How Much Does It Cost to Become a Licensed Architect?

  • 31 December, 2021

Today we'll be discussing how much it really costs to become a licensed architect through the ARE examination process. Ultimately, getting your architectural license will likely cost $2,400-$6,500.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Licensed Architect?

Wow, now that is a big chunk of change! There is no way to get around the fact that getting your license is not only expensive, but also time consuming. Earning this license is not to be taken lightly because it is a critical step in your career development. My experience was that the exam preparation process made me a much more informed designer and helped me actively engage with the practice side of my office. I found that the experiences and knowledge I accumulated along the way were almost as important to my career as earning the license itself.

Since the cost of getting licensed is so high, it's important to incorporate significant planning into your overall exam schedule. Try to start saving for your exams and other costs before you start studying. As much as possible, try to separate the financial aspect from your exam stress. If you don't plan ahead, you could cause yourself undue stress during the exact moment when you should be trying to relax and focus. Make sure you give yourself a wide window of time to avoid panic-buying study materials. Later, I will also discuss some ways you can help reduce costs.

Nonnegotiable Costs: $1,510

The first category of fees we'll review are the completely nonnegotiable, required costs of getting licensed.

  1. NCARB Initial Record Fee: $100-This fee establishes your record with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) which is required before you can take your first ARE exam. The annual renewal fee is $85.
  2. Examination Fees: $235 per exam x 6 divisions = $1,410 total-This total assumes you pass all six exams on your first attempt. I recommend budgeting for one to two exam failures so that you are prepared in the case of this event.
  3. Study Materials: highly variable-I will not be calculating the cost of study materials in the basic costs section because they range in price. In theory, paying for additional study materials is optional, but for me, these resources were critical to my success.
  4. Time: highly variable-Time is an important piece of the planning puzzle that is difficult to quantify. Always keep in mind when strategizing that you will be investing significant time in furthering your career goals, and that these types of investments typically pay off well.

Variable Costs: $50-$4,400+

  1. State Licensing Fees: $50-$400-Use NCARB's "Licensing Requirement Tool"1 to locate your state's licensing board. This is a very important page to review because each state's requirements and fees are different. Be sure you understand all the requirements before applying within a specific state.
  2. Study Materials: $500-$4,400-Study materials, including books, prep courses, practice exams, and study guides, will be the most variable costs you'll need to plan for. The NCARB ARE 5.0 Handbook2 recommends over 40 books to study for these exams. If you bought all those books new, it would cost over $3,600! I don't think procuring 40 different books is necessary for success. Think about the resources you already have at your fingertips. You likely have a few of these resources from college, so be sure to check. Shop for deals, look for used books, borrow from friends or colleagues, and check if your AIA Chapter or any local libraries have exam prep materials to lend. It is possible to reduce these costs, but you'll likely want to access certain exam resources, so I think $500 is the bare minimum you should budget for additional study materials.

Additional (And Potentially Avoidable) Costs: $360-$610+

  1. NCARB Annual Renewal Fee: $85-In theory, if you're extremely disciplined and have time to dedicate to a rigorous schedule, you could open your NCARB record, take and pass all six of your exams, finish your AXP hourly requirement, submit documentation to your state's licensing board, and receive licensure all within 12 months. For most people though, this course of action is not feasible, so it's best to plan for at least two years of NCARB record fees.
  2. Exam Rescheduling Fees: $40-$55-NCARB requires that you reschedule at least 30 days prior to your exam date in order avoid a change fee. But life happens, and you might miss or forget about this deadline, so I recommend planning for at least one rescheduling fee.
  3. Exam Retake Fees: $235-$470-As previously mentioned, I believe the best way to mitigate the financial stress of failing an exam is to budget for one to two retakes. In the end, you might need more than that, but at least you'll have a bit of cushion to fall back on if necessary.

Ways to Reduce Costs

  1. Firm Assistance-Many architecture firms offer various forms of assistance to encourage young employees to pursue licensure. You may have access to reimbursement for exam fees, a stipend for study materials, a continuing education stipend which can often be used on ARE prep courses, or even paid time off to study for and/or take exams. Many firms will also keep a library of ARE study materials for their employees. Taking advantage of these types of professional development budgets and resources can save you thousands of dollars. Don't forget that your colleagues are valuable sources to call on as well. If you are currently job searching, keep these benefits in mind as you review job offers.
  2. Free or Reduced Cost Study Materials-As I briefly touched on earlier, looking for used study materials or borrowing them is one of the best ways to reduce your overall ARE expenses. Here are a few ways to find reduced cost study materials:
    1. Find Used Materials: There are many websites where you can buy used prep materials, like Amazon, AbeBooks, and Thriftbooks, among many others.
    2. Rent Books: For expensive books, try renting rather than purchasing. Amazon and Chegg make this easy.
    3. Check with Colleagues, Friends, and Family: Reach out to people you know to see if they have any materials you could borrow.
    4. Visit Libraries: Check if your AIA Chapter or local library have anything to lend. Most firms have a library with all sorts of helpful resources.
  3. Study Groups-A great way to share knowledge and resources is to form a study group with colleagues or friends. Your designated study group will help keep you accountable to the goals you've set and provide encouragement if you ever start feeling down. And the best part, this resource free!
  4. Free Online Resources-These days, there are pages upon pages of online resources to be found, so I will share a few specific sites I relied on heavily during my exam prep. Individuals on the forums below often share useful study guides and book recommendations:
    1. NCARB ARE 5.0 Community
    2. ARE Facebook Group

So there you have it-a full list of the potential costs associated with taking your ARE 5.0 exam. Now it's time to pass these exams and reap the benefits of licensure!


About the Author: Genevieve Doman, AIA

Genevieve Doman is a licensed architect with over five years of professional experience working in Detroit, Chicago, and Seattle. She received her B.S. in Architecture and Master of Architecture degrees from the Taubman College of Architecture at the University of Michigan.

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