The Liberation of Licensure

The last time I checked it was May and now it seems that it's almost the 4th of July.  Fast-approaching deadlines and the amazing weather have moved me away from the computer screen to more pressing matters, and to me that's really all that matters during these great months.  During the weeks of my absence, I've thought a lot about my career and the fact that I should now really begin to focus on finding some real direction.  Until now, I've been pursuing knowledge (a treasure that has no monetary amount) and finding the right fit in a firm.  It's hard to begin to narrow down a certain trajectory, but with a field so vast one must think less broad and more specific as the career goes on.  The one thing I know is true and has been since I started my education to become an architect, I will get licensed.  After that goal, I'm not sure where I'll go or what I'll focus on doing, but that I will worry about at a later time.


The process of getting licensed to be an architect is arduous, to say the least.  The most current system requires three years of experience AND seven exams (which I've heard are pretty tough). Atop that, it gets expensive to maintain records, pay for exams (if you fail one, don't expect your employer to cover it) and at the end of the tunnel pay for the insurance and professional associations affiliated with the practice.  Doing all of this with the limited amount of spare time and money we have can be quite intimidating and possibly why the number of younger designers pursuing licensure has declined pretty dramatically in the last decade.  But after all of the dust settles from the ARE storm, I think you could say it's all worth it because of one thing; freedom.

There are two types of freedom I believe you could associate with the process of getting and achieving licensure.  First is the financial/economic freedom and second is the career freedom.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages and like all other things in life carries risks that could make or break even the best designer/architect out there.  The simple fact when looking at it all is that with the really expensive architecture degree you hold there (I think mine was in the neighborhood of $250,000?), don't you want to have something to show for that?  Not getting licensed isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's also not really delineating you from the rest of society.  Sitting through all of that studying and all of those tough exams is what really begins to set you apart, then allows you to follow your true dreams within the field of architecture.  

Financial Freedom 

I paid for my degree myself.  Lots of student loans, lots of hard work and I still will owe money on my degree 10 years after graduating.  What I make now in terms of salary among others my age is probably something I should be more proud of, yet with the overburdening of debt, I can't help but to grimace at times as I begrudgingly pay another month's bills.  At the end of the day, however, I actually think this is a great thing. Not only is it propelling me (and all you other crazy kids in my position) to focus on getting to a better place in life, but it's also allowing us to really understand the economics of what we invest in and what it's really worth to  us at the end of the day.  Everything we will want to obtain or pursue will have a price tag associated with it, the true question is will it be worth it and can we afford it?

According to the 2013 AIA Mid-Atlantic Compensation Report, an Intern 3 makes on average $49,200 while an Architect 1 (newly licensed) could expect to make another $10,000+ ($59,700) on top of that.  An unlicensed staff out of the "internship" phase could expect to make roughly $5,000 less than an Architect 1. While these are mere generalizations for a larg area, they do give a fairly accurate portrayal of what to expect if you live in the mid-Atlantic region.  While money certainly isn't everything, the difference during a typical career path of an unlicensed professional and a licensed one varies anywhere from $5,000-$50,000.  The extra cash flow can help pay down loans, save for retirement/children and live a life that certainly feels more luxurious than the Ramen you ate in your intern days.  Ultimately, the pursuance of licensure grants you a freedom that you'd have to work a lot harder and longer for as an unlicensed staff member or intern.  Three years after graduation you could potentially be a licensed individual making a decent wage and having unlimited financial incentives and freedoms at your helm. Once again, money isn't everything, but having the financial freedom to either pursue your own ventures as a professional or simply live a more lavish personal lifestyle are huge factors in your happiness and well-being.

Career Freedom  

When you first start at an office, you are subject owning very little or no work.  Everything you produce has your licensed boss' signature on it (as it should be, right?).  Until your obtain  your license, you are really held under the thumb of another individual who possesses that stamp. Getting your own could mean anything from more responsibilities in an office to opening your own firm. You don't have many more places to go once you climb up five or so rungs of the unlicensed ladder.  Get licensed and suddenly the ladder grows infinitely taller and your career really will begin to take off.  As I mentioned beforehand, getting licensed just puts you at the level playing ground, what you do with your career afterward will really define who you are and the kind of designer/professional you are.  Ultimately, the only way to break away into your own element and out of the chains of another person is to get that state stamp.  After that, your boundaries grow limitless. 

Ultimately, as you can tell, I am a huge proponent of getting licensed.  I think it's almost wasteful to not if you have a B.Arch, like going through law school then never taking your boards at the end.  Be proud of the tough nature of all that we do, this isn't an easy job but it's one that many of us share an unabated affection for.  Understand that you are held - to some degree - back if you don't pursue your license and this can impact both your personal and career growth. A license means more than freedom, it means having more pride in what you do everyday, having more responsibilities to the profession and your own job and becoming a driving force in getting others to get their stamps as well.  It's not an easy process, but like my mom always says; "If it was easy, everybody would be doing it", and that's the absolute truth.