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How to Get Your Professional Architect Licensing in California

Becoming an architect in California is hard work but can be an essential step in advancing your career. Here is a quick guide to becoming licensed in California.

Preparing for architecture licensure in California takes a significant amount of time, money, and effort. Many architects pursue multiple-state licensing to expand their practice's geographic footprint. This also provides them the mobility to pursue out-of-the-area opportunities.

Some industries are now in high demand for architectural work, such as healthcare and education. Real estate is limited, so repurposing, remodeling, and reinvestment in existing buildings have become big businesses. Converting them into green buildings is particularly in demand.

As a new architect, consider choosing a lower-level position while working on your long-term licensing goals, or one with fewer responsibilities. This not only provides the opportunity to participate in the IDP program, but it also offers opportunities to polish your skills.

Overview of Professional Architect Licensing

Licensing for professional architects in California is governed by CAB — the California Architects Board. They also regulate the legal practices for that profession.

NCARB — the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards — is equally essential in this process.

They provide:

  • A 3-year Intern Development Program (IDP) that verifies training
  • The Architect Registration Exam (ARE) that assesses skillsets
  • National accreditation for multi-state certification
  • Online management of your training credentials

The Job Search for Architects in California

Listed here are some of the top skills vital to your job search

  • Knowledge of Building Information Modeling (BIM) technologies and CADD (Computer-Aided Design and Drafting)
  • Communication and organization
  • Specialization in select markets, such as pre-design, design, facilities management, construction, or structures
  • Specialized knowledge in industrial/interior design, urban planning, structural engineering, or real estate development.

Overview of Licensing Eligibility

The California Architects Board considers three areas of each candidate's application:

  1. Experience
  2. Exam scores
  3. Education

If you hold a license from another state, Licensure by Reciprocity is available.

Steps to Getting Licensed in California

  • Create an NCARB Council Record
  • Learn about what the NCARB and the licensing process requires
  • 5 years of California Architects Board (CAB) credits
  • 8 years for the California Supplemental Examination (CSE)

The required accredited education can be obtained through other means, such as undergraduate degrees, working under the direct supervision of a licensed architect. You can also use international education and work experience.

Participation in the Intern Development Program (IDP)

Participation in the NCARB IDP, or the Intern Development Program, as an architect intern is the next step.

  • You must meet the training requirements of the IDP. This includes having a job that satisfies these requirements. The California Architects Board has assembled a database of participating firms that you may find helpful.
  • A total of 5,600 training hours are required to comply with IDP requirements. It takes approximately 2.5 years to complete. If you were under the supervision of a non-registered architect in the US or Canada, only 1,860 training hours can apply to the IDP required hours obligation.
  • NCARB will build and maintain your experience on their Electronic Experience Verification Reporting system (e-EVR), where you can create, submit, and track records.

The Architect Registration Exam (ARE)

NCARB manages the Architect Registration Exam (ARE). However, the application to take the exam is through the California Architects Board. You can take the ARE if you have 5 years of the required work experience or education and you are enrolled in an IDP program.

The test is made up of these 7 divisions, including:

  • 5.5 HRS: Building Design and Construction Systems
  • 4 HRS: Building Systems 
  • 4 HRS: Programming Planning and Practice
  • 4.5 HRS: Site Planning/Design 
  • 5.5 HRS: Structural Systems

 The California Supplemental Exam (CSE)

The CSE exam is a computer-based test that focuses on California-based practices. The exam takes about 1.5 hours to complete.

To qualify for the CSE, you need:

  • An additional year of work under the direct supervision of a US licensed architect
  • Completion of the ARE within the past five years
  • Completion of the IDP

The test covers the following areas:

  • California State Laws, Code, Regulations, and Standards
  • Construction
  • Context and Pre-Design
  • Management and Design
  • Other Laws, Codes, Regulations, Standards, Agencies, and Entitlements
  • Regulatory Considerations

For a complete list of all areas to be tested, please refer to the CSE homepage.

Licensure Maintenance

Your California architect license must be renewed every two years. It expires on the last day of your birth month at midnight in odd-numbered years. Renewal notices are sent out approximately 60 days before your license's expiration.

NCARB Certification

NCARB Certification is held in high esteem in the US. Most architects seek this certification once they are well-established as a Licensed Professional Architect in one or more US states. For foreign-educated professionals, this is handled through the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect (BEFA) Program.

Increasing Your Chances for Success

Taking these steps can help you build your career further:

  • Build professional networks
  • Compile a portfolio of work that highlights your skills
  • Keep up with new technologies like CADD and drafting software
  • Work on your communication skills

DesignClass is creating Even once you have your license, you should never stop learning. Soft skills, leadership training, and knowledge of tangential industries — like real estate and interior design — will give you an advantage. Start advancing your career by enrolling in our Design Class course, "Learn to Lead with Matthew Rosenberg," to learn core leadership principles.


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