LARE test: Who takes it and who decides not to?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE LARE test: Who takes it and who decides not to?

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    Deryn Davidson

    I’m a recent MLA grad and have been thinking about the LARE and becoming registered. I know many people that have successful careers in the field that made the decision to not become registered. I would love to hear from professionals (who are and who are not registered) what the advantages/disadvantages are of going in either direction.


    Tosh K

    If you want to be involved in the building of spaces, it’s good to be licensed in that it demonstrates to clients that you have at least a minimum competency in the field to maintain public health, safety and welfare.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult to do design and build without a license.

    If you are a stellar designer and can find a licensed professional to review and stamp your designs and/or work on designs where a stamp is not needed, then you could choose to forgo a license.  You will, of course, be expected to compensate that professional for their liability.  Relatively few firms are large enough to have ‘design’ tracks where licensure is not needed.

    Generally if you work in areas where you are involved with other professionals, the lack of a license raises questions about minimal competency unless you’ve demonstrated your expertise in higher profile areas (read you’ll be expected to be a high profile figure in design or academia).  It’s not at all difficult, so it’s fair they raise an eyebrow.

    Wyatt Thompson, PLA

    My personal experience: I work in municipal government for a parks and recreation department where I oversee planning, design, and construction administration for all capital improvement projects in the city’s park system. I collaborate daily with planners, engineers, architects, attorneys, etc., both inside the organization and as consultants. As a licensed professional, I have a certain credibility with those folks, and the general public, that I otherwise would not have. I do not have to rely on another professional in the organization (namely engineers) to oversee, stamp, or approve my work. My predecessors in this position were trained in landscape architecture, but were not registered. I have found that my license has raised the level of respect for my position, projects, and in some respects the entire department. Prior to taking this position, I worked for a mid-size engineering consultant as a designer and eventually a registered LA, primarily working on public projects. Since there were other landscape architects at the firm, I can’t say that my registration was critical for the work I did there, but I did gain some additional responsibilities and authority over projects once I was able to seal the plans.


    If you are eligible and are capable of passing a test and can afford to do so, just get licensed; it should not be a problem unless you have test-taking anxiety issues and/or have not been exposed to or learned much in your first few years practicing. There have been at least a few crazy-bad horror stories about the awfulness of sitting for the exam discussed at great length in this forum, although I am glad they were inconsistent with my experience. I encourage you to read those to learn from the misfortunes of others.

    Being licensed in the states in which you work opens many more doors for you by enabling you to enjoy a greater role in larger and more complex projects. As with anything there are costs: staying current on CE can be inconvenient (and expensive) if you procrastinate for 23.9 months every two years and/or your state doesn’t allow on-line CE courses; licensing fees are annoying (but small tax deductions); and your insurance increases as a result of having a greater responsibility. Depending upon your employer, you may be required to hold a license to get and/or keep your job if you are eligible. If that’s the case, your employer might cover most, if not all, of your license fees and CE expenses. I worked for somebody else when I sat for the exam; their deal was that they paid for exam expenses the first time through. After that, we were on our own to pay exam fees, travel expenses, etc… and we lived under the threat that if anybody failed the exam a third time, they would be shown the door.

    Good luck!


    I agree with Calico.  As a professional LA, you really SHOULD take the LARE and get your LA license in your home state.  Keep it up to date every year and be sure you take all of the required “continuing education courses”, that most states require.

    The LA license should help you with employment.  It will also allow you to get other state LA licenses via reciprocity…….though, a few states like California, Nevada & Florida do have their own state LA exams you need to pass to be licensed in those states.  Florida’s is very extensive.  Having a CLARB certificate makes is much easier to get other state licenses….so, I recommend you look into that.

    I worked for a Dallas LA firm for 13 yrs.  The 2 Partners never took the national exam (called the UNE back then)….so, they were not eligible to be licensed outside of The State of Texas.  But, since I had passed the UNE….and was licensed at the time in both Texas & Florida….I was eligible to get a license in ANY other state.  My 2 bosses began to pick up new design work in other states…..13 other states, so, they asked me to apply for my LA license in those states.  So, in my case, having taken the UNE (now known as the LARE) and my being an RLA, was a huge advantage.

    After leaving that Dallas LA firm in 1991 (at age 41), I decided to set up my own LA practice in the Dallas area.  My Texas LA license was still valid…and I felt it was important for me to have at least (1) State LA License to set up my own Private Practice.

