How to become an Architect without a degree - Architecture Career Guide
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How to become an Architect without a degree

Want to become an Architect without a degree?

In order to become a licensed Architect most states require you to have “Education, Experience, and Examination“, but what if it isn’t possible to get the education portion? Maybe you have to maintain a full-time job, maybe you can’t afford it, or maybe there are no accredited schools near where you need to live, whatever the reason, there are other ways to become an Architect without a degree. Before we get to that though, let me be very clear here, architecture school is extremely valuable in the things you will learn and the connections you will make, and whatever reasons you have for not being able to go should really be re-considered. I was able to complete two degrees, get licensed, work a full-time job and another part-time job and raise a family all at the same time in 6 years. So believe me, it’s not easy, but completely possible.

So you’ve still decided that it is not possible for you to get a degree in architecture, but you still want to work in architecture, that’s fine, there are many ways to do it. The first option is to just not get licensed at all. Many states do not require an Architect’s stamp for certain types of buildings. Here in Texas, they even put together a flow chart that explains when you would need a licensed Architect, and many states have the same. Many people who design these structures are referred to as Building Designers, and are plenty capable of designing certain types of buildings. Keep in mind though, that without the license, you are not held responsible for protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public and you should choose your projects wisely. There are many examples of people who also practice design of large buildings without a license, but they have an Architect working for them to review the drawings. Whatever you do, do not ask an Architect to just stamp the plans for you, as it is illegal for an Architect to “plan stamp” without having reasonable control or review of the drawings that were produced. Another important note, if you decide to go this route, do not call yourself an Architect or anything similar to that term, as that is reserved for licensed professionals only.

Maybe being a Building Designer isn’t for you and you want to be a grade-A certified licensed Architect. Well you still can, even without a degree, but it will be a little more difficult. There are still a few states that allow you to substitute work experience for a degree, and this will be your way in. The states that do not require an accredited degree are (click on the State to find the experience equivalence required):

So if you happen to live, and want to practice, in one of those states, congratulations, you don’t need an accredited degree to become licensed! You will still have to put in more years of experience and still pass the tests just like everyone else though. If you don’t live in any of those states listed, don’t fret, there is another workaround. Of all of those States only Tennessee requires you to be a resident to get a license in that state. So here’s what you do, start your Internship Development Program (IDP) with NCARB immediately, when you are ready to start taking your tests, do it through one of those states. The tests are administered through computer and can be taken anywhere, so you can still test in your home state. Keep in mind however that states like California and Oklahoma also have a state specific test that you will have to pass as well, most likely administered in that state. Once you pass the test, congratulations again, you are licensed to practice architecture…in that state only. You now need to get reciprocity in your home state.

There are two ways to get reciprocity in your home state, the first requires you to contact your accrediting board and send them the information from the state you were licensed in, the other way is to get an NCARB Certificate. Which you choose depends on your comfort level with getting all the information you need from the state or if you are willing to pay NCARB to do it for you. If you go the NCARB Certificate route, it makes it extremely easy to do, but will cost you to initiate and receive the certificate, as well as money every year to renew and keep active. If you want to stop renewing it after you get your license, you certainly can, but if you ever want to get a license in any other states, it will cost even more money to start the certification process over again. I personally decided to go the NCARB certificate route when I switched states because it was much easier and let me put five more letters after my name.

To find out more on how to become an Architect, get the concise guide that will spell it all out for you.

Now it’s your turn, do you think it is important for somebody to go through school in order to get a license, or is work experience an acceptable substitute? Let me know what you think in the comments.