My Road to Licensure

My road to licensure looks a bit different than the ‘average’ ARE candidate. I graduated from University of Colorado in 2015 with a BS Arch, which NCARB doesn’t view as a professional degree. After looking through graduate school options and talking with some grad students, I felt I would learn so much more in practice than I ever could in school. This was a frustrating realization, because I thought I wouldn’t be able to get my license in any quick, direct path due to only having a 4-year degree.

While pondering my path, I made the move from Colorado to Washington. This didn’t help me license-wise (both CO and WA require professional degrees or 2x AXP to test), but it did introduce me to a new firm filled with (mostly) supportive people. I started researching different ways to get licensed, and discovered I could test through a small handful of states, without being a resident, and without jumping through additional experience or degree hoops. Shortly after my move, I requested eligibility to test in the fine state of Wisconsin. I had never been to Wisconsin, never even flown through Wisconsin, but I was more than happy to pay them testing fees since they would allow me to test with my 4 year degree. Once I was approved to test, I started in on my studies.

I decided to start strong: PPD and PDD. I scheduled the tests back to back, with a month inbetween for studying. I was so confident and sure I was going to knock these out of the park until I saw FAIL in lovely red lettering twice in a row. I learned a lot about perseverance in those couple months, and how to drive a car while ugly crying. I reported my failing scores back to work only to have some management encourage me to ‘take some time before retesting’ and to ‘work in the field for another 5 years, then you might have a better shot at these’.

I am SO glad I didn’t listen to those old, white men telling me I wasn’t ready. I went straight back to my studying and buckled down. I found Black Spectacles around this time and immediately things started to click. I felt like Mike explained HVAC systems to me in 45 minutes, which gave me so much more clarity than the three semesters I took on systems in school. I started sharing my vulnerabilities with other, more supportive folks at work, and learned that most of my colleagues wanted to help me on my journey. I learned so many things from different people throughout my office and found mentors I still turn to with a myriad of questions. I kept testing, passing my retakes of PPD and PDD, failing CE, then finally getting into a rhythm of passing my remaining exams.

When ‘PASS’ showed up on my final test I thought I was seeing it wrong. I came home to a stack of books and marveled at all I’d learned. Aside from getting my license, I had learned how to learn in the field. This, more than anything, has really boosted my confidence in my career. Before this entire process, I would be in meetings afraid to speak up due to fearing I wouldn’t contribute anything of value or that I might sound ‘dumb’. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened, but a flip switched on that helped me stop second guessing my professional self and realize that it’s okay to ‘not know the answer’ or be an ‘expert’. After 11 months of studying and testing, 3 FAILs and no professional degree, in November of 2018 I received my first Architecture License, and man did that feel good.

To anyone starting (or on) their licensure journey, don’t give up! These tests are HARD, but they’re also passable. If you can, try to let go of any expectations you have for yourself. We all learn differently, and it’s okay if it takes a few times for things to ‘click’. It’s also okay to feel frustrated; that’s a sign there’s a misunderstanding, and there are so many great resources to discover to help you through it. Keep at it, you got this!


Whoa, Cat. What an incredibly inspiring story. I love how the key to getting through this for you was ‘finding some supportive people’… I suppose those are some wise words for life, not to mention taking this test… Thanks for sharing for everyone to see. I’m sure it will inspire many others as they venture on their journey through these tests…