Welcome to Arch Stories, a compilation of stories from architects about their licensure story.

For many architects, the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) become a dreaded obstacle that one must conquer. Many of us have searing memories about the experience – the late nights studying, the attempts and multiple practice graphic vignettes, the panic of forgotten formulas moments before entering a testing room. Most of us who attempt the exam eventually succeed at passing and live to tell about it.

Arch Stories is your chance to tell others about your experience. What started as a way for a group of interns to support each other is now a place for architects to share their story and help inspire others on the road to licensure.

Tell us your story.

Louis Smith (1997)

Path to Licensure: By Any Means Necessary
Louis Smith
Licensed 1997

The greatest burden for minorities pursuing licensure may be the uncertainty of whether your level of success is due to your own lack of effort or to the racist tendencies in a profession where people who look like you are greatly under-represented. My approach to this was to try and move forward every chance I could in whatever path was open.

The result of that was that I applied for licensure shortly after receiving my undergraduate degree in the early 1980’s. At the time, the licensure law there said that the rules that were in effect for applicant were those in effect at the time of first application. This meant that no professional degree was needed. I did need a great deal of experience as an “intern” before qualifying for the test.
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Anna McCorvey (2016)

Not getting licensed was not an option
Anna McCorvey, RA, LEED AP BD+C
Licensed 2016

To license or not to license, that was NEVER a question. To me, licensure was a integral part of the architectural journey: that seal attests to your ability and legitimacy.

When I finally finished my masters in city planning from UC Berkeley, the mission was clear; get licensed. In fact, I cut my educational aspirations a bit short in order to quickly return to the workforce. I intended to pursue a dual degree in planning and law (part of my master plan), but that would have put me out of the architectural workforce for 5 years; I had already taken a year “off” and the program was 4 years long.

When I finally began testing, I jumped into it head first and got into a good groove. A great groove actually. Until I failed my first exam; construction documents and services. I failed that one twice and it was the only one I failed. I felt so comfortable with the material. It boggled my mind that I wasn’t passing the exam. The vignettes were the culprit so I spent more time practicing those. It was smooth sailing after I finally got over that hump. It was stressful, but not horrible. My friends missed me, but they were always in my corner cheering me on. That would be my bit of advice. Find a good support system of friends and loved ones that will not feel slighted when you need to disappear for a while, but who are still there when you need a break!

Learn more about Anna here.

Are you a licensed architect? Share your story. Submit here.

Jerryn J. McCray (2007)

Designing redundant, boring, practical buildings got me over the hump!
by Jerryn J. McCray, AIA
Licensed 2007

I was the best and worst intern ever. I was skilled, talented, ambitious, arrogant and black. I wasn’t designed to make it. I was often the only one and I was consistently pissing off my bosses. I was completing tasks at a high level but there was no way I would ever be promoted (due to my “attitude”) without credentials.


I started studying immediately after an audit by NCARB. Apparently, I fulfilled the IDP requirements suspiciously fast and they had to shake me down. This was 2005. I escaped Auburn University in 2002 (3 years flat). Whatever… I studied every day. I studied every night. I studied on weekends. I passed the first two exams with ease.


No one ever told me many of the correct answers would require actual experience. I flunked the first structures exam because I simply didn’t know what the hell I was doing. No amount of studying and grit (arrogance) could make up for the fact that I was 26 years old and knew more about craft beer and rendering software than I did about a building’s structural logic. My job title was “designer”, which equated to a cartoonist for sleek boxes with windows.
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Kimberly Dowdell (2013)

What ARE We Doing?
By Kimberly Dowdell
Licensed 2013
Written 6/26/2013

I definitely dumped my boyfriend because passing my last Architect Registration Exam (ARE) division had me beyond stressed out. It was not the only issue in our relationship, but it was big enough to put me over the edge. Having not been among the lucky few to pass all of my exams on the first attempt (or second in some cases), I built up a lot of anxiety over the situation. I had never experienced such disappointment, frustration, anger, fear and anguish in my entire life. I am not even kidding…it was rough. The only people who understood what I was going through were those who’ve done it, which is such a small percentage of my network that practically no one got it. Most people would listen to me complain and stare blankly at me. “It’s just a test, you can do it…didn’t you go to Cornell?” Umm, yes I am smart, but this test isn’t about being smart. For me, the ARE was about being resilient. I am very grateful that I made it through with my sanity and health mainly in tact. I thank God for the perseverance to keep getting back up again after being pushed down and around by the infamous Architect Registration Exam for nearly four years.

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Katherine Williams (2010)

When I first earned my license in 2010, I wrote a list of 11 do’s and don’ts that I though would helpful for those following behind me.

ARE Do’s AND Don’ts
Katherine Williams
Licensed 2010

As a newly licensed architect, I feel it is only right that I share what I have learned over the 3 years I have been testing. I wrote a short list. Use this as you see fit.

  1. DO research your state requirements including fees, now and ongoing.
  2. DO apply for eligibility as soon as you can and start studying.
  3. DO create a line item in your personal budget for test fees, study materials, state registration fee, NCARB fee…. (If your firm pays, great, but still put something in your savings, just in case. Consider this your prize money at the end of your journey if you don’t need it.)
  4. DON’T move across the country in the middle of the process. Not only does it interrupt the process, now you have to think about reciprocity or applying in a new state.
  5. DON’T wait a year between tests. Momentum. Gone.
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Bryan Hudson (2009)

Licensure: The Long and Winding Road
Bryan Wendell Hudson
Licensed 2009
Written August 2009

I never really thought about what my story would be. I don’t want to be long winded but there’s so much to say… At any rate my, first experience with the Architectural Registration Exam (A.R.E.) came thru INOMA in ’93 on a Saturday test prep event. I actually got to practice the graphic section of the test. This was my first year in studio. I didn’t finish it but got a certificate for being the only student to show up and participate. It would be 9 years before I was eligible for the computerized version.

Fast forward to March 2002 to, NOMA founder, Wendell Campbell and Associates’ offices. This was the earliest stage of our current recession and the first time I was eligible to test. Site Planning was taken and failed. Since I was designing parking lots and structures I thought it would be a slam dunk. Not only did I fail, but I got laid off… I had to ask myself, do I eat and pay rent while looking for a job or study and find money to pay for the test. Well I chose to eat…(I’m sure a lot of you have dealt with this situation or may be now…) I didn’t take another test for sixteen months because in my new job that I started six months later, I was working 16hr days with no time to study. The next three exams I took with similar results to the first with the exception that the format changed again. I finally scored my first pass with Construction Documents in 2006. It would be another nine months before I passed yet a newer version of Site Planning. After that success, I finally started to get some confidence. In 2007, I had two more down with a promise made to one of the NOMAC members to be done by the following year’s NOMA conference.
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R. Steven Lewis (1984)

This essay was first published in the NOMA Magazine, Fall 2008 issue.


The Architectural Licensing Exam: A Right Of Passage
by R. Steven Lewis
Licensed 1984

As a young teenager, years before the thought of pursuing a career for myself as an architect entered my mind, I can recall the day when my father received the results of his licensing exam in the mail.

Months earlier, my mom, along with me, my brother and sister drove into Manhattan at the end of the final day of the then week-long exam to pick him up from the Coliseum at 59th Street and Columbus Avenue. The International Style structure designed by Leon and Lionel Levy with John B. Peterkin Embury and Eggers & Higgins, was built in 1954 and stood as one of New York City’s most well known monuments until it was demolished in 2000. Continue reading