have an immense knowledge of the construction process from beginning to end – from how projects are obtained to the implementation of the design plans through to the completion of the construction."
Earning a bachelor's degree from an accredited architectural program is the first step toward licensure. Most architecture firms will not hire you and most jurisdictions will not give you a license if your degree is not from an accredited program. Earning your degree will make you eligible to take the Architect Registration Examination, an assessment of a graduate's knowledge and skills that is required by all jurisdictions. Your next step is to gain architectural experience through internships and apprenticeships at architecture firms. This will allow you to learn, under the direction and supervision of licensed architects, how to apply the knowledge you gained in school.
Each jurisdiction regulates how many years of experience, and the extent of the experience, needed before being eligible to take the licensing exam. Passing the licensing exam, developed by your jurisdiction's architectural board, will allow you to practice architecture in your jurisdiction. Moving to another jurisdiction may require you to pass another examination.
The National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) offers the NCARB certification. This is not a required certification, but it can be very beneficial to your career. It shows that you have successfully met the extremely high standards of the NCARB, which can give you a competitive edge when applying for a job and help you to easily transition into a new jurisdiction. In addition to this, it allows you to receive discounts on continuing education, which is required to maintain your license.
Maintaining Architectural Licensure
Architects are required to complete a certain amount of continuing education hours, in most jurisdictions, to make sure they become familiar with new regulations, laws, techniques, and any advancements in design, material, or safety. "Architects are expected to know the latest building technologies," said Tinder. "Continuing education classes ensure architects have the most current information." This will not only keep your skills sharp, it will allow you to renew your license and continue practicing architecture in your jurisdiction.
Each of the jurisdictions requiring continuing education has its own set of requirements. The NCARB provides a list of requirements per jurisdiction that shows how many credit hours are required and how often they need to be completed. These requirements are subject to change, but your jurisdiction's architectural board will be able to provide you with the specifics of these requirements.
"Most states' mandatory continuing education requirements focus on health, safety, [and] welfare content, with hours varying from four to 12 each year," said Tinder. Many architecture associations and accredited architectural schools offer these necessary continuing education courses online, which will allow you to complete your credit hours around your schedule, without having to find time to attend a traditional classroom. "The AIA has seen a big increase in online learning opportunities and participation. In 2009, 25% of AIA member learning was online, and [in 2010] it increased to 34%," said Tinder. "This growth is evidence that AIA members recognize the flexibility that comes with online education."
Currently, in the state of New York, architects are only permitted to take half of their required continuing education courses online; the other half must be completed in a physical classroom. However, the New York State Board for Architecture may be revising this in the near future. "The State Board for Architecture is examining online continuing education and our policies regarding it," said Robert Lopez, the executive secretary of the New York State Board of Architecture and New York State Board of Landscape Architecture. "We are considering an increase in the allowed amount of online continuing education in order to make learning easier for our architects through the flexibility of online education."