Traditionally, being able to work as an architect required either a five-year Bachelor’s in architecture (B.Arch) or any four-year degree and a Master’s in architecture (M.Arch). Our article, How to Become an Architect, provides an overview of the education requirements in the US and UK.
However, for those looking for how to become an architect without a degree there are in fact several alternative ways to achieve this without a B.Arch or M.Arch.
Why should you consider becoming an architect without a degree?
For some, the cost of attending a university to work towards an architecture degree is too much of a financial burden. Also, people who decide to become an architect later in life may want to become licensed from experience rather than fulfilling an education.
Another reason you may want to consider is licensing information if you have completed a non-accredited architecture-related program.
What makes an architecture program accredited?
The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) independently evaluates architecture programs throughout the United States to make sure graduates have sufficient knowledge to work in the profession. Additionally, they provide a list of accredited programs.
Graduates of non-accredited schools face limitations in where they can work and in obtaining an architectural license or certification.
What is the difference between licensure and certification?
The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) states that to legally offer architectural services, you must obtain a license or certificate. Each of the 50 licensing boards for each state sets its own requirements to earn a license in that region.
In contrast, the NCARB certificate signifies that you’ve met national standards and provides more flexibility in working throughout the country.
Is it possible?
Some states provide additional methods to become a licensed architect with experience and passing the Architect Registration Examination. However, they can be used to receive an in-state license rather than an NCARB certificate.
What are the license requirements?
On average, you need 60 months of education and/or experience to take the license exam. The application fee costs approximately $100 and non-accredited architecture programs count as 36 hours.
Additionally, you need three references from licensed architects that you worked for. If you don’t have them, you will be required to justify this and explain why in your application.
Additionally, if you have been licensed in another state for 10 of the last 15 years, you don’t need to take the exam!
You can qualify to take the Architecture Registration Exam with experience under a licensed architect. The testing fee is again approximately $100. If you pass, you will then have to take the California Supplemental Examination.
To take the license exam, you will need five years of experience with a non-accredited four-year degree or ten years of experience with no degree. The renewal period for your license is by October 31 every odd-numbered year.
All applicants must complete the NCARB’s three-year Architectural Experience Program (AXP).
The following levels of education require additional experience: no education (8 additional years), two-year degree (5 more years), four-year degree in pre-architecture or science and arts (2 added years). Additionally, Hawaii’s application fee is $150.
Eight or more years of qualified experience will allow you to take the license exam. Once accepted, you must annually complete twelve hours of continuing education.
Applicants with the following levels of education require various amounts of qualified experience: no college degree (13 years), a non-related architecture degree (11 years), a pre-professional degree in architecture (9 years).
New Hampshire requires candidates with a non-accredited architecture degree to have at least seven years of experience to apply for licensure. Those without any degree need at least thirteen years of experience under a licensed architect.
The state has a two-year license renewal period which requires 24 hours of continuing education.
It is possible to get an architecture license after ten years of working as a Principal in your own firm. Applicants for the exam must be 21 or older. Additionally, there is a larger fee of approx $587 for those without a post-secondary education.
Every three years, architects must pay the renewal fee and complete 36 hours of continuing education to keep their license.
Applicants without a degree must have additional experience, apply directly to the board, pay a greater fee, and complete a Criminal History Records Check for each state they lived in for the past five years. Moreover, your license must be renewed every odd year.
Tennessee provides the opportunity for people who completed a non-accredited four-year architecture education to take the license exam. The state requires 12 hours of continuing education in your first two renewal periods and 24 hours after.
Qualified applicants include people with a non-accredited degree and nine years of experience. They must finish the AXP program, submit a reference form, and pass the Architecture Registration Exam. Vermont’s application fee costs approx $80.
People with a license must renew it every odd year, pay the renewal fee, and maintain 24 hours of continuing education.
Applicants that did not complete an accredited program can submit seven years of experience in architecture. Wisconsin’s application fee is $95. Additionally, you need five letters of recommendation, with at least three being from licensed architects.
If you pass the exam, you’ll need to renew your license every even year and demonstrate 24 hours of continuing education during this time.
Do online Architecture Degrees exist?
The Academy of Art University offers online accredited programs to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree in Architecture. The school also has online degree programs in Interior Architecture and Landscape Architecture.
This may be a good option if you want to study from home and at your own pace.
How to learn architecture without going to school
Are there alternative routes?
Unlike the US, it is not possible to become a licensed architect in the UK without getting a degree. However, the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) offers two studios in partnership with the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes.
The Part 1 or Part 2 course is a self-taught program that allows you to choose your personal tutor. Other benefits of this route include online assignment submission, free RIBA student membership, and access to library resources.
The course’s price at the time of writing this article is £3,000 for the academic year.
Additionally, the study while in practice is another beneficial option, which allows students to work full time under licensed architects, receive a salary, and gain a RIBA Part 1 or RIBA Part 2.
