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All About IPAL: The Fast-Track to Becoming an Architect

By: Holly Williams Leppo, AIA, NCIDQ-certified, LEED AP
September 30, 2020
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Twenty-one US architecture schools now offer their students a faster track to becoming an architect and taking ARE 5.0: NCARB’s Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL). Students in IPAL programs will document the same number of hours of work experience, pass the same exams, and earn the same architecture degree as their non-accelerated counterparts—but they will have the opportunity to accomplish all of this before they graduate from college. 

California leads the way, with three participating institutions (New School of Architecture and Design, University of Southern California, and Woodbury University), but IPAL is making an impact in architecture schools from coast to coast, and NCARB has pledged to work with state licensing boards to increase the number of jurisdictions which will accept this alternative to the traditional sequence of school, then work, then testing. 

Typically, architectural training begins with graduation from a professional degree program, then employment in an office under the supervision of a licensed architect. Along the way, the candidate must take and pass the six divisions of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE 5.0). 

IPAL allows students to compress these activities by taking them on all at the same time.

Through summer internships and full- or part-time work during the academic year, IPAL allows students to accumulate required Architect Experience Program (AXP) hours while they are in school and take the ARE before they graduate. Those who accrue 3,740 hours in specific experience areas, pass all divisions of the ARE, and complete the academic requirements for a professional degree (B.Arch or M.Arch) will satisfy the typical requirements for licensing—education, experience, and examination—by the end of their college career.  

Because this concept is so new, prospective students should thoroughly investigate each school’s curriculum, consider their own goals for their time in college, and understand the licensing laws in the state(s) in which they plan to practice, to ensure that IPAL is a good fit.

Preparing for ARE 5.0? Test your knowledge with a free ARE 5.0 Sample Quiz.

IPAL is an overlay or elective track that enhances an architecture school’s existing professional degree program.  Universities determine their own curriculum and graduation requirements; the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) periodically evaluates all programs offering B.Arch or M.Arch degrees in the United States to ensure that they meet or exceed baseline standards. The majority of states require that candidates hold a NAAB-accredited degree to become licensed architects. 

Many of the schools implementing IPAL already offer courses of study that include both classroom- and studio-based instruction and professional experience through internships. NCARB’s IPAL initiative encourages universities to offer more structured work-study programs, and allows participating students to log and report their work experience contemporaneously. It also provides students with the opportunity to take exams while they are still in “college mode”—taking classes or completing internships, and not too far removed from an academic setting—rather than waiting until they have received their diploma.

IPAL tracks are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but graduate level programs predominate. Architecture curricula are structured in many ways, and schools have the flexibility to design IPAL to complement their existing program. Some universities welcome students as undergraduates, usually after the third year of study; others offer IPAL only to graduate students. A few schools require previous work experience or a portfolio evaluation to enroll.

Depending on the school’s curriculum and degree pursued, choosing to enroll in IPAL may add a year or more to the typical enrollment time - and therefore, tack on tuition costs and living expenses. Although the internships are paid work opportunities, receiving academic credit for the experience usually requires paying tuition, and the compensation may not be adequate to offset another year of student loans. On the other hand, the salary bump associated with earlier licensing and the increase in earning potential over the course of a career may make IPAL a smart investment. IPAL participants could become licensed in as few as seven years. 

Students in IPAL programs will need to plan for multiple internships, so their opportunities for study abroad, pursuing honors research or minors in other disciplines, or time available for extracurricular activities may be limited. But IPAL is different at every participating university. Some schools treat IPAL as an honors program; others require their students to complete internships nearby, while some offer opportunities thousands of miles away from campus. That’s why it is so important to investigate a variety of programs to find the best fit.

For a student who has always wanted to be an architect, and who wants to achieve that goal as quickly as possible, the prescribed IPAL schedule may be perfect. However, a student who wants to explore other interests during their years in college may find that creative scheduling and assistance from an advisor is necessary to pursue these other goals.

Students must satisfy the institution’s graduation requirements to receive their degree. Successful completion of either the ARE or AXP is not intended to be a requirement for graduation from the participating universities. Incomplete experience or examination requirements for licensure can be satisfied after graduation. However, the five-year rolling clock for completion of the ARE begins ticking on the date of the first exam.

The requirements, training, and expertise required for licensing are the same for IPAL program participants and those who follow a traditional path—the only difference is the timing. But because the IPAL concept has been recently introduced, many states’ licensing laws haven’t yet caught up. Currently, only about 15 states will accept passing scores on divisions of the ARE taken while enrolled in an IPAL program. The program launched in 2014, so the first class of students is nearing graduation and just beginning the licensing application process. As graduates prove that this accelerated model can produce well-trained, competent candidates, and NCARB continues to develop and advocate for alternative paths to licensure, more states may permit earlier testing within the structure of IPAL.

Institutions Offering IPAL
NAAB-Accredited Degrees Offered
Boston Architectural CollegeB.Arch, M.Arch – IPAL only available at master’s levelBoston, MA
The Catholic University of AmericaM.Arch
Washington, DC
Clemson University
M.Arch – IPAL can be started as an undergraduate
Clemson, SC
Drexel University
B.Arch – 2+4 program; 2 years full-time study followed by 4 years of internship and part-time study
Philadelphia, PA
Lawrence Technological UniversityM.ArchSouthfield, MI
New School of Architecture and Design (two programs)B.Arch, M.Arch  – IPAL only available at master’s levelSan Diego, CA
North Carolina State University (two programs)B.Arch, M.ArchRaleigh, NC
Portland State UniversityM.ArchPortland, OR
Savannah College of Art and DesignM.ArchSavannah, GA
University of CincinnatiM.ArchCincinnati, OH
University of Detroit MercyM.ArchDetroit, MI
University of FloridaM.ArchGainesville, FL
University of KansasM.ArchLawrence, KS
University of MarylandM.ArchCollege Park, MD
University of North Carolina-Charlotte (two programs)B.Arch, M.ArchCharlotte, NC


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