Landscape designers and landscape architects plan gardens, parks, walkways and other outdoor areas for residential or commercial projects. Although some people use the titles synonymously, landscape designers usually have less formal education than landscape architects. Landscape designers usually need about two years of formal study. After acquiring experience or a higher degree, landscape designers can take national exams and advance to certification as landscape architects.
High School Preparation
If you plan to pursue a career in landscape design, take chemistry, biology, art, physics, math and design classes in high school. Also take business communications and English courses, since many landscape designers are self-employed. Get practical experience by working in a landscape maintenance business or for a landscaping contractor.
The shortest program of post-secondary preparation for a landscape designer is usually a two-year certificate or associate degree program. You can find classes online, at vocational schools and in community colleges. Sample studies include plant design, horticulture, site analysis, project design, construction methods and AutoCAD, a computer design program.
After completing a two-year program, obtain an entry-level job with a nursery, design firm or a landscaping contractor. If you plan to advance to landscape architect in the future, you generally must have experience working under a licensed landscape architect, depending on the laws in your state. Most states also allow you to take the licensing exam without a formal degree in the subject, but they require more work experience.
Bachelor's or Master's Degree
If you want to advance to landscape architect, the best preparation is a bachelor's or master's degree in landscape architecture. A bachelor's program requires four to five years total study. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another subject, you can usually get a master of landscape architecture, an MLA, in three years. The master's degree takes two years after a bachelor's in landscape architecture. Sample classes include landscape ecology, regional planning, plant science, geology, landscape design and surveying.
In most states, an accredited degree plus one to four years' work experience will prepare you to take the Landscape Architect Registration Examination from the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards. This two-part test includes a multiple-choice portion plus a graphic design section. Each state has its own requirements, and some states require their own examination for licensing in addition. State tests generally cover topics such as state environmental laws and state plants and climate.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for landscape architects will increase much faster than for most occupations, by about 20 percent between 2008 and 2018. Increased concern for the environment, coupled with redevelopment and rising land costs should improve the prospects for landscape architects. Applicants with practical experience, urban planning experience and strong computer and technical skills will have the best chances for employment.