IDP (Intern Development Program) - Viable ... or broken?


Since I started a thread on education, why not a thread on IDP (Intern Development Program), currently used by states which require either education or don't?

IDP looks like it has been a moving target, as has the exam, which waxes and wanes with the number of sections every couple of years, it seems.

When I first looked at IDP while in school, there were 16 categories.  I understood its goal and thought it could be done reasonably expediently, but what did I know.

Fortunately, I was in a state where I was able to provide 3 years of work experience signed off by an architect and take the licensing exam.  As I was approaching these 3 years, my IDP file, which I was also maintaining at the same time, was nowhere close to completing the requirements.  The hours in schematic design, design development, and construction documents tally up very early on.  I realized that I was lacking hours in:

  • Construction cost - 80 hours then
  • Material selection and specification - ? hours then
  • Bidding and contract negotiation - ? hours then

Do they even realize that, if an intern, one spends an hour or two being "let in" on these tasks, and not every week?  I now look at what is required and the time requirements have been lengthened in some more elusive categories.

Here's another one:  community service is now called leadership, and requires 80 hours.  This is another "creative area" and in which the time increments are short .  I went to my HS and gave a talk on architecture as a profession, did an evening class for adults on travel and architecture, showing pictures of travels, and did a shadowing program for school kids.  Again, the hours dribbled in slowly.  Even "Habitat for Humanity" brought in about 3 or 4 hours per clip, and there were more people than there were tasks, so we stood around quite a bit.

Here's the deal:  how many hours are worked in a full time year?  The answer is 2,080 hours.  If one takes the 5,600 hour requirement and divides that by 2,080, the answer is 2.69 years!  This presumes that an intern's time is robotically spent on only these tasks and for these hours.  I rarely worked overtime in the first 3 years, so that wouldn't even make a dent.  Thus, finishing IDP in 3 years,  or anything close to that, is virtually impossible if time is accurately tallied.

This tells me that IDP is a really "unfortunate" and unfair system for interns.  It's even worse when completion of IDP is required prior to being allowed to take the licensing exam.

Have people encountered the same problems with IDP?  Do you feel that the profession should return to the prescribed finite time period in order to test and license?  I do.

Jan 25, 13 1:11 am
Tinbeary There there

I worked overtime,every Saturday and most holidays, and it still took me 7 years. How do you do it???

Jan 25, 13 1:21 am

Like I said, I licensed with the flat 3 year system first.  I eventually used IDP for another state license that was asked of me for an adjacent NCARB file state.  It took several more years, with 3 categories coming in real slowly:  (1) costs (2) material specifications, and (3) bidding / negotiations.  Several projects came my way where I was really involved in (2) and (3), so I finished those up.  Costs (1) was still straggling, but I eventually finished it.  A few final trips to "Habitat" also buttoned up the community service category.  It's a veritable mess.  I was enthusiastic about starting a file and then disgusted with how lopsided the hours are on one's categories as the years passed by.  How does one do it?  If there's a state that still allows flat time internships, license there first to at least feel "better"about it since the test results can transfer, and then work on finishing up IDP.

Record keeping:  I coded each of my time sheets with IDP tasks fulfilled, and then submitted quarterly.  You almost have to tell them I NEED to be in on this bid opening and whatnot, because they don't understand IDP if they started working before it was around.  You have to ask firmly.

Jan 25, 13 2:45 am

This is why I'm glad to be a Canadian. Most of our provinces (except British Columbia) are now accepting the ExAC which is the examination for architects in Canada. The architectural bodies realized fewer people were completing the AREs and therefore fewer registering due to the time involved. They re-evaluated the process and came up with an exam that actually assumed you learned something in your schooling and tested the relevant areas relating to the practise of architecture and then lowered the hour requirement (to 2800). Much easier to fulfill these requirements than for NCARBs. The only downside is that the is not yet reciprocity with the US, but the future may change on that. British Columbia had to accept them if you are registered in another province due to reciprocity and mobility agreements so it makes the ExAC quite a nice option for those of us staying in Canada. Maybe the bodies down in the US should start re-examining their procedures and testing as well to get with the program and take the profession not the future.

Jan 25, 13 6:29 am
sam goods

2 marisco

Starting this year BC has transitioned to ExAC scheme.

