Architectural education has the reputation of being extremely challenging: students spend long nights building models and working on drawings in the studio and have very little social life beyond their work. The most common path to becoming an architect involves obtaining a degree from a NAAB (National Architecture Accrediting Board) school, either a five-year Bachelor of Architecture or a two- to three-year Masters program, followed by an internship and examinations. However, it may be possible to become an architect without a degree.
First, check your state's architect licensing requirements. Each state has different guidelines for becoming an architect. While the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) tracks the Internship Development Process (IDP), it does not set standards for the entire country. However, visiting the NCARB website, which is listed below in the Reference section, is a good place to start.
Determine whether your education and experience match your state's licensing requirements. Some states require college education, while others require no degree at all. In terms of work experience, if you have been employed anywhere from eight to 12 years in an architecture firm, working under a licensed architect, you may satisfy the requirements in lieu of architectural education.
Next, check whether or not your state requires you to complete IDP. Even if you qualify based on your education and experience, you may have to enroll and complete this program. It is typically a three-year process, but you've likely satisfied most of if not all of its requirements through your substantial work experience at an architecture firm. However, you'll still be required to submit documentation and fees.
Take the Architectural Registration Examination (ARE). Most states require you to pass this nine-part exam before you can officially become a licensed architect, education requirements aside.
Finally, you must fill out all necessary paperwork and file with your state licensing board to officially become an architect. This process may take several months and you should be prepared to pay a fee.
If you do not meet the education requirements of your state for licensure, consider applying for reciprocity in another state that does, as long as they don't have a residency requirement. If you do not live in the United States, the licensing process may be very different, or even non-existent. Contact a professional architecture organization in your area for more information.
While it may be possible to become an architect without a degree, you should seriously consider obtaining an architectural education. You will learn invaluable design skills that will prepare you for your career in the field of architecture.