HOW TO BECOME A LICENSED ARCHITECT IN CALIFORNIA

INFORMATION GATHERED IS FROM THE CALIFORNIA ARCHITECTS BOARD’S WEBSITE

In the State of California there are many pathways to becoming a Licensed Architect.

The California Architects Board (Board) was created in 1901 by the California Legislature to fulfill the mission of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public through the regulation of the practice of architecture in California. It is one of numerous entities within the Department of Consumer Affairs responsible for consumer protection and the regulation of licensed professionals. The Board establishes regulations for examination and licensing of the profession of architecture in California, which today numbers over 21,000 licensed architects and approximately 10,000 candidates who are in the process of meeting examination and licensure requirements. Information below can be found on www.cab.ca.gov

Introduction

California law defines the practice of architecture as the planning of sites, and the design, in the whole or in part, of buildings or groups of buildings and structures. Any person who uses the title of “architect” (or any term confusingly similar) or advertises to provide architectural services in California must be licensed as an architect by the Board. The Board has a helpful Design Limitations Chart for Professionals that specifies the types of projects that may be designed by an unlicensed individual. It also specifies the limitations placed on other licensed design professionals.

Unlicensed Practice

Unlicensed individuals, which includes candidates, should be aware it is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both to:

  • Practice Architecture
  • Represent oneself as an architect
  • Use any term similar to the word “architect”
  • Use the stamp of a licensed architect
  • Advertise or put out any sign, card, or other device that might indicate to the public that he or she is an architect, that he or she is qualified to engage in the practice of architecture, or that he or she is an architectural designer
  • Affix a stamp or seal that bears the legend “State of California” or words or symbols that represent or imply that the person is so licensed by the state to prepare plans, specifications, or instruments of service
  • Advertise or represent that he or she is a “registered building designer” or is registered or otherwise licensed by the state as a building designer.
  • Unlicensed Practice Penalty (PDF)

NCARB

INFORMATION GATHERED IS FROM THE NCARB WEBSITE

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is a nonprofit organization made up of the architectural licensing boards for 55 US states and territories and has three strategic goals: facilitate licensure, foster collaboration, and centralize data. The Board works collaboratively with NCARB to achieve its goals and fulfill its mission of protecting consumers. NCARB provides services to the Board that are required as components of licensure. Information below can be found on www.ncarb.org

Among the requirements a candidate must complete are the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) and the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to receive a California license. The AXP requirement provides a framework for gaining professional experience, and the ARE is the nationally recognized architectural licensing examination. Both the AXP and ARE are NCARB-administered programs and two of the many services it provides the Board.

Additionally, NCARB offers its Certificate to licensees. The NCARB Certificate indicates a licensee has met the national licensure standard and facilitates reciprocal licensure for candidates wishing to practice in other member jurisdictions. Reciprocal licensure candidates who apply and request a transmittal of their NCARB Certificate are immediately eligible for the California Supplemental Examination (CSE). California does not require licensees to maintain an NCARB Certificate as a condition of licensure.

Overview

California’s examination and licensure requirements to become an architect are more flexible than most other jurisdictions. Although each candidate’s path to licensure may differ, all will complete the process with the necessary knowledge, skills, and ability to be a licensed architect who practices in a way that protects the health, safety, and welfare of Californians.

No single aspect can accurately measure whether an individual is qualified to be licensed to practice architecture in California. The Board considers three separate aspects of an individual’s architectural development—educationexperience, and examination—when assessing the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to competently perform the services required of an architect.

A candidate who provides evidence of having completed the following requirements is eligible to receive a license to practice architecture:

It is important to note that each candidate may have different education and training backgrounds, and it is not possible to describe each education and experience background.

Pathways

To be eligible for the ARE and begin the licensure process, a candidate must furnish evidence of completing the required education or training experience in architectural work (or the equivalent). Candidates may possess a degree from an accredited program, graduate from an Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) program, possess a degree from a nonaccredited program, or solely document work experience. A description of each path is provided as follows (or you may use the Board’ requirements for eligibility page to find how much credit you will receive):

Degree from a NAAB/CACB Program
or NAAB ESSA

A professional degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB), or approved NAAB Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) with foreign degrees earns the most architectural educational experience credit (five years) and fulfills the Board’s eligibility requirement for the ARE. A degree from a NAAB or CACB is required for Certification by NCARB and for licensure in most US jurisdictions.


Benefits:

  • Candidate can immediately take the ARE
  • Candidates with a degree from a NAAB or CACB program have greater access for reciprocal licensure in other US jurisdictions (37 require it)

Degree from a NAAB/CACB Program
or NAAB ESSA

A professional degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB), or approved NAAB Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) with foreign degrees earns the most architectural educational experience credit (five years) and fulfills the Board’s eligibility requirement for the ARE. A degree from a NAAB or CACB is required for Certification by NCARB and for licensure in most US jurisdictions.


Benefits:

  • Candidate can immediately take the ARE
  • Candidates with a degree from a NAAB or CACB program have greater access for reciprocal licensure in other US jurisdictions (37 require it)
  • Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) ProgramIPAL is an option available for candidates pursuing licensure in California. The IPAL program integrates the experience and examination aspects with a degree from a NAAB program. Candidates can complete the licensure requirements while earning an accredited degree. IPAL programs provide a structured approach to complete the AXP and take each division of the ARE before graduation.A candidate enrolled in an IPAL program may fulfill all three aspects of licensure in less time than it typically takes candidates to complete the licensure process. There are prerequisites specific to each school that must first be met before admission is accepted by the respective program. Contact the respective program for more details about it.After a candidate is awarded their degree from an IPAL program and completes the ARE, they will be eligible to take the California Supplemental Examination (CSE).Candidates interested in pursuing this path should visit NCARB’s IPAL portal for more information.Benefits:
    • All the benefits of a degree from a NAAB program
     
    • Candidate has completed the AXP requirement and ARE
     
    • Candidate can be eligible to take the CSE
  • Degree from a Non-NAAB/CACB Program
    (Degree + Work Experience)A degree from a non-NAAB/CACB program (including a foreign degree) affords flexibility for candidates as it permits them to combine any field of study with work architectural work experience under a licensed architect. The amount of architectural work 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 five-year requirement by having their school submit their transcripts for evaluation and using employment verification form(s) to document work experience (work experience must be under the direct supervision of an architect licensed in a US jurisdiction).Benefits:
    • Grants partial credit for degree earned
    • Allows a candidate to use work experience under an architect

Examination

The examination aspect of licensure is satisfied by successfully completing both the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) and the California Supplemental Examination (CSE). Detailed information is available about each examination in their respective section of this website.

NCARB

To earn a license and become an architect, you’ll need to document real-world experience through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). Developed by NCARB and required by most U.S. licensing boards, the AXP provides a framework to guide you through earning and reporting your professional experience.

As you progress through the AXP, you’ll build up competency in the skills and tasks you need to practice architecture. With broad experience areas that reflect the current phases of practice, the program prepares you for everything from site design to project management.

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