Entry-Level, Intern, Landscape Designer?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE Entry-Level, Intern, Landscape Designer?

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    There seems to be a lot of confussion with my class mates and I.  It seems that many companies are hiring for an internship position but not what we would expect to be “entry-level”.  Most of us have already obtained an internship this past summer and are wandering A). Is a professional “internship”  a salary based position where you are being taught the ropes of a firm? B). At what point are you no longer an intern and become a designer? C). I understand that you cannot call yourself a landscape architect until you are liscense but what is the difference in salary in all levels discussed (Intern,Entry-Level, Designer, and Architect) Please give as good as a description as possible to clear up as much confusion as possible. 

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The whole internship thing in Landscape Architecture once you are out of school, as I understand and have experienced it, is a lot less formal than you may perceive it. Basically, it is the required time that you need to put in as a full time employee under the direct supervision of a licensed LA in order to sit for the licensing exam. Typically, it coincides with your initial hiring after you get out of school in an “entry level” position which you’d be paid entry level wages in.


    However, with the lack of any positions in LA, never mind entry level positions, some recent grads are volunteering just to be able to have the opportunity to get the clock moving on the required internship time and/or to gain experience to gain an advantage when there is a paid opportunity available at that firm or another. …. and there may be one or two firms that may exploit this phenomena.

    You can call yourself a designer no matter what your education or experience is … it is not a regulated title.


    There really is no such thing as a paid internship. If you are working for a firm they will pay you a salary or sometimes if you are a ‘summer intern’ an hourly rate. If it is a true internship, and is unpaid, the firm has an obligation to literally teach you while you are in the office. Please do not work for free. Alot of companies were soliciting for ‘unpaid interns’ a couple years ago when the recession was at its lowest–this is arguably illegal if they are not teaching you something, further unpaid ‘interns’ are only allowed to work on non-billable tasks such as marketing, proposals, administrative functions.

    In architecture and sometimes engineering it is not uncommon for junior level designers to call themselves ‘architect-in-training’ or ‘intern architect’ prior to earning licensure. This is different and I personally dont care for the title. Apprentice would probably be a more fitting title.

    You are a designer when you call yourself a designer. If you have trouble calling yourself a designer whilst keeping a straight face, you probably are not a designer.

    In my opinion, and I dont intend to sound harsh, virtually anyone can become a landscape achitect, but not everyone can be a designer. I’d like it if our professors and colleagues stopped referring to every unlicensed underling as a ‘designer’ or some derivative. 

    I cant go into the specific pay scales of every level of the profession because it varies so widely from geographic location, to type of practice. Generally speaking entry level landscape designers with a 4 or 5 year degree earn anywhere from 35-45k annually. Designers can vary even more from 40k to 100k plus depending on their specific skill set, market, location, experience, and ability. I have known ‘designers’ that were never licensed but earn significantly more than the average RLA at the same level of experience because they are more valuable to a specific firm for their ability to generate great products, network, generate new project work, and manage projects and teams. I have met master LA’s that make more hourly than the average NYC lawyer and on the same token LA’s that have practiced for 20 years and still make less than your local sherriff.

    go figure..


    Chris Whitted

    I’m going to have to at least partially disagree with both of you on this one.  It’s true I’ve been out of school (at least my LA degree) for a while and a lot of things have changed, but so far as I know an internship is still an internship and there are both paid and unpaid ones out there.  In fact, while I’ve never heard of one for LA yet (mostly just health and medical related professions), there are some internships where YOU pay THEM to work there.

    An internship is a defined thing.  One, you must be a student.  Almost every real internship position I’ve ever seen says you must be working on a degree or certification, and those education programs that require them have specific criteria about what qualifies (just doing redline revisions for three months will not count).  Two, you must be learning something.  That doesn’t mean formal education sessions or specific topics, but you have to be exposed to a variety of tasks in an LA office and learning how things work.  With mine, I did redlines, some small designs, renderings, plant material inspection, construction observation, field research, office marketing, and technology advisement.  And three, it’s time limited.  I’ve seen them for up to a year, but the standards are three (to fit between semesters) or six (to replace a semester) months.  Yes, you can be hired on right out of an internship, but a true internship is not open-ended.  At some point you are no longer an intern, you are a LA in training or apprentice or designer or whatever term you want and can use (apprentice is restricted in a lot of places to trades only – ie apprentice, journeyman, master).

