It took me seven “pass” notifications from NCARB, but soon I will be able to call myself a registered architect. I still need state approval, but as of right now there is only a 40-dollar check to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania between me and my professional seal.
Until two years ago, I was not interested in being registered. For one thing, as an immigrant in the US, there were too many uncertainties. I am not a registered architect in Italy and this is the only licensure I now carry. My friend Mindy Fullilove, Hon. AIA convinced me that a license in the US would be important for my career here. At the time, she was serving as Public Director on the AIA Board of Directors and she encouraged me to take an active part in the organization and to obtain all the necessary credentials and knowledge to practice in the United States.
Never put your life on hold
So despite being still full of uncertainties, I decided to begin the process of becoming licensed. The first lesson I learned was to never put your life on hold: if you have the chance of improving yourself, do so immediately, without second thoughts.
My path to licensure was not extraordinary, though it started with a compliance evaluation of my Italian Diploma, which cost roughly $2000. This was so NCARB could evaluate my Italian MArch “against the NCARB Education Standard.”
I also had to take a test in English Composition, since the University Politecnico of Milano did not offer any course like that, and I needed at least three credits before taking my ARE. After these technicalities, I did what many have done before me, including failing at least one test.
Fresh-off-the-boat and out of an Italian school for less than two years, I made the poor decision to start off with the tough exam Programming, Planning, and Practice and completely failed the Practice portion. I also failed the vignette, which still leaves me wondering if the software is some sort of Russian roulette, for young intern architects. It is not, but feels like that.
The world still goes on
Failing a test was a new experience for me, and my second lesson learned. Even though you might want the world to end there, the world still goes on. Hence, it is better to prepare for the aftermath!
I actually found that everybody was extremely nice to me, and understanding. Many people had encouraging words and shared plenty of similar stories. I never felt alone.
My “aftermath” consisted of working even harder, with humility, and trying again until I succeeded. I prepared for a different test, Construction Documents and Services, and since then, I have passed all seven divisions of the Architect Registration Exam, in more or less 20 months. That was a large amount of time, but I was pursuing other interests, and volunteering opportunities (like my work on the Communications Committee at AIA Pittsburgh).
In addition to learning how to recover from a failure, I discovered how to propel success. If you ever need a boost of confidence in yourself, try to work, study (and to pass exams!) at the same time. Every time I woke up early in the morning and sat in front of my books, I felt the power of determination. Every time I passed an exam, I felt an inch taller. There is nothing more empowering that achieving your goals.
Talking with other colleagues recently licensed, or in exam mode, I was surprised to see how much they disliked the study portion of getting registered. They regretted the freedom and the time they lost while studying. I found testing for the ARE a precious occasion to fill many gaps in my education and to catch up with many colleagues of mine. For many of us, this might be the last chance to study architecture outside of continuing education to keep up with the competition and our own personal pursuits.
Studying for the ARE definitely helped me be more effective at work. I am now in a position of “knowing what I don’t know” and that helps me ask the right questions in the field.
It is not as bad as what you’re predicting
One final word. As we approach the start of a new year and possibly plan some resolutions. Just as it is never the right moment to quit smoking, so it is never the right time to start testing. I recommend starting as soon as possible, without overthinking, and discover that it is not as bad as what you’re predicting.
What I wish for myself now is to serve my profession and the AIA as only a grateful immigrant can do: by working hard and keeping focused, honored and grateful to serve the community that is hosting me.