The path to licensure in architecture is a notorious one. As of 2016, it takes the average architect 12.5 years to complete architectural education and get licensed. Most practitioners must wait until they are 32 years of age or older to legally call themselves an architect and while this process is improving, it is often a daunting task for students considering a career in the field.
Aware of these statistics, three years ago, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) began rolling out the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) program for students at National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)–accredited schools to shorten and streamline the process of attaining licensure. In May, three graduates from the University of Florida’s (UF) CityLab-Orlando Master of Architecture programs became the first students to meet national requirements for licensure while earning a degree.
"IPAL allowed me to achieve the goal of licensure in only six years," says Phillip Lantry, Assoc. AIA, a construction administrator at HKS Architects in Orlando, Fla., and one of those recent graduates. "Licensed architects and mentors always told me to get the AREs done as soon as you graduate school because you must do it while you are in that mindset. I consider myself very fortunate since I was able to complete the AREs before graduation."
Unlike the traditional path to licensure in which students complete coursework, then take the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), and then the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), IPAL enables students to combine their curriculum work with AXP and ARE.
“The IPAL program is one of the most significant changes in architectural education,” said CityLab-Orlando program director Frank M. Bosworth, AIA, in an NCARB press release. “Students who are looking to come to architecture school like the idea of becoming a professional upon graduation.”
While this can be an arduous task, it provides a difficult but attainable alternative for those looking for begin practicing as soon as possible.
"When I began to explore the possibility of getting my Master of Architecture, it was imperative to find a program that allowed great flexibility as I am a single father of two young children—I needed to maintain full-time employment to keep my benefits," says another recent graduate, Justin Jablonski, Assoc. AIA, a project architect for design and consulting firm Stantec and the country’s first IPAL alum to complete the ARE and AXP before graduation. (The three students all graduated in May, but they each pursued ARE and AXP on individual schedules throughout the semesters.) "I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to become a registered architect. The ability to take the ARE as soon as possible without having to get your degree first saves an enormous amount of time in the process."
Despite the challenges, the program might set candidates apart when searching for jobs.
Jablonski explains, "I was already employed [but] once the local firms learned of what the students at Citylab were accomplishing, there was significant interest in acquiring us," he says. "I received several inquiries over the course of my time at Citylab and ultimately ended up choosing a new opportunity at a different firm after graduation."
And Lantry agrees. "I do believe that participation in the IPAL program would give potential candidates a significant advantage in the job market," he says. "Firms are interested to see that students are dedicated and have the rigor that it takes to be good architects."
However, "it is certainly not an easy path and not everyone will complete all of the requirements before graduation," points out Michael Germano, AIA, the third UF student to complete the program in May who is currently an architect with Scott + Cormia Architecture & Interiors in Orlando, Fla. "The biggest challenge for me was time management. Keeping track of all the school work in addition to working full-time while in school is a tough task, then adding the time required to study and take the exams was another layer of stress added to the mix."
Yet as the paths to licensure evolve and shift, the profession itself will also need to adjust. For Germano, the greatest challenge came in explaining to potential employers that he was licensed despite being a recent graduate.
"It doesn't seem to always make sense to the older generation of architects that a person can graduate and be licensed almost immediately now," he says. "Which, in turn, means that the initial offers are typically at recent graduate levels as opposed to a licensed architect with experience. Hopefully, as the success of the IPAL program starts to become better established outside of academia, IPAL graduates will be held in higher regard for the effort and drive required to complete such a task."
There are currently 26 programs at 21 colleges that offer participating IPAL programs. See the list here.