Illinois Architect Professional Licensing Guide
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) regulates the legal practice of architecture in Illinois and grants licensure as a Licensed Professional Architect.
The National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) also plays a significant role in qualifying architects for professional licensing. Their services include:
- Verification of training and experience through a 3 year Intern Development Program (IDP)
- Skills assessment through professional examination called an Architect Registration Exam (ARE)
- National credentialing called NCARB Certification - once you are licensed in Illinois, this is a tool to become licensed in several states. It is available only to highly experienced professionals, as defined by NCARB
- Compilation and maintenance of training and credentials through an online subscription service
The Job Market for Architects in Illinois
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of architects in the US work in small architecture firms. One in five architects is self-employed (20%); Architects also often work in construction firms and government agencies.
Since architecture is closely tied to the construction industry, job opportunities can suffer in an economic downturn. The demand for different architectural services varies by region. Often architects pursue licensing in multiple states to expand the geographic territory of their practice. It is becoming more common for US design firms to collaborate with overseas companies to complete CADD (Computer-Aided Design and Drafting) and related work at a lower cost than employing an architect in the US. This trend means fewer opportunities for junior architects to develop their professional experience.
Certain areas of architecture are stable or growing. For example, architectural work for health care and education may grow as the population ages and schools need to reinvest in buildings. A particularly high-demand specialty area in architecture is green building and remodeling - design that focuses on more efficient use of resources such as energy, water and materials.
The state of Illinois plans to increase regulation of architectural licensing. Currently architects can be licensed from a variety of educational programs, including technical study programs or traditional bachelor's degrees. Starting in 2014, the state will only accept candidates for licensure if they have a professional degree in Architecture - the B.Arch or M.Arch. The B.Arch (Bachelor of Architecture) typically takes five years of study and the M.Arch (Master of Architecture) usually takes 1.5-3 years of study, depending on specializations. If you have a pre-professional architecture degree you will need to act quickly to meet the additional internship training requirements and qualify for licensing before the deadline, since this special process takes several years.
The Job Search
What makes a successful career in this context? A competitive general skill set for architects is knowledge of CADD (Computer-Aided Design and Drafting) and Building Information Modeling (BIM) technologies. Communication and organization skills are critical since architects coordinate broad teams of specialists. Consider specializing in a niche area such as a part of the work process (pre-design, design, construction, facilities management) or a particular type of structure (hospitals, schools, factories). Trained architects may also choose to adapt their specialized knowledge and transferable skills to related fields like industrial and interior design, urban planning, real estate development, or structural engineering.
Note to architects with structural engineering experience: If you specialize in structural engineering and want to work in this field in the state of Illinois you must undergo licensing as a Structural Engineer, which is also regulated by Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).
Note to entrepreneurs: If you are self-employed after licensing and your business type is not just a sole proprietorship where you do business under your own name, you must register as a Professional Design Firm to legally practice architecture in Illinois. You must first be authorized by the Illinois Secretary of State's Office to do business in Illinois, and then you must go through a registration process with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) to be designated as a Professional Design Firm.
This guide assumes that you are not licensed as an architect anywhere in the US. To become licensed in Illinois you must follow the process of Licensure by Acceptance of Examination. Architects with a license in another state of the US can pursue Licensure by Endorsement. You must be licensed in Illinois in order to practice architecture in the state.
Foreign-educated architectural candidates need to meet several requirements to receive Licensure as a Professional Architect by Examination in Illinois. Throughout the process you will work closely with NCARB, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. You will need to use the Internet extensively to correspond with NCARB and you will have to learn to use their web-based applications to maintain your records online.
Steps to licensing are as follows:
i. Establish an NCARB Council Record
First, you should familiarize yourself with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the licensing process and explore the NCARB and Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) websites. Then you must establish a record on the NCARB website. You fill out an application form and you pay a fee of $350 to begin ($100 initially if you graduated university in the last six months. You will have to pay the remaining $250 before you take the Architect Registration Examination [ARE]). After the first year you will pay $75 to maintain your record until you finish the licensing process.
To read more about this, please go to the Important Links section.
ii. Evaluate your foreign degree through Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)
Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) is the credentialing organization you must use. EESA evaluates the degrees of foreign-educated architects and others who have not graduated from professional architectural schools accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).
For internationally-educated applicants, a complete application package must include the following documents:
- Signed National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) application, including your NCARB file number
- Official transcripts for all coursework to consider as well as official translated copies (submission of a portfolio is optional and should only relate to coursework, not professional experience)
- Translated and certified copies of all diplomas/certificates if originals are not in English
- Translated and certified academic course descriptions if originals are not in English
The Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) define official translations as those that are certified by a professional translator working into English. They must come from an official source, such as an academic institution, lawyer, translation service, notary or embassy.
The cost of this degree evaluation is $1,825. When it is complete, EESA-NAAB sends a copy of all reports directly to NCARB and the information is added to your record.
