Hello, I'm currently a freshman environmental science major. I'm on the planning and administration track, which means I'm taking a combination of ecology courses, political science courses, and geography courses (including urban planning, physical geography, soils, etc.). This next semester I'm most likely going to be in an intro to interior design course to get a feel for that field. I definitely want to go to graduate school, but I'm torn between interior design, urban planning, and landscape architecture. I know I want a career that involves sustainability and design. I also realize that my current major is going to mean my time in graduate school will be longer because it's not a very specific degree. I'm okay with spending three years in graduate school, if I need to.

Anyway, I know I've got time to figure this out, but there's a chance I might need to switch schools soon to better accommodate my career goals, so I'm trying to sort things out now. I know it can be hard to find a job in the interior design, urban planning, and landscape architecture fields, so that's a very large concern for me right now. What are your thoughts on the three fields?

& if I change my major to either interior design, urban planning, or landscape architecture, will I have time for a minor? I am considering minoring in sustainability.

Any input is welcome and appreciated!

Kristen

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I suppose there could be some data out there somewhere that shows hiring / job placement rates, though I'd only let it serve as a general guide.  Well prepared, thoughtful people get hired way more often than not.  Be one of those and getting a job shouldn't be too difficult.

You seem to have a great diversity of interests, and while all are in similar fields of study the daily workings of a career are going to be quite different.  Since I'm not biased in any way ;)   I'd suggest that that landscape architecture has the most similarity to what you're doing now.  

I couldn't speak with authority on the interior or planning degree tracks having time for a minor.  With careful planning I was able to get a bachelor's in LA, a secondary bachelor's in Environmental Science and a minor in regional & community planning within the 5-year framework of the LA degree.  There are differences in how the curriculum is structured for most degrees now, so that might have an impact on what you're able to do with a minor.  For what it's worth, I got the minor and 2nd BA out of personal interest in the subjects and I've only used the knowledge gained from them pursuing interests outside my "day job".  They've not contributed at all to my income, not that I expected them to.  Take that for what it's worth.

Interior design is the outlier in what you're considering, so you should throw it out or figure out if your subconscious is pulling you in an entirely new direction from the route you're on.  Good luck,

Dave

Thank you so much for your input. I'm also curious about the different types of projects LA's do?

Also, what kind of design courses (as electives) would you recommend I be taking if I'm an environmental science major? I have a few open spots in my degree plan where I can fit some design courses. Here are some being offered: Intro to CAD, Drawing, 2D Design, 3D Design, and Digital Design.

Would you recommend taking a drawing course before learning CAD?

My major will help me develop skills in GIS. Is that software used in the LA field?

Again, thank you so much for your help.

I would recommend a drawing course before learning CAD .... coming from someone who does not draw well by hand. The techniques you'll learn in drawing are applicable to CAD.

I would highly recommend learning GIS if you are going into landscape architecture even if you don't use a GIS program ever again. It teaches a different way of thinking and analysis that is extremely valuable in landscape architecture. Coincidentally, I had correspondence with one of my former professors just this morning. He taught the GIS course which happened to be focused on Regional Planning. Here is part of that email that I sent him:

"I remember when I saw that I had to take the intro to GIS class and learned that we were going to use a program that only existed in our studio. I had no interest in regional planning at that time and thought the class would be a waste of time. I realized before the semester was over that there was far more than learning the program or just regional planning that was being taught in that class. You taught us an approach to thinking differently and this was simply a mechanism to learn that way of thinking. It was probably the most important single class that I had after learning the design process "

Wow, thank you for your advice. I'll look into drawing courses and soak up as much as possible in my GIS courses!

I would encourage you to pursue the track that leaves you with the most flexibility in the end. Given your interests, I think urban planning or landscape architecture both sound like good options for you, but I think the landscape architecture degree is more flexible. Think about it this way- you can do urban planning with a landscape architecture degree, but you can't do landscape architecture with a planning degree. You are also likely to get more hands on design experience with an LA degree- a skill that comes in handy in urban planning as well.

As an undergrad, I would also encourage you to take as many science courses as you can in order to preserve your array of job options in the future. I work for the U.S. Forest Service, and got my "foot in the door" so to speak using my undergrad degree in Plant Sciences as opposed to my MLA. There are certain jobs in the federal realm that have "positive educational" requirements- basically meaning you have to have a certain number of credits in certain fields to qualify for the job. Having science credits will allow you to compete for more diverse jobs. For example, in my current role as the National Program Manager for Urban and Community Forestry, I work on a lot of urban sustainability issues including adaptation, resilience, community planning, green building and green infrastructure. While my job undoubtedly is a great fit for a landscape architect, it was advertised as a "Natural Resource Specialist" gig. Without my science credits, I could not have successfully competed for my job. Make sense?

