Get Licensed While in Architecture School? Deans Weigh in

NCARB's Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) aims to shorten the road to licensure. Five school heads discuss how it's changing architectural education.
Architecture school, Woodbury University

Courtesy Woodbury University

The road to becoming a registered architect is both rigorous and famously, very long. After five years of intense study, a graduate is then expected to complete 3,740 hours in architectural office experience (AXP hours, formerly called IDP hours) followed by the ARE’s (Architect Registration Exams). While some claim that this arduous process is necessary, others think it’s unfounded and overly protracted.

A new program put in place by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) aims to considerably shorten the licensing timeline. The Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) does this by integrating academic studies with AXP hours, and starting the ARE’s while still in school. It has been implemented in 21 schools. Metropolis contributer Gretchen Von Koenig got to sit down with a few representatives from these schools to reflect on the new path, its practical effect, and areas where it can be improved.


Dr. Mitra Kanaani

Dr. Mitra Kanaani

Dr. Mitra Kanaani, NewSchool of Architecture San Diego

What are the benefits of the IPAL system to a new student of architecture?

IPAL offers select students an integrated pedagogy of education during their tenure at school, combining education, experience, and examination for licensure. It’s a very demanding educational experience and not suitable for all students. However, those students with a high degree of commitment, drive, focus, time management, and organization skills, accompanied by coordination provided by the institutions, combined with support of the professionals by offering them practical opportunities, will be able to shorten the length of time it takes them to complete their degree and become a licensed architect; achieving their career objectives and ambitions at an earlier stage in their lives. This is a great and highly unprecedented advantage and privilege for all those decisive individuals who envision themselves as future architects.

How did IPAL impact and alter your school’s curriculum?

NewSchool was founded based on an innovative mission of bridging the gap between education and practice and a Dewey system of pedagogy of learning by doing. The implementation of IPAL with the requirement of professional practice opportunities for students during their education has fit in seamlessly and has not demanded a major alteration in the curriculum.

However, we cannot deny the fact that introducing IPAL as a new educational track has provided a new climate of teaching and learning within the context of the institution’s educational culture. Without losing the critical stance and design thinking breadth and strength of the architecture program, the need for providing deeper recognition of the nuances of the current practice of architecture is becoming more tangible. Considering that for the IPAL students practice is an area of focus, introduction of a wider range of practice courses particularly in the elective category is considered an immediate necessity.

What successes did you see in the implementation of IPAL?

The most important aspect of the implementation of IPAL has been the creation of a close, collaborative opportunity and partnering relationship between the academy and the profession, and the great synergy that has been generated as a result of this initiative among the practitioners. For the first time, profession is taking part in nurturing the next generation of architects who are decisive and competent problem solvers, to elevate the stature of the profession and to have the ability to perform energetically with great confidence for the challenges of the profession.

How do you think the system could be improved?

Implementation of IPAL as a new way of architecture pedagogy in the educational system of our country demands a different type of architecture accreditation standards. This is a system of pedagogy that is a transformation of the meaning of a “professional” degree of architecture, which is somehow new to our country. However, this method of architectural pedagogy with some variations has been implemented in some other countries of the world from Europe, to South America, and in some Asian countries and the Middle East.

To address criticisms, do you think professional competencies are sacrificed in this system?

Since the initiation of the debate about introducing the concept of IPAL, there has been a major concern and the fear that introducing a high level of engagement in professional practice might compromise the students’ development of critical thinking ability. In other words, pragmatism might interfere with design creativity and prevent students from exercising a free creative mindset while engaged in education.

Do you think IPAL should replace the current system of obtaining licensure? Or should there be a mix of schools offering different paths?

I strongly believe that IPAL should not replace the current system of education, followed with AXP and examination, for three reasons: 1. Not all students are able to cope with the rigors of the IPAL program and undertake all the three components of education, experience, and examination, in parallel, and in a condensed time-frame. 2. Not all students, particularly as undergraduate students, have a definitive answer for their future path in architecture, and while engaged in education they might not be decisive to have a future in architecture as an architect. 3. Architecture is a broad field, and there are various specialties within architecture that schools should be able to allow interested students to pursue and achieve.


