I’ve been waiting for this day for what seems like ages. From the start of freshman year eight years ago, through countless late nights, tedious Structures classes, anxiety-inducing final reviews, a few ER visits from model shop mishaps; through seven exams, stacks of flashcards, + a whole shelf of ARE study guides; through 6,282 logged intern hours, three architectural firms, + a three-year anniversary with my current employer…it’s finally here.
An envelope from the state addressed to yours truly, Sara Schmidt, RA.
And I know exactly what’s inside. For this personally momentous occasion, I feel like my newly issued architectural license should have come in a confetti-filled box, tied with a tremendous bow, accompanied by a mariachi band announcing its arrival. Or it should have been personally delivered to my front door by a representative of the state + esteemed members of the profession. There should have been, at least, some sort of heralded proclamation when I opened the mailbox. Alas, it was sandwiched between the bills + junk mail in an unassuming envelope, distinctive only by the state seal printed in the upper corner. The lack of pageantry was not unexpected +, truthfully, it was not disappointing [I don’t do well with ostentatious displays, though I probably wouldn’t have minded the confetti]. It certainly didn’t stop me from sounding off trumpets in my own head. This piece of paper, + the path to obtain it, means more to me than I ever thought it could.
Reflecting on the decisions I was faced with upon graduation, after a grueling, albeit rewarding, five years in school, pursuing licensure seemed like the logical dénouement. If I didn’t complete what I had begun when I paid the first semester’s tuition, I knew I would come to regret it. Not to mention my B. Arch seemed insufficient without a corresponding license to complete the set. College, for the most part, was an enjoyable experience for me; I loved solving problems, creating models + drawings, the late nights + collaborative atmosphere. Some of my peers ultimately decided it wasn’t for them + pursued other career paths, but I wanted to give architecture a shot.
Out of school, I was incredibly fortunate to obtain a position in a firm that is as invested in my future as I am; they allow me to learn + ask questions, express my opinions, + contribute to the overall studio culture. I have matured immensely over the last three years. I am grateful to have a mentor there who motivated + encouraged me as I worked through ARE + IDP; he daily imparts his knowledge of real-world architecture [+ life in general] that continues to help me grow, + still he tolerates the silly questions + occasional panic-inducing slip-ups. While I want to give myself due credit for my own tenacity in the earning of this license, I know, without a doubt, I would not be this far professionally without that support.
While there was a fairly even split between males + females in my graduating class, I was not completely oblivious about entering what is still a male-dominated field; I had only vague ideas + borrowed impressions about what to expect in terms of a reception to the profession, not only with regard to gender, but age. If I was to be collaborating with older professionals, working with seasoned contractors, how could I expect them to take the recommendations + authority of a twenty-some year old? As is typically the case for the proverbial underdog [a category I wasn’t quite sure if I fit into…], there’s a necessitated proof of merit--a rite of passage--before he or she is welcomed with open arms, accepted as one the cadre, + eventually inducted into the annals of greatness [just so we’re clear, I have no intention of fashioning my license into a Flavor Flav-esque medallion that becomes a permanent fixture around my neck + affronts all whom I meet, despite whatever fairytale you think I may be wrapped up in]. From what I had surmised there would be a good deal of proving my worth, but I was up for the challenge. Licensure was a hurdle I wanted to tackle sooner rather than later.
Working through the requirements for registration was my own rite of passage. I realize a piece of paper doesn’t make someone a good architect or a good anything for that matter, but I know I have worked hard for this title. It’s something I can be proud of for the rest of my life. At the very least it’s a confidence boost; it’s an ever-present reminder that I’ve made it as far as I have + that I deserve to be here.
The present state of the architectural profession is a frequent topic of discussion in the office, as I’m sure it is in most architecture studios. There is no shortage of articles or studies out there that provide discourse on licensure + how long it should take, reasons why you should or shouldn’t pursue it, attacks on the belabored process, rebuttals by the licensing board; not to mention countless advocacy groups + petitions for women + minorities in the field, statistics on how many make it or just can’t seem to move past the hurdles that life puts in their way. I think the majority of us were insulated from these ongoing debates while in school, with preparation for the next critique first + foremost on our minds; however, in the three years since graduation it has sometimes seemed like there’s nothing else to talk about. I suppose these discussions are important because they keep us accountable as professionals + aspiring architects, but part of me thinks there’s maybe a little too much of it, especially when it provides excuses + objects for blame.
If you’re not careful you can become wrapped up in it all + before long you’ve convinced yourself it’s not worth your time, it’s not worth the effort. You can always find reasons for ‘why not’ but we never grow + we never get better if we listen to the Can’ts, Shouldn’ts, the It’stoohards. The architectural profession is esteemed + respected for the rigor its professionals undergo. That means the schooling, the exams, the time spent as an [gasp!] ‘intern’, the continuing education credits, even the hours spent dealing with challenging clients, contractors, + consultants. It’s tough, no doubt about it. In the case of licensure, the difficulty of the path is directly proportional to how great the reward is at the end [figuratively, not literally – that 8”x5” piece of paper is pretty underwhelming]. And you’re all the more resilient for having made it through.
I’m not saying I enjoyed every minute of the process. I was frustrated by the paperwork + approval required simply to set up an NCARB record. I was disappointed when I wasn’t knocking out IDP hours as fast as I thought I should. Failing my second to last exam was a real blow. Even the profession itself has pesky aspects that can be exhausting [I mean have you ever had to review submittals for joint sealant?]. But then there’s the thrill of logging onto NCARB + seeing a PASS next to the exam you recently sat for. There’s the instant camaraderie [+ sometimes competition] when you meet someone in the middle of studying for their exams, too. Studying is making you a better architect + the knowledge becomes a craving because this is, after all, what it’s all about. Trust me when I say it’s worth it.
At the risk of simply adding to the myriad of essays + dissertations mentioned above, I’m telling you that licensure is not impossible. It’s not going to be a cakewalk either [do you really want it to be?], + will be even less so for some; as much as we would like it to, life doesn’t stop just because you have to study for Saturday’s exam + a client won’t delay their project just because you need more Design Development hours. There will be people + organizations that seem to be working against you as you navigate your way towards licensure. There will be wrenches that get thrown in the mechanism of your life that try to halt your advancement. But despite these perceptions of, + sometimes actual, people standing in the way + keeping us down [whether it’s because of our gender, our age, or any number of reasons] it’s ultimately up to each of us to realize + actualize our own worth + potential.
By the way, that dénouement I mentioned earlier? With license in hand I realize it’s not a conclusion or an ending at all; in fact, it’s the beginning of something great. At this point, another writer might close with ‘So, what’s stopping you?”, but I conclude by leaving you with, “there’s nothing stopping you!” I wish you the best, + I’ll catch you on the flip side!