    Now, very near age 64……having a State LA license is not an issue for me.  I no longer use the TITLE “Landscape Architect”…..which you can not do UNLESS you are a “Licensed LA”.  But, if I wish…..I can still design many projects using the TITLE “Landscape Designer”.

    So, again….I would definitely plan to study for, take and pass the LARE…and get an LA license in your home state…..and go from there.  It’s definitely to your advantage.


    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Denise Woolery


    I have been a landscape designer for 20 + years.  I started taking the LARE in 2007.  I passed, over the course of 4 years, 4 out of the 5 sections.  The grading and drainage section I still have not passed, after 8 attempts.  This is not only humiliating, but expensive.  I consider myself to be an intelligent woman,and I do know how to do a grading and drainage plan, having worked for two important landscape architects, but it has been years since I was in school, and the grading and drainage section has had as low as a 20% pass rate in the past in California.  That is unconscionable.  And so the deck has been stacked against my passing that particular section.  Not to mention the fact that I have terrible test anxiety, which did not help.

    When the economy tanked, I stopped trying for financial reasons, not to mention the fact that I was extremely disenchanted by the whole process.  And now, they have changed the format and I have no idea how to study for it.

    Meanwhile, I continue to be successful in the field, and have discovered that the city and the county that I live in could care less whether I am licensed or not.  I just have to sign each sheet of my plan packet, not do any details or grading and drainage, (civil engineers do this anyway for most projects, but I always check the plans and add my two cents), and be careful to call any elevations or details ‘conceptual only’.  So, there is a way around licensure.  I do wish I could finally pass it, but it has not really stopped me from continuing to be successful in my career.

    I would love to talk to someone who has attempted the new format.  Anyone out there?


    I share some of the same sentiment as denise.

    I have recently gotten around to taking and passjng the exam. I woukd suggest, especially being a new grad, for you to focus on design, design thinking, and graphic communication skills for the next few years. 

    I have found that everyones in a rush to ‘manage’ and delegate. Clients dont pay for managers, they pay for design and design drawings. You cant eat from your credentials, but youll always find work if youre really effin good at your craft.



    I would highly recommend getting in touch with CHERYL CORSON……she’s a member of LAND8.  Cheryl has an MLA degree from Harvard……and has taken the NEW version of the LARE (and passed it the 2nd time).

    Cheryl also has an on-line study program for various portions of the LARE.

    I can relate to your issues with GRADING design……it took me maybe 5 yrs. of professional practice before I really felt like I was competent in grading a site.  I can tell you, I have produced detailed grading plans for over 400+ projects in 17 different states…..flat sites, steep sites and everything in between.  HOWEVER, that being said, I have looked at LARE’s NEW computerized testing for the GRADING…and to me, it’s confusing.  I absolutely know HOW to grade ANY site…but, the LARE’s testing method for GRADING (in my opinion) is just NOT appropriate….it doesn’t work.  Regardless of the fact that I have never used autoCAD, I still just feel CLARB could re-design the LARE’s GRADING testing….to where it made sense…so, they could determine if a candidate “understood” HOW to grade a given site.  The way grading is now tested on the LARE is unnecessarily confusing…..and who knows if it’s (on purpose).  Grading has always been one of the most difficult tasks for LA’s to learn over the years.

    When I took the National LA exam (in 1977), it was called the U.N.E.  Everything was on paper.  For the GRADING test, I was given a base sheet, criteria and required to do a grading plan….simple….and I passed.  Picked up my LA licenses for BOTH Texas & Florida within 2 yrs. after I graduated from Texas A&M.

    With respect to “GRADING”….as I feel sure you know, grading design by Civil Engineers and Landscape Architect is “different”.  CE grading plans are more conceptual.  For most of my past projects, CE’s would establish FF grades, grade the parking areas and streets and do cut/fill for the site…..but, I had to do very detailed Grading Plans for sites that were 5 to 70 acres in size.

    OK……as I mentioned above, I would get in touch with CHERYL CORSON.  She would be an excellent LA to talk to about LARE’s new testing format.

    Best of Luck to You!

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Denise Woolery

    Thank you Mr Wainner!  I, too, am proficient at grading and drainage.  So it does irk me that the test has never been able to determine that.  some of the vignettes in the past required me to size underground pipe, determine soil coverage over pipe, protect view corridors, and build mounds all in the same vignette.  The likely hood of having to do this on any single job is slim to none, but I suppose it does test for skill.  They changed the test a few years ago and eliminated the pipe sizing (civils do this) but it still had a horribly low pass rate.

