Time to Panic? -> LAM March 2011: “Leaping Into What?”

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Time to Panic? -> LAM March 2011: “Leaping Into What?”

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    Jessyca Frederick

    I’m a few weeks away from finishing the second year of my four-year LA program and last night when I looked at the cover of my shiny new LAM, I saw this article about the bleak outlook for LA recent grads and current students. Highlights include:

    • “We are concerned about a lost generation of designers.”
    • “I had the feeling we were being taken advantage of, and that was disheartening.”
    • “…a growing number of desperate graduates are going after student internship-level positions, instead of entry-level ones, to keep their careers on track in a slumping economy.”

    Naturally, I had a little freak out. With two years left of school and then a necessary two years of entry-level work ahead of me on the road to licensure, I’m more than a little concerned about my prospects when I finish school.


    Unlike some of my classmates and those poor undergrads who have nothing to fall back on, I have back-up options… that I’m loathe to use because I really want to be a Landscape Architect. Here are my choices:

    1. Should I stay on track and plan to be unemployed for a while after I finish school? How does that affect my employability when the market does turn around?
    2. Should I drop out of school and go back to ecommerce for a while? Then restart the program when the economy has recovered and I have a chance of employment upon finishing school?

    I’d love to hear anyone and everyone’s perspective on the internship/entry-level situation, when it resolves, and any advice for this particular freaked-out student.


    Thanks so much!


    I can only tell you, after being in the field for sixteen years now, that Landscape Architecture is 100% market driven, from residential design to large developer work. Unless you work for a municipality, there MAY be some more job all security. As with most things, as great as LA is, this is the curse that dogs the profession. This recession so far, has seemed to be particularly cruel as the opportunities are slim, and employers keep “waiting” the market to rebound. Many other occupations

    related to real estate have also been suffering. In our lives, there may be no hiding from a down market, bit I will be interested in seeing how this one recovers. I hope this ‘event’ is a red herring. We shall see…. 

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Hard to say… I graduated in 08′ at the top of my class but I’ve been unemployed for basically 2 of the last 3 years. I still value my education. It was a transformative experience that literally changed the way I view the world and gave me the skills to express my ideas, whether it be a landscape design or a new invention. I truly believe that a well trained landscape architect can do anything… graphic design, architecture, industrial design, environmental engineering, product development… on and on… Unfortunately other professions don’t understand what we can do. They all like to see the specific degree… maybe they are just protecting their own.

    I don’t know what to tell you. I guess it comes down to money. If you can afford to invest in a great educational experience and are not worried about paying student loans and supporting yourself after school, then go for it. If you do need to support yourself and pay loans then look into something else.

    Knowing what I know now, would I do it again? No. No way. I’d have to be an idiot to do it over… I put myself $35k in debt and spent close to twice that getting my degree. Now I feel like it’s basically useless. I didn’t work when I was in school because I lived in the studio. I wanted to be the best I could be and thought it would pay off in the end. Well, now I’m stuck with a load of debt and no job prospects. Not fun. I’d much rather have no debt, $65k in the bank and be working a job that is not my passion but that pays the bills. 

    I don’t know what profession has good prospects but Landscape Architecture is not it and won’t be recovering any time soon. If I were you, and this was my first degree, I’d change gears now before you’re stuck with a load of debt and no job. Good luck…  


    mark foster

     No one can predict next month, let alone two years from now. If you switch to another degree course, will you be any better at “timing the market” two years from then?  

    The only real question:  What does “really want” mean? 

    Mike Mitchell

    If you want to make money and have job security don’t bother with Landscape Architecture as a career. 


    Electrical Engineers make a ton of cash and are in heavy demand. We all need energy and where it comes from (generation) and where it goes (Transmission and distribution) is a huge market. Utility companies hold billions of dollars and will never loose money. 


    If you’re willing to roll the dice and hope that things will “turn around” I wish you the best. If you want to make a good living I’d suggest a different career path.



    Jessyca Frederick

    “Really want” is definitely hard to define. I feel like Landscape Architecture is the thing I was meant to do and I just figured it out a little later than others. I left a lucrative career as an ecommerce exec to go back to school to do this. I want to do this, but not if it means forever struggling financially and being frustrated about not finding work for years after I graduate… there’s a common sense factor in there somewhere, no?

    Jessyca Frederick

    I’m not sure that making money is the goal (I expected a 2/3 salary cut), but being able to get a job is on my list of must-haves for a new career. Four years of school is a big commitment and an investment of time and money. To not have any job prospects at the end of that four years is pretty sucky, especially since I need a job in order to get licensed and practice on my own some day.

    Jessyca Frederick

    I can handle ups and downs in a market… I’m super concerned about not being able to get in if the time between when I finish school and when there is demand is too long. Will I fall through the cracks or will I be able to get a job eventually?

    Jessyca Frederick

    Oof. I’m sorry this is what you’re experiencing.


