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Immigration Through Education


By Nour Alhussaini, Assoc. AIA 


Earning the education you need (NAAB vs No Accredited)


When an individual is seeking a degree in architecture from a US university, they will have many options, as there are different types of degrees; professional degrees like a 5 years Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) and pre-professional degrees like a 4 years Bachelor of Science in Architecture or Bachelor of Art in Architecture … etc. Therefore, it is important to know if the school is offering a professional degree or a pre-professional degree in architecture.

What is the meaning of a professional degree?

A professional degree, also known as a first professional degree, is a degree that prepares an individual to work in a particular profession, and it also satisfies the education requirements to become licensed. Most of the U.S. jurisdictions’ licensing boards require licensure candidates to hold a professional degree in architecture from an accredited program by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), and all of the U.S. jurisdictions accepts having a degree from a NAAB accredited program to satisfy their education requirements.


What is the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)?

The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) is an accrediting agency for architectural education. NAAB accredits professional architectural programs; Bachelor of Architecture “B. Arch.”, Master of Architecture “M. Arch.” and Doctor of Architecture “D. Arch.”

How to earn a professional degree in architecture?

There are different paths to earn a professional degree in architecture:

  • 5 year program: earning a 5 years NAAB accredited B. Arch. or M. Arch. This is path is typical for students coming out of high school.

  • 4+2 year program: earning a pre-professional degree in architecture or a related field, then attending a 2 year accredited M. Arch. program.

  • 3 years graduate program: having an undergraduate non-architectural degree, then attending a 3 years accredited M. Arch. program.

Choosing the path to earn your architecture degree depends on many factors, and there are many resources to help in choosing what works better. One of the best resources is, a website sponsored by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) where students can take a quiz to find out the appropriate path, and also research schools and options available. There is also a search tool for NAAB accredited programs on NAAB website (here). Another resource is “Destination Architect”, published by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).



Understanding the financial options

Being a student at a U.S. university can be very expensive, especially, for international students who may not be considered for an in state tuition in most cases. Therefore, it is important to understand the available financial options.

  • Financial Aid

    • This is mostly available to those who are permanent residents of the United States. However, there are some opportunities for international students in financial aid that comes in the form of research and teaching assistance programs. Also, international students may have some opportunities to be funded by jobs, merit-based and need-based awards. Financial aid opportunities varies by school, and it is important to contact the school to find out what programs are available.

  • What is FAFSA?

    • The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form you need to fill out to get any financial aid from the federal government to help pay for college.

    • The FAFSA is free—you don’t need to pay anyone to prepare it for you.

    • You need to submit a new FAFSA before each academic year in which you want to get aid. If you plan to apply for aid throughout college, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA each year.

    • Be sure to use a permanent email address on the form, not your high school email, so you can use your FAFSA account throughout college.

    • There are three types of FAFSA deadlines:

      • College deadlines: Important when you’re applying for aid from a college. Deadlines vary by school, so check college websites or contact the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in to find out when you need to submit your FAFSA.

      • State deadlines: Important when you’re applying for aid from your state.  Check your state's FAFSA deadline.

      • Federal deadline: June 30 is the last day you can apply for federal aid for the following academic year.

  • Scholarships

    • Applying for scholarships is one of the best options as scholarships are not as restrictive for international students. There are several scholarship opportunities available to foreign students with a variety of criteria, including country of residence and age. Don’t be afraid of applying for some non-conventional scholarships as well. The only discouraging thing about scholarships is the amount of time they take to complete.

    • To increase your chances of being awarded a scholarship to attend school in the United States:

      • Work on your English and writing skills as writing an essay is normally a part of the application process, and it is mostly have to be in English.

      • Apply for as many scholarships as you can to increase your chances.

      • Improve your leadership skills as many scholarship funds give preference to people who possess leadership qualities.