The RIBA Foundation program was launched in 2021 to allow students to prepare for a Part 1 course. This is a good option for those without experience or a portfolio.
NCARB’s pathway to certification
Two Times Architectural Experience Program
The NCARB Two Times AXP enables students with a four-year architecture-related degree to obtain their certification. The requirements for this program include:
● Have at least three years of continuous licensure for the last three consecutive years in any U.S. jurisdiction without disciplinary action.
● Hold a bachelor’s degree that includes significant coursework in architecture (as determined by NCARB).
● The program must be offered at an institution with U.S. regional accreditation (or the Canadian equivalent)
● Your degree must have been awarded after earning less than 150-semester credits, or the quarter-hour equivalent
● The program must include 60 semester credit hours (90 quarter hours) of architecture coursework in the degree program major
If you meet these requirements, you must fulfill double the normal 3740 hours of experience to achieve your certification.
NCARB Certificate Portfolio
People without an architecture-related degree or any college degree may record their experience through an online portfolio to obtain certification. The NCARB outlines the two categories of applicants:
● U.S. Licensed Architects with other post-secondary education and more than 64 semester credit hours. These applicants have the option to obtain an EESA evaluation of their education, and then submit a portfolio to address any deficiencies, or to address all education requirements through a portfolio.
● U.S. Licensed Architects with fewer than 64 semester credit hours of post-secondary education. These applicants must address all education requirements through a portfolio.
To begin, you must establish or reactivate your NCARB record. The initial certification application fee is approx $1100 at the time of writing. Then, email EducationAlternative@ncarb.org to discuss which option you meet the requirements for.
Alternative Pathway Licensure through the RAIC
The RAIC Syllabus Diploma in Architecture is awarded to those who complete the academic studies, design studios, and experience.
Students must apply to become a Student Associate of their Provincial Architectural Association and record their architectural experience in the Canadian Experience Record Book (CERB).
Graduates of the program must then apply to the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB) to receive certification.
Depending on your province, you must take your Professional Examination as you complete your design thesis, after, or following CACB certification. The internship requirements post-graduation also vary per province.
Can you learn for free?
While it is not possible to receive an architecture degree for free, there are many no-cost resources and online learning tools.
Archinect recommends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT OpenCourseWare, which contains over 100 undergraduate and graduate architecture courses. Similarly, the Delft University of Technology OpenCourseWare offers science and technology classes that can apply to architectural practice.
EDX is an initiative started by Harvard and MIT that offers free online classes from top schools. Moreover, it contains some useful architecture courses. Finally, Open Online Academy provides six free architecture classes.
Become an architectural designer
A building or architectural designer can work on the development of structures without a license. Many states outline when you need a licensed architect to design a building. Moreover, you can work in developing buildings with the assistance of a licensed Architect.
However, the Architect must review the drawings and you legally use that title.
For more information on becoming an architectural designer, check out our article Architect vs. Architectural Designer.
Certain states offer pathways for obtaining an architect license in their jurisdiction without a degree. Not only that, but the NCARB provides two pathways to become a certified architect without an architecture degree.
In Canada, the RAIC has a Syllabus program for people without an architecture education. Unfortunately, you must complete an education program or RIBA course to become a licensed architect in the UK.
However, there’s an abundance of free online learning tools. If you’re interested in designing without obtaining your license, don’t worry. You can still practice as a building designer with an Architect by your side.
FAQ’s about how to become an architect without a degree
What is the fastest way to become an architect?
Becoming an architect is a commitment that involves several years of schooling and practical training. Here are the general steps:
- High School Preparation (4 years): If you’re still in high school, focus on math and science courses, as well as art for the creativity aspect of architecture. Advanced courses in these subjects will help prepare you for your college coursework.
- Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture (5 years): There are two types of degrees in architecture you can earn: a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) degree, which is a professional degree that typically takes five years to complete, or a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, which takes four years to complete but must be followed by a Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) program.
- Internship/Experience (3 years): After graduation, prospective architects must complete a period of supervised work experience, often 3 years, through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) or a similar program in your country. This hands-on training is invaluable in preparing you for your career.
- Licensing Examination: In the United States, this is the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), and passing it is required to become a licensed architect. This exam tests your knowledge and skills in different aspects of being an architect.
- State Licensure: Each state has its own requirements for licensure, which may include additional exams. Once all criteria are met, you can become a licensed architect.
- Continuing Education: Most states require architects to participate in continuing education throughout their careers to maintain licensure.
The process of becoming an architect takes approximately 11 to 12 years (or more) from start to finish, and there is no “fast track.” However, you can potentially save some time by choosing a 5-year B.Arch. program instead of a 4-year undergraduate degree followed by a 2-year M.Arch., but this requires a commitment to architecture from the start of your undergraduate studies.
Remember, becoming an architect is not just about earning a degree and getting licensed—it’s also about building your skills, understanding the profession, and continuously learning throughout your career.