entering the LA field

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    Kevin Sullivan

    So I am currently hearing back from 3 yr MLA programs that I applied to for next fall.  I have been pretty good about staying positive about entering the landscape architecture field despite the current state, or what I perceive as the state of the of the field in this economy.  However I still can’t help but wonder if this is still a good idea.  Occasionally I will read very discouraging posts on Archinect,  warning people against entering this industry.  I am assuming LA has been hit just as hard.  So I am having second thoughts about spending years and money to become a LA

    My undergraduate was in biochemistry and environmental science, but after three years in the lab I realized it wasn’t for me.  I attended the gsd career discovery and very much enjoyed using the creative side of my brain again. 

    I applied to UT Austin, UVA, Berkeley and CU Denver

    Jon Quackenbush

    The optimist in me says that this won’t last forever, meaning that its a decent bet that by the time you are out of school, that this recession could be a memory. I find that with all the elders in the profession, there have been a few recessions in their career, I suppose it is part of the natural ebb and flow of things. They do admit that this one is the worst they have seen, so I don’t know what to tell you.

    Even given this recession, I still would go back to school for it anyway (MLA in 2008), mainly because I believe in Landscape Architecture, and it is the perfect fit for me personally. No other profession save for professional baseball (which ain’t happening) would make my soul as happy.

    You should know before hand that this isn’t really the profession to choose if you want to get rich, so if you have the guts to wait out or work through a recession like this, then go for it. I have no regrets, only hopes and aspirations.

    Soo Wai-Kin

    LA is such a broad field, you need to figure where in LA do you fit… An MLA is a great experience but most programs are not accredited which may be an issue with licensure, and landing a job. An MLA means close to nothing in landing a job sometimes, but it does perpetuate a sense of maturity and responsibility, however, without skills, a CAD drafter with an AA degree will take the position you are applying for anytime.

    If you want to design in a private firm, horticultural skills is a must, grading and stormwater management design is necessary, CAD skills are a must, rendering skills is a plus, digital rendering will be a bonus, and of course an eye for design. You will be a CAD monkey for the first few years which can kill some of the passion at times, unless your superior design skills elevates your status into a design rather and a production personnel. Everybody finds their niche within a firm eventually.

    If you are interested in planning (city/county/state; non-profit ie land trust, conservancy; private consulting), GIS skills will be great, negotiating EIS reports and certification will be great, experience with the inner workings of the govt. project approval process, a thesis that has a planning component will help as well. Your environmental science background will give you an edge in addressing anthropogenic issues with community growth and planning. And of course, know your politics.

    If you want to be an artist, passion and good grant writing skills is a must

    If you are into golf course design, be an expert in turf and water use/irrigation design. And play lots of golf.

    If you are into academia, the future spells sustainability ie (LEED, eco design, water conservation), material science, multidisciplinary pursuits and artful design. You are already a multidisciplinary candidate by going into LA, never forget your past life as a scientist. It will serve you very well, especially in academia. It is also a good idea to have a couple of years in a private firm before joining academia to provide a solid foundation as you explore your pedagogy. I hate the fact that some of my past instructors espoused criticism on students work based wholly on conceptual and theoretical BS as their resume shows nothing but degrees from consecutive schools and nothing in btw.

    As Jon says, this is not a get rich quick profession, but a labor of love… LA is gaining more weigh in the design world as more urban and rural areas are adopting more stringent landscape design policies to govern growth. The job market will be there when you graduate.

    good Luck, have lots of fun with your MLA and your thesis, but make sure you acquire all the work related skills along the way, it is of utmost importance.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Great post, Soo.

    I would add that it is important to know why you are going into this field and what your views are on the types of projects you are likely to work on. The amount of diversity within the field is somewhat limited by the individuals going into it through their ideals and values. Any project that requires planning on the land is what defines that diversity. The majority of such projects are profit driven rather than philosophically driven. The more philosophically that you are driven, the narrower are your opportunities. They will not tell you that in school and may lead you to a mindset that the profession is all about you saving the environment and society. While there are opportunities to excercise those pursuits, there are far more opportunities to design the land to effectively implement the goals of the people who have a project that they need done to serve their needs.

    Jason T. Radice

    Other than working for the federal government, name a profession that HASN”T been affected by this recession?

    Jon Quackenbush

    the banks are still giving out bonuses


    Jon Quackenbush

    I went to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, so naturally my goal was to ‘save the environment’, however that is not always possible, or valued by the client, or budgeted. You will always have the opportunity to be an advocate and a teacher, and (i say this with limited experience) that if your proposed solution comes in under the budget, there is a very real chance you will be heard… never give up fighting the good fight.

