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Thread: Entry level with geography BA, is it even possible?

  1. #1
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    Entry level with geography BA, is it even possible?

    Well like countless others I'm a recent grad looking to get my foot in the door so to speak. My concern is that I see many unemployed with fairly specific and high end credentials, while my experience and schooling is quite generalized (BA in geography, non-planning related internships with fed government). I'm particularly interested in transportation consulting. At this point in my life, going back to school isn't financially viable. Part of me feels like I'm wasting my time even trying because I can't sell myself as a GIS expert, engineer, architect, etc. One of my internships was overseas at a US Embassy, and I've traveled quite a bit, so I try to play up some sort of international perspective, but I doubt it's very influential. Planning related internships are a possibility now, but it's quite difficult to find one that will hire someone that is NOT a student, and can accommodate my current working hours. I've done a bit of networking, but again, without specific credentials it's hard to even get noticed. I'm not here to mope, but I'm just wondering if there's others out there in a similar boat as me with any recent success? I'm nearing a crossroads and I'm wondering if I should pursue different fields to at least gain other experience that may be marketable in the future.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by talktobrent View post
    Well like countless others I'm a recent grad looking to get my foot in the door so to speak. My concern is that I see many unemployed with fairly specific and high end credentials, while my experience and schooling is quite generalized (BA in geography, non-planning related internships with fed government). I'm particularly interested in transportation consulting. At this point in my life, going back to school isn't financially viable. Part of me feels like I'm wasting my time even trying because I can't sell myself as a GIS expert, engineer, architect, etc. One of my internships was overseas at a US Embassy, and I've traveled quite a bit, so I try to play up some sort of international perspective, but I doubt it's very influential. Planning related internships are a possibility now, but it's quite difficult to find one that will hire someone that is NOT a student, and can accommodate my current working hours. I've done a bit of networking, but again, without specific credentials it's hard to even get noticed. I'm not here to mope, but I'm just wondering if there's others out there in a similar boat as me with any recent success? I'm nearing a crossroads and I'm wondering if I should pursue different fields to at least gain other experience that may be marketable in the future.
    Like I say to all the others just like you out there, how well do you know your drinks? I'd like an Arnold Palmer, please.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally posted by talktobrent View post
    Well like countless others I'm a recent grad looking to get my foot in the door so to speak. My concern is that I see many unemployed with fairly specific and high end credentials, while my experience and schooling is quite generalized (BA in geography, non-planning related internships with fed government). I'm particularly interested in transportation consulting. At this point in my life, going back to school isn't financially viable. Part of me feels like I'm wasting my time even trying because I can't sell myself as a GIS expert, engineer, architect, etc. One of my internships was overseas at a US Embassy, and I've traveled quite a bit, so I try to play up some sort of international perspective, but I doubt it's very influential. Planning related internships are a possibility now, but it's quite difficult to find one that will hire someone that is NOT a student, and can accommodate my current working hours. I've done a bit of networking, but again, without specific credentials it's hard to even get noticed. I'm not here to mope, but I'm just wondering if there's others out there in a similar boat as me with any recent success? I'm nearing a crossroads and I'm wondering if I should pursue different fields to at least gain other experience that may be marketable in the future.
    Dont worry about your lack of planning ed.. experience trumps education.. find a place that looks interesting and ask them if they need any help. Go to professional meetings, if your young the old dudes will just start talking to you and give you some advise (maybe even a job if they have one and like you). Keep all your options open, including planning.. I work with quite a few non-planning degree planners (Environmental, Geo...) and they are doing just fine. Intl is an option too. I have two friends who recently moved to Dubai to work as transportation planners (well paid!). Good luck

  4. #4
    The answers, once you distill them down, are always the same:

    Planning Jab Market Facts


    1. Yes, the planning professions is in the shitter. Very few jobs. Much competition. Bad everywhere. Low wages. Low advancement opportunity. Blah blah blah. Many of these observations are either more positive or negative than they need to be. I err on the side of negativity, because it's better to be safe than sorry, and I'm just telling you things that I wish someone would have told me going into this.

