A little while ago, I made a video on the step-by-step process of becoming a licensed architect. On this video, a subscriber commented asking if I could share my specific experience and how I was able to get my license within just three and a half years after graduating from architecture school.
So today, I will share with you:
My internship experience
My approach throughout the whole process of becoming licensed
I’ve broken this down into six ‘tips’ that I think could be helpful to you:
Before going further, here’s a quick disclaimer:
This is not a blueprint or step-by-step process manual to becoming a licensed architect, as everybody’s journey is going to be different based on where you are, your priorities, your skills - even luck may also play a part in your journey. This is simply the path that I took - yours may be different.
Also, at the end of this post I will share a few of my thoughts on licensure in the present day after going through the entire process - looking back at it, if I had the opportunity to redo it, how I would have done it differently.
First of all, let’s look at why:
Why was I in such a rush to get licensed?
The average time for getting licensed is somewhere around 5 years - with a lot of people taking a lot longer to actually do it. So I guess my situation was a kind of ‘anomaly’ of sorts.
When I finished my masters, I moved back to my hometown to work, meaning that I didn’t really have the ‘architecture community’ I had at university. I started to feel really behind in life as all my friends have been cemented in their careers for years. This what lit the fire in me to get moving with my license.
Here’s how I set my work and my life after graduation to get my license as fast as possible:
1. Be selective when choosing the firm where you will intern
Before I started this whole process, I asked a lot of my older friends for advice on how to pick firms among the whole internship process, and a lot of them advised me to try and look for a firm that could help me get licensed fast. This is especially important as, apparently, a lot of interns wind up having to switch firms because they aren’t being put on projects or didn’t have projects in phases that they could collect hours in.
When you graduate, it’s tempting to take the first job offer you get - but if you end up not being the right fit and have to move to a new firm, you have just wasted months of your precious internship hours.
2. The interview process
Ask. Lots. Of. Questions.
You have to make sure the firm where you’re interviewing is the right fit for you, so be sure to ask a couple of important questions:
How do you help interns collect their hours?
What kind of projects do you have?
Do you have resources to help with the exam process?
Knowing the role your firm will also play in your journey to licensure is important to make the best decision for you.
3. Project Selection
To gather your internship hours, you can use any project in your office. For example, if a project is in schematic design phase, you can use that project to collect site hours and schematic design hours, but also work on another project in CA to collect hours that way. However, this way you’re only getting bits and pieces of information.
I personally believe you have the best learning experience if you are able to see a project through from start to finish. If you can work on a shorter-term project like a house or a retrofit, you can actually see the project through from schematic design to construction and to closeout.
The project I did was an office renovation for the city of Coquitlam. I was a little concerned because it wasn’t a new building, so there wasn’t any site work or foundations to be done. What’s more important is to see the construction administration process through a project’s timeline.
For other things like site analysis hours, I could gather my hours through other projects in the office that were going through those stages.
4. Don’t go after the money when you’re starting out
I got an offer from a large firm and a small firm - the large firm offering a whopping extra $5k over the small firm.
It was tempting to go for the bigger firm as a lot of my friends were doing so- and you get bigger projects. Also, $5k was a LOT of money for me at the time.
However, I went with the small firm, as I was 150% convinced that they would help me get licensed faster.
Through my years of work, I have learned you should try to go after people you want to work with, not necessarily companies. So every time I have some indication of what the people are like (and good people are not that easy to find) I try to make a conscious effort to go after that.
5. Log your hours diligently
I tracked my hours every day for everything that I did into our time tracking app, simply adding a hashtag for the internship category that the task was in.
For example, if I was detailing a roof for a house project, I would log those hours and add #constructiondocuments so when I submit my hours I can just search for the tag and it will show me: ( 1 ) exactly how many hours I have and ( 2 ) which project the hours are in.
I created an excel sheet that adds all the hours and tells me how many hours I have left in each category. If your want a copy of this sheet, you can download it here.
6. Write your exams as soon as possible
You don’t have to wait until you finish all your 3740 hours to write your exams - you can write them earlier ( as soon as you have around 2700 hours I think).
I would suggest writing them as soon as possible, because the truth is: you’re not gonna have more time next year.
Sitting down and actually studying the stuff will also make you a better architect and increase your value to the firm, so why not do it earlier?
I am quite happy with my decisions on this journey that I took. I feel more confident in my abilities and I got a 1.4x salary increase the year that I got licensed. However, there are also some downsides to getting licensed as soon as possible.
Before coming to the firm I work at now, I was quite a pragmatic person. I was more focused on good project management, client relationships and project execution than the design itself. I worked at four firms so far, but working here made me realize I want to see more how other firms operate and I want to learn from other principals.
When you’re an intern, it’s much easier to work at different firms for a few months at a time - learning from different architects and being able to make a more informed decision of where you want to set roots in the future. While this is something I definitely could do, I feel like once you get licensed, it’s harder to get experience from different firms. You now play a more important role in the firm, managing projects or contributing in an essential way - so when you leave after a few months it throws a wrench in the wheels of the firm.
It is important to remember that once you’re licensed, you have to think more long term - out of respect for the people working at the firm and for your professional reputation.
However, It’s normal to change as our circumstances change, and our priorities will inevitably change as well. We just have to be mindful, be flexible and also make some room in our days to reflect and think about our values and where we want to be in the future.
I would love to know where in your journey you’re at right now, and where you want to be in the next three years.
Let me know in the comments below!