    I will try again, because I want the completion and because I am a darn good designer who wants the credibility that comes along with licensure.  I will get in touch with Cheryl Corson.

    Thanks again,

    Denise J Woolery

    Denise Woolery

    Thanks for your response.  I have been doing exactly what you suggest, and am know here in Santa Barbara as a darn good designer of high end residential projects. The last one I completed in March of this year was a 5 million dollar garden, with huge water works.  I designed every inch of 2 acres and then spent a year as project manager on the installation.  It was the client of a lifetime, and it is my best work to date.  I am independent so don’t have to answer to anyone, so I am quite happy with my current circumstance.  I just want to complete the long journey to licensure.  I think the LARE is a real racket, but need to get the license for some of the reasons others have mentioned in this thread. 


    Hi Denise;

    You’re more than welcome.

    Well…..I knew that what you said was the case….that you ARE proficient at grading and drainage design.  That the PROBLEM is the LARE exam. 

    For all the good it may have done (which I doubt), I wrote a personal note to CLARB and gave them my thoughts about the current LARE testing system….even though I’ve never taken the NEW LARE test…..I’ve read a LOT about it and studied the CLARB videos. I went on to tell them that I feel like they are destroying some extremely good LA careers with their very flawed testing system….that they are supposed to be working FOR Landscape Architects NOT against us.

    And your point about sizing pipes, etc…..I agree, there’s no reason to test LA’s on Civil Engineering.  I remember at Texas A&M (my Junior Yr.)….we had approx. 60 students in the LA program.  I think the “maybe”….the LA professors felt there were just too many students in the program….so, we had to take on a new project to design a “super elevation” of a street….which I’m sure you’re familiar with….like an off-ramp of a freeway.  What?  We all knew, this was ridiculous….my math was never great, but I managed to get a passing grade on that project….NO WAY they were going to discourage me from pursuing Landscape Architecture.   But, at least half (30 out of 60) switched majors due to that project. 

    Again…Good Luck to you!


    Jason T. Radice

    It depends on what kind of work you want to do. If you want to go into any kind of commercial work (not residential design) you will need a license to have the ability to stamp permit and construction drawings. If you do very high end residential, a license adds credibility, and again, you may need it to stamp submission drawings for structures and earthwork. Back to commercial, not having one will severely hamper your ability to become employed later in your career. Though you may not use it much, it is still something employers will want to see with someone over 5 years experience. It kind of shows that you are serious about your career, and generally a license can get you more salary.

    Denise Woolery

    Well the thing is, I’m self employed.  And I intend to keep it that way.  Not that I don’t really appreciate your comments, because I do, and you are right.  Commercial jobs do require a license, but residential does not. And I am definitely not interested in work where I have to be the lowest bidder to get the job.  I will not compromise my design aesthetic for a low budget. That is a different world than I am in.  I am in high end residential.  Different animal.  And a very lucrative one too.  So, I’m ok with not ever getting a commercial job.  

    What I do love is this conversation, because it reminds us all that there are many options in the field  we have chosen. All are needed and good.

    Jason T. Radice

    In some states, LAs can engineer and stamp drawings for those things, which is why they are on the test. A good number of LAs routinely size pipes and in-ground storm drainage systems, and with the current trend of designing bioswales and water infiltrations systems, it is quite lucrative for the profession to be able to design a whole stormwater management system top to bottom. Or at the very least, have the understanding of how the whole thing works.  


    Jason……while I know it’s pretty common for CE’s to produce Planting Plans & for LAs to produce detailed Grading Plans………I’m not so sure that LA’s are permitted to cross over into certain design areas of “Civil Engineering”.

    Here in Texas……CE’s and LA’s have been battling back and forth “legally” over which profession has the authority to design what.  Yes, some CE firms have LA’s onboard, but some don’t…and they just crank out lame Planting Plans and have no idea what they’re doing.

    Detailed Grading Plans are totally within an LA’s scope of services.

    I actually haven’t even heard of LA firms who really have the expertise to design full blown stormwater management systems…..even if I could, I’m not sure I would want the “liability”.

    Which reminds me….LA’s should NOT be designing anything “structural” either…..especially “retaining walls”.  I realize that we are all taught HOW to design a variety of structural elements at the University level….but, when you get into designing retaining walls, docks @ lakes, heavy duty arbors, etc., you’re inviting a potential “law suit”.  Designing the “aesthetics” of these elements would be wiser (with zero structural design input or notes)…just place a note on the plans that state “All Structural Design shall be by a Licensed Structural Engineer”.

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