    2. Feel free to try to get a planning job knowing Rule 1. Can anyone guarantee that you will find a job? Certainly not, but only you can make the final judgment call on whether to try doing so. Many opinions about your stupidity or smartness on whatever decision you want to make.

    3. Can your geography/urban studies/basket-weaving/art therapy degree qualify you for a planning job? Depends, mainly on a) your experience, b) how well fitted you are to the job, c) and how well you interview. I'm convinced that people who have good experience (not necessarily directly applicable experience, but that which is valuable) and who interview well can make up for the lack of a planning degree. Of course, that assumes your resume hasn't been discarded, and the lack of the proper degree is a likely criterion for that.

    4. Since the planning profession does seem to be in the shitter, what other fields can you go into? Depends on your interests. There are dozens and dozens of fields related to planning. You can go back to school and learn more math and science, and get into any one of the many environmental or structural fields, such as engineering, hydrology, archeology, etc. Or, you can learn more technical skills, like GIS analysis. Be forewarned, though, that many of these professions are as much tied to the construction industry as planning is, and therefore may also be suffering.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I'd suggest looking into planning departments in small towns and rural areas, assuming you're open to relocating and living in a place like that. They generally seem to be more open about their degree requirements for planners, though the pay is probably less than what you'd get in a larger city. Of course there are very few jobs out there, and there's a lot of competition, but you'll probably have a better chance at a job like that than at a private firm or large metro government. It would also give you the chance to build up some experience to make the next job easier to get.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Planning is a field in which a degree in a closely related, like geography or public administration, is considered equal to a degree in planning. College planning department snad some people with planning degrees may want to disagree, but it is true. To be honest, the best planners I know tend to have degrees in other fields, and the best one I have hired have had geography degrees.

    Unfortunately, you have three issues to overcome. You do not have experience, you only have a bachelors degree, and the market for planners is exceptionally bad now and for the foreseeable future. Take another look at grad school, even if it is part time. Enhancing your qualifications while waiting for the hiring picture to improve is a sound strategy. If that is still not an option, then you need to search out the less desirable jobs and locations, where you will not find as much competition. Think rural. Think non-profit. Think limited-term and grant-funded. These jobs may not pay well and may not be in a location you love, but if you can put in a couple years, you can move on from there.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Planning is a field in which a degree in a closely related, like geography or public administration, is considered equal to a degree in planning. College planning department snad some people with planning degrees may want to disagree, but it is true. To be honest, the best planners I know tend to have degrees in other fields, and the best one I have hired have had geography degrees.

    Unfortunately, you have three issues to overcome. You do not have experience, you only have a bachelors degree, and the market for planners is exceptionally bad now and for the foreseeable future. Take another look at grad school, even if it is part time. Enhancing your qualifications while waiting for the hiring picture to improve is a sound strategy. If that is still not an option, then you need to search out the less desirable jobs and locations, where you will not find as much competition. Think rural. Think non-profit. Think limited-term and grant-funded. These jobs may not pay well and may not be in a location you love, but if you can put in a couple years, you can move on from there.
    I will have to agree with what others have said here. I have a B.S. in Geography, with an emphasis in planning and G.I.S. While in college I completed an internship in that city's public works dept and primarily worked with their assistant director of public works and their city planner. One of my college professor's had done extensive work with them and arranged the internship for me.

    When I first graduated I was primarily looking for a job in the planning field. These jobs were few and far between and often required relocating a long distance, which wasn't an option for me. I began to look for any job that was half-way related to planning, G.I.S., etc. I gained invaluable experience in a variety of areas during this internship and it ultimately helped me land my first job, which I've had for about 2 years now. This job is with a smaller community of about 30k. I have a wide range of responsibilities and duties, including G.I.S work, CAD design, Stormwater inspections/management and construction inspection. Depending on my designated duties' demands, I also assist our city planner. I've considered going to back to school and working towards a grad degree, but for now will see how this job and its possible advancement opportunities pan out.

    I basically did as others have suggested, found a job in a smaller community. While I was job hunting, there was a planning job opening in a larger city(~300k) and there were over 100 applicants. There were 7 for my job. The pay also isn't far from what was being offered in the larger city. With my job having such varied responsibilities, I've gained quite a bit of experience and knowledge and also learned what areas I enjoy more than others.

