To become a licensed architect in the U.S, you usually have to meet at least three requirements:
- Education: Graduate from an accredited architecture program.
- Experience: Have about three years of relevant work experience.
- Examination: Pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).
Some states require a degree from a National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB) accredited program, while others allow “broad experience” as a substitute. Some require work experience to be documented via the Intern Development Program (IDP). Some states allow you to take the ARE only after graduating from an accredited architecture program, while others allow you to take the ARE only after completing IDP, and some require both.
I was living in Reno, Nevada when I landed my first job in 1990 with an architectural firm and started looking into the process. Nevada required a degree from an NAAB-accredited program, participation in IDP, and passing the ARE. Unfortunately, NAAB only provided accreditation to U.S. programs, and I went to college in the Philippines. Fortunately, you can have a foreign education evaluated by Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) to determine if it is equivalent to an NAAB accredited program.
To apply for an EESA evaluation, I needed my high school diploma, secondary school records, certificate of graduation, official transcripts from the university, catalog descriptions of each college class, detailed descriptions of each design class, and a portfolio of work from architecture school. I had moved to the U.S. in November of 1989, one month after graduating. I brought one suitcase with me and left everything else at home in the Philippines. I had my fifth-year thesis with me and that was all that ended up in my slim “portfolio”. In June of 1992, I finally had all the required materials together. I scraped up the $775 fee and applied for an EESA evaluation.
I received the evaluation in November, and it was bad news: EESA concluded that my education was deficient. I needed 8.25 credits in Design and 3.0 credits in English Composition. The latter was easy to achieve — I went to the local university and took a College-Level Examination Program exam. I passed with flying colors and checked that off.
The 8.25 credits in Design was another story. The local university didn’t have an architecture school so I earned 4.0 credits by attending a fourth-year architectural design class on Saturdays at Cal-Poly. For 11 weeks, I flew down to southern California on Friday night, rented a car, stayed in a Motel 6 near the airport, attended class on Saturday morning, and flew back to Reno on Saturday afternoon. I earned another 8.0 credits by moving to Portland in the summer of 1994 to attend an intense six-week class at the University of Oregon.
In August 1994, I had earned enough credits, and EESA prepared a revised evaluation that declared that I now had the equivalent of an NAAB-accredited degree. Meanwhile, except for the leave of absence to attend class in Portland, I had been working full-time and participating in IDP. By the time I had the education requirement squared away, I also had the experience requirement completed. The last thing to tackle was the exam.
These days the ARE is offered throughout the year, and you can take one division at a time. Back then, the full exam — all nine divisions — was a four-day exam administered only every June. After waiting for so long to be allowed to take the exam, I decided to take all nine divisions at once. The exam was grueling, but I passed all nine in one sitting! On October 12, 1995, after five years of being an intern-architect, I was officially sworn in as a registered architect in the state of Nevada.
Since Nevada’s licensing requirements were exactly the same as the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ (NCARB), I was able to obtain an NCARB Certificate at the same time for an additional fee. Having an NCARB certificate has proven invaluable as I was able to be licensed in two other states, including Missouri, by filling out an application and paying a fee. So, while the path to licensure was long, difficult and expensive; it tested my perseverance, allowed me to experience architecture school in the U.S., and gave me the opportunity to travel to new places. In the end, it was certainly worth it