Path to Licensure: Advice on Experience and Examination

With college commencements having occurred last month, many newly graduated architecture students are soon entering our industry. For these graduates, we offer the following interview with Orsi as she discusses her path to licensure, including work experience and examination.

Was licensure always a goal for you?

I’ve always planned on becoming a licensed architect which is why I decided to pursue the 5-year Bachelor of Architecture degree. For me, it was a personal goal. I saw it as not only the next step in my professional career, but also as the culmination of my collegiate education.

How long did it take to complete your experience requirements?

I worked at a firm while pursuing my degree at Temple University; therefore I started to earn experience while still in school. I was able to complete my IDP (recently renamed AXP) two years post-graduation.

What is some advice for current students or recent grads regarding work experience?

Simply put, get as much experience as you can and establish your NCARB record to keep track of your hours (and later your exams and licenses). I worked for a small architecture firm, where I was exposed to and involved in all facets of the profession on a daily basis. During my early years, I ran blueprints and maintained the materials library, in addition to drafting. As my experience grew so did my responsibilities and eventually I became a Project Manager running all aspects of my own projects. These early experiences contributed to owning my own practice today. My advice for anyone is to ask to be involved and to appreciate all that goes into the design and construction of a building. Keep in mind that there are no small tasks and that you can learn something from everything.

How long did it take to complete your Architect Registration Examination (ARE)?

It took me 20 months from my first study session to my last exam. I tested under ARE 4.0, so there were 7 divisions total.

What were some of your study strategies?

I studied for one division at a time. On average, I gave myself about 2½ months to prepare for each. I started with the valuable materials and information found on NCARB’s website. As my primary study aid I used the Kaplan (recently renamed Brightwood) study guides. I highlighted important points as I read and then took notes from them afterwards. Later, I reviewed those notes. The books included quizzes at the end of each chapter and a final exam. After completing the quizzes and exams, I used them as part of my review process as well. For the Structural Systems and Building Systems, specifically, I watched YouTube videos. Seeing concepts visually explained helped me to understand them better. Regarding the vignettes (in ARE 5.0, case studies have replaced vignettes), I just practiced to the point where I became comfortable with the software. During the exam, your time is valuable and solving the design problem should not be affected by your lack of software knowledge,

How did you stay motivated while studying for the ARE?

I stayed motivated thanks to my study group. From day one, I studied with a friend. We met once a week for about two hours to review the chapters we had read the week prior. We would go over quizzes together and discuss any material that we didn’t quite grasp. The buddy system ensured that we stayed on schedule and were not only accountable to ourselves but to each other as well. And the bottom line is that it worked.

What is one advice you’d give to others studying for the ARE?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the whole process. The important thing is to break it down to manageable pieces. While passing the ARE was always in the back of my mind, I tried to concentrate not even on passing one division, but on just reading one chapter and understanding its content. Also, realize that it is only a test. It’s impossible to memorize all the content and you don’t have. The test is less about knowing every piece of data, and more about understanding concepts. Study enough where you get comfortable with the software and the concepts. Later, once you’ve successfully passed the ARE, you’ll have plenty of time to gain more knowledge in the areas that interest you. Realize that this is only the beginning of your continuing education.

Now that you are a Registered Architect, how do you feel about the ARE process?

As stressful and challenging as it may have been, it made passing the ARE that much more rewarding. Additionally, I think that preparing for the exam may expose you to topics that you haven’t been to either in school or through work experience. You might just find a new area of interest that you’d like to pursue further, which in turn will only make you a better architect.

Meet Our Principals: Orsi

Over the next couple of months we will be taking a closer look at our principals. Here's part one of two, with a spotlight on Orsi. The following interview reveals some of her early experiences, interests, and advice for future architects.

Did you always know you wanted to be an architect or designer?

