5 Steps to Become an Architect

The work of an architect is unusual as it requires a broad spectrum of skills. The design and construction of buildings touch so many areas of public life that special training is required. There are not just aesthetic and practical requirements to consider, but buildings also need to conform to legal constraints as well as municipal rules. But most important, architects carry a lot of responsible for the safety and welfare of the general public.

For all these reasons, various hurdles need to be passed by architects before they can practice their professions, in a way similar to medical doctors. This involves a specific education, an internship, an examination and finally licensure.  

Each state has its own rules but most follow the rules of the two major accrediting boards,  the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) in the United States and the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB). Architects enjoy many advantages when their education follows the national rules because as a result, most states will offer easy reciprocity on licensing.  


Below are the 5 major steps that an architect needs to follow to work in his profession.

1 Education

There are a number of architecture degrees available:

  • Pre-Professional Degrees (BS, BA):  These four-year degrees often are related to architecture but graduates do not qualify to become licensed as an architect.  They are often called BS in Architecture or BS in Architectural Studies. However, these degrees in conjunction with a master’s degree in Architecture(M.Arch) or doctorate degree of Architecture (D.Arch) can lead to full licensure.

  • Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch): This is probably the most common path to become a licensed architect and requires about five years to complete.

  • Master of Architecture (M.Arch): This degree leads to licensure as an architect and generally requires between 1 to five years to complete, depending on the type of undergraduate degree.  If used in conjunction with a pre-professional architecture degree, it can be completed in two years which is commonly called a 4+2 program.

  • Doctor of Architecture(D.Arch): This program leads to full licensure as an architect and if used in conjunction with a pre-professional degree, it can be completed in three years.  This is generally called a 4+3 program.

  • Non-Professional graduate architecture degrees:  There are graduate degrees in architecture that do not offer the possibility of licensure as an architect.  These are designed for students who want to study architecture without becoming an architect
2 Internship

Most states require architects to complete a 3-year internship after graduation.  In most states, this follows a predefined accredited Intern Development Program (IDP). For most graduates, this involves working as a paid intern in an architectural firm where they assist in design and development projects.  Interns receive broad exposure to the profession and can be involved in many detailed tasks such as researching building codes, developing detailed specifications for design elements and materials, as well as determining finishes and installation procedures.

3 Examination

All states require architects to pass an Architect Registration Examination (ARE). In Massachusetts, the prerequisite for taking the examination is a NAAB accredited degree described above, and the completion of an Internship Development Program(IDP).  The test is administered monthly

4 License

All states require architects to be licensed to provide architectural services. The prerequisite for such a license varies by state but most including Massachusetts require a NAAB accredited degree, an Internship and passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).. 

5 Continued Education

Most states also require some form of continuing education to maintain a license. Requirements vary by state but usually involve the completion of a certain number of credits annually or biennially through workshops, formal college classes, conferences and self-study courses. Architects registered in Massachusetts must earn a minimum of 12 credits annually, 8 of which must be in Health, Safety, and Welfare (HSW) topics. One hour equals one credit.