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An Intern’s Guide to Becoming an Architect, Lesson #1: NCARB & IDP

So, you want to be an Architect? The process of becoming an architect has become overly complicated since the days of Peter Keating and Howard Roark, but it is not impossible, yet. I have focused the last year of my life on obtaining my professional license, and may be deemed a licensed architect sometime this month, but instead of keeping my experiences to myself, I thought that I would pass along the lessons that I have learned during the past year in hopes that it will help other interns navigate this murky process.

One of the most difficult things about the architectural licensing process is that the road to becoming an architect is fragmented. There are multiple entities involved, private and public organizations that define the process, and often the multiple parties have no idea what the other is doing. There is no single guide on the internet that gives a clear path for one to follow to become an architect, until now. An Intern’s Guide to Becoming an Architect is a feature that will describe in detail the path to becoming an architect. The series will focus on every topic from how to begin the process, tips for studying for the ARE, and what to do after earning your license. It’s still important to have your photo taken next to your designs, but the process of becoming an architect involves more than image.

When Can I Start the Process of Becoming an Architect?

Step 1: Many interns think that the first step to becoming a licensed architect involves earning a degree from a (National Architectural Accrediting Board) NAAB accredited architecture program, but this is not true. The first step towards becoming a licensed architect begins when you are accepted into a NAAB accredited architecture program. For those of you that do not know, NAAB exist to regulate the programs that universities across the United States operate. Many students learn about NAAB while in school, but there are some students who are unaware of NAAB accreditation and its importance in becoming an architect. Unfortunately for those students, they are unaware of this requirement, because they are attending a school that is not NAAB accredited. Those students are not told about NAAB, because the institutions running unaccredited programs do not want to advertise the fact that they are not accredited. The NAAB website is a very useful tool for prospective students who are considering applying to an architecture program. The NAAB website contains a complete listing of NAAB accredited programs in architecture, as well as other useful information.

Although many students make the first step toward licensure, for most it is their only step. Life, school, work and other interests prevent many interns from becoming architects, but the truth is that obtaining licensure can be easy with a little guidance, even for the busiest of interns. Many interns wait until after they graduate from a NAAB accredited architecture program, before they start the licensure process, but the truth is you can begin this process before you graduate.

The second step to becoming a licensed architect begins with starting the Intern Development Program (IDP). In order to begin IDP without an accredited professional degree, you must meet one of the requirements set forth by NCARB on their site:

  • Three years in an NAAB-accredited professional degree program;
  • The third year of a four-year pre-professional degree program in architecture accepted for direct entry into a two-year NAAB-accredited professional master’s degree program;
  • One year in NAAB-accredited professional master’s degree program following receipt of a non-professional degree;
  • Ninety-six semester credit hours as evaluated in accordance with the NCARB Education Standard, of which no more than 60 hours can be in the general education category; or
  • A number of years equivalent to the periods set out in 1., 2., or 3. above, in a CACB-accredited professional degree program, or in a Canadian university professional degree program certified by CACB.

Once the above requirements are met, it is time to enroll in the IDP program. The IDP process is one of the few things that NCARB has slowly perfected over the years. When I began the process many years ago, NCARB required the submittal of paper forms, which meant that it took a long time for NCARB to process paperwork, and often required many phone calls to correct clerical errors, which were caused by NCARB employees having to manually enter the data from the forms into the computer. One time I submitted a 123 Form, and when I checked my NCARB account online it said that I had successfully reported my time for the year 2030 instead of 2003. The new electronic process will hopefully eliminate some headaches for new interns attempting to achieve licensure. Today you can easily create an IDP account online, but there is still a lot that you need to know before you can complete the process of enrolling online and completing your second step toward becoming a licensed architect.

Why Start My NCARB Record Now?

A lot of interns wait to create an NCARB record and to start IDP, but I strongly encourage students and interns to begin the process as soon as they can, because the paperwork and processing times can take months and sometimes years. There are many reasons to complete each step toward licensure as soon as possible. The first reason that comes to mind is money. The sooner you get licensed the more likely you are to get promoted and make more money. I didn’t say you would get rich, but more is more, right? The second reason to get licensed is that it makes you more marketable and  attractive towards prospective employers. The third reason to get licensed as soon as possible is that as you grow older you have less and less time, and more and more responsibility. Studying for the AREs while raising a newborn is no way to live life, unfortunately there will never be a time in your life when you have more time and less responsibility. The last reason to get your license as soon as you can is that for many it is the only road block left to conquer to start your own firm. There are other things like money and clients, but don’t wait until you have a client to get your license. By starting the IDP process while in school you can earn a number of training units that will shave months if not years off of the time it will take for you to complete the IDP program. I will discuss training units and the IDP process in the next lesson.