    Sorry for the long-winded response, and good luck!

  8. #8
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    If you are up for moving way south, you can find a planning job in Texas with a BA in Geography. Most entry-level planners here have those (or similar) credentials. I do/did when I started 4 years ago. Several friends did. My boss did. Etc. The only caveat is that you will eventually hit a ceiling, either instituted on you from higher ups or from within you due to lack of specialized knowledge. Most folks will go get an advanced degree in order to advance and feel comfortable with the added responsibilities. Some locations even offer planning programs (UT Arlington) or development-management geography degrees (Texas State) that can be completed part-time (there's always the part-time MPA option, as well) for folks not wanting to take time away from their career to complete a graduate degree. I also believe UT Arlington also has a distance program for their MPA - my 2nd level supervisor completed the UT-Arlington MPA program through distance learning.

  9. #9
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    Hmmm...I have to disagree with some. I have a BS in Geography from a non-planning state university. I have held planning related positions (public and private) in California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Louisiana with no issues regarding my education. Of course, over time I have built up significant (20 years) experience and am now a County level Planning Dept. Manager.

    My advice: take any entry level position and make it your own. Ask for more responsibility, volunteer to do work that others don't want, try to play a role in larger complex projects (even if it's a small role). Build a niche for yourself and develop both general skills as well as some specific expertise. Think historic preservation, economic development, sustainability, transportation, parks/trails/recreation planning, cultural/archeological resources, natural resources, environmental planning, advance/future planning, design/autocad/GIS, permit processing, entitlement navigation, grant writing, public speaking, workshop/charrette facilitator, consensus builder, and on and on.

    Best of luck to you!

  10. #10
    So you got your first planning job with a BS in geography 20 years ago, and that's why you think it should be no problem for this person to do so today? Sorry, but the educational expectations and job market of today are completely different, even from as little as 5 years ago, not even touching 20 years ago. Not to say that it's impossible, I am just highly skeptical of your perspective.

    Quote Originally posted by Fracturbian View post
    Hmmm...I have to disagree with some. I have a BS in Geography from a non-planning state university. I have held planning related positions (public and private) in California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Louisiana with no issues regarding my education. Of course, over time I have built up significant (20 years) experience and am now a County level Planning Dept. Manager.

    My advice: take any entry level position and make it your own. Ask for more responsibility, volunteer to do work that others don't want, try to play a role in larger complex projects (even if it's a small role). Build a niche for yourself and develop both general skills as well as some specific expertise. Think historic preservation, economic development, sustainability, transportation, parks/trails/recreation planning, cultural/archeological resources, natural resources, environmental planning, advance/future planning, design/autocad/GIS, permit processing, entitlement navigation, grant writing, public speaking, workshop/charrette facilitator, consensus builder, and on and on.

    Best of luck to you!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    So you got your first planning job with a BS in geography 20 years ago, and that's why you think it should be no problem for this person to do so today? Sorry, but the educational expectations and job market of today are completely different, even from as little as 5 years ago, not even touching 20 years ago. Not to say that it's impossible, I am just highly skeptical of your perspective.
    Yes, many of us received our degrees 20 years ago... and are now the people hiring recent grads. So I think our perspective may not be that far off.
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  12. #12
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    Thanks for all the feedback, nothing too surprising here. Considering some of the advice on school, I thought it be interesting to pose a question that might get me some flack, but I'm curious on what people think. Basically I feel like school is a zero sum game at this point. Every next degree is just a rat race that puts you at square one with the rest of the saturated job pool, and 2,3,4 years later you're right back to where you were before in terms of the job market. Yes, you gained skills and knowledge but institutional higher education isn't the only way to do that. Between the time, costs, and stress, I see too much risk and opportunity-cost in returning to school. In other words, I feel it could be time better spent just trying to get in at the bottom in some capacity, and making myself available for any opportunities that arise from there (whether it be networking, additional responsibilities, or a different path altogether). I pose this thought because most people I know are on the "more school" bandwagon as of late, but I'm obviously skeptical if it's a sustainable trend for the average person. Right now I am fortunate in that I'm in the running for a local journalism (urban issues related) gig that would at least build me some credentials that could be relevant in multiple disciplines.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Yes, many of us received our degrees 20 years ago... and are now the people hiring recent grads. So I think our perspective may not be that far off.
    Are you hiring people with bachelor geography degrees?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Are you hiring people with bachelor geography degrees?
    Sure - they are the unpaid interns doing the city's GIS upgrade and remapping.

