How to Become a Licensed Architect

If you’re interested in starting an architectural firm, you need to know the requirements of becoming a licensed architect. The answer depends on the state you plan to operate your firm and the type of architecture you plan to specialize in. 

To help you get a basic idea of what you’ll need to run this business, we put together a general overview that covers the basics of getting started in this lucrative career.

Step 1. Getting Licensed through the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB)

Architects in the United States must earn their license by complying with the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB). This organization sets the standard for professionals in this industry to meet in order to offer services in the U.S.

Guidelines to earn licensing require applicants to meet the following qualifications:

Have an Accredited Degree

The degree requirement requires earning a Bachelor’s or Masters from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. Again, though, you may have experience or comparable education accepted in its place. It’s ultimately up to government rules on this option.

Architectural Experience Program (AXP) Requirement

Believe it or not, you’ll need more than a degree to qualify for an architectural license! NCARB also expects applicants to complete an AXP program. This is an intense course that demands you have accrued thousands of hours of field experience working under the supervision of a licensed architect.

Pass the Architect Registration Exam (ARE)

In addition to the education and work experience requirements, you must pass the ARE. This is not a free exam; you’ll need to test across different topics related to your field, including safety and health. 

Officially Apply and Pay for Your Licensing

After all of these steps, you can apply for your license according to the state laws where you live. You will have to pay any related fees for the application process. 

Keep in mind that some states may also impose additional training courses or testing. The reason often has to do with the challenges of the location where an architect might decide to work. Additionally, if you need licensing in multiple states, NCARB certification provides reciprocated applications. This means the organizational requirements in the 55 jurisdictions it holds are standardized, including in a few other countries, like Canada and Mexico.

Step 2. Starting Your Architecture Business

Starting an architecture business requires significant planning. You need all of your ducks in a row before you start taking on projects. Below is a quick overview of the initial steps you can expect to take when first beginning your new company:

Setting Up and Registering Your Architecture Firm

You have the education out of the way and successfully obtained your professional architect license. This is a monumental achievement, but you still have to officially set up your company and register it with your Secretary of State. 

Determining which business structure is best depends on your financial goals and long-term company plans. There are several entities you can choose from, and each comes with its own benefits and disadvantages. Speak with a tax advisor about the goals you have for your new firm for information about the following business structures:

  • Sole Proprietorship
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC)
  • Partnership
  • Corporation

Each structure has its own requirements and legalities associated with it. 

Create a Rock Solid Business Plan 

No matter what industry you are operating, a business plan is essential for any company starting up. This document acts as a roadmap to how you run your architectural business and achieve the goals you have in store for it. 

It can also help you get funding for your firm, determine what startup costs you need, and even outline your budget for salaries, marketing, and association fees. 

Choose Your Business Location and Tools

When first starting out, you may be happy with any office space you can find so long as it fits your budget and is near your service area. However, as an architect, the aesthetic and design of your workspace can impact potential clients coming in for a consultation. Look at your office as a way to market your particular specialty and try to choose a location that reflects this.  

You also need to acquire the tools of your trade. It’s important to invest in quality tools early on in your career so that you provide the best results and keep clients coming back to collaborate on more design projects. Opting for low-budget items often results in constant repairs and poor-quality deliverables. 

Create an Impressive Portfolio

When initially pursuing architectural work, you may take any job thrown your way. However, creating a portfolio highlighting your specialized design skills could attract the clients and projects you want to work on the most. 

In the meantime, work those smaller jobs and keep adding to your portfolio. Once you have established your capability to handle minor projects, clients will reach out to you for more exciting opportunities. 

Step 3. Protect Your New Architectural Firm from Industry Risks

With everything ready to go, there is another crucial step you need to take before opening your office for business: insurance. In the architectural industry, professionals face significant risks in their day-to-day operations. For example, if you give erroneous advice, your client might suffer financial harm and sue you for that loss. A professional liability policy can defend your firm against these claims and even pay for your legal defense costs. 

Most architectural business owners rely on a few insurance coverages to protect their clients, staff, and company’s best interests. Below is a list of additional coverage options you probably need to ensure maximum protection throughout the lifetime of your career:

  • General Liability
  • Commercial Auto
  • Professional Liability
  • Business Owner’s Policy
  • Workers’ Compensation

Speak with a knowledgeable insurance representative about your architectural company and the liabilities you’re concerned about. They can go over frequently requested policy options by other professionals in the industry and make recommendations based on your unique needs. 

Preparing for Your Future as a Licensed Architect

The level of dedication to becoming a licensed architect is no easy feat, but the demand for certified professionals in this field continues to grow. Understanding the educational, work, and legal requirements to obtain your license is just one of many steps in creating a lucrative firm. 

You also should plan for challenges that might arise. Whether it be a disgruntled client filing suit or a fault in your design leading to safety hazards, business insurance can mitigate much of this risk. So, remember that the cost of your peace of mind is less than shouldering the entire cost of a claim alone. 

Shamir Emanyail
My name is Shamir Emanyail. I am the author of Active My Home. I am also an author on You can contact me for any query at

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