Jan 25, 13 11:01 am

I agree with you on that.  IDP is a sham.  Total bullshit that expects interns to move from job to job to fulfill hours.  Some firms are too specialized to even fulfill all the requirements.  NCARB is completely disconnected from reality.  Another problem is that it makes entrapenuership impossible.  I started a design business after about 6 months of graduating and not being able to find work.  I started doing freelance design and renderings out of desperation....but after an additional 6 months, I grew my little business into a prettty good thing.  I make good money and have a steady flow of work from several landscape contractors, investors, and a couple arch firms (doing renderings).  I make double what I would as an intern, however, I am not able to count any of this toward IDP.  In my state, all residential projects are exempt from requiring an architect.  I work within the law and never take on any project that I have doubts about.  I want to get my license more than anything, but I have bills to pay and kids to feed.  I literally can't afford to go back to intern wages.  I also do not want to give up this business since I worked so hard to build it up over the last 2 years.  I don't know what to do at this point.  I can technically design residential anyway (which is what I want to focus on) , so I'm not even sure if a license is all that important....

Jan 25, 13 11:42 am

Moving from job to job to fulfill IDP requirements is only realistic for those who are "in demand" not for average architect candidates who have a tough time getting work and  with  financial obligations. A gap in employment could lead to serious consequences going broke )- requiring unemployment compensation at tax payer expense.  Career advancement at the expense of financial responsibility is just wrong - Not everyone in architecture should be a architect - find a niche within the profession that is realistic and stay out of trouble. If you are in your 20s and 30s then go ahead and job hop to fulfill IDP - if you are over 40? don't put your financial health at risk - what goes down does not necessarily come back up. I know way too many losers in this profession - people who bet the house and then lost the plantation instead.

Jan 25, 13 12:00 pm

Job tenures which are short are often viewed unfavorably.  There are lots of interns who land in a city's better offices and stay longer than what it would take to fulfill either the flat time internship or IDP.  If someone moves from one office to another,  because what they were exposed to was too repetitive and wouldn't get them IDP hours, a subsequent employer might look at that unfavorably without understanding this totally logical reason.  Oftentimes, they wouldn't know an IDP form if it bit them in the ass.  Sometimes interns have to.  We'll all heard our friends' stories, either about the limited nature of an office or what a sham it was.

Jan 25, 13 1:09 pm

On one hand, I went through IDP even though it wasn't required in my state at the time (I wasn't sure I was going to stay here, so...). I finished it in just a hair over 3 years, but my work experience was atypical for an intern: my first intern job was split evenly between concept design and construction admin (with essentially nothing in between), the second was almost all design and planning, and the third was everything (designing/documenting/managing custom home projects solo under a sole practicioner). The Contract Documents section was actually the last category I completed, and I didn't have to fudge my hours at all. I also took the ARE as soon as I qualified for it. I was one of the first to take the all-computer exam instead of the paper exam. I took one section a week until I got through them all, and passed them in one go. So, if anybody should be on board with the system as it stands, it probably ought to be me. I sailed right through it. "High speed, low drag" as they say in the military.

But I think IDP is bullshit. The only reason it exists is to provide a cash flow for NCARB and an endless supply of indentured servants for architecture firms so they can keep their margins down.

I am actually a big advocate of apprenticeship as a professional path for architects. But heaping an apprenticeship requirement on top of a degree requirement is idiotic. You should be able to qualify for a professional license by education or experience. Pick a path; do that. Personally, I think the experience is way more valuable and prepares you better to be an architect than the degree does. But that is NOT an argument for adding an apprenticeship to the educational requirement. It's an argument for making the educational qualification be meaningful and substantive (which it currently is not).

Which reveals that IDP has a third purpose as well: to shield architectural academics from the consequences of giving degrees to all those students who haven't been trained to competency while enrolled in their programs. They've shifted the responsibility for training their students onto their future employers, while collecting large amounts of tuition from them and wasting five or six years of their lives learning poor habits in academic studios. 

I could easily have passed the ARE when I graduated (actually, I could have passed it after my third year of school), and within a few months of graduation was doing essentially everything a licensed architect can do. Instead, to get a license to practice my profession I had to go through the motions of a useless, faux "apprenticeship" called IDP. Which, of course, NCARB cheerfully charged me a bunch of money to do.

