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5 of the Best IPAL Programs

So you want to become an architect. Sooner rather than later, preferably. In order to officially call yourself an architect you must first obtain a license from the National Council of Architecture Registration Boards (NCARB). The requirements for licensure include earning an architecture degree from a National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredited school, documentation of 3,740 Architecture Experience Program (AXP) hours, and passing all six divisions of the ARE. It’s a rewarding, albeit challenging, process that can take decades. There is a short-cut, however, that can cut the time it takes to get licensed in half: the Integrated Path To Licensure (IPAL).

What is Integrated Path To Licensure (IPAL)?

 

IPAL is essentially a fast track to obtaining an architecture license. This NCARB initiative gives architecture students the opportunity to get licensed faster, by completing AXP and ARE requirements while pursuing their degree. IPAL programs combine education, experience, and examination into as few as six years. Compare that to the average amount of time it takes to become a licensed architect - over 12 years - and you are in the fast lane to the career of your dreams.

 

There are currently 28 National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) approved IPAL programs across the country. First introduced in 2015, IPAL is a fairly new option for aspiring architects but is steadily gaining traction with new programs being accredited every year. IPAL isn’t for everyone, but it can save time and money for determined students who are willing to manage a rigorous curriculum (i.e. eat, sleep, and breathe architecture).

 

IPAL candidates must meet the same requirements as everyone else, but are let into the VIP line and can start documenting hours and taking exams prior to graduating. As for experience, incorporating all those AXP hours into a structured curriculum can lead to more meaningful internships and a jumpstart in networking. It is important to note, however, that not all jurisdictions accept IPAL licensure. Be sure to check NCARB’s map of IPAL options to see if this path to licensure makes sense for you to pursue based on the state in which you plan to practice.

 

What are the best IPAL programs?

 

Each IPAL curriculum is unique and serves students differently. To help narrow your search we’re gathered a list of five of the best IPAL programs to help you get licensed faster.

1. University of Southern California

+ Location: Los Angeles, CA

+ IPAL Degree options: USC offers both a 6 year Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) and 4 year Master of Architecture (M.Arch) program.

+ Why it’s one of the best: One of the inaugural schools, USC currently has the largest IPAL program with 147 enrolled students. At USC there is no separate IPAL curriculum, but instead it is integrated into their overall learning experience. The undergrad program is ranked #12 in Design Intelligence's list of the most respected architecture schools nationwide and #7 in most hired from architecture schools. The USC Architectural Guild’s network of firms is an ongoing resource available to students and sets USC apart from smaller programs. They promise to provide students with “an opportunity to significantly reduce the amount of time necessary to become a licensed architect while increasing the awareness and interaction between professional and academic experience.”


2. Boston Architectural College

+ Location: Boston, MA

+ IPAL Degree Options: BAC offers both a B.Arch and M.Arch program.

+ Why it’s one of the best: BAC was also in the inaugural class of schools selected by NCARB to participate in the IPAL initiative. A major pro of BAC is that the entire school is dedicated to architecture and design, boasting a long tradition of mentoring future architects. BAC ranks #9 in most hired from architecture schools in Design Intellegence’s Group 2 (70-99 graduates). Not every IPAL program out there has found success yet, but BAC has had several graduates obtain licensure. You can read NCARB’s interview with BAC’s first IPAL graduate here.


3. Woodbury University

+ Location: Los Angeles, CA

IPAL Degree Options: Woodbury University offers a 6 year B.Arch path and a  2-4 year M.Arch path.

+ Why it’s one of the best: Woodbury is also located in LA, but unlike USC’s IPAL program, they separate IPAL candidates from their regular architecture degree programs. At Woodbury, you must apply for the IPAL program in your second year. You can find detailed schedules for their three IPAL tracks on their website to see what kind of tracks they offer. Woodbury actively coordinates student participation, advising their IPAL students, assisting with outreach to firms, and communicating with NCARB regarding student participation. If you prefer a more hands-on approach this might be a good program for you. Woodbury works with dozens of firms in Los Angeles and San Diego and ranks #11 in most hired from architecture schools nationwide.


4. Clemson University

+ Location: Clemson, SC

+ IPAL Degree Options: Clemson only offers an M.Arch option. Architecture students are selected for IPAL during their second year of undergraduate study and must embark on a 4.5 year track into the MArch program for a total of 6.5 years.

+ Why it’s one of the best: Clemson has a much smaller IPAL program than the other schools on this list, but are very involved with their students. Clemson coordinates a work-study program for its IPAL candidates that includes summer internships at their sister campus in Charleston. If you’re looking for a smaller program with lots of support along the internship placement process, this program might be a good fit for you.


5. Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

+ Location: Savannah, GA

+ IPAL Degree Options: 7 year M.Arch program

+ Why it’s one of the best: SCAD is the second-largest IPAL program in the country and ranks #13 in most hired from architecture schools. SCAD explicitly states that they provide resources and dedicated support to prepare students for the ARE, which is a big value add for students. At SCAD, you complete your Bachelor of Fine Arts degree before moving on to the M.Arch program, so if you’re looking for a more well-rounded arts education this school might be a good fit for you. It is one of the longer programs, though, so if time is your biggest factor this might not be the best program for you.


You can find the full list of IPAL programs here.

*This list took into consideration Design Intelligence's rankings of the most admired architecture schools and most hired from architecture schools, in addition to the level of online transparency from schools regarding their IPAL programs.

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