Published On: Mon, Aug 31st, 2020

How Long Does It Take to Become an Architect in the U.S.?

Architecture would be a good career option if you love designing and creating buildings. On average, an architect in the United States can make around $114,350 per year. But, if you’re well-qualified, experienced architect who have been practicing for year, you can earn more than $150,000 per year. 

While the rewards of being an architect are stunning, it’s important to remember that the path to becoming an architect is challenging. You’ll need to display commitment, resilience, and creativity to become an architect of good standing. 

photo/ Michael Gaida

How many years does it take to become an architect? 

Some academic courses take about 3-5 years to complete before the student is qualified to practice their craft. But not an architect. 

It takes a minimum of five years and a maximum of 8-12 years to become a licensed and certified architect. The actual time needed to complete your journey to an architect’s job depends on multiple criteria: 


  • The level of education you seek 


Architecture in the US can be studied at both the Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. It is encouraged that students take up the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredited 5-year Bachelor’s course. The NAAB is an accrediting agency for colleges offering courses in architecture. Once you complete your NAAB Bachelor’s course, you can do internship with an architect or an architectural firm in your state. 

Students who wish to study further have the option of taking up a master’s degree in architecture. Depending on the specialization you choose, you can complete your Master’s in 1-5 years. Further studies in the form of a Doctorate in architecture is also possible. 

Additionally, to take up work as an architect, you will need to get licensed. For this, you must sit the licensing/certifying examination organized by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), which is a nationally-recognized board that is made up of the 50 US state architectural licensing boards. An NCARB certification will allow architects to practice as a professional and nationally-registered architect. 

Once you finish your Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a NAAB accredited university, you will need to mandatorily participate in the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®), which will give you exposure to all the facets of an architect’s job. You must have completed 3,740 experience hours in the AXP and have passed the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®), to get the NCARB certification.  

This entire process can take 6-8 months to finish, adding almost a year more to the time it takes to start working as a licensed architect. 

photo/ ilipp kozachuk


  • The type of company you wish to work at 


Some companies require multiple licenses and qualifications, while others are okay with recent grad students. Additionally, all companies require applicants to have completed at least a 3-years internship before they apply for a job. If you choose to do longer internships than required, it will take longer for you to be licensed and delay your practice as a professional architect. 

This is why it’s best that you consult with the company you plan to work at before you do send in your resume. 


  • The licensing requirements of the state you live/practice in 


Every state in the US has its separate licensing board for aspiring architects. Once you complete your Bachelor’s or Master’s or Doctorate, you will need to sit for the licensing examination. This licensing procedure may include both a theoretical exam and a mandatory experience requirement. 

Depending on the type of eligibility requirements each state prescribes, you may get licensed sooner or later compared to applicants in another state. 


  • Your career plans 


In the United States, you can only practice in the state you received your license in. For example, if you are residing in California and have applied for a license in architecture in California, you can practice only in California and not in Oregon or Arizona. 

However, if you wish to be able to practice across the country, you’ll need to get the reciprocal license offered by the NCARB.  You can apply for a reciprocal license through the NCARB website. 

Things to do when you’re certified as a practicing architect in the United States 

The process of becoming an architect might sound daunting, but it is doable. In fact, the NCARB is working towards reducing the time needed to complete certification, and compared to the past decade, architects are now able to earn their NCARB certificates 2.8 years earlier/faster. 

Once you do get certified, there are a few steps you need to follow: 


  • Purchase Architect Liability Insurance to safeguard your reputation


As an architect, you will have to manage client expectations. It’s possible for miscommunication and misunderstandings to take place. Your clients may be dissatisfied with the work they’ve commissioned and might sometimes sue you in court. A Professional Liability Insurance for Architect can indemnify you against the damage and expense you might cause to the clients.


  • Join a professional architect network 


There are numerous professional architect networks in the United States. When you’re an active member of a professional architect network, you have access to the latest developments in the field. You will be able to meet new people, explore professional opportunities, and find talent. 


  • Be assertive 


It’s easy to get cowed down by demanding clients. But as an architect, you are better aware of the practical realities of building design. So, if there’s a situation where you know that the client’s specifications are unrealistic or impractical, be vocal about your opinions. This will help ensure that your client gets the best home/commercial space possible. 

Author: Jen Cai

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