Architect Spotlight: Nick Thorn

Architect Nick Thorn, AIA, LEED AP, shares his approach to the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) and his views on licensure as a career goal.

What made you pursue architecture?

I’ve been interested in design ever since I was a child. Between wood blocks and LEGOs, I was always creating. My first love was cars, and I spent most of my childhood wanting to be a car designer. I discovered architecture in the fifth grade as I watched the homes in my neighborhood transform from quaint 1950s ranches to large mansions. Excusing the questionable style of these homes, I became enamored with the construction process. I realized that as an architect, I could make a big impact on my community with small design gestures.

How long did it take you to complete your experience and exams? What was your strategy?

After graduation, it took me just under six years to become an architect. I was very diligent with chipping away the hours for my internship, but I kept putting off my exams. As I neared completion of the IDP (now called the Architectural Experience Program), I joined the AIA Dallas Success Teams program to help me start and finish my exams. With the Success Teams program, there was a predetermined order for the exams that removed a layer of uncertainty many exam candidates struggle with before taking the exams. My goal was to be licensed by my 30th birthday. I took my first exam in March, my last exam in December, and received my license the week of my birthday.

You passed all seven ARE divisions on the first try. What are your study secrets?

Motivation, focus, remaining calm, accountability, and maintaining a routine are what got me through the gauntlet of passing all divisions on the first try. Before I began studying for an exam, I made sure to schedule the exam. In my head, the ARE became like college finals: the date was set and I had a certain amount of time to prepare. I studied mostly at home where I was most comfortable, but met with my Success Teams group once per week to review questions and vignette solutions. To keep myself from getting burned out, I made sure to take a week off from studying between exams. This allowed me to regain focus and catch my breath. I knew that for me to be successful and achieve my goals, the ARE had to be a marathon and not a sprint.

How did you stay motivated to complete your path to licensure?

I received a tremendous amount of encouragement from my family, friends, and coworkers which kept me motivated and inspired during the licensure journey. Becoming licensed is a big deal at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects. Michael Malone is an exuberant advocate for getting licensed. Audrey Maxwell and Bob Borson also passed all of their exams on the first try, so the need to live up to a certain standard in the office kept me striving to pass each exam. Also, the constant nagging feeling that I wasn’t licensed kept getting bigger every year—I was ready to move on to the next part of my career.

Why is licensure important to you?

Becoming an architect was a very personal endeavor that I started as a child and have been pursuing since elementary school. Bob Borson has told me countless times that building a career is about the “arrows you have in your quiver,” meaning you have to ask yourself, “What is my skillset and what do I bring to the table?” Being licensed allows me to be seen as a knowledgeable design professional both in the community and among peers. I might have finished the licensure journey, but I’m continually striving to become a better architect and designer.

What advice do you have for licensure candidates?

Don’t give up. Set goals. Enjoy every step of the journey. You have emerged from grueling architecture programs in college and battled tedious job markets as a graduate. Completing the ARE and the AXP is definitely a daunting task, but don’t make it a bigger mountain than it already is. Don’t forget to believe in yourself. You can do this.

Nick Thorn is currently practicing at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects in Dallas, TX.