People interested in science, technology, engineering and math who also have an eye for design and function may want to consider a major in landscape architecture.
What Landscape Architects Do
Landscape architects work in various disciplines, from private practice to government agencies. These professionals might work on a small-scale residential project or institutional landscape design, such as for hospitals or university campuses. Others might be employed by a firm hired to help create a new residential community, or to design parks, zoos, urban waterfronts or golf courses.
“A lot of people take our work for granted,” says Kona Gray, the incoming president-elect of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a principal at EDSA Incorporated in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “But everything around the buildings and between the buildings is designed by landscape architects. There’s a landscape you occupy every day. Landscape architects are responsible for the stewardship and design of those spaces. A building occupies a certain space. But the landscape occupies far more.”
The median pay for landscape architects is about $73,000 per year, according to 2022 data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The profession requires licensure; while each state maintains its own requirements, typically candidates hold a bachelor’s or master’s degrees in landscape architecture, have passed the Landscape Architect Registration Examination and have work experience in the field.
There are 100 landscape architecture programs offered at 74 universities around the U.S., according to the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board, including 47 undergraduate and 53 graduate programs. More than 5,800 students are enrolled in the programs, with more women represented – 55% of students – than men.
Coursework for Landscape Architecture Majors
At The Pennsylvania State University, nearly 60 first-year students joined the major this fall. They applied directly to the program, which is typical in the U.S., says Roxi Thoren, department head and professor of landscape architecture at Penn State College of Arts and Architecture.
Students hear about the program in different ways, she says. Many have relatives who are landscape architects; others enter a university program as an architecture major.
“They look to the side and say: ‘Wait!’ I want to design with earth and water and plants!’ Students get excited about that,” Thoren says.
Thoren, who works with the LAAB, says undergraduate programs are generally four to five years, which typically depends on whether some form of internship, practicum or study abroad is required. For the bachelor’s of landscape architecture program at Penn State, internships aren’t required but a study abroad program is.
One popular destination to study cutting-edge sustainability work, she says, is Bonn, Germany. “It’s really amazing work with urban renewal, renovation of industrial sites, urban flooding resilience and green roofs.”
The Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University—Baton Rouge has about 130 undergraduate and 20 graduate students. BLA students are either direct admit or can transfer from another program.
Travel has been a cornerstone of the LSU program since the 1960’s, says Haley Blakeman, the school’s associate director. Upperclassmen are expected to attend a weeklong field trip, and in 2023 students went to Boston, Portland and New York City.
Coursework includes classes on design and history of design, and a technology series that focuses in part on materials and landforms, Blakeman says. The undergraduate program takes five years and students take a semester-long paid internship during their fourth year.
“We find it incredibly helpful when they come back to school because they have a new skill set once they return,” Blakeman says. “They understand the context of their academic work.”
Another benefit of the internships, she says, is that “a lot of those firms offer them jobs.” Job placement for graduates, she says, is close to 100%.
What You Can Do With a Landscape Architecture Major
Landscape architecture students, Thoren says, might tackle real-world environmental challenges such as designing for fire- or drought-prone areas, or for extreme heat. They also consider design with psychology in mind, such as creating a park where women feel safe after dark or where parents feel comfortable bringing their children.
At Penn State, the design studio is the core of the curriculum. Students also take courses in plant ecology and learn about storm water and grading and drainage.
Blakeman, a professional landscape architect who practiced for two decades before entering academia, was drawn to the career because of the creativity and problem-solving involved.
“I do a lot of work in coastal adaptation,” she says. “It’s happening so quickly here (in Louisiana). How do we help protect the coastline for the people who live there? And where do they go when it’s time to leave? How do we make sure those destination communities are able to accept them and provide a good quality of life?”
Well-designed spaces bring people together, says Blakeman. For students, the major is “all about problem solving, learning how to talk to community members, and using the design skills they’re trained with to come up with solutions.”
STEM Designation Is Paramount
Landscape architecture was recently designated a STEM degree program by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. International students with F-1 visas whose degrees are on the STEM-designated list may be able to extend their stays in the U.S.
The STEM designation is paramount, says Thoren. “The DHS recognized the work around climate change, global immigration, population accommodation and global urbanization is incredibly important to ensure resilience.”
The ASLA notes the designation will open up funding for scholarships, research and higher enrollments at U.S. institutions.
“This solidifies the importance of the profession,” Gray says. “Landscape architecture is a multibillion-dollar industry that is underestimated. The general public gets confused about what we do. We are not gardeners or landscapers. We are part of a larger ecosystem, and we are critical.”
Schools Offering a Landscape Architecture Major
Here are 16 other examples of U.S. universities that offer degrees in landscape architecture accredited by the LAAB:
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