10 Reasons to Take the ARE

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

Before graduating with a bachelor’s of architecture from the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, I wasn’t sure if I needed to earn a license. But after working in the profession for several years, it became very clear that obtaining my license was something I had to do to get to the next level in my career.

After a wild ride with the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®), I became an Oregon Architect in 2013. Looking back, I can now see how the trajectory of my career has definitely changed since passing the exams and earning my license.

For those of you who are debating whether to complete this step, here are 10 reasons to buckle down and finish the ARE.

1. Having a License Will Open Doors

After I completed the exam, received my stamp, and put the whole licensing process behind me, several opportunities began to arise that did not exist before. Suddenly I was starting to be introduced to people who needed my help as an architect, and I found myself having many conversations about possible projects. Just having the license helped put me in those situations.

2. Studying for the Exam Will Make You a Better Architect

One of the biggest benefits of studying for the ARE is the education you will receive along the way. For example, I gained a significant amount of technical knowledge that I hadn’t yet encountered in school or in the field. While I might not use this information anytime soon, my knowledge base has been expanded and I’m a much better architect because of it.

3. You Can Do This While Working Full Time

When I graduated with my B.Arch., I wanted nothing more than to keep learning. But I couldn’t live in academia forever, especially with my student loans. One day my mentor recommended that I look into getting my architecture license instead of another degree. After I researched the ARE, I realized I could take the exam while working full-time—without taking on more student debt. The cost of becoming an architect is not cheap, but I guarantee it’s significantly less expensive than going back to school.

4. You’ve Already Paid a Premium to be Eligible

In most states, you need a degree from a NAAB-accredited program to take the ARE. When I was ready to start testing, having the right degree made things much simpler. Plus, graduates from accredited programs tend to have higher pass rates.

5. You Can Finally Call Yourself an Architect

The intern title debate is a hot topic. Regardless of your opinion, it’s illegal to call yourself an architect and solicit architectural services (involving the health, safety, and welfare of the public) without having an architectural license. While NCARB has made great strides to eliminate the term intern, the only way to call yourself an architect is to earn your license. So now I can say I’m a “licensed architect” instead of, “I’m a talented designer with an extensive portfolio of prolific projects.”

6. Anyone Can Pass This Test

Having completed the process myself, I truly believe that anyone can pass it, regardless of your education or experiences. However, the hardest part is making the commitment to show up consistently and do the work for this self-guided process.

7. You Only Have to Do This Once

Each state has different rules about keeping your license active, including fees and continuing education requirements. Generally, once you’ve passed the ARE, you’ll never have to take it again. One thing’s for sure—I will never let my license lapse or expire.

8. You Have Five Years To Pass

Five years seems like too long. During the recession, I was forced to take a two-year break in the middle of the ARE. Luckily for the five-year Rolling Clock, I was able to pick up where I left off. The generous window allows candidates to return to the ARE without losing any previous hard work.

9. ARE Study Materials Are Getting Better

There are a number of new resources I wish existed when I studied for the exam. What I like most about the new study materials is that they’re available in a variety of formats. Publishers are making audio guides, smartphone apps, videos, downloadable PDFs, and even virtual study groups. Being a slow reader myself, I see having alternatives as a huge advantage. Even with the transition to ARE 5.0 coming in 2016, there has never been a better time to study for ARE 4.0 than right now.

10. Six Months to 60 Days

When I took the exam, if you failed a section, you were not allowed to retake the same division for six months. So when it came time to start studying for the failed exam, I often spent a significant amount of time getting back up to speed. Last year NCARB changed the retake policy from six months to 60 days. This is a game changer since regaining momentum can be difficult.

About the Author

Michael Riscica is an architect who lives in beautiful Portland, OR, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping young architects change the world and is committed to providing them with information to jumpstart their professional careers. You can read his posts at YoungArchitect.com where he publishes weekly about design, the ARE, entrepreneurship, and developing your career.