At a crossroads…

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    Hey Everyone,

    I graduated with a BLA and have been jumping around the country looking for work and tweaking my portfolio and resume. When I first graduated, I knew I did not want to continue on to graduate school. Now, I find that I am thinking of returning to school.

    For any professional Landscape Architect:

    Looking back on your experiences and the current state of the profession, if you were to return to school to enhance your knowledge and degree, what would your focus be?

    Currently, I am interested in resort design, but for a graduate focus I am interested in a Masters in Urban design (Architectural and Urban Design). A degree in Illumination design is of an interest as well, but would follow IF I choose that route.

    I have other questions that I am interested in hearing opinions about, but I think this is a good starting point.

    Thanks everyone!


    Don’t be fooled into thinking that an grad degree will be any more helpful in finding a job as an LA if you already have a BLA. For an entry level position, it really deosn’t matter what your focus or interests are in – just that you know CAD and sketchup, etc.  I look at grad school in this field as an end and not a means – that is, it’s a good way to postpone the “real world” but at some point you’ve got to be able to pay the rent.  Perhaps the economy will have improved in a couple years (but I seriously think this is the new normal- at least in the design fields).  If you are contemplating grad school, I would think hard about a more sustainable career path (I wish someone had told me this!).  That is something non-design that could complement your design background but make you more marketable. It may be more wise to pursue a planning degree – I think there are no where near as many starving planners as LAs.


    or at least the classes that can help you run a business – your own or as part of one.  Accounting and time management and tax law and sales/contracts and insurance/liability and all that other stuff really does matter.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m always surprised by how many people think they’ll have a better shot of getting work if they specialize their education. You’d be taking a field of limited opportunity (at this time) and further limit it to a small portion of the field. Typically, the thought is to be one of the few qualified to work in that niche, but is that really true?


    Landscape Architecture is a broad field with most firms and individuals working multiple facets of it at the same time. Few specialize in narrow niches. However, many do the niche type work within broader projects that they are working on. This means several things. One is that there are many firms quite capable and experienced in almost any niche without specializing in them. Another is that there are people with work experience (rather than just a  degree) that can fill jobs that might come up in an emerging niche.


    Specialization is something to work towards. It is not a place to start in my opinion. A person with a broad background who then also gains experience in a specialized niche will always have a job andvantage as an employee and a marketing advantage as a firm.


    If the economy was booming and a niche was growing faster than could be filled with experienced people as it was (in those days that no one seems to want to go back to) , then a nich degree would be a great way to get you fast tracking on your career path.


    You are not choosing a specialization on a personal passion (clearly in your post), but simply to get an employment advantage in a time where it is not that likely to give you any advantage …. just more debt.



    Heather Smith

    I would branch out away from any degree that has you specializing in something that requires a kickin’ economy. That would definitely lead me away from Resort Planning…unless you plan on saving a lot of money when it is bustling! 🙂 Even Urban design…all of that is contingent on a healthy economy. I guess I would lean towards an MBA.

    I would actually caution you from getting a graduate degree unless you really veer off and go into something entirely different, like physical therapy. haha.

    I would look for work in places that you haven’t thought of or that you think may be “beneath” you. I don’t mean that in a snobby way either…but for example, we have our own lets be truthful, landscaping business. In school and often professionally there is a tendency for professional LAs to look down on this. For us, this has meant opportunity. And not just financially…which it is. With our business(and my husband does have his LA license) just this summer, he had the change to produce his first construction documents, met professionals running a huge construction business out of Portland, Oregon, worked with them and let them know he was an LA, made it onto the small works roster at WSU where he is meeting other LAs and professionals, has created working relationships with multiple plant vendors, area contractors, and masons. Just today he had a call from someone that was referred to him by the contractor that he drew up documents for…a local vineyard that wants master planning done. He graduated in 2008 and I in 2009…for five years he has been slowly building experience and knowledge. And it wasn’t the way we thought he would. This summer I stuck my toe in and started doing planting plans…so now I am getting an opportunity to use my skills and learn about the more practical challenges of design such as fitting within a budget. 😉

    Opportunity comes in many forms and sometimes you have to be willing to change the way you look at them. If I were you, I would check out local landscaping businesses, see if there is an LA running her/his own business…you may be surprised at the opportunities that could come your way. We have had a hard time finding reliable, hardworkers…my husband would LOVE to be able to trust someone that understood design, so that he could spend more time meeting clients, etc.

    mark foster


    “Looking back on your experiences and the current state of the profession, if you were to return to school to enhance your knowledge and degree, what would your focus be?”

