From School to Full-Fledged Architect (Timeline Deep Dive)
Unlike most other professions, architects are among the few professionals requiring registration with a statutory body.
The requirements include passing the registration examination and fulfilling a host of other conditions before they are can legally be called Architects and practice professionally.
The regulation surrounding the registration is set by an Architects Board either at the state or national level, jurisdiction-dependent.
The official term used in your jurisdiction may differ – Architect, Licensed Architect, or Registered Architect – but the function that the title confers remains much the same.
For this post, we shall refer to it as the ‘Architect.’
How to Become an Architect?
The path to becoming an architect is long and requires hard work, perseverance, and continually developing many skills to succeed.
Undergraduate education in an architecture school typically takes between 5 to 6 years to complete after high school. Assuming you have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, you can begin accumulating the minimum required practical experience before having a go at passing the exam set by the Architects Board in your jurisdiction. You are looking at a minimum of 8 to 10 years from the end of high school to becoming a licensed Architect.
It is crucial to keep your eyes on the ball until you reach your professional goals in the shortest time possible.
How to become an architect involves a few paths. One of the following will be the better route for you to take, depending on where you are in your studies or career.
Path 1: High School > Undergraduate Professional Degree > Licensure
This path is the most straightforward that most architects go through.
Assuming you are not currently undertaking a high school-equivalent study program or an undergraduate degree in another field, Path 1 is probably your best chance of becoming an architect.
You minimize the number of additional hurdles you potentially have to overcome to obtain licensure.
This route to becoming an architect consists of:
- Graduating high school with a diploma, or the equivalence in your country of residence (such as the A-Level).
- Completing a Board-accredited professional Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture (typically takes 5 years)
- Fulfilling the requirements as set by the Architects Board, including passing the registration examination (typically a minimum of 2 to 3 years upon graduation with an accredited professional degree)
It also conforms to the path as prescribed (indirectly) by the Architects Boards via their list of accredited architectural programs worldwide.
In the United States, it would be the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB – source), while in the UK, it is the Architects Registration Board (ARB – source).
(The relevant Board in other countries are listed for your easy reference towards the end of the post.)
Consulting the primary source of information is your best bet to be sure of the path to becoming a licensed architect – as long as you also fulfill the other practical experience and documentation requirements as set by the Board.
Other Useful Tips
Although this path is the most straightforward amongst the ones written in this post, unexpected things can arise. And when they happen, be resourceful and find your way through.
- If you happen to be interested in an architecture study program – local or abroad – but you are unsure of its accreditation status, write to your Architects Board to ask and seek confirmation. An undergraduate study in architecture takes five years. The last thing you want is to be told by the Board upon graduation that it is not accredited, and you need to fulfill more requirements.
- Be mindful of the practical experience requirements for licensure that are set by the Board. If possible, choose the architecture firm that you work for that will allow you to obtain the necessary work experience.
- Gain practical experience in as wide a variety of projects as possible – residential, commercial, industrial, etc. You want to demonstrate diversity in the work you undertake.
Path 2: High School > Pre-professional Degree > Professional Degree > Licensure
This path is the 4+2 route that you may have heard of before. It is a combination of a pre-professional degree with a professional Master of Architecture.
This 4+2 route to becoming an architect consists of:
- Graduating high school with a diploma or an equivalent certification.
- Completing a pre-professional degree such as Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.), majoring in Architecture (takes 3-4 years)
- Taking a break from your studies to work (Or not)
- Completing a Masters of Architecture professional degree (takes 2 years)
- Fulfilling the practical experience requirements and passing the registration exam as set by the Architects Board (minimum of 2 to 3 years upon obtaining the Master’s degree)
Comparing this to Path 1, you get more flexibility.
A pre-professional degree such as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science usually takes four years to complete.
However, some may only take three years, with the 4th being optional to graduate with an Honors degree – country and institution-dependent.
The potential reasons you might find yourself in this situation are that:
- You are unsure yet if being an architect is what you want. A pre-professional degree is shorter than a professional architecture degree. This option allows you to dip your toes into architecture, so to speak, and get a feel for it.