Mahesh Daas

Mahesh Daas

Mahesh Daas, University of Kansas

What are the benefits of the IPAL system to a new student of architecture?

One of the strengths of IPAL that it all but guarantees the program is engaged with the profession. Ideally, schools are assisting to place students in meaningful internship positions; firms, too, would be providing continuous feedback that would enable an intern to contribute immediately. The path sends a message to the incoming students that one of the primary purposes of “professional” education is to become a full member of a profession through eventual licensure.

How did IPAL impact and alter your school’s curriculum?

In our curriculum, NAAB [National Architectural Accrediting Board] student performance criteria are delivered in the first four years, opening up the 5th and 6th years to better lending themselves to integrated/internship options.

What successes did you see in the implementation of IPAL?

We have not yet enrolled any students into the program. We anticipate prototyping IPAL with a few students next year and learn from it.

How do you think the system could be improved?

As a discipline, we have not yet fully explained or backed up the notion that paying tuition for the sixth year is a value-added proposition. The integrated internship placements our school has in place go a long way in beginning to make that argument. However, at potentially 210 credit hours, the degree meets the requirements for a D.Arch. Also, many students see firms hiring graduates and paying for their exams, study materials, and time off for both. Their attitude is, “Why should I pay for this when the firm that hires me will wrap it into my benefits package?” We also get valid questions regarding the modest pay bump associated with licensure. Unlike an MBA or MD graduate who sees a hefty return on investment within five years, an architecture graduate might not see an immediate RoI upon graduation and licensure soon after that.

To address criticisms, do you think professional competencies are sacrificed in this system?

No. If anything, additional emphasis is being placed on professional competencies. As a result, general education requirements and the liberal arts education of the college experience are in danger of being de-emphasized. A lot of criticisms we’re hearing are based on the misunderstanding that IPAL is simply students taking exams throughout the course of their studies. Actually, in the end the IPAL program requires a lot more academic hours than that IDP, and you’re really not shaving much off a full IDP rotation; it is just a different way of getting there.

Do you think IPAL should replace the current system of obtaining licensure? Or should there be a mix of schools offering different paths?

IPAL’s intent, as I understand it, is to integrate and streamline the licensure path and process with formal education in order to better guide the students to become licensed. Many of my colleagues around the country feel IPAL might help improve diversity in the profession and increase the percentage of architecture graduates who become licensed.


Marc J. Neveu

Marc J. Neveu

Marc J. Neveu, Woodbury University

What are the benefits of the IPAL system to a new student of architecture?

There are multiple benefits, one of which is, very simply, that students have internships while in school. Upon graduation, students will enter the profession with a license and much more experience than their fellow graduates. The other, perhaps more long term benefit, is that as the students will be licensed upon graduation—it gives them more options in terms of their role in the profession.

How did IPAL impact and alter your school’s curriculum?

Our curriculum was not affected at all. Students work over the summers and then take a gap year prior to their academic final year.

What successes did you see in the implementation of IPAL?

We have students placed in some of the best firms in LA. As a small and relatively young school, the IPAL program was a way of introducing Woodbury to firms that might not have known the quality of our students.

How do you think the system could be improved?

Managing expectations. We have over 350 students in our program. We are not able to place all of those students. As a result, we need to be selective. That is a difficult balance knowing how popular the program is when recruiting. We have also had to work with firms to help manage their expectations.

To address criticisms, do you think professional competencies are sacrificed in this system?

My understanding is that students in this program follow the exact same requirements as a student who earns a degree, completes the AXP and then sits for the ARE. The only difference is the integration of these requirements.

Do you think IPAL should replace the current system of obtaining licensure? Or should there be a mix of schools offering different paths?

I think it is important to have a mix of approaches. The education of an architect is a complex process and there are many good ways to approach it.


Karen Nelson

Karen Nelson

Karen Nelson, Boston Architectural College

What are the benefits of the IPAL system to a new student of architecture?

The BAC has held learning from courses and from professional practice as a key tenet of our curricula. Typically, architecture students work in a design firm while achieving their NAAB-accredited degree.  IPAL draws ambitious students who aim to balance work experience and academic responsibilities while moving towards licensure.

