1st year BLA student second guessing choice in Landscape Arch

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION 1st year BLA student second guessing choice in Landscape Arch

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    Dan Janson

    I am a first year student of landscape architecture in a 5 year BLA program. Over the past couple of months I have been reading about how competitive/replaceable/unimportant our profession is. However i enjoy landscape architecture and would hope to one day get a job in a government transportation department. My question is, is it worthwhile to get a 5 year BLA or would it be more beneficial to get a 4 year degree like engineering?. How marketable is a BLA degree?

    Thanks guys, I really appreciate it. 


    I’d say, if you’re seriously considering engineering as a suitable alternative, go for it. LA is a very difficult career to make a solid living and requires serious dedication and passion for the craft. I dont mean to sound judgemental, but if you’re on the fence I say go for the engineering degree.

    Tosh K

    I suppose it would depend on finances (can you afford the 5th year/are you more likely to get financial aid in one or the other) and what type of work in transportation you want to do.  Also, the curriculum for engineering is very different from LA (any accredited program will require coursework in all areas of engineering as their gen-ed requirement – electrical circuits, computer programming, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, etc on top of what I would assume would be the civil/transportation track you would be pursuing).

    It’s easier to go back to LA with a BS in engineering than the other way around, if that helps.


    I agree with nca777.  Take a few classes or minor in LA if the itch persists.

    Where I work, LAs don’t do grading, drainage/stormwater, ADA, pedestrian or bicycle facilities, or any of the other things that allow the creative side to flourish.


    Just planting and irrigation. And occasionally, aesthetics.

    Such a waste.

    Trace One

    Plus engineers have unions, LA’s don’t. Makes a big difference for salary. Just try to be a sensitive engineer, not like the guys I have worked with who say things like, “trees don’t belong close to roads.” or “Asphalt is good for vegetation! It’s like fertilizer!”

    ( 9 _ 9 )

    It makes me tired. 

    Phil Moorehead

    Get your BLA and a minor in GIS, if possible.

    Chris Whitted

    Find someone who does what you want to do and talk to them.  Are they an engineer, landscape architect, or planner?  Or something else?  Do the people you think do what you think you want to do actually do it, or do they just manage it?  Is there enough of that kind of work to have a reasonable chance of getting into it, or unless you’re ‘perfect’ for the job might you have to practice in other areas for a while?

    Marketable, beneficial, worthwhile… even talking years of a program (which I would really only think about if debating a 4 year, 5 year, or 6 year BLA vs MLA program, not between different degrees) is all subjective.  Are you willing to relocate anywhere?  If so, no matter what degree you have you’re going to be more marketable.  But if there’s a particular kind of work you want to do or a particular place you want to do it, the market can start getting tight in a hurry.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Who goes into landscape architecture with the goal of working in a government transportation department?

    Wyatt Thompson, PLA

    Holy cow, when did the engineering lobby join Land8? I hope your primary source of information about the profession is not this site. If you believe everything you read here you’d think that there weren’t any practicing LAs left this side of Dubai. The truth, is that there is quite a bit of work for landscape architects in both public and private sectors. Most of the people I know who are doing it are not on here to give their accounts because they’re too busy doing the work. 

    I don’t know if you should stay in your landscape architecture program or not, but before you jump ship I think you should ask yourself some questions: What do you like about what you’ve studied so far? What type of work do you think you want to do in a government transportation department? Is the LA program accredited? What is the job placement rate for graduates of the program? Have you spoken with any alumni about their experience in the program and what kind of success they have had in practice? Have you spoken to anyone in the engineering college or field that you might consider switching to? What field, BTW? Are you committed to college/university you are at now, or do you have the option to go to a different school? There are several programs around the country that offer 5 year MLA degrees. If you want to keep your major but are concerned about the degree you’re getting, an MLA might be more marketable than a BLA. Ultimately I think a person’s skills and experience are more important than the degree, but others in positions to hire may think differently. Is your concern related to your perception of the viability of the profession, or the cost associated with an extra year in school?

    If you are willing to share your answers to those questions – especially the first two – you might get better feedback. Good luck with your decision.


    Most DOTs have landscape requirements because the public/pols usually demand some type of aesthetic treatment…and since plans need to be stamped…

    If one does get into a city or state DOT, the economic boom/downturn cycle is not likely to affect their job as much. 

    And you might be suprised how difficult roadside design actually is.



    Where I work, engineers are in control of all programs and departments.  And it is unlikely they will cede responsibilities to non-engineers, even if the case can be made that LAs are better suited for things beyond planting and irrigation.

    My opinion is a result of my experience.


    The answer to this is easy. If you can’t handle low pay, long hours and crappy job security, do something else. I would go for the engineering degree to be on the safe side, and if you still want to do landscape architecture, you can always get an MLA.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m not saying there is no opportunity or no necessity. I’m just scratching my head to think of it as the motivating factor to going into landscape architecture.


    Not a bad position to land in, but a very strange place to target to build your goals around. It is hard enough to move forward in this profession despite the diversity of opprtunity within in it. It will be that much harder to find opportunities to move forward staying on a path toward that objective.

    Trace One

    Maybe you don’t live in California, Andrew, where the car is king. I work with several LA’s whose inspiration for the job was to make the entrances to communities look good.

    Someone should do a study on the difference between LA from east coast to west coast. West coast is a LOT more plant design, very little site design. East coast is all site design, plus plant design, but he plants are so much easier and simpler on the east coast.

    I am not predjudiced. (NOT! double negative makes a positive, I think. I love the east. )

    Wyatt Thompson, PLA

    Toby, I don’t take issue with your experience or the opinion you derive from it. I also work at a firm that is primarily engineers, and my experience has been quite different. Landscape architects here do lots of grading, drainage, site planning, accessible design, parks and trails planning, etc. On balance, I actually do very little landscape design. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either of our jobs. It’s just a different work environment, perhaps with principals (also all engineers at my workplace) who have different values or understanding of the capacity of our profession.

    What I do take issue with – and please understand it’s not just your post that I’m critiquing – is the tendency that landscape architects on this forum have to bash our industry and intentionally or unintentionally turn people away from it. Maybe Dan isn’t meant to continue on this educational and professional track; maybe engineering would be a better fit for him. I don’t know anything about him other than what he posted. But maybe he, or other students/seekers like him, will be the next Dan Kiley, Peter Walker, or designer that sits in the cubicle next to you.

    I think that those of us who practice landscape architecture have a responsibility to encourage gifted designers and critical thinkers to pursue this field. That’s not to say that everyone should be a landscape architect, or that we should approach them with blinders on and tell every prospective LA that it’s all roses, when anyone with a brain can see that this, and many other industries, are not performing at levels that they once were. It means we need to be willing to engage in the discussion and not write people off because of our own personal, negative experiences. If we’re not willing to defend and promote our profession among fellow landscape architects, it makes me wonder why or how we would defend it in front of allied professionals like architects and engineers.

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