This evaluation will give very specific details about where your education/degree does not meet the standards of an architecture program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).
Deficiencies may be identified in one of 4 categories:
- General Education
- Technical Systems and Practice
- History, Human Behavior, and Environment
The evaluation will state if your degree is equivalent to either a US professional degree (B.Arch or M.Arch equivalent) or a pre-professional degree (technical school or 4-year Bachelor's). This will determine the amount of training required for you to qualify for licensure in Illinois. We will explain this in the step describing the Intern Development Program.
You should invest the time at the beginning to provide the most complete documentation you can! It costs you an extra $200 each time you provide more documents after your first evaluation. (This process is called Reconsideration).
If you disagree with the evaluation even when there are no more documents you can provide, you can challenge the evaluation only once (this process is called an Appeal).
iii. Meet any identified deficiencies
You must correspond with Education Evaluations Services for Architects (EESA) to get its approval before you take any coursework to meet a deficiency in your record. There is no fee for EESA to update your record as you meet the deficiencies it identified, however you must send EESA official transcripts and course descriptions for these courses.
iv. Participate in the Intern Development Program meeting proper conditions for experience
The next step in the process of becoming a Professional Architect is to participate as an Architect Intern in the Intern Development Program or IDP. You will have to find employment opportunities at this time that provide the right conditions for you to meet the training requirements of the program.
To satisfy the Intern Development Program (IDP) requirements you need to earn 5,600 qualifying training hours (3,740 core experience hours and 1,860 elective experience hours). Acquiring 5,600 training hours will take you two and a half years of full-time work to complete if every hour counts towards your program. Obviously, the program can take much longer for some people to complete. For professional degree holders (B.Arch or M.Arch), this is the only internship requirement.
However, if your degree is considered a pre-professional architecture degree, the State of Illinois requires 3,760 extra training hours, for a total of 9,360 qualifying training hours. This is equal to about four and a half years of full-time work if every hour counts towards your total. You will need to complete and document these extra training hours (3,760 training hours beyond IDP requirements) before you can move to the testing step. Remember that in 2014 Illinois law will change and the state will no longer consider pre-professional architectural graduates for licensure. This means that you will have to earn all training hours, pass all tests and make your application before that date!
Your experience in architectural practice outside the US can meet only some of the Intern Development Program (IDP) training requirements. The maximum credit allowed for foreign experience in architecture is 1,860 training hours if you worked under the supervision of an architect not registered in the US or Canada.
The Intern Development Program (IDP) spreads 5,600 training hours across four skill categories. Each category has a minimum number of units you must earn in it.
- Category 1: Pre-Design - 260 hours
- Category 2: Design - 2,600 hours
- Category 3: Project Management - 720 hours
- Category 4: Practice Management - 160 hours
- Electives (your choice across any set of categories) - 1,800 hours
Total: 5,600 hours
You can earn these credits in different types of settings or workplaces. Some of these are limited in the amount of training hours you can earn in them. The ideal training setting, is participating in IDP as an Intern in a traditional full-service firm, under direct supervision of a registered architect, with an opportunity to gain experience in all 4 training categories.
You work directly with National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) during your period as an architectural intern. NCARB uses an online system called the Electronic Experience Verification Reporting system, called e-EVR, to build your record of required experience. Intern Development Program (IDP) participants use e-EVR to create, track, and seek approval of experience reports. Once a supervising architect approves an experience report you submit, that report will be registered in your NCARB record.
After you complete the requirements of the Intern Development Program (IDP) the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) will confirm your status and explain next steps.
v. Complete ARE testing
Testing is another major step in your process. The Architect Registration Exam or ARE is also managed through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). NCARB will confirm that you have met the requirements of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) for testing before authorizing you to take the ARE. You cannot request testing directly from IDFPR.
vi. Apply for licensure by acceptance of exam
Once you have passed all Divisions of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE), you have only 1 year to apply to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) for Licensure by Acceptance of Examination.
Your application package to Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) must include the following items:
- 4-page application for Licensure by Acceptance of Examination
- A signed affidavit (a formal sworn statement of fact, usually witnessed by a public notary) stating that you have read and understand the Illinois Architecture Practice Act and Administrative Rules
- Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) and National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) Evaluation Report (your foreign degree evaluation)
- A copy of your NCARB Intern Development Program (IDP) evaluation
- English language competency: either provide verification that your architectural program was taught in English, or provide TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores (tests and their minimum accepted scores are: a TOEFL-iBT of 26 on the speaking module and total of 88 overall; a written TOEFL of 550 or computer based TOEFL of 213 plus the Test of Spoken English (TSE) of 50)
- VE-ARC, a form to report your employment between finishing the IDP program and passing the Architect Registration Exam (ARE)
- Fee: $100
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) evaluates applications during Illinois Board of Architecture meetings that happen several times a year. It is common for your licensing application to take up to 6 months to process. When approved, you will receive your Illinois license as a Professional Architect.
