I am currently trying to decide between two very different MLA programs (April 16 deadline!) and was wondering if anyone in the LA community might have some good advice.
My choice is between the University of Michigan and the Harvard GSD. My background is in environmental science and geography and I have a strong interest in pursuing issues in landscape architecture related to the natural sciences and ecology. I am also currently living (and working) in Ann Arbor, MI. Originally, I felt as though the University of Michigan's program, which is through the School of Natural Resources, would be a good fit. I applied to Harvard on a whim, I never expected to get in. I am a cartographer and have a strong interest in design as well. Harvard's program would definitely fulfill this interest and further develop my skills as a designer in this profession. Further, Harvard's program is very well established, world renowned, and would provide access to a million resources that are not available at the University of Michigan. My biggest concern is related to financing this degree. I will take on significantly more debt if I attend Harvard.
Could anyone out there comment on the job market for this profession? Specifically, I am interested in knowing whether or not the Harvard degree makes a significant difference when applying for jobs. I am also interested to hear from practicing LAs about where they see this profession going. Is a strong background in ecologic and environmental issues or a strong design portfolio going to position me better in the job market?
Thanks, Brian! This is great advice.
Are you currently studying at the GSD or have you already graduated? Either way, can you comment on your experience? Also, have you been in contact with recent grads from the program? Do you know what the job prospects have been like for GSD grads?
I was in the same round of applications as you, so I'll be starting the GSD this fall! As such, can't really comment on my experience, but I have talked to quite a few current and former students. All GSD MLA grads that I know are employed, as are their classmates. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, I would actually be less concerned with post-graduation employment rates, and more concerned with what the school offers in relation to what you're looking for in a program. Because if you're at the top of your class from either UMich or the GSD, employment should be (relatively) easy.
Thanks, Brian! I suppose you are right. I guess I am struggling with the decision, so I am looking for all of the pros and cons to both programs. It is refreshing to hear that many of the GSD grads that you have met are employed! When I read some of the threads on this forum, it kind of made me nervous. Anyways, congratulations on your acceptance and maybe I'll see you this fall!
Shoot me a message if you'd like a more comprehensive pros/cons list of the GSD based on the feedback I received. I also went to the Open House a few days ago.
"Anyone know what the job market is like for an MLA grad?"
This trend has already been discussed on Land8 (link above) and once a month someone ask about school comparisons. I suggest you read it from start to finish. It also depends on where you prefer to work: public or private. I can tell you that a strong portfolio is a major requirement during interviews in private offices, but not so much in public agencies. Finding work through traditional LA is a dead end journey and I think, a niche in ecologic and environmental issues with landscape architecture is the way to go.
On the flip side: Bottom line is why a MLA? Isn't anyone paying attention to the economy and which professions are ALWAYS hit the hardest during recessions? People are just so stubborn and don't make wise decisions. In my 14 years in this profession, I have yet to meet a landscape architect who has been with the same firm for more than 20 years, unless they were a principal/owner. This field has such a high turnover rate. The only true path to employment stability in LA is to be your own boss, but some people are just not meant to be entrepreneurs. Just be sure you "Look Before You Leap" to avoid accumulating more future, financial debt.
I wrote this in reply to another one of your posts, but I'll copy it here as well.
What I find funny is that, coming from architecture (also a field that is extremely cyclical), I've actually found a plethora of jobs in both arch. and LA between 09-now (basically when our economy tanked), all extremely well paying, and this seems to hold true with all of my friends/colleagues. And I owe most of it to the design thinking and software skills that I acquired during my undergrad years (which was a BA in Arch Studies). Yes, if you were planning on doing traditional LA work (garden planning, residential, etc), then good luck. But a MLA 1 these days gives you those niche skills that research/critical design firms are looking for. Also, why would you want to stay at the same firm for more than 20 years?? All LAs I know who have been, say, 10 years out, generally stay for 5 years max. at a firm before they look for a change of place. And then they decide to stay longer because of family commitments and become a sr. associate or partner.
