How to Get Licensed as an Architect

person with dyed red har working on architectural plans
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Whether you’re still in high school or are looking for a second career later in life, it’s important to understand the requirements for any job you’re interested in. If you’ve contemplated spinning your DIY skills into a career as an architect, consider what it takes to earn the credentials you’ll need.

What Architects Do

Architecture is a field of study behind all types of buildings, from skyscrapers to unique residential abodes and huge strip malls. Architects focus on the safety of the building with consideration for use, capacity, height, and factors such as wind, groundwater, and hurricanes.

Architects evaluate existing buildings and design new ones for businesses, hospitals, multi-use areas, homes, and public buildings. They are involved in renovations, new builds, and additions.

They create schematics and blueprints using exacting measurements and precision. They analyze weight distribution, material selection, window placement, environmental factors, budgets, specifications, and timelines.

Architects work with engineers and construction professionals to complete builds. They may also own their own business, managing employees, focusing on marketing efforts, and maintaining the office.

Job Titles

There are dozens of job titles within the field of architecture. Some of the most common are design architect, landscape designer, exhibition designer, project manager, business owner, senior architect, designer, principal, or department head.

architects designing a model of an apartment

Work Environment

Architects mostly work in an office environment. They spend countless hours toiling over schematics and computer-generated designs. Some positions take them to commercial or residential construction sites and the offices of other architects, engineers, and building specialists. Meetings inside and outside the main office are commonplace, which might include domestic or international travel.

Education, Licensing, and Certification

Becoming an architect requires a high school diploma followed by a college degree. While a master’s degree may be necessary for some positions, you can launch into other jobs with a bachelor’s degree. Coursework is centered on architectural history and theory, building design with an emphasis on computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), structures and construction methods, professional practices, mathematics, physical sciences, liberal arts, safety, and building codes.

Some states allow the hands-on experience to replace educational requirements. However, the majority require completing standard licensing requirements set by the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB), starting with a degree from an approved program.

On your way to licensing, you’ll commonly need to gain supervised experience through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), which requires 3,740 hours of oversight by a licensed professional in the field. You’ll then need to pay for and pass the Architect Registration Exam (ARE).

States vary widely in the initial and ongoing requirements to hold certification as a licensed architect. For example, Alaska requires the completion of an Arctic course. California has a supplemental exam, and Colorado will forgo all educational requirements with 10 years of experience.

To stay current, some states require continuing education, and nearly all of them require licensing renewal every one to two years.

The proper licensing instills trust in clients, opens opportunities for career advancement, and ensures your title as a professional.

woman standing at desk working on architectural plans

Strong Personal Characteristics for Architects

Every job has certain personal characteristics that help the job be a more natural match for the person. Becoming an architect requires strong organizational skills, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, natural curiosity, interpersonal and communication skills, creativity, mechanical and math skills, and project management skills.

Salary Range

Since architecture is such a broad field, there is an equally broad salary range. Most positions range from $45,000 to $125,000. The median range for all types of engineers in the United States is around $76,000.

Job Outlook

Architecture is a stable field with consistent employment opportunities. Like every major career field, things frequently change, so keep up with the basics and trends. For example, if you’re looking towards the future, consider the need for urban growth and sustainable design.

The field can be competitive, so specializing can help you stand out as the best candidate for the job.


Architecture is not a particularly dangerous job and does not come with inherent risks unless climbing a ladder or otherwise engaging on the job site.