The Architect Registration Exam (ARE) is the only exam required in Illinois Licensure by Examination for a Licensed Professional Architect. You have only one year after passing the ARE to apply for licensing in Illinois.
Architect Registration Exam Logistics
The Architect Registration Exam (ARE) 4.0 is administered by a testing company called Prometric, which has test centers nationwide (there are 8 in Illinois). Candidates have many scheduling options including center location, time (subject to available seats), and testing order for the 7 testing areas, called Divisions. You take one Division per testing session at a cost of $210 each. Rescheduling an appointment costs $35. Scores are usually available within a month of testing and are reported to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) who then informs the candidate. If you fail a Division you must wait six months before retaking it. You must pass all divisions within a 5-year time frame.
Architect Registration Exam (ARE) Technology and Content Areas
The ARE 4.0 Test is computer-based. It is comprised of 7 Divisions, each with a section of multiple-choice questions and another section with "vignettes" - situational problems that require you to interact with graphics. The descriptions that follow are Division Statements quoted from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) website. The time frames are the duration you should set aside for each exam, although the tests may take less time.
- Programming Planning and Practice - 4 hours
"The application of project development knowledge and skills relating to architectural programming; environmental, social, and economic issues; codes and regulations; and project and practice management"
- Site Planning and Design - 4.5 hours
"The application of knowledge and skills of site planning and design including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management"
- Building Design and Construction Systems - 5.5 hours
"The application of knowledge and skills of building design and construction, including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management"
- Schematic Design - 6 hours
"The application of knowledge and skills required for the schematic design of buildings and interior space planning"
- Structural Systems - 5.5 hours
"Identification and incorporation of general structural and lateral force principles in the design and construction of buildings"
- Building Systems - 4 hours
"The evaluation, selection, and integration of mechanical, electrical, and specialty systems in building design and construction"
- Construction Documents and Services - 4 hours
- "Application of project management and professional practice knowledge and skills, including the preparation of contract documents and contract administration"
Preparing for the Architect Registration Exam (ARE)
See Important Links for ARE 4.0 exam information and free study resources. Study resources include software simulations to familiarize you with test content and are very important to practice prior to your testing appointments.
Evaluating your foreign degree and achieving licensing as a Registered Professional Architect in Illinois depends on many factors including:
- The completeness of your educational and professional records (the more documentation, the better)
- The efficiency of your home country's system in compiling and transmitting your university records
- The quality of your relationships with architect mentors and their responsiveness to your requests to certify your experience
- Your performance on all 7 Divisions of Architect Registration Exam (ARE)
- Your free time and money to spend on the process
We provide two hypothetical scenarios to show some of the variety of results that immigrant professionals may find when they seek to become architects in Illinois. Please consider these scenarios as two examples out of many possibilities. Your experience will vary.
Two Hypothetical Scenarios for Licensing as a Professional Architect:
|Step||More Efficient Scenario|
Approximate Time and Cost
|Less Efficient Scenario
Approximate Time and Cost
Establish NCARB Record
Meet Educational Deficiencies
Intern Development Program
Qualify for ARE and Pass
Apply for and receive license
|More Efficient Total
About 5 years and $8,000
|Less Efficient Total
About 10 years and $13,000
Preparing for licensing takes a significant amount of time, money, and effort. Some architects choose to seek lower-level positions on the road to their longer-term licensing goals. A job with fewer responsibilities but the ability to participate in the IDP program may offer some distinct advantages:
- Build job security,
- Polish technology skills,
- Adapt to the US workplace culture in a lower-pressure environment, and
- Have more energy left over to focus on preparing licensing exams.
You should be honest with your employer about your long-term plans and be sure that they understand how you can contribute to their company's objectives.
Architectural Detailer - Computer-Aided Design and Drafting
A position as an Architectural Detailer requires mastery of CADD software. If you do not have these skills you can take specific training courses at a technical school. Most US-educated CADD detailers have only a technical school education, so you will seem very overqualified by comparison. If this is a job you want in order to become licensed, be honest about your long term goals.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification Professional
Green building is a growth area in the architectural field and LEED certification administered by the US Green Building Council is the accepted standard for evaluating green building - design that focuses on more efficient use of resources such as energy, water and materials - and rehabilitation projects. You may wish to consider getting the steps to become certified to assess projects as a LEED professional.
Project Management Professional Certification
If your prior experience included managing architectural projects, and you have particularly strong communication and organizational skills, you may want to consider qualifying for Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute. The PMP is a widely-recognized credential that can support a background in architecture very well. It is one way to work actively in the architecture field without having to hold professional licensure.
