You place six different water glasses, each a different size, on the ground in six different climates. How long until all of them are full?
On the surface, it seems like there should be a clear answer to the question of how long it takes to finish the “Experience” component of the licensure process. It’s measured in hours, so it should just be a matter of time, right? You will need to work in practice for 3,740 hours — which is 467.5 working days, 90.5 work weeks or 1.8 years of full-time employment — but the reality is somewhat more complex than that.
Because the AXP requires a specific number of hours to be logged within each of the six AXP categories, no one will complete the process in the minimum amount of time defined by the total number of required hours.
If we want to understand how long it takes to finish the NCARB AXP hours, we have to figure out how long it will take for all six glasses to fill, knowing the different sizes of each glass, but not knowing exactly how much it will rain in each climate in the next two weeks — in the same way you don’t know exactly how much of your work assignment over the next few years will align with each AXP requirement. You have two different ways to approach the question of how long it will take to complete NCARB AXP.
One approach is to look at big-picture statistical trends to understand how long it takes the average person to finish their AXP hours. This approach can be useful for organizations, like NCARB or Amber Book, which help thousands of people work their way through the process. NCARB publishes an annual report that provides this data and a thorough analysis of it. Based on their findings, we can say that the average individual who completes their experience takes nearly five years to do so. However, this number has the “flaw of averages”.
The more valuable way to approach the question for you as an individual going through the process is to analyze the requirements and make a plan — set a map for how long it will take you to finish your NCARB AXP hours. Understanding the AXP hour categories and all of the available options for logging hours in each of them is key to minimizing the time you spend completing your AXP hours, and we have four lessons that can help you accomplish that task:
1. Experience Purposefully: Take An Active Approach
You can take control over how long it takes to complete the AXP hours. If you take a passive approach, just logging hours as they come, then you’ll find yourself at the mercy of fortune. Maybe you’ll get lucky and all of the hours you need in each category will fall neatly into place (rain will fall into each glass proportionally to its size so they all fill at the same time). But for most people, taking this approach sets them behind in one or two categories that can then take months or even years to acquire.Source
If you are serious about the goal of getting licensed, then completing your AXP hours should be pursued just as intentionally as completing your education or the ARE. Review NCARB’s AXP Guidelines, understand each AXP category, understand all of the available options for logging hours, create a plan to complete the process based on your specific work and life situations, then work with your supervisor to execute that plan and revise as necessary until your AXP hours are complete.
2. Log Strategically: There’s More Than One Right Answer
The AXP categories divide an architect’s responsibilities into six areas, but the reality of the hours we spend in practice rarely fits neatly and exclusively into just one of those categories.
- An early site visit to document the existing condition of a building for a renovation could be a part of site analysis (Programming and Analysis) or it could give you a better understanding of how to visually evaluate assemblies during a site visit (Construction and Evaluation).
- Picking up redlines from the quality control process at your firm could help you learn more about project documentation (Project Development and Documentation) or it could prepare you to contribute to and develop quality control processes in the future (Project Management).
- Meeting with a client to discuss an ongoing design could give you experience presenting design work (Project Planning and Design) or could be an opportunity to learn about developing and maintaining relationships with clients (Practice Management).
If you thoroughly understand the intent and learning objectives of each category then you can use that to strategically allocate hours where they’ll be most valuable to you, ensuring that you learn all the necessary skills of an architect.
3. Partner Thoughtfully: Mind Your Mentor(s)
Work with your mentor or supervisor (they may or may not be the same person) to ensure that you’re working on tasks relevant to the experience you need and completing the learning objectives for each category. If your mentor/supervisor or your firm’s management proves unwilling or unable to get you the experience you need for licensure, then maybe a different mentor or a different firm would be better able to support your licensure goals. Usually, just asking firmly will do the trick, and you won’t have to quit.
Know that you may enlist more than one mentor and that your mentor needn’t work in your firm. If you need mentors outside the office, you can look to professors, previous employers or those you’ve met through professional organizations or volunteer work to sign off on hours where permitted by NCARB’s AXP Guidelines.
4. Work Differently: Consider All Your Options
Your day job offers one way to log hours in the AXP experience categories. If the strategies above aren’t enough to keep you steadily moving toward licensure with each hour spent at your desk — or things just aren’t moving as quickly as you’d like them to — then there are options to take matters into your own hands. NCARB’s AXP Guidelines provide a menu for someone actively looking to keep the process moving or hurry it along.
- Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity or another charitable organization
- Pursue CSI certifications
- Participate in design competitions
- Pursue relevant Continuing Education credits
- Visit construction sites with a mentor (again, this doesn’t have to be someone from your day job)
Ultimately, if you’re asking, “How long will it take me to finish the NCARB AXP hours?” the answer will be as unique and personal as your career in architecture. In theory, you might complete the AXP in 1.8 years, or even faster if you devote time outside of a 40-hour work week.
Personally, I was able to finish my NCARB AXP hours in two-and-a-half years by using the strategies above to minimize wasted time — although, I still had to wait until I had three years of experience to meet my state’s experience requirement. On the other hand, I’ve known other people who’ve been able to get through five out of six of the AXP categories faster than I did only to come to a roadblock, unable to find ways to log hours in that last category. The only way to know how long it will take you is to execute with intention because completing the NCARB AXP hours is something you do, not just something that happens over time.