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How Long from Intern to Architect?


­How long does an architectural internship actually take?

Official estimates range between three and five years, but that didn’t seem to be the case for any of the interns I knew or for that matter, any that they knew. I couldn’t find any hard data published anywhere, so I sent an e-mail to each of the U.S. NCARB-member boards asking what they could tell me.

Three boards — New York, Nebraska, and Oregon — furnished hard data in response to my request. New York provided records for all 15,088 actively licensed architects there. Nebraska and Oregon provided data for the actively licensed architects who had taken and passed the exam in their states, 626 and 800 individuals, respectively.

I made graphs of what they sent me, which you can fine here along with explanatory notes:­

The data show that the average time elapsed between graduation and licensure for architects licensed in 2009 exceeds public estimates. In New York it was 11.0­6 years; in Nebraska 10.89 years; in Oregon 8.96 years.

So as best as I can determine, the answer to how long it takes to become a licensed architect is 9 to 11 years. It is a rare intern who finds this surprising.

The trends in the data are disturbing, in particular the percentages of licensed architects whose internship was 5 years or less, between 5 and 10 years, and over 10 years in New York, as shown in graph.

In New York in 1980, about three out of four internships took less than 5 years; today this is true for less than 10 percent of aspiring architects in that state.

Before 1980 it was rare for an internship to extend a decade or more in New York, but in 2009 it has become the rule: Half of all internships last at least that long. The trends are similar in Nebraska and Oregon.

There are still some states (New York among them) that do not require an NAAB-accredited degree in order to sit for the exam. These states typically require an (ostensibly) longer period of internship in order to compensate. If the duration of average internship for those with NAAB-accredited degrees is indistinguishable from those without one, the question as to the benefit of the degree in this regard is not an unfair one to ask.

Are three states a sufficient sample to enable us to draw any conclusions?

I’m an architect, not a statistician, but I think it is. These charts depict the professional records of slightly more than 16 percent of all currently licensed architects in the United States — about 1 in 6 of us. New York, Nebraska, and Oregon are distinct in population, geography, and economic characteristics.

I welcome additional hard data on this subject and expect it to support rather than contradict what shows up in the statistics from these three states.

Most states appear to rely on NCARB to maintain these records and are unable to provide them. NCARB tells me it cannot provide any information beyond what is posted on its Web site.

Is such an attenuated internship — amounting to more than 20 percent of a typical career — in the best interests of our profession? Why the discrepancy between what is necessary and what is (apparently) sufficient? Is this system functioning as designed? If so, why isn’t it functioning as advertised? Should we make any changes? What should we change? Are we really doing our best in this regard? Can we in good conscience as a profession continue to create false expectations in students and young professionals about their careers? These are only a few of the questions that the facts compel us to ask and answer.

There are more charts and a nascent discussion on this issue at my Web site. I will be happy to provide the raw data at cost to anyone upon request, and you can perform your own analysis.

Early next year, I’ll be asking the architects who sit on our state boards to obtain an accounting on this subject from NCARB. It’s time to take the future seriously. At the very least, we owe the next generation some honesty.­

by Matthew Arnold, 2009

 Published with permission of Design Intelligence­

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