Becoming an Architect

Your path to becoming a licensed architect

More than 21,000 of AIA members are young professionals, and more are joining every day. AIA makes you a priority with resources to help you create your path and build your leadership skills.

The Basics in California

Each candidate’s path to licensure will likely differ depending on your education and experience. California’s examination and licensure requirements to become an architect are more flexible than most other jurisdictions.


A professional degree in architecture: a Bachelor or Master of Architecture from an accredited institution is required. There are 100+ accredited professional degree programs in the United States and Canada alone. Check the list maintained by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) to find accredited programs.


All states require that you work under a supervising architect. During this time you’ll get valuable work experience that will help you advance your career and earn credit in the AXP. NCARB offers resources to help you complete AXP.


You’ll also need to pass the ARE. It’s a multi-part exam that will test your knowledge and skills in a variety of segments within the practice of architecture. We have an ongoing study group as well as study materials for our members preparing for exams.

AIA San Mateo, in conjunction with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the California Architects Board (CAB), are here to help you turn your goals into reality with the guidance and resources you’ll need to advance from student to practicing architect. To become an architect in California, you’ll have to earn a license by completing CAB’s specific requirements which is a combination of education, experience, and examination. Although each candidate’s path to licensure may differ, all will complete the process with the necessary knowledge, skills, and ability to be a licensed architect who practices in a way that protects the health, safety, and welfare of Californians. A candidate who provides evidence of having completed the following requirements is eligible to receive a license to practice architecture:

  • Be at least 18 years of age or the equivalent of a graduate from high school;
  • Five years of architectural educational experience or the equivalent as specified in the Board’s regulations;
  • Architectural Experience Program (AXP) or the Canadian Provincial Internship in Architecture Program (IAP);
  • All divisions of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) and California Supplemental Examination (CSE).

The Architect Registration Examination (ARE), developed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), is the national computerized architectural licensing examination that consists of multiple divisions. The ARE assesses a candidate’s knowledge and skills to provide various services required in the practice of architecture. No single examination can test for competency in all aspects of architectural practice; the ARE is not intended for that purpose. The ARE concentrates on the professional services that affect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. The ARE 5.0 consists of the following five exams: Practice Management, Project Management Programming & Analysis, Project Planning & Design, Project Development & Documentation, and Construction & Evaluation.

In addition to the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), the California Architects Board (CAB) requires the California Supplemental Examination (CSE) for licensure. The CSE ensures that candidates are able to demonstrate minimum standards of competency and necessary architectural knowledge and skills to respond to the unique requirements and conditions in California.

Candidates are required to demonstrate entry-level competence in the areas outlined in the CSE Test Plan. A competent entry-level architect is able to perform the responsibilities incumbent upon themselves in providing professional architectural services to the public. Additionally, a competent entry-level architect must understand the integration of architectural practice and the architect’s responsibilities as they relate to practice in California.

More about the California Supplemental Exam