Working at the same firm, with the same people, doing the same kind of projects for twenty years sounds extremely boring. Come on mauiB what kind of stability are you looking for? I’m pretty sure you’ve lived a pretty good life as an LA. Up until 2008, I was more than happy with my life as an LA. Yes, I moved to different cities to follow the building booms, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s not that people are stubborn, people want make a living doing something they enjoy. The profession chews up and spits out grads in a good economy, so what. “But its so harrrrrr-d”, damn right… that’s why it’s a profession.
My boss here in Texas used to work very close to the GSD for a very well known LA firm in Boston. I was teetering on MLA applications when I interviewed, and he told me that regardless of your MLA degree (or location of said degree) his focus when hiring someone was to see what they could do. If you get an MLA from the least known University in the country, or the GSD, arguably one of the best known, you will still have to prove yourself to your potential employer. It's worth mentioning as well that his firm did not pay any better for someone fresh out of school with a BLA, or the GSD. Now, having said that, I know a principal at Design Workshop that came straight out of the GSD as one of their most talented graduates ever and landed himself a job already very high on the totem pole.
I would say you need to do some self searching and determine what it is you want to make a career out of in the world of LA. 6 yrs post BLA graduation I am so glad that I did NOT pursue an MLA, anywhere. The previous comment of ROI being very low in our profession is dead on. It's very unrealistic to expect a salary bump of $15k just because you have an MLA. While there are undoubtedly more and better jobs for those who are more qualified, that vast majority in this economy just want to see what you can do. Perhaps an internship or short lived job at a firm with the type of work you're interested in can give you the real world experience necessary to get a "career" job that a piece of paper with MLA on it wouldn't be able to provide.
Just my opinion. Best of luck to you.
My thoughts of which grad school and even whether to pursue an MLA are mixed. There are many questions to ponder...and your transition phase can be so important~because it really is of you.
I did go for an MLA at University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, after completing my BLA at Michigan State University. i am happy i took the decision to go back to the Southwest and further my studies. But interestingly- it was not so much the MLA courses but the courses in Historic Preservation and Regionalism and the Southwest Plants courses that i definitely benefited greatly from. it was accidental ?~ i did not even know UNM had an option for Historic Preservation and Regionalism Certificate Program. HPR is within the SAAP department, as is LA, Architecture, Urban Planning.
i do believe in trying out new locales- moving from Ann Arbor in be an interesting change. But if U of M offers a Masters Program that does give you more latitudes- it is only 3 years? When i was at MSU as a BLA we did a project with U of M MLA candidates and i recall [it was a few years ago] the were heavy on the Urban Planning approach... and Green Roof Design... so it will be very helpful to compare the 2 Unis' approaches and- hey, there may be something between - as was HPR for me- so take time for yourself and consider what focus you really like to expand upon. as far as Harvard- i donot know of their program- but i do imagine it costs 2 or 3xs? -but there may be scholarships that they do not jump out to offer- not unusual.
Ultimately, you will be looking for work, and you may already be in that space. If you want to use what you know and find a firm that matches?.. sense that you desire to supplement or expand your knowledge base?- In the end the employer takes you on as a tool and the more tools you have accessible and enjoy using- the better for you both- to have more latitudes gives you opportunities to grow= even if the firm doesn't have that on their agenda [tongue in cheek]- you will accrue that experience :D take a little time for yourself and investigate- Best- cathleen
Amy -the fact that you actually have the choice to go to Harvard GSD says that there’s something very special about you. If I had the opportunity to attend a program like that I wouldn’t think twice. Don’t worry about the money. Study hard, make connections at LA firms (so that you know what skills to acquire) and enjoy the experience. Everything else will take care of itself.
There’s no guarantee that the GSD degree will make you the top dog, but a so-so designer with a Harvard degree will have more doors open for them than a superstar designer from some state school would ever have. Are you kidding me, we’re talking about Harvard GSD.
Thank you everyone for your insightful responses! I really appreciate all of your comments.