From an early age, I enjoyed building with blocks and Legos. In my teens I was always rearranging my bedroom, sometimes in the middle of the night, much to my parents’ delight. However, in high school, I gravitated towards math and sciences, and so architecture was somehow not on my radar. My first major was psychology, but after my freshman year I tried several more majors including computer science and graphic design. Finally, while visiting a friend at Virginia Tech and seeing her architecture studio, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment. Architecture was the major for which I had been searching. I felt it was the one field that would combine my interests in the sciences, math and art.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I really enjoy the entire architectural process; from the early conceptual sketches and construction documentation to construction administration. I also enjoy the client aspect of the job; whether working with long-time clients or meeting new ones. Additionally, having my own business allows me to wear many other hats including accountant, business development manager, and marketing director. No two days are the same, but each is exciting and rewarding.

If you had to choose another profession, what would it be?

I used to say baker or chef, which are also creative professions and, unlike architecture, you get to eat your design. Nowadays, however, after my long journey to becoming an architect, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

What were some of your first job experiences?

At 14, I got my first job selling Times Herald newspaper subscriptions door to door. (Am I dating myself here or what!?). I was also a busgirl and hostess at a couple of restaurants. Then, I got a cashier position at an OfficeMax and worked myself up to Supervisor and then to Customer Service Manager by the time I was in college. That was good work experience in how to manage people and gain their respect and trust, as many of the employees were more than twice my age. I also interacted with customers on a daily basis and was responsible for resolving any conflicts or issues. This was another great tool I acquired during my time working there.

What is your favorite school memory?

My favorite high school memory is definitely playing varsity soccer. Our team was not very good, but we made the most of it and really had a great time despite it. I believe you can learn far more from challenging or unsuccessful experiences and they can also be more influential in shaping your character.

What advice would you give to an architecture student?

First, get as much real world job experience as you can while in school. Whether it’s over summer breaks or a few hours a week during the year, just being in a firm environment and exposed to the daily routine of an office is invaluable experience. I ran a lot of blue prints (oh, the smell of ammonia!) at my first architecture job, along with performing other “small” jobs. Luckily, I quickly learned that no task is too small or insignificant and they all have contributed to the overall experience I have today. Be a sponge and ask to be involved in as much as you can, from running prints to client meetings to drafting details.

Second, take a speech class. It was a requirement when I was at MCCC and I have always been grateful for it. The tools I learned in that class I had put to use during my studio crits at Temple to successfully convey my project ideas to the jury. They have also been helpful in conveying design ideas to my own clients, colleagues, and consultants. Communication is a key component of how we interact with other people and build relationships, and verbal communication is a vital part of it.

Lastly, study abroad. While I had already lived in three countries and visited just as many by the time I was in college, I still wish I had taken a semester to study abroad. It’s my one regret.

What do you love about architecture?

I love how architecture can transform a space and create a new environment for its users. Architecture, when done successfully, can shape not only the physical built environment, but the psychological connection to it as well through the personal experience. It is a very powerful tool, for if done unsuccessfully, the reverse is equally true. I feel architects have an awesome responsibility to society and I am excited to be a contributing part of it.

What are some of your hobbies?

I have a 3 year old, so my hobbies have slightly taken a back seat. Something I’ve always enjoyed is just staying active and challenging myself physically. I’ve done a number of 5Ks and even the Broad Street Run. I also really enjoyed doing the MS Bike-150 and MudRun. I’m happy to say that most of them have been with my husband, Rich, which has made for some great memories.

Over the years I have also enjoyed volunteering my time with various charitable and nonprofit organizations. The most rewarding of which have been those with a focus on the education of our future designers. I’ve been a thesis adviser, studio juror, and assistant instructor for college students and a mentor to high school student. I strongly believe in giving back by sharing my knowledge and experiences with the next generation, especially the young women entering our industry.

What is your life’s motto?

It’s hard to pick just one. My favorite ones are: Make each day count; Don’t sweat the small stuff; Everything in due time.

How do you deal with work-life balance?

That’s a work in progress, but luckily Rich and I are a team when it comes to growing our business, as well as, taking care of our family. The biggest challenge has always been to try not to work all the time. Once we had our son, however, that need soon became apparent. We make a conscience effort to keep somewhat normal business hours so that we do have family time at night and on weekends as much as possible.