What's the R.O.I. on a LA liscensure?

Home Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE What's the R.O.I. on a LA liscensure?

This topic contains 6 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Garulay, RLA 2 weeks, 5 days ago.

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
  • Author
  • #3546137


    I’m finding it difficult to understand the return on investment for a professional license.

    Most of the information I find is inconsistent. . . some firms require a license to
    become a Project Manager — others don’t, some offer pay raises with licensure — others’ don’t, some will pay for it, some won’t. Most people at my firm were licensed at some point but haven’t kept up with the classes and fees.

    There seems to be a consensus that I’ll learn the profession with experience and that passing the test is mostly for the title, some job security (maybe), and some knowledge.
    I’m with a good company now but have no interest in having a long-term career in LA. And I have no interest in paying out-of-pocket for a license when that same money could be invested in a tax-advantaged account and compound for 30 years.

    Do you think a license shows that I’m “committed” and therefore puts me in the pipeline for promotions and raises?

    Would you recommend licensure for someone that will exit the profession the next 3-10 years?


    Leslie B Wagle

    You don’t say how far you are from having the components of getting a license. Is the “good company” one that will fulfill the experience requirements? You profile says professional but is your degree specifically LA? If there are more courses you need to take or you need to make an employment move or finish the exam, those are hurdles to consider. But if you only need to send in an application and a check, that is different.

    The part about not wanting to stay in the field is a bit of a puzzle. If you already know that, why be in it for 3-10 more years of postponing a start in another field? At any rate, licensing shows seriousness and is mostly suitable for people with a desire/passion and committment to almost a way of life. It also allows you to start your own practice with the title if you want to keep that option. Alone or in a bigger office, some people do well in the financial sense and others have to live modestly depending on the market they chose or find themselves in. (That could be true for anything). Since no one can read your future but it’s a safe bet that indifference doesn’t help…then on a financial basis alone, I’ll speculate that it’s not essential in your case.


    Mark Di Lucido

    You mention staying in the profession for three to ten years, yet your investment in a “tax-advantaged account” is for 30 years. Which is it? Any ROI scenario will vary greatly depending on your investment horizon. It will also vary depending on your disposable income which is in-turn dependent on what you bring to the table, the firm’s market size, how business savvy the firm is, specific needs of the firm (are you the only registrant there), the health of the economy, inflation rate, etc., so there’s no easy, accurate answer to your question. That said, a wild-ass guess for the earnings per year in 2018 a registrant can expect to make over and above a non-registrant might be at a minimum, $5,000. If you invested this amount instead of your “out-of-pocket” (exam costs) into pre-tax vehicles you’d earn a larger return over three years, a much larger return over 10 years, and an order-of-magnitude return over 30 years.

    In my 25 years of experience, registrants have always been paid more than non-registrants—all other talents and experiences being equal. However, being licensed doesn’t necessarily mean you’re “committed”, or for that matter that you’re a talented and hard worker. Or that you’re “in the pipeline for promotions and raises”. It means you’re probably a good test taker, you’re minimally qualified in the eyes of your state licensing board to practice landscape architecture, and that at one point in your life you were committed to professional improvement and the additional pay and opportunity licensure brings.

    Keep in mind that even if you stay in the profession for only three years, there are other kinds of ‘return’ on your investment: sense of accomplishment, a lot more time on the sharp-end (design and management) of projects, junkets to other cities for marketing and continuing education, etc. And when/if your “good company” becomes not-so good, being able to be hired at other firms more easily (as the saying goes, “sh** happens”), is important. There’s also the professional flexibility licensure brings. When the economy tanked, and trust me it will again, some LAs stayed afloat by designing commercial/municipal projects on their own. These types of projects require licensure


    To the comment maker on June 25, the added value from a recent national survey is $17,000 per year on average more with a license compared to none. My bias is as a volunteer organizer and instructor of LARE live prep sessions in US and Canada. My prep sessions already served 2,000+ active LARE candidates, during past 10 years in 2 to 9 sessions a year. My 2 LARE prep books on Section 1 content in the marketplace since 2005 and 2007 helped a considerable number of LARE candidates become licensed. Yes, I can verify the value of licensing within first 3 to 10 years of my own career and also directly from a few I’ve helped to pass LARE since 2005. For example, in the mid west US in 2013-2014, one candidate with a MLA degree worked for a landscape design-build-maintenance company experienced an 18% immediate salary increase (approx. $10K / year increase) upon passing all sections of LARE, to compare to a tax advantaged 30 years of compounded earnings. Many 30 year investment accounts can average 12% annually net after tax and fees and yours might. The 12% after-tax salary increase for the one candidate in 1 year working followed spreading exam prep and taking over 2 years, passing each section on first attempt. The $5,000 per year added income with a license is common, agreeing with Mark Di Lucido’s comment on July 11. To summarize, costs for LARE prep materials and taking the exam can be $6K to $10K+ range for a candidate well-prepared to pass each LARE section in only 1 attempt. Live prep sessions plus the right prep books help LARE candidates understand their own needs, makes passing the entire exam efficient and realistic for a “one & done” successful approach to each section. Total cost of licensure in the range $6K to $10K+ spent over 1 or 2 years, following content in my prep session, my 2 books, ASLA & CLARB recommendations would result in $5K to $17K average annual income advantage after licensed. The 1 example above confirms a full cost payback within 3 years (1 year working after spending for 2 years prepping and passing entire exam while also working) along with qualitative advantages outlined in Mark Di Lucido’s comments. Finally, a half dozen cross over professionals (licensed CPA, lawyer, realtor) enrolled in my LARE prep sessions during past 5 years suggest adding a landscape architecture license has good intrinsic and financial performance value in the next 3 to 10 years ahead – – Go for it !



    Thanks everybody for the excellent feedback. I especially appreciate Matt giving me some real numbers.
    Say I get a $5000 pay increase and invest that @ 12% for 30 years. . . that’s $1.3 million. $17k would be $4.5 million.
    Seems like a no-brainer.

    Anyways, I’m going to put together a study plan.


    Martin Arredondo

    I was a cad technician (when in reality a solid site designer and project manager) before I took the exam based on the experience option. I have made more money as a cad technician than as a licensed LA. The money went down. I haven’t gotten back to where I was and I haven’t had a raise in about a decade. I know plenty of people who make far more than I do doing construction jobs, car sales, bartender, retail sales, you name it. I have friends who are set to retire millionaires because they take part in their ESPP at work for example. If you don’t want to do landscape architecture then I would say the money isn’t as important as your TIME. You can’t put a price on 10 yrs of your life. Find what you want to do now and get out.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I think that too many people expect that the license will determine their worth almost like a set pay grade. I don’t see that at all. It is very much a free market profession – licensed or not. You have to fill a niche that people value enough to pay you over anyone else. One office or client type may value your skill set tremendously while others have different needs and value them very little.

    This profession is too diverse to have any standard value. Individuals within it are just as diverse with their skill sets. The key things are to develop your skill set, know what you are good at and not good at, study and understand your market so that you can find where you can be valued within it.

    The fact that it is a diverse profession means that if you look hard enough you can find where you fit. If you just accept the text book version of the profession you can waste half your career working against yourself by trying to fit into a position where you are disadvantaged like a round peg in a square hole. It may well be that more effort should be placed at finding the square hole that already exists rather than competing to fit into the round hole.

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Lost Password