How to become an architect: The RIBA 3 part system explained

If you’re looking to pursue a career as an Architect in the UK, you may have already become aware of RIBA’s 3 part journey towards professional qualification. You’ll almost certainly be aware that it’s a long process. What you may not know is how exactly the system works, and what you need to do at all different stages become an architect.

When I was looking for an architecture degree, reading through endless university prospectuses, terms such as ‘RIBA accreditation’, ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’ kept cropping up. I had a vague idea of what it meant, but not much clue of how it all fits together and what was relevant for me at that point. We’ve tried to a give straightforward overview of the whole process, hopefully answering some questions, doubts and worries you might have.

Before University

Before you start university, whether you’ve been made an offer yet or not, you should have a basic understanding of the route ahead so you know what you’re in for before it’s too late. It takes a minimum of 7 years to fully qualify as an architect in the UK. This is the time it takes to achieve RIBA Part 1, 2 and 3 qualifications, which together equate to qualification as an architect. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, here’s a breakdown of the years:

Years 1-3 Undergraduate degree (Part 1)

Year 4 Part 1 professional experience

Years 5-6 Masters degree (Part 2)

Year 7 Part 2 professional experience/Part 3 exam (Part 3 qualification)

So that’s 5 years of university and 2 years of professional experience before a final examination.

Part 1: Undergraduate degree (3 years)

This is the first and longest step on your journey towards becoming an architect. It should also be noted early on that just because you undertake a degree in architecture, it doesn’t mean you have to become a fully qualified architect. A degree in architecture is a degree like any other. While it’s only the first of three qualifications needed to become an architect, it is still a very worthwhile degree to take even if you’re not certain you want to become an architect.

If you do plan on following the the full path to becoming an architect, it’s crucial that the university and degree you choose are RIBA validated. This means that the degree will give you exemption from the RIBA Part 1 Examination and you will automatically gain the Part 1 qualification when you graduate.

Here is the RIBA list of validated schools and courses:

Now if we skip ahead three eventful, exhausting, exciting years, you’ll be looking ahead to the next step.

Part 1 Professional Experience (1 Year)

Once you’ve completed your degree in architecture, the next thing you’re expected to do is find a job in architecture for 1 year. Part of the criteria for the Part 3 qualification is that you undertake at least 24 months of professional experience. At least 12 months of this professional experience needs to be taken after a Part 2 Masters course. The other 12 months, or at least some of them, are often taken after completion of the Part 1 and before starting a Part 2 Masters degree.

Many Masters degree programmes stipulate in their entry requirements that students have undertaken a minimum amount of professional experience before they start the course. While it is not a rigid requirement to take this year of professional experience before Part 2, it is strongly recommended by everyone I have ever spoken to about it. The ‘year out’ will give you a different perspective on architecture to that which you gained in architecture school and will in some way or another better prepare you for the next stage of your studies. We will soon write a more in depth account of our personal experiences, some tips, and explain different ways of approaching the year of Part 1 professional experience.

During your years of experience you are required to fill in records of your professional activities known as PEDRs (Professional Experience and Development Record). This is done through the RIBA here: Throughout your time in work you are expected to build up a thorough log of your experience. This is ultimately used to explain the understanding and knowledge you have gained of the architecture profession, and is a crucial piece of the Part 3 qualification. You are expected to submit you PEDRs every 3 months to be signed by your supervisor at work and a supervising tutor from university. They are an extremely important part of the final qualification so it’s important that you keep up to date with filling in the forms and make detailed notes of all the work you’re doing as well as any other activities that might be relevant, such as visiting exhibitions or lectures.

You’d think that most people would want to get onto the next stage as quickly as possible, and many do, but many students also decide to take extra years out before returning for Part 2. This can be for any number of reasons, but the most common are; to take time to gain totally different experience by working in another field, to gain experience working in a different architecture practice, to travel, or to save more money for Part 2. You are allowed to take up to 3 years out before you are considered to be no longer continuing. You are of course allowed to take a Part 2 Masters course after taking over 3 years out, but there are implications on the funding available to you. More on this in the next stage.

The final thing to take into account during your year/years out is applying to a Part 2 Masters degree…

Part 2: Masters Degree (2 Years)

Just as with your undergraduate degree, if you’re still thinking of continuing to become an architect you need to ensure the Part 2 course and university you choose is RIBA validated. As with Part 1, validated courses give you exemption from the RIBA Part 2 Examination and give you automatic Part 2 qualification upon completion of your Masters degree. You do not need to do your Part 2 qualification at the same university and you did your Part 1. It is often recommended that you do your Part 1 and Part 2 at different universities in order to gain different experiences, learn different ways of working and meet new people with new ideas. The choice is, however, completely up to you.

A Masters in Architecture, sometimes referred to as Diploma in Architecture, usually lasts 2 years and is similar in many ways to your undergraduate degree. One thing which will have changed is you. Your professional experience and time to reflect on your earlier student days will mean you approach these two years very differently to how you approached your Part 1 degree.

One grey area that I didn’t really want to think or know anything about during my Part 1 degree was the matter of funding my Part 2 studies. I was worried that I’d realise it was  financially impossible for me to continue my studies and lose all motivation to continue. Thankfully for me this is not the case but you should give your financial circumstances some consideration at this point. At this point I will state that I am no authority on these matters and you should always check your own personal circumstances with student finance and the university you’re applying to. Generally speaking, however, whatever student finance (loans/grants) you were entitled to for your undergraduate degree, you should be entitled to something similar for your Part 2 studies. Architecture, medicine and veterinary studies are unique in that they require masters degrees for professional accreditation, therefore student financing is made available in the same way as it is for undergraduate studies. For UK students this usually means you are entitles to a tuition fee loan and personal maintenance loans/grants. In the case of EU students, you are entitled to a tuition fee loan. Once again I must repeat, do not take my word as truth on this. Always make sure of your own situation with the relevant student finance providers and university staff.

Part 2 Professional Experience/Part 3 Examination (1 Year)

Your full time university education is now over. Some people are delighted by this, eager to get back into the real world of construction, others are greatly saddened by the unlikely prospect of ever being able to design with as much freedom and creativity again. You’re now within a year of qualifying as an architect, if you’re quick and all goes plan.

Again, as with your Part 1, you need to find a job when you leave university. The chances are you’ll be looking for something a bit more long term, but you might also just be looking for somewhere to get your Part 3 wrapped up and out of the way before pursuing the career of your dreams.

So, you’ve completed your Part 1 degree, a year of Part 1 work experience, your Part 2 degree and now you have a job as a Part 2 Architectural Assistant. What’s left to do? Well first you need to complete the last 12 months of the 24 required before you can take the Part 3 Examination. You should also be enrolled at an architecture school for this stage. There you will receive guidance and mentorship throughout the process and it’s also where most, if not all of your examination process will take place. This doesn’t need to be the same school as your Part 1 or Part 2, and again it’s completely up to you where you choose.

The whole exam process isn’t just a single exam, it’s made up of different bits, including among other things your completed PEDRs, a case study of a project you have lead, an interview, and a written exam. The details of the Part 3 exam aren’t something to be worrying about as you set out at the beginning of your journey, but it’s good to know that’s what’s waiting for you at the end.

Finally, you take the exam and hopefully you pass. If you don’t pass you keep taking it until you do. Once you’ve passed you can register with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) and legally call yourself an Architect. The meaning and importance of this is a discussion for another post.

That’s It.

We hope this overview of the UK architectural educational process is of some use to you. If you feel we’ve got something wrong, missed anything or there’s something else you’d like to know, please do let us know, we’d be delighted to hear from you. There’s more information from the RIBA here:


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