While there are many different landscape architect jobs, all typically stem from three program types: those leading to certificates, undergraduate degrees, and graduate degrees. Certificate programs often have the lowest thresholds for admission, but also tend to lead to the lowest paying jobs. Most of the top positions in landscape architecture require graduate degrees. Graduate programs are typically the most demanding, both in terms of prerequisites and actual learning. Many different universities offer landscape architect programs in one or all three of these categories, depending on demand and faculty expertise.
Graduate-level landscape architect programs are some of the most common. These provide intensive architect training and prepare students to transition directly into landscape design, either on their own or in career-track positions in established firms. Coursework is a big part of the curriculum in these programs. Research and independent hands-on projects are usually the most distinguishing characteristics, though.
Most graduate degrees require some form of independent research, often in the form of a thesis or dissertation. Landscape architect programs often use a major landscape design project to fulfill this requirement. Graduate students often engage in actual landscape design somewhere in their community, acting as site planner at every step from basic lot development all the way to site completion and walk-through. Projects usually align with the student’s interests, and can span the range from urban planning and urban design to home landscaping, environmental restoration, or corporate campus planning. The quality and skill shown in the project often determines whether or not students graduate, but it also serves as a valuable portfolio piece to show prospective employers.
Undergraduate landscape architect programs are usually based more on foundational knowledge and prepare students to enter the field at the entry level. Most of the learning in these types of programs are book-based and focus on the science and aesthetics of site planning. Students learn competing design theories, critically evaluate different patterns and proposals, and learn the fundamental principles of plant choice, sizing, and spacing. An undergraduate degree is usually all that is required to begin work with a firm, and is sometimes a prerequisite to graduate programs, as well.
Landscape architect programs leading to certificates are similar, but are often shorter and require fewer prerequisites. Students can often enter these programs straight out of high school, and total course time is commonly as little as two years. Certificate programs are also popular amongst people who have an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field, but who want to explore landscape architecture as a possible career shift. Getting a certificate does not require either the financial or time commitment of a degree, but usually will still qualify someone to perform basic work in the field.
Most schools offer relatively uniform education, no matter their specific program type. Tailoring this education to a certain kind of landscape architecture is usually up to the student. Just the same, certain landscape architecture programs have different strengths. Some of this has to do with where schools are located — downtown universities often have an emphasis on urban planning or city park layouts, for instance — but a lot is also dictated by the strengths and interests of the faculty, as well as the sorts of affiliations a school has with local employers or internship providers.