More Than One Path to Licensure

Five recently registered architects discuss their journeys

By Sean Sheffler, AIA, LEED AP Posted on September 23, 2013


The paths in the architectural profession are many and varied, and the nature of those practicing within it, are divergent. Our differing backgrounds, education, and experience each influence our approach to practice, which we perform in different states, in different regions, and in different market segments. Some of us are working in 200-person firms, while others are sole practitioners. Some of us design, some of us market, some of us develop construction drawings. Where our paths converge, however, is in the act of earning one’s license. Registration – whether we are currently working to achieve it, or look back fondly upon the process — is the one thing we all have in common as professionals. We asked five recently registered architects, each of whom earned their license in 2012, to tell us about their unique journeys, and what they learned along the way.

Education, Experience, Examination… And Concurrency

Fittingly for such a diverse profession, the traditional three-step process toward licensure – education, experience, and examination – has also seen its share of changes in recent years. In 2008, the exam changed format from version 3.1 to 4.0, and the IDP process underwent a complete overhaul in 2012. The biggest change came in 2007, when Pennsylvania began allowing intern architects the opportunity to take the exam before completing IDP (a process known as concurrency), which changed the game significantly for emergent professionals. Natale Cozzolongo was one of them. He remembers an office meeting with the members of IKM’s “Cohort Group,” held shortly after concurrency became official, which “emphasized the benefit of testing as soon as possible, since it is such a struggle to get back into the habit of studying after college.” The increasing demands on time, that tends to go hand-in-hand with a career as an architect, were also a factor. “That day I set myself the goal of a year to complete testing.” Lindsay Reed, of Lami-Grubb, also mentions the shift to concurrency as being all the motivation that the needed to get started. “Once Pennsylvania changed the rules stating that I could complete IDP and testing simultaneously, I was ready to go!” she says. Camaraderie (and possibly a small helping of peer pressure) helped, as well.  “I had friends who had started testing and I turned to them for advice and motivation, which was invaluable when just getting started. But I felt that if they could do it, there were no excuses for me to put it off!”

Emily Putas, AIA, of Stantec, experienced a completely different type of societal pressure during her internship. “Everyone had been bugging me to get registered since day one. ‘Just get it over with,’ they’d say. They all placed immense value on the credential, but not the process, and this bothered me. I didn’t feel ready to carry the responsibility of licensure right out of the gate, or even at 3 years in. I felt that taking the tests just to take them would cheapen my credential and the experience. What does licensure mean if everyone takes the tests just to take them? Just to get them out of the way?” Cozzolongo, however, disagrees. “Passing the tests resulted in being given greater responsibilities than I think I would have been given otherwise. Overall, I think more was expected of me, which was a welcomed challenge.”

The freedom to start testing sooner, however, doesn’t make IDP any easier to complete, as Luke Havrilla, AIA can attest. “I began studying for my first ARE while still doing IDP. I knew in the back of my head that I could pace myself taking the exams… but after I passed my final exam, I realized I still had IDP to finish, which I had originally anticipated to being finished by my last exam.” Also an employee of Stantec, Havrilla turned to his superiors for help in finishing up: “They pulled some strings, and with an intense amount of shop drawings, submittals, and site visits, I was able to complete my IDP within 2 months after passing my final exam.”

Reed was nearly finished with IDP when she started testing, but had a little trouble completing her experience requirements regardless. “I did have to spend a bit of time at work persistently BEGGING people to give me all their estimating work, since that was the IDP category that took me the longest to complete, but I managed to finish a few months before the big IDP rollover,” which, unfortunately, caused some candidates to lose valuable experience in the transition.


The Non-Traditional Path

The IDP process has become nearly synonymous with architectural internship, but for some, IDP didn’t even enter the equation. “I did what many consider the ‘non-traditional path’ to licensure, relying on my work experience to meet the requirements,” says Astorino’s Mike Driscoll, who also didn’t attend architecture school. “I worked throughout the early 1990’s for various firms and disciplines and at this point I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.” He credits Dennis Astorino for offering him what proved to be invaluable advice, by pointing him toward another jurisdiction. “New York was one of a few states to still accept work experience and not require IDP to qualify,” Driscoll recalls. “I contacted the NY State Board, and received my eligibility and Authorization to Test in 1999.”

As for completing his experience requirement afterward, Cozzolongo offers great praise for the “Cohort Group” at IKM: “The support of my colleagues, elder interns, and the recently registered were instrumental. IKM had always made sure I got the experience I need to fulfill the IDP requirements.” He feels that completing his experience requirement after testing gave him the practical opportunities “to learn first-hand a lot of the stuff I had to learn first from a textbook.” Driscoll, however, has a different opinion: “Personally, I think the process was difficult for me because I had been out of school for quite some time. I think if I was fresh out of school and had the topics still in my head it would make for a better or easier testing experience. I don’t think a younger person has an advantage for the exam process. It’s the same exam for all.” Putas agrees that waiting – even for only a few years – helped her immensely: “I had more experience than someone straight out of school or only a couple years in. I could bring my professional experience to bear on odd-ball questions. All I needed to know was the framework of the question and how to go about solving it, which felt much more like what I do on a daily basis in the office.”

On the Job, and On Your Way

Even those who took full advantage of concurrency would agree that on-the-job experience is invaluable to the process. “I think it would be a gross generalization to say that completing the tests before completing IDP is easier,” says Cozzolongo, who earned his license as an employee of IKM Incorporated (he has since relocated to New York, after accepting a position with Kohn Pedersen Fox). “For example, it might be much more effective for some people to internalize the information by diverse and practical experience for a few years than to simply learn what the right answers are from a book. You need to know how your own brain works and set goals.”