Your Illinois license will expire on November 30 of each even-numbered year (2012, 2014 etc). You will receive notices to renew and can do so online through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). Renewing your license also includes earning a minimum of 24 hours of continuing education every two years.
Joining a professional association
State and national associations for architects provide opportunities for professional development and networking. They also help set acceptable working conditions for the industry and give information and opinions on policy in Illinois and across the US Their websites may offer useful orientation to the licensing and examination process, including test preparation. Their employment networks, however, are typically restricted to licensed professionals.
- American Institute of Architects Illinois
- American Institute of Architects (you can join as an Associate Member while earning your license)
Licensing mobility (reciprocity)
The state of Illinois does not honor the architect licenses of other states. It grants licensing to architects only by Acceptance of Examination (the process described in this topic) or by Endorsement (where an Architect licensed in another state must meet all Illinois requirements for licensing).
NCARB Certification and the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect (BEFA) Program
NCARB Certification is an elite credential that is highly regarded in the United States. About 1/3 of licensed architects go on to become certified by NCARB. It is not a license to practice architecture across the country - it shows that an experienced professional architect has met a high standard of education and practice. Many states consider NCARB certification as meeting their criteria for education and experience, but each state can ask for other requirements before issuing a license. The state of Illinois has a special licensing application process for NCARB-certified architects with active license in another state.
Most architects who become NCARB-certified only do it once they are well-established as a Licensed Professional Architect in one or more US states. For foreign-educated professionals this is done through the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect (BEFA) Program.
If you received your architectural schooling outside the US, you can get licensed in multiple states by pursuing certification through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). This is an additional process which can help you meet licensing requirements of more states. As a foreign-educated architect you may be able to get NCARB certification by participating in the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect Program.
In order to qualify for the NCARB Certification and the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect Program you must:
- Have graduated with a professional architecture degree from an architecture program which is officially recognized in your home country
- Have worked at least seven years in responsible control and unlimited practice as an architect in the country in which you are credentialed. "Responsible control" means that you have had full authority as an architect on a project and that your independent professional judgment has been involved in all of its technical aspects
- Hold current enrollment or licensure as an architect in a country other than US and Canada which 1) keeps formal records for licensing enforcement and discipline and 2) offers some degree of reciprocal credentialing for US architects
- Have your foreign education evaluated through EESA-NCARB, meeting the high-level NCARB Educational Standard and addressing any deficiencies found
Fees exceed $7,000 and include services such as evaluation of your foreign degree, creation of an NCARB online Record, compilation of a special experience dossier, and a final interview.
Common Words used in this article
- The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation issues licenses for Professional Architects, with links to various forms needed throughout the process
- The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is a key organization you will use throughout the licensing process
- NCARB Council Record application
- The NCARB Intern Development Program (IDP)overview, with a link to IDP guidelines
Foreign degree evaluation:
- Your foreign education must be evaluated by the Education Evaluation Services for Architects of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (EESA-NAAB)
- The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) has Architect Registration Exam (ARE) Guidelines that include an exam overview
- The NCARB also provides Architect Registration Exam (ARE) 4.0 Exam Guides free for download from its site. These include a general practice program, and a study guide and practice program for each of the seven divisions
- The ARE Helpline can also answer your questions about the test at 800/896-2272
- The American Institute of Architects is the largest professional association for architecture in the US
- American Institute of Architects Illinois chapter
Provide complete documents
Foreign degree evaluation is a very important process: your efforts here can result in significant savings of time and money by minimizing the gaps in comparing your degree to its US equivalent. Invest the time and money early to facilitate this process. Wherever you can, provide additional documentation about your program of study, such as syllabus, course descriptions, or a portfolio from your student years. These can help EESA-NAAB make the most of your degree evaluation.
Get Advice about deficiencies
If your evaluation by the Education Evaluation Services for Architects of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (EESA-NAAB) identifies several deficiencies but you still want to qualify for licensing, you should get counseling on your options. You need to evaluate whether it is better to make up the deficiencies on a course-by-course basis at a less expensive school, or whether it is a better long-term investment for you to back for further education in a US architectural degree program
Be your own advocate throughout the licensing process. Seek clarification about questions and concerns directly from official sources. If you feel your degree has been misinterpreted or you do not understand a fine point of the state regulations, organize your questions, contact Education Evaluation Services for Architects of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (EESA-NAAB) or the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), and ask for assistance.
Be flexible in your job search
Build professional networks; consider temporary or contract employment in your field to build your reputation; be prepared to start at lower levels and prove your ability. To compete successfully you should work to keep up to date in workplace technologies such as computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and Excel; perfect your communication skills for professional emails, reporting, and client contact; learn how to discuss your past work experience in terms of skills you can transfer to new projects, and develop a portfolio of work that highlights your skills. If you are overqualified for positions, be prepared to explain how the position will help you become established in a way that shows long-term benefit to the employer