To become an architect, a student must first obtain a high school diploma and admittance into a four year college or university with an architecture program. Some schools of architecture require a portfolio submission of creative work as part of admissions requirements. Examples of creative work include, but are not limited to, drawing, painting, graphic design, sculpture, photography, and furniture design.
A high school student who wishes to obtain admittance to a school of architecture should work towards a high GPA and an acceptable SAT score, as well as demonstrate interest and ability in the creative arts. Architecture is both a science and an art, and therefore is a good fit for the student who excels in math and science, as well as creative subjects such as writing and visual arts. Unlike the common assumption, however, courses in advanced mathematics such as calculus are beneficial but not required in many architectural programs.
Undergraduate degrees in architecture typically require 8 semesters of studio work, each studio counting as two courses per semester. For a 12 hour credit semester, which is considered the minimum full-time course load, the architecture studio accounts for 6 of the 12 hours. Because of this requirement, admittance into an architecture program directly out of high school is advantageous to completing the degree in four years. If a student enters the university in general studies in order to take basic courses, 8 semesters of architecture studio courses are still required upon admittance to the school of architecture. For students who choose this path, a bachelors degree could take 6 or more years to complete.
A student who wishes to become an architect has several degree paths to choose from in the school of architecture. Four year degrees such as a Bachelor of Environmental Design in Architecture, are not considered professional degrees by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, or NCARB. A graduate of a four-year degree in architecture can have a career in the profession, but cannot obtain a professional license from their state architectural board.
Professionally speaking, the term "Architect" is a regulated term and only applies to individuals who have achieved and maintain a professional license of architecture in their state of practice. A professional degree in architecture is required to obtain a license. A five year Bachelor of Architecture or a two year Master of Architecture are both considered professional degrees. Universities sometimes call these degree options 4+1 or 4+2 programs, meaning the four year bachelors degree is first obtained, then a student can seek admittance into the fifth year professional program or the two year masters program.
A third degree option is available to students who hold an undergraduate degree in something other than architecture. These are called "career change" programs. A career change candidate can apply for a 3-year Master of Architecture program which is a professional degree recognized by NCARB and state boards.
The next step in the process to becoming an architect is the three year Intern Development Program, or IDP. When a graduate is awarded a job at an architecture or design firm, they can begin documenting hours towards the completion of IDP, which outlines professional experience requirements set by NCARB to obtain a license. Every hour in each experience category must be documented and completed under a licensed architect who directly supervises the work of the intern. Unlike internships in other professions, architectural internships are typically paid, and are considered full-time professional employment.
Once all of the requirements of IDP are met, an architectural intern can begin taking the Architectural Registration Exams. There are currently exams that include multiple choice and graphic exercises, each of which must be passed to be eligible for a license. Some states allow interns to begin taking the ARE's while they are completing their three year internship, while others require IDP is complete before testing can begin. Once all seven tests are passed, an intern can then apply for the state license. State licenses require an annual fee to maintain.
In sum, the path to becoming an architect includes a professional degree, a three year internship, and seven registration exams. Good luck!