This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of architects all post on the same topic at the same time. This is my second post in the series, but this is the 41st topic in the series, entitled "Career Path".
Talking about your career path after the fact always lends a little bit of some rosy, feel-good hindsight that can help really round out a story about finding your way & doing something that is important to you. I'm going to try to avoid that pitfall in this post, since I think even talking about someone's career path without some level of acknowledgement of uncertainty can be snarky & assuming for those who haven't "made it" yet. And for all of us non-starchitect Architects, you probably don't feel like you've "made it" either.
I am 1.2 years into my relationship with my rubber Architect stamp. I received my license & paperwork in July of 2017, after studying, testing, working, learning and WAITING for the better part of 4 years. Going from little A (intern architect) to Big A (Licensed Architect) was probably the biggest highlight of my career, and is probably also a huge goal for everyone who wants to open their own firm/ run their own projects/ pursue a traditional architectural career.
Getting to the point where you're just waiting on the state you want to be registered in & NCARB to finish your paperwork is a really long haul. NCARB limits licensure candidates to 5 years of testing in attempts to help motivate people to finish once they've started!
I compare it to crappy, awful things like getting the HPV shots or having multiple root canals. Each one totally sucks in its individual occurrence & give you anxiety leading up to them. You know you have to get through multiple, and often they get worse every time. Getting through the first one is the worst because there are the most amount of "unknowns" at the time. Actually, scratch that. You only need 3 HPV shots and if you're getting more than 3 root canals, your dentist is probably going to recommend they just put you under and get it all over at once. Nothing can compare to using vacation time to go to Prometric 5 or more times to take exams that are different & complex and also determine your future success and career path.
I started taking my exams about three years after I had gotten out of college. I started studying a couple of times, only to realize more experience in some of those required categories (like construction observation/ administration) would really be more beneficial than studying something I didn't understand yet. I planned out my tests like most folks, on a strict schedule, 3 weeks of studying for each one, and then move immediately on to the next one. I did NOT make that happen. It was improbable at best, and clearly not doable in reality.
I ended up taking three of the 4.0 exams prior to getting married, finding a new job, and moving to a new state. Most of my classmates who were also studying at the time chose to stay with the 4.0 path because of everything that was known & understood & validated by the years those tests were in circulation.
I took 10 months off in between my 4.0 exams and the two 5.0 exams that I took. I don't know how to say this, but I just really studied my ass off. I didn't fail any exams, although I expected to find a big "FAIL" in the mail after every single one. Especially the new ones, as really we were paying NCARB to be guinea pigs. I found out at the time from a coworker who is affiliated with NCARB that it was both easy and hard to pass the exams at that point in time. A lot of the questions were being thrown out; a larger percentage than is typically considered normal, and a lot of the questions were grandfathered in from the old tests. It was also infinitely harder, as no 3rd party study material had been released and the test specification that NCARB compiled for each exam was probably as broad as they could get away with. Like 30 reference books for some of the new tests! If you read every word of reference material, you'd be reading for over a decade.
After passing your exams, you're suddenly faced with a surprising lack of instruction. You've gotten all your hours done, you've gotten all your passing scores, and your transcript has been given the stamp of approval; but what to do next?!?! You've met all the requirements, but how do you actually go about being an architect IRL??
Surprise, it's super simple but you're still going to be waiting on NCARB during this stage!! Don't let them off the hook and do what I did and let three months go by before anything happens!!
Note: you are applying for your Initial Licensure, not Reciprocal Licensure.
Ensure you're meeting all of the jurisdictional requirements for your state (or whatever, DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam).
Fill out & send the application to your State Regulatory Board. For North Carolina, the NC Board of Architecture is the organization you're required to contact. NCARB DOES NOT DO THIS FOR YOU. Also, you probably have to pay. Sometimes, you can apply and pay online. Otherwise, you can always mail a check.
Request that NCARB send your record to your state board. You have to apply, but they also have to transmit your record like it's a transcript. This can take up to 30 days. In my experience, it was around 45. They aren't very efficient and aren't always staffed to handle the number of requests and issues they process. You have every right to remind them though, right before & right after the deadline is usually the most effective time.
Once your state confirms you've met all the requirements and NCARB confirms your completion of the ARE & AXP, you can get your state license number assigned. In NC they can give you the number before you receive your actual paperwork and certificate.
Order your stamp once you have your number!! Make sure to frame a copy for your parents as a Christmas or holiday gift. Put your stamp on your shelf and don't use it.
Join the AIA & other professional organizations that support licensed Architects.
It's really important that if you're passionate about architecture and design and want to ensure that upholding health, safety, and welfare are not values that will be lost that you consider supporting fellow colleagues through the AIA. It sounds cliche & like forcing people into an old people's club, but it will never be our generation's unless we join and make it our own. The goal of the AIA is to support its members and their firms, and having a diverse group of licensure candidates and emerging professionals will help us to support a diverse range of activities, initiatives, and educational events.
Getting to the point of being licensed and supporting your professional career in a responsible way is a huge, huge milestone. It's really the beginning of a new act in your book of life. There's a lot to consider about your role, new responsibilities, and thinking about new goals. Using your rubber stamp means that you've reached a threshold, not a destination. You can continue to learn and grow and find better ways to solve architectural problems. I say you, but really, this has always been my dream. It is part of what makes me thrilled to go to work every day, and having that is really what being an architect is about - using what you know to learn new things about creating spaces that are safe, functional, healthy, and beautiful.