“Of course it’s difficult to say when you’re ready, or when anyone is ready,” Putas confesses. “It is an incredibly personal experience. I knew I was ready when I felt comfortable on the jobsite, confident in front of the client, and credible to myself. But there was additional incentive – I was 7 years out of school and hadn’t attained my license. If I lost my job due to the poor economy, who would take me seriously at this point? Without my license, my resume will not be able to stand as strong as others with the same level of experience. These two forces of self-surety and economic pressure came together at the same time for the final push toward the ARE.” Cozzolongo concurs:  “It comes down so much to where people are professionally and personally. I’d say without a doubt I had an easier time than my colleagues who, for example, had children or projects they were in charge of managing… though I could imagine many scenarios where someone might have an easier time testing after cutting their teeth for a few years. It comes down to how one’s brain works as well.”

But Seriously, Study

Feeling as if one is ready and actually being ready, however, are two completely different things. “My first ARE was a failure,” Havrilla admits openly. “I came off a high, passing my LEED AP exam, and felt that 2 weeks of mild studying, as I did with LEED, will get me a pass. Boy, was I ever wrong. The ‘slap in the face’ reality that the ARE is serious, and requires serious thought and preparation, was all I needed.” Havrilla then began an intense six-week study regimen for each subsequent division, followed by nearly three weeks of rest after each test. “While my study regime can be seen to some as ‘too long,’ I found it worked well for me, which emphasizes the fact that everyone studies differently.” This statement is especially true when compared to Putas’ approach. “I had received some excellent advice from a colleague, who suggested scheduling a test and, before taking it, schedule the next – not as a means to ‘just get it over with’ but maintain testing momentum. Spacing them relatively close together (4 weeks on average) had advantages: I found the material I studied for one test could, in part, be applied to the next if I scheduled them in a logical order.” The crossover in material between divisions also helped Reed, who modified her study schedule accordingly. “I studied, on average, probably about 4 weeks [for each exam] – less if I had taken previous tests with a lot of material overlap, more if I felt less than confident about the material (like structures).” Her preparation for each test was no less intensive, though: “I studied a lot, probably about 4 nights a week for 3 hours a night, and on weekends, about 5 hours a day,” she confesses. “Looking back it seems like overkill, but I didn’t want to risk having to retake a single test, and it paid off!”

Personal goals and timeframes are only one constraint. NCARB had also instituted a five-year “rolling clock” in order to keep candidates focused on the exam, and encouraging them to complete it in a timely fashion… but many have found that five years can pass by very quickly. “Family life got the best of me,” as Driscoll, who passed his first exam in 2006, explains. “Overall, it took me over 6 years to complete. This included an overlap with the five-year clock, and therefore, I did have to retake my first exam I passed. The reason I kept putting the exams off over these years were mainly due to financial constraints, or otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have taken as long.”

Financing the test was a concern for Cozzolongo, as well, but he was able to channel that into personal motivation — and incentive — to finish. “After about a week or two [of study], I’d put down the money and make the appointment to test. At this point I was less than sure I’d be prepared by test day. However, that pressure — really the threat of losing money due to rescheduling or failing — motivated me to hit the books with a big stick of self-discipline.”

Self-discipline plays a huge part in the process, but there’s much more to it than that. Architectural registration is also a convergence of an individual’s level of experience, education, confidence, and ambition. No matter what paths are taken to get there, or where it takes us afterward, registration is also a reflection of an architect’s commitment to the profession, and their own career. “Looking back, I don’t think I would have done it any differently,” Putas offered. “I would contend that it is never too late to take the ARE and, in fact, if you’ve waited, you’ll probably have an easier time of it. Even if you have to go through the IDP process, consider this: in 3 years’ time you will be 3 years older. You can either have your license or not. It’s up to you.”

Interested in learning more about the ARE Review Sessions? Check out the 2013-2014 Series.

Comment Policy

6 Responses to More Than One Path to Licensure

  1. Like Mike Driscoll I went the nontraditional path. I have an Associate Degree in Architecture not a full 5 year degree. I started IDP in 2006 and completed in 2010. Unfortunately The PA Architects Registration Board won’t provide me with eligibility. Even after completing over 6 years of various work with numerous architects and firms, the Board won’t give me eligibility. Considering that I am able to provide services to residential clients from initial meeting to building permit and construction drawings, I am unable to use that experience in my application. If the law excludes residential, and I am able to obtain building permit, it seems to me that a person should be permitted to submit that work as evidence of knowledge and understanding for eligibility. If firms won’t hire me and the Board won’t give me eligibility then there is something wrong with this.

  2. The biggest difference here is that Mr. Driscoll pursued his registration in a different jurisdiction — New York — which allowed experience in lieu of a NAAB-accredited degree. There are several other states that allow this path for compliance, as well. Perhaps Mr. May should look into one of those jurisdictions to pursue his initial license.

  3. For the record, those states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. The amount of experience required varies per each jurisdiction, and other stipulations may apply.

  4. Pennsylvania still allows the use of experience in lieu of an NAAB-accredited degree. The reasons for denial are unrealistic. I have completed IDP. I have experience and have routinely worked with a number of architects. I have been unsuccessful in finding any firms hiring here in the Pittsburgh area. Two firm principals have told me that I am too old. I merely point out that the PA Architects Board is preventing me from taking the test that would otherwise determine whether or not I could meet the minimum level of fitness like any other candidate for licensure. Given my experience, training, completion of IDP and having passed other tests related to my fitness ( I have completed the NOCTI Architectural Test and taught Architectural Drafting and Design for ten years ), to deny me to take the test is preventing me from fairly competing and offering my services. That is wrong.

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