    Something I was sure of.

    “Currently, I am interested in resort design, but for a graduate focus I am interested in a Masters in Urban design (Architectural and Urban Design). A degree in Illumination design is of an interest as well, but would follow IF I choose that route.”

    Sounds like you are not sure.


    You don’t need a Masters to be successful, but I do see job listings for senior-level positions requiring a masters degree… so down the road you may need it.

    For me, the theoretical larch topics such as landscape urbanism or parametrics interest me, so I would probably go back to school to learn that. I would also go back to school if I wanted to learn from a specific professor and experiment with new ideas in a more free, non-business environment. I don’t think a Masters will make you a better candidate for a job, but I would go purely just to learn and experiment with ideas.

    Jason T. Radice

    A masters in LA seems to almost be a prerequisite for even entry level jobs in this economy.


    Heather Smith

    But can you pay back your loans with the pay you will receive at entry level?

    Trace One

    I would get a civil engineering degree – with that you can go anywhere. and it is way more recession proof than LA…


    Good idea. That’s what I would do if I went back.  

    Chris Whitted

    Not from what I’ve seen.  As many or more civils around here were out of a job and offices closed as there were LAs.  And most of the civil-with-an-LA places I contacted in neighboring states were the same.  I think it has more to do with area of practice; civils and LAs are very similar in that they both have many fields of operation.  If you were in land development, particularly residential but also commercial, you were out of luck no matter what your profession.  If you were in a different niche or area of practice you had much better odds.  In fact, while I did see them get hit the least impacted branch I saw was surveyors (or possibly geotechs).

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Civils got hit hard in my neck of the woods. I was lucky enough to be in the oldest one around when it hit the fan. All the other ones around had layoffs and hours cut back,  though. It was not good. They are still down, but not as bad. It helps that we are in a heavily regulated area where lots of wealthy people from other states want to have a property and “make it their own”. It has to be worse on the other side of the bridges (Cape Cod).

    A year and a half ago we had over 70 applicants for an entry level EIT when I went part time to put more time into my LA office. Applicants came from near and far.We hired a guy who had been working in his dad’s auto parts store for a year and a half. He was hired because he was in commuting range and did not have a ‘tude. He has worked out great.


    If I were in school and wanted to live here, I’d go for structural engineering because they are in short supply and higher demand around here.


    I agree with the statement that you do not need a masters degree to be successful but in the same token I would say you need to diversify your experience and skill sets in order to remain successful through a recession. My family has had a landscape contracting for 35 years, we have been there and done that. I graduated 2005 BSLA, RLA in 2012, I am about to graduate with a Masters degree in Public Administration in Urban and Regional Planning. Did it do anything for me? Yeah, it got me my next job after being laid off the second time, due to budget constraints. There are many degrees out there, choose one that meets your needs, talk to alumni most definitely, from the program, also look up the goals of the program. I’ve looked at MBA, MA Environmental Studies, MPA, real estate and environmental law. Choose what’s right for you and make what’s right for you based on what you want and put into it.

    Daniel Kovach

    Find your passion and pursue it with passion.  Susan Hatchell, ASLA

    In this “New Normal” we need to all be seeking how we can make a living in ways that feed our interest so we can endure the down times.  While working the auto parts store may be needed to pay the rent, keep an eye on the goal.  I was fortunate during another recession in the 80’s to still be working for a licensed landscape architect while painting the inside of the commercial nursery building one winter (just another form of graphics!)

    Try and distill your interests and (always) pursue continuing education in that direction, wether it leads to a masters or not.  Be flexible; instead of “resort design,” perhaps restoration ecology may be the trick.  Find the strength to be persistent in pursuing the goal.

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