    I guess we all get into things that appeal to us. Money becomes a factor when the work stops. Otherwise, we would all go after an MBA degree. (Which has in fact has occurred, to an effect). This particular down economy has caused almost everybody to question their chosen field, and has magnified the instability of landscape architecture. It just seems deeper.

    In the past, I think all of us got some kind response to our resumes.

    These days, for many if us, it seems like the employers never even look at them, and probably dont, because they could wallpaper the building with them.

    I do see ALOT of banks and pharmacies being built lately in central NJ. Whats up with that? Any kind of construction may be a good sign….

    Matt Sprouse

    I think having a year or two left in school is a good position to be in, rather than graduating this spring.  The prospects of new work increases almost weekly, and the phone is beginning to ring more than it has in over 12 months.  I graduated in ’95, and I thought that was a hard time to find an entry-level position.  I started in a civil engineering and surveying office with one landscape architect because the bigger design firms weren’t hiring.  These days, I would suggest looking at ANY peripherally related job to landscape architecture.  About a year ago, I sat in on a 5th year student’s final review who had great work.  When I asked if she had any job prospects after school, she started to cry and said ‘yes’ – that she would be working in her hometown’s extension service.  She was embarrassed to admit that she had a job that was not directly in LA.  I say find anything you can that will give you either public sector, horticultural, or technical experience.  Go hold a surveying rod and learn how that part of the design world works.  It is survival mode right now, and any job counts as far as I’m concerned.  If you are entering the profession now, you have PLENTY of time to grow your career.  Hell, most design-related professionals work into their 70’s anyway in private practice.  


    As for the comment about employers wallpapering their offices with resumes – I can say many come through, but the ones that grab our attention and get filed away are the ones who call, stop by, and actually make human contact.  The blind emails of 20mb (please don’t do that) portfolios usually don’t get opened.  Do your research on a firm before you send info.  PLEASE get their names and firm names correct, and have a well-written, profession cover letter.  No cutesy stuff.  


    I dont’ want to give a false sense of hope, but if the trend continues, then work is coming back, albeit slowly.  


    Also, I think having a backup trade or career path is a good move for anyone.  Hindsight – I wish I had had that.


    This is my 12th year in the profession and there’s been plenty of highs and lows! From what I’ve seen in the U.S. economy as a whole, recessions come in cycles every 10 to 15 years. The economy will pick up again before you graduate in 2 years and then, it will have another recession in a decade or less. As a student, you have to really ask yourself, do you have the passion to be a landscape architect? Are you okay with a so-so salary? Honestly, I’ve made more money in 12 years investing (on the side!!) in the stock market than being in this profession as a landscape architect and now a planner. I actually started out as an architecture student and made the switch, because I preferred to design outdoor spaces. If you have the passion to stay and make it work, it can be a rewarding career. When you are involved in a project from start to finish…design it on paper as part of a team, then be there when actual construction is complete. It can be a great, personal moment. If you’re not 100% certain of landscape architecture, you need to change majors ASAP and save yourself the heartache later.


    I would strongly advice any student to acquire some specialized skills, like urban planning, GIS or environmental planning. It allows more employment opportunities. People here wrote about the negative side of this profession being so closely tied to construction industry and all are true. But, if you get those specialized skills I mentioned, you can ride out any storm. Just being a residential designer isn’t going to cut it for the long term. During the height of the recession, I recall seeing all these environmentally related job openings in federal and state levels. And remember that getting a job offer isn’t about having the best portfolio…it’s about best fitting in with the firm or group.


    Good luck out there, most of all have some freakin serious FUN while in school. Stop with the constant worries! One day per week of worry is enough. You never know when it’s time for each of us to go 6 feet under. Know what I mean, jellybean? Aloha!  

    Heather Smith


    Gulp. Here is what I think. If you are taking loans out to go to school but you can go back to your old job. I would definitely go back to your old job. If you can pay your way through school slowly…do that. There is no rush. My husband graduated in 2008 and myself in 2009…both with the same degrees. No jobs here…no wait, we are self employed…essentially design/build he is now licensed and was able to be because we live in Idaho and employment isn’t necessary to sit for the exams. Honestly, the last couple of days have just been mentally brutal…I feel like we will never “make it”.  Let us know if that e commerce business needs another employee!

    You sound like a really practical person…you are absolutely correct in your assessment of the profession right now. There is a serious backlog of unhired entry level landscape architecture graduates. I am feeling like Thomas somewhat and was talking to my mom on the phone tonight. Yes, even crying about it like someone mentioned another graduate was. I feel like we invested the time and effort into something that when we started offered at least the opportunity for work. Student loans become due. We have children to feed. Three years later…it is really hard not to question everything and feel like a failure.

    mark foster

    Responding to a thread about career crisis and unemployment with stock tips?!!  What are you thinking?   


    Thank you for stating it so clearly Matt.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  I have recently put the word out that our firm is looking to fill an entry level position, and although it would be working with the civil engineers in our firm it is a foot in the door.  What do I get? No response.  


    If you want to be a landscape architect be the best darn one you can be.  You might have to endure twists and turns along the way but that is okay.   

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