  • Grants

    • In general, grants are restricted to US citizens or permanent residents, but there can be a few options available for International Students. The way to find out what is available is to call the financial aid office at the school after you get accepted.

    • There are some organizations who are dedicated to helping international students and their websites would be a good resource to search for grant opportunities like: the Institute of International Education, and the Overseas Association of College Admissions Counseling.

    • Following are some options to help paying for college in the US as an international student:

      • Fulbright grants for foreign students: The Fulbright Exchange Program is run by the U.S. Department of State and offers merit-based grants for both U.S. and non-U.S. students. Most of the grants provide round-trip transportation funding, a monthly stipend and full or partial tuition.

      • The only downsides is the high competition and that the program is not available for all countries. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is a resource to find out more information and a list of eligible countries.

      • Grants from individual colleges and universities: There are many U.S. universities who offer some grant programs to help international students study at their schools. This is different from a school to another so you need to call the school’s financial aid office for more information.

      • Scholarships and grants from your native country: Many countries, including emerging economies or developing countries, have special scholarship and grant programs to help their citizens studying abroad.

      • International organizations grants: Many of the international organizations like the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund…etc. offer scholarship programs for international students from certain countries.

      • Private foundations, companies and organizations: Many private companies and foundations offer scholarship funds, and some of them are especially for international students. The MasterCard Foundation, for example, supports scholars from Africa to attend partner universities in the United States and Canada.

      • Non-profit organizations and associations: There are many organizations dedicated to particular causes which offer scholarships for international students. For example, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) sponsors an annual fellowship that is available for women in 116 countries worldwide. This is a merit-based program for women who want to pursue graduate degrees in the U.S.

  • Student Loans

    • U.S. students can receive loans that are backed by the federal government, which offer more favorable interest rates and loan terms. Unfortunately, these are not available to international students. If international students need to use student loans, they will have to look for private ones. Applying for a private loan comes with stipulations such as interest rates and other fees, so this should be the last option to consider if other funding opportunities are not available. While looking for a private loan, keep in mind the following:

      • Interest rates: Some loans have an interest as high as 18%, so it is important to do some research.

      • Cosigners: Most of the time, when having no credit in the U.S., a U.S. co-signer is required.

      • Repayment: Some private loans have students start paying back what they owe while they are still in school, while others wait until students have completed their education.

      • Have your financials in order: Many people get private student loans from their local banks, which also can be difficult as local banks are sometime very picky.

      • Be aware of scams and abuse: There are many institutions who lend money to students to attend university abroad or in the home countries, and many of these programs charge fees and/or interest rates. Some may even make abusive demands of the student or their family. Therefore, it is very important to research and read all terms and conditions.

  • Out of Pocket

    • This is an option as well if the student is fortunate enough to be able to afford the cost of attending school. Many students have their family support, and even in this case, applying for scholarships and grant is still an available option.

Transferring from a 2 year junior college to a 4 year university

Many students decide to attend a community college or another two-year college in the beginning and use this as a stepping-stone to a four-year college or university to obtain their bachelor’s degree. To take this path, the student should consider the following: 

  • Planning ahead and making sure that the credits earned from the classes at the two-year college will be counted towards the four-year college is important and it saves time and money.

  • Enrolling in a transfer program at a two-year college that is specifically designed to include the same types of courses that are offered in the first two years at a four-year college.

Each school has its own requirements, and that’s why planning ahead and gathering information about individual college application deadlines is crucial to go through the process smoothly. Students should be using the available resources; like asking their high school counselor, browsing college websites to collect the necessary information, reaching out to the admission or counseling office of the two-year college and transfer advisors at the admission offices of the four-year colleges you’re considering. Below are some of the questions that needs to be asked:

  • Does the two-year college have a special transfer relationship (often called an articulation agreement) with any four-year colleges?

  • Will the credits earned be accepted at the four-year colleges XYZ?

  • What grades need to be earned to get credit at the four-year colleges?