How did IPAL impact and alter your school’s curriculum?

Our curriculum remains quite similar to what we had before IPAL became possible. We did alter the sequence of professional practice courses to synch with the scheduling of exams. Our Pro Practice courses now reflect particular exam divisions without teaching to the test. Also, we offer ARE study sessions for our IPAL students.

What successes did you see in the implementation of IPAL?

Immediately, many M. Arch and B. Arch students enthusiastically expressed interest in the IPAL program.  A number of students are diligently studying exam material and seeking the answers to questions related to exam content.

How do you think the system could be improved?

We hope that communication between NCARB and IPAL advisors improves.

To address criticisms, do you think professional competencies are sacrificed in this system?

Competencies are not sacrificed. Students must still fulfill demanding academic requirements, practice hours, and pass the ARE. We hope that our students will continue to take a qualitative approach to their overall development and an active role as students and emerging professionals in order for them to learn as much as they can in practice.

Do you think IPAL should replace the current system of obtaining licensure? Or should there be a mix of schools offering different paths?

I think that there should be a range of ways to study architecture and a range of formats to permit each school to determine its role in architectural licensure. The more avenues we can provide for students to enter the profession, the wider the range of voices that can take part in advancing the discipline.


Christian Sottile

Christian Sottile

Christian Sottile, Savannah College of Art & Design

What are the benefits of the IPAL system to a new student of architecture?

SCAD was pleased to announce the enhancement to its architectural program that includes the integrated path to architectural licensure in response to a 2014-2015 qualification and proposal process from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. SCAD is honored to be partnering with NCARB to inaugurate this new era in architectural education.

How did IPAL impact and alter your school’s curriculum?

IPAL allows students to begin accumulating IDP hours the summer after they complete the first year of their B.F.A. curriculum. In addition, the 3-year master of architecture segment of the track incorporates preparation for and completion of all six sections of ARE, thus allowing successful students to become licensed upon graduation from SCAD.

Integration is the real key. The reciprocal benefits of experiencing education, internship, and examination in a fully integrated program amplifies the effects of each individually. The deliberation and care that NCARB’s Licensure Task Force took in moving this landmark initiative forward has been exemplary. It underscores not just the magnitude of the task, but their commitment to evolving the profession into the 21st century.

What successes did you see in the implementation of IPAL?

SCAD’s seven-year academic track, which involves students in professional internships during each summer quarter, has already received enthusiastic support from partnering architectural firms, including HKS, Perkins+Will, OMA, and many others. It also received the endorsement of local and regional components of the American Institute of Architects, including AIA Georgia and AIA Savannah, as well as the Georgia Board of Architects and Interior Designers.

How do you think the system could be improved?

With the trends affecting the practice of architecture, it underscores the need for this to be more widely adopted. From 2007 until 2014, the number of licensed architects in the United States declined by 18 percent. For the state of Georgia, the number of licensed architects has remained the same since 2002, while the population of the state has grown by 19% during that same period, resulting in a 4.3% decrease in the number of architects per capita. With the average time it takes to become a licensed architect in the United States being 12 years, the promise of the IPAL is to introduce another path to architecture for dedicated students to help reverse this trend and strengthen the profession.

To address criticisms, do you think professional competencies are sacrificed in this system?

The IPAL supports a more comprehensive understanding of the practice of architecture, better preparing graduates for immediate impact.  It brings the time it takes to become an architect more in line with most major countries of the world.  It reduces the cost of becoming an architect by offsetting the cost of education through an aggressive schedule of paid internship work. And it allows design firms to develop a more streamlined approach in identifying and employing graduating architects who might fit their profiles.

Contrary to weakening the requirements for becoming an architect, the increased rigor and full integration of the IPAL during the formative years of development will likely strengthen students’ prospects of long term professional success.

Do you think IPAL should replace the current system of obtaining licensure? Or should there be a mix of schools offering different paths?

We believe there is room for multiple paths and that the IPAL is not intended to entirely replace the conventional system. For students, the integrated path creates a groundbreaking new option and an enriching new pathway to professional practice.  It promises a level of learning that will be enriched by the cumulative support of the professional program, intensive internships and coordinated examination preparation.

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