The whole thing is a scam.

Jan 25, 13 1:14 pm

I'm actually a moderate, though some people don't think so based on the other thread I started.  I believe in the education part, but that's because my program was very pragmatic.  If anything, NAAB needs to clamp down, and turn some art schools back into architecture schools.  When I got my ARE test results, I passed design on the first try ... and my highest numerical score was in structures-general.  Shift the responsibility back to the schools to train architects, real ones.

Then, return to a flat time system internship with no files to be maintained, just experience forms from each employer showing your beginning and ending date.  After my first office, I might not have done so well on the ARE.  After my second office, I had more small projects I ran on my own, slightly before 3 years, and that enabled me to pass it, I think, in addition to studying and seminars.

IDP is a way for interns to be milked for longer than 3 years, pay money to start up a file, pay money to maintain a file, pester their employers for specific tasks, and have them handcuffed at non-architect status longer.  And new architects are paid way less than people going into many other types of work which require a test.  The only reason I did it is because, I too did not know in which jurisdiction (state) I would end up.

Some people mentioned a Canadian model of internship.  What is that?

Jan 25, 13 2:55 pm

Have you seen the "NCARB by the Numbers" report? I received the link from NCARB in my email about 6 months ago. 

This quote is directly from the email " takes approximately seven years from graduation to initial licensure. Now we have data to disprove claims that it takes upward of 10 years, on average, to get licensed."

That's right folks, SEVEN years to initial licensure on average.

IDP is there to slow down or remove any competition, similary to the education requirement that some states have (i.e. M.Arch only with no alternate; but I'll save that for another thread LOL). What incentive do firms have to help you earn your license in 2.69 years? So you could leave and become the competetion? Maybe so it looks good on their marketing material...

BTW, the 10 year claim that NCARB refered to can be found here. Forum member Matt_A has posted his own research regarding the Licensure and IDP called "Concerning Licensure".

Jan 25, 13 5:31 pm

"What incentive do firms have to help you earn your license in 2.69 years?"

I have had 3 interviews where they did not want me to pursue IDP - just do BIM production.

IDP gets in the way esp if they want you to specialize - esp if it's BIM

Jan 25, 13 5:56 pm


And then I'm lambasted on another thread for complaining about the professionalism in architecture.  Wait, THREE firms essentially told you they don't want you to become a licensed architect?  Are these firms run by people who may have done IDP themselves, or have "processed" other architects through IDP at some point in their careers?  If they want you to specialize in BIM and don't want to expose you to anything else, like basic site visits or writing plan check comments, it sounds like they don't want you to be an architect.

I THINK people understood the 2.69 year calculation.  It was merely to show that it's impossible to finish IDP in a period even comparable to the "old school" 3 year experience requirement.  You're right.  They shouldn't be held accountable to getting you through in 2.69 years.  That wouldn't be good for business, and it would be artificial to tailor your job tasks around IDP categories you are lacking.

Doing it "old school," not that long ago really, I went from starting work (4 months after graduation) to licensing in about 4.5 years, and the latter part was waiting for results, scheduling and studying for an oral exam, and then waiting for a license to be issued.

Jan 25, 13 7:16 pm

Thank you for the link.  Page 11.  Average time to complete IDP for B.Arch. is 4.5 years, meaning some take longer. Average time to complete IDP for M.Arch. is 5 years, meaning some take longer.  For other education/experience combinations, it's even longer.

Let's take a student who starts a "M.Arch. 3" at 26.  They finish at 29.  They wait 1 year to find stable enough employment.  They then work until 35 to complete IDP.  They can then start to test, and it will take months to do this.  They then have to do an oral, a supplemental, or a state law test.  The license comes in the mail at age 37.  That's ELEVEN years.  At the very most, one year could be shaved off.

School is a known quantity and, if you slip a little behind, there's always summer school.  IDP is FAR from a known quantity.

Jan 25, 13 7:25 pm

Wait, THREE firms essentially told you they don't want you to become a licensed architect?  Are these firms run by people who may have done IDP themselves, or have "processed" other architects through IDP at some point in their careers?

