Last October, at the 2011 ASLA Annual Meeting in San Diego, I attended an education session entitled “Nontraditional Careers for Landscape Architects”.

I thought, at the time, that it would be an interesting session to attend because I, too, fit into that category, as a landscape architect who works for an environmental planning firm.

In times like these when jobs are difficult to find, it is important for us, as professionals, to expand our horizons and make ourselves more marketable by capitalizing on our qualities and improving our opportunities.

By diversifying, we not only make ourselves more attractive to potential employers, but we may also learn some things that will benefit us in our careers.

Being active with the state ASLA chapter, we work very closely with the student chapter at the local university.

I have found that I frequently encounter students who, as they near graduation, start seeking career advice and wonder if they should pursue an advanced degree in hopes that the job market will be better in a few years.

Many are aware that the competition for jobs is very tough, and because they lack experience, they are at a severe disadvantage.

While many ponder the possibility of an advanced degree, I sometimes caution against that. I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, let me say that I almost always advise a person considering more schooling to analyze all options, including non-traditional careers related to the industry, and here’s why.

First, consider the investment of both time and money. Advanced degrees are not inexpensive. Every year, tuition usually increases, and since most programs require a semester of study abroad, that adds to the cost of an advanced degree.

While the travel is appealing and the experience is worth considering, is the return on investment quickly realized?

The harsh reality of the situation is that once a person graduates with a master’s degree, he is now competing for entry-level positions against those who don’t have the financial obligations that accompany an advanced degree.

Before you get too discouraged, though, let’s look at some other options that might be available to you as a landscape architect, shall we?


I mention this first because this is where my own experience lies. I started working as an environmental planner almost four years ago. There was a bit of a learning curve making the transition, but it wasn’t very difficult.

The firm I work for prepares environmental reports for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), including Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA). Our firm specializes in power- and transmission-line projects, but there are other types of projects as well, including, for example, transportation and mining.

Freelance writer:

This is something I also enjoy and wish I had more time to explore. If you like to write, this is something I highly recommend.

There are numerous magazines, websites, and blogs related to the landscape architecture industry, and editors are always looking for new material.

Become the local expert on every exciting and innovative project in your area. Research the designers and interview them, learn as much about their design philosophy and the challenges they faced with the project, seek permission to photograph the project, and, finally, write an article about it.

Once you’ve prepared a few articles, start contacting different publications and pitching your writing and ideas for future projects to the editors.

Depending on the effort you invest, this can be somewhat lucrative, and it is a great way to build your reputation and get your name out there for other people to see.

Industry supplier representative:

There are a myriad of companies that support our industry, including seeds, trees, playground equipment, site furnishings, and planters.

Becoming a local representative in your area for any of these vendors is a great way to learn about the business, see how these products are used in the field, and gain exposure to many of the firms in your region.

This is a great way to network with other professionals in your area, and could one day lead to a possible design job with a firm.

While these are just a few ideas that I have come up with, I hope that I’ve given you some food for thought today. I know that hunting for a job in this market is not easy.

While I’ve only touched on a few alternative careers for landscape architects, I would like to know if you have any other ideas. If you do, and you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or even an email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great weekend!

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on Twitter at @CDGLA or email: