Becoming an Architect – Why? & How?

Let’s start off with the BIG question…Why get licensed?

This is what began NCARB’s presentation of “IDP, ARE & Certification” last week to audiences at University of Colorado campuses in Denver and Boulder and at the AIA Colorado Office in Denver.

NCARB’s Martin Smith, AIA, led the discussion by referring to a similar professional occupation – Doctors.

You’ve been to a Doctor, right? Hopefully in the last few years just for a checkup at least! Well, when you walk into a doctor’s office and you glance past all their certificates and licenses in big fancy frames…you assume something right? That these pieces of paper say your doctor is competent enough in their education and experience not to kill you with whatever they prescribe. Licensed Doctors save lives every day.
Same thing goes for Architects. The building you are in right now had an Architect. They were (or still are) licensed by the state that they were competent enough in their education and experience not to kill you with whatever they designed. Therefore, Licensed Architects save thousands upon thousands of lives every day!!!

That’s cool, but why would someone want to get licensed? Martin gave some great reasons:

  • Having an architectural license allows you to be called an Architect – if you don’t have it, by the State of Colorado you are an “Architectural Intern”.
  • Having an architectural license gives you a strong credential in the job market and increases you value($$$)! Your billable rate to projects and your salary should both increase once you’re licensed. If they don’t, then you may want to have a conversation with your employer.
  • Having an architectural license also gives you the credibility and independence to start your own firm. Our Adam Hillhouse did it! And you can too!

Okay, then how do I become an Architect?

Usually this question is first asked by curious high schoolers, which is good, but it really should be asked throughout college and those first few internships as well, just to make sure you’re still on the right track!

The rest of Martin’s hour and a half presentation covered all the ins & outs of this process, but in the light of my limited word count, I’ll give you the simplified version.

NCARB breaks down the process into three parts: Education, Experience and Examination.

  • Education – Get a NAAB (National Architectural Accrediting Board) accredited degree. If you don’t, depending on the state, it may take you more Experience (aka TIME) before you can sit for the Examination.
  • Experience – Get work experience at an architecture firm and log it in through IDP (Intern Development Program). If you don’t work for an architecture firm, it may take you more Experience (aka TIME) before you can sit for the Examination.
  • Examination – Get the AREs (Architect Registration Examination) done as soon as you can once you’re done with school. If you don’t, life and work may get in the way and make it incredibly more difficult to set aside time to do these.

For more detailed information on how do get these three milestones done, go to NCARB’s website. Just dive right in and try not to drown in its volume of information. If you feel you are close to taking on water, but you still can’t find the answer to your one burning question, please email me at I’m more than happy to take on your question and find an answer so you can stay afloat! But if you’ve got an extra hot issue that needs special attention, you may want to contact NCARB’s customer service directly, 202/879-0520.

Bests of Luck!

Megan Kullerd Hohnholt, AIA, NCARB
AIA Colorado State IDP Coordinator

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