They became licensed sure but just want some of us to do BIM spacialist/modeling/design support and not pester them about performing tasks to fullfill IDP requirements - "why don't you learn Python and help write Apps for Revit?" 

Jan 25, 13 7:31 pm

Wait, THREE firms essentially told you they don't want you to become a licensed architect?  Are these firms run by people who may have done IDP themselves, or have "processed" other architects through IDP at some point in their careers?


There are quite a few financial disincentives to having more of your staff licensed.  for example - I think if the AIA reduced member fees based on the % of staff  going through IDP and those who have recently been registered - instead of actually charging more purely based on total number of registered architects in the firm -  (more if some of them aren't AIA members) - that might help a little.


Someone who knows more about risk management and liability might want to chime in here... (in terms of risk - you risk training someone only to have them bolt for the competition)


anyway - I think if there was some kind of short-term financial incentive for firms to take on interns and prepare them for the ARE, then I think senior people might take intern development more seriously - but unless you are a large firm and can offer more perks to retain employees after you train them, not many people are going to be willing to teach younger staff out of some sort of "professional obligation."

Jan 26, 13 10:42 am

IDP, Love it hate it in the US we have to deal with IT

I am 300 hours 15 minutes from finishing


You can get some IDP credits while you take on freelance work if you work 16 weeks 15 hours a week under the supervision and control of an architect you can earn hours, even if you are a 1099 independent contractor, just average 15 hours per week and have a firm checking and supervising your work.


You are right on with the shifting responsibilities some schools don’t even have faculty who can teach software. And any NAAB accredited school that allows non licensed architects to teach studio has to be shut down in my opinion.  The schools are not being honest because there is no organization holding them to account.

IDP can be started in your undergraduate years, I recommend this since you have a better chance of finishing the community service requirements. Also you benefit from discounted fees for starting your record while in school.


As for the idea that firms are disinclined to help people get their IDP finished and their license in a timely manner, I have to think this is not consistent if you ask 10 firms you will get 10 different answers.  Some firms want more licensed staff so they can manage a project from start to finish with little help from principals.  Licensure in many medium to large sized firms is required to advance to middle or upper management.  Many states limit how many principles can be in a firm who are not licensed architects. The firm I recently joined has 4 licensed architects each one is licensed in a different state and is responsible for knowing the rules and regulations in their respective states. If you have a nationwide presence someone has to know the legal landscape in 50 states DC and 3 territories. Each can be significantly different.

Is IDP hard? Yes

Is it better than it was 6 years ago when I started?  YES!!!

If I find myself on the job market again I have options for finishing up to 40 hours in each category without a job, people in graduate school can earn credits for their studio work. There are more work settings.  You don’t have to earn all your experience in one state or in one office.


Read through the work settings descriptions you may have ways to get some hours done.

Once the job market has recovered we may see a lot of people sailing through IDP but the easiest way to finish IDP is to work for a firms doing domestic work where you have the opportunity to get involved in every step of the process.

Also every quarter of an hour is precious don’t lump small amounts of time into easy to earn categories.

AIA continuing education seminars are also low hanging fruit, Do you have lunch and learns in your area?

I find it hard to believe anyone has difficulty earning volunteer hours 80 is the minimum but you can have more than that.  If you are an officer of the AIA, CSI, ALA every meeting you attend log those hours. If you go out every New Year’s day and count birds for the Audubon Society count those hours.


In the last office I worked for we would celebrate with a luncheon with the principals for every major IDP category finished. Celebrate your accomplishments hours start to add up and categories get finished eventually.

Jan 27, 13 3:13 pm

the problem with the system is that awkward combination of state mandates and private business...It is a burden for firms and for interns.  Licensure requirements should not fall onto the private sector.  It is bad for everyone.  A probationary License should be granted after passing the ARE which one should be able to take after school or after few years of work.  After that....if you stay out of trouble for 3 get a full architect license!  some may gamble that temporary license and go right into business....most will not anyway.

Jan 27, 13 4:55 pm

that is basically how it is in law.  you pass the bar, ethics, and you get a probationary license for 6 months then you get a full license.

Jan 27, 13 5:09 pm

Peter, the fees aren't discounted per se during school. You pay $100 to start it, and the rest when you graduate/submit your authorization to test request. I had that one sneak up on me this weekend as I had completely forgotten that I still owed the rest.

