How long does it take to become an Architect?

Before jumping into the post, let me preface:

I am an architect in Canada, but I’ll be sharing in this post what it takes to become a licensed architect in North America.

Because the US and Canada have a reciprocity agreement, you can be an architect in either of the countries as long as you take the local requirements to do so. The process is very similar apart from a few slight differences, so I’ll be sharing with you the process I went through and tell you about the equivalent process in the US.

What are the steps and how long does it take?

1. Going to architecture school

Firstly, you obviously have to go to architecture school.

But remember: you have to go to a NAAB or CACB Accredited University. This is important, because without this accreditation, you may go to 4 years of school and none of it will count towards your license. Some schools have a M.Arch accreditation and some have a B.Arch accreditation. This means that if you do a B.Arch accredited program, you won’t have to go and do your Masters.

2. Internships

As soon as you graduate from school, you can register for the Internship program in your local jurisdiction and you can start collecting hours. Both in the US and Canada, the Internship programs require you to complete 3720 hours of work under a Registered Architect.

After I finished my masters, I started the internship program and finished in 3 years. However, depending on what firm you’re at, this can take anywhere between 3-10 years or more. I made the mistake of not registering with the program for the first 6 months, so I lost out on those hours. But in the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter, as throughout the process there’s a lot of hours that will ‘go to waste’ or ‘overflow’.

The hours are broken down into these categories:

Depending on what firm you’re in, you might have an overflow of hours on specific categories.  An architecture firm is a business, after all, and their goal is to create value out of your time. This means that sometimes, your tasks won’t always be spread out perfectly amongst all the categories you need to fill. In fact, you may even get stuck on a specific phase of the design process, because in the end, it costs companies to teach new interns new skills. This is why it’s very important to be selective of the firm you work at in your first few years of working in the field. My advice would be: don’t go after the money - in fact, not even the work (many high-profile firms treat interns very poorly) Make sure you work at a firm that wants to see you grow, and will help you get these hours. Be sure to ask your potential employer how they accommodate the IAP process, because a lot of times, it's up to you to work with your boss and ensure you get the right amount of hours.I made a spreadsheet to calculate your internship hours, which you can download here.

3. Exams

After your internships, there’s the examination process. You will have your nation-wide exams, and also the requirements of your local jurisdiction. In the States, these are called AREs, and in Canada, they’re called the ExACs (Examination for Architects in Canada). Canadian architects also have the option to take the AREs instead. Prior to registering for the exams, you need to meet certain requirements. It may vary by jurisdiction, but here in British Columbia you must have completed 2800 hours to be eligible to write the exams.

These exams test you on your ability to design safe and healthy buildings, but also tests your ability to manage projects and coordinate the work of your consultants.

What’s the difference between the ARE’s and the ExACs?


  • Broken up into five separate exams for each topic
  • You can retake categories if you fail one
  • These exams happen multiple different times of the year at different testing facilities.


  • You write all of the exams over a period of two days
  • Testing only happens once a year, so you’ll have to wait another year if you fail one of the categories.

All in all, I think it’s better to take these exams as soon as you’re able to and get it over with. The longer you take, the harder it will become for you to dedicate months to studying for this exam.

What does it mean to be a licensed architect?

Being an architect is not really about your ability to design or draw well, although this does supplement your skills. The main difference between being a Licensed Architect vs. Intern Architect or Project Architect is the legal responsibility. When you are a licensed architect and you sign off on the drawings, it means that you,as a professional, are assuring:

  • that the building is built to a certain standard in terms of life safety and accessibility
  • you have checked all the necessary building codes to make sure that it meets the requirements and standards of the jurisdiction you’re practicing in.

This is why when you submit a permit to the city, you have all the Engineers’ stamps and the Architect’s stamp to provide professional assurance that you’ve checked the drawings to the best of your abilities. 

As a licensed Architect, you’re also taking legal responsibility for coordinating all the different consultants on your team. This is called being a CRP - Coordinated Registered Professional.In any project, you will have a structural, mechanical and electrical engineer, and sometimes a building envelope or civil engineer. Your role as the CRP is to make sure that the mechanical system doesn’t interfere with the structural system and that everything works with the design intent. When you stamp those drawings, you’re giving your written promise to the City and the public that you’ve coordinated the work of these other professionals.

What this all means is that the biggest difference between a licensed Architect and an Intern Architect is that as a licensed Architect, you now have the right to get sued. We were warned against this during our Legal course - even if the problem wasn’t directly the Architect’s fault, as the CRP, the Architect will most likely get lumped into the lawsuit. 

  • If the roof leaks, you will get sued.
  • If the structure collapses, you will get sued.
  • If one of the windows fall out, you will get sued.

Luckily, there is such a thing as liability insurance to protect architects - so don’t worry if this all sounds incredibly daunting. You can also get licensed, and if you’re not ready to take on the responsibility of stamping the drawings yet, you don’t have to. You can work for a firm where they have architects who stamp the drawings.

This is why the term ‘Architect’ is very protected. If you call yourself an Architect without having gone through the whole process, you could get in trouble. So be sure that if somebody calls themselves an Architect, you check their credentials, because it could mean different things based on where they come from.

If you found this post helpful or if you have any other questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you - I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


1 year ago

O artigo é bastante bom.
Sou Arquitecto recém formado em Moçambique, aqui o processo é um pouco diferente. Depois de concluir o seu estudo na faculdade, não tens de fazer nenhum exame para passar a assinar os projectos, apenas precisas de requerer o alvará junto ao Ministério das obras publicas e de te inscrever na ordem dos Arquitectos.
Com o alvará e com o cartão da ordem já estás legalmente autorizado a exercer a profissão.

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