Value of a Planning Degree for a Landscape Architect

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums STORY BOARD Value of a Planning Degree for a Landscape Architect

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    Winston Mitchell

    I am a student about to graduate with a Masters of Urban Planning, and I hold a bachelors of Landscape Architecture. I am trying to figure out how to come up with a baseline for salary expectations, as the two fields are so closely related. I have been interning this summer with a large private engineering firm in the design and planning division, and one of the best aspects of the firm is the ability to work on both Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning projects.
    My problem is I am unsure what kind of salary I should be aiming for. From all the data I have seen, entry level positions with a masters of Landscape Architecture are about $7,000 to $8,000 greater than entry level positions with just a bachelors. I will have a masters, but it is not in Landscape Architecture. Starting salaries with a masters of Urban Planning are about on par with bachelors of Landscape Architecture, but since they are closely related, I don’t know whether I should try to shoot for a salary similar to an entry level MLA with my MUP, or whether I have essentially gotten a masters degree that has no value in terms of negotiating salary.
    The issue is even murkier because the two full time planners in the Landscape Architecture group have bachelors of Landscape Architecture, even though they work as planners now. Does anybody have any advice or insight?


    Your degree doesnt/shouldnt matter, your skill set does. Ive always thought it was silly how some firms base salaries on a candidates degree. I would try to find salary data for your specific location. Base your expectations on where you believe you stand in terms of marketable skills–can you draw, do you have local code memorized, are you a business developer, etc?



    I wrote you a rather lengthy comment on your other question…about “entry level” salaries in the Dallas, Texas area.

    I wouldn’t focus on the fact that you may have a MASTERs degree.  Design firms are more interested in whether or not you have any “experience”.  Is your Portfolio “outstanding”?  Can you sketch?  What computer drawing skills do you have.

    A graduate with an undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture (who has a stronger design portfolio) than you have  and/or has some solid experience…will have an edge over you, regardless of the fact that you have a Master’s Degree.

    You’re focusing too much on $$$$$$.

    Just my Opinion.

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner


    Are you applying for an entry-level la position or planning position in this company?

    If you can tell them how your advance degree is a benefit and how it applies to the position you’re applying for, then you can ask for more than someone who just holds a bachelors.


    Ida………..I tend to disagree with you a bit here.

    I just don’t believe the Owner’s of a majority of LA firms will offer more $$$ just because an LA also has a Master’s Degree.  In this economy and with so much competition among LA grads seeking jobs, Employers will most likely hire LA grads who (might have some experience, outstanding portfolios, who have strong computer skills)…and who are not demanding unreasonable salaries. LA firms are really watching their bottom lines these days.

    It’s SO important that young LA grads get “experience”…any experience they can get will go a long way in getting their LA careers off the ground….open new doors for them. 

    When an LA grad goes to a job interview……they definitely should NOT discuss “salary, benefits, vacation time, etc.)….I would suggest LA grads just do a great interview and wait for “the offer”.  Then, discuss that “offer” with the employer.  But, the important thing is….to just get in the door and learn.  Be a sponge and learn everything from the other LA’s onboard who are talented and who have several years of experience. 

    I fully understand that the “salary” is a must have….but, new LA grads should not be focused on that issue at this stage of their design careers. If an LA has to live with their parents for a period of time, live with a couple of roommates….in order to keep their living costs low…that would allow LA grads to maybe land a descent LA job…..maybe one that doesn’t quite pay what you “hoped” for as a starting salary.  Still a very difficult economy…need to think outside the box in an effort to get an LA career started these days.


    Just got back from a state APA conference in Dallas this morning.  One of the sessions yesterday talked about private vs. public sector.  Two of the respected, older planners both said you probably have to wait until you are a manager, in either a private sector firm or a public agency, before you start making decent money.  I tend to agree, and I am just starting to get into that role, nine years in, having started my career in the middle of last decade before the downturn.  


    This doesn’t surprise me at all.

    For Winston….I looked again at’s JOB LINK section.  Saw an Entry Level job, but, it was in Santa Clara, California.  This job is actually for an autoCad draftsperson.  LA degree req’d. 0-4 years of experience. Salary range:  40k to 45k.

    Now, here is where I was going with respect to the “location” of a job.  Let’s compare Santa Clara, Calif. with Dallas, Texas (cost of living)…as this will absolutely effect your salary.  Calif. has a State Income Tax, Texas does not.  Santa Clara’s apt. rents are 127% higher than those in Dallas – you’re probably looking at $1,500.00 per mo. for a one bedroom apt. in Santa Clara. Grocery costs are 29% higher in Santa Clara. Gasoline is 15% higher. 

    I just think it’s very important to seriously “research” the city & state where you are job seeking.  Understand the cost of living, it’s not difficult to fine on-line.

    But, bottom line for ALL Landscape Architect graduates….getting “experience” in an LA firm is very critical.  Most entry level positions involve a lot of autoCad and busy work…but, being in that environment…working along side talented and experienced LA’s will greatly benefit you.  Also, be aware that you will be watched those first 6 to 12 months, so, act accordingly……or, you could find yourself, job seeking once again.

    Winston Mitchell

    Thanks for all the info everyone, I really appreciate the feedback. It helps to get outside thoughts and perspectives when thinking about major decisions like career planning!

    Mr. Wainner, thanks so much for the response in the other post I had regarding Dallas as well as the responses here. I sent you a “friend request so I could send a message to ask a few other questions.

    One of the things that has made this process confusing is I do feel like I have a much better perspective of Landscape Architecture than a typical new graduate because of my planning background. The planning has emphasized many things that I did not get as a design major, including a lot of work pulling together reports, research, organizational and governmental processes, (especially with regards to zoning and land use law). So I feel that I am more rounded than a typical new grad (I have also had a graduate assistantship in the University’s Urban Design Studio, which has been a lot of work facilitating community planning discussions, helping to coordinate tactical urbanism events, and even preliminary design/rendering for neighborhood pocket park plans). But at the same time, my only real work in the private realm of landscape architecture has been my 2 summer internships, so I know that I basically am going to be in “sponge mode” to absorb knowledge for a long while yet.

       My internship this past summer was fantastic because it was both landscape architecture and urban/city planning, I am hoping to find a position that allows me to use both aspects (maybe land planning is the way to go). I do understand that experience is much more important than salary at this point, but at the same time I feel I have other skills beyond just design and rendering/sketching, I’m just not sure if thats something that makes me more valuable than any other fresh graduates or not.

    Thanks all for the input, I do appreciate the feedback!

    Also, I do think cost of living has been a wrench to deal with as well. Dallas rents are VERY high compared to Louisville, and from what I have heard and seen from others, often times the wage differences between large cities are not enough to make up for the much higher living costs. This is especially true of Louisville, which has a very low cost of living, but also has much less career upside than a more economically vibrant place like Dallas or Atlanta


    I agree with you there. I don’t know the full story of Winston’s background so I just gave him a broad suggestion on how he may be able to use his degree to help himself out better financially. Maybe it makes him a better la, maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know, that’s up to him to figure out and communicate that with the employer. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask for more money.

    I agree that students shouldn’t focus on the salary, but hopefully employers are not taking advantage of the bad economy and influx of grads who are desperate and willing to work long hours so they can eat rice and beans.

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