To become a licensed landscape architect, one needs to complete either a bachelor's or master's professional degree program in landscape architecture. Students interested in research and academics may pursue non-professional degrees in the area of landscape architecture, and can do so at the master's or Ph.D. level.
Creative portfolios are often required for admittance into professional degree programs. Time spent can vary between two and five years, depending on the program and the student's prior experience.
Professional Bachelor Degree Programs in Landscape Architecture
Students interested in architectural landscaping can choose from two professional bachelor's degrees in the field - the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) or the Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA). Both require 4-5 years to complete.
The curriculum draws from design, architecture, horticulture, construction and the social sciences. Students learn to assess both the natural environment and the needs of those that will use the space in order to create outdoor design plans. Topics include:
- Ecology and environmental issues
- History of landscape design
- Urban spaces
- Plants, shrubs, trees and other planting materials
- Drafting, Design theory
- Site planning and construction
Professional Master's Degree Programs in Landscape Architecture
Two types of professional Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) programs are currently on offer. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), first-professional MLA programs are designed for students with an undergraduate degree in an area outside of landscape architecture; second-professional degree programs are for students with an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture. The former may take up to three years to complete while the latter typically can be completed within two years.
Students participate in classroom discussions, lectures and studio experiences. Many master's degree programs require a thesis or research and design project. Coursework includes:
- Landscape design theories
- Urban design
- Site planning
- Design technology
Non-Professional Master's Degree Programs in Landscape Architecture
Those interested in research careers or non-licensed positions in the area of landscape architecture may choose to pursue Master of Arts or Master of Science degrees in landscape architecture. These programs have not been designed to prepare students for licensure; rather, they focus on research and a specialty area of interest. Some programs have been designed for students who have completed professional landscape architecture degrees and now wish to focus on specialty areas. Other programs are designed for students from other disciplines who seek basic understanding of landscape architecture principles to assist them within their own fields.
Most programs admit students with bachelor's degrees from any academic area. Some programs require students to have completed coursework in areas such as biology, geology, psychology, drafting and architectural history.
Programs are often somewhat flexible, allowing graduate students to pursue research in areas of interest. The curriculum focuses on research and a thesis project is typically required. Courses might include:
- Research methodology
- Issues in landscape architecture
- Regional landscapes
- Cultural interpretations of landscape
- Plant materials, Landscape design
- Design technology
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Ph.D. Programs in Landscape Architecture
Ph.D. programs in this field are aimed at students interested in research and academic careers. Many programs are multidisciplinary, combining landscape architecture with general architecture, urban planning or another related area. To gain entry to Ph.D. programs, students must hold undergraduate degrees and prove their ability and intention in pursuing the degree.
Programs are typically tailored to the goals of the individual doctoral student. Students choose areas of interest and select courses and research projects that best help them explore these areas. Most programs require dissertations. Topics include:
- Research methodology
- Social and cultural factors of landscape architecture
- History of landscape architecture
- Theories of landscape architecture
- Technology in landscape architecture
- Environmental issues
Popular Career Options
According to ASLA, landscape architects find employment with a variety of organizations in private and public sectors. Private organizations might include architectural firms, residential development firms, and privately owned estates and gardens. Public organizations include local and state municipal agencies and Federal agencies, such as the National Parks Service or Bureau of Land Management.
Master of Science or Master of Arts degrees in this field prepare students for careers that are more research focused. Research positions might be found at private or public agencies concerned with urban planning or environmental issues. Students who complete a non-professional degree might also pursue careers in related areas that don't require practitioners to be licensed, such as regional planning, resource management, land conservation or historic restoration.
Salary Information and Employment Outlook
Employment for landscape architects is expected to grow 5%, which is as fast as average, during the period from 2014 through 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Median salaries for landscape architects were $63,810 annually, as of 2015.
Many students pursue a Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture with the intent of pursuing an academic or research career at a post-secondary institution. The BLS predicts average job growth at 13% for all post-secondary teachers during the years 2014 through 2024. The median annual salary for post-secondary teachers in the area of architecture was $73,920 in 2015.
Many states require students to complete programs accredited by the American Society of Landscape Architects in order to obtain a license. To become licensed, aspiring landscape architects must hold a degree from an accredited school, meet the state-specified experience requirements, and pass the national Landscape Architect Registration Examination (LARE). Most states require landscape architects to participate in continuing education programs to maintain licensure.
Students interested in landscape architecture can choose to become professionals, researchers or teachers, and there are programs designed for each of those goals ranging from bachelor's to doctoral degrees.