Many architects, and each and every intern or Architect Registration Exam candidate must deal with NCARB. Often these dealings are made more difficult by confusion regarding NCARB’s various programs.
Once you throw in a general misunderstanding of what NCARB actually is, the process of becoming licensed becomes an ordeal of frustration.
First things first: What’s NCARB?
NCARB stands for National Council of Architect Registration Boards. The key word here is “Boards.” NCARB is a club for State, Provincial, and Territorial, Architecture Boards. You cannot become a member of NCARB. No person can. Only organizations can join. And the only organizations that can join are those that license architects, AKA licensing boards.
NCARB is a Council of the State Licensing Boards
NCARB’s particular area of counseling is in regard to the licensure of architects.
But it cannot be over emphasized: the state boards license, and NCARB councils. NCARB does not council and license, it only councils. NCARB councils primarily in two ways:
First, it creates and promotes architectural licensing standards. The Architect Registration Exam is a prime example. All member boards use the ARE to qualify architects for licensure.
Many other NCARB standards are not universally accepted by the state architect boards. Examples include Broadly Experienced Architect, the five year rolling clock for testing, and ethical standards for practice. The primary reason is that the state boards are government agencies and must comply with their state statutes and regulations when formulating public policy. This means the boards live in the political environment and are subject to political pressure and neglect, and therefore implementing change often requires the expenditure of political capital by a board.
Second, NCARB evaluates and reports an individual’s experience, education, and examinations to the state licensing boards in a uniform format. Legally speaking, NCARB does not approve candidates for licensure or to sit for the ARE. It merely compiles reports evaluating candidates’ experience, education, and examinations against NCARB’s standards: again, standards which a particular state board may or may not require for licensure. The key is that NCARB’s reports are in a uniform format.
NCARB’s Program for Architects and Licensure Candidates
NCARB only has one program for individuals, and it’s not membership. Remember only State Boards are members of NCARB.
NCARB’s Program for Individuals: The Council Record
The NCARB Council Record program is the mechanism by which NCARB councils the state boards regarding a particular candidate’s experience, education, and examinations.
When you first apply to NCARB you apply for a Council Record. Every check you write to NCARB is for something related to your Council Record. You pay NCARB a fee to establish it, maintain it, transmit it, and to certify it (though some of these fees are waived in certain situations).
After you establish a council record, NCARB compiles a record your experience, education, and examinations and evaluates it against NCARB’s own standards for licensure. It does not evaluate it against the standards of your state board.[i] It reports your experience, education, and examinations to your state board using your Council Record.
Intern Development Program
It is best to think of IDP as one of NCARB’s standards. And to imagine that your council record is evaluated against this standard by NCARB. Your state may or may not have adopted IDP as a standard for licensure…or it may have adopted only part of NCARB’s IDP standard. Your state will license you based upon the State standards not necessarily NCARB’s.
The IDP standard has several parts. One part is a standard for the settings in which interns are trained. Another part is a standard for content areas. Other parts include standards for supervision and mentoring. Finally IDP includes a standard for the minimum amount of experience in each training area.
“IDP” as a source of confusion
The term “IDP” is slippery. It may refer to the entire NCARB standard. It may refer to specific requirements of a state board which differ from the NCARB standard, usually with regard to the duration of training…but wait that’s not all!
“IDP” is also used to refer to the mechanism by which interns report their experience and have it recorded in their council record. State boards are notorious for saying things like “candidates must be enrolled in IDP.” Of course you cannot enroll in a standard, and NCARB does not have an IDP program you can participate in.
All you can do is establish a council record. Once you do so, you report your internship experience on Form 123 “Experience Verification Report.”[ii] By default, you are enrolled in IDP, and it is the only option for reporting internship experience in your council record. All these legal issues are probably the reason California has a separate CIDP program.
Mitigating the Confusion
Think about it this way, what you report to NCARB is your experience. All of it goes in your Council Record. When you report, you allocate some or all or none of your experience to each of the IDP training areas.
Now here’s the trick. Some or all or none of the experience you allocate to the various IDP areas goes toward meeting NCARB’s IDP standard and some or all or none of it goes toward meeting the licensure requirements of your state board. And critically, what gets allocated toward meeting NCARB’s IDP standard is not necessarily the same as what goes toward meeting your state’s licensure requirements.
Take California or any other state allowing licensure without a professional degree. A candidate with no degree would open an Council Record and report their experience. In reporting their experience they would allocate Training Units to the various IDP categories. None of this experience would be counted toward meeting NCARB’s IDP standard because of NCARB’s educational prerequisites. On the other hand, all of it could potentially be counted toward meeting the experience requirements of the State Board.
Mandatory participation in IDP is not the same as mandatory completion of IDP. If documentation of your experience via a council record is mandatory, then so is your participation in IDP. A degreeless candidate is required to participate in IDP, but can become licensed without completing it.
“IDP” is not a synonym for “architectural internship” even though it’s the only game in town. What our degreeless candidate must complete to become licensed is an architectural internship, not IDP. Since NCARB is far more invested in IDP than in architectural internship in general, they tend not to draw attention to the difference particularly given the minimalist nature of their public communications.
NCARB is not unique in this regard. Organizations such as the AIA and individuals in the academy and practice tend to gloss over nuance and distinction to a degree that would be unacceptable in an instrument of service such as a specification section.
The Relevance of IDP
There are two times that IDP is relevant. And when it’s relevant it’s very much so. First is if your state requires completion of IDP for licensure (rather than completion of an architectural internship). The second is when you wish to hold a regular NCARB Certificate.
NCARB also has standards for the certification of architects.
Architects who meet these standards are eligible for certification. Currently there are three certifications: Standard, Broadly Experienced Architect, and Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect.
The Standard Certificate is recognized by every state because it is based upon the most stringent education and experience requirements found among the various states. However, it is based only upon universal testing requirements (Architect Registration Exam) rather than the most stringent. Therefore it does not fully qualify an architect for licensure in states with supplemental testing such as California.
The Broadly Experienced Architect and Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect certificates are accepted by a limited number of states because they are based upon criteria other than the most stringent found among the state laws. Both these programs require personal interviews and portfolio reviews with NCARB staff.
Certification is a part of an architect’s council record, and as always, remember, only State Boards are members of NCARB.
[i] In Direct Registration States NCARB is subcontracted to evaluate your record against state licensure requirements as a separate service to the state board.
[ii] The an exception is if you completed your experience prior to 1996, then you have the option to use “Form 123-%” which allows the allocation of TU’s based upon the percentage of your time spent in each content area. If you need this form, you must contact NCARB directly. It is not available on their website.