Early on in my journey to become licensed, I had several people ask me “why do you want to be an architect?” For me, the answer was simple – it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I knew from the time I was about 11 years old that this was my career path, so I did everything I could to make sure I’d see that dream come to fruition.
I know my story is more the exception than the rule, but it makes me wonder… what is your motivation to become licensed? In doing some thinking on this question, I found there are a few drivers that lead people towards this profession.
I’m sure you’ve heard or read by now, as I had a professor in school drill it into my head, it is illegal to call yourself an architect if you don’t have a license. Many people are bothered by this… they went to school, got their degree, have worked in the field for years, yet they still can’t use that coveted title because the license is the last obstacle. I know several people, myself included prior to getting licensed, who have had to correct people when they call them an architect. It’s awkward and usually results in the question “well then what are you?” What a relief it was the day I finally got that piece of paper in the mail that made it legal for friends and family (and myself!) to refer to me as an architect. If this is what motivates you, work it. Make it your goal that you will never again have to correct someone or have to explain why you can’t be called an architect yet.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, being an architect is a professional title. Like a doctor or lawyer, it’s an achievement that took years of school and training and grueling exams to complete and should be held to the same level of esteem. This is a big attraction to a lot of people who may want that professional status but aren’t drawn towards medicine or law (I can admit personally… blood makes me squeamish and law was never attractive). Plus, you’re not just a professional… you get to design and build buildings! How cool is that to see something you put down on paper actually start to rise out of the earth?
I will never forget my first class in architecture school (in fact it may have even been the first day of class) my professor stood up and said “Anyone who is here for the money better leave now, because I’m about to disappoint you”.
He went on to explain that while architects are professionals, we do not make nearly the level of salary expected of doctors and lawyers. Depending on the type of projects you design and the location where you practice, salaries for architects vary greatly but can always be predicted to be on the lower end of the professional scale.
Why is that? Some may argue the profession has lost some of the credibility it once had, before the introduction of design-build firms and contractor performed work. Since there are several project types that can be completed without the need of a licensed architect, the profession has lost a level of status. In comparison, there are not many surgeries or procedures that can be performed by someone who is not a licensed doctor and good luck going to court with legal representation who has not passed the bar.
However, all that being said, there is a proven salary record for licensed architects versus unlicensed designers. On average, you can expect a fairly significant bump in salary once you are licensed. Obviously other factors must be considered (years of experience, project types, location, etc.) but it’s a fact licensed architects have higher incomes. This should be good news since what motivation would remain to get a license if you make the same as your unlicensed counterpart?
I know there are likely plenty of other good reasons why many people pursue licensure, but it seems that these three tend to be pretty strong motivators. Whether you feel only one or all three resonate with you, use that fuel for your fire to keep your motivation going and get that license. Because once you do, you’ll have the title, the status and the salary to go with all your hard work.