I'm finding that being in a small firm definitely helps. I've had more access to the various categories of IDP in 3 months than I did in close to two years at a larger firm.

Jan 27, 13 5:14 pm

In the last office I worked for we would celebrate with a luncheon with the principals for every major IDP category finished. Celebrate your accomplishments hours start to add up and categories get finished eventually.

This is the exception, rather than the rule.  In fact, it might even be a needle in a haystack.  The firms which championed IDP were often featured in articles in the architectural magazines.  You do realize most employers don't care about your IDP hour tallies.  Each project shakes out its own way.  Really, you can't expect any more than try to get in on the action (bid openings, pre-con meetings discussing value engineering) and have them sign off on the periodic reports.

@ Josh - I did my internship in a flat time state, with IDP alongside it, and worked in small to medium sized firms, in the 15 to 40 employee range.  Did I see bidding and negotiating, or cost estimates in this time, despite working under only one architect, who in turn worked under a principal?  NO.

I'm a believer in the flat time system, used up until about 12 years ago by some states.  All you do is track beginning and start dates.  In that time, you will be learning something.  A newly minted architect after 3 years has NO business stamping ANY drawings.  That said, the architect who did IDP in 6 years and is not willing to stamp, and the architect who worked 3 years to license and then has another 3 years of office experience on the heels of that, and is also not willing to stamp, are in the exact SAME place on the professional learning curve.  It seems that the practice of architecture seems to gel more between 6 and 8 years, and only AFTER that, should architects be affixing their stamp and signature, at the very least ...

Party for every category.  Wow.  This sounds like a firm that cares very much about academics, professional societies, community involvement, and IDP.  When I licensed, I got a cake.  The principal I worked under asked me "What flavor do you want?"  "Chocolate."  The other principal wasn't crazy about me, so I don't think he would have ordered a cake for me.  The principal I worked for was a 4 + 2 grad, with the +2 done at a school very close to where I went to school.  He was also well-traveled.  The other principal was a very local and provincial B.Arch graduate of the local school,  as were all those he wanted working under him, and none of them were interested in licensing, which suited him just fine.  When we were about the have the office meeting, of which the cake was an incidental, one of the other principal's cronies asked me "So, what's your license number?"  I told him "Since I finished a M.Arch. with distinction, after a different degree, it's kind of consistent I would have passed the test too."  He was late to the office meeting.  One of my friends, who would give me lifts to the airport on his way home to go on my trips, said this guy had stayed behind to call the State Board to VERIFY my license!!!  After the meeting, I asked him "Soooo, what did you find?"  He recited my license number to me, which he had written down on a sticky pad next to him.  UNBELIEVABLE.  And very professional, too ...  NOT.

Jan 28, 13 2:07 pm

Despite being eligible to log IDP hours since 2005, I only started about a year ago.. (blame the ignorance and stupidity of youth) but actually it was the initial registration fee that prevented me from starting IDP. I was in my 4th year of school, was working and paid for all my own room and board... which meant I had pretty much nothing leftover for the registration fee... I am based in CA and will finish the ARE well before I finish IDP... and I am lucky enough to work for a firm that fully supports the path to licensure.


.. on another note...don't forget about the EPC (Emerging Professional's Companion) which allows you to complete up to 1800 hours (both core and elective) through activities on their website... this is one way I plan to speed up IDP.. based on the math 1800 hours is equivalent to 45 40 hour work weeks.. so it can theoretically cut a year off your IDP time if you are super diligent about completing the activities...

Jan 28, 13 7:55 pm

I am based in CA and will finish the ARE well before I finish IDP... and I am lucky enough to work for a firm that fully supports the path to licensure.

California has always allowed admission to the ARE prior to completion of either the flat period internship or IDP.  Florida, which is usually uptight with certain professional licenses, surprisingly also allows admission to the ARE partway through IDP, thought they require a NAAB degree.

This makes sense.  You want people studying for a test the likes of the ARE when they are not as high on the totem pole.  You don't want them studying for the test when they are running complex projects and might have to work overtime, travel, supervise new staff's work, be called up for an impromptu development in the office, or are more likely to have started a family.

Jan 28, 13 8:29 pm

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