    [/slight exaggeration]

  15. #15
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    So you got your first planning job with a BS in geography 20 years ago, and that's why you think it should be no problem for this person to do so today? Sorry, but the educational expectations and job market of today are completely different, even from as little as 5 years ago, not even touching 20 years ago. Not to say that it's impossible, I am just highly skeptical of your perspective.
    I agree with this statement completely. Our field really was a baby 20 years ago. It didn't even hit "mainstream" until around 2000 when US News & World Report started naming it a "Best Job". The expectations are greater when more people want to join the club.

    I would say that getting into the field in 2005 was the height of entry level jobs, with the housing boom creating most permitting, plans, etc. jobs. Today we don't have those low level jobs that help build skill sets in planning. I don't think we should probably ever have those again (as we don't need to build large scale new construction homes for 5 years at least in most parts of the country).

    It is going to be tough for entry level planners for years. It is going to be extremely tough for anyone without a planning degree - be it an undergrad or master's. I think that we will see less and less geography degrees, even though it is a backbone of what we do. As our field gets more defined, so will the degree requirements. Just my $0.02.
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  16. #16
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by talktobrent View post
    Between the time, costs, and stress, I see too much risk and opportunity-cost in returning to school. In other words, I feel it could be time better spent just trying to get in at the bottom in some capacity, and making myself available for any opportunities that arise from there (whether it be networking, additional responsibilities, or a different path altogether). I pose this thought because most people I know are on the "more school" bandwagon as of late
    Look, one could argue that there is nothing wrong with going back to school, but here's how I look at it.

    1.) If you're a twenty-something, do you really know what your career goals are at this point? Like me, you probably have an idea, but really don't know where you will wind up. Getting the grad degree is only going to further solidify the path you're taking, which will only make it harder if you end up wanting to switch directions.

    2.) Can you even afford the debt of taking on a masters degree? Cyburbia has shown quite a bit of evidence that a masters degree does not mean you get an automatic job, let alone one that pays a high enough wage for the debt you have accrued.

    3.) Why does everyone in our age group feel the need to get a masters right after undergrad? Because we have zero patience and expect to have an amazing job right out of school. It doesn't make us bad people, just gullible.

    The point is, reality has to sink in at some point. Better for it to sink in at 20k in debt instead of 80k, right? IMO, you run far less of a risk by getting a job now (even if it's a crappy job) and doing whatever you can to increase your marketability. The economy stinks right now. You gotta do what you gotta do. It isn't impossible to get a planning job, it's just really really difficult no matter what your degree is.
    Last edited by HomerJ; 24 May 2011 at 10:45 AM.
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  17. #17
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Are you hiring people with bachelor geography degrees?
    I have done so twice times, also a landscape architecture degree and two public administration degrees and a planning degree. The other hires I have made have had masters degrees, and one of those had an undergrad in geography. But I have not hired anyone since the recession began. I will disagree with Hink as well, in that I do not believe a planning degree will be necessary. Perhaps it will carry more weight in a position with a heavy focus on development review, but other in planning functions it does not mean much. Personally, I value the broader persepctive usually provided by a geography degree, or perhaps one in economics or public administration. My company is focused on economic development, market research, special area plans, and business consulting. The research capabilities of a geography or economics major often outweigh those of a planning major, in my experience.

