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How to become an Architect in the USA

Becoming an architect is a dream for hundreds of thousands of students & professionals. So what does it actually take to become licensed?

Each of the 50 states in the USA along with the DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have an independent architecture board that is responsible for approving Licensed Architects in the USA. Broadly speaking however, becoming an architect involves 3 major steps:

  • Earning a degree
  • Gaining the required professional experience
  • Passing the Licensure Exam, the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) 

Earning a degree 

The first step towards becoming a Licensed Architect is to obtain a degree in Architecture from an Institution which is accredited by the “National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)”. These degrees could either be

  • B.Arch (A 5 year undergraduate degree in architecture)
  • M.Arch (A 2-3 year post-college master's program)
  • D.Arch (A 3-4 year Doctorate of Architecture program after Bachelors or Masters in Architecture)

Side note: While 4-year bachelor programs such as Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts in architecture are available, they usually are not nationally accredited and will likely require an additional Master's Degree in Architecture.

Gaining the required professional experience 

After earning a suitable degree, the candidate must complete the mandatory 3,740 experience hours in a training period known as the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). The AXP includes 96 tasks which are performed in 6 distinct experience areas.

The AXP is a tool created by NCARB to earn, document and report real world experience. To learn more about the Architectural Experience Program Guidelines, please click here.

What is NCARB?

National Council of Architectural Registration Boards or NCARB is a nonprofit corporation comprising architectural registration boards of all 55 jurisdictions. While each jurisdiction is responsible for regulating the practice of architecture within its borders, NCARB develops and administers national programs for candidates and helps architects expand their professional reach through the NCARB Certificate. You can learn more about the role of NCARB here.

You are eligible to participate in the AXP while still in college, the only minimum requirement is that you must have successfully earned a high school diploma or an established equivalent. 

6 Experience Categories of the AXP

  • Practice Management (160 Hours)
  • Project Management (360 Hours)
  • Programming & Analysis (260 Hours)
  • Project Planning & Design (1,080 Hours)
  • Project Development & Documentation (1,520 Hours)
  • Construction & Evaluation (360 Hours)

(Source: NCARB)

These 3,740 experience hours fall under one of two experience settings:

  • setting A (Work performed for an architecture firm)
  • setting O (Experiences that can be gained outside an architecture firm.)

The minimum hours needed for setting A is 1,860 hours. There is no maximum limit to the number of hours that can be earned in setting A. This means that a candidate must spend a minimum of 1,860 hours working in an architectural firm.

In contrast to the mandatory requirements of setting A, setting O is an optional experience for individuals not currently working for an architecture firm. While some of these experiences may require employment, others do not. Below is a table with greater details regarding setting O.

There is no minimum number of hours required for setting O, although many of the opportunities have a maximum limit. (Source: NCARB).

Opportunity Must I be employed? Approved by Focus Areas Hours
Other Work Experience Under Licensed Professionals See employment requirements AXP Supervisor Any AXP experience area Up to 1,860 hours
Design or Construction Related Employment See employment requirements AXP Supervisor Any AXP experience area Up to 320 hours
Community-Based Design Center/Collaborative Yes “Designated" AXP Supervisor Any AXP experience area Up to 320 hours
CSI Certification: CCCA Yes NCARB Construction & Evaluation 40 hours
CSI Certification: CCS Yes NCARB Project Planning & Design 40 hours
Design Competitions Yes Mentor Any AXP experience area Up to 320 hours
NCARB's Professional Conduct CE Series Yes NCARB Practice Management Up to 10 hours
Site Visit With Mentor Yes Mentor Construction & Evaluation Up to 40 hours
Construction Work Yes AXP Supervisor Construction & Evaluation Up to 320 hours
AIA Continuing Education for HSW Yes NCARB Any AXP experience area Up to 20 hours per area

Passing the Licensure Exam, the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) 

The Architect Registration Examination consists of 6 divisions. Passing the ARE is a mandatory condition in all US jurisdictions to earn a licence. The current version of the exam is known as the “ARE 5.0” and is developed by NCARB. 

The ARE is composed of 6 divisions that focus on different stages of a project and the expertise needed by the architect to be successful in each stage.

The 6 divisions of the ARE

  • Practice Management (PcM)
  • Project Management (PjM)
  • Programming & Analysis (PA)
  • Project Planning & Design (PPD)
  • Project Development & Documentation (PDD)
  • Construction & Évaluation (CE)

Every division consists of a variety of questions including multiple-choice, fill in the blank, hot-spot questions, and case studies. NCARB has created a great guidelines document that explains the basics of the ARE, check it out here.

If you’re already studying for the ARE, DesignClass is currently working on a fun & interactive way to study for the ARE, check it out.

Eligibility for the ARE 

In order to take the ARE, you must establish an NCARB record by filling out an online application at Next, you must meet the ARE eligibility requirements of the board of architecture in your relevant jurisdiction.

To begin taking the ARE, you must request eligibility via your NCARB Record. The relevant board of architecture will then deem if you eligible and will establish your eligibility information in your NCARB Record.

A passing grade for any division of the ARE is only valid for an initial period of five years plus any extensions granted under the rolling clock extension policy, after which time the division will expire unless you have completed the ARE. (Each jurisdiction may have its own retake limit/exam validity time frame, therefore you must be aware of the rules and policies of your relevant jurisdiction. (Source: NCARB)

Scheduling/Taking the ARE 

Once you are eligible  to take the ARE, you may schedule the exam. The division(s) which the candidate is eligible to take are indicated in their NCARB Record. Candidates may take any division of the ARE at any time, and in any sequence they choose. Below is another handy table which shows the breakup of various divisions.

Practice Management 65 2 hr 40 min 30 min 3 hr 20 min
Project Management 75 3 hr 30 min 3 hr 40 min
Programming & Analysis 75 3 hr 30 min 3 hr 40 min
Project Planning & Design 100 4 hr 5 min 45 min 5 hr
Project Development & Documentation 100 4 hr 5 min 45 min 5 hr
Construction & Evaluation 75 3 hr 30 min 3 hr 40 min
TOTAL TIME: 19 hr 50 min 24 hr 20 min

More information about the Architect Registration Examination can be found here.

After passing the the ARE 

After passing the ARE, candidates are eligible to submit an application for initial licensure. The role of different jurisdictions becomes much more apparent at this stage as each jurisdiction has their own sets of requirements/prerequisites which must be met before a license is issued. These requirements can be reviewed here.

Once the candidate has met all the requirements in their jurisdiction, they can apply for a license from their relevant state board of architecture.

It is worth noting that candidates can become licensed in multiple states simultaneously. Furthermore, only licensed architects can use “R.A.” (registered architect) after their names.


Becoming an architect takes years of rigorous training and education. The beauty of architecture is that it is a creative, diverse and ever changing subject that provides a huge array of opportunities and avenues to explore. Architects carry the huge responsibility for protecting the health and safety of the public but also creating environments of wellness, excitement, and community.

If you’re already studying for the ARE or planning on starting your journey soon, take a look at Remy & Ray’s Guide to the ARE. It is the most fun & interactive way to study for the ARE.

How to become an architect in the USAHow to become an architect in the USAHow to become an architect in the USAHow to become an architect in the USA
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