Heidi Machul, an architecture intern who graduated from Ball State University four years ago, has her eye on the prize--a professional license. Most people in her position are still racking up internship hours. But by industry standards she's ahead of schedule, having already taken and passed three parts of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE). For her, getting registered is the light at the end of the tunnel. "I don't know if I'll work in architecture forever," says Machul, Associate AIA, who works for Richard Taylor Architects, Dublin, Ohio. "But once I have that license it can't be taken away from me." By contrast, a talented and ambitious architecture-school graduate, now 40, knew early on in his career that he wanted to design houses, and a license isn't required in his state. Spurred by the confidence of a cherished mentor, he came out of the blocks and never looked back. Along came marriage, children, a principal position at a large residential architecture firm, and then the big leap to a startup. "I'm leading a fast-paced professional life, but the exams are a bird on my shoulder," he says, speaking anonymously. "I've played with the idea of registration being my last accomplishment--I'll be the old guy getting the license."