Because of the intense studio design and observation necessary to learn landscape architecture, distance learning degree programs in this field are relatively uncommon - though it is possible to find a fully online program. More commonly, schools, particularly four-year universities, may offer select landscape architecture courses online through their continuing education departments. Such programs are not adequate for earning professional credentials in the field, however.
A very small number of online degree programs are available in landscape architecture that leads to a Bachelor of Fine Arts or Masters of Fine Arts. Available at private institutions, these programs often combine distance-learning classes with on-site professional practice experiences; some BFA programs may be fully online. Students may be required to complete internships or capstone projects. The fine arts bachelor's programs typically take four years to finish while those at the master's level commonly require three to four years to complete.
Accreditation & Licensure Considerations
Though they may have some of the same coursework, fine arts programs do not award the degrees typically earned by professional landscape architects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of states require individuals in this field to obtain licensure (www.bls.gov). While requirements vary, this often involves earning a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture or a Master of Landscape Architecture accredited by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). As of May 2014, ASLA has not awarded accreditation to any fine arts degree programs in this field.
Programs by Degree Level
While accredited degree programs that meet licensing standards are not available totally online, some schools may provide a selection of required or elective courses through distance learning education. In addition, colleges and universities offering bachelor's programs may provide a large number of general education courses online, which could reduce the amount of campus-based attendance. In such cases, students can access lectures, assignments, tests and various learning aids through their schools' online course management systems, which also offer tools for interaction between classmates and instructors.
Bachelor of Landscape Architecture
Unlike most other bachelor's degree programs, undergraduate landscape architecture programs are usually five years in length, with the average course of study consisting largely of courses in landscape design and environmental science. In addition, many undergraduate landscape architecture programs culminate in internships or capstone projects that give students the chance to practice their skills in real-life situations. Bachelor's degree programs in landscape architecture may include the following:
- Design studio
- Environmental site analysis
- City planning
- Landscape construction
Master of Landscape Architecture I
Two types of Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) degrees exist. The first type, MLA I, is for students with bachelor's degrees unrelated to landscape architecture. MLA I degree programs take three or more years for full-time students to complete; the program's length is partially attributable to the undergraduate landscape architecture coursework that students must take before progressing to graduate-level courses. Most MLA I degree programs require each student to complete a thesis paper about a landscape architecture topic of interest. Coursework may include the following:
- Landform design
- Communication in design
- Site engineering
- Ecological design
Master of Landscape Architecture II
A MLA II is a post-professional degree intended for students who have already completed 5-year bachelor's programs in landscape architecture. The curriculum of a MLA II degree program is similar to the later years of the MLA I curriculum; in fact, some schools combine the two programs in the final year of the MLA II program. Because MLA II students have already learned much of the content covered in MLA I programs, MLA II degree programs are significantly shorter, often 1.5 years in length, than MLA I degree programs.
Doctor of Philosophy in Landscape Architecture
A doctorate in landscape architecture is the highest level of education one can achieve in the field. Doctoral programs in landscape architecture take at least three years to complete, with some students taking as much as six years to complete the necessary coursework and dissertation. Ph.D. students are not required to have master's degrees in landscape architecture; however, an MLA degree can result in the waiver of as much as one-third of the required credits. While much of a doctoral program in landscape architecture is dedicated to the research and formulation of a dissertation, students must also complete several traditional courses, some of which may include the following:
- Landscape architecture research
- Design theory
- Cultural design issues
- Landscape architecture history
While there are only a few schools that offer fully online landscape architecture degree programs, it is possible to find hybrid Bachelor of Fine Arts or Master of Fine Arts programs in the field. These programs offer a combination of online courses and on-campus labs or on-site experiences.