Just like everything else, there is no clear answer to that question. “It depends.” To keep this from becoming a fifteen thousand page document, I will attempt to describe what it takes to become an architect. I should clarify that this post will focus on what it will take to become an architect in Washington State, on this exact day, at this exact minute. The higher-ups that run the licensing board like to make “updates” every five minutes. If you can successfully navigate the tsunami of paperwork and gain an understanding of all the necessary steps, the board should give you an architecture license. For all the regulations and fine print, click here.
There are three basic “standard” routes that most people take. The “grad school route,” “pre-professional route,” and the “experience route.” All of these paths have some overlap such as NCARB and testing.
There are four ways you can go about becoming an architect in Washington State:
1) You can become licensed with only a high school diploma, but this requires 12 years of practice (and so many hoops to jump through that you should just completely forget that I even said that).
2) High school diploma plus an undergrad college degree. This will lead you on the “experience route.” You also have to do some additional steps that I have laid out below.
3) High school diploma plus pre-professional degree from an NAAB accredited school. This is the most streamlined option. This will lead you to the “pre-professional route.”
4) Finally there is high school plus undergrad plus grad school. This is the most standard route. This will lead you to the “grad school route.”
National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is an organization that keeps track of everything you do prior to becoming an architect. The biggest thing that they track is your Intern Development Program (IDP) hours. As an “intern” you are required to log 5,600 hours of supervised time under a licensed architect. Not all the hours need to be logged under a licensed architect, but most of the hours do. The hours are broken down into different categories such as construction documents, design, construction observation, structure and design development. The idea of this is to make sure the intern gets experience in all categories which helps prevent them from being pigeonholed into one task.
The IDP program really helps interns develop skills that are needed to become an architect in a controlled environment. This is roughly three years of full-time working. There is about 1,000 rules about logging hours. All the routes that are laid out above need to complete this at some point before getting licensed.
If you go the “experience route” (see #2 above), then you are required to have two years of additional mentorship under a licensed architect.
There are currently 7 tests that you have to pass in order to become an architect.
Programming, Planning, and Practice
Site Planning and Design
Building Design and Construction Systems
Constructions Documents and Services
These tests range from 4 to 6 hours each. The word on the street is that in 2016 the number of tests will be reduced from 7 tests to 6. If you go the “grad school route” or the “pre-professional route,” you can immediately start testing after graduation. If you go the “experience route,” you have to complete both NCARB and the mentorship before you can start testing.
Summary (Here’s the math)
(Undergrad School, 4 years) + (NCARB / IDP, 3-4 years) + (Mentorship, 2 years) + (7 Tests, 1-5 years) = Licensed Architect (10-15 years)
(NAAB Accredited School, 5 years) + (NCARB / IDP, 3-4 years) + (7 Tests, 1-5 years) = Licensed Architect (9-14 years)
“Grad School Route”
(Undergrad School, 4 years) + (Grad School, 2-3 years) + (NCARB / IDP, 3-4 years) + (7 Tests, 1-5 years) = Licensed Architect (10-16 years)
As for me, I went the “experience route” and I still have a ways to go. I have finished all my IDP hours and I am now working on the mentorship portion of this magical process. In about a year and a half I will be ready to start testing and I can’t wait until the day I become a licensed architect!
P.S. After you become a licensed architect you still have a requirement that needs to be fulfilled to maintain your license. Basically you are required to earn 24 credits / hours of continuing education every two years.