    Schools are a business ultimately, so they will sell you a bill of goods or capitalize on your passions by filling a niche as well. What they have to do is allow you to find your own design methodology and ethic, to which you can map your career. Find a good professor to act as your mentor, and then match him/her with a seasoned professional via an internship and you’ll get the complete picture. I know my former boss enjoyed the ‘how come we can’t try this’ naivety and energy i brought with me from academia, as well as my co-workers. It got the gears turning and it shook us out of a rut a few times, it is that sort of collaboration that thrills me about the profession… much like playing music with other musicians.

    LA is varied as everyone in here will attest, and there are firms whom specialize in restoration where you work closely with biologists and water scientists, and I imagine there will be more of those in the future as ‘green’, or ‘sustainable’ or ‘other-trend-word-here’ becomes more and more important. the environmental movement isn’t going anywhere, so when things level out, there will be the opportunity to emphasize and capitalize on that. No matter where we go from here, there are things we need to fundamentally change about our relationship with the landscape, and LA’s are on the front lines of that because we know a little bit about a lot of stuff.


    Yeah ESF! Anyway… on the note of working for a firm that collaborates with scientists and biologists, there is a firm that comes to mind in Baltimore called Biohabitats (http://www.biohabitats.com) where they have a great mix of all those professions. They’re very passionate and have a great portfolio of ec-sensitive projects. And it’s reflected in their office space as well, nice atmosphere in an old restored building with a Green Wall cleaning the air from the HVAC. You could always chat with them.

    I would suggest thinking of what really makes you tick and what you think you’ll get out of a MLA program. If you’re not 100%, there are other master’s programs that would still allow you to be creative. I have a BLA and am looking at going back to school to get an MBA, partially because I don’t want to limit myself to being stricktly in the LA field. But also I’ve found a great program that focuses on sustainable business practices and it would really help me in the way my partner and I run our firm.

    Let us know what you decide!

    Jon Quackenbush

    back at you Jill!

    I am aware of Biohabitats, their business model is exactly what i was referring to… i have sent many resumes to them in hope of breaking in… will continue to. I need to learn how to make that set up work because it is the exact type of LA firm i wish to be involved and run someday…

    Trace One

    If I were you I would try to work in the field as an apprentice before going to graduate school. You really don’t know what you are in for, unless you have watched it happen..May be hard to do, but I think there is a lot of disillusionment on getting out of school, and it is better to have seen it before you sign up for school. Because depending on what your interests are, there are many better ways to save the environment – being a lawyer is much better paid, teaching art is much more creative, writing/journalism is worse paid bu more consistently creative..working for the government (EPA sort of thing, or local gov..) these are common jobs for LA’s and have their own frustrations – not very creative but stable..

    I would work in it before you do it..


    They will not tell you that in school and may lead you to a mindset that the profession is all about you saving the environment and society. While there are opportunities to excercise those pursuits, there are far more opportunities to design the land to effectively implement the goals of the people who have a project that they need done to serve their needs.

    I don’t think the philosophical terms of practice need to be so polarized. We’ve discussed this at length and it’s probably getting a little off topic, but I thought the statement was worth a counterpoint.

    We can still maintain our philosophical ideals while serving the clients best interests. Without some philospohical basis, we’re merely draftspeople.


    I generally agree.

    To add to that, we could use some ‘design/enviro-sympathetic’ people in lawmaking, politics, and teaching.

    Jason T. Radice

    A lot of those are closing as well. My point is that in this economy, nobody is safe. Even the once-untouchable state and municipal governments around here are laying off, big time. Adding to that, many of the Fed jobs are only temporary, meaning you’ll be looking for work in a year.

    It won’t last forever, but it is the nature of the business. It happens every 10 years or so, and you generally have to firm-hop to get ahead between. Now is a GREAT time to go to grad school (I’m hoping to go in the fall myself). In a few years, hopefully the economy will have improved, an with the additonal paper you bought, you will be more qualified and stand a better chance to obtain employment.


    Doesn’t the ‘great time to go back to school’ idea really just delay the inevitable? There still will not be enough work to go around. I agree with some of the sentiments above regarding a possible misconception with what the profession really is beyond academia…just not to the extreme that I think Andrew perceives.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    It is not polarizing. Everyone always jumps to the conclusion that if you don’t make these things your number one priority, you are completely devoid of any of these values which is not the case at all. These are weighted values in every project. Some people do are philosophically predisposed to have an inability to adjust to the weighted values of particular projects.

    The OP is weighing whether there are opportunities to work, he has to consider what HE looks at as an opportunity to him and what otherwise might be available. If there is only fast food, does he still see a dining opportunity? Only he can answer that, yet many people would answer him one way or the other based on their own values.

    How much opportunity is out there depends on what you are willing to do and how you are willing to work.

    All of that was in the context of supporting this:
    “The amount of diversity within the field is somewhat limited by the individuals going into it through their ideals and values.”

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