How to Become a Successful Architect: Infographic

Being a Successful Architect: The Journey

I came across this infographic the other day by graphic designer Anna Vital on “How to Never Give Up on Being an Entrepreneur” and thought it applied so well to architecture that I took some ‘artistic liberties' and applied some modifications. You can see Anna's original text underneath, and the ‘Business of Architecture' authorized changes on top. Becoming an architect is difficult, becoming a GREAT (and profitable) architect is even harder! (P.S. Before you report me to Frank Gehry, let me offer this disclaimer – quotes from famous architects are fabrications – any resemblance to actual utterances is merely coincidental)

What it takes to become an architect

Yesterday my brother-in-law and I compared the respective paths of architects versus engineers. He is in school right now for engineering and just took his EIT exam.

He told me that to become a registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) he must complete 4 years of schooling, pass the E.I.T. exam (one day exam), work for two years as an intern and pass the P.E. exam. Total time at best case scenario to become a Professional Engineer? 6 years, including college.

I told him that to become an architect, one needs a combination of 8 years of schooling an work experience, but this varies by state (???). Across the U.S., one need pass the Architect Registration Examination (A.R.E.). The A.R.E. has 7 divisions and each division takes one day. To become licensed in California, there is an extra test, the California Supplemental Exam (C.S.E.). Total time to licensure for an architect? 8 years minimum, but the average is much greater.

Why do we do it?

So why do architects stick it out through this long process for a career with dubious financial rewards (as shown by the recent recession)?

First off, architects are a tough and resilient crowd. We have the ability to persevere. Additionally, most architects stick it out because they enjoy the career of architecture and they love design! And after 8 long years of schooling, tests, and licensure – they have too much invested to ever switch (!) . Oh yeah, and did I mention it's worth it?

Anna Vital originally created this image to narrate the path of the entrepreneur and highlight the ups, the downs, and the struggles with the reward at the end. As you can see, becoming an entrepreneur isn't too different from being an architect.

So what do you think, is it worth it?



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

14 Responses

  1. You have explained in a proper way how to become a successful architect. Amazing blog you have written..!!

  2. All good and encouraging information here. One thing to know is that unless there is not a financial need and no struggle to work extended hours is ever necessary, your licensing process may take longer than expected. not just cost, but time wise is difficult. If you ahve sponsors and the need to work extended hours is no needed, these days you can take the exams while still in school. Now the process is shorter, less exams, still difficult in its way, but NCARB promised it would be “easier” so that more people pass.

  3. My son really likes looking at how different buildings look and so he is thinking about becoming an architect. He know that it will take him eight years before he can start working as one. However, what will it take for him to become licensed in multiple states? I know that he would like to build homes in both Utah and Colorado.

    1. To build homes registration as an architect is not required. To get architectural registration in multiple states, one must get reciprocal registration through an organization called NCARB. Requirements include a professional architecture degree from a school accredited by NAAB and a minimum 3-year internship and successful completion of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

  4. Can I possibly be an successful architect? It takes 8 years to finish it, I can expect I’m old now if I studying for architect.

  5. am 19 years old and just begun my first stage at architecture department,its the best job I can ever think of, you can be as creative as you want .and draw what is in your mind or go into every single building and take a look,am so proud and happy to be here and I wish I could be the greatest architect in my country…

  6. i want to become an architect but i want some guidance because i am doing D.A.E (diploma associate engineering ) in architecture!

  7. Im 22 years old now , im in my last year in architecture major , i already got RIBA I , yet i was still thinking of finishing my master degree too to get RIBA II, but the thing is i dont really know if i have what it takes to be a successful architect .. I have the passion and i have the courage to do something new and out of tradition… But im a weak hearted on … I dont know how to say no , and i like to work with people around me .. Havent really tried to work on my own before … I just dont think i have that creativity that stand out in all the successful architects .
    Im wandering everywhere , desperate to find where to start … Should i travel and look for ajob out side ? Should i stay here in egypt ? But what does it have to add to my table ?? I find architecture depends mainly on luck and the group youre working with … Not how hard you work .
    P.s im the only architect in my family thats why im so confused and scared to try and be knocked down … To know that youre failing while walking in the right path is okay , but failing while walking on the wrong path is what i really fear … I hope you can guide me Mr sears…. I need some ensuring or anything i guess from someone that knows what im in …

  8. Iwould like to be avery famous iam on my second year at the university dreaming of being agreat architect.still ican’t well-present my model and really ineed ahelp..even ifound it very difficult to make my ideas clear and can easily be readed from my model. so please help me and thank you.

  9. I am 23 years old and I can’t see start line let alone the finish. I Graduated a 5 Year Architecture Program at the age of 20 in 2011 and have since been resiliently following a constantly altered plan finding the need to shave off a few things to abridge the plan while holding on to the shreds of my sanity. Architecture is truly not for the weak of heart, nor for those who cannot materialize their dreams due to the fear of blemishing their thoughts whilst attempting to bring them to life. That last sentence holds true for me. That is a fear I still find myself trying to overcome and hopefully I will have by the time I “make it”. Nobody talks about the unsuccessful, NOT in architecture Nor in any other business/career. We choose architecture out of passion, inheritance, or inherited passion. There can be other reasons, but none that hold such a significance in our decision to elope with the profession/lifestyle and leave mankind (our family/friends) behind. I understand this is a very long comment and may not make it to the page, but I try not to care. Being oblivious and referring to our sensitivity to all things under the sun/moon comes with the trade. I wonder now if I’m the only person who constantly check their IDP hours to make sure they haven’t changed the way you would check someone your dating’s facebook status to see if they’ve decided to make it official yet… Enough of that. Until next time then…

  10. Love the graphic and I feel that any professional in our business can learn a lot from it. Speaking from experience, the PE is a grueling test, but I have to tip my hard hat to the architects for the tests of will that they have to endure. Frankly, it might do the engineering disciplines some good to have to match this effort.

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