Cost benefit analysis of attending the ASLA 2011 Meeting for first-year MLA students

Hello everyone,

I am trying to decide whether to register for the upcoming ASLA Meeting in San Diego before the early  Aug. 5th deadline. I am a total newbie to the profession, just starting a 3-year MLA program now; I was looking forward to it as a tool for building a deeper idea of the profession beyond what I may be learning in the academic context. I am trying to assess what tangibles (or intangibles) I can contribute or glean, as a first year student.


I have the impression that this conference is mostly focused as a forum for professional development and exposure to what is happening in the field, from policy to design, to community. Also of course the conference would be a great networking opportunity for professionals and 2nd or 3rd year students. And useful for bonding among other students, and getting exposure to the people in the profession. But is it worth the investment as a broke first-year student (a recent tuition hike just shook my 3-year MLA budget)


I haven't had a chance to discuss with classmates, and I likely won't until after the deadline. Any input would be great. Thanks


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Don't waste your time or money.  I have been to the conference previously (back when I had a job and actually thought ASLA was worthwhile).  The 'conference' is nothing more than an excuse for fatcat firm principals and owners to take a vacation and attend self-congratulatory lectures promoting their latest overseas projects.  ASLA and their conferences have absolutely no regard for current 'real' situations going on in the industry.  Most people attend so they can keep their RLA continuing education licensure credits.   You are better off and would learn a great deal more by getting a free subscription to Landscape Architect and Specifier News.

On another note,  you should seriously reconsider the wisdom of pursuing your MLA in this profession.  As much as it pains me, I have to admit that this profession is currently irrelevant in this economic climate.  It will be that way even past your graduation.  I wish you luck with whatever you pursue, but I have to say,  this industry is leading to potential disaster for me and my family.  I am licensed, with ten years of diverse experience and I can't even get a call back from a firm. Please think long and hard before committing to this life.

Did you see the job posting for the firm in Aspen on the Land8 Jobs? Just noticed it the other day....probably doesn't pay enough to move to Aspen, but you never know. It will come around - my mom has been a realtor in Denver and is starting to see the building industry pick up a bit.....



By all means... attend!  You'll come away with a greater sense of what is going on in the profession, from lectures, tours, walking the streets of San Diego, and face-time with people young and older from all over.  There will be acres of displays in the Expo where you can test products, pick up literature, and speak with reps.  I look forward to seeing old friends, meeting new folks, and catching up on my school's doings at the alumni reception.   It's also a unique opportunity to hear from leading practitioners speak on a remarkable variety of topics.  There will be student displays, a bookstore dedicated to LA-related titles, a display of artwork to be auctioned to benefit LAF, and a lot of social activities.  


We always come back inspired, with fresh ideas, tons of photographs, and a renewed sense of the importance of the profession.  Hope to see you there!


I would save your money...and since we have just been trying to figure out the way to pay our loans off the best. Don't take out too many if any student loans. Totally off topic...but I wish someone would have told me that. We could have worked our way through school and ended up ahead.

earthworker, may sound really dramatic but that is many experiences...approach with caution. If you feel that landscape architecture is the career for you...go about it carefully minimizing the financial damage college will do to you.

Good luck!


Your post suggests a tight budget.  If this is the case and you must travel a long distance, I would say it's probably not a good expenditure.  Also, the ASLA conference is large, and it's easy to get lost in the crowd.  You would get better (and cheaper) exposure to the "real world" and have better networking opportunities by attending local continuing education seminars nearby (look to the local chapter for schedules).  The groups are smaller, and everyone is a little less guarded. 

Your page is private and your address is China?  If so, some of the above may be relevant and some may not be.

All in all, I think your instincts are correct-- it is good to get exposure to the LA's who are "in the field"-- their attitudes and perspectives can be very different from academics. 

If you are close, like, VERY close as not to need a hotel, and you get the steeply discounted student rate, by all means go. You can learn a great deal about the profession as well as some of the "nuance" of design by seeing may of the presentations. It can also serve as great inspriration for your studio projects (gives you a leg up on your classmates). You can see the who's who in LA, make contacts, and maybe explore which part of the profession you want to specialize in.


Adding in a hotel plus food (and if you pay full member price) it is UBER expensive, to the tune of $1000 minimum. Then it is not worth it for a student. Even if yo uhave to spend $300 or so for a hotel plus food and travel, it is not really worth it for a student.


As Terry stated, the Expo alone is worth going to. ASLA used to offer an Expo-only pass, and a few years ago, it was free or like $25. It will take you the better part of 2 days to see the Expo the first time.

Thanks everyone for all the thoughtful and insightful replies. Interesting to see a nice continuum of opinions, although it highlights that this is not as simple a decision as I may have thought.

@Mark, I am relocated to the Bay Area, so it is not too bad of trip for me... maybe a road trip with friends.

@Jason & Heather, thanks for the tips! If I do decide on going, I will definitely look into options like crashing on a friend's couch, and if ASLA has cheaper event-specific tickets, that would be great, and probably sufficient -- such as I know the American Chemical Society (ACS) has a student member conference fee of $100 undergrad or $180 grad, however for their EXPO only, it is just $25.


Anyone here already register?


I would recommend going to the conference if you can swing it financially. Over the years I have made some really great contacts at the conference and also been inspired by some of the lectures. As a first year MLA could be a great way to see the breadth of work this field has to offer. However, if money is really an issue, and you had to pick one conference to go to this year...I would suggest waiting until LABash!


LABash is a conference put on by LA Students for LA Students. This year it is going to be at Florida International University in Miami. Here is the link to their group on Land8:


Good luck!

I spoke with some people at ASLA who told me they would be selling $25/day expo tickets closer to the conference date.  Perhaps give them a call to double check.  I'm trying to attend at a reduced cost because I simply cannot afford $1000+ trip to San Diego as an AmeriCorps member and no longer qualify for a reduced rate and they only extend volunteering to students (perhaps you can try this route). 

I went to many of the conferences as an undergrad and enjoyed the sessions and being around so many like minded people. As it is the beginning of your first year in the field, I'm not sure how beneficial attending the conference would be, unless you want to get in the mix right off the bat.  Lots of networking and career building opportunities but I'm beginning to wonder how they expect anyone with a tight budget (unemployed, students, AmeriCorps, non-profit sectors) to afford attendance at these yearly conferences...

Best of luck!

Maybe you can get an alum or the school to chip in.  I used saved up miles and crashed a friend's couch or two attending these things, which made it worth it for me.   It might be a good investment if you see a lineup of lectures and seminars you want to see.  It almost compresses a year's worth of a lecture series into a weekend.  The opportunity to meet professionals and pick their brain is not to be underestimated.  That being said, more local conferences/ASLA events would be more budget friendly and depending on where you are, there are plenty of those.


remember to submit for student awards in the future - if you get one ASLA helps offset the cost of attendance.

I've attended the past three years, but only registered the first year in full.  I realized the education sessions always had interesting topics, but the discussions only scratches the surface of the main topics.  I usually left with more questions than answers...

The past two years I have gotten suppliers to provide the free expo passes.  I do like the expo more than the sessions.  Keeps me abreast of new landscape technologies and methods, and even new materials.


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