Becoming a Landscape Architect: Job Description & Salary Info

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A landscape architect's mean salary is around $70,000, but is it worth the education and licensure requirements? Read real job descriptions and see the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a landscape architect is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Landscape Architect

A career creating parks, gardens or other recreational areas as a landscape architect could be a good fit for you if you have an eye for design and an appreciation for the natural environment. But before making your choice, read the following list of pros and cons to learn more.

Pros of Becoming a Landscape Architect
High pay (average salary of around $70,000 as of May 2014)*
Creating an environment to be enjoyed by others can be personally rewarding**
Can work on a variety of design projects (including golf courses, wildlife refuges and gardens)**
Promotional opportunities available with experience (such as project manager and firm partner or associate)***
Self-employment opportunities (around 24% of landscape architects work for themselves)*

Cons of Becoming a Landscape Architect
Education and training requirements for licensure can take at least seven years to complete*
Schedule can include 50-hour workweeks*
Working under project deadlines can be stressful*
Keen competition expected for jobs at prestigious firms*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Society of Landscape Architects, ***ISEEK.

Career Information

Job Description

Parks, playgrounds, university campuses, golf courses and gardens are all designed by landscape architects. If you choose to pursue this career, you'll work to create areas that are functional as well as visually pleasing. You might specialize in a specific type of area like, for instance, waterfronts or shopping centers.

Some of the tasks performed by professionals in this field include estimating construction costs and working with clients to determine a project's budget. You'll also be responsible for figuring out where trees, flowers and other flora are placed in relation to sidewalks, roads or buildings.

Once a design idea has been approved, you might oversee project construction as well. You could also work alongside engineers and city planners to ensure projects are completed safely, efficiently and in a manner that doesn't harm the environment. Ensuring that design specifications meet federal and local regulations will also be up to you.

Salary and Job Outlook Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that landscape architects made an average annual income of just under $70,000 as of May 2014. Among the top-paying industries for landscape architects were amusement and recreation industries, local governments and the federal executive branch. Professionals working in these sectors earned average salaries of around $98,000, $87,000 and $85,000, respectively.

A 14% increase in employment opportunities was projected for these professionals between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. This was due in part to an increasing desire to build new structures or renovate old ones to make them environmentally friendly.

Training and Licensure Requirements

Education

A bachelor's degree in landscape architecture is typically the minimum educational requirement for a job in this field. Courses in these programs, which take 4-5 years, cover topics like regional design, site design, plant ecosystems, geology and soil science. Programs also include field experiences or design projects in the final years of study.

In some cases, employers want landscape architects with a master's degree. These programs are available to students with a bachelor's degree in another field as well as to those who've already earned a professional landscape architecture degree as an undergraduate.

State Licensing

If you want to work as a landscape architect for an employer other than the federal government, you'll need a license. While requirements can differ from one state to the next, they typically include passing scores on the 2-part Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards' Landscape Architect Registration Examination. Another typical requirement is three years of work experience under a licensed landscape architect in addition to a degree from a university approved by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board.

What Employers Are Looking for

In addition to project management experience, excellent communication skills are a must for landscape architects since you'll need to relay project details to both clients and other design team members. Employers also stress familiarity with computer-aided drafting (CAD) and 3D-modeling software such as AutoCAD, MicroStation, Google SketchUp and Adobe Creative Suite. You might also need anywhere from 3-8 years of experience. Take a look at the following March 2012 sample job posts to learn more:

  • An architectural firm in Atlanta, Georgia, is looking for a licensed landscape architect with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) professional credential and experience in the public sector. Applicants will also need at least eight years of experience.
  • A Maryland civil engineering firm specializing in land development wants a landscape architect with a bachelor's degree and experience in feasibility studies and site layout.
  • A landscape and hardscape contractor in Kansas seeks a landscape architect with experience in such areas as the installation of decks, patios and drainage solutions. Applicants with at least three years of experience are preferred.
  • A California design corporation specializing in the development of recreational sites is looking for a licensed landscape architect with strong drawing skills. Applicants will also need an undergraduate degree and a minimum of five years of experience.
  • A licensed landscape architect is needed in an Indianapolis engineering consulting firm. Minimum requirements include a bachelor's or master's degree and five years of experience. Construction drawing and cost estimating skills are also a must.

How to Stand Out

According to the BLS, you can get a jump on your competitors by completing an internship. These opportunities are often available during your undergraduate or graduate degree program and will prepare you to take on entry-level job duties with less employer training.

The BLS explains that getting a strong grasp on the technical skills needed for this career can also set you apart from other applicants. You might consider taking courses to develop your knowledge of CAD and geographic information system (GIS) technologies while you're in school. Other helpful courses could include those that cover topics in environmental regulations and urban planning.

Alternative Careers to Consider

Architect

If you'd rather work solely on buildings, you might consider becoming a regular architect instead of a landscape architect. You'll still need to earn a professional bachelor's or master's degree in architecture and complete three years of supervised training to meet state licensing requirements. However, you might earn more as an architect; the BLS reported that these professionals made about $79,000 a year, on average, as of May 2011. Prospects for a career in this field are also expected to be more favorable than those for landscape architects, with a projected job increase of 24% from 2010-2020.

Urban or Regional Planner

If you like the idea of working with the built environment but you'd rather focus on how architecture can be used to improve community members' lives, you might want to look into becoming an urban or regional planner. These professionals attempt to meet an area's needs by coming up with new zoning regulations or suggesting locations for such infrastructure as parks and roads. You'll need to invest more time in your education to prepare for a career in this field; most positions require a master's degree. Yet, you might still earn roughly the same as a landscape architect. The average annual salary of an urban and regional planner was about $67,000 as of May 2011, per the BLS. A job increase of 16% has been projected for this profession from 2010-2020, which is the same percentage as for landscape architects.

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