I would be happy to set up some time to chat with you about landscape architects in public service- just let me know!

Lauren

Your response is extremely helpful. My interests are a bit all over the place, but I'm very interested in urban sustainability issues, community planning, and green building projects. Even if I'm not the one doing the designing, I think I would be interested in a career where I can work with those projects in some way, shape, or form. It's helpful to know that the job you applied for was titled "Natural Resource Specialist." I've seen job listings with that title, but I never knew they could include all the sustainability stuff. I always imagined those jobs as more science/research positions.

I'm taking a fair amount of science credits. Over 20 hours, I believe. I also have a ton of elective space where I can take courses in the other environmental science tracks at my school. I'm currently on the planning & administration track, but there's also the biology and chemistry track. I'm going to look into taking some plant science courses that fall under the biology track.

Thanks for all your advice, I'd love to take you up on your offer to chat about landscape architects in public service! I'm still trying to get an idea for the variety of jobs my degree will open up for me, so any advice on the different types of careers in the LA or planning field is greatly appreciated!

Also, don't ignore entry level skills. You can't go far if you can't get through the door.

Thanks, Andrew! Besides the usual good communication skills, etc. and developed skills in GIS and CAD, are there any other entry level skills you'd recommend I work on?

Kristen I think you’ve received some really great advice so far. I’ll just my two bits.

As mentioned previously it seems like your interest are pointed to earth sciences and design, so there’s a tie in with landscape architecture. If you like to be outdoors depending on the route you choose (or the one that you end up on), you could land a position where you constantly in the field. But, you have to be prepared to possibly end up being a CAD jockey never seeing sunlight for 5 to 6 years or earning your meat and potatoes on a base salary plus commission sales job at a design/build firm. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages with regards to preparing you to be an LA.

I don’t know a lot about urban planning, but I can tell you that most Interior Design and Landscape Architecture programs are intense. I spent so much time in the studio; I barely had any non-environmental design student friends. After being beat down trying to earn a degree, it actually gets tougher because now you have to compete for a job that’s going to pay you peanuts. The design professions are like being a ballet dancer or a photographer, you have to have talent that someone is willing to pay for to earn a decent living. You have to have “it” and no one really knows what “it” is, but folks can definitely tell you when you don’t have it.  

Yeah, between LA, ID and UP it would probably be a toss-up as to who would suffer first in a recession. When the money gets tight all of us including the civil engineers and architects have to shift to ‘plan B’. I would say that the advantage to choosing ID is that at least people have a pretty good idea what you do. LA and UP, not so much. 

Thanks for your input, Craig. I'm interested in commercial LA or designing parks/nature reserves. Do you think that's a more stable field of LA than residential?

In shear numbers of potential projects, residential is the biggest market. How many parks and nature preserves are built in your community each year? What type of companies are designing them? How much design and construction documentation (volume of work) goes in to a nature preserve compared to other types of land development?

Almost all medium to large firms want to go after park design and when you really think about it, there are not very many park projects. Competition is very high and not exclusively local. Most of it is government funded. Government has spent a lot on trying to make jobs over the past 8-10 years. That is not going to continue for much longer in my opinion based on history.

I have to agree with Andrew with regards to the number of project possibilities in residential landscape architecture. High-end residential work seems steadier. Things have to get pretty bad like they did in 2009 before rich homeowners stop buying properties and doing landscape improvements. That said, doing residential design has its own special kind of difficulties. My residential clients are way more fussy and particular than my municipal and commercial clients. Why wouldn’t they be, it’s their home. Lately my biggest problem with residential clients is getting them to stay motivated to complete the design process. We make it through concept and design development drawings, preliminary budgets and approval to start construction drawings and then I lose them. They start dragging their feet turning what normally is a 2 to 3 month process into a 9 to 12 month one.

I prefer to have a nice mix of projects to keep things interesting. As a sole-proprietor my ideal mix is 3 or 4 large commercial or municipal projects, 7 or 8 small commercial and 10 to 12 high-end residential projects a year.

 I think I enjoy residential landscape design the most because I don’t have to worry about large numbers of people using the space I’m designing. I can cut loose and be creative without public safety concerns. Of course I have to think about the safety of the residents, but I can allow for a little more risk taking at someone’s home. 

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