    I do believe there is greater value in a masters degree. For you, personally, it will open more doors and allow you to move up faster within an organization. To me as an employer, it is an indication that you are capable of more complex research and analysis, with less need for supervision.
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  18. #18
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I have done so twice times, also a landscape architecture degree and two public administration degrees and a planning degree. The other hires I have made have had masters degrees, and one of those had an undergrad in geography. But I have not hired anyone since the recession began. I will disagree with Hink as well, in that I do not believe a planning degree will be necessary. Perhaps it will carry more weight in a position with a heavy focus on development review, but other in planning functions it does not mean much. Personally, I value the broader persepctive usually provided by a geography degree, or perhaps one in economics or public administration. My company is focused on economic development, market research, special area plans, and business consulting. The research capabilities of a geography or economics major often outweigh those of a planning major, in my experience.

    I do believe there is greater value in a masters degree. For you, personally, it will open more doors and allow you to move up faster within an organization. To me as an employer, it is an indication that you are capable of more complex research and analysis, with less need for supervision.
    Ok, so of course, you, from a company that doesn't do planning, wouldn't think there's any advantage in a planning degree over a geography degree. I'm here to tell you that in the planning world, there is an advantage. The planning market is saturated with well-qualified people with actual planning degrees. If you're not actually doing planning, its understandable that you don't care as much about the specific degree.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Ok, so of course, you, from a company that doesn't do planning, wouldn't think there's any advantage in a planning degree over a geography degree. I'm here to tell you that in the planning world, there is an advantage. The planning market is saturated with well-qualified people with actual planning degrees. If you're not actually doing planning, its understandable that you don't care as much about the specific degree.
    Doesn't do planning? Hmmm...

    Most of what we do is planning. It just isn't development review or entitlements.
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  20. #20
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post


    But I have not hired anyone since the recession began.


    [emphasis added]
    Just pulled that out to return OT for the OP, to contextualize.

    Pushing paper around in development review is one thing, analysis for long-range planning is another. This is a private firm's recent, interesting work in another place, but likely with similar contracts as Cardinal's firm. No permitting. No development review. Some of this kind of work is done by governments if they have the staff and budget for it, but more often than not this is privatized. IMHO.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Ok, so of course, you, from a company that doesn't do planning, wouldn't think there's any advantage in a planning degree over a geography degree. I'm here to tell you that in the planning world, there is an advantage. The planning market is saturated with well-qualified people with actual planning degrees. If you're not actually doing planning, its understandable that you don't care as much about the specific degree.
    Woah! Cardinal does planning work and has extensive experience. We discussed teaming up several years ago when I still worked in Illinois. I don't think that someone with a planning degree is necessarily more or less qualified than someone with a geography degree. I have worked with more than my fair share of MUPs who were just terrible. I did far more landscape architecture at my first job even though I had a BUP. I taught an AICP workshop to two very smart women in their 50s who had extensive code enforcement/current planning experience but had only an associates degree (and yes, you can still take the AICP exam in this case but you need 8 years of professional planning experience).

    As for hiring or not hiring there is no rule. I have done independent contract work with (2) one-man start-up planning and design practices. They hire when it's the right time FOR THEM.
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  22. #22
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    Im in a similar situation to the op, does the same grim outlook apply to the job outlook in Canada, specifically BC?

  23. #23
    Then it's agreed. There is no disadvantage in having a geography degree as opposed to a planning degree in getting a planning job.


  24. #24
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    same issues

    I have a B.A in geography , B.A in sociology and a A.S in political science ... i have been working in customer service, property management( my families business) and as socio therapist at a center for trouble youth ,but my true passion is in planning and development . That is what i want to do. I looked around for a wile after graduation but i didnít see anything in my area. So i took the job at the youth center (got to pay the bills ok job as well). At this point i want to get back in the game and Iím willing to go anywhere unlike in the past... any suggestions or ideas

    Young and ambitious

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Kingmak's avatar
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    Just for what its worth. I have a BA in geography (urban and regional systems) with a minor in sociology. I also just completed a MS in environmental planning. I was recently hired as an entry-level planner with a city government. Can you get an entry-level planning job with just a geography BA? Perhaps. But an advanced degree and/or practical experience will almost always put you at the top of the list for employers. Getting an internship with the local city planner and working part/full-time was my back-up plan if I didn't get hired right away because that is usually the only way. Get your geography BA and intern. Oh, and GIS, GIS, and...GIS!

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