  • What is the minimum GPA needed to maintain to get into the four-year colleges?

  • How does the transfer process work?

What happens when you transfer?

The four-year college will look at the courses the student took and the grades earned at the two-year college and decide how much credit they should give to the student. Each course is worth a certain number of credits, and students need to earn enough credits to graduate. If a sufficient number of the courses transfer, the student will start at the four-year college as a junior. If some of the courses were not considered to grant the student any credits, then there may be a need to take them again at the four-year college. When graduating from the four-year college, only that college’s name will appear on the student’s bachelor’s degree.


In order to practice architecture in one of the United States’ jurisdictions, it is required to become licensed in that jurisdiction. In the United States, there are 55 jurisdictions include the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All jurisdictions are members of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). NCARB recommends model law, model regulations, and other guidelines for adoption by its member jurisdictions (licensing boards), but each jurisdiction makes its own laws and registration requirements.

You can only call yourself an architect after you get licensed. To become licensed (registered) an individual needs to satisfy their licensing board requirements for licensure. To check your jurisdiction’s requirements, you may use the Licensing Requirements Tool on NCARB’s website. The core components of the licensure requirements are:

  • Education

  • Experience

  • Examination

The first step towards licensure is to establish an NCARB record, which can be done online on Your NCARB record will have your education, experience, and examination progress documented. There is a fee associated with establishing the record.

  • Education RequirementsA lot of the jurisdictions require licensure candidates to have graduated from a NAAB accredited program to satisfy their education requirements. Also, holding a degree from a program accredited by the Canadian Architectural Certification Boards (CACB), is accepted in most of the U.S. jurisdictions. However, there are some jurisdictions who do not have such requirements for education, but they still accept NAAB accredited degree to satisfy their education requirements. Also, some jurisdictions accept additional experience as an alternative to the education requirements. When a licensure candidate does not hold a degree from a NAAB accredited program, and if this is required by their jurisdiction, they might still be able to satisfy the education requirements through an alternative path. Foreign architects and designers may have the following options.

  • Foreign Licensed Applicants: If the licensure candidate have a license in a foreign country, they have the following options:

    • Citizens of Australia, Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand can pursue licensure in a U.S. jurisdiction through the appropriate mutual recognition arrangement. However, not all jurisdictions accept the mutual recognition arrangements.

    • Applicants who are licensed in other countries may be able to pursue an NCARB certificate, if their license meet specific requirements, by completing the experience and examination requirements. After getting the NCARB certificate they can use this credentials to apply for a license in a U.S. jurisdiction.

What is NCARB certificate?

NCARB certificate is a credential that provides mobility and signifies that you have met the national standards. It is simpler to get licensed across jurisdictions when having an NCARB certificate. NCARB Certification Guidelines has the information on the requirements to earn an NCARB certificate. Foreign licensed applicants who are not eligible for this path may be able to pursue licensure through the Foreign Educated Applicant path.


Foreign Educated Applicants:

Licensure candidates who hold a degree from a foreign institution that does not meet the licensure education requirements in their jurisdiction, and if that jurisdiction accepts the Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) as an alternative, they can have an EESA evaluation for their education credentials to satisfy the education requirements.


What is the Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA)?

EESA is a service provided by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), and it is an evaluation that compares an individual’s education credentials to the NCARB Education Standards. Applicants should have a minimum of 66 academic credits to qualify for the evaluation. Applying for EESA is done through NCARB, and after that, the applicant’s information is transferred to NAAB office.

What documents are required for EESA?

It is required to provide official documents for all education credentials including junior college courses and courses taken in a school without earning a degree. The documents needed are:

  • Official transcript, that has all courses listed with associated grades.

  • Course descriptions to include a paragraph or two about the objective of each course.

It is also required to provide the information about the credits or hours per week of each course, and sometime this information is already in the transcript and/or course descriptions. If the documents are issued by the school in a language different than English, then a certified translation is required to be sent with the original documents. The transcripts are required to be mailed to NAAB office, while the course descriptions can be sent only in a digital format.

