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How to Become a Licensed Architect in the U.S.?

The process of starting your career as a professionally licensed architect in the United States involves multiple steps. Here, we outline the things you need to do, to become qualified as: 

  • A practicing architect in the state you live in. 
  • An architect certified to work across the country. 

Step 1: Complete your academic study in architecture

Just as with other professional qualifications, you must complete your studies in architecture before you start working as an architect. The National Architectural Accrediting Board – which accredits all architecture courses in universities in the US – recognizes Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate courses. 

You can either just complete the 5-year undergraduate course and directly start your internship, or you can pursue your higher education. There is no mandatory requirement for master’s and Doctorate degrees. 

Step 2: Participate in an architecture internship 

The architecture internship is a mandatory requirement for licensing. But you don’t have to wait till you obtain your degree, to participate in an internship. You can start while you’re still studying. 

There is no prescribed rule stating the nature of the internship you need to complete. It can be either part-time or full-time, but you must have a minimum 3-years internship experience under your belt. 

It’s best that you do thorough research and intern at a firm that specializes in the type of architecture you want to practice once you’re licensed. This will add greater value to your experience. Most companies accept interns just before summer break starts. So, it’s important to reach out to the company and find out their hiring schedule and apply at the right time. 

Step 3: Enrol for the Architectural Experience Program™ (AXP™)

Upon completion of the architecture internship, you become eligible to participate in the Architectural Experience Program™ (AXP™). 

The AXP™ is a program run by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, which is made up of the state architecture boards of 50 American states. The program is designed to help aspiring architects gain experience in vital areas of architecture, especially those that they may not have had exposure to as interns. There are six categories that you must gain experience in, and each has a time stipulation. Overall, you will need to gain 3740 hours of practical experience as part of the AXP™ program. Of this, 1860 hours of experience must be gained under the tutelage of a licensed and experienced architect. For the remaining hours, you must gain practical experience individually, outside the firm you are interning/working with. 

Step 4: Take up the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®)

The Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) is the final licensing examination that you need to sit for, which tests all of the knowledge you have accumulated during the AXP™ program. 

Today, the NCARB follows the ARE® 5.0 examination format, which tests applicants’ knowledge in 6 key areas, starting with project management and all the way to construction & evaluation. Cumulatively, the ARE® 5.0 examination lasts for 21 hours and will take place over a period of many days. Because of the different difficulty levels of each of the six exams, you’ll have different pass rates for the ARE® 5.0 examination. Typically, the pass rate stands between 57% and 68% for the exams. 

Before you register for the ARE® 5.0, study your respective state’s requirements to see whether you fit the eligibility criteria for the examination. 

Step 5: Indemnify yourself against losses with Architect Liability Insurance and General Liability Insurance

Once you pass the ARE® 5.0 examination, you are officially licensed as an architect in the United States. Now you can begin your practice either with an architecture firm or as an independent professional. 

Before you start your practice, it’s a good idea for you to protect yourself from possible future lawsuits, reputation loss, and monetary loss, with adequate protection. 

Architect Liability Insurance (also called E&O insurance) is a type of insurance for architect that will indemnify you against any financial losses that you may face when a disgruntled or dissatisfied client initiates a legal claim against you after you provide them with advice or service. 

Another insurance that you need to take is General Liability Insurance. This insurance will protect you when your team or any third-party you hire, damages the client’s property or experiences physical harm themselves while the project is ongoing. 

Step 6: Apply for the reciprocal license if you wish to work in multiple jurisdictions 

According to US law, you cannot practice as an architect in multiple states, until you have the required licensing with you. So, when you pass the ARE® 5.0 examination, you receive a license to practice architecture only in the state you took up the exam in (you have the option of getting your record transmitted to another state where you wish to practice in, but you can’t simultaneously work in multiple states with a single license). 

To make it easy for architects to pursue cross-border opportunities, the NCARB has come up with a reciprocal licensing program. This program allows licensed architects to work in multiple jurisdictions in the United States and in other countries with whom the NCARB has a reciprocal licensing agreement with. 

There are a few eligibility requirements and procedures that you need to meet when applying for a reciprocal license. You can find out more information about the process by contacting your local NCARB office.

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