Many Paths to Licensure
California’s examination and licensure requirements for an architect are more flexible than most other jurisdictions. The result is a variety of paths a candidate may take to become licensed. No single set of sequential steps can describe the process that leads to licensure. Instead, receiving licensure in California allows candidates to fulfill the requirements via multiple avenues while still protecting the health, safety, and welfare of Californians.
Although the specific path for each candidate may differ, all will complete the licensure process with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to become an architect. A candidate must complete eight years of training and educational experience in architectural work and pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) and California Supplemental Examination (CSE).
It would not be feasible to list all possible backgrounds a candidate might have and the related paths they take to licensure. However, the common paths to licensure are with a National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredited degree, nonaccredited degree, and experience only. A fourth path, the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL), is the newest and was endorsed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) in 2014. IPAL integrates the experience (training) and the ARE aspects with a NAAB-accredited degree.
The Board and NCARB use the three aspects of architectural development (education, experience, and examination) to assess whether a candidate can perform required architectural services in a competent manner. However, it must be emphasized that no single aspect can accurately measure whether an individual is qualified or competent to practice architecture. Each path listed offers a different approach in which the aspects can be met.
Accredited Degree Path
The Accredited Degree Path to architectural licensure requires a candidate earn a professional degree from a NAAB-accredited program. This path is required for Certification by NCARB and for licensure in most US jurisdictions. A NAAB-accredited degree earns the most architectural educational experience credit (five years) and fulfills the Board’s eligibility requirement for the ARE. It should be noted that California does not require a NAAB-accredited degree in architecture to receive licensure.
The experience aspect of this path is fulfilled by completion of the NCARB Architectural Experience Program (AXP). With AXP, a candidate works in at least one of two Experience Settings (Setting A or Setting O) and earns a minimum of 3,740 AXP credit hours to complete the program. The AXP Guidelines provide a multitude of ways a candidate may earn credit hours toward the required minimum. It should be noted that not all US jurisdictions accept the minimum credit hours required by NCARB; several states require candidates to complete an additional 1,860 AXP credit hours for a total of 5,600 credit hours.
Candidates may concurrently complete the education and experience aspects immediately upon high school graduation and then commence the ARE. This strategy may shorten the licensure process by up to three years.
The examination aspect of this path, like the other pathways, is fulfilled by completion of the ARE, which is the nationally recognized licensing examination for architects administered by NCARB through its test vendor, Prometric. Currently, there are two generations of the ARE being simultaneously administered—ARE 4.0 and ARE 5.0. On July 1, 2018, NCARB will retire ARE 4.0.
The ARE is comprised of six divisions (ARE 5.0) or seven divisions (ARE 4.0) and administered by computer. A candidate must successfully complete each ARE division in entirety and may elect to do so in any order for their convenience. Complete information can be found in either the ARE 4.0 Guidelines or ARE 5.0 Guidelines, whichever is applicable to a candidate’s situation.
Candidates must successfully complete all ARE divisions before they may take the CSE. A candidate must also have eight net years of training and educational experience in architectural work.
Nonaccredited Degree Path
The Nonaccredited Degree Path affords the most flexibility for candidates as it permits them to combine any field of study with architectural training experience to potentially become an architect. The amount of architectural training experience required varies depending upon the specific degree awarded and field of study or the number of postsecondary units earned for those without a degree. A candidate fulfills the education aspect when they document five net years of training and educational experience in architectural work.
Candidates may concurrently fulfill the education aspect and AXP. However, as with the Work Experience Only Path below, the architectural training experience credit earned during this time may not also be submitted to NCARB for earning AXP credit hours.
Upon fulfilling the education aspect and completing AXP—for a total of eight net years of training and educational experience—and successfully completing the ARE, candidates following this path are eligible for the CSE.
Work Experience Only Path
A third path for receiving licensure in California is the Work Experience Only Path. Candidates who select this path work for five years (full-time) under the direct supervision of an architect licensed to practice in the US in lieu of earning a professional degree from a NAAB-accredited program. The training experience earned fulfills the education aspect for licensure and meets the Board’s ARE eligibility requirements.
The Board considers full-time work to be 40 hours per week; some architectural training experience may be granted credit for work performed beyond 40 hours in a week—contact the Board for more details. Candidates may concurrently complete AXP while fulfilling the education aspect; however, it is important to note that architectural training experience credit earned during this time may not also be submitted to NCARB for earning AXP credit hours.
Candidates fulfill the examination aspect in a similar manner to the Accredited Degree Path—by successfully completing the ARE.
Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL)
IPAL is the newest option available for candidates pursuing licensure in California. Similar to models used in Europe and elsewhere in the world, NCARB introduced IPAL, which provides a more streamlined path to licensure. IPAL streamlines licensure by integrating the experience and examination aspects with a professional degree from a NAAB-accredited program.
Presently, there are 26 IPAL programs at 21 colleges, three of which are in California—NewSchool of Architecture and Design, University of Southern California, and Woodbury University. Each IPAL school formulates the specific programmatic details of how the education, experience, and examination aspects are integrated, but the end result is the same.
A candidate enrolled in an IPAL degree program may fulfill all three aspects of licensure in a significantly shorter period than it typically takes candidates to complete the process. There are prerequisites specific to each school that must first be met before admission is accepted by the respective program. The Board, in its showing of support for IPAL, amended the Architects Practice Act to allow for early ARE access to those enrolled in an IPAL degree program.
Through an IPAL program when a candidate is awarded their degree and completes the ARE, they will be eligible for the CSE. It is important to note that IPAL is new and, therefore, somewhat dynamic; the Board and NCARB are monitoring the ongoing development of IPAL and will determine whether any additional statutory or regulatory changes are necessary.
IPAL can be a fast track to licensure for candidates, eliminating several years from the process. Candidates interested in pursuing this path should visit the IPAL portal for more information.
California Supplemental Examination (CSE)
Individuals seeking licensure in California must successfully complete the CSE—the state examination required to become eligible for a license to practice architecture. Regardless of the path a candidate takes to become an architect, ultimately, the various paths centralize with the CSE before the Board can issue a license to practice. The CSE, like the ARE, is a computer-delivered examination and consists of 100 scorable multiple-choice items (divided into Project and General sections); there are also pretest items, which are nonscorable and interspersed among scorable items. The items administered in the CSE are based on the knowledge and ability statements contained in the CSE Test Plan and are written at a level to assess minimum standards of competency necessary for practice in California. Unlike the ARE, the Board provides results to candidates at the conclusion of their examination at the test site.
The diverse pathways into the profession are crucial to the future of architecture in California. The Board looks forward to supporting key innovations, like IPAL, as it continues to enhance the pipeline into the profession.