    Now what you find out there may be different.  A lot of language keeps getting co-opted for inappropriate uses as different fields try to invent jargon and market speak.  That’s why you can’t do a search for “landscape architect” on a job board without more than half your results being for software programming positions.  And maybe post-crash a lot of places are hiring ‘interns’ as a low paid class of ‘permanent’ employee, but those aren’t really interns.  For sure post-crash, entry-level has a much broader definition than it used to.  The only way these firms are going to find 1-2 years experience with a Masters is if that’s all they have or they came from one of the 5-6 year Masters programs.  Places want a lot for cheap because they know they can get it.

    And as for salary, I’ll go one further than nca777 and say that it’s not linked to title levels in any specific way, in addition to geographic location and type of practice.  I’ve seen salary requirements on ASLA resume postings that had me rolling after my initial incredulity.  And the same thing when looking at salary surveys – which is about the only suggestion I have for you, to look at the ASLA salary survey.  Its accuracy is debatable, but it’s probably as or more accurate than the federal data you can find, and certainly more detailed.  But if you’re looking for region specific, the federal info is likely your only source unless your state ASLA chapter did a specific survey as well.


    Thanks for your insight!  if you wouldnt mind me asking what the typical salary/hourly pay would be for an intern? Also you mentioned that “Almost every real internship position I’ve ever seen says you must be working on a degree or certification”…does this apply if you are one day expecting to become a certified landscape architect?

    Chris Whitted

    Again, pay rates would vary significantly based on geographic region.  I wouldn’t expect to be salaried, rather hourly (and with overtime, but that’s a whole other employment law issue).  I can’t give you any numbers with a real backing.  I did mine more than ten years ago, and I made $10 an hour.  Right now I would expect anything between that and $15 and hour on the high side.  If you want better numbers, take a look at ASLA’s postings or search for LA internships via other means, and call up the places advertising.  Tell them you’re researching to plan out your education and ask what the salary range for their internships are.  As long as you make it clear you’re not asking for the position and just looking for information on what to expect, you should get at least a few answers.

    And no, I would not include those with degrees who are simply working toward licensure requirements as interns or qualifying for internships.  That’s just a part of the licensure process and depending on state can take a number of years.  As I said above, at that point you’re a LAIT (la in training) or designer or whatever.  Now, if you have a BLA and are in-progress on an MLA, sure.  And there are some exceptions (I would certainly give leeway) if you were within say a year of having completed a degree, particularly if you didn’t or weren’t able to do an internship while in the program.  When I said certification, I was thinking more along the lines of arborist or horticulturalist or maybe even landscape contracting or irrigation design.  The key point is you’re taking classes/training from some sort of accredited program.


    Prior to becoming a licensed landscape architect i.e. during the days of internship, entry-level or fresher landscape architects can not expect any huge numbers when it comes to their monthly earnings. They are firms that offer decent stipend during the internship period, and at the same time they are firms that offer nothing during this period.

    So, it will vary from firm to firm, and even from one landscape intern to another. 

    Dominic Zuccarelli

    Regarding pay for an intern…


    I’ve currently been interning for 9 months on my year long internship that’s required by Purdue University.


    I make $12/hr here in Indiana, but it really depends on the employer.  A classmate went to Boston and is making $18/hr, while another is on the beach in Florida making $10/hr (which is a joke).


    just some info…


    Interns are just a way for cheap labor!! The large firms disguise it as some sort of glamerous learning experience, but it benefits them more than the student. When you obtain your degree, hired as a regular employee and given a business card. Only then are you no longer an intern. Enjoy the current pay rate. You won’t make over $55k anytime soon. LA profession pays its workers peanuts. You’ll soon find out.

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