- You want to start working in architecture without a professional degree.
Regardless of the reason, a B.Aa or B.Sc. degree (majoring in Architecture) would provide you the opportunity to work in a firm, perhaps as an architectural assistant.
You gain valuable work experience (while raising the much-needed fund) before deciding to pursue a professional architecture degree.
Other Useful Tips
On the face of it, Path 2 is longer than Path 1, which may be a drawback. However, it can be very beneficial to your career as an architect.
- The flexibility of taking time out between the two degrees allows you the opportunity to assess if architecture is right for you in the long run. It may not be a luxury that students who go through Path 1 enjoy (although they do get the opportunity to intern during the summer breaks).
- The opportunity of obtaining practical experience between the two degrees can benefit your career immensely. The real-world experience of working in a firm for an extended time enriches your perspective, which you take to the second part of your architectural studies. The second part is now not merely a path to get a degree; it becomes a rewarding academic experience that reinforces your inspiration to be an architect.
Path 3: High School Equivalent > Technical Course > Undergraduate Professional Degree > Licensure
Not every aspiring architect would follow the optimal path to becoming an architect.
If the unconventional path is where you are on – whether by choice or circumstances – being an architect is still possible. It may require you to be more resourceful and committed to seeing it through, though.
This route to becoming an architect involves:
- Having obtained a high-school-equivalent certificate, proceed to,
- Complete a technical course or obtain an associate’s degree offered at community colleges, technical colleges, vocational schools, and possibly some colleges and universities (usually takes 2-3 years)
- Gain entry into and possibly obtain a transfer to the 2nd year of a bachelor’s degree in Architecture (5 minus 1 year).
- Fulfill the requirements set by the Architects Board, including passing the registration exam (minimum of 2 to 3 years upon obtaining the bachelor’s degree)
In the States and Canada, the General Educational Development (GED) is a form of certification thought to be equivalent to a high school diploma, but perhaps not quite when you wish to use it for entry into an architecture school.
Gaining admission to a professional architecture program is tough, especially those in accredited schools. Students with good high school grades already face fierce competition for limited places.
But, as always, check with the individual schools to be sure.
Suppose your high-school-equivalent certification does not meet the minimum requirements for entry into a professional architecture program.
In that case, you could take the option of going through a technical course and choose subjects that would demonstrate the relevant competence to stay sufficiently competitive in your architecture school of choice.
Other Useful Tips
Not having a high school diploma should not be a barrier to studying architecture. But each situation is different.
- A technical course that provides you with a better outlook for entry into a professional architecture program would be one that relates to art and craft, architectural technology, engineering, or other related vocational skills. Always speak to the admissions office of the architecture school to be sure.
- An associate’s degree, typically called Associate of Arts or Associates of Science, is just short of a bachelor’s degree. Think of it as the bridge between a high-school-equivalent (such as the GED) and a bachelor’s degree.
Becoming a Licensed/Registered Architect in Your Country
The statutory board that regulates architects’ registration in each country or jurisdiction has its own set of requirements. But the gist of it is mostly similar.
The path to becoming a licensed or registered architect is long and requires a focused effort to succeed.
Always seek advice and confirmation from the relevant authority in the jurisdiction that you wish to practice.
The link to the Architects Board in some countries are:
- The United States: National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).
- Canada: Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB).
- The United Kingdom: The Architects Registration Board (ARB).
- Australia: Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA).
- New Zealand: New Zealand Registered Architects Board (NZRAB).
- HK: Architects Registration Board of Hong Kong (ARB).
- Singapore: Board of Architects Singapore (BOA).
- India: Council of Architecture (COA).
Note: Some countries have a national level board that develops and maintains the registration examination, but each state sets its registration requirements; others have a national level board that maintains both the registration examination and requirements. Check for the relevant requirements that apply to you.
Once you decide on your ideal path, you can start applying to architecture schools.
Disclaimer: This post is not legal advice and is purely for informational purposes.
Always check for the latest requirements with the relevant Architects Board in your jurisdiction before making a decision.