Hi! I am currently applying to MLA programs, but the MSLA (Masters in Science of Landscape Architecture) offered by some universities have also piqued my interest... I am wondering if they may be a better fit.
I have an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and economics. For the past 4+ years I have worked in the field of vacant land re-use, urban agriculture, and community organizing with a non-profit in Detroit. While I have learned basic design for creating planting plans and horticulture skills associated with the job, I really want to develop more of the technical skills related to landscape architecture. I am especially interested in community design processes and comprehensive land use planning. I want to work in community development, and ideally help manage land use planning projects. I don't necessarily aspire to principally be a landscape architect at a private firm. However-if that is where all these projects are housed and an MLA would be required to get my foot in the door, then I will do what I have to do.
What do people know about the usefulness of a MSLA degree? Are there firms/NGOs/other agencies that would find value in that degree?
Specifically, I am looking at the MSLA or MLA program at UMN, and MLA at Umich and UPenn, among others. The MSLA at UMN is 30 credits, including a thesis (and is not an LAAB accredited degree, whereas the MLA is 88 credits. With the MSLA, I could elect more technical design and horticultural courses, but they aren't required. Of course it will be much less comprehensive than the MLA program, but I'm wondering if it may give me just the background I am looking for.
Any thoughts? Thanks for your advice in advance.
Sounds like you should get a planning degree (regional, community or city). These are sometimes in the same school departments as landsacpe architecture, so it would be easy to take LA classes too. If you plan to get licensed and do hard core landscape architecture, get the MLA. If you want just more theory, planny, touchy-feely stuff, the MSLA should suffice - but I wonder (in this economy) if it will make any difference. Maybe for a gov't job it might score some points. Many MLAs are more theoretical than technical anyway. Private firms will only care that you know autocad and sketchup. I don't know why anyone would waste the time and effort of pursuing an MLA with dismal job prospects.
Thanks for the reply, Jeff. So you are saying that with a planning or MSLA degree, autocad and sketchup skills, I could potentially still work on greenspace designs and landuse planning at a private firm?
One other note- I feel like Detroit is already overrun with young folks with urban planning degrees. MLAs not so much. I am hoping to develop a different skill set.
You have to be careful with the nomenclature of the degrees, it is not universal from school to school and the degree intent is different.
It seems you have no formal design background whatsoever, so if you anticipate actually wanting to do design work, the school many force you into, and I would highly recommend, the full MLA. You will very much need the added coursework, the basic drawing and drafting, the horticulture, and the exploratory studios to get a broad idea and education of the profession. Its not as easy as you might think it is. That is the main difference between planners and landscape architects who do planning…the level of design capabilities. If you are not going to be into the heavy design aspects of cities and spaces as well as the planning, go for the planning degree. The MSLA's are generally designed for professionals who already hold an accredited BLA who want to go back and get an advanced degree without having to repeat the basic design education they already have. Depending on the college, they may not let you take the MSLA track as you do not have a first-professional degree. Also, it is never a good idea to get a degree that will not count as your first-professional degree (accredited) when pursuing a career in the design professions, as it with severely limit your employment opportunities later on. If you wish to be licensed, as some jobs require, you will have to go back and get an accredited degree or wait 10 years or more with a full documented career history before you are allowed to even sit for the exams, depending on the State you wish to be licensed in. In other words, if it is not accredited, don’t bother.
I would look for a MLA program that has a very strong planning track, since that seems to be what you want to do without getting the planning degree. Be sure you can take your electives in the planning or architecture departments and that the LA program guarantees an advanced planning/urban design/neighborhood design studio in its senior year as well. Talk to the schools, visit them if you can, and make your education goals known to the person you talk with. Review their course catalog and create your own prospective path through the program, and go over this with the school prior to signing on the dotted line. You need to know you will get what you want out of it.
I have experience like Detroit is already loaded with younger people with city preparing levels. MLAs not so much. I am expecting to create a different abilities set.
Personally, given your location and connection to the University of Michigan I would pursue the MLA there. Its a good program and from my understanding you can build your program of study as you desire with the assistance of your faculty advisor. You have the "Detroit Laborartory" right in your back yard. Good luck.
Thanks for the advice, all!