The housing industry is making a comeback: A Sept. 17 Commerce Department report revealed that contractors are continuing to build homes at a furious pace. The U.S. is on track to add more than one million units by the end of the year.

Yet even as demand for new houses surges, fewer students are enrolling in architecture programs. Enrollment for first-year architecture students has declined by nearly 20% over the past five years, according to the National Architectural Accrediting Board.

This drop is in many ways attributable to architecture’s outdated, costly and time-consuming qualification process, which is a combination of academic studies, internships and licensing tests. The profession has taken some small steps to reduce requirements, but it hasn’t been enough. Training in architecture desperately needs an overhaul.

Aspiring architects begin at an accredited college, where they must complete 150 credits, which typically takes five or more years. The newly minted graduates must then complete an internship, often taking another five years. Then comes the grueling, multipart Architecture Registration Exam. Each of the test’s seven sections is taken separately, so finishing the full exam tends to take two to four years. (The test will be reduced to six sections next year.)

This adds up to an extraordinarily long qualification process. According to data from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, it takes the average architect 14.5 years after high school to become licensed.


The qualification regime is driving away top talent. Only about six in 10 students who graduate from schools accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board eventually get their license. The rest find jobs elsewhere.

Reforming architecture’s qualification system should begin with the creation of a “tiered” system, in which the focus and required length of training are tied directly to the specific skills and goals of students.


Another important change would align the demands of academia, internships and licensing more closely with the modern industry. The process is designed for self-directed generalists, requiring participants to learn a wide variety of skills—site design, urban planning, structural systems, history and building technology, typically in addition to numerous liberal arts classes. But today’s building industry increasingly rewards specialization and collaboration.