Need help deciding which college for undergrad

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums EDUCATION Need help deciding which college for undergrad

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    Hi, I’m currently a high school senior and am deciding whether to go to UC Berkeley or Cal Poly SLO for landscape architecture. From my understanding, it would take fewer years to get a professional degree and license at SLO, and for Berkeley, since the program is unaccredited, it would be better for me to get a master’s. The problem is I’m not 100% sure I want to be a landscape architect, and so Cal’s program is appealing to me since I feel like it will give me more opportunities to explore, but I’m also thinking that it would probably be safer to go to Cal Poly’s accredited program. Any suggestions? How important is licensure and accreditation for future employment? And will getting a master’s in landscape architecture be beneficial for me or does it not really matter? Any insight into the programs at SLO or Cal would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you so much!


    Hello Audrey;

    First….I think it would be VERY important to do a lot of research on the Landscape Architecture profession.  GOOGLE it….learn what it’s all about.  Look at the courses required in the University that are required for an LA degree.

    Understand…that Landscape Architecture is an intense profession.  It requires a person to be artistic, creative, loves to draw, sketch and design.  The University courses, IMO, are more intense than most majors…longer hours.  I remember being up at the LA studio many nights drawing until Midnight.

    I have to admit….I’m “conservative”, so, I would never have personally even considered UC Berkley.  But, my understanding about CAL POLY is that it’s pretty much “neutral”.  Plus, it’s closer to where you live and IMO, a much better location for a University than up in Berkley.

    I understand Cal Poly’s LA undergraduate LA program is a 5 yr. program…not sure Berkley even has an accredited undergraduate program…you’d have to get an MLA @ Berkley.  And, to me, an accredited undergraduate program is a much BETTER decision…an MLA just isn’t necessary.  “Experience” working for a good LA firm would do be much more helpful to your design career than an MLA. I read am article on-line just last night…that had Cal Poly’s LA undergrad program listed at #3 in the Nation….so, it has to be a great program.

    My B.S.L.A. degree @ Texas A&M was a 4 yr. degree, not a 5 yr. degree.  IMO, 5 yrs. is 1 yr. too many, but, it seems most LA undergraduate programs are going with 5 yrs. these days.

    Also note, that there are several “Computer Software Design Programs” you will need to learn to be successful as a Landscape Architect.  So, if you’re not into computers OR if you’re not into drawing….this is NOT the profession you will want to pursue.

    You might be interested to learn….that the LA profession has many more women than there were, say, 30 yrs. ago.  The LA profession used to be dominated by men, but no longer.  I believe, now, approx. 50% of the LAs in the U.S. are female.

    I can say from my own personal experience, Landscape Architecture has been a fantastic career…..but, as I mentioned, it’s pretty intense and time consuming.  It’s just not a typical 9 to 5 type job.  

    So, the best advise I can give you is do a LOT of “research” on the LA profession.  Look at several professional Landscape Architectural Firm’s Web Sites on-line….that will help give you a pretty good idea of the types of projects that LAs design.


    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Ben Holmes

    My two cents is to go somewhere that is going to prepare you to be the type of Landscape Architect you want to be.  I was naive to this when I went to school.  I went to Oregon and they were heavier in the research side of the profession.  I have colleagues that went to Georgia that was more focused construction and on passing the licensure exam.

    If you see yourself being someone who gets real projects built and you want to be part of the construction documents not just the big ideas then go somewhere that will teach you those skills.


    Hi Bob,

    Thank you for replying! I had already done some research on landscape architecture, and am currently job shadowing/interning under a landscape architect. I’ve always enjoyed art and design, and that’s what had attracted me to the profession in the first place.

    From my job shadowing experience, I guess I became unsure if the profession was for me because it wasn’t quite like what I had expected and different from the usual designing I’m used to.

    And actually, Berkeley is closer to where I live (about an hour away), but distance is not a major problem for me, and neither is Berkeley’s political reputation.

    I’ll try to research even more on the different projects landscape architects design, since I don’t think I’m getting the full picture during my job shadowing sessions.




    Hi Ben,

    I think that’s very good advice. The two schools I’m considering have very different approaches to landscape architecture and I guess I’m still trying to find out what it is I want to do.

    Thank you for reaching out.




    Hi Audrey;

    I was looking at BOTH…..Cal Poly & U.C. Berkley’s LA courses (degree programs).  I see that Berkley’s first LA degree program is a 3 yr. MLA program…with approx. 84 units req’d.  The 3rd year looks like mostly “research”.  In contrast, Cal Poly’s B.S. in Landscape Architecture is a 5 yr. undergrad program (219 units of Landscape Architecture courses & 48 units of other general academic courses).  

    IMO….regardless of the politics or even location…..if I were doing it all over again, and were living in California…..I think I’d be leaning towards Cal Poly.  I looked at all of their LA courses….looks very comprehensive.

    I’m a native Californian….born in Long Beach back in 1949.  But, my family moved to Oklahoma a few yrs. after I was born…then, to Dallas when I was 9.  So, though I have visited various areas of California…I never made it to San Luis Obispo.  Every thing I read about that community seems very appealing…esp. when you compare it to the San Francisco or LA areas.  I’ve been here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for most of my life & my LA career…and can definitely see studying in San Luis Obispo a major plus.  But, the education of the degree program, I know, has to be your primary concern.

    Cost of Living isn’t really low anywhere in California…..when compared to many other U.S. states…but, I would think the costs of living up at U.C. Berkley would be too high.  I didn’t look at the “tuition” costs for either program.  Seems that 5 yrs. would be a lot of tuition….but, what I was seeing was just a “better” education in the Cal Poly situation.

    I realize that many U.S. University LA programs have been getting more into “green energy”, “sustainability design issues”, etc…..and some of that type of education is fine and probably necessary in today’s world….but, there are other more important “design issues” that IMO should be focused on in these LA programs.  As I mentioned before…, creativity, sketching, plant science courses, graphic design, computer drawing software programs, business courses.  As far as math courses go, throughout my LA career, it was useful to me in preparing detailed site grading plans and cost estimates…that’s about it.  

    When you look on-line at various LA Firm’s Design Portfolios…’ll probably notice that some firms “specialize” in certain types of projects.  Some focus on only “high-end residential”…..some are all about “multi-family communities”…..others design many large scale International projects…..some design a wide variety of projects.  Also, LA firms come in many various sizes…..very small, medium size (5 to 40)….some with over 100 LAs.  I was once offered a Senior LA position with Belt Collins’ Hong Kong, China’s branch office…but, they had over 120 LAs…and it was overseas, so, I decided to turn their kind offer down and remain in the States.  So, researching LA firms on-line should teach you a lot about what’s going on in our profession.

    The fact that you have always enjoyed “art & design” is a major plus here.  IMO, the LA profession has become a bit too “computerized”, but, that’s just the way it is.  Still, we can’t lose site of the importance of the “design – drawing – graphic” aspects of what we do as LAs.

    Take Care!


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