Following the IDP Paper Trail

Step 2: No doubt you stopped reading this article, and clicked on the link above to begin the process of creating an NCARB record. Congratulations! You have made your second step on the path to licensure and your first step on the IDP Paper Trail, but IDP isn’t a sprint, and cannot be completed in a single day. The IDP Paper Trail is a marathon that you will run for the next two to four years. What you can do today is initiate your NCARB record and complete the online application form. I highly encourage new NCARB applicants to only pay $100.00 and not the full $285.00 application fee, because there is no incentive to pay the complete application fee. Why pay the full $285.00 if you might drop out of school or change careers? Visit NCARB’s website for a breakdown of the NCARB fee structure. I strongly believe that NCARB should waive the application fee completely, for students. If they did this, I bet that they would see an increase in membership applications, licensure and an increase in long term membership fees.

Click on the below pictures for a preview of the online application process, complete with commentary.

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Step 3: The third step on the path to licensure is to submit a request to your school to transfer a copy of your transcript to NCARB. There is no way available on the NCARB website to complete this step electronically, and is the first time that you may have to follow up your submittal of paperwork with a phone call. The form needed can be found on NCARB’s website, but since other webmasters change hyperlinks around constantly, for some unknown reason, I am hosting a copy of the Form 122 Education Form on my site for your convenience. Most universities have an online form that allows you to request a transcript transfer, and this can be used in substitution of Form 122, just make sure that the transcript is sent to:


1801 K Street, NW, Suite 700K

Washington, DC 20006-1305

It is a good idea to become familiar with the process of transferring your academic transcripts, because you will have to do this multiple times in your life. When filling out the online transcript request form you will notice that there is a section for special notes or instructions regarding the transcript transfer. Note your name and IDP number in the special notes or instructions field to ensure that NCARB can find you in their database. This will speed the process up and allow you to request the transfer at your convenience. Also remember to follow up the transfer of your academic transcript after a couple of weeks to make sure that NCARB received the transcript and processed it appropriately. They will not call if they have problems. For instance my legal name is James Robert William Cornetet, which was noted in my NCARB file as James Robert William, apparently the person typing in my name thought that they could simply eliminate my last name. It took six months for me to convince NCARB that James Robert William was me, even though the SSN was the same. If I had never called them on the phone, the issue would never have been fixed, and I still would be wondering what is going on with my application? So save yourself some trouble and time, and fill in the special notes/instructions field and call NCARB if your transcript does not appear as processed on your online NCARB record.

TIP #1

Call, call, call. A lot of interns submit paperwork and forget about it, thinking that the systems that are in place actually work and never have any bugs. The problem with that mentality is that the people pushing the paperwork don’t care if you get licensed or not, only you do, and maybe your mom. So if you are on a fast track to becoming a licensed architect, I suggest that you create a folder that contains copies of all of your paperwork and create a list of contacts related to the various processes of licensure. If you submit for an IDP record and it takes a few weeks for it to process, call them! If your transcript isn’t showing up as received by NCARB and it has been two months, call NCARB and your college. You have to follow up on your paperwork or you could add months or years onto this already lengthy process. This is one of the most valuable tips I can offer to young interns.

In Conclusion

This concludes the first lesson of the Intern’s Guide to Becoming an Architect. The above steps can be completed in an afternoon and is by far the easiest part of the whole process, but must be completed before you can begin your journey on the IDP Paper Trail.

In the next lesson I will examine the pros and cons of  e-EVR (electronic Experience Verification Reporting) system developed by NCARB and how to use it. The lesson will aslo discuss IDP training units and how to make the most of your experience as an intern. Future lessons will examine establishing records with the state boards of architecture in your state, as well as developing resources for the Architectural Registration Exam, and analyzing each ARE in detail to give you the best chance at passing the exams on your first try, and finally what you must do after passing all of the exams to maintain your license.’