What is the next step after an EESA evaluation?

80% of the EESA evaluations comes out with deficiencies, which means that the applicant needs to complete courses to satisfy these deficiencies with the consultation of the NAAB office. When applicants completes some courses, they need to request a transcript to be sent to NAAB office in a sealed envelope from the institution where the additional course work was completed, so they can receive an updated result in their NCARB to reflect the completion of these courses.

After completing all courses needed to satisfy all deficiencies, the applicant gets an update that they meet the NCARB Education Standard, which means they satisfy the education requirements in any jurisdiction that accepts an EESA evaluation, and also in for pursuing an NCARB certificate. It I very important to read the NCARB Education Guidelines to understand the education requirements.

What is the Education Alternative path?

Architects who hold a license from a U.S. jurisdiction but have not received a NAAB accredited can pursue an NCARB Certificate through the Education Alternative. The Education Alternative path offers two ways to satisfy the education requirement for certification:

There are specific rules to qualify for one of the two options of the Education Alternative path, and further information can be found on NCARB’s website.

  • Experience Requirements

    • Experience requirements are normally demonstrated through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). This varies by the jurisdiction as some may require additional experience hours to what NCARB specifies for the minimum.


    • The AXP identifies 96 key tasks you should be able to perform at the point of licensure. The tasks are spread across six practice-based areas that align with current architectural practice, and there are specific minimum amount of hours required in each adding up to 3,740 a minimum required hours in all areas:

    • Practice Management                                             160     min. hours

    • Project Management                                               360     min. hours

    • Programming & Analysis                                        260     min. hours

    • Project Planning & Design                                     1,080 min. hours

    • Project Development & Documentation               1,520 min. hours

    • Construction & Evaluation                                     360     min. hours


    • Experience documentation should be done through your NCARB record. Experience reports need to be approved by a supervisor who supervises you on a daily basis and has professional knowledge of and responsibility for your work.

    • AXP supervisors are usually registered architects. However, in certain experience opportunities, your AXP supervisor may be a professional from another discipline.

    • Your experience reports fall under one of two experience settings: setting A or setting O.

    • • Setting A: Work performed for an architecture firm.


      • Setting O: Experiences that can be performed outside an architecture firm.



    • All AXP experience must be reported within the required amount of time. Experience must be submitted through the online reporting system or My AXP mobile app no longer than six months and within two months of completion of each reporting period. Experience reported beyond this eight-month period will be accepted at a reduced value of 50 percent toward the AXP requirements for up to five years after the date of the experience. After that time, the experience will no longer count toward AXP hours.

    • It is important to read the NCARB AXP Guideline to capture all specific related to AXP.

  • Examination Requirements

    • All US jurisdictions require licensure candidates to pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which is a multi-division exam used to assess knowledge and skills regarding the practice of architecture. Similar to AXP, ARE has the following six divisions:

      • Practice Management                                            

      • Project Management                                              

      • Programming & Analysis                                       

      • Project Planning & Design                                    

      • Project Development & Documentation              

      • Construction & Evaluation

      • In order to take the ARE, you must meet the ARE eligibility requirements which varies based on the jurisdiction. A passing grade for any division of the ARE shall be valid for an initial period of five years plus any extensions granted under the rolling clock extension policy, after which time the division will expire unless the candidate has completed the ARE. After confirming your eligibility to take the ARE, you can schedule to sit for individual divisions of the ARE exam (each division in a separate appointment). The fee for taking the ARE is $1,410 ($235 for each division). It is important to review ARE Guidelines when planning on starting to take the ARE exam.


  • Additional Requirements

    • Some jurisdictions require additional experience or a location-specific supplemental exam. Therefore, licensure candidates need to contact the licensing board where they wish to be licensed. The licensing requirements tool is a very helpful tool in this regards.

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